EXCL Outcry played no part in decision to suspend Chris Williamson again, insists Jennie Formby

Posted On: 
12th July 2019

A furious row which erupted after Chris Williamson was allowed back into the Labour party played no part in the decision to suspend him again, according to Jennie Formby.

Chris Williamson had the Labour whip restored for 48 hours.
Credit: 
PA Images

The controversial MP only had the Labour whip restored for 48 hours before having it taken away again last month.

That came after fellow backbencher Keith Vaz - who sat on the national executive committee panel which lifted Mr Williamson's suspension - raised concerns with Ms Formby, Labour's general secretary, about the way the case was handled.

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PoliticsHome revealed that the controversial Derby North MP had been readmitted to the party after receiving a formal warning over allegations of anti-semitism.

He was initially suspended in February while Labour bosses investigated a "pattern of behaviour" going back months.

The decision sparked an outcry, with more than 100 Labour MPs and peers demanding Jeremy Corbyn remove the Labour whip from him.

Roughly the same number of Jewish and non-Jewish party staff members also wrote to Ms Formby demanding she take action, saying they would be "made to feel unwelcome by his presence whilst at work".

In her response to the staff letter, a copy of which has been seen by PoliticsHome, the general secretary said: "As reports have confirmed, in view of the unprecedented public statements by two members of the (disciplinary) panel, it was decided that the matter should be referrred to the full NEC Disputes Sub-Committee to determine what the next steps should be.

"The decision was taken without any consideration of the campaigns either for or against continued suspension."

A meeting of the sub-committee on Tuesday ruled that Mr Williamson should remain suspended and that his case be considered by another disciplinary panel.

A Labour member of staff who signed the original letter to Ms Formby said: "Although I welcome Chris Williamson's readmission being reconsidered, this is a hugely disappointing and tone-deaf response to the legitimate concerns of both Jewish and non-Jewish staff.

"Those concers particularly focused on the negative impact that his presence in the party could have on our workplace environment. The response lacks empathy, understanding and awareness of the hurt that this situation has caused staff.

"Considering 131 members of staff took the brave decision to sign the letter, I would have expected a more engaging and productive response from the general secretary of our party."

Meanwhile, Ms Formby has hit back at Labour deputy leader Tom Watson after he criticised the way the party has dealt with anti-semitism.

Mr Watson accused a Labour spokesperson of "smearing" former staff members who took part in a Panorama programme on the issue, while demanding the general secretary publish the evidence the party has presented to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission probe into its treatment of Jewish people.

In a written response, Ms Formby said Mr Watson risked "exacerbating" fears in the Jewish community through his behaviour.

She said: "Traducing my reputation and publicly attacking me when you know I am undergoing chemotherapy and am unable to respond in the media, is another example of the inappropriate way in which you choose to discuss this issue."

The general secretary added: "By choosing to ignore the steps taken by this party, and commenting so uncritically about the Panorama programme, you are complicit in creating a perception that anti-semitism is more prevalent in the Labour Party than wider society."