Tom Watson: an alliance between Momentum and Unite could 'destroy' Labour

Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson has accused Momentum's Jon Lansman of attempting to seize control of the party.

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Momentum chief Jon Lansman and Unite’s Len McCluskey are plotting to seize control of Labour and “destroy” the party as an electoral force, deputy leader Tom Watson has claimed.

Watson’s comments – made in an interview on the Today programme and Twitter spat with Lansman – follow the Observer’s revelation of an apparent plan for Unite to affiliate to “and fully participate in” Momentum if McCluskey is re-elected as the union’s general secretary in April. 

A secret recording leaked to the paper also showed Lansman urging Momentum members to work to secure changes to Labour rules – specifically the so-called "McDonnell amendment" reducing the threshold of parliamentary support required for a leadership candidate to stand from 15 to 5 per cent – to secure a left-wing successor to Jeremy Corbyn.

A spokesperson for the Corbynite campaign group claimed Lansman’s comments were merely “aspirational”, while Unite have denied they have any formal plans to affiliate to Momentum.

Tom Watson – who hails from the party’s old right – has repeatedly warned of the danger posed to Labour by hard-left entryism. But his latest comments mark his first explicit attack on Momentum. He told Today he had a duty to speak out against the hard left’s “secret plan” to seize control of the party, adding that the alleged collusion between McCluskey and Lansman had the “tacit approval” of the Labour leadership. He said: "Enough is enough, this has got to stop... I'm afraid there are some people who do not have our electoral interests at heart".

Watson's remarks came after he and fellow Labour MP Jess Phillips rowed publicly with Lansman over the alleged plot on Twitter. He told Lansman: “You’ve revealed your plan. If you succeed you will destroy the Labour Party as an electoral force. So you have to be stopped.”

As for Momentum, representatives and allies of the group have sought to characterise Watson’s intervention as an attempt to influence the outcome of the impending Unite general secretary election.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, told the BBC: "This is not civil war...What [Watson] is trying to do is influence the election of the general secretary of Unite and he has dragged the Labour Party into this, completely unnecessarily."

Ballots will be sent to the super-union’s 1.4 million members next week, and McCluskey faces a concerted challenge from its West Midlands organiser Gerard Coyne – a long-time ally of West Bromwich East MP Watson – a perceived centrist who has criticised his rival’s fondness for playing “puppet master” to the Labour leadership.

In a statement released after Watson’s appearance on Today, Unite’s acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said Watson and other Labour MPs were “engaging in an unprecedented pattern of interference” in the election, while Momentum NEC member Christine Shawcroft accused him of mounting “a concerted attempt to interfere in the internal election in Unite...which is really shocking”.

McDonnell added the controversy was “all about Tom and the internal battle that he is trying to wage within Unite”.  

In a joint statement released after this morning's meeting of the shadow cabinet, Watson and Corbyn urged the party to remain united and stressed the Labour leadership "represents the whole party and not any one strand within it". In a coded rebuke to Lansman, they added: "No one speaks for the leadership except the leadership themselves and their spokespeople."

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.