Tom Watson: Labour deputy urges unity after bid to oust him

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Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has said he was “disappointed” at a move to oust him, but has called for unity after a “bad start” to the party conference.

Speaking as he arrived in Brighton, Mr Watson said he wanted the party to come together, adding: “I always forgive and forget.”

The motion, which aimed to abolish Mr Watson’s position, was dropped.

Labour MPs, opposing the motion, had warned against an “internal civil war”.

Labour’s stance on Brexit will also be on the agenda at the annual party conference, which opened on Saturday and runs until Wednesday.

Responding to the motion, Mr Watson said: “I think it’s very sad. We’re supposed to be here this week to fight Boris Johnson… And I think it’s been undermined on day one.”

He said he was “particularly disappointed” with Jon Lansman, founder of Labour grassroots group Momentum, who tabled the motion.

Mr Watson said: “I think he’s not just undermined me, I think he’s undermined Jeremy, he’s undermined the party.”

Analysis

By BBC political correspondent Iain Watson

The seeds of the current rows overshadowing the first day of Labour conference were sown here in Brighton nearly two weeks ago

Jeremy Corbyn thought he had sealed a deal on Brexit behind closed doors at the TUC conference with the big unions.

The party would officially stay neutral during the election.

But Tom Watson outraged many on the left less than 24 hours later when he contradicted Jeremy Corbyn and called for an unambiguous campaign to remain.

Many on the left already regarded him as disloyal and for them this was the final straw.

There was mutterings of disciplining him but angry words only turned in to action last night.

Some of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest colleagues have told me they were angry that they hadn’t been told of the plot to oust him and the Labour leader himself had to call off the coup.

But the incident exposes Labour’s deep fault lines just ahead of an election – not just between left and right but within the left.

Tom Watson’s anti-Brexit stance meant that the left-led TSSA union which has campaigned for Remain, rallied to the deputy leader and not Momentum’s Jon Lansman.

But when the deputy leader’s post is reviewed, these divisions are likely to reopen.

In the short term, Labour’s strategy of denouncing the Lib Dems undemocratic over Brexit and the Conservative as intolerant towards dissenters has been shattered.

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