Labour deputy leader to set up new group in party to prevent further resignations

Tom Watson. Picture: BBC
Tom Watson. Picture: BBC
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Labour deputy leader Tom Watson will set up a new centrist group within the party in an attempt to prevent further defections by MPs.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson will set up a new centrist group within the party in an attempt to prevent further defections by MPs.

Mr Watson warned Jeremy Corbyn that there was a “crisis for the soul of the Labour Party” and said he must “eradicate” anti-Semitism in the party if he is ever to become prime minister.

Following a tumultuous week which saw nine MPs quit in protest at Mr Corbyn’s leadership, Mr Watson said the party was in a “perilous” situation.

He predicted more Labour MPs – as well as peers and councillors – would walk away unless the party was able to demonstrate that it had changed and was once again a “broad church”.

Mr Watson will convene group of MPs from Labour’s centrist, social democratic tradition, who were largely excluded from the shadow cabinet, to ensure their voice was heard within the party.

“That social democratic voice has to be heard because the only way we will keep the Labour Party unified and prohibit other colleagues from potentially leaving,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“I am not raising a rebel flag. I am standing up for pluralism within our ranks because that is the only way to hold our consensus together.

“Be in no doubt, the situation is perilous for our party and we need to act and we need to act very quickly.”

Mr Watson said Labour was a coalition of different political traditions.

“We’re only electorally successful if those traditions can rub up against each other. Harold Wilson had Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins in his cabinet, and so that is our challenge.”

He added: “There is almost a crisis for the soul of the Labour Party now. Everyone that cares about our future – whatever tradition they represent – has to find it within themselves to work more closely together.”

Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray backed the plan to bring together Labour centrists, saying Mr Watson “gets the issues”, unlike the party leadership who he said were “doubling down on vilifying who they call ‘traitors’ rather than acknowledging the problems that created”.

At a rally in the constituency of former Conservative MP Anna Soubry, who quit her party to join Labour defectors in the Independent Group, shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said those who left Labour had “betrayed” their seats.

Asked about Ms Thornberry’s comment, Mr Watson said colleagues should “dial down the rhetoric”.

“I was born into the Labour party, but I think dying is a virtue that’s overrated,” Mr Watson added.