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Tough Questions for Owen Jones

With local elections coming up, it is unsurprising that Owen Jones spent Saturday campaigning for Labour in Westminster.

What would have once been surprising, however, is that any self-respecting Guardian columnist would campaign alongside Steven Saxby.

Harry’s Place has repeatedly drawn attention to Saxby’s whitewashing and promotion of extremism.

Last year, the Evening Standard reported that Waltham Forest Labour had blocked Saxby from standing:

Reverend Saxby was told by local party chiefs that they did not want him to stand in elections in Waltham Forest.

Labour sources revealed that they had concerns over his candidacy and political views, including sharing a platform at a high-profile local event with George Galloway.

Activists in his new seat also expressed their concerns. One member of the local party’s executive told the Standard: “He is hugely divisive.”

Yesterday, Harry’s Place revealed that Saxby had warmly welcomed his “friend”, the extremist imam Mahmood ul Hassan Raja, into the Labour Party. Raja is on record as praising the assassination of a Pakistani politician for “blasphemy”.

Earlier this year, David Collier revealed that Saxby had participated in the virulently antisemitic ‘Palestine Live’ Facebook group. (See pp. 46-48 of Collier’s report.)

None of this prevented Jones from campaigning alongside Saxby. Nor did it prevent him from describing Saxby as a “brilliant Labour candidate” beforehand, nor from later predicting that Saxby would make “a genuinely fantastic MP”.

Clearly, this raises some challenging questions for Owen Jones.

Was Jones aware that Saxby had been rejected as a candidate by Waltham Forest Labour?

Was he aware of Saxby’s track record of whitewashing and promoting extremism?

Was he aware of Saxby warmly welcoming Mahmood ul Hassan Raja into the Labour Party?

Was he aware of Saxby’s membership of the ‘Palestine Live’ Facebook group? This question is one which Jones would do particularly well to answer, given that (a) he is apparently waging “a ceaseless and uncompromising war against anti-Semitism on the left and in broader society” and (b) his own interest in politicians’ membership of secret Facebook groups.

If Jones was aware of these things before yesterday, we might reasonably ask why he warmly praised Saxby and campaigned alongside him.

If he wasn’t aware – well, he is now. Which leads to perhaps the most important question of all: will Jones now row back on his support for Steven Saxby?