Labour MP candidate refuses to stand again for party in Sheffield seat because of anti-Semitism controversy

Oliver Coppard.
Oliver Coppard.

A political candidate who nearly became an MP for the Sheffield Hallam constituency three years ago has declined to stand again for Labour because of the anti-Semitism row engulfing the party.

Oliver Coppard took on the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at the 2015 general election, reducing the Liberal Democrat’s 15,000-strong majority to 2,353 votes.

His result paved the way for Jared O'Mara to win for Labour in Hallam last year. O'Mara was suspended by the party in autumn 2017 after offensive comments he wrote online came to light and an allegation was made that he had verbally abused a woman; Labour reinstated him in July but shortly afterwards he resigned his membership, opting to continue as an independent MP.

Mr Coppard, who is Jewish and had relatives who were sent to concentration camps in the Second World War, said he was 'frightened by the growing intolerance and factionalism' of the Labour movement, describing how this had 'crushed' his desire to 'play an active role in putting the party into government.'

His decision indicates Labour is now looking for a new figure to take on O'Mara and the Lib Dem candidate Laura Gordon at the next national poll.

Mr Coppard sought selection as the Labour candidate for Hillsborough and Brightside in 2016, following the death of MP Harry Harpham from cancer. The by-election was won for Labour by Mr Harpham's widow Gill Furniss.

"I have always wanted to make a difference in the world; to leave this planet in a better place than I found it," he said in a column for The Huffington Post.

"I started leafleting for the Labour Party when I was six years old. I thought my best way to make a contribution would be as a Labour MP. I stood as the Labour Party’s parliamentary candidate against Nick Clegg in 2015 in Sheffield because of that hope. Even as I lost I held on to that hope. But, if I’m honest, that hope has been what has stopped me speaking out about the anti-Semitism in our party. I should have spoken out before now. More than anything I should have said that I am frightened by the growing intolerance and factionalism of our movement."

He added: "I’m Jewish. My own grandparents came to this country from Czechoslovakia and Austria; just two of a handful of my mother’s family not to end up in Bergen Belsen or Auschwitz. They came here as frightened young people who knew nothing of the country they were joining or the fate of the family they left behind.

"Until now I have always believed that the Labour Party is the best defence against the type of hatred that we saw in 1930s Nazi Germany, and the bigotry now growing again in other parts of the world. The Labour Party exists to represent the interests of the many, but that cannot mean silencing or disparaging the voices of the few, and the Jewish community are few."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been battling accusations of anti-Semitism in the party since he was elected in 2015.

Mr Coppard said: "As the party begins its search for a prospective MP in Sheffield Hallam, for now, despite encouragement from local people, the growing intolerance of our movement has crushed my belief that I could play an active role in putting the Labour Party into government and Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten. I hope I’m wrong. I hope we can rediscover what we used to know; that tolerance and empathy not only make us stronger as a movement but are a fundamental requirement of a transformative, socialist party of government."