A Jewish Labour MP broke down in tears as she begged her party leadership to do more to tackle anti-semitism,
Ruth Smeeth made the emotional plea at a meeting of Labour MPs held just hours after seven of her colleagues quit the party, dubbing it institutionally anti-semitic and intolerant.
The Stoke North MP challenged Labour chairman Ian Lavery as to why a party member hadn’t been kicked out despite saying she and fellow Jewish MP Louise Ellman did not have “human blood”.
“Explain to me how this is taking seriously, explain to me how this is zero tolerance,” she demanded.
At the beginning of the meeting, Lavery delivered a raucous speech setting out why he believed it was wrong for the seven MPs – Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, Gavin Shukar, Mike Gapes and Chuka Umunna – to have quit.
He focused on the electoral boost a split on the left of politics could hand the Conservative party – a move described as a mistake by at least three MPs in the room.
Speaking after the meeting, Dudley North MP Ian Austin said: “If that’s the best the leadership can do it will make the problem worse.”
While pressure was growing on those at the top of Labour to change direction, it was also mounting on those who resigned the party to trigger by-elections to validate their move.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell claimed he was “disappointed” the seven had quit, but also called for fresh votes to take place in their constituencies.
“All of these MPs stood on our manifesto in 2017, Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto, they all increased their majorities, now they’re on a different platform so the honourable thing, the usual thing for them to do now, is to stand down and fight by-elections back in their constituencies,” he said.
In a video statement, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson delivered a sobering assessment of the reasons for the MPs’ departure as he warned it was “a moment for regret and reflection not for a mood of anger or a tone of triumph”.
He said: "There are those who are already celebrating the departure of colleagues with whom they disagree. The hard Left can be too easily tempted into the language of heresy and treachery.
"Betrayal narratives and shouting insults at the departed might make some feel better briefly but it does nothing to address the reasons that good colleagues might want to leave."
Watson claimed “time is short” for the party to get to grips with anti-semitism in the ranks “to keep others from leaving”.
"The identity of this party must be tolerant, multi-cultural, generous and welcoming. To put it mildly, we need to be kinder and gentler,” he said.
One Labour MP told City A.M. he believed others considering leaving were waiting to see if the departure of the seven prompted a change in direction from the leadership, with the party's position on a second Brexit vote cited as a litmus test.