Tom Watson has warned there is a “hard left” plot by the Momentum campaign group to take over Labour.
Labour’s deputy leader this morning urged party and union members to join the “battle for the future existence of the Labour party”.
The civil war erupted over the weekend after The Observer published a recording of Momentum’s founder, Jon Lansman, revealing plans for the Unite union to affiliate to and fund the group.
Lansman also said it was “absolutely crucial” that activists secured a change to Labour’s rules to ensure that whenever Corbyn stands down, they are able to get a leftwing candidate on to the ballot paper to succeed him.
Recording of Jon Lansman:
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Watson said he would be speaking to Corbyn today to demand the Labour leader “deal” with Landsman.
“What Jon Lansman has outlined is a plan with Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, to take control of the Labour party,” Watson said.
McCluskey is running for re-election as Unite general secretary.
Watson added: “Jon Lansman outlined a hard left plan to control the Labour party after Jeremy’s departure. There was also a plan to organise, to take control of the Labour party.
“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.
“I think this is so serious, I think it’s vital that ordinary members of Unite are made aware of this plan, that they know what’s going on inside their union and they take action to block it.”
However Christine Shawcroft, a director of Momentum and Labour NEC member, said it was the “hard right” of the party who were trying to exercise “command and control” over the party.
Shawcroft, an ally of Lansman, told Today that Watson was “rather right wing” who wanted to return to the “Blairite” approach that excluded members.
“I consider myself to be a moderate. I’m a moderate socialist. I consider Jeremy Corbyn to be a moderate socialist. I consider organisations like Members First to be the hard right. Jeremy’s policies are just pure common sense,” she said.
She said the leadership rules needed to be changed to stop Labour MPs “vetoing” a leftwing successor making it onto the ballot paper.
Currently, a candidate must obtain the support of 15% of Labour MPs and MEPs in order to stand – a threshold a new left wing contender is unlikely to be able to meet.
Unite’s acting general secretary Gail Cartmail, said today “there are no plans for Unite to affiliate to Momentum”.
“Mr Watson’s latest, and misguided, campaign is part of an unprecedented pattern of interference in the current Unite general secretary election by elected Labour politicians who should, frankly, be concentrating on their own responsibilities,” he said.
A spokesman said Mr Lansman had been speaking in “an aspirational manner” about the possibility of Unite and the CWU affiliating to Momentum.
John McDonnell today told the ‘i’ newspaper it could take two years for Labour to be ready to fight a general election.