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Union boss is coming for me, says Labour deputy leader

Tom Watson said Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has the power to ‘take me out’, but insisted he will not be bullied.

Labour MP Tom Watson has claimed union boss Len McCluskey is trying to oust him as the party’s deputy leader.

The two men were once close friends – once even sharing a flat together – but fell out amid Labour infighting over the 2016 challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Speaking to the BBC’s Nick Robinson for the Political Thinking podcast, Mr Watson claimed the Unite general secretary is “coming for me”, but insisted he will not be “bullied”.

It is understood that Mr Watson came under pressure in the run-up to the 2016 leadership vote to denounce MPs who had backed a vote of no confidence in Mr Corbyn.

“It is very difficult that, because we were friends socially as well as understood each other politically,” said Mr Watson.

“Sadly, we fell out over that week when Jeremy went into the second leadership election, and I’ve not spoken to him since that week.”

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Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has been critical of Labour deputy leader Tom Watson (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Watson added: “I felt very difficult there, because Unite funded my campaign, they didn’t nominate me, and I think he felt that I in some way was obligated to him personally then. And my obligation was to the Labour Party.

“You may severely criticise me for taking the wrong position, and that’s fair, but I’m not going to be bullied by Len McCluskey.”

At the Labour conference in 2016, Mr McCluskey openly raised questions about Mr Watson’s position, saying it would be “interesting” to see what would happen if he attempted to renew his mandate.

And he has since accused the deputy leader of “manufacturing division” and behaving like a “low-budget remake of the Godfather” after Mr Watson complained of hard-left plans to gain control over the party.

If he wants to take me out as deputy leader, he probably could, but that's up to him Tom Watson

Asked if he felt Mr McCluskey was coming for him, Mr Watson replied: “Yes, he is coming for me. They’re upping their delegates and all of that.

“What will be, will be. He’s powerful enough, if he wants to take me out as deputy leader, he probably could, but that’s up to him.

“I’m just going to get on and try and bring everyone back together and do what I can as best I can.”

Mr Watson, who was elected deputy leader at the same time as Mr Corbyn took the top job in 2015, said he felt “more chilled out” after losing more than four stone in weight over a year.

“I do genuinely feel a lot calmer, a lot more in equilibrium, so I guess I am a bit more chilled out,” he said.

“This isn’t political, in fact there are the occasional days where I feel like maybe I’m too chilled out for the circumstances I find myself in.

“It adds to resilience and patience, and right now, being deputy leader of the Labour Party, those are two qualities I think are quite useful to me.

“The best bit about it for me is that it’s lifted a brain fog that I didn’t know was there. I feel like my mental acuity has improved, almost like my IQ has improved. I feel much sharper.”

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