Over the weekend, Labour’s rows over antisemitism – inflamed by the BBC Panorama programme that aired five days ago – did not abate. The public argument between deputy leader Tom Watson and general secretary Jennie Formby in particular intensified rather than cooled off. Durham Miners’ Gala, that fantastic celebration of the labour movement and of coalfield communities, featuring joyous brass bands and proud banners, was held on Saturday for the 135th time. Jeremy Corbyn spoke again, highlighting the impact of Tory austerity on the North-East and promising to investigate Orgreave when in power. Laura Pidcock passionately attacked neoliberalism and defended the leadership.
But it was Len McCluskey whose speech at ‘The Big Meeting’ made the biggest splash. “I have a simple message to Tom Watson and his pals in the media,” the Unite leader said. “You should fucking well be ashamed of yourself.” In case anyone had missed it, he then tweeted: “Attacking a woman going through chemotherapy – @tom_watson you are a fucking disgrace.”
Dame Margaret Hodge, as you would expect, offered a different perspective on Sky News the next day. There is a “dogged determination” from the leadership “not to listen” to concerns about Labour antisemitism, and to call the Panorama contributors “disaffected workers” was a “real abuse of power”, the MP argued. Asked whether she stood by her description of Corbyn as “an antisemite and a racist”, Hodge replied: “I’ve seen nothing in the past year that has caused me to change my mind.”
Next, Emily Thornberry appeared on The Andrew Marr Show. The shadow cabinet member said she thought the Panorama episode was “awful”, both in itself and (“more importantly”) its revelations. “We shouldn’t be going for the messengers,” she added, “we should be looking at the message”. Thornberry’s tougher line came as The Sunday Times published the testimony of another former staffer, Tim Dexter, who claimed the power to suspend members was inappropriately taken away from the disputes team last year and awarded to an individual aligned with the leader’s office.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary also talked about Brexit, emphasising the party’s new Remain position, before speaking at the People’s Vote rally in the next Prime Minister’s own constituency. “Boris Johnson has decided that when he marches us off a cliff in October, what will save us will be the warm and welcoming hands of President Donald Trump. Well I don’t know about you, friends, but I don’t want Donald Trump’s hands anywhere near me,” she told the anti-Brexit crowd in Uxbridge. Thornberry isn’t the only leadership figure actively campaigning for a public vote following Labour’s Brexit shift: John McDonnell and Keir Starmer are also set to attend a meeting in parliament of the Love Socialism Hate Brexit group tonight. The Remain flank has substantial representation at the top table now. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.