Labour’s deputy leader has warned more MPs will quit the party if it does not tackle anti-semitism and broaden its appeal.
Speaking after seven MPs announced they had resigned from Labour, Tom Watson delivered a sobering assessment of the civil war engulfing the party as he called for “kinder and gentler” politics from Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters.
On Monday morning, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Ann Coffey, Gavin Shukar, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes and Chuka Umunna revealed they would now sit as an independent group in Parliament as they took aim at the Labour leadership.
Gapes described Labour as “a racist, anti-semitic party”, while Berger said she was leaving behind a “culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation”.
Many pro-Corbyn supporters reacted with glee to the departure of the seven, but Watson appealed for restraint.
He said: "This is a moment for regret and reflection not for a mood of anger or a tone of triumph.
"There are those who are already celebrating the departure of colleagues with whom they disagree. The hard Left can be too easily tempted into the language of heresy and treachery.
"Betrayal narratives and shouting insults at the departed might make some feel better briefly but it does nothing to address the reasons that good colleagues might want to leave."
Watson dedicated much of his statement to Berger, the Liverpool Wavertree MP who has been subjected to anti-semitic abuse.
He said: "They say anti-semitism is a light sleeper. This is certainly a wake-up call for the Labour party.
"We were slow to acknowledge we had a problem and even slower to deal with it. Even a single incident of anti-semitism in the Labour party shames us.
"Now we have lost Luciana, one of our most dedicated and courageous MPs. If someone like Luciana no longer believes there is a home for her in the Labour party then many other colleagues will be asking themselves how they can stay.
"That’s why time is short for us. To confront the scale of the problem and meet the consequences. To keep others from leaving.
"The identity of this party must be tolerant, multi-cultural, generous and welcoming. To put it mildly, we need to be kinder and gentler."
Watson, who was elected deputy leader in 2015 on the same day Corbyn won the race for the top job, appealed to those at the very top of the party to broaden out its message or risk seeing more MPs quit.
"The frontbench needs once again to reflect the balance of opinion in the Parliamentary Labour Party,” he said, adding: "We need to broaden out so that all the members of our broad church feel welcome in our congregation. It is only if we open out that this party can fulfil its purpose.
"Labour was formed to give voice to the ordinary people of this nation. It can do so again but only if it stays together. And it can only stay together if it stands for the whole country.
"This noble aim brought us all into politics. I believe in it every bit as much as I did on the day I first joined the Labour party on my 15th birthday in 1982.
"But I say candidly, that my fear is if we don’t do it, someone else will."
In a statement after the announcement, Corbyn said: "I am disappointed that these MPs have felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945."