Labour is mired in a vicious antisemitism row. Can the party unite?

© UK Parliament
Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

The effects of the BBC Panorama programme on Labour antisemitism are still being felt. According to Labour’s only Jewish affiliate, the Jewish Labour Movement, 30 whistleblowers including both current and former party staff have come forward to give further testimony. JLM plans to use this evidence for a fresh submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is currently investigating Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints and the possibility that Jewish people have been “discriminated against, harassed or victimised”.

On Thursday, Tom Watson wrote to Labour’s general secretary with criticisms of the way that party spokespeople “smeared” contributors to the programme and a demand that Labour’s EHRC submission be shared. Jennie Formby has hit back with her own letter, which denies claims that she deleted emails relating to specific antisemitism cases and that she has “withheld” the EHRC response. “You know that this is not the case,” the general secretary responded. “I wrote to you twice and offered to meet with you to provide you with the party’s response to the EHRC.” The full text of both letters can be read on LabourList.

Corbynites on Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) and within the parliamentary party have come out in defence of Formby. Claudia Webbe, who chairs the NEC disputes panel, has tweeted Watson to say his behaviour is “not… befitting the office of the deputy leader” and he should consider his position. Laura Pidcock, often spoken of as a potential future leader, tweeted that Formby is “gutted to be missing [Durham Miners’ Gala], in large part because of cancer treatment”, adding: “When she says she’s already offered @tom_watson the info he says he wants, I 100 trust her.” John McDonnell has also condemned Watson’s use of the media, while Diane Abbott has said the deputy leader cannot make demands of Formby who is “only answerable to [Labour’s] NEC”. Pro-leadership MPs Laura Smith, Emma Dent Coad, Danielle Rowley and Dan Carden have also expressed solidarity with the general secretary.

The gloves are well and truly off, and the fight is incredibly personal. It is clearly affecting the health and wellbeing of staffers on all sides of the row. Can Labour unite and move forward? There is cause for optimism. The disciplinary process currently doesn’t work for anyone, particularly in terms of its lengthiness, and there is potential for an adult conversation about the way processes could be reformed. This would require everyone to muck in, make practical suggestions and – most importantly – be entirely honest about where there have been failings, whether pre-Formby or post-Formby.

Corbynsceptics must accept that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t giving up his position until he actively chooses to do so, meaning work must be directed towards finding solutions for the here and now. Corbynites need to ditch the bunker mentality and realise that there is a majority of people wanting the best for the Labour left on the NEC and in the shadow cabinet. Then everyone can start getting to grips with these issues and get on with fighting a government led by Boris Johnson. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

More from LabourList