SHADOW chancellor John McDonnell warned Labour deputy leader Tom Watson yesterday against meddling in the Unite leadership race after the latter claimed there was a “hard left” plot to seize control of Labour.
Mr Watson claimed the party’s future was being placed at risk by supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the Momentum grassroots group plotting a “secret deal” with Labour’s biggest union backer to divert its cash to Momentum.
He referred to an audio recording obtained by the Observer newspaper of Momentum founder Jon Lansman telling supporters earlier this month that he hoped Unite, along with the Communication Workers Union, would affiliate to Momentum if Len McCluskey wins his battle for re-election as Unite general secretary.
Mr McDonnell said the attack by Mr Watson — who is a Unite member — was an attempt to influence the contest while throwing Labour into the mix “completely unnecessarily.”
He told the BBC: “It’s all about Tom and the internal battle he is trying to wage within Unite. Dragging the party into this is disappointing.”
Unite acting general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Tom Watson has made claims about Unite and its general secretary Len McCluskey which are entirely inaccurate.
“As Unite has made it clear, it is exclusively for our executive council to determine which organisations we affiliate to.
“There are no plans for Unite to affiliate to Momentum.
“For the record, Len McCluskey has never met Jon Lansman to discuss this or any other matter. It is extraordinary that the deputy leader of the Labour Party should interfere in Unite’s democracy in this way and it is very disappointing that he was allowed to make his unsupported claims without being challenged — and that the BBC ignored the Unite statement with which it had been provided well in advance.
“Mr Watson’s latest, and misguided, campaign is part of an unprecedented pattern of interference in the current Unite general secretary election by elected Labour politicians who should, frankly, be concentrating on their own responsibilities.”
Later Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson issued a joint statement: “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.”