WATCH Labour deputy leader Tom Watson: Sometimes I no longer recognise my party

Posted On: 
18th February 2019

Tom Watson has launched an outspoken attack on "hard left" Labour members after seven MPs quit the party to sit as independents.

Tom Watson said Labour needs to be 'kinder and gentler'
Credit: 
PA Images

Labour's deputy leader said the party needed to be "kinder and gentler" to prevent others following the example of Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Angela Smith.

While he said he did not agree with their "premature" decision, Mr Watson said he could understand why they had done it given the party's failure to tackle anti-semitism in its ranks and admitted: "I love this party. But sometimes I no longer recognise it."

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He also warned that unless party bosses take heed of their critics and change the culture within the party, other MPs will also head for the exit door.

And in a swipe at Jeremy Corbyn's desire to fill the Shadow Cabinet with his allies, he said more moderate Labour MPs should be promoted to the frontbench in order "to reflect the balance of opinion" within the party.

Taking aim at Labour activists who have attacked the seven rebel MPs, Mr Watson said: "This is a moment for regret and reflection not for a mood of anger or a tone of triumph.

"There are those who are already celebrating the departure of colleagues with whom they disagree. The hard Left can be too easily tempted into the language of heresy and treachery.

"Betrayal narratives and shouting insults at the departed might make some feel better briefly but it does nothing to address the reasons that good colleagues might want to leave."

'WAKE-UP CALL'

The Labour heavyweight said the departure of Ms Berger, who is Jewish and has faced severe criticism from party activists in her Liverpool Wavertree constituency, was a result of "a virulent form of identity politics (which) has seized the Labour party".

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.

"Now we have lost Luciana, one of our most dedicated and courageous MPs. If someone like Luciana no longer believes there is a home for her in the Labour party then many other colleagues will be asking themselves how they can stay.

"That’s why time is short for us. To confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences. To keep others from leaving.

"The identity of this party must be tolerant, multi-cultural, generous and welcoming. To put it mildly, we need to be kinder and gentler."

Mr Watson said that unless Labour changed the way it is run "we may see more days like this"

"The departure of our colleagues poses a test for our party," he said. "Do we respond with simple condemnation or do we try and reach out and extend beyond our comfort zone and prevent others from following?

"We know in our hearts we have been too slow to respond to the shaming scourge of anti-semitism in our ranks. Throughout our history this party has been patriotic and internationalist at the same time. But is that a good description of what we are today? 

"We face a government with no majority, no clarity and no leadership, badly failing on the issue of a generation: Brexit. Yet we are losing members and now losing MPs."

In a direct message to Jeremy Corbyn, the West Bromwich MP said: "The frontbench needs once again to reflect the balance of opinion in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

"We need to broaden out so that all the members of our broad church feel welcome in our congregation. It is only if we open out that this party can fulfil its purpose.

"Labour was formed to give voice to the ordinary people of this nation. It can do so again but only if it stays together. And it can only stay together if it stands for the whole country.

"This noble aim brought us all into politics. I believe in it every bit as much as I did on the day I first joined the Labour party on my 15th birthday in 1982.

"But I say candidly, that my fear is if we don’t do it, someone else will."

Watch Mr Watson's comments in full: