Sat, 18 May 2024

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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Fresh Labour splits as Len McCluskey accuses Tom Watson of anti-Corbyn plotting over second referendum

3 min read

Trade union boss Len McCluskey has reignited his feud with Labour’s Tom Watson by accusing him of an “ineffective” attempt to undermine Jeremy Corbyn over a second EU referendum.

In a scathing attack, the Unite chief said the party’s deputy leader was like “a poor imitation” of Niccolo Machiavelli - a reference to the 15th century Italian philosopher whose name is synonymous with unscrupulous plotting in politics.

In the latest sign of Labour's Brexit split, Mr Watson told the Observer that Labour would lose the next general election unless it came out in full support of a fresh public vote on leaving the EU.

Mr Watson said he "feared" traditional supporters had ditched the party at Thursday’s EU elections, adding: “Our performance is a direct result of our mealy-mouthed backing for a public vote on Brexit when it is being demanded loud and clear by the overwhelming majority of our members and voters.”

But hitting back, Mr McCluskey, a staunch Corbyn loyalist whose union is Labour's biggest financial backer, said Mr Watson was “trying to turn members against” the left-wing leader and would fail to do so.

“Of course the results when we get them tonight will be not good for Labour, but there’s no need for anybody within the Labour Party to panic,” he told the BBC’s Pienaar’s Politics.

“I’ve no doubt there will be the usual suspects coming out wanting to blame Corbyn for this, or Corbyn for that.

“In fact Tom Watson’s already out, surprise, surprise with his trying to take on the role of Prince Machiavelli.

“But I’ve got news for Tom: Machiavelli was effective and he’s a poor imitation of that.

“If he’s trying to turn Labour members against Corbyn and in his favour, then he’s going to lose disastrously and there will be others in the coming days who’ll try and do the same".

Mr Watson last year accused Mr McCluskey of trying to “oust” him as deputy leader after they fell out over the attempted coup by Labour MPs’ against Mr Corbyn in 2016.

The union leader has also criticised figures who support a second referendum as having “no interest in a Labour victory at the next general election", insisting it would alienate traditional voters who voted Leave in 2016.

He added: “Now is the time to hold your nerve, because a general election, which is the only thing that will resolve this situation is closer now than anything and then real test of what the British people want.”


In a boost for Mr Watson however, Shadow Attorney General Baroness Chakrabarti said it was "past midnight" for Labour to back a second referendum on Brexit.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, she said: "I think that Tom Watson is, as deputy leader, voicing the considerable frustrations of the membership.

"And now is a time for us as a party not just to reach out to other parties but to reach in to our membership, our affiliates and everybody in the Labour movement. I think Tom is right to voice that. 

The frontbencher insisted that a confirmatory vote would be a means of "breaking the deadlock in our country - not a means of stealing Brexit from those who voted for it". 

She added: "I think that it's been part of our policy since party conference last autumn. And, you know, it's past midnight now. So I think that means of breaking the deadlock in our country become more and more important by the day."

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