A human rights watchdog has launched a formal investigation into whether the Labour Party “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it had contacted Labour after receiving a “number of complaints” about allegations of anti-Semitism within the party, and had “carefully considered” their response before opening the probe.
The EHRC said the investigation would seek to determine whether “unlawful acts have been committed by the Party and/or its employees and/or its agents” and if the party has “responded to complaints of unlawful acts in a lawful, efficient and effective manner”.
The Commission rarely takes such action against political parties - the only other party to be investigated was the British National Party which was ordered in 2010 to rewrite its constitution to reflect race relations laws.
Alastair Campbell, former Labour communications director under Tony Blair, said it was said "strange" how swiftly he was kicked out of the party for voting Lib Dem in the European elections contrasted to the party's handling of allegations of anti-Semitism.
"I think people will inevitably draw the contrast with the lack of rapidity in dealing with cases involving anti-Semitism," he said.
Labour said it would “cooperate fully” with the EHRC, and rejects “any suggestion that the party does not handle anti-Semitism complaints fairly and robustly”.
A party spokeswoman said: “Labour is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and is implacably opposed to anti-Semitism in any form.
“We reject any suggestion that the Party does not handle anti-Semitism complaints fairly and robustly, or that the Party has acted unlawfully, and we will continue to cooperate fully with the EHRC.
“We support the efforts of the EHRC to draw attention to the obligations all political parties have under the Equality Act. But its ability to do so has been undermined by a 70% budget cut since 2010.
“Labour is the party of equality and in government we will strengthen the powers and functions of the commission.
“There has been a deeply worrying rise in anti-Semitism in the UK and across Europe. We are taking action to root it out of our party by strengthening our rules and procedures.
“But the issue can only be properly dealt with by all political parties working together to protect the interests of the Jewish community and to combat racism in politics, the media and in society more broadly.
“That includes the need for the Conservatives and other parties taking action to deal with racism in their own ranks.”
ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand gives his analysis on the anti-semitism complaints
Labour MP Louise Ellman told ITV News it was an "absolute disgrace" the party was being investigated for racism.
She said: "This problem has been building up for the past three years and at first the Labour party refused to accept it had a problem and we were told allegations of anti-semitism within the Labour party were simply smears against the leadership and then the Labour party refused to deal with things properly."
At the same time of the announcement, the Muslim Council called on the EHRC to investigate the Conservative Party over claims of Islamophobia, ITV News' Paul Brand tweeted: