Labour has secretly suspended 50 of its members over anti-Semitic and racist comments as officials struggle to cope with the crisis engulfing the party.
Senior sources reveal that Labour’s compliance unit has been swamped by the influx of hard-left supporters following Jeremy Corbyn’s election.
The suspensions that have been made public so far are said to be just the tip of the iceberg.
On Monday night Mr Corbyn appeared to acknowledge there was a problem for the first time, while insisting it was “not huge”. He told the Daily Mirror: “What there is is a very small number of people that have said things that they should not have done. We have therefore said they will be suspended and investigated.”
There is growing pressure on the Labour leader ahead of the local elections on Thursday, in which his party is forecast to lose more than 100 seats.
Senior figures are now so concerned about the row that they are openly discussing the possibility of an attempted coup following the EU referendum.
MPs are said to be plotting a coup to remove Mr Corbyn after the election if things go badly, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell poised to take over.
It prompted Mr McDonnell to issue an extraordinary denial of the claims on Monday night.
He said: “Media and right wing dirty tricks and lies trying to divide me and Jeremy. They should know it only unites us even more and makes us stronger.”
Also on Sunday night shadow education secretary Lucy Powell became the first shadow cabinet minister to acknowledge the party had a problem with anti-Semitism.
She told Channel 4 News : “There clearly is an issue with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party otherwise we wouldn’t have spent the best part of the last six or seven days talking about it.
“I think it is a very small element within the Labour Party and probably a small element in wider society as well. And that’s why we are taking swift action to root it out.”
On Monday it emerged that the party suspended three councillors within seven hours over a series of allegedly anti-Semitic posts on Twitter and Facebook.
Two of them had called for Israeli Jews to be relocated to America while a third compared a former Premier League footballer to Hitler.
A senior source within the party told The Telegraph that the problem went much further and the compliance unit has actually suspended 50 members in the past two months.
They include up to 20 members within the past two weeks alone, with the unit struggling to cope because it does not have necessary resources.
Only 13 Labour members have been publicly named since October after being suspended. The source said: “There are just six people in the compliance unit with one more joining after the EU referendum and frankly, it’s nowhere near enough.
“They can’t cope with the number of new members that have joined since Jeremy became leader, they need more resources.”
Mr Corbyn is facing one of the most dangerous periods of his leadership after he was last week forced to suspend Naz Shah , a Labour MP, and Ken Livingstone , the former Mayor of London, over alleged anti-Semitic comments.
Jonathan Arkush, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said that Mr Corbyn’s failure to accept that there was a more widespread problem is “an issue in itself”.
He said: “Labour will need to consider whether the compliance unit is the right approach or whether there needs to be a stronger mechanism to deal with what we see, to our sadness, to be a pretty serious problem in the current party membership.”
John Woodcock, a Labour MP and critic of Mr Corbyn, said: “The Labour party should make public the number of incidents it has had reported in recent years to the present, we mustn’t allow any impression that we are seeking to minimise this very serious issue or sweep it under the carpet.”
Mr McDonnell has previously called for the compliance unit to be scrapped altogether. His intervention was described as “sickeningly irresponsible”.
It came as Emma Thompson, previously one of Labour’s key supporters, admitted she will not vote for the party in the forthcoming Mayoral election because she no longer feels that the party reflects her views.
Tom Watson, Labour’s Deputy Leader, voiced concerns that the anti-Semitism row could damage the party’s prospects in the local election.
Sadiq Khan, the party’s London Mayoral candidate, has also raised concerns that he may lose because of the row. Despite the row Mr Corbyn and his allies have sought to downplay the problem.
Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary, said claims that Labour has a problem with anti-semitism are a “smear” while Len McCluskey, the leader of the Unite union, accused critics of using the row to undermine the Labour leader.
One Labour MP said:”There’s clearly a problem that needs to be dealt with and it’s not right that well known figures in Labour like Jeremy and Diane and Len are constantly trying to downplay the issue when there is an problem that we need to address.
“People would have much more trust if we set out openly the scale of the issue we are facing and publish the number of people who have been suspended.”
Labour was on Monday forced to suspended three councillors within seven hours over material on Twitter and Facebook.
Ilyas Aziz, a Nottingham councillor, was suspended when it emerged that he said on Facebook that "it would be wiser to create Israel in America it's big enough. They could relocate even now [sic]".
Salim Mulla, a former mayor of Blackburn, was suspended a few hours later when it was found that he had posted the same graphic proposing Israel's relocation to the United States.
Shah Hussain, of Burnley council, tweeted to Israeli footballer Yossi Bennayouyn that "you and your country doing the same thing that hitler did to ur race in ww2 [sic]".
Speaking to The Telegraph Mr Aziz denied that the comments he posted were anti-Semitic and insisted that the media was “trying to stir up trouble”.
The compliance unit suspends members who are reported for “bringing the party into disrepute”. It assesses material on social media websites and elsewhere and then launches a formal investigation.
A source close to the Labour leader said the party does not comment on the number of suspensions but added that Diane Abbott said on Sunday that there have been “12 reported incidents of anti-Semitism” in the party.
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