Fresh Labour row as members ditch female deputy leader plan over fears it will 'undermine Jeremy Corbyn'
Plans for Labour to always have a female joint-deputy leader have been ditched amid claims they could be used to "undermine Jeremy Corbyn".
In a surprise move, the local Labour branch which proposed the move withdrew it before it could be voted on by delegates at the party's conference in Liverpool.
Deputy leader Tom Watson said he was "very disappointed" that the proposal, which was formally supported by the party's ruling National Executive Committee at a meeting on Saturday night, had been put on ice.
Under the plans, Labour would have been guaranteed to have a female joint-deputy leader in an attempt to improve gender balance at the top of the party.
But Angela Marincowitz of Wirral West constituency Labour party said there had been "disturbing reports" that opponents of Mr Corbyn could use the new post to further their agenda.
With delegates at the Labour conference in Liverpool poised to debate the plan, Ms Marincowitz said she was "remitting" it - meaning the plan has been ditched.
She said: "We have a history of strong women who have made a difference in the Labour party - people like Barbara Castle, Bettry Boothroyd, Mo Mowlam, Tessa Jowell, Jo Cox just to name a few of them.
"Nearly half of our MPs are women and we have 16 women in the Shadow Cabinet at the moment. Not only do we have Jennie Formby now as our fantastic general secretary, but this rule change would mean that we would also have at least one other woman on our leadership team and that will make a difference.
"There have been some disturbing reports that this rule change has widespread support because those that want to divide our party and undermine Jeremy Corbyn want to use this as a way to do it - making an election about another deputy leader about Brexit, a new centre party or whatever project they think up to sow disunity.
"I want to say to those people 'the membership and the voters are sick of this sectarian game'.
"We want a Labour government and the people of this country need a Labour government and we want Jeremy Corbyn as our next Prime Minister."
She added: "We've had a deputy leader now for 96 years and yet in only nine years of that have they been women. Those women - Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman - both had to step up at some point and become interim leaders.
"We want change but we want change for a united party in the traditions of all our great deputy leaders of the past, who didn't just focus on internal party matters, they fought for radical change and led campaigns for a Labour government - people like Clement Attlee, Nye Bevan, Michael Foot and not forgetting John Prescott and his battle bus.
"We have a choice - we can use this election for a new deputy leader as a vehicle for division or we can use it as a vehicle for unity which will strengthen our team as we go into the next general election.
"But this election could happen any day now so on that basis we would like to remit our motion to allow the NEC to look at both positions being elected together and maximise support for Jeremy Corbyn - he deserves nothing less."
Labour insiders said the party's left-wing had decided to drop their support for the plan after Tom Watson said he backed it.
Reacting to the move, Mr Watson told the BBC’s Politics Live: "I'm very disappointed with that because I think it will put the cause of gender representation back in the Labour Party. But the debate will continue. I think we need greater women's representation at all levels in the Labour Party and I'm going to continue to campaign for that."
Asked why the plan had been blocked, the Labour deputy leader took aim at what he called the "hard left" Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, which this morning published a briefing to delegates opposing the plan and saying: "We have the leader we need in Jeremy Corbyn."
He told the BBC: "I don't know the delegates from the constituency themselves, but I did see this morning the hard left group the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy opposed a second deputy leader, which I think is a great shame because they've got nothing to fear with more women at the top table in the shadow cabinet.
"But that's their decision. I'm going to continue to campaign for it and I hope that my colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party will too."