Labour must change or face further resignations, Tom Watson has warned after seven MPs quit in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The deputy Labour leader called for changes Mr Corbyn’s frontbench team to reflect the “balance of opinion” in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
He also lashed out at the handling of anti-Semitism allegations and said Luciana Berger – one of the MPs who resigned – was a casualty of “a virulent form of identity politics that has seized the Labour Party”.
Mr Watson said he felt “deep sadness” at the resignations but insisted the seven were not “traitors”, merely politicians who had reached the wrong conclusions about the problems facing the party and country.
He acknowledged Labour was “losing members and now losing MPs” and had “yet to convince the nation that we have the answers” to the country’s problems.
Since scores of frontbenchers resigned in 2016, Mr Corbyn – who comes from the left-wing of the party – has promoted a series of loyalists to support his position.
Mr Watson said the frontbench needed to reflect the balance of opinion in the wider Parliamentary Labour Party.
“We need to broaden out so that all the members of our broad church feel welcome in our congregation,” he said.
The deputy leader said the party needed to develop a policy programme that delivered “both within and beyond our traditional base”, noting if Labour did not then “someone else will”.
“I confess I feared this day would come,” he said.
“And I fear now, that unless we change, we may see more days like this .”
He specifically raised the resignation of Jewish Liverpool Wavertree MP Ms Berger, who has faced sustained abuse.
“I am sad to say that a virulent form of identity politics has seized the Labour party, which today took its first casualty,” Mr Watson said.
“I would like to place on record my complete respect for Luciana and my understanding of the decision to which she has been driven. ”
Labour had been “slow to acknowledge we had a problem and even slower to deal with it”, he said.
Mr Watson added: “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. ”
Borrowing a slogan used by Mr Corbyn, the deputy Labour leader said the party needed to be “kinder and gentler”.
He added: “I love this party but sometimes I no longer recognise it. “