Friday 20 April 2018

'Zero chance' of successful coup against Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn takes to the stage after he was announced as the Labour Party's new leader at a special conference at the QEII Centre in London Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Jeremy Corbyn takes to the stage after he was announced as the Labour Party's new leader at a special conference at the QEII Centre in London Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Joe Churcher

There is "zero chance" of a successful coup against Jeremy Corbyn, Labour's new deputy leader said - despite conceding significant policy differences with him on key issues.

Tom Watson said the left-winger was putting together a "broad based" shadow cabinet and urged moderate colleagues to respect the "huge mandate" provided by his convincing leadership contest win.

But he accepted there were crucial areas - such as the new leader's opposition to the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent and his approach to Nato - where compromise would have to be sought.

Mr Corbyn was declared Ed Miliband's successor on Saturday on the back of a surge of support from activists that saw him attract a massive 59.5% of votes - topping the ballot among party members as well as trade unionists and new supporters.

The immediate resignations of a string of senior figures who declared themselves unable to serve in his top team swiftly underlined the task he faced uniting the party behind his anti-war and anti-austerity platform.

Senior party veterans such as Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett were among those warning that the party risked becoming unelectable without action to temper the new leader's radical mandate.

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Watson - appearing on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show in place of the leader, who pulled out to concentrate on shaping his new team - said he understood the concerns of moderate colleagues about the seismic political shift.

"He wants to build a broad-based party, he wants a front bench that represents all the talents and all the views," he said.

"So I say to colleagues: watch this space, respect the mandate he has been given from our members, try to unify and let's try and get an exciting programme for 2020.

Asked about reports of behind-the-scenes moves to oust Mr Corbyn, he insisted: "There is zero chance of that happening; Labour Party members will not accept that."

In a signal of the potentially divisive battles to come Mr Watson - seen as a crucial linchpin in securing party unity - accepted that he and many other MPs backed the renewal of Trident.

"There are different views. Nobody wants to live in a nuclear world but it's how you disarm," he said.

"I think the deterrent has kept the peace in the world for half a century and I hope we can have that debate in the party".

He claimed there was no "massive disagreement" on Nato membership - but conceded he didn't know "precisely what Jeremy's position" was and hoped to "convince him of the merits".

"What I have read in the papers is that he actually understands that Nato needs to exist, he respects the views of many party MPs and members on this but he wants to make sure it doesn't expand eastwards.

"These things have got to be worked out."

"I aim to convince him of the merits of Nato. It was created by one of Labour's greatest ever foreign secretaries, Ernest Bevin, because his generation came through the Second World War and wanted to keep the peace."

Read more: Jeremy Corbyn elected Labour leader with massive support

Mr Watson said he believed the party could present a united front in favour of European Union membership - despite Mr Corbyn failing during the contest to make clear whether he would campaign to stay in at the forthcoming referendum.

"I will be a 'yes to Europe' definitely and I hope we can convince those sceptics in the Labour Party that that is where Labour needs to be in the referendum.

"I hope we can have our own distinct campaign that talks about a social Europe," he added.

Lord Blunkett said that without significant compromises by Mr Corbyn, Labour faced a repeat of the bitter infighting of the 1980s and the long period out of office that came with it.

"The new leadership and those around them have tapped into an anti-establishment, anti-austerity, anti-war mood," he wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

"Ironically, it will be their determination not to compromise, including with the electorate, which will bring them down.

"Because disillusionment will follow as night follows day when it becomes clear that they are disengaged from, and in a parallel universe to, the bulk of the electorate.

"Those of us who have seen this all before can forgive young people eager for something new and those under 40 who have no meaningful recollection of the politics of the 1980s.

"The same cannot be said for the zealots who have re-emerged to capture the Labour Party and take it back to a bygone era."

The election of Mr Corbyn "on an emotional spasm" showed "large swathes of the membership of the Labour Party are not on the same page as those who turned out to vote in a General Election", the ex-cabinet minister warned.

And he said he feared a return to 1980s-style party management by "thuggery".

Justice Secretary Michael Gove said Tories should not be "gleeful" that Labour had picked a prospective prime minister who would represent "a real danger to our national security but also to the economic security".

"It is conceivable that Jeremy Corbyn would become prime minister and have to face up to that reality," he told Marr.

"It is because of that that we have to lay out at this time the scale of the risk that would be posed to Britain.

"He would give up our nuclear deterrent at a time when other countries, and indeed terrorists, are anxious to acquire a nuclear capacity.

"He would, as he made perfectly clear, like to leave the Nato alliance, desert our friends - the Dutch, the French, the Americans.

"And the people he calls friends in the international sphere are the terrorist organisations Hamas and Hezbollah."

Press Association

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