Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson says party must take a 'long, hard look at itself' over antisemitism response

Party risking being mired in 'vortex of eternal shame' and becoming unfit for government, hard-hitting interview warns

Alex Matthews-King
Sunday 05 August 2018 14:03
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Jeremy Corbyn releases video apologising for antisemitism in the Labour party

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has said the party must take a “long, hard look at itself” and its response to antisemitic views among some members.

If it fails to rapidly address issues which have caused a long-running row with the Jewish community then it risks becoming “lost in a vortex of eternal shame”, he said.

Disciplinary action being taken against two Labour MPs, Dame Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin, who are prominent critics of leader Jeremy Corbyn should be dropped if relations are to begin to heal, he added.

Mr Watson also called for the party to adopt, in full, the globally recognised definition of antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) for its code of conduct.

He added that the row cannot be allowed to drag on over summer.

“This is one of those moments when we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, stand up for what is right and present the party as fit to lead the nation – or disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment,” Mr Watson said in an interview with The Observer.

The strongly worded intervention could be uncomfortable for Mr Corbyn as he has this week sought to build bridges with community groups.

“I think it is very important that we all work to de-escalate this disagreement, and I think it starts with dropping the investigations into Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin,” he added.

“I have frequently had very difficult conversations with both Margaret and Ian but what I understand is that your critics are not your enemies. On an issue that is so dear to them, I think people are very, very concerned that these investigations should be dropped quickly.”

Mr Corbyn has stopped short of fully implementing the IHRA’s antisemitism guidelines. Though he said the party had fully adopted the wording of the definition, he said it had captured “the essence” of its illustrative examples, with seven of the 11 guidelines incorporated entirely.

He insisted the differences were “very small” and amount to “half of one example out of 11” in relation to criticism of Israel.

Margaret Hodge speaks about being on the receiving end of antisemitism as a Labour MP

He acknowledged that the Jewish community “should have been consulted more extensively” in drawing up the code, and its development should had been reopened to allow the input of Jewish organisations.

Mr Watson told the Observer: “We should deal with this swiftly and move on. We can’t have this dragging on throughout the summer. I have made no secret of the fact that ... we should adopt the full IHRA definition and should do it without delay.”

Mr Corbyn has insisted he will root out antisemites from Labour, and acknowledged mistakes in the way the party had handled the crisis.

But the Jewish Labour Movement said trust had broken down with the party leadership.

A spokesman said: “There is no trust left. We find ourselves asking once again for action, not words.”

Campaign Against Antisemitism chairman Gideon Falter said: “There is no acknowledgement of his own role in this crisis. There is no apology for his antisemitic activity in the past, but he has hypocritically condemned as antisemitic behaviour that he himself has been guilty of.

“He has again preached to Jews that he is right to have rewritten the international definition of antisemitism.”

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