EXCL Tom Watson tells plotters trying to oust him: 'Bring it on'
Tom Watson has told supporters of Jeremy Corbyn who want to unseat him as Labour's deputy leader: "Bring it on."
In a defiant message to his critics, he said trying to oust him would not be "a useful expenditure of collective political energy, particularly after the summer we’ve had".
Mr Corbyn has refused to deny that the futures of Mr Watson and Iain McNicol, Labour's general secretary, were discussed at a top-secret summit held at Unite the union's training centre in Surrey.
As well as the Labour leader, others at the meeting included Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, its chief of staff Andrew Murray, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Mr Corbyn's top spin doctor Seumas Milne, journalist Paul Mason and Momentum chief Jon Lansman.
Asked on ITVs Peston on Sunday programme whether Mr Watson and Mr McNicol's positions were talked about, Mr Corbyn would only say: "Their names were obviously part of discussion, you can’t have a discussion on anything in the Labour party without the names McNicol and Watson coming up."
It is understood that while those present at the meeting agreed it would be difficult to replace Mr Watson as deputy leader, they could oust him as party chairman in favour of Shadow Education Secretary and key Corbyn ally, Angela Rayner.
Speaking to The House magazine before the revelations about the secret meeting at Unite's training centre emerged, Mr Watson insisted he would not give up being deputy leader without a fight.
He said: "No one exists in democratic office forever. If there’s a move to nominate another candidate and trigger a deputy leadership race, then let’s bring it on. But I’m not entirely certain it would be a useful expenditure of collective political energy, particularly after the summer we’ve had."
A Labour source told PoliticsHome: "Getting rid of Tom Watson as deputy leader was discussed by Jeremy's team - but they realised they can't as he is elected and has his own mandate."
Mr Watson urged Mr Corbyn to consider his position at the height of the attempt to unseat the leader earlier this summer.
The deputy leader was included on a "hit list" of Labour MPs leaked by Mr Corbyn's leadership campaign last week which accused them of abusing party colleagues.
He has also cast doubt on Mr Corbyn's plan to let Labour members have a say in the make-up of the Shadow Cabinet.
* The full House magazine interview with Tom Watson will be published later this week