Why did Labour abandon its plan to elect a female deputy leader?

Jeremy Corbyn’s office is said to have feared the post could be used to undermine his leadership. 

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Until this morning, Labour was set to create the new post of female co-deputy leader. The move, which was approved by the party’s National Executive Committee on Saturday, was widely interpreted as an attempt to further marginalise Tom Watson, the existing deputy (who has clashed with Corbynites over anti-Semitism and Brexit).

But in a piece of conference farce, Wirral West Constituency Labour Party, which submitted the motion, has now withdrawn it. The suspicion among party sources is that Corbyn’s office feared the election of a “soft left” candidate, such as Emily Thornberry or Angela Rayner (rather than, say, Rebecca Long-Bailey) or a “Peoples Vote” supporter, could undermine his leadership. Watson, by contrast, backed the plan at the NEC meeting (leading to even greater suspicions).

Wirral West delegate Angela Marincowitz-Skillen told the conference there had been “disturbing reports that those who want to divide our party … want to use this as a way to do it.” She added: “Making an election for a new deputy leader about Brexit, about a new centre party or whatever project to sow disunity. I want to say to those people, members are sick of this sectarian game.”

The outcome leaves Labour, once again, with an all-male leadership team. Critics on left and right will enjoy observing that, far from electing its first female leader in 118 years, the party won’t even elect a female deputy.

George Eaton is deputy editor of the New Statesman.