Politics

Labour conference: Female joint deputy leader plan ditched

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Jeremy Corbyn and Tom WatsonImage copyright
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Plans for a woman to be elected joint deputy leader of the Labour Party have been withdrawn over concerns it would undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

Deputy leader Tom Watson said he was “very disappointed ” by the move, which he blamed on “hard left” activists.

The plan was backed by the National Executive Committee and unions.

But it was withdrawn by the Constituency Labour Party that had tabled it, Wirral West, at the party’s conference in Liverpool.

Documents seen by the BBC show that there was opposition from the Labour leadership on the idea.

They were believed to be concerned that an election for the new post raised the prospect of a candidate standing on a platform of a new EU referendum, ramping up pressure on the leadership over the issue, BBC Political Correspondent Iain Watson said.

One left-wing group, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, labelled the motion as “ill-thought through tokenism” and recommended that delegates vote against.

But the motion was withdrawn before a vote could take place.

Angela Marincowitz-Skillen, from Wirral West Labour Party, spoke in support of the principle but withdrew the plan, asking the NEC to find a way to hold elections for both deputies at the same time.

She said: “There have been disturbing reports that this rule change has widespread support because those who want to divide our party and deny Jeremy Corbyn want to use this as a way to do it, making an election about a new deputy leader about Brexit, a new centre party or whatever project they think up to sow disunity.

“I want to say to those people the membership are sick of this sectarian game.”

Reacting to the decision, Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips tweeted: “It’s not a factional game for God’s sake”.

‘Disgusting’

The female deputy leader proposal was championed by Unite leader Len McCluskey, and had initially been seen as an attempt to undermine Mr Watson, who has faced criticism from Mr Corbyn’s supporters.

But he got behind the idea and told BBC News it was a “shame” it had been dropped.

He said: “I am very disappointed by that because I think it has put the cause of gender representation back in the Labour party.

“But the debate will continue. I think we need greater women’s representation at all levels in the Labour Party and I am going to continue to campaign for that.”

Former NEC member Luke Akehurst tweeted: “Disgusting that Wirral West remitting has killed the chance of a woman second deputy Leader – because the Hard Left were scared a moderate would win, scared of party democracy.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, shadow equalities minister Dawn Butler, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott were all being spoken as contenders for the deputy leadership.

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