Tom Watson blasts Len McCluskey for failing to defend Jeremy Corbyn
Tom Watson has torn into Len McCluskey and other “cheerleaders” of Jeremy Corbyn for failing to defend the Labour leader in light of the Copeland by-election.
Mr Watson insisted the Labour leadership was not in question after the Tories took the Cumbrian seat for the first time since the 1930s.
But he suggested that Mr Corbyn was being undermined not by his critics among Labour MPs but by allies “peeling away” from him.
The Labour deputy leader singled out Mr McCluskey, who is currently running for a third term as Unite general secretary, for failing to be more vocal in his defence of Mr Corbyn.
Mr McCluskey has been a key backer of Mr Corbyn in both Labour leadership contests won by the left-winger.
“If I have some frustration, it’s that those people who are Jeremy’s cheerleaders, made sure he was elected for the second time last September, they should be sticking with their leader in the bad times not just the good,” Mr Watson told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.
“Dave Prentis [Unison general secretary] has spoken out but where’s Len McCluskey defending his leader in a difficult time?
“It shouldn’t just be down to me who represents a different tradition in the Labour party defending our leader. If we’re going to win this election we all need to unify and Jeremy’s team need to back him in the good times and bad.”
He added: “Part of the problem is it’s the team that got Jeremy got elected that seems to be peeling away from him and I just say to them: they should stick by their leader like everyone else is.”
A Unite spokesman said: “Tom Watson is deputy leader of the Labour party. It is his job to address the issues facing the party in the wake of the by-elections.
“Len McCluskey’s job is to address the issues that are the foremost priorities for Unite’s members. He has been working flat out to defend Unite members’ pensions in the nuclear sector and at BMW and to save Vauxhall jobs and plants.”
Mr Corbyn has accepted a share of the responsibility for the by-election defeat but pledged to “finish the job” rather than standing down as Labour leader.
Some of Mr Corbyn’s allies, including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, have said the fallout from last year’s leadership election contributed to the polling in Copeland.
They have urged Labour MPs to unite behind Mr Corbyn’s leadership, but Mr Watson insisted parliamentarians had been “very disciplined on the whole” since September.
“There’s obviously one or two that can always make the headlines, but our parliamentary Labour party is not actually the problem,” he insisted.
Mr Watson again stamped down on speculation about Mr Corbyn’s future, and insisted it was not a “suicide approach” to keep him as leader.
Instead, he identified immigration, Brexit and the future of the economy as issues where Labour needed to give “greater clarity”.
“Labour can capture the future if it tells that story but we’re not doing it coherently enough right now,” he concluded.
Backbencher Lisa Nandy, who has been tipped by some as a future leader of Labour, told Sky News there was a sense among voters that Labour "doesn’t really have the answers to the big challenges that people face".
Meanwhile, the union official hoping to replace Len McCluskey as head of Unite also joined Mr Watson in attacking him.
Gerard Coyne said: "Len McCluskey has spent his time as General Secretary of Unite pulling the strings of the Labour Leadership. But as the party's facing its biggest crisis in over a generation - with the Labour leadership completely disconnected from its traditional support - Len is suddenly nowhere to be seen or heard.
"The silence of Len McCluskey is truly damning. He has driven Labour to the edge of the cliff - and then disappeared in a puff of smoke as it tumbles over the edge.
"I find it utterly unbelievable that when he has been previously so obsessed with the Westminster bubble that he has conveniently lost his voice."