Labour’s first leadership hustings was hit by a row today after Jess Phillips took a furious swipe at rivals’ alleged silence over anti-Semitism.
The bookies’ long-shot slammed fellow candidates who she accused of failing to speak up about the party’s crisis while they were in the shadow cabinet.
Three rivals – Rebecca Long-Bailey, Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer – are in Jeremy Corbyn’s top team. The fifth candidate Lisa Nandy is a backbencher.
Emily Thornberry hit back at Ms Phillips – while Keir Starmer also insisted he too spoke out about the problem. Ms Long-Bailey had already given her answer but has previously said the party’s response was not good enough.
Birmingham Yardley MP Ms Phillips’ said: “The Labour Party needs a leader who has spoken out against anti-Semitism, and other forms of harassment in fact, when others were keeping quiet.
“And [as] somebody who was in the room, struggling for an independent system – lots and lots of meetings – I have to say, I don’t remember some of the people here being in that particular room or being in those particular fights.”
The room was silent as she added: “Jewish people were scared of Labour winning the election.
“That’s deeply serious. The Labour Party has now lost the credibility to handle its own complaints system.
“We have lost the moral high ground to fight racism in this country because of the way we have handled anti-Semitism.”
Ms Phillips also took a swipe at left-wing favourite Rebecca Long-Bailey – who recent polls suggest is in a two-horse race with Sir Keir Starmer.
She said she was “literally laughed at on the school run” about Labour’s broadband policy – overseen by Shadow Business Secretary Ms Long-Bailey.
And she hit out at Ms Long-Bailey’s plan to replace the Lords with an elected Senate based outside London.
- Keir Starmer – 1/3
- Rebecca Long-Bailey – 5/1
- Lisa Nandy – 8/1
- Jess Phillips – 25/1
- Emily Thornberry – 50/1
- OUT: Clive Lewis
Odds Jan 13 from Ladbrokes. For full profiles and how the contest works click here.
Deputy leadership candidates
- Angela Rayner
- Richard Burgon
- Rosena Allin Khan
- Dawn Butler
- Ian Murray
- OUT: Khalid Mahmood
Ms Phillips said: “We’ve got to speak the language people speak on the doorstep.
“No one talks about federalism or wanting this Senate or that Senate. We’ve got to start talking like people talk, about the things they actually talk about.”
Ms Thornberry hit back at Ms Phillips over anti-Semitism. The Shadow Foreign Secretary said: “I have always been clear about it and I always will.
“Because it is unacceptable. It undermines us as a party and it undermines our soul.”
Ms Thornberry said Labour “must be critical” of Netanyahu’s “far right” government – but added: “What the Israeli government is doing at the moment is completely unacceptable. But that is not the fault of the Jews.”
Sir Keir also hit back, saying: “I have spoken out. I’ve spoken out on the radio, on the media. I’ve spoken out about rule changes I thought we should adopt about the international definition of anti-Semitism.
“I’ve also made those arguments in Shadow Cabinet.”
Vowing to take a “personal lead from the top”, Sir Keir said he would demand a weekly report on his desk showing how the problem is being dealt with.
He added: “I will only be satisfied that we have adequately dealt with this when everybody who left our party because of anti-Semitism feels comfortable to return to it.”
All five candidates backed a series of ten pledges laid out by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Lisa Nandy said: “The collective failure of leadership at the top of this party has let us down.”
She said the rebuilding of trust “starts with these pledges and that starts right now”.
Ms Long-Bailey – who has previously claimed she spoke out privately against the party’s handling of the issue – added: “We weren’t dealing with the issue effectively. We weren’t responding to complaints quickly enough.”
She said Labour must be “making sure the conspiracy theories and the slurs that have happened in recent years don’t happen.”
She added: “I’ve signed up to the Board of Deputies pledges because I don’t have a problem with any of them.”
The wide-ranging 90-minute debate in Liverpool was the first of a string of hustings before nominations from local parties and affiliates close mid-February.
Members will then vote for a winner declared on April 4.
Labour leadership candidates have issued a plea for party unity as they took part in the hustings.
Left-wing candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey told the audience divided parties do not win elections.
Calling for everyone to “reunify and rebuild”, she said members must not call other members a “cult” or tell them to “F- off and join the Tories.”
“We have to be honest that over the last four years we haven’t been united,” she added.
Jess Phillips, a prominent critic of outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn , said the “name calling within the party has been horrendous” and called for Labour to build a “broad team”.
“Sometimes the membership felt they were not being included and in fact that’s been the case for a long time,” she said.
Emily Thornberry said Labour members should stop fighting each other and concentrate on fighting the Tories.
“We need to be in power. The country is crying out for an alternative government and it will not happen unless we are united,” she said.
Sir Keir Starmer agreed there had been “too much division”, adding: “We are unstoppable when we are united.”
Drawing repeatedly on his time as Director of Public Prosecutions he said: “Stop asking the question which bit of the party are you from and start asking – what are you saying.
“If we can do it for an election campaign we can do it as a party.
“I’ve run an organisation where I’ve changed values and culture. You have to model it from the top.”
Candidates vowed to take on media coverage of Labour – with Sir Keir committing he would not be interviewed by The Sun newspaper.
Ms Long-Bailey said she was a victim of “smears” over her position on abortion while Ms Phillips revealed: “I was asked to hold a bacon sandwich in a photo the other day. I refused.”
Ms Thornberry said: “The Daily Mail have been employing people full time trying to cut me off at knees. I’ve had a whole van load of Sun journalists turn up at my house at one stage.
“I’m afraid I have a boring life, there’s nothing else they can do.”
Ms Thornberry added: “Being leader of the Labour Party in opposition is, quite frankly, the worst job in the world.. we have to wade through an awful lot of s***.”
The candidates also clashed on Brexit .
Remainer and second referendum backer Ms Thornberry demanded a candidate who had “frankly been on the right side all along”, while Ms Phillips said Labour could not “turn away from Europe”.
But Ms Nandy said nuance on Brexit had been “airbrushed” out of the debate. Remainer Sir Keir added: “We can’t now let Brexit tear our party apart for the next 10 or 20 years.”
Several candidates also insisted it did not matter whether the next leader was from the north of England.
Ms Phillips and Ms Thornberry said it was “patronising” to stereotype northerners or southerners or suggest others couldn’t understand them.
Asked if the next leader should be northern, Salford-raised Ms Long-Bailey joked: “Obviously I’m biased and I’d say yes.” She added decisions must not be “made by an elite in Westminster.”
Ms Phillips said she could give “no reassurance” to people until 2024 now Boris Johnson has a majority – but insisted she was the big personality to take on the PM.
Labour could not have “an intellectual argument” when Tories are “talking about bells, not NHS waiting times,” she said. “We’ve got to do something bold. And Boris Johnson would be terrified to face me.”
Ms Thornberry also claimed she had the “tough old bird” personality to face off against the Old Etonian PM.
“He is in the end a liar, he is callous, he doesn’t care, he plays at politics, he plays with people’s lives,” she said. “He has a woman problem – he certainly has a problem with me.”
But Sir Keir, the architect of parliamentary opposition to Brexit, said: “We have got to be a very very effective opposition on this.
“We’ve got to be seen to be winning the argument.”
Candidates – who’ll be voted in by a largely left-wing membership – warned against a full return to centrist Labour.
Lisa Nandy said people don’t want “£3 off your energy bill and by the way we’ll be pretty nasty to immigrants as well” as a manifesto.
Sir Keir added: “My rules will be don’t trash the last Labour government. And don’t trash the last four years. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here.”
Ms Long-Bailey – the closest of any candidates to Jeremy Corbyn – insisted “I was really proud of many of the policies in our manifesto”.
But she admitted: “Many people thought we were offering handouts rather than empowering them to better their own lives.”
And Ms Phillips revealed an abuse victim who fled to a refuge turned to her before the election to say: “I like that Boris Johnson.
“I think I’ll vote for him.”