Tom Watson has hit out at a social media campaign to oust him as Labour’s deputy leader following his warning the party faced a “vortex of eternal shame” unless it resolved an escalating row over antisemitism.
His remarks came after Jeremy Corbyn apologised for the hurt caused to many in the Jewish community as he denounced those who use “antisemitic poison” in the Labour Party and said: “You do not do it in my name”.
But party divisions entered the public arena on Sunday evening after thousands of Twitter users – supportive of Mr Corbyn – mounted a “resignwatson” hashtag, used to direct demands for his resignation.
Responding to the criticism, Mr Watson posted: “It sometimes feels like people have been calling for me to stand down from day one but I never, ever thought I’d be facing demands to #resignwatson for standing up for people who are facing prejudice and hate.“
Mr Watson, who has remained silent in his criticism of the Labour leader since the 2017 snap election, broke ranks with the official party line on Sunday as he urged for end to disciplinary action against Ian Austin and Dame Margaret Hodge.
He also said the party should adopt in the International Holocaust and Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and examples of antisemitism without any amendments.
“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 told the Observer.
On Sunday evening, Labour MPs rallied to Mr Watson’s defence. Ilford North MP Wes Streeting posted: “Imagine demanding the resignation of our deputy leader because he’s called for meaningful action against racism. The absolute state of the #resignwatson cesspit and those who swim in it.“
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, the senior Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, backed Mr Watson, adding: “I think this problem that we are in is awful for the Labour Party that’s got such a history of fighting racism.
“I think it’s not going to go away until the party adopts the international definition of antisemitism,” she said.
In a joint message, Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Jonathan Goldstein, the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, accused Mr Corbyn of failing to acknowledge his own “problematic” history.
“Until Corbyn can honestly and fully own up to the problematic nature of some of his own past actions, he will struggle to lead the cultural change that is needed to clear the decks of a loud minority within Labour who behave in this way,” they said.
In a New Statesman article they said the leader's office had asked whether it would be insensitive to release a statement on Friday afternoon, when Jews would be preparing to observe the Sabbath.
“We said it would be an act of tremendous bad faith. He clearly ignored us.”
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