Watson tagged CLP representatives on NEC into tweet asking for pressure to back new referendum – but earned rebuke and a left backlash
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has been pushing for a change to Labour’s position on Brexit for next month’s European elections – attempting to force a commitment to a ‘confirmatory’ public vote into Labour’s manifesto and literature.
Many observers and Labour strategists consider that such a move – which would have no relevance anyway, as MEPs do not have a vote on the matter in the UK Parliament – would damage the party electorally in any general election.
Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meets tomorrow to finalise Labour’s approach to the ‘Euros’, which will take place if the UK does not finalise a Brexit deal before 22 May.
Watson yesterday asked his 285,000 Twitter followers to message the NEC’s ‘CLP reps’ – those representing and elected directly by Labour members – “if you want them to support a confirmatory ballot”, with the CLP representatives all ‘tagged in’ to his tweet, meaning their timelines would be flooded with any replies. It was a clear attempt to pile pressure on them ahead of the vote:
But the move backfired. While a substantial portion of those who responded said they wanted a vote, the majority of these appeared to be ‘FPBE‘ anti-Brexit die-hards, including supporters and members of the LibDems, Greens and SNP.
Among the left-leaning Labour members – who constitute the vast majority of Labour’s membership – most said they do not want another vote of any kind.
Except a vote on who occupies the position of deputy leader.
What members want
Since Labour’s membership contains a large majority of left-wing members – the 60+ percent who voted in Corbyn as leader – the nature of the left-wing responses questions the usual pro-referendum campaign claims that most Labour members want a new vote.
Worse, for Watson’s aims, was the rebuke he received from a senior NEC member. Claudia Webbe is a long-standing ‘left slate’ member of the NEC and is the Chair of the committee’s important ‘Disputes Panel’. She rebuked Watson:
A wake-up call
If Watson hoped his tactic might win support from NEC members, it may prove counterproductive, as Ms Webbe’s tweet was shared by other NEC members.
Claudia Webbe was not the only one to take exception to Watson’s approach. Many Labour members asked why – when he was pressing NEC members to listen to what he claims is the opinion of members – he was not prepared to listen to the calls of the large numbers of members who want him to step down, or at least stand for re-election to ‘test his mandate’.
Others reminded him that the real ballot the country needs is a general election.
Space forbids showing many of the responses, but those shown below are typical:
Tom Watson was contacted for comment but has not responded.
This is far from the first manoeuvre by Tom Watson that has backfired. As many members reminded him, he has a pressing engagement with a new deputy leadership election if he wants to demonstrate his commitment to democracy.
Polling across the board demonstrates that while pro-Brexit parties have surged in support among those intending to vote in next month’s European Parliament ballot, anti-Brexit parties are languishing on barely a third of the support seen for their rivals.
As has always been the case, Jeremy Corbyn’s and Labour’s first duty is to get into office and rescue the millions suffering under Tory policies and callousness.
Any push for a new referendum will damage that prime goal. The cynical might think that’s why Tom Watson – who was among those pushing for the first Brexit referendum but has been seen meeting advisers to the ‘TIG’/Change party – and his allies are so keen on such a push, or to create the perception of one.
The NEC, when it meets tomorrow, must not fall into the trap.
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