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Local Labour branch probed over MP ‘bullying’ – Watson

The party’s deputy leader said some members in Liverpool are ‘trying to drive out’ Luciana Berger.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Jeff Overs/BBC)
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Jeff Overs/BBC)

Tom Watson has said a Labour Party branch is being investigated after he accused it of “bullying” their local MP by moving a motion of no confidence in her.

The party’s deputy leader said some members are “trying to drive out” Luciana Berger in the latest row over anti-Semitism within Labour.

Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party (CLP) planned to hold a meeting to discuss two confidence motions which accused her of “continually using the media to criticise” Jeremy Corbyn.

But after a backlash it was called off, with Mr Watson calling on Labour’s General Secretary Jennie Formby to suspend the CLP.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, he said of his colleague Ms Berger: “She’s being bullied. That motion should never have been moved in her local party, the meeting to hear it should never have been scheduled.”

He said Mr Corbyn had “made it clear these things are not done in his name”, and they “are not helping him, they are harming the reputation of the Labour Party”.

Mr Watson added: “I don’t want any MP or any member of the Labour Party to feel they’re being bullied and driven out, and what’s happening to her is completely unacceptable, which is why I called for the local party to be suspended.”

After Mr Marr said Ms Formby had suggested she did not have the constitutional power to suspend them, Mr Watson said she had confirmed she is “investigating members in that constituency”.

In response to the fallout, Wavertree CLP’s executive put out a statement saying they “strongly reject the media inaccuracies and the accusations of political bullying, for simply adhering to party rules and doing our jobs”.

They said they had “no control over motions submitted by CLP members”, and defended scheduling the special meeting, saying it was “to give our MP the maximum opportunity to take part when the motions were debated”.

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Luciana Berger has received backing from Tom Watson (Yui Mok/PA)

In a statement released on Sunday morning they added: “Furthermore, we as an executive have always and continue now to express total solidarity with Luciana as a victim of misogyny and of anti-Semitism – coming mostly from the far right.

“Our chair is himself Jewish and the suggestion that the CLP Executive is in any way a party to bullying and anti-Semitism is a false and slanderous accusation.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock accused Labour of not sticking up for their own MP, saying she would be “very welcome” to join the Tories instead.

He tweeted: “I’ve worked with Luciana Berger and she is a force for good as an MP.

“Shame on Labour for not doing more to protect and support her.

“If the Labour Party doesn’t want Luciana, as far as I’m concerned she’d be very welcome to stand as a Conservative.”

It comes after a senior member of Mr Corbyn’s shadow cabinet said Labour must “go further and faster” in tackling anti-Semitism.

Jon Ashworth was responding to comments from Tony Blair, former Prime Minister and the party’s leader for 14 years, who said the current boss had had not been “robust” enough in dealing with it.

The shadow health secretary also appeared to contradict Ms Formby, who is alleged to have said it was “impossible” to completely eradicate anti-Jewish hatred from Labour.

He spoke to Sky News’ Ridge On Sunday shortly after an interview with Mr Blair was broadcast, in which he said: “Of course we should eradicate anti-Semitism from the Labour Party.

“We are supposed to be a progressive political party, how can we say it’s tolerable to have a certain level of anti-Semitism in the party?

“Would we say more generally it is tolerable to have a level of racism within the Labour Party? No. Of course you can’t have that.”

He added: “There are parts of the left that do have a problem with anti-Semitism and you see this in their attitudes towards the state of Israel.

“Their continual focusing on Israel all the time, over a long period you are left with the feeling that they are – in a sense – targeting it because it is a Jewish state.”

Asked if the current leadership had been robust enough he said it had not, explaining: “The fact that someone like Luciana Berger – who is a smart, capable, active Member of Parliament doing her best for her constituents – the fact that she should even be subject to a no-confidence motion with this type of allegation swirling around is shameful for the Labour Party.”

Responding to Mr Blair’s comments, Mr Ashworth said the issue “breaks my heart”, adding: “It’s clear we need to go further and faster on dealing with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

“One anti-Semite in the Labour Party is one too many.”

On the comments attributed to Ms Formby, the frontbencher added: “No, it’s not impossible to eradicate it from the Labour Party, and John McDonnell has said that as well so there’s no disagreement between me and John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn on this.”

He said Labour was “making progress” on the issue, with more staff and resources dedicated to it, adding: “But I do think we need to go faster and further on this, and kick it out. I don’t want to be in any party with any anti-Semite.”

On Ms Berger, he said he was a “big fan” and described her as Parliament’s “most persuasive campaigner” on on mental health.

“She’s stood up against anti-Semitism all her political life, she’s got my full support,” he added.

PA

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