Corbynista mayor Driscoll admits he hasn’t read damning Labour antisemitism report

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Corbynista mayor Driscoll admits he hasn’t read damning Labour antisemitism report

Appearing on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on Sky News, North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll refuses to accept he was wrong to appear at an event with Ken Loach

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Jamie Driscoll discussed he theatre event appearance with Ken Loach on the Sophie Ridge on Sunday Sky News programme
Jamie Driscoll discussed he theatre event appearance with Ken Loach on the Sophie Ridge on Sunday Sky News programme

The Labour mayor who has been blocked by party chiefs from applying for a bigger regional post after appearing on stage at an event with Ken Loach has admitted he has not read the full report by the equalities watchdog into antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn.

Jamie Driscoll, the current serving North of Tyne mayor, was asked by Sky News presenter Sophy Ridge:”Have you read the EHRC report into antisemitism in the Labour Party?”

Pushed for an answer during his appearance on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme he admitted: “No, not the full report I haven’t.”

The 52 year-old mayor also doubled-down on his decision to appear at an “In Conversation” event at a Newcastle theatre with Loach in March, even though the film director had been expelled from Labour in 2021 over his involvement with an organisation proscribed by the party for the downplaying and denial of antisemitism claims.

Driscoll, dubbed the “last Corbynista in power”, refused to apologise for his decision to take part in the event with Loach saying they had discussed “something entirely different” from the controversies around the film director’s comments on antisemitism and the Holocaust.

The mayor then appeared to suggest the decision to exclude him from the longlist of Labour candidates for the newly created bigger North East regional mayoral role was a result of him failing to engage in “culture wars” and “cancel culture.”

He claimed also to have attended antisemitism training with the Jewish Labour Movement, and to have worked “very closely” with the Jewish Leadership Council “visiting synagogues in my region.”

Driscoll said he had “a fantastic track record” as mayor

But responding to Driscoll’s Ridge interview Adam Langleben, national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement, told Jewish News:”It is astonishing that the most senior Labour official in the North East of England hasn’t even read the critical and shameful EHRC report into Labour Party antisemitism.

“It is essential reading for all politicians not least because it states what is expected from ‘agents’ of political parties in regards to all forms of racism.

“If Mr Driscoll did attend our training, and we have no record that he did, it is clear that he didn’t take much from it as we state that platforming people with histories of controversial statements towards Jews is ill-advised.

“Mr Loach’s previous history of provocative statements, especially in regards to Jewish victims of the Holocaust are now well known within the Labour Party. Ignorance can be no excuse after the past seven years.”

Last Friday, Driscoll had expressed surprise that he had been blocked from the North East mayoral longlist, claiming he did not know the reason he had been excluded by Labour. Among those to express support for him over the weekend were ex-Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi who described Driscoll as a “good man” in a tweet.

But speaking to Ridge he appeared to contradict this claim after telling her that during his interview with a panel who carry out due diligence tests on all Labour candidates that he had been told of an “issue” as a result of his decision to appear on stage at the event with Loach.

He said Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) panel was “very, very clear” with him that there was “no issue with antisemitism”.

But Driscoll then admitted “They said ‘It’s an issue that, because you spoke to Ken Loach, that may cause us electoral damage in future’ was their argument.”

Ken Loach in discussion with North Tyne elected mayor Jamie Driscoll at an event in Newcastle in March 2023

Driscoll suggested that he had gone ahead with Loach because he is “a really successful filmmaker” who had set his new movie in the north east.

But Ridge then brought up Loach’s comments around discussion of the Holocaust, his claim that the founding of Israel was based on “ethnic cleansing” and his claims around “false stories of antisemitism.”

The presenter then said to Driscoll:”Surely you can see why sharing a platform with Ken Loach may be problematic?”

He responded:”If you want to ask Ken about his views then do that, I am not a spokesperson for Ken Loach.”

Pressed if regretted appearing at the event with Loach, Driscoll said:” I regret this entire episode now. The whole thing’s blowing up. Labour members are not getting the opportunity to choose..”

Ridge then asked if he accepted it was wrong to share a platform with the film director, but Driscoll said:”I think the issue of speaking to somebody about something entirely different from a controversial issue .. my understanding is that he’s made all sorts of clarifications and he’s not a Holocaust denier. I think he wrote a letter to the New York Times explicitly saying the Holocaust was a real event.”

Driscoll added:”Sophy, I think we’ve got to get the proportionality here.

“What the public want from their politicians is to get on with things and deliver things and not to engage in culture wars, cancel culture or anything like that. I actually think that’s electorally damaging.”

Jewish News understands that as part of Labour’s due diligence process and Keir Starmer’s commitment to eradicating antisemitism in the party, all future candidates would be expected to have an understanding of the issues around anti-Jewish racism that dogged the party under Corbyn.

During his interview with Ridge, Driscoll said that alongside his failure to read the EHRC report, he had not yet also read The Forde Report, which looked into the leaking of a dossier that attempted to point the finger away from Corbyn for Labour’s antisemitism problem.

But in an August 2020 blog on his official mayoral website Driscoll had written a summary of the leaked 851 page report, which he claimed exposed the actions of “Labour Party staff actively working to lose the 2017 General Election.”

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds also appeared on the Ridge programme and said he would “strongly disagree”, when asked if Keir Starmer is trying to purge the left of the party.

He said the leader has implemented a “due diligence process”, telling the same programme: “Specifically in a case where somebody shares a platform with someone who themselves has been expelled from the Labour Party for their views on antisemitism, for opposing the tough action that needed to happen, that would preclude them from being a Labour candidate going forward because, when we said we’d have zero-tolerance for antisemitism, when we said we would tear it out from its roots, we were serious about that.”

A JLC spokesperson added:”We have engaged with Jamie Driscoll as a regionally elected official as we do across vast swathes of the country.
The main purpose of our meeting was to request his combined authority adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

“Considering he has repeatedly failed to commit to this when directly engaging with us, we were disappointed to see him using a ‘relationship’ with us to defend himself against criticism.”

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