Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson today called out high-profile “cheerleaders” of Jeremy Corbyn for not doing enough to defend the man they got elected.
Speaking after Labour’s catastrophic by-election result in Copeland, which saw the party lose the seat to the Conservatives for the first time ever, Watson issued a ‘where are you?’ call to leading Corbynites.
The Deputy Leader singled out trade union Unite boss Len McCluskey for his absence from the airwaves, but his thinly-veiled dig was clearly aimed other Corbynites who have turned on their leader, such as columnist Owen Jones and former Business Secretary Clive Lewis.
Watson’s comments came less than an hour after Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti blamed Labour’s disunity, a hostile media and even the weather for the party’s failure to win the Copeland by-election on Thursday.
Appearing on ITV’s Peston on Sunday show this morning, Watson said the upcoming Brexit negotiations meant now was not the time for the main opposition to have yet another leadership contest, and said: “We can win a general election with Jeremy Corbyn but things have to change.”
Turning to those supporters of Corbyn who have since appeared to turn their back on his leadership, Watson said: “If I’ve got some frustration it’s that those people who are Jeremy’s cheerleaders and made sure he was elected for a second time last September, they should be sticking by their leader in the bad times and not just the good.
“[Unison General Secretary] Dave Prentis has spoken out but I’d say to you this morning, where’s Len McCluskey defending his leader in a difficult time? It shouldn’t be just 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.”
Guardian columnist Owen Jones was one of Corbyn’s most high-profile backers in the 2015 leadership election, and although he expressed his frustration with the direction of the party last year did vote for him again.
Norwich South MP Clive Lewis nominated Corbyn for the leadership in 2015, but earlier this month quit the Shadow Cabinet in order to defy party orders and vote against triggering the formal Brexit process.
In a statement this afternoon, Unite hit back at Watson.
It read: “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 will take no lessons in loyalty from Tom Watson.
“Len McCluskey’s job is to address the issues uppermost 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.
“He will leave the political posturing to others.”
One of those supporters willing to go into bat for Corbyn on the airwaves is Shami Chakrabarti, who was made a member of the House of Lords by the Labour leader last summer.
Appearing on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, Baroness Chakrabarti, put forward a host of reasons for Labour losing the Copeland by-election to the Tories.
“I felt that Copeland is probably one of those constituencies that was neglected by my own party over some years. It’s remote from London.”
“We’ve clearly suffered from disunity, two leadership elections in the space of a year, we’ve clearly suffered from the fact that our supporters were divided – like the country – over Brexit and that’s been such a big issue for some time.”
“Sometimes we haven’t had the fairest or most balanced treatment in the media, including the broadcast media.”
“You [Andrew Marr] had Lord Mandelson [on your show] and it wasn’t, if I may say so, the fairest balance a few days before a by-election in two Labour Brexit seats.”
“People have felt neglected and left behind by their representatives, including their Labour representatives for too long.”
“It’s a very rural constituency, public transport is not great.”
When asked about the impact of the weather – “Well that is one aspect.”