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Jeremy Corbyn was replaced as leader of the opposition by Sir Keir Starmer on April 4, but Mr Corbyn’s five-year-reign as Labour Party leader was dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism sweeping throughout the party, which he claimed were “wrong and extremely unfair”. Speaking to the Middle East Eye in his first major interview since stepping down as Labour leader, the MP for Islington North attacked the EHRC for being “part of the government machine” whose independence had been “taken away” by the Tories. The body was established in 2006 as a “non departmental public body” and describes itself as independent of the Government, but says it “works with government to influence progress on equality and human rights”.
When asked whether he believed its lack of independence would play a large part in the final report, Mr Corbyn replied: “Let’s see what happens.
“I think it’s quite significant that the Conservative government has underfunded the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and for some reason, which I don’t fully understand, decided to take away its independent status and make it part of the government machine.”
Mr Corbyn also responded to evidence from a leaked report handed by Labour to the EHRC as part of its response to the inquiry, which appeared to allege the Mr Corbyn’s leadership, as well as his management of anti-Semitism complaints, had been undermined by officials within the party’s governance and legal unit.
He did not comment directly on the report, but admitted he was left less than impressed by the culture within Labour at the top in the run-up to the general election in 2017.
The former Labour leader said: “I always knew that there was a culture in the Labour party that was not a healthy one, of an almost self-perpetuating bureaucracy. All organisations have a degree of self-perpetuating bureaucracy about them.
“I wanted to change the way in which the party operated by changing from being a solely bureaucratic machine that administered the party, disciplined members and observed the rules and so on, into a community-organising base of the party.”
He also called claims he tolerated anti-Semitism in Labour, including allegations made in a BBC Panorama investigation broadcast last year, as “wrong and extremely unfair”.
Mr Corbyn said: “They attacked me all the time on this. I think it is wrong, because I think I’m the one that actually introduced a process for dealing with it; there has to be an examination of the way in which that process operated.
“I then realised there was a logjam building up in the party on individual cases. And so I proposed the expansion of the National Constitutional Committee, which was duly done in order to deal with cases more quickly.
“I also introduced a system where egregious cases could be dealt with very quickly, but still within the ambit of rules of natural justice. So I feel that the attacks on me have been extremely unfair on this.”
The former Labour leader insisted he had taken steps to create a “robust process” to deal with allegations of antisemitism within the party soon after becoming leader more than five years ago, describing anti-Semitism as “absolutely, totally unacceptable in any form”.
When he investigated allegations of anti-Semitism, he found the numbers of cases to be “actually very small”, and passed each one onto Labour’s governance and legal unit.
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Mr Corbyn: “I grew up in a family that were obviously opposed to racism in any form. My mum was there at Cable Street in 1936 (when anti-fascist demonstrators including Jewish and left-wing groups clashed with members of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in east London).
“That’s the sort of background I come from. When I became leader of the Labour Party, I discovered that there were a small number of cases where people had been accused of anti-Semitic remarks within the party and there should be a process for dealing with them.
“I asked what the process was and I was not very satisfied. I didn’t feel we had a very strong or robust process for dealing with this and then allegations were made, about people making anti-Semitic remarks at meetings and trolling people and being abusive to Jewish Labour MPs.
“Absolutely, totally unacceptable in any form. The numbers involved were actually very small. So, I asked (human rights lawyer) Shami Chakrabarti to do an investigation into this and produce a proposal, which she did; which was to have a stronger governance unit, have it independent of the party leadership and that cases should be referred to them for process.
“I had a very strong view in my office that I was not to be the judge, jury and decision-maker on each case. Any case that was brought to my attention – and some were, people wrote in and things like that – I didn’t deal with it, I passed it straight on to the governance and legal unit.”
Sir Keir Starmer immediately pledged to eradicate any anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, with Jewish community leaders stating shortly after his leader election win he had “achieved more in four days than his predecessor had in four years”.
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