Tom Watson has clarified his comments that any Labour members who were present at the anti-war protest in Walthamstow should be removed from the party.
The deputy leader made his original statement on Friday after Labour MPs including Stella Creasy, whose office was targeted in last week’s demonstration, Diana Johnson and Liz Kendall, hit out at abuse and threats of deselection over their vote on airstrikes in Syria.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, Watson said he had seen TV images of the protest in Creasy’s constituency, adding: “I can only say: if there were Labour party members on that demonstration, intimidating staff members of an MP like that, then I think they should be removed from the party.”
His remarks were met with a backlash from protesters who claimed he was trying to intimidate them into silence. It later transpired that reports that demonstrators had rallied outside Creasy’s house were untrue.
On Sunday, Watson wrote on Facebook: “I want to clarify comments I made on Friday about demonstrators who gathered outside the constituency office of my fellow Labour MP Stella Creasy last week to protest against extending airstrikes to Syria. There was some confusion about the events surrounding that demonstration. It was falsely reported on social media that some protesters marched on Stella’s home, but Stella subsequently made clear there is no evidence that happened.
“Stella expressed concern about the harassment her staff members were subjected to, writing on social media that she missed parts of the parliamentary debate on airstrikes because she felt she needed to leave the chamber to check they were OK. But it is also now clear that her staff weren’t in her constituency office when the march took place.
“When I spoke out about MPs and their staff being intimidated, I wrongly believed that they were inside the building at the time. That was just an honest mistake I corrected as soon as I realised I’d made it. To be clear, it is not my view that Labour party members who attended that peaceful demonstration should be kicked out of the party. Everyone has the right to express their views freely and peacefully.”
Watson added, however, that he remained concerned about reports of intimidation against MPs and the people they employ, including Creasy’s staff. “As our leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has made clear, Labour party members need to treat each other respectfully. The party should examine cases where those standards of behaviour aren’t met and take appropriate action if necessary. But party members who demonstrated outside Stella’s office need to know that I support their right to do so,” he said.
Watson’s comments came as Corbyn launched a strong defence of the Stop the War Coalition, describing them as “a vital democratic campaign”. The Labour leader rejected a call by the former shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt to pull out of a Christmas fundraising event in light of its decision to picket the party’s headquarters last week, and the “ugly comments” it made about the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn.
There was anger when the coalition organised a demonstration before the Oldham West and Royton byelection, forcing Labour to postpone a phone-bank campaign.
- This headline and subheading on this article were amended on Monday 7 December 2015, to correct an earlier version that misrepresented Tom Watson’s position.
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