Labour blocks ‘Corbynista mayor’ from standing for new role over Ken Loach event

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Labour blocks ‘Corbynista mayor’ from standing for new role over Ken Loach event

Current North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll is excluded from the list of Labour candidates for new regional role, with party sources saying the decision followed the left-winger's refusal to apologise for appearing at an event with film director Loach

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

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

An elected Labour mayor, widely dubbed “the last Corbynista in power” has been blocked from standing as a candidate in a new regional role over his failure to apologise for his appearance at an onstage event with the film director Ken Loach.

Former Newcastle Momentum chair Jamie Driscoll confirmed on Friday he had been barred from standing to be the first north east mayor tweeting that “no explanation had been given.”

But senior Labour sources confirmed the decision to exclude Driscoll from the party’s longlist of candidates for the mayoral post related to his decision to appear at an “In Conversation” event with Loach ‘Corbynista mayor’ sparks anger after hosting Ken Loach theatre event at a Newcastle theatre in March.

Mike Katz, the Jewish Labour Movement’s national chair, welcomed the decision telling Jewish News:”Removing antisemitism by its roots means demonstrating and understanding that denialism is and has been central to the problem.

“Hosting denialist-in-chief Ken Loach does not demonstrate the commitment expected from all candidates to be steadfast fixing the problems of the past.

“The only response to the EHRC must be profound reflection and action. Something demonstrated by Sir Keir Starmer and expected from anyone wishing to wear a red rosette.”

The serving North of Tyne mayor took part in the event ignoring Loach’s 2021 expulsion from Labour over his involvement with the proscribed Labour Against The Witchhunt group, which was set up to downplay or antisemitism claims in the party.

Loach was also frequently at the centre of claims of antisemitism himself, sparking anger at a fringe event at the 2017 Labour conference saying in response to questions about Holocaust denial that “history is for us all to discuss”.

Loach also claimed there was “no validity” to accusations of antisemitism within Labour and insisted they were designed to undermine Corbyn’s leadership.

After Jewish News published an article about Driscoll’s onstage appearance with Loach, the mayor refused to apologise for this decision, insisting he had enjoyed an “engaging discussion about his critically acclaimed films, work and illustrious career.”

In their statement at the time JLM added:”Ken Loach decided it was more important to support people who consistently downplayed and denied the extent of antisemitism in Labour than support efforts to tackle it. That’s why he’s no longer a member of the Party.

“Loach has a track record of Holocaust inversion, tropes about a lobby controlling media and politics and claims Jews exploit the Holocaust for political ends. If you think he’s a good socialist, you need to take a long hard look at your definition of socialism.”

Labour sources confirmed on Friday that the decision to leave Driscoll off of the candidate longlist had been influenced by him “refusing to apologise”  for the Loach event which is “clearly incompatible with our promise to have zero tolerance of antisemitism”.

Another party source also revealed that under Driscoll’s leadership the north of Tyne authority remained one of the last to refuse to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

In his previous role as shadow communities secretary Labour’s Steve Reed had written to all local party leaders instructing them to adopt the definition, as part of the commitment to eradicate the stain of antisemitism.

While always polite during meetings, one Labour source said Driscoll was “dragging his feet” over committing to IHRA.

News of his removal from the candidate list immediately sparked anger amongst MPs previously close to Corbyn, including John McDonnell who tweeted:”To refuse to allow a serving mayor onto even a selection long list demonstrates that factionalism in the party is completely out of control. ”

Corbyn himself tweeted his support for Driscoll, writing:”Solidarity Jamie. Everyone knows how much you have already achieved for the North East. We will continue to fight for a better world — and we will win.”

There was also support for the pro-Corbyn MP from ex-Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi and the Conservative MP Simon Clarke.

But others defended the decision to exclude Driscoll.

A Jewish Labour Movement source added:”It’s jaw-dropping to see the number of senior Tories coming out in support of Mr Driscoll. Supposed allies in the fight against antisemitism all of a sudden seem unable to recognise facilitators of anti-Jewish bigots.”

Dorset Labour councillor John Haywood also tweeted:” After everything that our party has been through over the last 8 years, people aren’t seriously going to argue that a Labour politician who thinks this is appropriate should get to stand again, are they?”

Another Labour source said of Driscoll refusal to apologise for the Loach event: “Those decisions have consequences – namely, that it was impossible for him to go forward as a Labour candidate.”

The decision to exclude Driscoll from standing for Labour in next May’s North Tyne mayoral contest leaves his main rival, Northumbria Police and Commissioner (PCC) Kim McGuinness as favourite to secure the position. McGuinness, a supporter of Labour leader  Keir Starmer, is on the longlist alongside ex-MEP Paul Brannen and Newcastle city councillor Nicu Ion.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The North East Mayoralty is a unique opportunity for the people of the North East to take more control over the way our region is governed, with powers over housing, education, skills, transport and so much more. The Labour Party holds its candidates to a very high standard. During this process, some applicants did not meet the threshold required to proceed to the longlist stage. We do not comment on individual applications.

“Local members now have a fantastic longlist of candidates from which they will choose the Labour Party’s candidate to be the very first North East Mayor.”

Driscoll added: “I’m proud to have created thousands of jobs, fought child poverty, built affordable homes and delivered our Green New Deal. I believe in democracy. Share if you do too.”

On Saturday Loach defended his friend Driscoll, and claimed:”“The whole antisemitism issue has been substantially revealed as a campaign that is not based on fact.

“It’s based on political determination to do a number of things, to remove people from the left, to protect the state of Israel, which many people, many Jewish people in the Labour Party, oppose, oppose this campaign.”

The film-maker added:”Starmer’s clique revealed themselves yet again as dishonest, cunning, manipulative… with no care for the people they’re supposed to represent.

“The people who will suffer from Starmer’s manipulative, dishonest treatment of Jamie Driscoll are the people of North Tyneside, and the people who will lose by Starmer’s treachery will be the people of this country.”

“This manipulative act, dishonest act … the people who suffer are the people of Jamie Driscoll’s constituency.”

Driscoll also defended his record in relation to his work with the Jewish community.

He said:”“Under my leadership the North of Tyne has adopted the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism and references all the examples. We were the first combined authority to work with the EHRC. I work with the Jewish Leadership Council and visit local synagogues.

“I’ve taken part in JLM training. The NEC said there was no suggestion of antisemitism against me.”

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