Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson will urge Jeremy Corbyn to make tackling anti-Semitism “the number one party issue” as he warns of further resignations to come. Mr Watson said Labour was “perilously close” to losing new MPs after nine walked last week to join breakaway The Independent Group (TIG). Many of its members, including Jewish MP Luciana Berger, slammed Mr Corbyn’s leadership on Brexit while citing his failure to tackle anti-Semitism. Mr Watson has been on a PR drive this week to contain the crisis, saying he did not think “Labour can apologise enough for anti-Semitism in our ranks”.
He told BBC Radio 5 Ms Berger’s exit was “the worst day of shame in the party’s 120-year history”.
The West Bromwich East MP spoke after Corbyn ally Chris Williamson was suspended for claiming Labour was “too apologetic” about the issue.
But he also raised eyebrows after his stilted reply when asked if Mr Corbyn was “fit to be Prime Minister” on Thursday’s Today programme.
Mr Watson replied “He could easily be prime minister” but added, “we could do without the anti-Semitism”.
READ MORE: BREXIT EXPLAINED: WHAT HAS CHANGED – AND WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH BREXIT NOW?
Will Jeremy Corbyn be REPLACED by Tom Watson as Labour leader?
One political expert has told Express.co.uk Mr Watson could be poised to make a leadership grab “not now” but “further down the line in weeks or months”.
Steven Fielding, Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham, said Mr Watson’s bold comments this week are about “separating himself” from the Labour leader.
He told Express.co.uk: “He is interested in keeping the numbers of The Independent Group down and stopping more MPs from joining them.
READ MORE: LABOUR ANTI-SEMITISM ROW ERUPTS AS DIANE ABBOTT’S CONSTITUENCY REJECTS PARTY IS ‘RACIST’
“He is saying he is doing something about anti-Semitism.”
The political expert added a leadership bid right now “would be the worst thing” as it would see party membership solidifying under Mr Corbyn as it did in 2015.
Mr Watson has reportedly been iced out of senior Labour meetings in recent months including the Shadow Cabinet Brexit sub-committee, PoliticsHome said in February.
But with the pressure of further Labour resignations, the repercussions are being felt among voters, which could switch the power balance to Mr Watson’s favour.
READ MORE: BREXIT BETRAYAL: TWO THIRDS OF CORBYN’S TOP TEAM BREAK ELECTION PLEDGES TO THWART EU EXIT
A third of Labour voters – 32 percent – say they are considering switching to the Independent Group, poll POLITICO-Hanbury has found.
Professor Fielding said Mr Watson is being “quite aggressive” in his drive to prevent an overall Labour Party split.
He added: “He has talked about creating a socialist democratic division to keep Labour going.
“He is going to mobilise a more formal split in the party.”