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Tom Watson survives immediate bid to sack him after furious Labour outcry

Mirror logo Mirror 21/09/2019 Dan Bloom
Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson © Getty Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson

Tom Watson has survived an immediate bid to sack him as Labour's deputy leader after Jeremy Corbyn agreed to lead a climbdown within the party.

A shock motion to remove the post of deputy leader after nearly 100 years was withdrawn from the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) today on the leader's request.

Instead - following a massive and furious outcry - Mr Corbyn has proposed a broader "review" of the deputy's job.

The row exploded last night when Jeremy Corbyn ally Jon Lansman, the founder of the Momentum group, tabled a surprise move to axe the position at the NEC.

It prompted a vicious civil war in the Labour Party as MPs feared the "outrageous" dumping - condemned by Ed Miliband and Tony Blair - could trigger a fresh leadership challenge against Mr Corbyn or defections from the party.

The original motion was narrowly ruled out of order last night and returned for a vote at a second NEC meeting from 10am today, where it had been set to pass.

Former Labour leaders Tony Blair and Ed Miliband condemned the last-minute move as a furious Mr Watson branded it a "drive-by shooting".

Tom Watson in a suit and tie: Jeremy Corbyn refused to speak out against the push as a furious Mr Watson branded it a © PA Jeremy Corbyn refused to speak out against the push as a furious Mr Watson branded it a

Jeremy Corbyn failed to speak out ahead of today's NEC showdown as the wagons circled Mr Watson following four years of rows on anti-Semitism and Brexit . 

In what critics branded a final act of revenge, Mr Watson was told he could not dial in to today's Brighton meeting to put his case - despite being in Manchester with his teenage son.

But following the backlash Mr Corbyn requested that the motion be withdrawn this morning - and it was.

Instead he recommended a review to ensure the leadership team "reflect the diversity of our society", including gender diversity, "increase democratic accountability" and launch the possibility of introducing more posts.

This could see Mr Watson removed in a slower and more organised way in future or weaken his power base. But it means an immediate bid to ditch his role is scrapped.

A Labour Party source, close to the leader, said: “Jeremy Corbyn proposed that the motion not go to a vote and instead that there be a review of the position of Deputy Leader and other positions in support of the Leader.

Video: 'Of course Tom should be in the party' (Sky News)

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"This will consider how democratic accountability can be strengthened to give members a greater say, expanding the number of elected positions, and how diverse representation can be further improved.

"The NEC agreed to his proposal.”

The Mirror understands Jeremy Corbyn was at last night's meeting where the original bid was launched - though not present when the actual motion was discussed.

Pressure mounted on him to take a stand after condemnation from former Labour leaders, MPs and some unions.

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."

Ed Miliband added: "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."

The TSSA union fumed "now is not the time for navel gazing" while UNISON said: "The sole focus this week should be on taking the fight to Boris Johnson".

And the Parliamentary of the PLP wrote to Mr Corbyn to warn axing the role would be “outrageous” and “gross act of suppressing dissent”.

The MP reps added: "If an internal civil war enables another Conservative victory at the General Election and five more years of ideological attacks and cuts, on the communities we're proud to represent, the country will never forgive us."

Some union delegates at the NEC had backed the move last night after Mr Lansman condemned Mr Watson - who wants a second referendum before a general election - for "undermining" Labour's position on Brexit.

But a senior Unite source denied general secretary Len McCluskey had been a driving force behind the Momentum plan to oust Mr Watson.

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They added: “Our people vote left as they always do. From what I can figure out nobody wanted this mess."

Mr Watson was democratically elected by Labour members in 2015 but has since criticised positions taken by the leadership, especially on Brexit where he wants Mr Corbyn to campaign for Remain and on anti-Semitism where he has condemned the party's pace of action.

If the move had been approved at the NEC this morning it could have seen Mr Watson sacked within hours.

Any rule change will go to the floor of Labour's conference for a final vote by local party and union delegates just before 6pm.

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