Unite blasts Tom Watson for 'interfering in democracy' over Momentum plans
The simmering feud between Tom Watson and Len McCluskey exploded into open warfare today after Unite accused the Labour deputy leader of trying to block Mr McCluskey's bid to be re-elected general secretary.
In an astonishing statement, the union's acting chief, Gail Cartmail, said Mr Watson and other Labour MPs were "engaging in an unprecedented pattern of interference" in the vote.
Mr McCluskey is up against moderate candidate Gerard Coyne as he attempts to be elected Unite's general secretary for the third time.
Mr Watson earlier warned Labour faces a battle for its “future existence” if hard-left group Momentum were to boost its influence in the party through the powerful trade union.
The Labour deputy leader’s claims followed a leaked recording obtained by The Observer, in which Momentum boss Jon Lansman outlined plans to "transform" the party - including linking the group with Unite.
But Unite’s acting general secretary Gail Cartmail blasted Mr Watson’s “unsupported claims”, accusing him of interfering in democracy.
“Tom Watson has made claims about Unite and its general secretary Len McCluskey which are entirely inaccurate,” she said.
“As Unite has made it clear it is exclusively for our executive council to determine which organisations we affiliate to. There are no plans for Unite to affiliate to Momentum.
"For the record, Len McCluskey has never met Jon Lansman to discuss this or any other matter.
“It is extraordinary that the deputy leader of the Labour party should interfere in Unite’s democracy in this way, and it is very disappointing that he was allowed to make his unsupported claims without being challenged, and that the BBC ignored the Unite statement with which it had been provided well in advance.
“Mr Watson’s latest, and misguided, campaign is part of an unprecedented pattern of interference in the current Unite general secretary election by elected Labour politicians who should, frankly, be concentrating on their own responsibilities.
“Mr Watson is a Unite member with a right to a vote and a view. But he should remember that, first, he is deputy leader of the Labour party with the obligations that this senior post imposes, and second that Unite is not a subsidiary of any political organisation.”
In the leaked recording Mr Lansman encouraged rule changes to help left-wing candidates run for Labour leader as well as changes in the selection of MPs and moves to allow the group to take control of regional party branches.
He also claimed Unite would affiliate to Momentum if Mr McCluskey is re-elected the union's boss – a charge that led Mr Watson to accuse Mr Lansman of “entryism”.
Speaking to the Today programme this morning, Mr Watson said he would be raising the issue with Jeremy Corbyn today after claiming the Labour leader was unaware of the moves.
“I’m going to talk to him about it. I don’t know what he knows and doesn’t know. I’m the deputy leader and I didn’t know about it until I heard this recording,” 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 and our leader."
Speaking on Sky News, Mr Watson urged Mr McCluskey not to shy away from the issue.
“I hope Len McCluskey doesn’t run scared of this. There are a million members of Unite; this is actually quite an important moment for our democracy," he said.
"His influence on the Labour party, when we’re the official opposition, is important."
He added: “If he doesn’t want to come on TV and explain himself to his members then I think that’s telling in itself.
“Every candidate should come on and explain themselves, and I hope he has the courage to come on your show and do that.”