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Tom Watson says Panorama expose on Labour anti-Semitism is 'chilling'

Tom Watson said he had been 'chilled' by the BBC expose - which reported claims that Labour's spin chief laughed at the idea Jeremy Corbyn should make a speech on Israel's right to exist.

Labour plunged deeper into crisis over anti-Semitism today as Jeremy Corbyn clashed with his deputy in the wake of a devastating Panorama expose.

Deputy leader Tom Watson said the 'chilling' BBC documentary had highlighted the 'permissive culture' towards vile abuse in the party.

In a stark warning to Mr Corbyn, he said: 'I am not going to turn a blind eye to anti-Jewish racism.'

Other MPs said the programme - which included claims Labour's communications chief Seumas Milne laughed at the idea of Mr Corbyn making a speech backing Israel's right to exist - showed the situation was 'worse than expected'.

It also featured allegations the party's general secretary Jennie Formby tried to influence the make-up of a panel investigating a member over anti-Semitism.

Some staffers said their mental health had been badly affected by the internal manoeuvring, with one saying he had even contemplated suicide. 

Labour has furiously denied the claims, which it said were made by 'disaffected employees' who had always opposed Mr Corbyn's leadership. 

The party tried to get the BBC to pull the programme and said it had complained to director general Lord Hall. It accused Panorama of 'deliberate and malicious misrepresentations'. 

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell today demanded the corporation investigate complaints about bias. 

But backbencher Jess Phillips said: 'The Labour response tells me that they don't care.' 

Labour has furiously denied the claims, which it said were made by ‘disaffected employees’ who had always opposed the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn (pictured)

Labour has furiously denied the claims, which it said were made by 'disaffected employees' who had always opposed the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn (pictured)

Deputy leader Tom Watson said he had been 'chilled and appalled' by the BBC documentary

Deputy leader Tom Watson said he had been 'chilled and appalled' by the BBC documentary

Mr Watson said 'questions now have to be answered' in the wake of the Panorama programme

Mr Watson said 'questions now have to be answered' in the wake of the Panorama programme

General secretary Jennie Formby (pictured with Mr Corbyn) is accused of trying to influence the NCC, the party's top disciplinary body, in the case of Jackie Walker, who was later expelled from the party for anti-Semitic behaviour

General secretary Jennie Formby (pictured with Mr Corbyn) is accused of trying to influence the NCC, the party's top disciplinary body, in the case of Jackie Walker, who was later expelled from the party for anti-Semitic behaviour

Mr Corbyn has denied for months that the leader's office got involved in disciplinary cases.

But eight former Labour officials – four of whom broke non-disclosure agreements – claimed there had been meddling at the highest level.

They told Panorama that officials hired by Miss Formby repeatedly overruled junior staff to give anti-Semites a 'slap on the wrist'. 

On one occasion, there was an order from Mr Corbyn's office to bring complaints from party headquarters to his office in Parliament so his aides could process them.

Mr Watson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he 'deplored' the Labour response to the whistle blowers. 

'You couldn't fail to be saddened and moved by the testimony, particularly of the young members who'd had racist abuse in party meetings and on social media,' he said. 

Corbynistas are urged to 'drown out' claims about Labour anti-Semitism

Jeremy Corbyn's supporters urged MPs and activists to 'drown out' claims in last night's BBC Panorama investigation to protect the Labour leader and his aides from anti-Semitism, it was revealed today.

The party's 'outriders' and 'socialist social media activists' were urged to take to social media to defend Mr Corbyn and his general secretary Jennie Formby.

As the show went out on BBC1 a WhatsApp message reportedly shared and sent by a key aide to Corbyn says his supporters must 'park your emotions for a few days'.

And they should avoid criticising his deputy Tom Watson - who said today the Panorama film had revealed a 'sickness in our party'.

Instead they should turn their fire on the BBC and focus on allegations that the Tories are Islamophobia and 'amplify' Labour's message that they are not a racist or anti-Semitic.

The memo, leaked to HuffPo's Paul Waugh, says: 'Jeremy Corbyn is not an Anti-semite. Jennie is dealing with Anti-semitism. It is a real and present problem,'

A Labour source has said that the guidance was not written by the party.

'And there was an array of young and old former members of staff from different wings of the party who I think showed great courage to speak out in the way they did... 

'To speak out about the party they love must have taken a great act of courage and to dismiss their testimony as in some way flawed I think was wrong.' 

He added that he had now been shut out of seeing figures on membership and disciplinary cases. 

'It does seem to me that there is obviously some participation in these disciplinary cases from the leader's office, which means they are responsible for dealing with the rebuilding of trust in the Jewish community,' he added.

The frontbencher said there needed to be a rule change to 'auto-exclude' party members who have a 'prima facie case to answer of using anti-Semitic behaviours and language' - and claimed Mr Corbyn was the 'only one' who could fix the issue.

Mr McDonnell called on the BBC to carry out an investigation into Labour's complaints about Panorama.

'There have been complaints put into the BBC now. I think the BBC should investigate those and then we can come to a conclusion,' he said.

'What we have got is ex-staff making accusations against existing staff and those existing staff have challenged those complaints so it does need an objective look at.'

The latest revelations are another major blow for Labour, which is facing an investigation into whether it is institutionally anti-Semitic.   

But Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, said: 'Panorama's reported revelations underline the shocking extent to which some of those closest to Jeremy Corbyn have allegedly sought to protect the anti-Semites within Labour and cover up the extent of the problem. This scandal has been compounded by the efforts to muzzle whistleblowers, impugn the integrity of journalists and intimidate the BBC.'

Panorama spoke to eight former officials, including seven from Labour's complaints and disputes section.

Kat Buckingham, ex-chief investigator in the disputes team, told the programme the problem of anti-Semitism complaints was 'massive and real' and 'wasn't constructed by embittered old Blairites, as we were frequently described'.

The disputes department is supposed to operate independently but the ex-staffers said there was increased interest from the leader's office after Mr Corbyn took over in 2015.

Panorama also reported that Miss Formby attempted to interfere in the workings of the National Constitution Committee, (NCC) which decides if members are expelled.

Leaked email chains show she tried to influence the selection of the panel for the case of Jackie Walker, a former vice-chairman of pro-Corbyn group Momentum, over claims of anti-Semitic comments.

On May 5 last year, Miss Formby wrote: 'The NCC cannot be allowed to continue in the way they are and I will also be challenging the panel for the Jackie Walker case.'

Copied in were Mr Corbyn on his personal email address, Mr Milne and Mr Corbyn's chief of staff Karie Murphy.

Iain McNicol, Miss Formby's predecessor as general secretary, told Panorama: 'The emails you've shown me are really important... the issues that are raised should ring alarm bells across the party.

Labour MPs Jess Phillips and Mary Creagh voiced dismay at the latest Panorama revelations about their party

Labour MPs Jess Phillips and Mary Creagh voiced dismay at the latest Panorama revelations about their party 

Labour's director of strategy and communications Seumas Milne (right) with Jeremy Corbyn last weekend after an appearance on the BBC

Labour's director of strategy and communications Seumas Milne (right) with Jeremy Corbyn last weekend after an appearance on the BBC

Mike Creighton, the former head of Labour's disputes team, told the documentary that Mr Corbyn's director of communications and strategy, laughed at him when he suggested the party leader make a speech on the Middle East

Mike Creighton, the former head of Labour's disputes team, told the documentary that Mr Corbyn's director of communications and strategy, laughed at him when he suggested the party leader make a speech on the Middle East

Kat Buckingham, a former chief investigator will tell the programme the stress she was placed under to deal with a 'massive' workload of 'real' cases forced her to quit with depression

Kat Buckingham, a former chief investigator will tell the programme the stress she was placed under to deal with a 'massive' workload of 'real' cases forced her to quit with depression

Sam Matthews, a former head of disputes, told the documentary he received an email from Seumas Milne saying the party' should 'review where and how we're drawing the line' on anti-Semitism

Sam Matthews, a former head of disputes, told the documentary he received an email from Seumas Milne saying the party' should 'review where and how we're drawing the line' on anti-Semitism

'The NCC was created in a specific way to remove itself from politics and from political interference. So, to try to interfere politically within the NCC is just wrong.'

Miss Formby also wrote to the same email group: 'I've permanently deleted all trace of the email. Too many eyes still on my Labour address. Please use my Unite address.'

A Labour spokesman said she temporarily stopped using her party email because of concerns that a political opponent had access to it.

Dan Hogan, an investigator on the disputes team, said things changed after Miss Formby became general secretary in March last year. He said on a number of cases he worked on people she brought in 'overruled us and downgraded what should've been a suspension to just an investigation or worse to just a reminder of conduct, effectively a slap on the wrist'.

A Labour spokesman said: 'The party is implacably opposed to anti-Semitism.'

 He added: 'The leader's office did not intervene. These former disaffected employees sought the view of staff in the leader's office, which was complied with in good faith.

'The emails... are simply about ensuring the NCC is held accountable.'

He said that the number of staff dealing with complaints was doubling and the rate at which anti-Semitism cases have been dealt with has risen four-fold under Miss Formby.

 

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