Exclusive: Ivan Lewis vocal on Labour anti-Semitism despite ‘challenging’ party suspension period

Suspended Labour MP Ivan Lewis thanked his friends in the party and his constituents in Bury for supporting him in what he described as a personally ‘challenging’ period.

The Bury South MP was suspended from the party over sexual harassment allegations back in November and will represent his constituency independently of the Labour whip until an investigation has been completed.

Talking exclusively to MM on election night, Lewis said that the suspension hasn’t stopped him speaking out on behalf of his constituents.

He said: “One of the things that have been incredibly heartening for me, if I’m honest, during this challenging period, is the level of support both from my friends in the party who have been remarkable and also the wider community here in Bury South who have been incredibly supportive.

“But the process has to take its course and I don’t want to pretend to anyone that it’s easy, because it isn’t, but it’s not going to stop me doing my job or speaking out on behalf of local people.”

Despite his suspension from the party, Lewis was very much a part of Labour’s celebrations at Bury’s council election count last night which saw the party lose only one seat overall and retain their majority.

He said that it was a very good night for Labour with ‘no sign of great dissatisfaction’ despite being in ‘very difficult circumstances’ following the anti-Semitism controversy in the party.

Lewis said: “In my part of the borough we have a serious challenge in the Jewish community. We feel extremely anxious and insecure about the Labour Party. There’s no point in pretending otherwise. Therefore, we were quite concerned about several wards tonight.”

The Jewish MP, who has represented a sizeable Jewish population in his constituency since 1997, said that he is ‘incredibly proud’ of his Jewish identity, but the anti-Semitism issue was ‘undoubtedly’ significant in the area.

Speaking about his suspension, Lewis said: “It would be unfair to say I’ve been inhibited from speaking out. In the anti-Semitism debate which took place only a couple of weeks ago in the House of Commons, I spoke and I said what I really feel.”

In that debate, Lewis said that his own dealings with Jeremy Corbyn convinced him that the Labour leader is not an anti-Semite, but said that his leadership has attracted new members whose anti-Semitism is ‘pernicious’ and that the language and imagery used by long-standing members was ‘shocking’.

Speaking to MM before the result, Cllr Alan Quinn, who retained his heavily Jewish ward of Sedgley with a majority of almost 1,000 votes, condemned the leadership’s inadequate response to anti-Semitism in the party.

He said: “I’m not afraid to criticise elements of the Labour Party like Ken Livingstone. On International Holocaust Day, where was Ken Livingstone? He was on Iranian TV.

“It’s a disgrace. It’s a slap in the face to my Jewish constituents and the Labour Party need to more and they need to do it quicker.”

Lewis called Labour’s victory in Sedgley ‘extraordinary’ and said: “When you have a Labour figure who has delivered for his entire community, but has been sensitive to the Jewish community’s anger and anxiety and has called it out and demanded action, the community says, ‘right, that guy’s on our side and we’re going to stick with him’.”

Labour’s only loss in a Jewish area came in Pilkington Park where Conservative candidate Nicholas Jones beat incumbent John Mallon convincingly with a majority that was four times higher than Mallon in 2014.

But newly elected Cllr Jones put his victory down to Labour’s ‘neglect’ of Whitefield, its libraries and potholes as well as a lack of investment.

Lewis told MM that there was definitely a surge for the Conservatives in Pilkington Park because of anti-Semitism, but noted that it has always been a blue ward, with the other seats two seats belonging to the Tories.

He said: “To lose that was no great surprise in terms of the profile of the ward. Boundary-wise it’s a rock solid Conservative ward.”

On Labour’s only other loss on the night, Radcliffe North, Lewis said that Brexit may have played a role because the area was a big Leave community, as opposed to Prestwich which was more Remain.

Overall, the local Labour party were relieved that the Jewish community had not turned it’s back on them amid the party’s anti-Semitism controversy, but recognised that there is still a lot of work to be done on a national level.

Lewis said: “We still have this problem where the leadership needs to act and reassure a community which is angry and insecure and feels disconnected from the Labour party. And for me personally, that’s obviously a very sad set of circumstances.”

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