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Labour civil war erupts as Jennie Formby hits back at Tom Watson over anti-semitism

4 min read

Deep splits at the top of Labour have burst into the open after Jennie Formby condemned Tom Watson over his call for the party's MPs to tell him when they make a complaint about anti-semitism by members.

In a furious letter, Labour's general secretary warned its deputy leader that he could be at risk of breaking data protection laws over his proposal.

Ms Formby - who is a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn - also claimed his proposal had been "extremely distressing" for party staff whose job it is to handle complaints.

Her letter came in response to an email to her and all Labour MPs from Mr Watson earlier this week titled 'Anti-semitism, racism and bullying of colleagues'.

In it, he said had number of MPs "have shared their frustration that incidents of anti-semitic, racist abuse and bullying have not been dealt with in an adequate and timely manner or that colleagues have not been informed of the outcome of party investigations".

He added: "As your deputy leader I am deeply alarmed at the amount of abuse that colleagues are receiving from within the party. In order to properly assess and monitor the scale of the problem, I would like to see any issue or complaint you raise with the general secretary.

"From now on my team will be logging and monitoring all complaints. I will ensure that this information is shared with both Jeremy, the Shadow Cabinet and colleagues on the National Executive Committee."

But in her response, which was sent to all Labour MPs and peers and leaked to PoliticsHome, Ms Formby said Mr Watson's suggestion was "inappropriate".

She said: "You have decided, without consultation and without regard to the existing process, to ask colleagues who raise issues or complaints with me, to forward them to your private email address, as you will be ‘logging and monitoring’ all complaints.

"It is absolutely inappropriate for you to set up a vague parallel complaints monitoring system. 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."

Ms Formby went on: "The suggestion that you as an individual data controller should receive and store data relating to complaints unrelated to your personal role as an MP, on a private email address, or indeed any other system, is completely unacceptable and exposes you, and the party, to significant compliance risks.

"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."

Elsewhere in her letter, the general secretary pointed out that former Justice Secretary Lord Falconer, who has long been considered a Blairite, had agreed to review the party's processes for dealing with anti-semitism cases.

She added: "In addition to pointing out how inappropriate your suggestion is, I must also ask you to consider the impact that your letter has had on our staff in the Governance and Legal team. They have been working incredibly hard to clear all complaints, not just those of anti-semitism, including the considerable backlog that had built up from 2016.

"The suggestions you outlined so publicly have understandably led the staff to believe that their work and dedication is being questioned by you and coming from such a senior member of the party leadership, they have found this extremely distressing."


But in his response, Mr Watson said he had no intention of backing down.

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 the delay in processing complaints has led to a complete loss of trust. Too often those who have suffered antisemitic 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."

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