Generally, talk of a ‘split’ in the Labour Party focuses on the chasm between Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters and those ‘moderate’ MPs who want to leave. But there’s another, bigger split, which is between the Corbynites and a large chunk of MPs, including Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who disagree with the party’s leader but think Labour can change.
Watson did go through a phase of staying rather quiet in the months after the last general election, avoiding both party events and interviews where he might be forced to take a stand against the leadership. But he has recently become far more vocal, disagreeing with the Corbynites on a number of key issues, including when it comes to whether the party should support a second referendum (as Katy reports, Corbyn has moved in this direction, with caveats). It is therefore quite easy to read the NEC’s decision to have a second, female, deputy leader as an attempt to undermine Watson.
Watson was on Sky this morning, and tried to make the discussion more about the importance of improving the gender balance in Labour’s top team, than about the political consequences for him. But given it is highly likely that the second deputy leader will be a Corbynite, there will now develop an interesting split in this job between the two people who do it. Watson is largely trying to give his colleagues who are unhappy with Corbyn’s leadership some hope that the party can change and that it’s not all doomed. His new job-share colleague will be trying to shore up the party leadership - while presumably hoping to succeed Corbyn in time too. It will be interesting to see whether the pair try to divvy up duties, or whether they end up contradicting one another in public.