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Corbyn heckled by Labour MPs after 'plot' claims

Press Association logoPress Association 20/03/2017 By Arj Singh and Sam Lister, Press Association Political Staff
Hard left supporters of Jeremy Corbyn are plotting to control Labour amid claims of a secret deal with Unite's Len McCluskey, says deputy leader Tom Watson.: Momentum event at SOAS © PA WIRE Momentum event at SOAS

Jeremy Corbyn has endured an "explosive" meeting of Labour MPs and peers amid a row over claims of a left-wing takeover plot.

The Labour leader was heckled by MPs as he addressed the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), with some said to be angry at the suggestion that they were focused on infighting rather than campaigning.

Others felt their questions on Mr Corbyn's strategy to revive support were not being answered, as a Guardian/ICM opinion poll showed Labour 19 points behind the Tories.

Deputy leader Tom Watson was also supported by a number of Labour politicians after publicly warning the party's future was at risk from hard left supporters of the leader who appeared to be plotting a "secret deal" with Unite union boss Len McCluskey.

One MP described as "explosive" the discussion over Mr Watson's warnings about the apparent plans of Momentum, the grassroots activists group that helped propel Mr Corbyn to the leadership, to link up with Unite.

It came after a stormy meeting of the shadow cabinet earlier on Monday, after which Mr Corbyn and Mr Watson issued a joint statement agreeing to strengthen party unity.

At the PLP, its chairman John Cryer dismissed suggestions that Mr Watson was isolated at that meeting.

Mr Corbyn's team then denied they were behind briefings that Mr Watson was unanimously criticised, with a source saying: "Often after party meetings there will be briefings by politicians or people who work for them.

"I'm aware that those things go on, obviously, I've just said so, but am I encouraging it? No."

A separate source familiar with the shadow cabinet meeting earlier acknowledged that the deputy leader was "laid into" by senior figures.

But the source insisted they were "the people who you would expect" and that other shadow cabinet ministers did not speak or were more measured in their response.

At Unison's head office in central London earlier, Mr Watson was rounded on by shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, all close allies of the leader.

But Baroness Chakrabarti, a key member of Mr Corbyn's inner circle, was said to have been "influential" in reaching an agreement on the joint statement by the leader and deputy.

"The people who you would expect laid into him," the source said.

"It was a brief and stormy discussion."

The row comes after a recording emerged of Momentum founder Jon Lansman saying he expected Unite to affiliate to the group if Mr McCluskey wins his battle for re-election as its general secretary.

After the tape emerged, Mr Watson warned a tie-up between the activist group and the union could "destroy" Labour.

The deputy Labour leader told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I regard this as a battle for the future existence of the Labour Party. This is high stakes.

"What Jon Lansman has outlined is a plan with Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, to take control of the Labour Party."

Later, Mr Corbyn and Mr Watson agreed to call for party unity and insisted "no one speaks for the leadership except the leadership themselves" - viewed by supporters of the deputy as a slap-down to Mr Lansman.

In the joint statement, the leader and deputy said: "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."

After the PLP meeting, the source close to Mr Corbyn claimed most Labour MPs and peers agree that groups within the party are free to try to influence it as long as it is within the rules.

"That's common ground to everybody, to both Tom and Jeremy, to the whole shadow cabinet and I'm sure to the large majority of the PLP," the source said.

"I think the message that Jeremy gave to the (PLP) meeting is that we need to be a united party and we need to be talking about the issues that affect our voters and the people who need a Labour government and Labour councils up and down the country, and that's what we should be discussing, not the internal affairs of the Labour Party.

"And I think he'd encourage everybody who's been briefing about internal issues of the Labour Party to follow that line."

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