Islington councillor quits the Labour Party over anti-semitism row

Cllr Gary Poole quits Labour after eight years

Friday, 19th July 2019 — By Emily Finch

Gary Poole

THE on-going row over the Labour Party’s handling of anti-semitism cases reared its head in Islington after a councillor quit the party this week. Councillor Gary Poole, who first joined the Town Hall in 2011, resigned from the Labour Party on Tuesday after accusing Jeremy Corbyn of not taking anti-semitism claims in his party “as seriously as he could”.

Meanwhile, a letter to the Tribune signed by 12 Jewish members of Islington North Labour Party, including doctors and university lecturers, said “we have never felt at all unwelcome as Jews in the Labour Party”. Speaking to the Tribune, Cllr Poole refused to answer whether he had personally witnessed cases of anti- semitism within the Labour Party.

Cllr Gary Poole (left)

“It’s not about what I’ve witnessed but the party’s inability to properly deal with it. I don’t want to talk about local instances I might have witnessed but if I have, I’ve used appropriate channels to report it,” he said.

He said that Mr Corbyn’s leadership team held a “very strong pro- Palestinian sentiment” which is “laudable on some levels and not a bad cause because they [the Palestinians] need support”.

“But the counterpoint to that is that it’s the entire fault of Israel and that is conflated with the Jewish religion,” he said. He said anti-semitism has become “all too common” in Labour and pointed to the abuse suffered by Labour MP Ruth Smeeth and former Labour MP Luciana Berger.

In his resignation letter, Cllr Poole said it appeared Labour seemed “unable or unwilling” to deal with the “scourge of anti-semitism”. He pointed to the BBC Panorama documentary broadcast earlier this month where former staffers accused the Labour leader’s inner circle of interfering in anti-semitism complaints.

“Rather than commit to investigating these matters as a matter of urgency, the party went on the attack and sought to undermine the courageous whistle- blowers,” he wrote.

The Labour Party accused the former staffers of making “false” and “politically motivated” comments with the BBC “misrepresent[ing] the evidence to present a biased and selective account”.

In the letter to the Tribune, Jewish members of Islington North Labour Party attacked the full- page advert taken out by 64 Labour peers in the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, which accused the Labour leader of “allowing anti-semitism to grow in our party”.

The letter writers to the Tribune said the Guardian advert – costing around £18,000 – was “an attempt to subvert the democratically expressed wishes of Labour members who have twice voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn to lead the party”.

Islington North MP and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn

The letter criticises the “reactionary interventions and policy positions” put forward by the Labour peers including Peter Mandelson and Michael Levy. It is understood that Cllr Poole, the council’s Armed Force’s Champion who is employed by the Ministry of Justice as a prison governor, had stopped attending ward party meetings in the past four months and did not campaign with colleagues during the European Parliamentary elections in May.

A regular attendee of the ward meetings said Cllr Poole had never previously spoken publicly about his worries about the mounting allegations of anti- semitism in the Labour Party.

Cllr Poole previously signed a letter alongside two other Islington councillors calling on Mr Corbyn to resign as leader back in 2016 – this was before anti-semitism allegations gripped the party.

Cllr Sue Lukes, who is Jewish and represents Highbury east, said she was “really surprised” that he had quit the party and asked him through Twitter: “Why didn’t you ask what this Islington Jewish councillor (and my community) wanted done about anti- semitism?”

Cllr Richard Watts, the Labour leader of Islington Council, said he was “extremely disappointed” to see his colleague go and added: “I know this has not been a decision that Gary has taken lightly.

Anti- semitism has no place in our society, or our politics, and the Labour Party must continue to take all steps to fundamentally root it out of our party.”

A London Labour spokesman said: “The Labour Party is absolutely committed to challenging and campaigning against anti- semitism and we are taking decisive action to root it out.

“Our records show that anti-semitism cases that have gone through the stages of our disciplinary procedures since September 2015 account for about 0.06 per cent of the party’s membership, and since Jennie Formby became general secretary the rate at which anti- semitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than four-fold.” Cllr Poole will continue to represent St Mary’s Ward as an Independent councillor.

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