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Tom Watson: Labour's front bench must change to avoid more resignations

Politics | Published:

In the wake of the resignations of seven MPs, Labour's deputy leader and West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson says Labour – including its front bench – must change to reflect the balance of opinion across the party.

Tom Watson released a video statement

The instant emotion I felt when I heard this morning that colleagues were leaving Labour, was deep sadness.

I've devoted my life to this party and I am proud to serve it, and I am hugely disappointed about what has happened. This is a sad day for all of us.

I think our colleagues have come to a premature conclusion, but this is a moment for regret and reflection, not for a mood of anger or a tone of triumph.

WATCH Tom Watson's statement in full:

Tom Watson statement on events today

There are those who are already celebrating the departure of colleagues with whom they disagree.

The tragedy of the hard left is that they can be too easily tempted into the language of heresy and treachery.

Betrayal narratives and shouting insults at the departed might make some of us feel better briefly, but it does nothing to address the reasons that good colleagues might want to leave.

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I want to say something in particular about Luciana Berger. In my time in politics I have witnessed many changes but perhaps the most profound of recent times has been the growth of identity politics.

I am sad to say that a virulent form of identity politics has seized the Labour party, which today took its first casualty.

And I would like to place on record, my complete respect for Luciana, and my understanding of the decision to which she has been driven.

Wake-up call

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They say anti-Semitism is a light sleeper. This is certainly a wake-up call for the Labour party.

We were slow to acknowledge we had a problem, and even slower to deal with it.

Even a single incident of anti-Semitism in the Labour party shames us.

Now we have lost Luciana, one of our most dedicated and courageous MPs. If someone like her no longer believes there is a role for her in the Labour party, then many other colleagues will be asking themselves how they can stay.

That's why time is short for us to confront the scale of the problem, to keep others from leaving. The identity of this party must be tolerant, multi-cultural, generous and welcoming.

To put it mildly, we need to be kinder and gentler.

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I love this party, bust sometimes I no longer recognise it.

That's why I do not regard those who have resigned as traitors.

I fear they have left at a critical moment for the country when all our attention should be on solving the Brexit crisis.

So I regard them as people who have drawn the wrong conclusion to a serious question.

The historic task of the Labour party is to speak for those citizens who lack a voice, to offer them a stake in the future of the nation.

Last month, in a speech to the Fabian Society, I said we needed to deliver a programme that would deliver both within and beyond our traditional Labour base.

I said that I feared that if we did not do that, then someone else will.

I confess that I feared this day would come, and I fear now that unless we change, we may see more days like this.

The departure of our colleagues poses a risk for our party. Do we respond with simple condemnation, or do we try and reach out beyond our comfort zone, and prevent others from following.

We know in our hearts we have been too slow to respond to the shaming scourge of anti-Semitism in our ranks.

Throughout our history this party has been patriotic and internationalist at the same time.

But is that a good description of what we are perceived as today?

Losing members and losing MPs

We face a government with no majority, no clarity and no leadership, badly failing on the issue of a generation: Brexit.

Yet we are losing members and now losing MPs. This country faces some troubling questions and we have yet to convince the nation that we have the answers.

Social democratic and democratic socialist traditions, which has always been the mainstream of Labour's political thought, is where we can find the answers to our current crisis.

This is why in the coming weeks and months, I'll be working with Labour MPs to develop policies within that tradition to address the challenges of the future.

I believe the much-needed modernisation of this nation must come from there and that is why the front bench needs once again to reflect the balance of opinion in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

We need to broaden out, so that all the members of our broad church feel welcome in our congregation.

It is only if we open out this party, that we can fulfil our purpose.

Labour was formed to give voice to the ordinary people of this nation. It can do so again, but only if it stays together.

And it can only stay together if it stands for the whole country.

This noble aim is what brought us all into politics. I believe in it every bit as much as I did on the day I first joined the Labour party on my fifteenth birthday in 1982.

But I say this candidly, that my fear is if we don't do it, someone else will.

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