Len McCluskey has warned Labour deputy leader Tom Watson to “listen” to the “shot across his bows” after party chiefs threatened to scrap his job over his defiance of Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit.
The Unite boss told a fringe at the Labour Party conference in Brighton on Saturday that “we need unity” and added “I hope Tom Watson’s listening”.
Fresh shockwaves were sent through Labour on Friday night after it emerged Momentum founder Jon Lansman had launched an attempt to abolish Watson’s post as deputy.
On Saturday Jeremy Corbyn intervened to ensure Lansman’s motion to the party’s ruling National Executive Committee was withdrawn, but a review of Watson’s position is now underway.
The deputy has repeatedly clashed with the Labour leader in recent months over Labour’s Brexit stance and the party’s handling of the anti-Semitism crisis.
Lansman is believed to have had the support of McCluskey, whose ongoing feud with Watson has been no secret.
“We need unity behind our leader,” McCluskey said at a fringe event organised by the Morning Star newspaper. “I hope Tom Watson’s listening.
“I didn’t want to make this about Tom, I genuinely don’t, but I was asked before about all the hullaballoo and the truth of the matter is that a deputy leader in any organisation - their prime reason and role is to support the leader.
“If there has been a shot across his bows, I hope he listens.”
Watson called the motion to remove his post a “sectarian attack” on a “broad church party”.
It comes as the Labour leadership is on a collision course with the membership over Brexit.
Corbyn wants members at the conference to back a statement which says at the next election Labour will negotiate a fresh deal with the EU and stay neutral until a second Brexit referendum is called.
McCluskey also used the fringe to hit out at “Labour grandees” and MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) undermining Corbyn since his election as leader.
“Jeremy also had to put up with the attacks from within our own movement. the grandees who were about to tell us that Corbyn was a waste of time and couldn’t do anything,” he said.
“The PLP, the most right-wing PLP we have had for a long time, moving votes nc which pawned another leadership election. Well, weren’t they sorry about that.
“And Jeremy despite all of that took us within a whisker of power when the general election came.”