LABOUR’S deputy leader Tom Watson has called an attempt to oust him a “drive-by shooting” – as the party’s executive committee agrees to suspend the plot.
He said he found out by text about a move by senior party figures to abolish his post, calling it a “straight sectarian attack” on a “broad church party”.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose allies staged the attempt, arrives at Labour’s annual conference as it opens in Brighton[/caption]
Mr Watson was speaking to the BBC after a motion was tabled at a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) late on Friday night.
The motion was brought by Jon Lansman, founder of grassroots campaign group Momentum and a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, but failed to gain the two-thirds majority required.
Mr Watson responded by saying the Labour leader could put a stop to the move if he wanted to, and the NEC has today confirmed that it will instead carry out a review.
A source said: “Jeremy Corbyn proposed that the motion not go to a vote and instead that there be a review of the position of deputy leader and other positions in support of the leader.
“This will consider how democratic accountability can be strengthened to give members a greater say, expanding the number of elected positions, and how diverse representation can be further improved.
“The NEC agreed to his proposal.”
Mr Watson earlier confirmed he had not attended Friday’s meeting because he was taking care of his 14-year-old son.
He said he would be unable to reach Brighton in time for a meeting at 10 o’clock this morning so had asked to be allowed to dial in, but the NEC later refused the request.
“Many of us were taken by surprise by [last night’s vote],” he said.
“It wasn’t on the agenda of the meeting.
“There was no warning.
“I got a text message in a Chinese restaurant in Manchester to say they were abolishing me.”
CORBYN DECLINES TO OFFER FULL CONFIDENCE
Arriving this morning in Brighton, where Labour’s annual conference is getting underway, Mr Corbyn commented on the outcome of today’s NEC meeting.
“The NEC agreed this morning that we’re going to consult on the future of diversifying the deputy leadership position to reflect the diversity of our society.
“The NEC left this morning in a happy and united mood.
“Our conference will be totally united on defeating this Tory government and the austerity and poverty they’ve brought to the British people, and the way in which the prime minister has shut down parliament to prevent accountability and debate.”
Asked whether Tom Watson had his full confidence, he said: “Tom Watson is the deputy leader of the party and I enjoy working with him.”
‘PLURALISM ISN’T TOLERATED’
Speaking ahead of his own arrival at the conference, Watson added: “This conference is supposed to a platform for what could be a general election in six weeks.
“[This was] a straight sectarian attack on a broad church party.
“And it’s moving us into a different kind of institution, where pluralism isn’t tolerated, where factional observance has to be adhered to completely.
“And it completely goes against the tradition that the Labour Party has had for 100 years.
“I look at the days when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were leader and there was room for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to have dissenting voices.”
Speaking this morning, former prime minister Tony Blair said of the attempt: “A decision to abolish the post of Deputy Leader would be undemocratic, damaging and politically dangerous.
“The Labour Party has always contained different views within it and the Deputy Leader’s position has been one way of accommodating such views.
“Getting rid of it would be a signal that such pluralism of views was coming to an end despite being cherished throughout Labour’s history.”
Former leader Ed Miliband said those responsible had “taken leave of their senses”.
SECOND OUSTING THREAT
Jeremy Corbyn is already facing criticism for declining to intervene in an ongoing attempt by far-left activists to oust former deputy leader Harriet Harman from her constituency seat.
Figures within Ms Harman’s constituency have told her she will face a pro-Corbyn challenger if she doesn’t withdraw from the race to replace John Bercow as Commons speaker.
Convention dictates that sitting speakers do not face challenges within their constituency seats at general elections.
Asked about the threat, Mr Corbyn said members in the constituency of Camberwell and Peckham, where Ms Harman is the sitting MP, were entitled to “express a point of view”.
He told ITV News London: “I don’t interfere in the running of local parties.”
Senior Labour backbencher Dame Margaret Hodge, said: “It is a tenet of our parliamentary democracy that the Speaker sits above the party-political fray and the leader of the Labour Party, who had been in parliament for decades, should know that and understand that and uphold it.”
Speaking before last night’s meeting, Tom Watson said it was “inconceivable” that a candidate would be fielded against Ms Harman.
‘THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS IN VENEZUELA’
Mr Watson has been at odds with the leader’s office for much of his time as deputy leader, and has been a critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of issues including antisemitism within the party and Brexit.
He expressed concern about what the attempt to oust him means for the future of democracy within the Labour Party.
“I was elected by the members,” he said.
“If people want to remove me, let the members remove me, rather than having a secret paper at a meeting at last minute.
“These kind of things happen in Venezuela.
“They shouldn’t be happening in the United Kingdom.
“And what worries me is that it’s not really about me.
“We’ve seen centre-left MPs targeted by Momentum for deselections in the last month.
“It’s narrowing the base of reach that the Labour Party has.
“That’s not just bad for people who want to see a Labour government.
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“It’s actually bad for our democracy.
“How can a century-old institution come to this? That you abolish the deputy leader in secret.”
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