Tom Watson has described the attempt to remove him as deputy leader of the Labour party as a ‘drive-by shooting’.
At a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee last night, Momentum founder Jon Lansman proposed a motion to abolish the post of deputy leader, currently held by Watson, citing his disloyalty over Brexit.
The move shocked many in the party with former leader Tony Blair blasting it as ‘undemocratic and politically dangerous’.
The motion was withdrawn this morning after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn submitted an alternative proposal which will see the post of deputy leader ‘reviewed’ instead.
Watson admits that he had no prior warning of the motion and said he wasn’t given an opportunity to defend himself.
Speaking with Nick Robinson on BBC Radio 4 this morning, the Labour deputy said: ‘These kind of things happen in Venezuela, not in UK politics.’
He added that he was shocked by Lansman’s behaviour and branded it a ‘sectarian attack on the party’.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson (pictured last week) has admitted he was stunned by the attempt to remove him
Watson survived the bid to oust him as deputy leader yesterday, after the chair of the committee ruled the motion should be thrown out. Members voted 17 to 10 to overturn that decision but did not reach the two thirds majority required for it to pass, the officials said.
The proposal is likely to go back on the committee’s agenda today and Watson said he has asked for dialing facilities so he can participate.
Referring to the NEC move, Mr Watson told the BBC: ‘I was taken by surprise by it, because it wasn’t on the agenda of the meeting, there were no papers tabled.
‘There was no warning.
‘I got a text message in a Chinese restaurant in Manchester to say that they were abolishing me.
‘I can’t get to Brighton in time for the meeting this morning. So, I’ve asked for dialling facilities.
‘It was a complete surprise. It’s a straight sectarian attack on a broad church party.
‘What it shows is that this conference is supposed to be a platform for what could be a general election in six weeks.
Mr Corbyn, pictured addressing a climate change rally in London yesterday, will this weekend travel to Brighton for Labour’s annual conference
‘It’s a straight sectarian attack on a broad church party.
‘And it’s moving us into a different kind of institution where pluralism isn’t tolerated.
‘Where factional observance has to be adhered to completely.
‘And it completely goes against the sort of traditions that the Labour Party has had for 100 years.’
He also claimed that his removal wasn’t in the interest of the party, the country or Corbyn.
Former prime minister Tony Blair said: ‘A decision to abolish the post of Deputy Leader would be undemocratic, damaging and politically dangerous.
‘To suggest it at this time shows a quite extraordinary level of destructive sectarianism.
‘The Labour Party has always contained different views within it and the deputy leader’s position has been one way of accommodating such views.
‘Getting rid of it would be a signal that such pluralism of views was coming to an end despite being cherished throughout Labour’s history.’
Labour shadow cabinet member Dawn Butler has said she was surprised at moves to try and abolish the position of deputy party leader.
Referring to moves to remove Tom Watson from the role, Ms Butler told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘I think it’s a good position to have an elected deputy leader.
‘I was quite surprised at the motion, if that is what you want to ask me.
‘it just came out of the blue for me.
‘I understand the frustration of the members. I understand that frustration.
‘I have my frustrations with Tom too. I haven’t seen him at a shadow cabinet meeting for a while.’
The moves to oust him were labelled ‘mad’ and ‘f***ing insane’ by Labour MPs.
The divisions over Brexit were on display earlier this month when Watson said he supported pressing for a second referendum before an early national election. His argument put him at odds with Corbyn (pictured together last year)
Former leader Ed Miliband said those responsible had ‘taken leave of their senses’.
He said: ‘The move to abolish the deputy leader post without warning or debate is undemocratic, wrong and should not happen.
‘Those who came up with the idea for the eve of Labour conference have taken leave of their senses.’
Ex-minister Yvette Cooper tweeted: ‘This is completely mad and incredibly destructive. Country faces serious challenges & General Election could be imminent. @UKLabour conference shd be about country & about pulling together. Instead we get this.’
Former Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw said the attempt to ‘purge’ Mr Watson was ‘totally f***ing insane’.
Tottenham MP David Lammy said: ‘Tribal infighting in the middle of a Boris Johnson-inspired national emergency makes me want to weep.
‘My constituents and millions of others across the country desperately need the Labour party united right now. The Tories, not Tom Watson, are our opponents. Let’s fight them.’
A source close to Mr Watson told PA the situation was ‘completely outrageous’.
A party spokesman was not immediately able to comment. Watson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Corbyn will face pressure from delegates at the conference, which begins on Saturday in the English seaside town of Brighton, to shift towards openly backing remaining in the European Union.
Britain’s 2016 EU referendum has split not only British towns and villages but also parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to keep their parties united.
The latest Ipsos MORI survey found that just 16 per cent are satisfied with Jeremy Corbyn’s performance, compared to 76 per cent who are dissatisfied – giving a net rating of minus 60
The divisions over Brexit were on display earlier this month when Watson said he supported pressing for a second referendum before an early national election.
His argument put him at odds with Corbyn, who says Labour would offer the people a second referendum on a credible option to leave against remaining in the EU, but only after an election.
Labour’s NEC is to consider abolishing the post of deputy party leader on Saturday after a bid to get rid of the post failed at a meeting on Friday.
The new comes as Jeremy Corbyn was tonight revealed to be the most unpopular Opposition leader ever, according to a new poll.
And comes ahead of the Labour leader preparing to face an all-out Remainer rebellion at his party’s annual conference.
The veteran left-winger’s net rating of minus 60 is below that of his hero Michael Foot who led Labour to disaster in the early 1980s and whose hard-left 1983 general election manifesto was described as the ‘longest suicide note in history’.
The latest Ipsos MORI survey found that just 16 per cent of voters are satisfied with Mr Corbyn’s performance, compared to 76 per cent who are dissatisfied – giving him a net rating of minus 60.
Labour’s annual gathering kicks off in Brighton this weekend, with Mr Corbyn under intense pressure to shift position on Brexit.
He has already bowed to demands from senior figures including Keir Starmer, John McDonnell and Emily Thornberry for the party’s next manifesto to promise a second referendum on any deal with the EU.
But Mr Corbyn has so far resisted saying he would campaign for Remain in that national vote.