Watson steps up criticism of Labour hierarchy over anti-Semitism

Labour has been urged by its deputy leader to publish its submission to a watchdog investigating anti-Semitism claims as the bitter row within the party continues.

Tom Watson told the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby the document produced for the Equality and Human Rights Commission should be made public because “only sunlight can disinfect Labour of anti-Semitism now”.

He also said he believes there was “some participation” from leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office in the disciplinary process dealing with accusations of anti-Semitism.

The party’s deputy leader claimed there was “almost a permissive culture” towards anti-Jewish racism in the ranks after damning claims about the party’s handling of accusations were broadcast.

A total of eight people told the BBC’s Panorama programme they were undermined in their attempts to tackle anti-Semitism in the party.

Former officials alleged Labour’s director of communications Seumas Milne and its general secretary Ms Formby interfered with investigations.

Four of those who spoke out, including former Labour general secretary Lord Iain McNicol, broke non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to do so.

Labour has denied the claims and written a complaint to the BBC.

In his letter to Ms Formby, Mr Watson said the people 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,” he 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.”

Earlier, Mr Watson said the party had failed to address the “permissive culture” that people can use anti-Semitic language in meetings and on social media.

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He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the last four years, since Jeremy and I were elected leader and deputy leader of the party, there is a growing belief that there is a sickness in our party, that this kind of abuse has been in some way allowed.

“That there’s almost a permissive culture that people can use anti-Jewish, racist language both in our meetings and to each other on social media and we’ve failed to address that properly.

“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 frontbencher said there needed to be a rule change to “auto-exclude” party members who have a “prima facie case to answer of using anti-Semitic behaviours and language”.

He claimed Mr Corbyn was the “only one” who could fix the issue.

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell called on the BBC to carry out an investigation into complaints made by Labour about the Panorama report.

“There have been complaints put into the BBC now,” he said.

“I think the BBC should investigate those and then we can come to a conclusion.”

He added: “What we have got is ex-staff making accusations against existing staff and those existing staff have challenged those complaints so it does need an objective look at.”

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Three senior peers quit the Labour whip earlier this week in protest at the handling of the issue under Mr Corbyn’s leadership.

Another peer, Lord Levy, said he considers leaving Labour every day over its handling of anti-Semitism and has “immense respect” for his fellow peers who have resigned the whip.

Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate, said the Panorama programme “was depressing and gut-wrenching”.

“It showed interference in what is supposed to be an independent process,” he said.

“It showed the downplaying of serious allegations. It showed an appalling lack of understanding of the hurt, and fear, felt by Jewish party members and the wider Jewish community.”

Sam Matthews, Labour’s former head of complaints, said he had been pushed to the brink of suicide by the issues in the party.

“After Jeremy became leader, he opened the floodgates and allowed people to join the Labour Party who never would have been allowed anywhere near it in the past,” he told The Jewish Chronicle.

“Whether he himself is an anti-Semite or not is an irrelevance. He is the biggest friend anti-Semites have had since the Second World War.”

Peter Mason, national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement, said his group had secured testimonies from 30 whistle-blowers as part of the referral of the party to the EHRC.

A Labour spokesman said the party rejected any claim it is anti-Semitic and it complained in advance to the BBC “over the way the programme was put together and its choice of a presenter who has expressed overt personal and political hostility to Jeremy Corbyn’s politics”.

“We stand in solidarity with Jewish people, and we’re taking decisive action to root out anti-Semitism from our movement and society,” the spokesman said.

“The Panorama programme was not a fair or balanced investigation.

“It was a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning.”

He added: “It was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy.

“Despite claims made in the programme, Labour is taking decisive action against anti-Semitism.

“Since Jennie Formby became general secretary, the rate at which anti-Semitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than four-fold.”