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Blair: Ousting Tom Watson would be ‘politically dangerous’

Written by on 21/09/2019

Tony Blair has warned a move to abolish the role of Labour deputy leader, held by Tom Watson, is “undemocratic” and “politically dangerous”.

A surprise motion put to the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) by Momentum’s founder Jon Lansman would seek to remove the deputy leader position, removing Mr Watson from his role.

Mr 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.

“The Labour Party has always contained different views within it and the Deputy Leader’s position has been one way of accommodating such views.

“Getting rid of it would be a signal that such pluralism of views was coming to an end despite being cherished throughout Labour’s history.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 11: Tony Blair attends the Annual Charity Day Hosted By Cantor Fitzgerald, BGC and GFI on September 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)

Image: Tony Blair said it would be undemocratic

The chair of Labour’s National Executive Committee ruled the motion should be thrown out, but it is likely to go back before the committee today.

Mr Watson told the BBC he found out about the motion while at a Chinese restaurant in Manchester on Friday night, but can’t get to the conference in Brighton until later because of childcare issues.

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He said: “I know there were some media reports overnight that Jeremy wasn’t aware – he can stop it now this morning if he wants to.

“If he lets the NEC know he doesn’t agree then this wouldn’t happen.

“I’m sure he’s been reflecting on it overnight.”

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Mr Watson recently called for a new Brexit referendum to be held before a general election.

On the other hand, Mr Corbyn says Labour will offer people a second referendum only after an election.

Mr Watson called the move a “straight sectarian attack on a broad church party”.

He added: “It’s moving us into a different kind of institution where pluralism isn’t tolerated.”

Dawn Butler, shadow women and equalities minister, failed to explicitly back Mr Watson in his cabinet role.

Labour MPs furious over 'outrageous' vote to abolish Watson's post

Labour MPs furious over ‘outrageous’ vote to abolish Watson’s post

When asked if Mr Watson should be the deputy leader, she told Sky News: “Of course I think Tom should be in the party.

“He is there to support the leader. We are a broad church, people have different views and express those in different ways.

“You’re asking me to interfere with the NEC process.”

Ms Butler admitted the motion had come as a surprise to her but denied that it indicated the Labour Party was ripping itself apart.

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She said: “If we keep going down the speculation road we are going to go deeper and deeper and create an augmented reality vision of the party. It’s important that people understand the process, otherwise they will get carried away.”

Ms Butler said people should wait until the conclusion of the process, when the NEC has voted.

Earlier this month, Mr Watson said his party must “unambiguously and unequivocally back remain”, but Mr Corbyn has always been more cautious about this approach.

Others in Labour also criticised the move against Mr Watson.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 25: Dawn Butler MP addresses the rally on July 25, 2019 in London, England. A rally in Parliament Square organised by the Labour Party and addressed by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and several Labour MPs calling for a General Election. (Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images)

Image: Dawn Butler didn’t explicitly back Tom Watson in his role

The party “should be about putting forward a strong, unified message and showcasing the policies that will win that election”, said Justin Madders, a Labour MP.

Former party leader Ed Miliband said those responsible had “taken leave of their senses”.

Ben Bradshaw, a former cabinet minister, called it “totally f***ing insane”.

Labour was already facing a battle over its Brexit policy as conference began, with activists mounting a campaign for the party to back a remain stance, but Mr Corbyn hinting he would stay neutral during a second referendum.

He denied his policy on leaving the EU is a “muddle” saying leadership comes from listening.

Scottish and Welsh Labour both back remain and members in Northern Ireland have submitted a motion to conference that “any form of Brexit threatens jobs, workers’ rights, migrants, the NHS, public services and the environment”.

More than 90 motions on Brexit have been submitted to conference, most of them supporting remain.

 Sky News

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