Labour deputy leader frontrunner Tom Watson has warned that Jeremy Corbyn will find it “difficult to try and command discipline” with Labour MPs if he wins the leadership election - but has warned colleagues it is their "duty" to back the veteran left-winger should he triumph.
In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with The Huffington Post UK, Mr Watson acknowledges the possible threat to party unity of Mr Corbyn defying the Labour whip more than 500 times in the past.
However, the West Bromwich East MP says fellow Members would have to recognise the surge in party membership and voting rights afforded to all of them against so-called Corbyn-mania.
Mr Watson said: “If he wins he will be the leader and he chooses his Chief Whip. So it would certainly be a difficult thing for him to try and command discipline within parts of the Parliamentary Labour Party with that voting record, but you know members are aware of this. It’s their choice.
“What he’ll have to do as a leader is try and unite the Parliamentary Labour Party. I think as MPs what we first of all have to recognise that our members have chosen the leader. It’s our job to make that work.”
He adds: “Given we are now quite literally a member-led organisation, MPs have to have a different sense of their responsibilities.
"Whoever the members select, it’s our duty to work with them. The leader in particular will have been given a mandate to cast a new vision for 2020 and we have to work with that lead.”
Mr Watson, a former minister who gained prominence as a backbench campaigner against phone hacking and child sex abuse, is facing off with Ben Bradshaw, Stella Creasy, Angela Eagle and Caroline Flint.
In the interview he also:
- Says David Cameron’s comments on the Lord Sewel affair contrast with how he responded to George Osborne’s alleged drug taking with a prostitute, saying he had commented "in a way that he’d chosen not to" over his close ally.
- Suggests that if the next Labour leader realises they are not going to win the election, they will be ‘pretty clear headed’ and realise it was time to quit and make way for someone else before 2020.
- Says Tony Blair’s heart transplant remark about Mr Corbyn was him trying to warn Labour not to pick its leader ‘on a whim’.
- Says the party has moved on from his letter calling for Blair to quit in 2006, but admits he himself is ‘not expecting a personal vote from Tony’.
- Confirms he would not take Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions, leaving it instead to the Shadow Chancellor.
- Declares that the support of Dennis Skinner is ‘the one celebrity endorsement I’m very proud of’.
- Calls for the creation of a new national police unit to tackle child abuse and more NHS support for survivors.
- Talks about the ‘immense strain’ on his marriage caused by the phone hacking affair.
- Warns that Parliament may have to act to implement Leveson reforms of the media if self-regulation fails to show it is working this year.
- Reveals that he most ‘misses’ playing video game Destiny, and hasn’t touched a games console since January.
- Confesses that if he wins the Labour deputy leadership he will reward himself by buying a Premier Inn bed because they’re ‘the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in’