Ken Livingstone hits back at Tom Watson live on air. And it’s superb.

Tom Wall

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone hit back this morning at deputy Labour leader Tom Watson’s claims that there was a secret hard-left plot to take over the Labour Party.

Livingstone told John Humphrys on the BBC’s Today programme that Watson should stop trying to block efforts by grassroots organisation Momentum to make the party more democratic.


Existing rules, he said, make the party look more “like a dictatorship”. Currently, parliamentary candidates have to be centrally vetted and approved before local members get a say. Leadership candidates have to obtain the support of 15% of MPs and MEPs if there is no sitting leader.

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Livingstone said:

What Momentum wants to do is to go back to the rules the Labour Party had for 90 years that when there is a leadership election someone from the left can stand. We never had this nonsense that you have to get 15% of Labour MPs to nominate you.

Former leader Neil Kinnock brought in the current system in 1990 after he faced a challenge from veteran socialist Tony Benn.

Livingstone continued:

We’ve got to get a party that is democratic again. Any local Labour Party can select the candidate they want for parliament and anyone can stand for the leadership when we have a leadership election.

Blair’s legacy

He rejected suggestions that Corbyn’s position had become untenable. Corbyn’s difficulties uniting the party, he said, were a legacy of Tony Blair:

Jeremy has inherited a Labour Party in parliament skewed to the right… It is the legacy of Blair. Because it used to be the case that a party could select whoever it wanted for its MP. Tony Blair brought in the rule changes: you had to choose from approved lists.

Stabbed in the back

Corbyn, he continued, would stick to his principles even though he was being undermined by right-wing plotters.

Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t give in to this sort of pressure. He has been absolutely consistent since he became party leader. However much the press ramp it up, however much he is stabbed in the back by Labour MPs, he’s not going to change his beliefs or the direction he is taking the party in.

Livingstone added that Watson had sought to parachute Livingstone into a safe seat in 2008:

How bizarre that Tom Watson, who was then effectively running Gordon Brown’s office, can phone and tell me ‘we’ll drop you into a winnable seat for a parliamentary by-election’. What about the rights of the local constituents in the party to choose their candidate?

Fair election

Watson made the allegations after The Observer published a recording of Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum. In the recording, Lansman urges supporters in a meeting to ensure there is a “fair election” for future leaders.

Lansman also said he hoped that the Britain’s largest union, Unite, will choose to affiliate to Momentum.

A Momentum spokesperson said later that Lansman was speaking in an aspirational manner about the possibility of Unite and the CWU affiliating to Momentum:

If they did choose to do so they would, like other affiliated unions, be able to take part in Momentum’s affairs by having a seat on its national co-ordinating group.

A Unite spokesperson said:

Affiliation to Momentum is a matter for our executive council alone and no discussion on the matter is scheduled.

Watson and his friends in the media are generating a lot of heat and noise. But the only plot at the moment is against the democratically elected leader of the Labour Party.

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