“I love this party. But sometimes I no longer recognise it” – Watson’s statement on Labour split

Tom Watson

Tom Watson has released a video reacting to the news that seven MPs have quit the Labour Party today.

In his statement, the deputy leader describes the decision taken by those seven MPs as “premature” and says this is a “moment for regret and reflection not for a mood of anger or a tone of triumph”.

The MP for West Bromwich East pays special tribute to Luciana Berger, who he calls “one of our most dedicated and courageous MPs”, and accepts that Labour has been “too slow to respond to the shaming scourge of antisemitism in our ranks”.

Watson questions whether Labour is still “perceived” as “patriotic and internationalist at the same time”, concluding that the party must “change” – or “see more days like this”.

He calls on the Labour frontbench to “reflect the balance of opinion in the Parliamentary Labour Party”, adding: “We need to broaden out so that all the members of our broad church feel welcome in our congregation.”

Below is the full text of Tom Watson’s statement.

The instant emotion I felt, when I heard the news this morning that colleagues were leaving Labour, was deep sadness. I’ve devoted my life to this party and I’m proud to serve it, I am hugely disappointed about what has happened. This is a sad day for all of us.

I think our colleagues have come to a premature conclusion. But 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.

I want to say something in particular about Luciana Berger. In my time in politics I have witnessed many changes but perhaps the most profound of recent times has been the growth of identity politics. I am sad to say that a virulent form of identity politics has seized the Labour Party which today took its first casualty.

I would like to place on record my complete respect for Luciana and my understanding of the decision to which she has been driven. They say antisemitism 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 antisemitism 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. I love this party. But sometimes I no longer recognise it. That is why I do not regard those who have resigned today as traitors.

I fear they have left at a critical moment for the country when all our attention should be on solving the Brexit crisis. So I regard them as people who have drawn the wrong conclusion to a serious question.

The historic task of the Labour party is to speak for those citizens who lack a voice. To offer them a stake in the future of the nation.

Last month in a speech to the Fabian Society I said that we needed to develop a programme that will deliver both within and beyond our traditional Labour base. I feared that if we did not do that then “someone else will”.

I confess I feared this day would come. And I fear now, that unless we change, we may see more days like this.

The departure of our colleagues poses a test for our party. 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 antisemitism 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 perceived as being 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.

This country faces some troubling questions and we have yet to convince the nation that we have the answers. Social democratic and democratic socialist traditions, which has always been the main stream of Labour’s political thought, is where we can find the answers to the current crisis.

That is why in the coming weeks and months I will be working with Labour MPs to develop policies within that tradition to address the challenges of the future. I believe the much-needed modernisation of this nation must come from there.

And that is why 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 fifteenth birthday in 1982. But I say candidly, that my fear is if we don’t do it, someone else will.

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