Ken Livingstone: Labour divisions are 'Tony Blair's legacy'
Deep-rooted splits among Labour MPs are the “legacy” of Tony Blair’s tenure in charge of the party, Jeremy Corbyn’s staunch ally Ken Livingstone has declared.
The former London mayor argued Mr Blair’s overhaul to how candidates for Westminster are chosen has led to a parliamentary Labour party that is “skewed to the right” and not representative of the grassroots membership.
Mr Livingstone said that explained why many Labour MPs are hostile to Mr Corbyn’s leadership and is central to the divisions being played out in public within the party.
Labour descended once more into open warfare yesterday as a furious row erupted between Tom Watson, the left-wing movement Momentum and the UK’s largest union, Unite.
Angry Labour MPs confronted Mr Corbyn last night after a party source claimed members of the Shadow Cabinet had joined forces in "slapping down" Mr Watson over his public criticisms of Momentum.
But appearing on Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Livingstone attributed blame for the rancour in the PLP to Mr Blair.
“It’s the legacy of Tony Blair, because it used to be the case that a party could select whoever it wanted as an MP. Tony Blair bought in the rule changes, you had to choose from approve lists,” he said.
“We have got to get a party that’s democratic again, [where] any local Labour party can select the candidate they want for parliament and anyone can stand for the leadership when we have a leadership election. This is more like something out of a dictatorship, not a democracy.”
He added: “Jeremy’s inherited a Labour party in Parliament skewed to the right, the legacy of Tony Blair.”
Mr Livingstone - who is currently suspended from Labour over comments he made about Adolf Hitler last year - also insisted that the party’s woes were due to MPs who have “undermined” Mr Corbyn during his leadership.
“The thing about Jeremy Corbyn is he doesn’t give into this sort of pressure,” he said.
“He’s been absolutely consistent since he became the party leader, and however much the press ramp it up, however much he’s stabbed in the back by Labour MPs, he’s not going to change his beliefs or the direction he’s taking us to.
“I would simply say – most Labour MPs have stopped all this nonsense, they recognise they can’t get rid of Jeremy – we’ve now got to focus on getting a good economic strategy out there that can win the next general election.”
Mr Corbyn last night called for an end to “navel-gazing” as he conceded spirits had “run high” following claims Momentum were planning a takeover of the Labour party.
In a secret recording leaked to PoliticsHome, Momentum chief Jon Lansman claimed Unite would affiliate to the group if Len McCluskey is re-elected its general secretary.
Mr Lansman also claimed an early election would "disrupt" Momentum's plans to take a more influential role in how the Labour party is run
Responding, Mr Watson said Labour was fighting a battle for its “future existence” in trying to prevent Momentum from taking over the party.