Tom Watson: Labour facing battle for future existence over Momentum plans

Posted On: 
20th March 2017

Tom Watson has warned Labour faces a battle for its “future existence” as he tore into plans that would see left-wing group Momentum affiliate with Britain’s largest trade union, Unite.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson
Credit: 
PA Images

Labour’s deputy leader this morning said he would confront Jeremy Corbyn to find out what he knows about moves that would enable the grassroots campaign group to have more influence over how Labour is run.

A leaked recording obtained by the Observer features Momentum chief Jon Lansman outlining plans for left-wing candidates to run for leader, change the rules for selecting Labour MPs and moves to allow Momentum to take control of regional party branches.

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He also claimed Unite would affiliate to Momentum if Len McCluskey is re-elected the union's general secretary – a charge that led Mr Watson to accuse Mr Lansman of “entryism”.

After a public Twitter spat with Mr Lansman yesterday evening, Mr Watson said Labour has never seen “the biggest union organising a political faction within the Labour party with the tacit approval of the leadership”.

He called on Labour members to reject the proposals when they come before the party’s conference later this year, and urged Mr McCluskey to “show leadership”.

Speaking to the Today programme, Mr Watson said he would be raising the situation with Mr 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."

He argued Mr Lansman’s plan must be halted so “that we stop Unite channelling the members’ money into the organisation that wants to take control of the Labour party”.

“Len McCluskey has a responsibility for showing leadership on this as well. I’ve got to say we could do with him trying to understand how important this is,” he said.

“We cannot have very powerful people like Jon Lansman saying secret plans to control the Labour party may be disrupted by a general election. Our sole focus has to be on a general election. Enough is enough, this has got to stop.”

He added: “I’m afraid there are some people who don’t have our electoral interests at their heart and they’ve got to deal with it. And that’s why I’m speaking out now.”

“What I want [is for] Momentum to withdraw their commitment to taking over the Labour party. I want Unite members to tell Len McCluskey this plan is half-baked… and I want Labour party members to be aware that these rule changes they’re proposing at conference are against the interests of our party.”

'NOTHING CONTROVERSIAL'

Appearing on the same programme, Christine Shawcroft, a director of Momentum and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, said Mr Lansman had said nothing “that was at all controversial”.

“We’ve seen over the last few hours a quite shocking attack on the leader by leading lights of organisations like Members First, Progress and so on,” she said,

“So obviously there is a need for Momentum to be supporting Jeremy. And I think this whole non-story – Jon said nothing that was at all controversial.

"I think this is a concerted attempt to interfere in the internal election in Unite for general secretary, which is really shocking.”

She also said Mr Watson was “rather right wing” and “clearly wishes to go back to the days of command and control on a Blairite model”.

“That is not what the Labour party is about, we have a mass membership now and that mass membership wants its voice to be heard,” she added.