Jeremy Corbyn will on Tuesday seek to seize back the initiative in Labour’s battle to hold on to key council seats at Thursday’s local elections, after the party was forced to suspend three councillors as the row about antisemitism continued.
Corbyn announced an independent review of claims of antisemitism in Labour on Friday, in the hope of drawing a line under accusations from some MPs that he had failed to crack down hard enough on the issue.
But three councillors were suspended on Monday after evidence emerged that they had used social media to promote what appeared to be antisemitic views.
The former mayor of Blackburn Salim Mulla, who is now a councillor, had shared social media posts last August that appeared to draw a link between Zionism and Islamic State.
Below photographs with slogans suggesting that support for Palestinians from France and Japan had triggered attacks by Isis, he said: “Is this a coincidence. You [sic] bloody daam [sic] right it is. We all know Zionism game being played. It’s bloody obvious who is manupulating[sic] this. Those who are not sure. ISRAEL.”
Separately, Nottingham city councillor Ilyas Aziz was found to have shared posts suggesting that Israel should be relocated to the US, which resulted in the Bradford West MP, Naz Shah, being suspended last week despite making a series of public apologies.
Aziz also posted a link to an article about Nazi Germany, alongside which he said: “A reminder of the treatment and suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany. Are there any similarities to how Israel is treating Palestinians?”
Later on Monday a third man, Burnley councillor Shah Hussain, was suspended, after it emerged that he had told an Israeli footballer on Twitter in 2014, “you and your country” are “doing exactly the same thing” that Hitler did, in reference to the violence against Palestinians.
A Labour spokesperson confirmed that all three had been suspended pending an investigation.
With the latest polls suggesting the party is heading for its worst performance in local elections since 1982, and could lose up to 175 council seats, Corbyn’s team are keen to turn attention away from the issue of antisemitism, and focus on campaigning.
Labour launched a minimalist new poster Monday night, with the slogan: “Elections are about taking sides: Labour is on yours.”
Former Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti was drafted in to chair the review into antisemitism after a series of incidents that culminated in an embarrassing public spat between the former mayor of London Ken Livingstone and the MP John Mann.
Livingstone defend Shah in radio and TV interviews, but in doing so drew links between Zionism and Hitler. He has insisted that he will contest the grounds for his suspension when his case is reviewed by Labour’s national executive committee.
The dispute was given fresh impetus over the weekend when Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the Unite union, claimed that the row over Corbyn’s response to antisemitic incidents was the latest crisis manufactured by “treacherous” Labour MPs keen to undermine the leader.
Corbyn’s team insists here has been no surge in antisemitic incidents since he became party leader last year. However, centrist MPs are warning that some Labour leftwingers slide too easily from staunch support for the Palestinians to making slurs against Israel.
One backbench MP critical of Corbyn said local councillors in his constituency have been “head in hands” over the party’s travails nationally, which they fear could lose them their seats on Thursday.
However, even those Labour MPs most sceptical of the leadership say they do not expect any challenger to move against him until after June’s EU referendum - and they are conscious that he retains overwhelming support among grassroots members.
Meanwhile, Corbyn’s closest lieutenant, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, has publicly denied claims that he is readying himself to take over if Corbyn is unseated in a putsch, tweeting: “Media & right wing dirty tricks & lies trying to divide me and Jeremy. They should know it only unites us even more & makes us stronger.”
This article was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 2nd May 2016 18.52 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010