Tom Watson launches scathing attack on anti-Semitism in Labour party

Labour implodes: Tom Watson launches scathing attack on anti-Semitism in Labour party, branding it ‘harrowing’ and ‘a sickness’ and risks war with Jeremy Corbyn by saying there is ‘participation from the leader’s office’

  • Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, slammed senior figures over documentary
  • He published a highly critical open letter on Thursday after the Panorama show 
  • Labour has complained about the documentary saying staff were disaffected 

Tom Watson ignited Labour’s civil war last night as he accused one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest aides of going back on a vow not to delete evidence about anti-Semitism cases.

A bombshell Panorama documentary on Wednesday revealed that an email about a disciplinary case from Labour general secretary Jennie Formby had been deleted.

Mr Watson, the party’s deputy leader, accused senior Labour figures of ‘smearing’ former staffers who broke gagging orders to tell the BBC programme that Mr Corbyn’s aides had intervened in disciplinary cases.

In a highly critical open letter, he called on Miss Formby to publish the party’s submission to a watchdog investigating racism claims, saying ‘only sunlight can disinfect Labour of anti-Semitism now’.

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Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson accused senior Labour figures of ‘smearing’ former staffers who broke gagging orders to speak to Panorama

The Jewish Labour Movement yesterday revealed that it had detailed witness statements from 30 former and current Labour members of staff that it was planning to submit to the Equality and Human Rights Commission about anti-Semitism in the party. The EHRC is investigating Labour’s handling of the issue.

It comes after former employees alleged that Labour’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, and Miss Formby interfered with investigations.

Labour has complained about the programme, claiming the ex-staffers who spoke to Panorama were disaffected and motivated by political opposition to the Labour leader.

And it denied that Miss Formby had destroyed any evidence – although it did admit she had deleted some emails because her inbox was accessible to political enemies.

Last night three female Jewish Labour MPs, Dame Margaret Hodge, Ruth Smeeth and Louise Ellman, wrote to Mr Corbyn accusing him of an ‘abuse of power’ for making legal threats against staffers who broke gagging orders to speak out.

And the group Labour Against Anti-Semitism demanded that Miss Formby and Mr Milne be sacked ‘as their positions are clearly untenable’.

Mr Watson said yesterday that he believes there was ‘some participation’ from Mr Corbyn’s office in the disciplinary process for dealing with accusations of anti-Semitism.

Watson bashed Labour general secretary Jennie Formby, a close aide of Jeremy Corbyn (pictured)

He claimed there was ‘almost a permissive culture’ towards anti-Jewish racism in the ranks of Labour after damning claims about the party’s handling of accusations were broadcast by Panorama.

In his letter to Miss Formby, he said those who spoke to the programme were ‘very brave to go before a camera and tell their stories’. 

‘The way that they have been smeared, including by Labour spokespeople, is deplorable,’ Mr Watson said.

‘Even if some in the party did not want to hear what they had to say, it is unacceptable to attempt to undermine their integrity and characters in this manner. Only sunlight can disinfect Labour of anti-Semitism now.’

In a tweet Mr Watson said: ‘I am shocked, chilled and appalled by what I’ve just seen on Panorama. Hearing the testimony of party members and former staff was harrowing.’

And he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘In the last four years… there is a growing belief that there is a sickness in our party, that this kind of abuse has been in some way allowed.

‘It does seem to me that there is obviously some participation in these disciplinary cases from the leader’s office, which means they are responsible for dealing with the rebuilding of trust in the Jewish community.’ The Panorama documentary revealed an email on one disciplinary case from Miss Formby to senior Labour figures, including Mr Corbyn, last year in which she wrote: ‘I’ve permanently deleted all trace of the email. Too many eyes still on my Labour address. Please use my Unite [trade union] address.’

General secretary Jennie Formby (pictured with Mr Corbyn) is accused of trying to influence the NCC, the party’s top disciplinary body, in the case of Jackie Walker, who was later expelled from the party for anti-Semitic behaviour

Mr Watson yesterday produced an email Miss Formby sent him earlier this year where she said: ‘I am extremely concerned by the wording I have highlighted in your email, which appears to suggest either that you believe that I or any of our staff would consider destroying evidence, or that we are incapable of understanding the importance of co-operating appropriately with a public authority. Either suggestion is offensive and totally without any justification.’ Highlighting this apparent discrepancy, Mr Watson wrote to Miss Formby: ‘Panorama also raised allegations that you have deleted emails relating to cases of anti-Semitism and asked for cases to be sent to your Unite email address.

‘I am concerned about this given you have previously reassured me, in the attached correspondence, that all data relating to anti-Semitism would be preserved.

‘Can you please explain this and confirm that the EHRC has been given access to the Unite email referred to by you in the emails seen by Panorama?’

Labour said that for a short period Miss Formby had used her Unite email address because she did not trust the Labour one. The party said the deleted email did not contain evidence. 

‘Stalinist paranoia…’ verdict from insiders at the BBC 

Labour officials displayed ‘Stalinist levels of paranoia’ over allegations made by whistleblowers in this week’s Panorama documentary, it was claimed last night.

BBC sources are said to have told colleagues they regarded Labour’s response to questions by journalists as ‘hopelessly inept’.

They said the party’s 50 pages of written answers to claims made by ex-Labour staffers interviewed by the programme contained multiple examples of evasions and untruths. According to BBC sources, one passage in particular was described as showing ‘Stalinist levels of paranoia’ – in its claim that whistleblowers may have ‘generated’ apparently incriminating emails just to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership years later.

Labour has complained to BBC director-general Lord Hall about the programme, which it said was full of ‘deliberate and malicious misrepresentations designed to mislead the public’.

It also claimed its presenter, John Ware – one of the BBC’s most experienced investigative reporters – was biased.

And it queried some of the episode’s assertions, including that Mr Corbyn’s key aides Jennie Formby and Seumas Milne intervened in anti-Semitism cases.

But last night a spokesman for the Corporation said: ‘The BBC stands by its journalism and we completely reject any accusations of bias or dishonesty.’ Panorama also approached senior figures implicated, including Mr Corbyn and Mr Milne, but Labour would not let them appear on the programme.

A Labour spokesman did not specifically deny the claims by BBC sources. But she said they were a ‘desperate attempt’ to deflect criticism of its ‘seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided programme…’

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