The Labour Party’s responses to the Panorama programme and its fallout have been good

The Labour Party has defended itself robustly against the allegations made in the Panorama programme. It raised serious questions about it in advance and homed in on its distortions and malign intentions immediately after it was broadcast.

Jennie Formby has also given a powerful rebuttal to the charges leveled by Tom Watson against the leadership.

These are reproduced below.

Source: LabourList,

Ahead of Panorama’s episode of Labour antisemitism, which airs tonight at 9pm, Labour submitted a complaint to the BBC.

The letter describes presenter John Ware as “unsuitable” and calls on the BBC to “suspend and reconsider” the broadcast of the programme.

In response, the BBC has commented today: “The Labour Party is criticising a programme they have not seen. The programme adheres to the BBC’s editorial guidelines. In line with those, the Labour Party has been given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.”

Below is the full text of Labour’s complaint to the BBC, send on July 4th.

I write on behalf of the Labour Party in relation to your planned Panorama programme “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?”.

Our lawyer Gerald Shamash will shortly be sending a letter to the BBC’s group general counsel dealing with legal, statutory and wider editorial concerns and issues. We will also be sending detailed responses tomorrow to the questions and issues raised by your reporter/presenter John Ware to Jeremy Corbyn, Jennie Formby, Shami Chakrabarti and a number of Labour Party staff members, which were received by us on Monday 24th June.

Both from the nature of the questions and their framing, the public record and pronouncements of your reporter/presenter John Ware, and your prior publicity for the programme in the Radio Times, we believe the programme is unlikely to meet the BBC’s obligations of fairness, balance and political impartiality; shows clear signs of political interference and attempts at undue influence in the current EHRC investigations into our disciplinary and complaints procedures; is likely to be politically slanted in language, presentation and balance of interviewees; and relies heavily and one-sidedly on the claims and allegations of politically partisan anonymous / unnamed sources and Conservative-supporting newspapers and organisations.

In particular:

1) From the framing of the programme in the Radio Times profile, it appears that the answer to the question “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” has already been built into the programme – it refers to the “evasions and contradictions” at the heart of the Labour Party – without hearing the Labour Party’s response, considering the rebuttal of unsubstantiated allegations or interviewing a balanced set of voices and views. The programme has clearly been filming and in production for many months but has only offered us an opportunity to provide balancing interviews and responses last week.

2) The timing and length of the programme (double the time allowed for “The Race for Number Ten”) both point to political interference in a highly charged and sensitive political issue between the main political parties – currently being invoked in the Conservative Party leadership election – as well as undue influence by the BBC in the current EHRC investigation into Labour’s procedures for dealing with antisemitism.

3) Both from the questions posed and the framing of the programme’s agenda, there is clear reliance on unsubstantiated allegations and selective use of data and internal communications by former members of staff, who are openly and publicly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and highly critical of him and members of his staff. The reliance on a series of politically partisan and hostile interviewees and informants on a highly sensitive political issue in current domestic politics – without, from what we understand, a range of interviewees with an alternative perspective – shows every sign of breaching the BBC’s obligations and own editorial guidelines to be fair, balanced and even-handed in political controversy.

4) The investigation and focus on instances of antisemitism and their handling in the Labour Party – while reasonable and justifiable on its own terms – will be regarded as a political intervention without a balancing investigation and focus on the incidence of Islamophobia among members of the Conservative Party, particularly in the month when those same members are voting to choose the country’s next Prime Minister. As polling has shown, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice is more prevalent in British society than antisemitism, and far more prevalent among Conservative party members than instances of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Polling published last week by YouGov and Hope Not Hate shows that nearly half of Conservative Party members hold Islamophobic views. And both surveys by You Gov and Campaign Against Antisemitism on antisemitism in British politics show that antisemitic views are higher among Conservative voters than Labour voters. But BBC coverage has focused far more on the latter than the former. Without an early investigation of Islamophobia in the Conservative party of similar length and prominence, this will inevitably be regarded as evidence of political bias.

5) The choice of John Ware as reporter/presenter of this programme – whose record of public political hostility to Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership of the Labour Party, as well as a series of controversial articles and programmes on the Muslim community, means he cannot be regarded as fair or even-handed on British politics or community relations – will further undermine confidence in its impartiality.

In an article in the neo-conservative magazine Standpoint on 27/6/17, Mr Ware wrote that the Conservative Party “risks letting in a Labour leader whose entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism, and who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about”.

In an article on 2/8/18 in the Jewish Chronicle, Mr Ware accused Jeremy Corbyn of using a “classic antisemitic trope” in comments about Israel and Egypt, and argued that anti-Zionism had “morphed into anti-Semitism” “deeply” on the Labour Left. These are the remarks of someone who has clearly and publicly already made their mind up on the issue of Labour and anti-Semitism.

His Panorama programme in 2005 “British Muslims: A Question of Leadership” was described by a former Panorama journalist in the Guardian as “disgusting”, with the presenter acting “like a prosecuting attorney, not a journalist” – and by the then Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting as “McCarthyite”.

However robust the editorial process, Mr Ware’s public views and priorities will inevitably have shaped his approach to this programme’s content and interviewees, and will be certain to lead to reasonable accusations of bias and lack of fairness.

Contrary to BBC editorial guidelines on presenters, John Ware’s own personal and political views make him unsuitable to present this programme. As well as previous complaints of bias, including one about a documentary he made about Jeremy Corbyn’s 2015 leadership campaign, he has written that Jeremy’s “entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism” and says he is someone “who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about”. These allegations have been put to us as being expressed by others – whether Jeremy Corbyn would be at risk of being disciplined now if he repeated previous things he has said, and a suggestion that the Chakrabarti report insulates him from blame and are in fact John Ware’s own views, expressed in an article on August 22nd 2018.

It goes without saying that we do not accept that the Labour Party is antisemitic: we completely reject any such a claim and will strongly contest and challenge through all channels available to us, any such conclusion or implication given in this Panorama programme.

I trust that you will take fully on board the concerns, objections and rebuttals we are providing, will suspend and reconsider the planned broadcast of this programme in this form – and will fully adhere to the BBC’s statutory obligations to be fair, impartial and balanced in its reporting in any reworking of the material.

2. Labour Party response to Panorama programme

Source: Labour Press, Wednesday 10 July 2019 / 9:49 PM

A Labour Party spokesperson, responding to BBC Panorama’s programme, said:

“We completely reject any claim that Labour is antisemitic. We stand in solidarity with Jewish people, and we’re taking decisive action to root out antisemitism from our movement and society.

“The Panorama programme was not a fair or balanced investigation. It was a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning. It was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy.

“An honest investigation into antisemitism in Labour and wider society is in the public interest. The Panorama team instead pre-determined an answer to the question posed by the programme’s title.

“No proper and serious attempt was made to understand our current procedures for dealing with antisemitism, which is clearly essential to reach a fair and balanced judgement. And Panorama distorted and manipulated the truth and misrepresented evidence to present a biased and selective account.

“We complained in advance to the BBC over the way the programme was put together and its choice of a presenter who has expressed overt personal and political hostility to Jeremy Corbyn’s politics. We will be pursuing complaints at every level.

“The Labour Party will fully investigate any complaints concerning the antisemitic incidents reported by party members in interviews in the programme.

“Labour stands in solidarity with Jewish people and is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations.

“Despite claims made in the programme, Labour is taking decisive action against antisemitism. Since Jennie Formby became General Secretary the rate at which antisemitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than four-fold.

“We will build on the improvements to our procedures made under Jennie Formby, and continue to act against this repugnant form of racism.”

3. Jennie Formby hits back at Tom Waton

Source: Daily Mirror, 11 July 2019

Labour’s General Secretary has hit back at Tom Watson as the row over the BBC’s Panorama programme on anti-Semitism within the party continues to escalate.

In a scathing letter Jennie Formby accused Mr Watson of “denigrating” progress made within the party in tackling the problem.

She said to him: “By choosing to ignore the steps taken by this party, and commenting so uncritically about the Panorama programme, you are complicit in creating a perception that antisemitism is more prevalent in the Labour Party than wider society.”

The BBC Panorama documentary last night saw eight form party staff say they were undermined in their attempts to tackle anti-Semitism in the party.

Former officials alleged that Labour’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, and its general secretary, Jennie Formby, interfered with investigations.

Four of those who spoke out, including former  Labour  general secretary Iain McNicol, broke non-disclosure agreements to do so.

Ms Formby who is on leave from her role while she receives treatment for cancer, said Mr Watson’s public letter to her was “inappropriate”.

She wrote: “Furthermore, traducing my reputation and publicly attacking me when you know I am undergoing chemotherapy and am unable to respond in the media, is another example of the inappropriate way in which you choose to discuss this issue.”

The General Secretary was accused by the Panorama programme of deleting emails and using a non-Labour email address.

She explained that she did so because her Labour address was compromised for a short time but denied ever deleting correspondence.

She also insisted she had no idea of the distress felt by staff which was thoroughly detailed in the programme.

Instead she said those employees had “access to an Employee Assistance Programme, which is widely advertised throughout the organisation”.

But she conceded more needed to be done to tackle the “stigma” of mental health.

Sam Matthews, Labour’s former head of complaints, said he had been pushed to the brink of suicide by the issues in the party.

“I sat at my desk thinking I can’t do this anymore,” he recalled of the weeks leading up to his decision to resign in June 2018.

“I’m being asked to do things I’m fundamentally not comfortable with, the general secretary doesn’t listen to me and the thought crosses my mind as to whether I send her my resignation and then do something that nobody should ever consider.

“I actively considered committing suicide, walking off her roof as some way not to feel trapped anymore. She has a balcony outside her office.”

Others recalled how they were signed off sick with depression and anxiety and even suffered breakdowns.

But in her letter tonight Ms Formby insisted she had no idea staff were feeling under such strain.

She said: “I did watch the Panorama programme, and I was very concerned to hear for the first time the distress suffered by some of our former staff members. To be clear we were not made aware of these issues at the time.”

Jennie Formby’s letter to Tom Watson in full:

Source: email circulated by Laura Smith MP who commented:

A General Secretary cannot be beyond reproach but relentlessly attacking a woman who is currently receiving gruelling cancer treatment without acknowledging the full facts is cruel. Take care to my friend @JennieGenSec

The Labour Party
Head Office
Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QT
Labour Central, Kings Manor,
Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 6PA
0345 092 2299 |

Tom Watson MP
Delivery via email
11 July 2019

Dear Tom,

Thank you for writing to me. It is important that members are given some balance to your letter, so I am publishing my reply.

I am very disappointed at the way you choose to address this extremely sensitive and difficult issue. The Party has at all levels consistently shown that it recognises the vital importance of combating antisemitism, yet you consistently abuse your considerable platform to denigrate any progress that has been made, and any individual that is involved in that. Furthermore, traducing my reputation and publicly attacking me when you know I am undergoing chemotherapy and am unable to respond in the media, is another example of the inappropriate way in which you choose to discuss this issue.

Antisemitism and the consequences of that form of racism is extremely serious, as history has shown us. The Labour Party has taken significant steps to strive for the most robust complaints system of any political party when dealing with accusations of oppressive behaviours. These steps have been detailed publicly, and we have been open and honest about the need to continuously improve systems to deal with any abhorrent views members may hold – which, as you will know, are held by a small minority of the overall membership.

I know it is a real problem in the Labour Party. Like you I have seen it first hand. But we must deal with the facts. Antisemitism-related cases that have been taken through the stages of our disciplinary procedures since September 2015 relate to roughly 0.06% of the Party’s average membership during this time. Since I started as General Secretary, the speed of processing of antisemitism cases has increased by more than four-fold.

By choosing to ignore the steps taken by this party, and commenting so uncritically about the Panorama programme, you are complicit in creating a perception that antisemitism is more prevalent in the Labour Party than wider society. This is deeply irresponsible for the deputy leader of a party which seeks to be in Government, and risks exacerbating the fear that Jewish communities will feel. I did watch the Panorama programme, and I was very concerned to hear for the first time the distress suffered by some of our former staff members. To be clear we were not made aware of these issues at the time.

All employees of the Labour Party have access to an Employee Assistance Programme, which is widely advertised throughout the organisation. Their role is to provide a confidential support service to employees on a range of personal and work issues and their details are shared with employees to ensure they have support in place. They can provide a range of support including counselling. As an organisation we have a duty of care to employees. We have highlighted the importance of leaders and managers in talking to their teams to offer support through team meetings and 121s. If managers have specific concerns one of the HR team can help signpost more specific help or work with managers on what could be done as a team. If managers have specific concerns about an individual they can speak to a member of the HR team.

We will also be working on a campaign to help break the stigma of mental health in the workplace and will be working jointly with the trade unions to deliver this.

As well as staff accounts, hearing the testimonies from Jewish members of our party was distressing. We must continue working to ensure that our party is always a safe and welcoming space for Jewish people.

You also say in your letter that I have ‘withheld’ the EHRC response from you. You know that this is not the case. I wrote to you twice and offered to meet with you to provide you with the Party’s response to the EHRC.

I also updated the Shadow Cabinet on the EHRC and wider antisemitism issues on Tuesday. Given your considerable public concern around this issue, I am confused as to why you did not raise a single issue or question while at that meeting.

You also suggest in your letter that I deleted emails relating to cases of antisemitism. This is not the case. Labour email addresses are copied into the particular email chain so the emails are fully searchable through our internal subject request searches. Therefore nothing is destroyed or hidden.

These emails do not discuss any member’s data, so it would not amount to any kind of data breach.

It is the case that my Labour address was compromised for a short time after I began as General Secretary. Given that my inbox was accessed and its contents were leaked, I was clearly right to have concerns.

I agree with your point that this is a collective responsibility, and it is one I share with the NEC, the governing body of the Party. As I have repeatedly stated, the authority to share the document or not lies with the NEC. It has ruled that copies of the EHRC submission, a confidential document, are not shared more widely than already agreed.

Finally, I must also ask you once again to consider the impact that your actions are having on our staff in the Governance and Legal team. They have been working incredibly hard to clear all complaints, not just those of antisemitism, including the considerable backlog that had built up from 2016. For them to be brought into the public eye with no opportunity to respond or defend themselves must be extremely difficult.
Since taking on the role as General Secretary I have been unremittingly clear that the welfare of our staff is extremely important, and I would ask you to respect both the contribution that they make, and to recognise that they are unable to rebut or respond to any criticism you make in the public domain.

Yours sincerely,

Jennie Formby
General Secretary

Comments (19)

  • Dave Monaghan says:

    When is the NEC going to suspend, investigate and throw Tom Watson out of the Party? When isthe Party going to take some ofthe liars to court for defamation?

  • Gill McCall says:

    A fulsome and robust response. Thank You.m

  • Jan Plummer says:

    Well done Jewish Voice for Labour, we are right behind you. This has to be tackled head on, in public.

  • anti-Semitism and the Jewish people are being used by unscrupulous people like Tom Watson as a weapon to attack the left of the Labour party.

  • John Dunn says:

    Thank you JVL for posting this and for what you have to say; your voice is both clear, lucid and very welcome. It is quite clear that Watson has to go, either he should resign or be voted out. Yours in solidarity. John.

  • Sheena says:

    Good on the Labour Party for at last standing up against the disgusting bbc hatchet job, breaking every reporting rule known to man and the Blairite Israeli regime lobby who are bullying and harassing Jeremy and Jenny Formby who they knew was going through chemotherapy and we didn’t know she was ill. This makes what they have done even more repulsive. #JC4PM

  • Susan Ilsley says:

    I thought the programme was a disgrace and as a license payer I do not wish to have such biased reporting especially on a very distressing subject. I have one particular Jewish friend who is absolutely appalled and who has been very concerned for a very long time about influences that are powerful in their condemnation of the Labour party and Jeremy in particular around the subject of anti-semitism. It seems to me any suggestion that these allegations are purely political in nature ends up with a member being expelled or publicly annihilated. To try to explain Labour party views and processes to deal with a tiny minority of people brings more RW attacks, so to damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The saying goes ‘if you are going to tell a lie make sure it is a big lie because then it will perceived as truth’. I’m not much interested in perception but I am interested that a very good man is constantly slandered and vilified by the media

  • George Wilmers says:

    By airing this program the BBC is itself guilty of the most poisonous form of antisemitism possible in the current political climate, more insidious even than that of neonazi propagandists, because as propaganda it is far more plausible. The program is antisemitic because it seeks to portray all Jews has uniformly having the same bigoted opinions about antisemitism in the Labour party as the neoconservative presenter of the program. This is extremely dangerous for Jewish people in the UK, and particularly unpleasant for the many Jews within the Labour party who do not share these views, because if this prejudicial view of Jewish people is accepted as fact, it will inevitably lead to a real rise in antisemitism.

    It is utterly appalling that while a number of known Israeli propagandists were interviewed within any mention of their background or affiliations, not once was any of the many prominent Jewish intellectuals who condemn the current propaganda campaign given an opportunity to expose its dishonesty.

  • Luke Elwick says:

    [The web editor writes – mea culpa – it has been corrected!]

    Good article but…
    You’re a journalism website and you can’t use “has” and “have” properly:
    Have for plural, “has” for singular eg:

    “The Labour Party’s response to the Panorama programme and its fallout HAS been good”
    “The Labour Party’s responses to the Panorama programme and its fallout HAVE been good”

  • geoff rouse says:

    Tom Watson is clearly and deliberately bringing the Party into disrepute. His agenda is now clear and formal disciplinary action against him is not only right and proper but ungently needed.

  • Alasdair MacVarish says:

    This is unlikely to blow over as the settler-colonials in Palestine struggle by any means to retain international support especially in USA and UK in the face of increasing support especially among the young for Palestinian resistance. There is hope: France began to colonise Algeria in 1832 but despite possession accepted by NATO, had to withdraw in 1962. Zionists must be seen for what they are: the last European settler-colonials

  • John Burton says:

    Like the Labour Party, the web editor should not apologise for something that wasn’t a mistake in the first place. “The Labour Party’s response to the Panorama programme and its fallout” is a singular subject (response). Therefore “has” is correct. That bit of pedantry aside, what a relief it is to read Jennie Formby’s letter to Tom Watson. At last, a clear, reasoned, strong response to Watson’s self-centred deceit. And to think I voted for this nasty piece of work . . . and Jeremy of course. I should have researched the man properly instead of believing his propaganda. His support for Phil Woolas’ racist election campaign is too easily forgotten, and I’m ashamed to say I forgot it. It’s high time we remembered and opened up Watson’s record for public scrutiny.

  • Agnes Kory says:

    I too voted for Tom Watson to be deputy leader in 2015. On the strength of his canvassing I though he would be a gifted ally to Jeremy Corbyn.
    Three years on, in 2018, I wrote to him:
    “Dear Tom (as you referred to yourself in our correspondence in 2015),
    If anything will destroy the Labour Party, it will be disloyalty.
    I voted for you in the deputy leader election, never dreaming that subsequently you would disown/undermine Jeremy Corbyn in your interviews and articles.
    Surely, one of a deputy leader’s job (in any party, in any organisation) is to support the leader. This is basic, needs no explanation.
    Your undermining Jeremy Corbyn is inexcusable on all levels.”
    Tom Watson’s reply to this message was so false that it is not worth repeating. Clearly, all the time his aim has been to be the leader and he shamelessly weaponised the term ‘antisemitism’ in the process of trying to replace Jeremy. His disloyalty is bringing the Labour Party into disrepute, he should be expelled.

  • John Webster says:

    Thank God the Labour Party is at last fighting back! Most of the public are confused. In the US they had to go through this in the last decade. Criticism of Israel = antisemitism.Crack that and we’ve won. Expose the Israeli connection and all its front organisations and their paymasters. Set up a team to monitor everything they do – go for them. Don’t placate them anymore. This crude bit of propaganda can easily be exposed for what it is.

  • David Stretton says:

    Are you aware that Tom Watson has been schooling his cohort of MPs on how to avoid a trigger ballot. This involves getting groups like JLM to affiliate to CLPs and thus gain influence in who is nominated for the ballot. Furthermore, some of the affiliates are basically front organizations but for £6 they all get a say.

  • Nick Fletcher says:

    It is obvious there is a conspiracy of weaponization against Mr Corbyn and the socialism that he represents. But also the wider implications that vast members of the Labour party are also akin to being part of these unfounded, false and frankly disgusting accusations of Anti Semitism. I as an ordinary member of the party find it despicable that I might be labelled as anti Semitic or racist due to my support for the democratic elected leader of my party. But isn’t this what its all about? They want Mr Corbyn, the socialism he represents and the socialist movement buried to political life. It will not happen!

  • Ann Johns says:

    Born in the same year as Israel was created I was always a fervent supporter until a few years ago when I realised that I was no longer proud of Israel but an apologist. The current bullying of the Labour Party by the billionaire owned media has nothing to do with anti-Semitism but with opportunism. And now that the BBC has joined in their lip-licking attacks, can the Labour Party no longer hope for balanced reporting or is it doomed until it eschews support for Palestinian rights?

  • Liberty says:

    This sick orchestrated onslaught against the Labour Party isn’t about racism at all. Look at who the Israeli regime and their appeasers are actually supporting and embolding in Hungary, Poland, Brazil and so on, actual FASCISTS who are boasting about expelling immigrants and migrants from their countries, threatening gays and non whites who are seen as lesser people. Remember that while the right wing harass us on the left their vile cult leader Trump is putting Immigrant children in cages, hiding deaths in custody and by separating families they are giving the green light for disgusting racism to occur. Insrael is being allowed to massacre children and health workers in the occupied territories. WE ALL KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ETHNIC MINORITIES AND SOCIALISTS ARE ALLOWED TO BE PERSECUTED. We WILL save our friends Jeremy Corbyn and the real Labour Party. Thank you to JVL for helping us fight back.

  • Brian Precious says:

    Superb dealing with Watson’s disgusting – indeed barbaric – posturing opportunism against a woman fighting cancer. Outstanding words by my Gen Sec in defence of and solidarity with his Unite member against this obscene scum:

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