Although he described the result as “hugely disappointing”, Watson told Scottish Labour’s conference in Perth that it was not the time to replace Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn has made it clear he is determined to continue as leader, despite warnings that the party was on course for a “catastrophic” general election. Concern over the state of the Labour Party mounted yesterday when David Miliband suggested Corbyn had driven the party to its worst position in memory.
Miliband, the former foreign secretary who lost out to his brother Ed in the race for the leadership, said: “I’m obviously deeply concerned that Labour is further from power than at any stage in my lifetime.”
The fall-out from the Copeland by-election result was still raw at the conference.
Watson said he would not “sugar coat” a “hugely disappointing” result.
“That means that all of us with leadership roles in the Labour Party need to have a long, hard look at ourselves and what’s not working.
“Seven years into a Tory government, we shouldn’t be facing questions about whether we can retain the seats we already hold.
“In Scotland we’ve seen what happens when Labour’s long-term supporters stop voting Labour. We can’t afford to have that happen in England too. I’ve said it a lot recently. This is not the time for a leadership election. That issue was settled last year.”
Former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: “It is as bad as we did in the early 80s, so it is not unprecedented. But I’m not going to pretend that Copeland was anything other than a very bad result.”