Ken Livingstone has claimed that Labour’s victory in Oldham proves that Jeremy Corbyn can win back both UKIP and SNP voters.
The former Mayor of London said that the party’s success in the Oldham West and Royton by-election was ‘because’ of Mr Corbyn’s leadership, not despite it.
Oldham Council leader Jim McMahon won the seat with a majority of nearly 11,000 overnight, trouncing UKIP in second place, with the Conservatives a poor third.
Mr Corbyn congratulated Mr McMahon today on a visit to the constituency in Greater Manchester, hailing it as evidence that Labour was now ‘strong’ ‘all over the country’.
Mr Livingstone told BBC’s Radio 4’s World At One that: “What’s so significant is that we lost millions of votes to UKIP and the SNP, people who’ve always voted Labour. What this shows is Jeremy can win those people back.
"If we'd had a swing like this back in May, we'd have a Labour Government now.”
Asked if the Oldham result was despite or because of Mr Corbyn, the former GLC leader replied: “I think it’s because.
“Let’s face it we’ve had all this run up to this by-election with the Tory press and some anonymous old Blaire MPs saying it’s going to be a disaster and some talk of if we don’t do well Jeremy will have to go.
“You’ve also had 11 weeks of the most horrendous criticism from the media, you’ve had him demonised as a threat to our national security.”
Mr Livingstone also defended the grassroots campaign group Momentum, which has been accused of plotting to deselect Labour MPs and which was on Friday described by deputy leader Tom Watson as 'a rabble'.
"What we have in Momentum is a campaigning organisation," he said, and confirmed he was a member of the group.
Asked if they were a 'rabble', he added: "Yes. There's no doubt a lot of people there [who are] mildly eccentric and all that. But what need are boots on the ground. A mass movement party."
However some on Twitter disputed his claims about the read-across from the Oldham result to the Scottish political scene.
Yep, that Oldham by-election result decisively showed he can win SNP voters back. They didn't get a single vote https://t.co/mCKgHGxszU— Matt Withers (@mattwithers) December 4, 2015
@paulwaugh hahahahahahaha ffs plz stop m8 :D— Sir Cybernat #20 (@billyjYES) December 4, 2015
Mr Livingstone appeared to accept advice from deputy Labour leader Tom Watson that he should 'calm down'.
"Absolutely, because I've been often quite angry at some of the criticism Jeremy has had. Now I think we put that behind us. We've now got to focus, as Tom Watson said in their email to members, on the economy," he said.
The former Mayor had infuriated some Labour MPs on Thursday when he told LBC radio that he was prepared to support deselection campaigns against MPs who voted to bomb Syria.
Mr Watson told Radio 4's Today programme on Friday morning: “I’m not entirely certain that his words are unifying the Labour party this week, that’s for sure.
“As the nearest thing there is to a Labour elder, he’s getting on a bit now Ken, he should probably know that this is the week that we should be trying to bring people back together. But he’s entitled to his opinions isn’t he, he’s not elected now.”
Asked if Mr Livingstone should remain silent for a period, Mr Watson had replied: "I think that would be an impossible dream.. I think he should calm down a bit.”
Mr Watson also hit out on Friday at Mr Livingstone's deselection remarks.
Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson: "I think if Ken [Livingstone] had his way he'd have had me deselected years ago" https://t.co/Ps9M6ZMDRJ— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 4, 2015