Labour’s deputy leader says left-wing supporters of Jeremy Corbyn are involved in a plot which could destroy the party as an electoral force.
Tom Watson was reacting to claims that the grassroots Momentum group – which helped make Mr Corbyn leader – is hoping to get financial support from Britain’s largest trade union, Unite.
Momentum’s Jon Lansman was reportedly taped saying that if Len McCluskey was re-elected as Unite general secretary, the union would affiliate to his group rather than to Labour.
- Is Momentum at war with itself?
- Most Unite branches back McCluskey
- Momentum: Corbyn’s secret weapon?
Mr Watson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “enough is enough, this has got to stop… I’m afraid there are some people who do not have our electoral interests at heart”.
He said “we have never seen the biggest union organising a political faction in the Labour Party with the tacit approval of the leadership”.
He said he was not sure Mr Corbyn was aware of the plan suggested by the recordings – which were revealed by The Observer newspaper.
In the recordings Mr Lansman says: “Assuming that Len McCluskey wins the general secretaryship, which I think he will, Unite will affiliate to Momentum and will fully participate in Momentum, as will the CWU.”
He went on to tell activists it was “absolutely crucial” that they secured a change to the party’s rules to ensure that whenever Mr Corbyn stands down, they are 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.
Christine Shawcroft, a member of Momentum who sits on the party’s National Executive Council, said Labour’s MPs could not have a “veto” on the wishes of the membership when the time came to electing Mr Corbyn’s successor.
“We have a mass membership now and it wants its voice to be heard,” she told Today. “There is a democratic deficit in the Labour Party where the structures we have do not reflect the support for Jeremy Corbyn that has been shown by the mass of the members”.
Mr Watson, she suggested, was “rather right wing” and wanted to return to a “command and control” system for running the party based on a “Blairite model”. In contrast, she suggested Mr Corbyn was a “moderate” socialist whose policies were “common sense”.
She rejected suggestions that Momentum was a hard-left entryist organisation trying to infiltrate Labour, describing the terms as “silly labels”, and pointing out that she and Mr Lansman had been party members for 40 years.
“Jon said nothing that was at all controversial, but I think this is a concerted attempt to interfere in the internal election in Unite for general secretary, which is really shocking.”
She added: “The offer is always for open any organisation, any trade union, to affiliate (to Momentum). They are welcome to do so. It is not a question of disaffiliating from the Labour Party and affiliating to Momentum instead”.
Mr McCluskey, a staunch defender of Mr Corbyn, is facing a challenge to his leadership from Gerard Coyne, a GMB activist who has said the union needs to focus more on protecting its members workplace rights than getting involved in internal Labour politics.
The contest, which will be decided next month, is being seen as a proxy battle for control of the Labour movement since Unite is the party’s largest financial backer and directly supports hundreds of MPs.
Most Unite branches have backed Mr McCluskey in his bid to be re-elected. The incumbent has been nominated by 1,185 branches – representing 559,000 members, more than five times the total of his nearest rival.
A Unite spokeswoman said: “As Unite has stated, repeatedly, it is for the Unite Executive Council, not the general secretary, to agree to which bodies our union aligns. There are no plans whatsoever for Unite to affiliate to Momentum, as has, again, been made repeatedly clear.
“It is extraordinary that the deputy leader of the Labour Party continues to interfere in Unite’s democracy in this way.
“Unite’s democracy is strong enough to take decisions without a running commentary from Mr Watson.”