Copeland’s Labour candidate in last year’s election has called for Jeremy Corbyn’s party suspension to be lifted, and condemned what he describes as a “McCarthyite” suppression of discussion over anti-Semitism in the party.

Tony Lywood, who fought last year’s General Election battle to reclaim Labour’s Copeland seat from Conservative Trudy Harrison after her shock by-election win in 2017, agreed with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s assessment that the prevalence of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party had been “overstated” by political opponents.

“This is being used as a political tool to beat Corbyn over the head,” he said. “I will not stand for it any longer.”

Mr Lywood’s comments come amid an internal Labour Party investigation into statements he made recently.

The issue of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party was brought to the fore again at the end of October, with the publication of an Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into the handling of complaints of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party during Mr Corbyn’s tenure as leader.

The EHRC investigation “found significant failings in the way the Labour Party has handled anti-Semitism complaints over the last four years”, including examples of “harassment, discrimination and political interference”.

It also found a “lack of leadership within the Labour Party on these issues” during Mr Corbyn’s tenure.

Mr Lywood said he felt the guts of the EHRC report revealed anti-Semitism is not “widespread” in the party.

“If you read the EHRC report, which is 130 pages long, you will find that in terms of harassment, the number of people who had actually been harassed amounted to two,” he said.

He added that he did not want to diminish the “dreadful, dreadful” existence of any anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, but Mr Lywood does not believe it is “ingrained” in the Labour Party.

“Jeremy Corbyn is not an innocent man,” Mr Lywood said. “He presided over a disciplinary situation that was not fit for purpose.”

He added he fully accepts the conclusions of the EHRC report, but condemned what he described as attempts to silence dissent within the party. He drew comparisons with the smearing of public figures suspected of communist sympathies, led by US Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

“There is becoming now, within the party, an almost ‘McCarthyite’ view, whereby even if you challenge the idea that anti-Semitism is rife within the party, it is almost akin to being an anti-Semite yourself,” he said.

“It’s gone so far, that I’m no longer prepared to put up with it.”

Mr Lywood said it was ironic Mr Starmer has in recent days praised US President-elect Joe Biden for creating a "successful” left-leaning Democrat party by “uniting” it.

“I think by suspending Jeremy Corbyn - and probably by suspending me, which is almost certainly going to happen - I’m not sure that’s going to help party unity,” he said.

“If Labour leader Kier Starmer wishes to heal the current divisions in the party, he must reinstate former leader Jeremy Corbyn.”

Mr Lywood stressed that he believed the findings of the EHRC report were “quite correct”.

“I completely back it. But it was a governance report, about process, more than anything else.

“It was about how wanting our process was on disciplining people - and it was.

“We have more than 500,000 members. Even if there’s one anti-Semite in the party, I would hope we would throw them out of the party instantaneously, once due process to prove everything has been followed.”

However, he said the report was now being used for “political purposes”.

“I think it’s being used more for political purposes, to demonise Jeremy Corbyn, and the left of the party.”

Mr Lywood said that alongside the removal of Mr Corbyn’s suspension, he wanted to see “less control over everything that can be discussed” exercised within the party.

“I would like to see our Jewish brethren come back into the party, and not feel like they are not welcome, because they are welcome - by me, by everybody else.”

Mr Lywood, who has been a member of the Labour Party since 1975, said he has never experienced anti-Semitism within the party personally.

He said he himself was once subject to an antisemitic attack in Leeds. “It went to court, people went to jail over it,” he said. “I know what it feels like to be singled out racially.”

He added that “the idea that there’s anti-Semitism in Cumbria is just ridiculous.

There may be some clumsy wording by some people who are not as articulate as others, but I just don’t see it.

“I would say there’s more Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia in Cumbrian than anti-Semitism.

“I’ve seen Islamophobia within the party when I was in Leeds. But I have to say, I’ve never seen anti-Semitism.

“I’m not saying I don’t think it exists. I’m saying I don’t think it’s as widespread as people are trying to portray.”

A spokesman for Labour said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously. They are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”