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By Women in Westminster

Emily Thornberry warns Labour not to attack 'messengers' in anti-semitism whistleblower row

Emily Thornberry warns Labour not to attack 'messengers' in anti-semitism whistleblower row
4 min read

Labour should not be "going for the messengers" on anti-semitism, Emily Thornberry has declared, amid a bitter row over the treatment of party whistleblowers who spoke to the BBC's Panorama.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary urged Labour chiefs to instead focus on "the message" delivered by the ex-staffers who spoke to the programme, which claimed that senior figures had interfered in cases of alleged anti-semitism.

Several former Labour employees broke non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to take part in the BBC documentary, which also revealed that some of those working in Labour's complaints team had suffered mental health problems.

Labour has lodged a complaint with the the BBC about the programme, and a spokesperson has dismissed the testimony as that of "disaffected former officials" with "both personal and political axes to grind".

But Ms Thornberry distanced herself from that statement in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr. Her comments came as 30 Labour MPs demanded an independent investigation into claims made by the former staff.

"I think that we shouldn't be going for the messengers," the Labour frontbencher said.

"We should be looking at the message. I think that is what is important."

While Ms Thornberry said the Panorama probe had failed to take into account improvements to Labour's disciplinary process, she said the party could not pretend it was "perfect".

Pressed on the claim that the former staff members had "axes to grind", Ms Thornberry said: "I can understand that and I understand that the Labour Party has concerns.

"And you know, the Labour Party has put in a complaint about the way in which that programme was done.

"My point is something different: which is nobody can pretend that there isn't an ongoing problem within the Labour Party about anti-semitism, about our processes, for dealing with it."


Ms Thornberry also issued a rebuke to her Shadow Cabinet colleague Tom Watson, who has been embroiled in a row with Unite general secretary Len McCluskey over his response to the Panorama documentary.

The Unite chief this weekend said Mr Watson should be "f***ing ashamed" of his criticism of general secretary Jennie Formby, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

In an open letter to Ms Formby, Mr Watson said Labour bosses had “smeared” the former staff members who spoke out and demanded sight of the party's submission to an investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into Labour's handling of anti-semitism allegations.

Mr McCluskey later doubled down on Twitter, directly telling the Labour deputy: "you are a f***ing disgrace".

Wading into the row, Ms Thornberry said of Mr Watson: "I wish he wasn't attacking somebody who's going through chemotherapy. 

"I think that is a mistake. She's the general secretary of the Labour Party. But we know that she's very ill.

"I think it's completely inappropriate to personalise this."

She said the three top Labour figures had "a great deal of history" - but criticised those focusing on the "soap opera" in the party.

"I don't care, I'm afraid, about the soap opera," she said.

"I actually care about the fact that I have a Jewish member of staff who, when she goes to family weddings, can't say who she works for. 

"Even though I fight on this issue a lot, she cannot admit who she works for or what she does because she doesn't want to spend the rest of the day defending herself.

"I don't want that. I want us to sort this out."


Ms Thornberry's intervention came as 30 of Labour's MPs urged it to set up an independent investigation into claims - strongly denied by the party - that senior officials had intervened in cases.

The Tribune group of Labour MPs - which includes former Cabinet minister Yvette Cooper - said: "We support former employees in speaking out and commend their bravery in doing so. The Labour Party has always and always will support whistleblowers in coming forward when they are concerned about wrongdoing."

And they called on the party's National Executive Committee to "immediately establish an independent investigation into the allegations of interference".

Meanwhile two former Labour officials who spoke to Panorama's investigation vowed to take legal action against the party for trying to "destroy" their reputations.

Sam Matthews and Louise Withers Green have instructed lawyer Mark Lewis to act after claiming that the party had sought to "defame" and "intimidate" them in its response to their claims.

Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday accused the Panorama team of making "many, many inaccuracies" in its broadcast, as party chiefs urged the BBC to remove the documentary from its iPlayer service.

He argued: "The programme adopted a predetermined position on its own website before it was broadcast."

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