Labour infighting increases warnings of party schism

Labour’s infighting over anti-Semitism and Brexit has again raised the prospect of a schism after a second MP was accused of misconduct for attacking the party leadership.

One Labour MP said on Sunday there would “almost certainly be a split in the autumn or early next year”, adding that such a move should be resisted as it could make it easier for the Conservatives to win a majority at the next general election.

Another centrist MP said that Labour had made a “huge mistake” by taking action against MPs angered by the party’s line on anti-Semitism. “It’s like they are trying to drive them out,” he said.

Talk of a split resurfaced after a weekend in which Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley North, revealed he had been sent a letter warning him of “abusive conduct” after he confronted Labour’s chair, Ian Lavery, this month.

Mr Austin had expressed his anger over Labour’s attitude to dealing with anti-Semitism within its own ranks. Jeremy Corbyn’s party has faced allegations for over two years that it is too soft on party members who express anti-Semitic views.

“Wouldn’t it be great if they dealt with the people responsible for racism as quickly as they dealt with the people who are understandably upset about it?” Mr Austin told the Observer newspaper. Another MP, Peter Kyle, said the exchange between Mr Kyle and Mr Lavery had been “far from abusive”.

Mr Austin’s case follows that of Margaret Hodge, who was threatened with “ action” after she called Mr Corbyn a “racist and anti-Semite”. “You have proved you don’t want people like me in the party,” Dame Margaret told Mr Corbyn.

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A pro-Corbyn website, Skwawkbox, caused further outrage this weekend by posting a link to an article warning of a “Jewish ‘War against Corbyn’” and predicting it “risks bringing real anti-Semitism to Britain”. Skwawkbox subsequently deleted the link, saying it had been posted “without endorsement”.

Dudley North MP Ian Austin © PA

The rows have been fuelled in part by Labour’s decision not to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism and its associated examples, including cases where Jewish citizens are said to be more loyal to Israel than to their country of nationality.

In addition, two Brexit-backing Labour MPs, Kate Hoey and Frank Field, suffered votes of no confidence from their own local parties in recent days. Members of Mr Field’s constituency party in Birkenhead attacked him after he, Ms Hoey and two other MPs supported the government on a trade bill, saying that by doing so they had helped to keep Theresa May in power.

A breakaway Labour faction has been mooted almost since Mr Corbyn became leader in 2015 but it would face sizeable obstacles, including an electoral system that punishes small parties. One anti-Corbyn MP, John Woodcock, left Labour this month to sit as an independent.

Chris Williamson, a pro-Corbyn MP, said any breakaway would be “not so much a schism . . . as an irrelevant rump of malcontents attempts to perform CPR” on neoliberal ideology.

Labour did not respond to a request for comment.



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