Tom Watson: Frank Field resignation a 'wake up call' over crisis in Labour
The explosive resignation of the Labour whip by top MP Frank Field must be a “major wake up call” for the party over anti-Semitism, Tom Watson has said.
The deputy leader argued the dramatic decision by the former minister - who was facing threats of deselection in his Birkenhead constituency - was a “serious loss to the party”.
But a Shadow Cabinet member and ally of Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Field should “do the right and respectful thing” and trigger a by-election in his seat.
Mr Field dumped the whip today to sit as an “independent Labour MP” as he accused Mr Corbyn of becoming “a force for anti-Semitism” in British politics.
The pro-Brexit MP said Labour was “increasingly seen as a racist party” and blasted bosses for denying that unearthed past statements by the leader constitute anti-Semitism.
And he took aim at the “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” which he argued “now reigns in too many parts of the party nationally” and was being “wilfully” denied by the leadership.
A Labour spokesperson said Mr Corbyn “thanks Frank Field for his service to the Labour party” - while a source briefed that Mr Field “has been looking for an excuse to resign for some time”.
But Mr Watson issued a stark warning to the Labour leadership, declaring: "This is a serious loss to the party and I deeply regret Frank’s decision.
“It reflects both the deep divisions in the party and the sense of drift engulfing us. It is a major wake up call.”
Labour former frontbencher Lucy Powell echoed the warning, noting that the party “must do more to demonstrate we are serious about tackling this issue”.
Fellow MP Louise Ellman told ITV it was a sad day when "a man of the people like Frank Field leaves the party".
And Ilford North MP Wes Streeting said the party must fix the issue of anti-Semitism to prevent it "becoming a full-blown existential crisis".
But bullish Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon laid down a challenge to Mr Field to trigger a by-election - amid a row between the Birkenhead MP and his local party over Brexit.
Labour members passed a no-confidence motion against him in July after he backed the Government on a crunch vote that some said could have toppled Theresa May.
“Politicians who are elected as Labour MPs by their constituents and who then leave the Labour party should do the right and respectful thing and call a by-election straight away,” Mr Burgon said.
“They should ask for their constituents’ consent to continue to represent them on a different basis.”
Tory chair Brandon Lewis meanwhile blasted: “Frank Field’s resignation is a damning indictment of Jeremy Corbyn’s total inability to take action against bullying and anti-Semitic racism within Labour.
“Despite promising a ‘kinder politics’, time and time again Corbyn has allowed people to get away with doing and saying things which have no place in public life.
“If other Labour MPs don’t follow Frank Field’s example, they are continuing to endorse Jeremy Corbyn’s abject failure to act.”
Mr Field told the BBC tonight that he wanted Mr Corbyn to go into the next election and win - but that he should fix the anti-Semitism issue in Labour to avoid charges the party is racist.
He added that his resignation was "almost a cry of desperation that we must deal with anti-Semitism and we must deal witht he local thuggery".
Meanwhile, the Work and Pensions Committee tweeted that the announcement by Mr Field would not change his position as its chair - but the post was swiftly deleted.
Mr Field was first elected as MP for Birkenhead in 1979 and has been a Labour member for almost 40 years. He was one of the 35 Labour MPs to nominate Mr Corbyn for the leadership in 2015.
Party sources said Mr Field cannot resign the whip without quitting his Labour membership as well, and said he would be talking to the chief whip tomorrow.