Jeremy Corbyn must change to save Labour's 'soul', Tom Watson warns

Posted On: 
24th February 2019

Jeremy Corbyn must change to save "the soul of the Labour Party", his deputy Tom Watson has declared.

The Labour deputy leader urged Mr Corbyn to reshuffle his top team.
Credit: 
BBC

In an outspoken interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr, Labour's deputy leader urged Mr Corbyn to shake up his top team and said party reforms designed to tackle anti-Semitic abuse had "not been adequate".

He also pushed back at fellow frontbencher Emily Thornberry's calls to "crush" the MPs who quit Labour this week to form a breakaway group - and said he "might well" join an upcoming march for a second referendum vote on Brexit.

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Mr Corbyn was hit by the resignation of nine MPs this week, with eight of them going on to form a separate Independent Group in the House of Commons.

Each MP accused the Labour leadership of failing to get to grips with anti-semitism, while those from the Independent Group also hit out at Labour's position on Brexit.

Mr Watson told the BBC that the loss of nine colleagues had been a "real blow" to he party - which now needed to change "very, very rapidly".

Asked whether that meant Mr Corbyn himself needed to change, Mr Watson said: "Of course Jeremy needs to understand that, if we're going to be in Number 10 he needs to change the Labour Party...

"Firstly, we've got to eradicate anti-semitism, anti-jewish racism in all its forms.

"This week I've had 50 complaints of anti-semitism from my parliamentary colleagues that I've shared with Jeremy and for us to address that now, I think he needs to take a personal lead on examining those cases and, if necessary, recommending to our NEC what has to be done."

He added: "I'm saying for us to hold this party together, things have got to change.

'There's almost a sort of crisis for the soul of the Labour Party now and that means that everyone that cares about our future, whatever tradition they represent, has to find it within themselves to work more closely together."

 

 

FORMBY REFORMS 'NOT ADEQUATE'

Labour has said tackling anti-semitism in the party is the "number one priority" of its recently-appointed general secretary Jennie Formby.

Since last summer, the party has brought in a new in-house counsel to deal with anti-semitism; beefed up the size of its team dealing with investigations and disputes; and set up new panels on its National Executive Committee "to enable cases to be heard more quickly".

But Mr Watson said those changes had not succeeded.

"I think the situation is so grave now that he [Jeremy Corbyn] understands he needs to make a personal intervention," he said.

"You know we appointed a new general secretary who made it her priority to deal with it. Very patently the Jennie Formby reforms have not been adequate.

"They have not succeeded. And therefore it requires another sort of push to try and make sure that, as [Shadow Chancellor] John McDonnell says, one case of anti-semitism in our Labour Party is unacceptable and we need a zero-tolerance approach to that."

'DIAL DOWN THE RHETORIC'

Elsewhere in his interview, the deputy leader repeated his call for Mr Corbyn to shake-up his shadow cabinet to better represent the "different ideas and traditions" of the Labour Party.

And, in a direct challenge to the leader, Mr Watson declared that he was willing to set up his own group inside the party to give a voice to "social democratic" ideas which he argued were being sidelined by the current set-up.

"I would prefer a reshuffle," he said.

"But if there isn't one I think I'd need to give a platform for my colleagues who want their ideas to be listened to by the current Shadow Cabinet... It hasn't got form yet, because I'm reacting to events like everyone else and I didn't know that colleagues were going to break away last Monday. So give me a bit of time. But my central point is: that social democratic voice has to be heard."

The deputy leader also took aim at fellow frontbencher Emily Thornberry, after she told a rally of Labour supporters that the party should "crush" MPs who had left the fold.

"It was our manifesto and our leader that gave them the huge majorities that they now have in their seats - those seats they have betrayed by their actions," she told a rally in Broxtowe.

But Mr Watson said: "I think it's incumbent on all of us to sort of dial down the rhetoric, to try and understand the reasons that people feel they're leaving the main political parties, to try and bring the country back together that is divided by Brexit."

PEOPLE'S VOTE HINT

The Labour leadership is also facing pressure from some MPs to swing the party behind a second referendum on Brexit, with reports that more could be prepared to resign if Mr Corbyn does not back a backbench bid for a so-called 'People's Vote' expected next week.

The party agreed a motion at its annual conference last year which says: "if we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote".

But some in the party fear that backing a referendum vote could see Labour shed support among Leave voters.

Mr Watson told the BBC he "might well" attend an upcoming rally for a second referendum.

"If Theresa May can't find it within herself to meet our red lines, closer economic union, then obviously our conference policy says that the next stage would be in favour of a people's vote," he said.

"So if we get to to that point then, yes, I will be on the march."

But he refused to be drawn on whether Labour would come out in favour of a second referendum in the Commons this week, saying: "We're heading in that direction but there's still more play in the days ahead.