Filmmaker Ken Loach has claimed antisemitism is being used to purge Labour of politicians on the left as he criticised the party for blocking a mayor for sharing a platform with him.
The director blamed Sir Keir Starmer for what he called a “dishonest” move to prevent serving North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll to run for the North East mayoralty.
The move was linked to him speaking at an event alongside Mr Loach, who was expelled from the party amid efforts to tackle the antisemitism experienced during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The UK’s equalities watchdog found Labour was responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination as the former leader struggled to tackle antisemitism.
But Mr Loach told the PA news agency that keeping Mr Driscoll off the longlist published on Friday because they shared a platform was the “lamest excuse I’ve ever heard”.
After criticising Sir Keir for having “broken his commitments” during the leadership campaign, Mr Loach added: “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.”
Mike Katz, the national chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, which had spoken out against Mr Driscoll for speaking alongside Mr Loach as “hugely upsetting” for the Jewish community, criticised the director’s “denialism”.
“This is exactly the sort of offensive downplaying and denialism that Keir Starmer was right to say is as unacceptable as the antisemitism itself that so many Jewish Labour members went through under Corbyn,” Mr Katz said.
“Of course, Loach has ignored the fact that the independent equalities regulator, the EHRC, found Labour guilty of breaking equalities law on antisemitism.”
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Mr Driscoll defended his own record tackling antisemitism after Mr Loach’s comments.
Described as the “last Corbynista in power”, the exclusion of Mr Driscoll from the longlist has sparked concern among some on the left of the Labour party.
John McDonnell, who was Mr Corbyn’s shadow chancellor, blamed “completely out of control” factionalism under Sir Keir.
A senior Labour source told PA that Mr Driscoll’s appearance at the event at Newcastle’s Live Theatre in March and “then refusing to apologise” is “clearly incompatible with our promise to have zero tolerance of antisemitism”.
Mr Loach has long been celebrated for his socially-critical films, with 2016’s I, Daniel Blake winning the Bafta Award for Outstanding British Film for depicting a man’s struggle with the welfare system.
But he was expelled from Labour in 2021 during what he called at the time a “purge” of Corbyn allies.
On Saturday, the veteran filmmaker defended his “friend” Mr Driscoll as a “very fine, imaginative and hardworking mayor” as he criticised Sir Keir.
“Starmer’s clique revealed themselves yet again as dishonest, cunning, manipulative… with no care for the people they’re supposed to represent,” Mr Loach told PA.
“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.”
Mr Loach said he was expelled from Labour for supporting campaigns to prevent some individuals from being kicked out of the party in what he described as a “McCarthyite” approach.
Following the comments, Mr Driscoll 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.”
Being blocked from running for the new mayoral authority adds to the list of Labour politicians on the left who have lost out under the new leadership.
Sir Keir has blocked Mr Corbyn from running from the party in Islington North over his response to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) findings.
The EHRC pulled Labour out of two years of special measures after the party improved its complaints and training procedures to protect party members from antisemitism.
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott had the Labour whip suspended for suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism “all their lives”.
Senior Conservatives were also among those backing Mr Driscoll after the decision to block him.
Former levelling-up secretary Simon Clarke said he feels “very sorry” for the mayor he described as “knowledgeable, passionate about the NE and refreshingly non-partisan”.
Having worked with him as vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi said Mr Driscoll “was always professional and didn’t play politics, just wanted to protect the people he represents”.
“Sorry to hear this Jamie. You are a good man. Stay strong,” the former chancellor added.