LONDON: A former member of the Labour Party’s inner circle urged the public on Thursday to vote for Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Britain’s Dec. 12 election, saying that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is “unfit” to lead the country due to anti-Semitism.
Ian Austin, one of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s closest allies, told the BBC that the Labour Party has been poisoned by “anti-Jewish racism” under Corbyn’s leadership. Austin left the party in February over its handling of an anti-Semitism scandal.
“There’s only two people who can be prime minister on Dec. 13 — Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson,” Austin told the BBC. “And I think Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to lead our country.”
Austin’s startling interview came a day after deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, who has often clashed with Corbyn, announced he was stepping down. The two actions underscore the unease many Labour lawmakers have with Corbyn’s left-wing views, his leadership and his ambivalence over Britain’s ties to the European Union.
Since he took charge in 2015, Corbyn has moved Labour further to the left and away from the center ground staked out by former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The Jewish Chronicle newspaper, meanwhile, used a rare front-page editorial Thursday to urge non-Jewish voters in Britain to reject Corbyn’s bid for power because of what it called his dangerous anti-Semitism. The newspaper said it had hoped Corbyn’s attitudes would change when he became party leader but said he had instead turned a blind eye toward anti-Jewish statements by other party members.
“We believe that the overwhelming majority of British people abhor racism,” the newspaper said. “We ask only that, when you cast your vote, you act on that.”
All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs in the Dec. 12 election, chosen by 46 million voters in the country’s first December election in 96 years.
Johnson hard pushed for the vote, which is coming more than two years early, after Parliament thwarted his plans to have Britain leave the EU on Oct. 31. Johnson hopes his Conservatives can win the vote, then pass his Brexit divorce plan and get the country out of the 28-nation bloc by the next Brexit deadline on Jan. 31.
Over his long political career, Corbyn has championed leftist causes and the grievances of groups such as the Irish Republican Army, Hamas and Hezbollah.
“He’s spent his entire time in politics working with and defending all sorts of people, extremists and in some cases anti-Semites and terrorists,” Austin said. “In the end, I don’t think he’s a patriot. I don’t think he loves his country. I think he always picks our country’s enemies, whether it’s the IRA during the Troubles or describing Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends, or parroting (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s propaganda when the Russians send hitmen to murder people on the streets of Britain.”
Labour was quick to hit back at the comments. Rebecca Long-Bailey, the party’s business spokeswoman, told the BBC that Corbyn is a patriot and the party has stepped up its efforts to root out anti-Semitism.
“Certainly, voting for Boris Johnson if you are a Labour voter and you want to protect your community is absolutely absurd and it makes no sense at all,” she said.
Up until now, the issue of Brexit has been the campaign’s key issue.
Labour wants to shift the election debate away from Brexit and onto domestic issues such as health care, the environment and social welfare, saying it will reverse Britain’s increasing social inequality.
Other parties in the race include the Liberal Democrats, who want to cancel Brexit; the Scottish National Party, which opposes Brexit and wants Scotland to leave the U.K.; and the Brexit Party, which says Britain should leave the bloc without a deal.
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