EXCL Tom Watson and Labour chairman Ian Lavery in angry row over anti-semitism in party

Posted On: 
12th February 2019

Labour bigwigs Tom Watson and Ian Lavery have had a huge bust-up over the party's attempts to tackle anti-semitism among some of its members, PoliticsHome has learned.

Tom Watson clashed with Ian Lavery.
Credit: 
PA Images

The pair exchanged angry words near the end of a Shadow Cabinet meeting dominated by discussion of the problem.

Party chairman Mr Lavery took aim at Mr Watson for calling for Luciana Berger's local Liverpool Wavertree branch to be suspended over accusations that she has been bullied.

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But the deputy leader hit back by criticising Mr Lavery over an article he wrote for HuffPost UK in which he appeared to back the local party.

As tempers boiled over, Mr Watson told his frontbench colleague "I will not be shouted down" three times.

He added: "You need to dial down your heavy rhetoric and be more responsible for what you say. Your words have consequences. If people resign from the party over this, we'll not get Jeremy Corbyn elected as Prime Minister."

Anti-semitism was not even on the agenda for this morning's meeting, but PoliticsHome has been told that the topic ended up taking up 70 minutes of the 90-minute gathering.

That came about after each Shadow Cabinet member was handed a letter sent to Jeremy Corbyn by Ms Berger and fellow Labour MPs Louise Ellman, Margaret Hodge, Catherine McKinnell, John Mann, Ruth Smeeth and Wes Streeting.

In it, they criticised the Labour leadership's response to demands by the Parliamentary Labour Party for full details on how they are dealing with anti-semitism.

Labour general secretary Jennie Formby sent an email to all PLP members on Monday night revealing that nearly 700 complaints of anti-Jewish racism were made against party members in the last 10 months, resulting in 12 expulsions.

But MPs accused party bosses of covering up the full scale of the problem, and also attacked the leadership for failing to send a representative to Monday's PLP meeting.

At the Shadow Cabinet meeting, Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner highlighted several examples of anti-semitism by party members and asked why they had not been kicked out as a result.

A source said: "There was a lot of sympathy for Luciana, and unhappiness at the response of the party leadership to the issue. Jennie goes on about following party process, but these people always seem to still be in the party at the end of it."