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Union boss says Labour Party 'in peril' as Angela Eagle makes bid for leadership

Published 09/07/2016

Jeremy Corbyn is a guest of the Durham Miners' Association
Jeremy Corbyn is a guest of the Durham Miners' Association

The Labour movement was on the verge of all-out civil war as Angela Eagle prepared to launch a bid to oust Jeremy Corbyn.

The challenge, which will be launched on Monday, was triggered by the collapse of peace talks between the party's deputy leader Tom Watson and the unions amid bitter recriminations.

The leader of Britain's biggest trade union branded the decision by Mr Watson to pull the plug on negotiations to end the impasse over Mr Corbyn's leadership as an "act of sabotage" and warned it could lead to a schism in the party.

The crisis within the Labour ranks has seen scores of frontbenchers resign, with Ms Eagle the most senior member of the shadow cabinet to quit, and a motion of no confidence in Mr Corbyn by his MPs was backed by 172 votes to 40.

Former shadow business secretary Ms Eagle said Mr Corbyn had "failed to fulfil his first and foremost duty, that is to lead an organised and effective Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that can both hold the Government to account and demonstrate we are ready to form a government in the event of a general election".

She added: "On Monday morning I will announce my candidature for leader of the Labour Party. I will explain my vision for the country and the difference a strong Labour Party can make."

Earlier, Mr Watson had announced he had pulled out of the union talks, saying Mr Corbyn's intention to continue "come what may" meant "there is no realistic prospect of reaching a compromise" over his future.

The overwhelming vote of no confidence in Mr Corbyn by the party's MPs showed he had "lost the support of the PLP with little prospect of regaining it", Mr Watson said.

But Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said a workable plan to resolve bitter differences between Jeremy Corbyn and the Parliamentary Labour Party had "never been closer".

Mr McCluskey said: "I am dismayed at the statement issued by Tom Watson announcing his withdrawal from talks aimed at resolving the crisis in the Labour Party.

"Extraordinarily I received no notice of this statement before it was issued. I had made arrangements for a meeting of trade union leaders, Tom Watson and representatives of the PLP and the party leader for tomorrow, arrangements requested by Tom Watson and his colleagues, specifically for Mr Watson's convenience.

"In that context, when the possibility of a workable plan had never seemed closer, Tom Watson's actions today can only look like an act of sabotage fraught with peril for the future of the Labour Party."

Mr McCluskey stressed that Mr Corbyn's resignation had not been on the agenda for the talks and it was "deeply disingenuous" for Mr Watson to suggest that the leader's refusal to step down led to the collapse of the negotiations.

Mr Corbyn has insisted that his name will automatically be on the ballot if a leadership challenge is launched against him and Mr McCluskey warned that if there was any legal attempt to prevent him fighting for his position it could risk splitting the party.

Mr McCluskey said: " I must warn that any attempts to keep Jeremy Corbyn, elected just 10 months ago with an enormous mandate, off the ballot paper by legal means risks a lasting division in the party.

"It is time for everyone to commit to a democratic and dignified procedure as the only way to avert such a disaster for working people."

Former shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith, who is also thought to be considering a leadership bid, said he would meet Mr Corbyn "to explore any and all avenues to save our party" and would do "anything necessary" to prevent a split.

He said: "I am deeply disappointed that talks about the future of our party appear to have broken down. I know Tom Watson has worked tirelessly in a bid to reach agreement and respect his view that he cannot take this process any further.

"I am continuing efforts to heal divisions through dialogue and intend to meet with Jeremy as soon as possible to explore any and all avenues to save our party.

"This is the greatest crisis facing Labour in generations and it comes at a time when our country is in desperate need of a united Labour Party to speak for Britain.

"I remain extremely concerned that a small number of people from both the left and right of our party seem intent on letting it split. The Labour movement must come together to avoid this at all costs.

"I remain committed to doing anything necessary to prevent a split and unite the party."

A spokesman for the party leader said it was "disappointing" that Mr Watson had walked away from the talks and added: "Jeremy is committed to fulfilling all his responsibilities as democratically elected leader and will not betray the hundreds of thousands of people who elected him for a different direction for the Labour Party and a different kind of politics.

"He continues to be fully committed to working with the Parliamentary Labour Party and is ready to talk with as many people as necessary to assist that process, discussing policy initiatives and listening to ideas.

"He will remain leader of the Labour Party and will contest any leadership challenge if one is mounted."

Dave Ward, Communication Workers Union General Secretary, said: "The CWU is disappointed that the PLP has abandoned talks which were aimed at securing unity in the Labour Party.

"The CWU was due to join the talks tomorrow and our support for the discussions that had taken place was on the clear basis that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Party, endorsed overwhelmingly by Labour Party members less than a year ago, was not on the table. Along with other Union leaders, we have been unequivocal this- the PLP representatives have been aware of this from the outset.

"Jeremy Corbyn retains the CWU's full support and it is clear to us that the actions of some members of the PLP, in undermining his mandate from the membership, are putting the future of the party at risk."

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