Nandy and Starmer clash over Brexit and antisemitism in TV debate | Politics

Labour leadership candidates Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy clashed over Brexit and antisemitism in a TV hustings event with personal attacks on each other’s records in shadow cabinet.

The Wigan MP described Labour’s second referendum position led by Starmer, the party’s shadow Brexit secretary, as a “collective failure of leadership” and an “absolute disaster”.

Asked if Starmer was to blame during the live hustings on Sky, she said: “We managed to get ourselves into a position on Brexit where leavers thought we were remainers, and remainers thought we were leavers. Right across the country … people felt profoundly disrespected by it.

“It was a disaster, an absolute disaster, and I think there is a collective failure of leadership on Brexit that we have to own up to as a party.”

Starmer said he admitted Brexit was an issue at the general election but people felt differently about the EU depending on where they were in the country. He claimed the party’s Brexit policy was a bid to fight back against Boris Johnson’s “bad deal”. He said the prime minister’s red lines in potential trade talks revealed on Thursday are basically “nearly no-deal”.

Asked if he took responsibility for Labour’s Brexit policy, he said he did, but added that the rest of the shadow cabinet should as well.

The first stage of the contest was for potential contenders to get the backing of 22 fellow MPs by 13 January. Five MPs passed this threshold: Keir Starmer (88 nominations),  Rebecca Long-Bailey (33), Lisa Nandy (31), Jess Phillips (23) and Emily Thornberry (23).

The second stage required each contender to win the support either of 33 constituency Labour parties (CLPs); or of three affiliates, two of which had to be unions, and which between them accounted for at least 5% of the affiliated membership. This had to be achieved before 14 February. Jess Phillips withdrew from the contest on 21 January. Emily Thornberry failed to attract the required number of members.

The ballot of members and registered supporters was due to open on 21 February, and closes at noon on 2 April. To be eligible to vote you must have been a Labour member on 20 January, or have applied to have become a £25 registered supporter by 16 January.

Corbyn’s successor – Starmer, Long-Bailey or Nandy – will be announced at a special conference in London on 4 April.

He said: “I take responsibility for everything in our manifesto. It was actually a shadow cabinet decision. It was actually a decision of our whole party at party conference. But I’m not going to shirk from that.”

The leadership candidates also argued over their response to the antisemitism claims during the programme, recorded in front of a live audience in Dewsbury.

Nandy, who served on Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench until June 2016 as shadow secretary of state for climate change, said there had been a “collective failure of leadership at the top of the party for years” under which high-profile cases had not been dealt with. She said that, as someone who is half-Indian, “I know what racism feels like”.

She said: “I believe that you are sincere about this, but if we do not acknowledge how badly the shadow cabinet as a whole got this wrong, we will not earn the trust of the Jewish community.” Starmer replied: “You were in the shadow cabinet when this issue came up as well.”

Nandy claimed she had spoken up on every occasion available about antisemitism, and shot back: “And I spoke out publicly and then I left and I didn’t return. And I continued to speak out for three years.”

She also said the shadow cabinet members were offered sight of the submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission which was investigating Labour for institutional racism and claimed that “not a single person took up the offer of seeing the party’s position”.

Starmer dismissed her comments as “absolute nonsense”, adding that he and the then deputy leader Tom Watson had asked to see the submission and were offered it.

He said he lobbied the shadow cabinet successfully in favour of Labour adopting the international definition of antisemitism and having automatic expulsion of “clear cases”.

Starmer was reluctant to criticise the third leadership contender, Rebecca Long-Bailey, despite being asked several times what he made of her efforts within the shadow cabinet to try and change their approach to antisemitism.

He said: “Rebecca didn’t speak out in the same way that I did, in my view, but I don’t think it’s fair and it’s right for us to try to score points now off each other in relation to this.”

Long-Bailey, who said she often represented the shadow cabinet in media interviews, said: “I’m not pointing fingers or making a note of the exact dates and times that particular individuals spoke at shadow cabinet.

“Keir knows that I spoke at shadow cabinet a number of times about this. I was often the shadow cabinet member that did the media to try and explain what was happening, and expressed my concern many, many times about how we weren’t tackling this in the way that I thought we should.”

She added: “We are in a crisis and I know that it’s been soul-destroying for many of our members, because we are not an antisemitic or racist party.

“But many of our members went out in that general election and they knocked on the doors of Jewish voters who didn’t trust us and they were frightened of the Labour party, and we have to accept that that has happened and we have got to rebuild that trust.”

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