Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson have had a “robust” but “constructive” discussion following accusations from Labour’s deputy leader that the “hard left” is attempting to take over the party.
In a joint statement issued on Monday afternoon, Corbyn and Watson said the shadow cabinet had “agreed on the need to strengthen party unity”.
The comments came following a extraordinary morning which saw Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell forced to deny the party was in a state of “civil war” over the activities of the Corbyn-supporting Momentum organisation.
Watson warned Momentum’s founder, Jon Lansman, was plotting to take control of Labour by striking a secret deal with the Unite union boss Len McCluskey.
Labour’s deputy leader said it was clear the threat was real after a recording emerged of Lansman at a meeting of a newly-formed Momentum branch in Richmond, south west London, earlier this month.
Lansman told supporters he expected Unite to affiliate and fund Momentum if McCluskey wins his battle for re-election as general secretary.
He went on to tell activists it was “absolutely crucial” that they secured a change to the party’s rules to ensure that whenever Corbyn stood down, they were able to get a candidate on to the ballot paper to succeed him.
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. Party members are due to vote on lowering that threshold to just 5%.
Statement from Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson
“The shadow cabinet met today to discuss Labour’s policy and election plans and had a robust and constructive discussion about the challenges and opportunities ahead.
“The shadow cabinet agreed on the need to strengthen party unity. It recognised the right of groups across the spectrum of Labour’s broad church to discuss their views and try to influence the party so long as they operate within the rules.
“The leadership represents the whole party and not any one strand within it. No one speaks for the leadership except the leadership themselves and their spokespeople.
“The shadow cabinet agreed our local and Mayoral election strategy and what a united Labour Party can and must offer the whole country after seven years of Tory austerity in terms of jobs, housing, education and health and social care.
“We will fight for a Britain where people aren’t held back and where everyone in every community can lead a richer life.”
This morning, Watson toured TV and radio studios to condemn Lansman. He said there was now a “battle for the future existence of the Labour party”.
“What Jon Lansman has outlined is a plan with Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, to take control of the Labour party,” Watson said.
“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.