Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson is someone for whom I have a lot of time - as, I suspect, do all those who have been involved in the campaign to make our free and fearless press more accountable to those they screw over on a routine and regular basis. His confronting James Murdoch during a DCMS hearing, during which he put it to Junior that he was part of a mafia organisation, remains memorable - and dead right.
Tom Watson MP
If part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry comes about, Tom Watson will be in no small part responsible for it. So the friends and supporters of Daniel Morgan’s family - the Murdoch press was heavily implicated in his murder - as well as the victims of the dishonest and crooked Mazher Mahmood, and others suffered illegal and unwarranted intrusion at the hands of the press, will be forever grateful to him for his efforts.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, it now seems that Watson has overplayed his hand and put his party back in the news for all the wrong reasons. The dispute in which he has become embroiled, with Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby, is a campaign which appears destined to develop not necessarily to his advantage.
As with so many discussions in and around Labour recently, that dispute concerned allegations of anti-Semitism. Watson appeared recently on The Andy Marr Show™ where he told that he was asking those who made complaints of anti-Semitic behaviour to also notify him - at a private email address. There were also claims that trust had been lost in Labour’s ability, and processes, for dealing with such complaints.
The high profile nature of his intervention, together with the data protection implications, demanded that Ms Formby respond, and so she has done. As the BBC has reported, “She told him: ‘It is absolutely inappropriate for you to set up a vague parallel complaints monitoring system.’ … Ms Formby said that he and the party had ‘very strict responsibilities’ to safeguard members' data under GPDR and data protection laws and asked for complaints not to be sent to Mr Watson ‘or any unauthorised individual’”.
Watson’s response, where he tells “The constant concern of those complaining about anti-Semitism in our party is that there is no transparency about the process … Too often those who have suffered anti-Semitic abuse have not heard anything about the outcome of their complaint”, begs one question: why not talk to Ms Formby first?
Also, why did he not consider the sheer weight of complaints which are having to be dealt with? As the Guardian told recently, at a recent meeting “[Ms] Formby hit back specifically at a claim made by the MP Margaret Hodge that cast doubt on the figures, saying she alone had submitted a dossier of 200 examples of antisemitism … [she] said investigations had found those complaints referred to 111 reported individuals, of whom only 20 were members”. Also, members must be given the benefit of due process.
All that has been achieved by Watson’s very public intervention is that Labour’s General Secretary and her staff have been distracted from dealing with complaints of anti-Semitism, and the party has garnered yet more unwelcome publicity.
Also, his stock among Labour members has not so much fallen as crashed. So It’s not just the Labour Party that now needs to rebuild trust. I’ll just leave that one there.
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