Tom Watson hit by Shadow Cabinet backlash over Jennie Formby criticism

Posted On: 
12th July 2019

Tom Watson has been hit by an angry backlash from senior Labour MPs after he criticised the party’s response to anti-semitism in its ranks.

Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson
PA Images

The deputy leader made his anger clear in a letter to Jennie Formby, Labour’s general secretary, in the wake of a Panorama programme on the issue.

Mr Watson said party bosses had “smeared” former staff members who criticised Labour’s handling of the crisis.

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He also demanded that Ms Formby publish the party’s response to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into claims it discriminated against Jewish people.

In response, Ms Formby hit out at Mr Watson’s decision to go public with his concerns, and insisted the party was taking steps to stamp out anti-semitism by its members.

She added: “Furthermore, 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.”

A number of Shadow Cabinet members took to Twitter to give Ms Formby their support and criticise Mr Watson.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: “I just don’t understand why the deputy leader of the Labour Party uses the media to demand information from Labour’s General Secretary @JennieGenSec, which has already been offered to him. It goes beyond my understanding that he does so when he knows she’s undergoing chemotherapy.”

Party chairman Ian Lavery tweeted: “Antisemitism exists everywhere and sadly in our Labour party too. Solidarity, love & huge respect to my great friend @JennieGenSec. On top of her Immense bravery battling cancer she’s made great strides to root out Anti Semitism & rebuild our historic bridges with Jewish comrades.”

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: “Jennie Formby deserves better than unfair attacks - she has made herself available to answer questions and provide information despite undergoing gruelling treatment for cancer.”

Meanwhile, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott retweeted a post by Claudia Webbe, a member of Labour’s national executive committee, in which she called on Mr Watson to consider his position.

Labour has accused the BBC of bias over the Panorama programme, which accused senior aides to Jeremy Corbyn of interfering in anti-semitism cases.