Tom Watson says anti-semites should be automatically booted out of Labour as he urges Jeremy Corbyn to act
Tom Watson has urged Jeremy Corbyn to overhaul Labour’s rules so that anti-semites are automatically kicked out of the party.
Speaking in the wake of a hard-hitting Panorama documentary on Labour’s handling of anti-Jewish abuse, the Labour deputy leader called on Mr Corbyn to ensure the party could “auto-exclude” anyone with a “prima facie” case to answer.
And he hit out at Labour for describing former staffers who spoke to the BBC documentary team as "disaffected".
Setting out his plans to get Labour out of its “mess” on anti-Semitism, Mr Watson told the Today programme: "Not casting aspersions on the current people but I think we need to take these cases away from them and have a full, independent system of investigating cases of anti-Jewish racism that involves representatives from the Jewish community of Britain of standing. This would be a completely independent process."
And he added: “I think we need a rule change - and this has been argued by others like Keir Starmer and Gordon Brown, that allows us to auto-exclude from membership people who have a prima facie case to answer of using anti-semitic behaviours and language within our own structures.
“Our NEC [National Executive Committee] can agree this at its next meeting and we can change our rules in conference if there is the will.”
In a direct message to the Labour leader he said: “Jeremy has the votes on our NEC. If he willed it it would happen. And it could happen at our next meeting and we could change the rules at our conference.”
Mr Watson's intervention came after Labour hit back at the hour-long Panorama documentary, which accused senior officials close to Mr Corbyn of interfering in anti-semitism complaints.
The programme heard testimony from former members of Labour's disputes team, which investigates complaints against members, who claimed their mental health was affected by the attitude of aides in Mr Corbyn's office.
Jewish party members also detailed how they had been subjected to anti-semitic abuse at Labour meetings.
But Labour issued a lengthy statement accusing Panorama of bias and of deliberately misrepresenting evidence in an attempt to smear the party.
A spokesperson said: “The Panorama programme was not a fair or balanced investigation. It was a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning. It was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy.”
The party also insisted that the former staff making claims were "disaffected" - a move dismissed as “wrong” by Mr Watson.
The Labour deputy said: “I think that’s false. And I deplore the statement that was made about those people last night. You couldn’t fail to be saddened and moved by the testimony, particularly of the young members, who’d had racist abuse in party meetings and on social media.
“And there is an array of young and older former members of staff from different wings of the party who I think showed great courage to speak out in the way they did….
"For them - young people in their 20s, to speak out about the party they love, must have taken a great act of courage. And to dismiss their testimony as in some way flawed, I think was wrong.”
Mr Watson said the Labour leader was now “the only one that can fix” the party’s relationship with the Jewish community.
“If he adopts of the proposals that I’m making then these rule changes will go through our party. It won’t be enough to rebuild trust with the Jewish community.
“But it will be a start of trying to challenge a culture of permissiveness that allows anti-Jewish racism to be casually used in political discussion within one of the two great parties in the United Kingdom.”