The deputy leader of the UK Labour party, Tom Watson, a prominent voice against antisemitism within Labour’s ranks, stepped down on Wednesday after reportedly telling friends he was disillusioned with party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn has been the object of considerable controversy due to accusations of antisemitism and opposition to his policies by moderate Labour members and officials. Polls show the overwhelming majority of British Jews consider him to be personally antisemitic.
Watson follows a series of other MPs who have left the party, several of whom have cited antisemitism as a reason for doing so.
The Telegraph quoted Watson as telling friends that Labour was “no longer the party that he joined.”
Officially, however, Watson stated that he was “as committed to Labour as ever” and that his decision was “personal, not political.”
In his resignation letter, he addressed Corbyn directly, thanking him “for the decency and courtesy you have shown me over the last four years, even in difficult times.”
Meanwhile, in a second blow to Corbyn in as many days, former Labour MP Ian Austin told BBC Radio that Labour voters should abandon Corbyn and vote for the Boris Johnson-led Conservative party.
The Guardian quoted Austin as saying, “There’s only two people who are going to be prime minister on December 13. Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson. And I think Jeremy Corbyn is completely unfit to lead our country. Completely unfit to lead the Labour party.”
He said that he wanted to tell “decent traditional patriotic Labour voters that they should be voting for Boris Johnson at this election.”
Corbyn, he said, “spent his entire time in politics working with and defending all sorts of people: extremists and in some cases antisemites and terrorists.”
“I think in the end I don’t think he’s a patriot,” Austin continued. “I don’t think he loves his country. I think he always picks our country’s enemies, whether that’s the IRA during the Troubles, or describing Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends, or parroting [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s propaganda when the Russians sent hitmen to murder people on the streets of Britain.”
“But most shamefully of all for a party that’s got a proud record of fighting for equality and opposing racism, the Labour party’s been poisoned with anti-Jewish racism under his leadership and it is a complete and utter disgrace,” he said.