The outrageous, vile and anti-Semitic remarks made by members of the Labour Party have been deeply hurtful to the Jewish Community. They have also been deeply damaging to the Labour Party and deeply offensive to members of the Labour Movement who, for more than 100 years have been at the forefront of fighting against racism and for equality in all their forms.
The abhorrent remarks made by Naz Shah before she became an MP have rightly resulted in her being sacked from her position and suspended from the Party. She, at least has acknowledged her mistake and made what I do believe was a heartfelt apology. The contrast with Ken Livingstone, whose initial crass and incendiary remarks were only compounded by his subsequent attempt at self justification, could not have been more stark.
The Party is right to have suspended both politicians and I welcome the independent investigation that is to be led by the former director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti. I am utterly confident that the Labour Party is not anti-Semitic or racist as an institution. I am concerned however, that there are people within the party, who as a result of their sense of injustice over the plight of the Palestinian people, have failed to see where the boundary of legitimate criticism of the Israeli Government ends and the beginning of antisemitic propaganda begins.
The Labour Party was responsible for virtually all the major pieces of progressive equalities legislation over the past fifty years: The Race Relations Act of 1968 was passed when Conservative Conference delegates were cheering Enoch Powell. The Human Rights Act of 1998 was one of the first acts of the New Labour government and is even now being opposed by the current Home Secretary. The Equalities Act of 2010 protected people from discrimination in the workplace whether that discrimination was on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation or disability. Our Party is not racist. It is not anti-Semitic, but it does need to set out very clear guidance about what constitutes the proper bounds of political debate.
The Labour Party must be a place where measured, debate about geo-political issues and the foreign policy of other countries is welcomed – particularly so for those countries with whom we are allies and whom we support. It is right for us to discuss these matters openly and robustly, but we must never allow intolerant or racist viewpoints to dictate the direction such debates take.
I want to express my solidarity with the Jewish Community in my own constituency and in the wider UK. I give them, as I give all my constituents, the absolute assurance that I will continue to oppose all forms of racism and intolerance and will seek to protect the rights we all have to live together free from harassment or prejudice in a diverse, respectful and multicultural United Kingdom.