A vote to oust the deputy leader of Britain’s Labour Party will not take place Saturday following a big backlash that prompted an intervention by Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s leader.
Following the surprise attempt to abolish the role of deputy leader, Corbyn has proposed that Labour carry out a review of the role, currently held by lawmaker Tom Watson.
The proposal to get rid of the deputy’s role had been scheduled to be put to a vote Saturday of Labour’s governing body, the National Executive Committee. A move against Watson could have led to a big row that potentially would have cemented the sharp divisions within the party over Corbyn’s leadership and over the party’s approach to Brexit.
Despite Corbyn’s intervention, the row has overshadowed the start of the party’s annual conference in the southern England city of Brighton.
Heading into the conference on Saturday, Corbyn tried to put a brave face on the row and said he enjoyed working with Watson.
Watson told BBC radio before the proposal was ditched that the attempt to oust him was akin to “a straight sectarian attack on a broad-church party” and that he believes his position on Brexit was behind the move. He said the move against him came as a shock and that he was in a Chinese restaurant in Manchester when he found out about it.
Watson, who was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party in September 2015 at the same time as Corbyn took the helm, is a prominent supporter of a second Brexit referendum and is urging Labour to campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union in any further vote.
Labour’s move recently to back a second referendum on any Brexit deal has not been welcomed by everyone in the Labour Party, even though a large majority of members are in favor of staying in the EU.
The row began Friday when Jon Lansman, the founder of the pro-Corbyn grassroots Momentum group, proposed a motion to be discussed at Labour’s conference for Watson’s job to be scrapped.
Lansman said in a tweet after Corbyn’s proposal to review the role of deputy leader that the party needs “to make sure the deputy leader role is properly accountable to the membership while also unifying the party at conference. In my view, this review is absolutely the best way of doing that.”
Watson received widespread support including from former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, who said the move to oust Watson “would be undemocratic, damaging and politically dangerous.”