As the SKWAWKBOX reported last week, Emily Thornberry is said to be moving closer to triggering a contest for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party after a rousing response to her outstanding performance at PMQs when she stood in for Jeremy Corbyn because Theresa May was absent.
The #Emily4Deputy hashtag first trended on social media in late March, when news of preparations for a challenge first broke, and there is significant support. Even in March, Ms Thornberry was understood to have 35 or 36 nominations by MPs/MEPs lined up – enough to stand if the post was vacant, but short of the fifty or so required to force a contest against an incumbent.
However, the equation has shifted since the General Election and Ms Thornberry is said to be very close to the (now 57) nominations she would need to force a contest whether Mr Watson wants one or not – at one party this week, a room containing MPs and MEPs as well as party activists was near-unanimous in hoping for the challenge to be mounted as quickly as it could be arranged.
This puts Watson in something of a quandary – one to which the SKWAWKBOX understands he is keenly sensitive.
If Watson waits for a challenge to be triggered, he appears weak and passive – and as early as March he was already being described by Labour insiders as ‘running scared‘ of a challenge.
His alternative is to pick up the gauntlet and throw down one of his own – ironically by following the example of his former friend, Unite head Len McCluskey, who at the turn of the year triggered an early contest for his position as General Secretary of Unite in order to ‘refresh his mandate’ and secured his position for another five years, rather than waiting for his then-current term to expire.
This would at least allow Mr Watson to appear to be meeting the challenge head on instead of avoiding it and at least some of his allies appear to consider this to be his best hope – and it appears that Watson may agree.
Senior Labour insiders have told the SKWAWKBOX that Watson has started asking colleagues whether they would back him and, even more significantly, that cash is being raised by some of Watson’s allies for private polling to see if there’s any way he might win.
This blog considers it unlikely that Watson would have the stomach for the fight or the moral backbone to ask Labour members and union affiliates to back him again, even though Watson still has support in some sections of the ‘old union right’.
But it will be interesting to see whether he’s willing and able to confound that expectation or will choose to cross his fingers and hope Emily Thornberry won’t find the few remaining PLP/EPLP supporters she needs to force him to fight or, more likely, to concede rather than face a humiliating defeat.
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