Caught in an anti-Semitism row that saw the suspension of an MP and a senior leader, the Labour Party is likely to take a hit during the May 5 elections to choose the next London mayor and assemblies in Scotland, Wales and northern Ireland.
Party chief Jeremy Corbyn has been asked to stay away from campaigning in Wales after Labour MP Naz Shah and senior leader Ken Livingstone were suspended this week over anti-Semitic comments made by Shah before she became a lawmaker.
Livingstone, a former London mayor, defended her but his comments – about Adolf Hitler originally wanting to move Jews to Israel but subsequently “killing six million Jews” – added fuel to the fire.
Corbyn insisted the party had a “grip” on anti-Semitism. However, reports from Wales said he was scheduled to visit on Friday but cancelled following discussions with local party officials. It was claimed his handling of the row made him a liability for the party.
Besides elections for the next London mayor, polls are due on May 5 for the Scottish parliament, Wales assembly, northern Ireland assembly, local councils in England and for police and crime commissioners.
The row has been unnerving for the Labour candidate for the London mayor polls, Sadiq Khan, who is pitted against Conservative Zac Goldsmith, who is of Jewish. London has a significant number of Jewish voters.
Undeterred by the suspension, Livingstone, a long-standing hard left leader who gained much popularity during two terms as mayor of London, said: “Everything I said yesterday was true and I will be presenting the academic book about that to the Labour Party inquiry.”
Deputy party leader Tom Watson told BBC that Corbyn did “act swiftly” to suspend his ally of 40 years, Livingstone, for his “vile” comments. He added: “To link Hitler and Zionism in the way he did must have been designed to create offence.”
It was for Labour’s ruling national executive committee to decide whether to expel Livingstone, Watson said. He and Corbyn were looking at whether Labour’s structures needed changing “to make sure that we send a very clear signal to people in our party that we will have a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism”.