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Sunday, February 29, 2004
fury as Labour calls Letwin 'Fagin'
By Melissa Kite, Chris
Hastings and David Bamber
IAN McCartney, the Labour Party
chairman, was embroiled in a furious row last night
after describing a Jewish member of the shadow
cabinet as a "21st century Fagin".
He caused outrage by comparing Oliver
Letwin (right), the shadow chancellor,
to the loathed villain in Charles Dickens's
Oliver Twist, during a barnstorming speech
meant to rally Scottish Labour MPs at their annual
During an attack on Tory spending plans Ian
McCartney lampooned Mr Letwin, the descendant
of Jewish refugees from Ukraine, as "Slasher
Letwin". He told delegates:
"The real danger . . .
is the Tories. What would life under Slasher
Letwin look like? No Oliver Twist, this man,
more of a Fagin.
"This 21st century Fagin will
pick the pockets of Scotland's pensioners by
abolishing the pension credit and then plan for
a new generation of poor pensioners by
abolishing the second state pension."
Jewish leaders said that the slur was the height
of irresponsibility when there were growing fears
over a rise of anti-Semitism in Britain, which has
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, of Maidenhead
Synagogue, a spokesman for Reform Synagogues, said:
"I find the remark highly offensive. It is a
throwback to the worst kind of stereotype from a
bygone age. It is totally gratuitous to compare
someone to a fictitious Jewish villain from 1837.
Consciously or otherwise it is a reference to Mr
Letwin's face rather than his politics."
the best-known image of Fagin is Ron Moody's
portrayal (left) in the musical, Oliver,
which won the 1968 best film Oscar.
Moody, who is due to revive the role at the
Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury next month, said he
was outraged by the remarks and urged Mr McCartney
"I think it is disgraceful and irresponsible.
Someone in Mr McCartney's position should choose
his words more carefully. Fagin is a monstrous
creation. He is a fence, a thief and a corrupter of
"I do not think any Jewish person should be
compared to him. Such a description is
Lord Janner, the Labour peer and chairman
of the Holocaust Education Trust, said he was
"amazed" by Mr McCartney's comments.
He said: "I know Ian is not an anti-Semite but
comments like this do sound anti-Semitic. I know
him very well and I like him very much. I am,
however, astonished by the fact that he should make
a comment like this."
Mr Letwin's spokesman said: "It is sad that
Labour have used this character in such a way and
refuse to debate our policies in a more serious
Friends of the shadow chancellor said that he
was proud of his ancestry and believed it to be
insensitive of Labour to use such a stereotype
His parents, Shirley and Bill Letwin -- the name
comes from "Latvian" -- were Jewish American
intellectuals, whose parents fled persecution in
Mr McCartney said in a statement that it was
"absolute nonsense" to say his scripted remarks
were racist. "I have spent all my life campaigning
against racism and anti-Semitism. No one who reads
the remarks in context could interpret them in that
way. It is simply a reference to the Tory policy on
scrapping the pension credit. This was a comment
about Oliver Letwin's politics and the Tory Party's
[Michael] Howard, (right) the son of
a Romanian Jewish shopkeeper and the first Jewish
leader of the Tories in 100 years, disclosed in his
anti-racism speech in Burnley that his grandmother
died in a Nazi death
camp. He is a member of a liberal synagogue.
, when he stood down to devote his
time to being shadow chancellor, Mr Letwin was a
director of NM Rothschild, the London branch of
the Jewish banking dynasty. Lord Saatchi, the
Tory chairman, is also Jewish.
There have been fears over the re-emergence of
anti-Semitism recently. An ICM poll in the
Jewish Chronicle last month showed that one
in five Britons would not elect a Jewish prime
minister, one in seven
thought that the Holocaust had been
exaggerated, and one in five said that Jews
had too much influence. © Copyright of
Telegraph Group Limited 2004.
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