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Corbyn and team criticised for briefing against Watson over Momentum row Corbyn and team criticised for briefing against Watson over Momentum row
(35 minutes later)
Jeremy Corbyn and his team are facing strong criticism from their MPs over briefings against Tom Watson after the deputy Labour leader spoke out against the influence of the grassroots movement Momentum and the leader of the Unite union, Len McCluskey.Jeremy Corbyn and his team are facing strong criticism from their MPs over briefings against Tom Watson after the deputy Labour leader spoke out against the influence of the grassroots movement Momentum and the leader of the Unite union, Len McCluskey.
At an angry parliamentary Labour party meeting, senior figures including John Cryer and John Spellar said the party’s deputy leader was being wrongly vilified in anonymous attacks from sources close to the leader’s office. It followed a day of accusations and counterclaims by Watson and Corbyn allies over whether Momentum has a plan to increase its influence with the help of Unite.At an angry parliamentary Labour party meeting, senior figures including John Cryer and John Spellar said the party’s deputy leader was being wrongly vilified in anonymous attacks from sources close to the leader’s office. It followed a day of accusations and counterclaims by Watson and Corbyn allies over whether Momentum has a plan to increase its influence with the help of Unite.
On Monday morning, Watson spoke to the media about comments by Momentum’s founder, Jon Lansman, who was secretly recorded addressing supporters at a meeting of a new branch in London this month.On Monday morning, Watson spoke to the media about comments by Momentum’s founder, Jon Lansman, who was secretly recorded addressing supporters at a meeting of a new branch in London this month.
Watson had demanded that McCluskey respond to a secret recording claiming that the union would fund an expansion of activities by Momentum if he were re-elected as general secretary.Watson had demanded that McCluskey respond to a secret recording claiming that the union would fund an expansion of activities by Momentum if he were re-elected as general secretary.
In response, Labour sources briefed that Corbyn was “pretty much unanimously supported” in a shadow cabinet meeting in “slapping down” Watson over his intervention.In response, Labour sources briefed that Corbyn was “pretty much unanimously supported” in a shadow cabinet meeting in “slapping down” Watson over his intervention.
At the PLP meeting on Monday night, some MPs cheered when Watson entered the room. Cryer, the chair of the parliamentary party, said he was at the shadow cabinet meeting and that the briefing bore “no relation” to what had happened.At the PLP meeting on Monday night, some MPs cheered when Watson entered the room. Cryer, the chair of the parliamentary party, said he was at the shadow cabinet meeting and that the briefing bore “no relation” to what had happened.
Spellar and David Winnick, the leftwing MP for Walsall North, both demanded to know who had sanctioned the briefing against Watson.Spellar and David Winnick, the leftwing MP for Walsall North, both demanded to know who had sanctioned the briefing against Watson.
Corbyn, who attended the meeting to support Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, said he did not know who had briefed the media. One source said: “This was more like a meeting from the early 80s. The parliamentary party is broken. The split is out in the open, but the briefings aren’t.”Corbyn, who attended the meeting to support Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, said he did not know who had briefed the media. One source said: “This was more like a meeting from the early 80s. The parliamentary party is broken. The split is out in the open, but the briefings aren’t.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, Watson said Lansman had “outlined a hard-left plan to control the Labour party after Jeremy [Corbyn]’s departure”. He said: “I regard this as a battle for the future existence of the Labour party. This is high stakes, and I hope my fellow members are going to understand that.” In an unusual acknowledgment of the day’s bruising rows, Corbyn released a short recorded clip on Monday night calling for unity and insisting that Labour can still be a force in British politics. “Sometimes spirits in the Labour party can run high. Today has been one of those days,” he said. “My plea to all Labour party members, whether grassroots or in senior positions, is: think of our people, first; think of our movement, first; think of the party, first,” he said.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning, Watson said Lansman had “outlined a hard-left plan to control the Labour party after Jeremy [Corbyn]’s departure”. He said: “I regard this as a battle for the future existence of the Labour party. This is high stakes, and I hope my fellow members are going to understand that.”
It was vital for Labour and Unite members who opposed Momentum’s ambition to take action, Watson said. “I think this is so serious. I think it’s vital that ordinary members of Unite are made aware of this plan, that they know what’s going on inside their union, and they take action to block it.”It was vital for Labour and Unite members who opposed Momentum’s ambition to take action, Watson said. “I think this is so serious. I think it’s vital that ordinary members of Unite are made aware of this plan, that they know what’s going on inside their union, and they take action to block it.”
Watson said he was shocked at the ideas outlined. “I thought that Momentum were changing. What Jon Lansman has outlined is a plan with Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, to take control of the Labour party.” McCluskey had to show leadership over the issue, Watson said: “We could do with him trying to understand how important this is.”Watson said he was shocked at the ideas outlined. “I thought that Momentum were changing. What Jon Lansman has outlined is a plan with Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, to take control of the Labour party.” McCluskey had to show leadership over the issue, Watson said: “We could do with him trying to understand how important this is.”
The acting general secretary of Unite, Gail Cartmail, said Watson should stop interfering in Unite’s leadership election. Ballot papers for the leadership vote will be sent out to union members by the end of this week. “He [Watson] didn’t seek to validate the allegation and he could have picked up the phone and I would have put his mind at rest,” she said.The acting general secretary of Unite, Gail Cartmail, said Watson should stop interfering in Unite’s leadership election. Ballot papers for the leadership vote will be sent out to union members by the end of this week. “He [Watson] didn’t seek to validate the allegation and he could have picked up the phone and I would have put his mind at rest,” she said.
Asked whether Unite would affiliate with Momentum, Cartmail said there were no such plans, but did not respond to a question asking whether the union would rule out giving money in the future.Asked whether Unite would affiliate with Momentum, Cartmail said there were no such plans, but did not respond to a question asking whether the union would rule out giving money in the future.
Hours after appearing on radio, Watson was criticised at a shadow cabinet meeting in Euston. Corbyn’s allies, including the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, shadow defence minister Emily Thornberry and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, rounded on Watson for speaking out.Hours after appearing on radio, Watson was criticised at a shadow cabinet meeting in Euston. Corbyn’s allies, including the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, shadow defence minister Emily Thornberry and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, rounded on Watson for speaking out.
Watson’s intervention was defended by others, including the health spokesman, Jon Ashworth, and the housing spokesman, John Healey. One attendee said Thornberry “lost it” while criticising Watson during a lunch break, “but he gave as good as he got”.Watson’s intervention was defended by others, including the health spokesman, Jon Ashworth, and the housing spokesman, John Healey. One attendee said Thornberry “lost it” while criticising Watson during a lunch break, “but he gave as good as he got”.
In the hours after the meeting, sources briefed the media saying Watson had ignited a “war” when the party should be concentrating on the local elections. “The irony of Watson’s careless behaviour is that with antics like this, he risks the outcome of local elections and mayoral elections. He is on an ego trip,” one said.In the hours after the meeting, sources briefed the media saying Watson had ignited a “war” when the party should be concentrating on the local elections. “The irony of Watson’s careless behaviour is that with antics like this, he risks the outcome of local elections and mayoral elections. He is on an ego trip,” one said.
“Jeremy was supported pretty much unanimously in the shadow cabinet in slapping down Watson for what has been seen as a reckless intervention designed to influence Unite’s general secretary election,” another source added.“Jeremy was supported pretty much unanimously in the shadow cabinet in slapping down Watson for what has been seen as a reckless intervention designed to influence Unite’s general secretary election,” another source added.
Corbyn and Watson attempted to quell the row by releasing a short statement that appeared to distance the Labour leader from Lansman’s comments while calling for unity. “The leadership represents the whole party and not any one strand within it. No one speaks for the leadership except the leadership themselves and their spokespeople,” it said.Corbyn and Watson attempted to quell the row by releasing a short statement that appeared to distance the Labour leader from Lansman’s comments while calling for unity. “The leadership represents the whole party and not any one strand within it. No one speaks for the leadership except the leadership themselves and their spokespeople,” it said.
However, the PLP meeting at 6pm quickly turned on Corbyn, sources said. In a swipe at Corbyn, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, addressing the meeting, said: “Never forget, the best way to represent and deliver for working people will always be from the government benches.”However, the PLP meeting at 6pm quickly turned on Corbyn, sources said. In a swipe at Corbyn, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, addressing the meeting, said: “Never forget, the best way to represent and deliver for working people will always be from the government benches.”
After the meeting, the former Labour MP Lord Watts confronted Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s head of communications, and told him he was “a disgrace”.After the meeting, the former Labour MP Lord Watts confronted Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s head of communications, and told him he was “a disgrace”.
Speaking afterwards, a leadership source described the PLP meeting as “robust”, and denied that the leader’s office was behind the briefings against Watson.Speaking afterwards, a leadership source described the PLP meeting as “robust”, and denied that the leader’s office was behind the briefings against Watson.
He said: “I’ve been giving no such briefings. You’ll know as well as we do that after PLP meetings in particular and after other Labour party meetings there’s often briefing that goes on, and the message that Jeremy gave to the meeting is that we need to be a united party and we need to be talking about the issues that affect our voters.He said: “I’ve been giving no such briefings. You’ll know as well as we do that after PLP meetings in particular and after other Labour party meetings there’s often briefing that goes on, and the message that Jeremy gave to the meeting is that we need to be a united party and we need to be talking about the issues that affect our voters.
A statement from the union said Watson’s comments were extraordinary and added: “For the record, Len McCluskey has never met Jon Lansman to discuss this or any other matter.”A statement from the union said Watson’s comments were extraordinary and added: “For the record, Len McCluskey has never met Jon Lansman to discuss this or any other matter.”
Unite later confirmed that in August, Lansman attended a meeting of around 20 people including McCluskey and Corbyn at the union’s headquarters in Esher, Surrey, but insisted that the gathering was informal.Unite later confirmed that in August, Lansman attended a meeting of around 20 people including McCluskey and Corbyn at the union’s headquarters in Esher, Surrey, but insisted that the gathering was informal.
The election of Unite’s new leader is being watched closely by all sides of the Labour movement. McCluskey is Corbyn’s close ally, while the union is Labour’s biggest corporate funder. If McCluskey wins, the union’s votes and influence could help to introduce rule changes that will help the party’s left maintain power if Corbyn steps down.The election of Unite’s new leader is being watched closely by all sides of the Labour movement. McCluskey is Corbyn’s close ally, while the union is Labour’s biggest corporate funder. If McCluskey wins, the union’s votes and influence could help to introduce rule changes that will help the party’s left maintain power if Corbyn steps down.
Momentum has had close connections with Unite since the group was established to support Corbyn’s first leadership election campaign in 2015, according to insiders. At the organisation’s national steering committee meeting in February 2016, Lansman told Momentum supporters that Unite wanted to support the group, but would only do so if it only had Labour supporters as members, sources said.Momentum has had close connections with Unite since the group was established to support Corbyn’s first leadership election campaign in 2015, according to insiders. At the organisation’s national steering committee meeting in February 2016, Lansman told Momentum supporters that Unite wanted to support the group, but would only do so if it only had Labour supporters as members, sources said.
For over a year, Lansman has been involved in a power struggle for control of Momentum with Trotsykist and hard-left factions, who wanted to keep the group’s membership open to non-party members. Lansman eventually won the power struggle by mounting a so-called “coup” in January which means that all Momentum members from this summer will have to be Labour supporters too.For over a year, Lansman has been involved in a power struggle for control of Momentum with Trotsykist and hard-left factions, who wanted to keep the group’s membership open to non-party members. Lansman eventually won the power struggle by mounting a so-called “coup” in January which means that all Momentum members from this summer will have to be Labour supporters too.
Lansman wanted Unite’s support to increase influence over Labour, according to former Momentum comrades. “He knows that Unite’s support is necessary to control the levers of power,” one said.Lansman wanted Unite’s support to increase influence over Labour, according to former Momentum comrades. “He knows that Unite’s support is necessary to control the levers of power,” one said.
A spokesperson for Momentum denied there was any secret plot to take over Labour.A spokesperson for Momentum denied there was any secret plot to take over Labour.