Tom Watson: ‘Labour could change anti-Semitism rules after ‘vile’ Livingstone remarks’

Tom Watson: ‘Labour could change anti-Semitism rules after ‘vile’ Livingstone remarks’

Labour's Deputy Leader proposes a change to send a "clear signal" that the Labour Party takes a "zero tolerance" approach

Tom Watson, (Photo credit:  Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)
Tom Watson, (Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

Labour’s rules and procedures could be changed to ensure it has a “zero-tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism following the “vile” comments made by Ken Livingstone, deputy leader Tom Watson said.

In an attempt to demonstrate the party was taking action on the issue, after leader Jeremy Corbyn insisted it was not a “crisis”, Mr Watson indicated that Labour’s structures could be changed to send a “clear signal” that the problem was being addressed.

Mr Watson said the comments which led to the suspension of Mr Livingstone, a long-standing ally of Mr Corbyn, verged on anti-Semitism and were certainly “offensive and provocative”.

He said the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) would decide on the former London mayor’s fate but “no-one is in any doubt” that he “let down the Labour Party”.

Mr Watson’s intervention came after shadow home secretary Andy Burnham claimed allegations of anti-Semitism had “not been dealt with properly and quickly enough”.

The deputy Labour leader told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “What Ken Livingstone said yesterday was vile, offensive and crass and it was absolutely right that Jeremy suspended him.

“I just ask people to take a look at what he actually did yesterday within hours of Ken Livingstone making those comments.

“They were obviously provocative and they obviously caused great offence to many of our members and people out there in the country.”

Asked if he thought Mr Livingstone’s comments were anti-Semitic, he said: “I personally think that Ken Livingstone was straying into that territory.

“But they were certainly offensive and provocative.

“To link Hitler and Zionism in the way he did must have been done to create offence.”

It was now for the NEC to decide whether to expel Mr Livingstone from the party, he said.

“But no-one is in any doubt that Ken Livingstone’s behaviour yesterday has let down the Labour Party, let down those thousands of candidates who are standing in an election next Thursday and caused deep offence, in particular to the Jewish community in Britain but also to people out there who expect the Labour Party to adhere to higher standards.

“And our National Executive Committee will deal with that.”

In a sign of the action being taken, Mr Watson said he and Mr Corbyn had “both been talking to representatives of the Jewish community to look at whether Labour’s own structures can be improved to make sure that we send a very clear signal to people in our party that we will have a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism”.

The could mean looking at potential candidates and “there are issues like are our rules robust enough and our procedures”.

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews called for Mr Corbyn to acknowledge that past meetings with anti-Semites were “inappropriate” and condemned Mr Livingstone.

Jonathan Arkush told Today: “It was much more than offensive language. Ken Livingstone actually said that Hitler was some sort of Zionist.

“What Ken Livingstone deliberately did was to draw an equation between Nazism and Zionism.

“He therefore crossed a line into certainly what most people would regard as distinctly anti-Semitic.”

Urging Mr Corbyn to get a grip on the problem, he highlighted the Labour leader’s past praise for his “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah and said: “I also want Jeremy Corbyn finally to say that his own meetings with anti-Semites in the past, before he became leader, were inappropriate and should not be repeated.”

Mr Livingstone left his house in Cricklewood, north west London, the morning after his suspension, making no comment with regard to the controversy surrounding his remarks.

Dressed in jeans and a khaki coat, he took his dog, Coco, for a walk and said anyone interested in what he had to say would have to “tune in” to him on LBC on Saturday.

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