Corbyn’s Deputy Goes on Attack With Praise for Blair and Brown

  • Watson tells Labour conference the party must listen to voters
  • ‘When we were in government, we got things right,’ Watson says

Tom Watson, the U.K. Labour Party’s deputy leader, attacked newly re-elected party chief Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, saying it was time to stop “trashing our record,” and warned activists they could face another decade out of office.

Watson, who earlier this year unsuccessfully urged Corbyn to resign, used his speech to the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, northwest England, on Tuesday to tell those who back Corbyn that they have to stop running down the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, in power for 13 years until 2010. Opinion polls show Labour as much as 15 percentage points behind Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives, leaving it far away from a return to power.

“We’ve got to start listening to voters again,” Watson said. “When we were in government, we got things right. I don’t know why we’ve been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. We don’t win elections like that. We need to win elections.”

It is a measure of the scale of the gulf within Britain’s main opposition party that praising past leaders and calling for election victories is a controversial act. While many in the hall rose to their feet to applaud Watson, Corbyn, on the platform next to him, stayed seated. He has won his position at the head of Labour by attacking Blair in particular, drawing more left-wingers into the party and alienating many of his lawmakers.

When a woman in the hall heckled Watson, attacking Blair over his role in the Iraq war, the deputy leader turned it back to Corbyn. “Jeremy, I don’t think she got the unity memo,” he said, to laughter and cheers.

Earlier in the day, London Mayor Sadiq Khan made a similar point about the need for the party to focus on winning elections, using the word “power” 38 times in his speech.