Tom Watson blames alleged clash with Jeremy Corbyn on Labour party ‘hotheads’

Mr Watson also urged anti-Corbyn MPs who quit in the summer to return to the Shadow Cabinet

Rob Merrick
Tuesday 20 September 2016 09:04 BST
Tom Watson: "Hotheads" want division

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson says he does not believe Jeremy Corbyn is out to get him – blaming their latest alleged clash on “hotheads” around the leader.

Speaking ahead of a showdown meeting, Mr Watson dismissed reports that his position is under threat, insisting Mr Corbyn has no appetite for another bruising internal party election.

Mr Watson also urged anti-Corbyn MPs who quit in the summer to return to the Shadow Cabinet – particularly if the party’s ruling NEC agrees to the return of elections to those posts in today’s meeting.

And he confirmed he wants to scrap Ed Miliband’s “unpopular” one-member-one-vote system for electing the party leader, which paved the way for Mr Corbyn’s extraordinary rise to power.

Instead, Labour would restore its electoral college – giving more power to MPs and scrapping the category of registered supporters who helped shift the party dramatically to the Left.

However, Mr Watson, speaking to BBC Radio’s Today programme, stressed: “This would be after the current leader – whoever is elected on Saturday - leaves their post.

“This won’t be a sort of Sword of Damocles handing over whoever is elected on Saturday.”

At the weekend, it emerged that Mr Watson’s future was discussed at a “secret summit” of Mr Corbyn and his closest allies three weeks ago.

And the deputy leader was also included on a “hit list” of Labour MPs accused of abusing party colleagues, leaked by Mr Corbyn's leadership campaign.

But Mr Watson said both Mr Corbyn and John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, had said reports of the summit “aren’t accurate”.

And he said: “When you have these internal elections, you get a lot of hotheads on the campaign team and they can generate a lot of negative headlines in newspapers.

“As far as I know, Jeremy does not want to plunge the Labour party into another summer of misery when it comes to naval gazing and having an internal election.”

However, Mr Watson accepted Mr Corbyn would have the power to remove him from the separate position of chairman if he wanted to – if he wins again.

The biggest item on the NEC’s agenda is the return of elections to the Shadow Cabinet, either by the 230 Labour MPs or also giving a vote to 640,000 party members.

Mr Watson said both options would be debated, but made clear his doubts about the cost of polling members – which he put at “a third of a million pounds”.

An elected Shadow Cabinet was crucial in persuading big hitters to return to Mr Corbyn’s team. He added: “Some people might feel they don’t want to serve a team that’s all appointed.”

Theresa May was likely to call an early general election, which meant Labour had to “get the band back together” to mount a challenge, Mr Watson said.

However, the Labour leader is expected to try to kick the proposals into the long grass, by urging the 33-member NEC to delay a discussion until after party's annual conference, which begins on Saturday.

Mr Corbyn is thought to oppose having hostile MPs back in his Shadow Cabinet, after the summer civil war which saw mass resignations and a vote of no confidence in him.

The crucial factor is likely to be the undecided position of several trade unions with seats on Labour's NEC – in a meeting that could continue well into the evening.

On Saturday’s leadership result, Mr Watson said: “Jeremy obviously seems the favourite and I will be very happy if he wins, but I’m not going to predict the outcome.”

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