John McDonnell backs Tom Watson and says Labour must do more to tackle anti-semitism
John McDonnell has backed Tom Watson and said the Labour leadership should do more to tackle anti-semitism in a bid to prevent more MPs quitting the party.
In comments which appeared to put him at odds with Jeremy Corbyn, the Shadow Chancellor said the party should launch a “mammoth, massive listening exercise” and address the concerns that led to seven Labour MPs resigning to sit as independents.
The MPs - Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes and Gavin Shuker - said the failure to tackle anti-semitism by the leadership, a refusal to back a second referendum on Brexit as well as concerns over foreign policy had driven them out.
Deputy leader Mr Watson warned more Labour MPs would quit unless the leadership changed course and got a grip over the anti-semitism row in the party.
But in his own response to their departures, Mr Corbyn made no reference to their concerns, while a briefing document sent to Labour MPs by the leader's office defended their approach to Brexit and anti-semitism.
This morning, however, Mr McDonnell sided with Mr Watson, telling journalists the party needed to “start listening” to prevent any further departures, amid reports at least a dozen more could split.
“I think we need a mammoth, massive listening exercise and address some of those criticisms that have been made,” he said.
“I think we are finding a way forward but it’s got to be on the basis of taking the advice of people like Tom Watson and the Parliamentary Labour Party and others.”
He added: “The Labour leadership - and I’m part of that - we need to keep listening, bring people in, talk to them.
“If there are issues that we have to address we will address them. If it’s about the style of the leadership we will address that. If it’s about policy we will listen to that as well.”
Just last week Mr McDonnell suggested Liverpool Wavetree MP Ms Berger had faced abuse because she had failed to deny rumours she was preparing to quit, rather than because she is Jewish.
'WAKE-UP CALL' FOR LABOUR
In a stark video message yesterday, Mr Watson warned Mr Corbyn that the party must do more on anti-Semitism or risk other MPs quitting.
He said: “They say anti-semitism is a light sleeper. This is certainly a wake-up call for the Labour party.
“We were slow to acknowledge we had a problem and even slower to deal with it. Even a single incident of anti-semitism in the Labour party shames us.”
But a Labour source said: "All these MPs stood under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership on a manifesto that the whole party united around and all saw their votes increase.
"Now they are standing for different policies and on a different platform, they should resign and put them to the test in a by-election. That is the right and democratic thing to do."
PoliticsHome understands that several other Labour MPs are waiting to see whether Mr Corbyn throws his weight behind a second EU referendum ahead of the next Brexit votes in the Commons on 27 February before making up their minds whether to leave.