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Starmer: Labour has ended ‘dark chapter’ with new rules to tackle anti-Semitism

·4-min read
Sir Keir Starmer (PA) (PA Media)
Sir Keir Starmer (PA) (PA Media)

Labour has “closed the door on anti-Semitism” within the party after members backed tough new rule changes, Sir Keir Starmer claimed.

The Labour leader said a “dark chapter” in the party’s history had now ended.

Reforms supported at the party’s conference in Brighton include a fully independent complaints process to tackle anti-Semitism.

We have closed the door this evening to anti-Semitism in the Labour Party

Sir Keir Starmer

At a reception for party activists, Sir Keir said: “We have closed the door this evening to anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

“We’ve turned our back on the dark chapter.

“Having closed that door, that door will never be opened again in our Labour Party to anti-Semitism.

“We will be an inclusive, open, tolerant Labour Party proudly facing our country, proudly facing the world.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the new approach adopted by Labour, which followed a damning report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said: “We welcome today’s vote and pay tribute to Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership for their work to make this happen.

“The result shows that Labour is on its way to banishing the anti-Semitism spectre that has hung over it for the past few years.

“While there is clearly still work to do, Labour must continue to demonstrate that it will not allow British Jews to feel marginalised in the party again.”

During the debate on the reforms at the party’s conference, former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth from the Jewish Labour Movement, said she felt “sick” being in Brighton as she feared receiving more abuse.

But she struck a defiant tone as she insisted the party is “turning the page on the blight of anti-Semitism that has infected” the party, adding to the abusers: “You failed. We’re still here.”

Reforms supported at the party’s conference include a fully independent complaints process to tackle anti-Semitism.

Labour published its plan for a major overhaul in response to the highly-damning report by the equality watchdog into its handling of the issue under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

These racists tried to break Jewish members, to hound us out of our party and to scare us into silence. Well conference, I have news for them: you failed

Ruth Smeeth

Opening the debate, Labour’s National Executive Committee member Mark Ferguson said: “I want to start, from this chair, on behalf of the whole party to say sorry to our Jewish members.

“Sorry to our Jewish members, supporters and those in the wider community. Rest assured it will not happen again.”

Current leader Sir Keir was in the room for the debate.

Ms Smeeth told delegates: “I stand here with mixed emotions.

“Relief that we can finally turn the page on the blight of anti-Semitism that has infected our party. Anger that it has taken five years to get here.

“Disbelief that despite the hurt of so many Jewish members, there are people in here today who say it was all a smear.

“And sorrow that so many wonderful friends were forced to choose between their faith and their politics.”

Ms Smeeth said this was her 22nd year at Labour Party conference, adding: “And yet I feel sick at the idea of being in Brighton knowing that I will be a target for more racist abuse for being here.

“But I’m here to help deliver the promise that Keir made when he became leader.

“He promised the country he would root out the anti-Semitism that has infected our party and end the anti-Jewish hate which undermines the values we were founded to protect.

“It breaks my heart that racists thought they had a place in the Labour Party, that Jewish members, usually women, were threatened, abused and bullied every day not by the BNP or the EDL but by those who claimed to share our values.”

Ms Smeeth added: “These racists tried to break Jewish members, to hound us out of our party and to scare us into silence.

“Well conference, I have news for them: you failed.

“We’re still here, JLM is still here, and today we need to send a message to the vile racists and bullies who thought that our party could become a home for Jew hate.”

Labour former minister Dame Margaret Hodge said there was “enormous relief and immeasurable hope to every Labour Party member who has been a victim of vile anti-Jew hate”.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

She added: “This has been a horrible and difficult time for Labour Jewish members.

“Their bravery should be applauded, the distress they endured recognised.”

Dame Margaret went on: “My message is simple: never again.

“Never again can anti-Jew racism pollute our party.

“Never again can we become a hostile environment for Jews.

“Never again can the complaints process be manipulated with serious complaints ignored and victims silenced.”

After Dame Margaret concluded her speech, a shout of “apology for Palestinians” could be heard in the hall with Mr Ferguson warning members to be respectful during the debate.

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