Labour was in open revolt against Jeremy Corbyn last night after dozens of MPs and peers demanded he expel one of his allies from the party over anti-Semitism.
Tom Watson led a group of more than 100 senior Labour figures in demanding the Labour leader withdraw the whip from Chris Williamson following his controversial readmission.
Labour’s deputy leader said the group could not overstate the ‘depth of hurt and anger’ at the way the case had been handled. In a separate letter, dozens of Labour staff members wrote to general secretary Jennie Formby to demand he be thrown out.
Labour was in open revolt against Jeremy Corbyn (right) last night after dozens of MPs and peers demanded he expel Derby North MP Chris Williamson (left) from the party over anti-Semitism
There was widespread anger at the announcement on Wednesday that the Derby North MP had had his suspension lifted just months after he said Labour had been too apologetic over anti-Semitism.
But yesterday a jubilant Mr Williamson showed little contrition, refusing five times in a radio interview to admit he had done anything wrong. Adding to the chaos, a member of the disciplinary panel which let Mr Williamson off – Labour MP Keith Vaz – last night called for the decision to be reversed.
In his letter, Mr Watson and the other MPs said: ‘We call on Jeremy Corbyn to show leadership by asking for this inappropriate, offensive and reputationally damaging decision to be overturned and reviewed.
Tom Watson led a group of more than 100 senior Labour figures in demanding the Labour leader withdraw the whip from Chris Williamson following his controversial readmission
‘Ultimately, it is for Jeremy Corbyn to decide whether Chris Williamson retains the Labour whip. He must remove it immediately if we are to stand any hope of persuading anyone that the Labour Party is taking anti-Semitism seriously.’
Mr Williamson – a Left-wing ally of Mr Corbyn – was suspended in February following his claim the party had been ‘too apologetic’ in response to criticism over its handling of anti-Semitism allegations. After a hearing of a National Executive Committee anti-Semitism panel, he was issued with a formal warning but allowed back into the party.
Vaz flip-flops after voting to let him back in
Disgraced Labour MP Keith Vaz last night demanded the decision to reinstate Chris Williamson be reconsidered – despite voting for it himself.
Mr Vaz, who is currently the subject of a sleaze inquiry, was part of a three-strong Labour panel that overruled advice from officials who had recommended further action against Mr Williamson.
Labour sources said the former minister had warned that continuing Mr Williamson’s suspension could raise the risk of Labour losing his marginal Derby North seat in the event of a snap election.
But last night Mr Vaz called for the National Executive Committee panel which made the ruling to be reconvened with different members.
In a letter to Jennie Formby, the party’s general secretary, he said the fact that details of Mr Williamson’s case were leaked to the media meant that the other 36 cases dealt with by the panel ‘could potentially mount a legal challenge’.
The MP for Leicester East also said that he had been called to sit on the panel at the last minute and had gone to the meeting ‘despite having medical treatment that day’.
He added: ‘In my view, having served on the NEC for 15 years I consider the decisions the panel made yesterday cannot stand.
‘In order to ensure complete integrity of the process either a new panel should be convened or all the cases from yesterday should be referred to the Disputes Committee for reconsideration.’
Earlier this week Mr Vaz and fellow panel member Huda Elmi voted to let Mr Williamson off with a formal warning.
Veteran Labour MP George Howarth was the only member of the panel to accept that the case should be dealt with more severely.
In their statement, the Labour parliamentarians said the way the case had been handled raised questions over fairness. They said the panel had ignored a recommendation Mr Williamson should be referred to the National Constitutional Committee for action.
They also said that the composition of the panel had been changed at short notice in a way that seemed ‘highly irregular’.
‘Given that the Labour Party is being investigated by the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) over allegations of institutional anti-Semitism this case is particularly important.
‘It is clear to us that Labour’s disciplinary process remains mired by the appearance of political interference. This must stop. We need a truly independent process.’
The signatories – whose total last night reached 118 – include a number of frontbenchers such as shadow justice minister Gloria De Piero and shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman.
Other prominent signatories include Yvette Cooper, Dame Margaret Hodge and Lord Mandelson.
The statement is likely to be seen as a further direct challenge to Mr Corbyn by Mr Watson, who is already at loggerheads with the Labour leader over the issue of a second EU referendum. In another letter, 70 Labour employees wrote to Mrs Formby.
They said: ‘We do not say this lightly – the decision to readmit Chris Williamson into the party will help to create an environment where Jewish and non-Jewish employees… are made to feel unwelcome by his presence.’
Campaigning in Hartlepool, Mr Corbyn defended the way the case was dealt with and said the party took all allegations of anti-Semitism ‘very, very seriously’.
He said: ‘I wasn’t involved in the decision, it was an independent panel set up through the National Executive. We deal with anti-Semitism very, very seriously, there is no place for anti-Semitism in society and obviously not in our party. Anyone that makes anti-Semitic remarks can expect to be at the very least reprimanded and, if they are very serious and engage in anti-Semitic activity, then they are expelled from the party.’
Responding to Mr Corbyn’s comments, Labour MP Wes Streeting said: ‘This is handwringing nonsense.’
Mr Williamson was suspended after a video showed him telling a meeting of the grassroots Momentum group that Labour’s reaction to anti-Semitism claims had led to the party being ‘demonised’.
Disgraced Labour MP Keith Vaz last night demanded the decision to reinstate Chris Williamson be reconsidered – despite voting for the suspension to be lifted himself as part of a disciplinary panel
The panel’s ruling was welcomed by Mr Williamson who said he had received an ‘avalanche’ of goodwill from grassroots party members.
He told BBC Radio Derby: ‘Anybody who knows me, who knows my record, knows I’m someone who has stood up against bigotry throughout my political life and indeed beforehand.’
However his readmission to the party was condemned by Amanda Bowman, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, as ‘an utter disgrace’.
Corbyn’s damning new poll low
Jeremy Corbyn’s approval rating plunged to a dramatic new low last night – polling worse than former leader Michael Foot for the first time.
A survey by Ipsos Mori found that Mr Corbyn was now the worst-polling leader of the Opposition since the question was first asked in 1978.
A massive 75 per cent of voters said they were dissatisfied by his performance, compared with just 17 per cent who were satisfied – a net satisfaction rating of minus 58 per cent.
Jeremy Corbyn’s approval rating plunged to a dramatic new low last night – polling worse than former leader Michael Foot for the first time
This compares with Mr Foot’s worst rating of minus 56 per cent (13 per cent satisfied, 69 per cent dissatisfied) which was recorded in August 1982, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and two months after the liberation of the Falklands. By contrast, she never polled lower than minus 13 when she was Opposition leader.
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband’s worst rating occurred in December 2014, when he scored a net satisfaction score of minus 38 per cent.
Tory leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith both hit minus 37 at their lowest point.
Tony Blair was the only Opposition leader who consistently had a positive satisfaction rating. His worst score was plus 7 per cent, recorded in September 1996.