Labour’s deputy leader has “undermined” efforts to handle antisemitism complaints in order to “attack the leadership”, according to a member of the party’s governing body.
Darren Williams, who serves on Labour’s National Executive Committee and is a supporter of leader Jeremy Corbyn, made the comments about Tom Watson during an online presentation to party activists on Saturday.
A recording of the presentation has been passed to Sky News.
Mr Williams acknowledged antisemitism exists in the party and described it as “completely unacceptable”.
But he said it represented “a tiny proportion of the membership” and claimed General Secretary Jennie Formby had made the disciplinary process “more robust”.
Mr Williams also claimed the party’s efforts had been undermined by Mr Watson, and that Labour deputy leader was attempting to “promote his own position”.
He said: “We have made a lot of concessions, including on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition [of antisemitism], some of which I wasn’t entirely happy with.
“But we are where we are, and I think the party has done enough to demonstrate to any fair-minded person that we do take the issue seriously.
“That is clearly not going to stop the same people bringing the issue up whenever it is convenient to do so.
“What is particularly frustrating, I think, is the way that certain key figures in the party – including obviously Tom Watson – have undermined, in my view, the way the party has tried to deal with the issue in a serious and consistent fashion.”
Continuing his criticism, Mr Williams questioned an appeal made by Mr Watson in March for Labour MPs and peers to forward any complaints about antisemitism to him for logging and monitoring.
He said: “Tom Watson’s suggestion that MPs with knowledge of antisemitism cases could come to him and that he would take them up and act as some kind of advocate was obviously undermining the work that the party itself was doing and was designed more to, I think, promote his own position and to attack the leadership than to actually resolve the issues in any sensible way.”
Mr Watson was approached for a response to the comments by Mr Williams but did not respond.
Mike Katz, national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), said: “Yet again we see a member of Labour’s ruling body, the NEC, treating racism as a factional plaything.
“If he really was determined to root out anti-Jewish racism from the party, Mr Williams would welcome Tom Watson’s involvement with MPs, not dismiss it as party infighting.
“These comments underline why JLM was right to refer the party to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for institutional racism against Jews.”
Euan Philipps, spokesperson for Labour Against Antisemitism, said: “Darren Williams’ comments fail to acknowledge the scale and depth of the Labour Party’s antisemitism crisis.
“Tom Watson was right to attempt to intervene because the situation has been getting worse by the day.
“It is bizarre that Mr Williams, who himself opposed the suspension of [Labour MP] Chris Williamson and the adoption of the IHRA definition, should attack Mr Watson for doing so.”
It comes ahead of a BBC Panorama documentary, due to be broadcast on Wednesday, which is expected to contain critical testimony from a number of former Labour staff about how antisemitism complaints have been handled.
According to The Sunday Times, the party’s former head of disputes could face legal action for breaking a non-disclosure agreement by appearing in the programme.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner claimed it was his understanding the programme would offer only a “partial” view, and suggested the former staff members had a “political axe to grind”.
Mr Gardiner, who revealed he had not yet seen the Panorama programme, insisted Labour did not use non-disclosure agreements to “hide anything that is illegal or improper”.
He said: “We use gagging orders only to stop former members of staff from leaking confidential information, where we have an obligation to protect individuals, and for doing that in a party political or partisan way.”
The BBC dismissed the criticism, saying Labour was “criticising a programme they have not seen”.