War of words at top of Labour over how to handle anti-Semitism

Labour’s bitter row over how to handle anti-Semitism escalated as two of the party’s senior figures clashed on the issue.

General secretary Jennie Formby and deputy leader Tom Watson engaged in a heated war of words about how complaints should be dealt with.

Ms Formby accused Mr Watson of “completely unacceptable” behaviour for asking Labour MPs to forward complaints made to the party about anti-Semitism to him so they could be monitored.

The deputy leader hit back by insisting he would stand his ground as there had been a “complete loss of trust” in the party regarding the complaints situation.

Ms Formby said that Mr Watson’s approach would “undermine” and “pollute” the existing system of dealing with complaints.

In a letter to Mr Watson, which was forwarded to all Labour MPs and peers, Ms Formby wrote: “It is absolutely inappropriate for you to set up a vague parallel complaints monitoring system.”

Ms Formby said it was “completely unacceptable” for Mr Watson to receive data relating to such complaints.

She said: “Both the party itself and you as an individual MP have very strict responsibilities under GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 to safeguard members’ data and ensure it is processed only for clearly defined and lawful purposes.”

The general secretary added: “Furthermore, you will undermine the work that my staff and I are doing and will confuse and pollute the existing formal process, compromising it and slowing it down.”

Ms Formby asked Labour parliamentarians not to send complaints to Mr Watson “or any other unauthorised individual”.

Mr Watson returned fire, insisting swifter and more transparent action was needed.

He said: “The constant concern of those complaining about anti-Semitism in our party is that there is no transparency about the process.

“This opacity and delay in processing complaints has led to a complete loss of trust.

“Too often those who have suffered anti-Semitic abuse have not heard anything about the outcome of their complaint.

“It is my responsibility as deputy leader of the Labour Party to ensure people have confidence in our complaints system and our ability to deal transparently with the scourge of anti-Semitism.

“I will continue to do everything I can to achieve that.”

The row erupted after Mr Watson wrote to Labour MPs and peers to say that he will be “logging and monitoring” all complaints of anti-Semitic abuse and bullying.

In an email, Mr Watson asked Labour parliamentarians to inform him of any complaints of anti-Semitism so he can ensure that they are shared with Jeremy Corbyn and other leading figures.

Ms Formby confirmed that Labour peer Lord Falconer would be “scrutinising” the party’s disciplinary procedures.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott speaking during a No Pasaran conference
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott speaking during a No Pasaran conference in central London (Victoria Jones/PA)

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott declined to comment when asked if she agreed with Ms Formby’s criticism of Mr Watson.

Ms Abbott told a conference in central London discussing how to combat the far right that Mr Corbyn had consistently fought against anti-Semitism and racism.

Meanwhile, the general secretary has been urged to investigate Ms Abbott’s local constituency party after it called for an immediate start to processes which could see MPs who speak out on anti-Semitism face deselection.

The motion passed by Hackney North and Stoke Newington Constituency Labour Party hit out at claims of “institutional anti-Semitism” spread by “the media” and the “right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party”.

It called on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) to immediately implement trigger ballot procedures in all constituencies in order to allow members to decide on the future of their MPs.

Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy said the motion was “disgraceful” and called on Labour’s general secretary to “investigate for the sake of all”.

On Wednesday, MP Chris Williamson was suspended following claims that the party has been “too apologetic” about anti-Semitism.

The Derby North MP vowed to clear his name, saying he had a “very strong case”.

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