Labour antisemitism: Tom Watson attacks party’s ‘smears’ of whistleblowers in Panorama expose
Jewish Labour Movement says that 30 whistleblowers – including current party staff – are to submit statements to an Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has written to the party’s general secretary complaining of the “unacceptable” treatment of whistleblowers who have come forward with complaints about antisemitism.
He told Jennie Formby he was “concerned” about allegations in a BBC programme that emails relating to antisemitism cases had been deleted, having previously been told by her that all data had been preserved.
And he called on her to publish the party’s submission to an Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry into antisemitism allegations, insisting that there was “no legal basis” for it to be withheld from him as deputy leader, the shadow cabinet and the party’s ruling National Executive Committee.
“Only sunlight can disinfect Labour of antisemitism now,” said Mr Watson.
The letter comes as the Jewish Labour Movement revealed that more than 30 whistleblowers, including current members of party staff, are to submit statement to the EHRC probe.
The JLM said that more people had come forward with information following Wednesday’s broadcast of the BBC Panorama documentary entitled “Is Labour antisemitic?”.
Labour has denied the programme’s claims that Jeremy Corbyn’s team intervened in disciplinary cases, saying that allegations were made by “disaffected former officials ... who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership”.
It accused the BBC of having “engaged in deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public”.
But in his letter to Jennie Formby, Mr Watson said: “These young people, particularly the ex-staff who broke NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) to speak out, have been very brave to go before a camera and tell their stories.
“The way that they have been smeared, including by Labour spokespeople, is deplorable. Even if some in the party did not want to hear what they had to say, it is unacceptable to attempt to undermine their integrity and characters in this manner.
Mr Watson said he found the testimony from Jewish Labour members and former staff in the “appalling” documentary “truly shocking and distressing”.
He told Ms Formby that he was “seriously concerned that as a party we have breached our duty of care towards these former staff members”, some of whom he said had to leave their jobs “due to mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, which arose as a direct result of their experiences at work”.
Mr Watson said he was concerned about Panorama’s allegations that Ms Formby had deleted emails or asked for messages relating to antisemitism cases to be sent to her email address at the union Unite.
And he demanded the right to see the party’s EHRC submission.
“By refusing to share the submission with anyone else you have taken individual responsibility for it but this is a matter for collective not individual responsibility,” he told Ms Formby.
“The shadow cabinet and NEC need to know what you have sent to the EHRC in our party’s name, and we need to know urgently. Every member of these two bodies is bound by a moral and political responsibility to eradicate antisemitism from the party and restore our standing with the Jewish community.
“I therefore insist you release the submission you sent to the EHRC on behalf of the Labour Party. I can see no basis or authority for refusal.”
The Jewish Labour Movement’s submission of a 1,000-page dossier of evidence prompted the EHRC to launch its probe earlier this year.
The JLM confirmed today that more than 30 whistleblowers are to submit evidence to the investigation.
“Since September last year, the Jewish Labour Movement has been working on our referral of the Labour Party to the EHRC,” said a JLM spokesman. “To date we have secured the testimonies of 30 current and former staff and officers, with further whistleblowers having come forward since Panorama last night.
“In the face of legal action, they have demonstrated bravery and integrity in abundance. We’d urge any party officer or staffer past or present to come forward now and tell us and the EHRC what you know.”
A Labour source said that Ms Formby had offered to meet Mr Watson to provide him with the party’s response to the EHRC inquiry
The source insisted that no evidence relating to antisemitism cases had been destroyed or hidden. During a brief period when an adviser to her predecessor as general secretary, Iain McNicol, was serving his notice, he had access to Ms Formby’s email inbox, said the source. When he left, Ms Formby instructed staff to use her Labour email address and set out an out-of-office reply on her Unite address.
Ms Formby wrote to Mr Watson in March this year urging him to consider the impact of criticisms he had made on staff members who were working on clearing a backlog of antisemitism complaints.
She wrote then: “Since taking on the role as general secretary, I have been unremittingly clear that the welfare of our staff is extremely important and I would ask you both to respect the contribution that they make and to recognise that they are unable to rebut or respond to any criticism you make in the public domain.”
Labour has written to BBC director general Lord Hall to complain about the Panorama broadcast, and has provided details rebuttals of its allegations.
A spokesperson claimed Panorama “had already come to a conclusion about where its investigation was going before it looked at the evidence in full”. But the BBC said: “The programme adheres to the BBC’s editorial guidelines.”