Labour’s deputy leader said Jeremy Corbyn had been elected on a “very large mandate” and his supporters would “not accept any attempts at a coup”.
“I hope that those MPs on all sides of this argument will pay heed to that,” he told Sky News.
It follows unrest among some groups of MPs on the backbenches who believe that Corbyn will fall short in a general election and hamper Labour’s chances of mounting a credible challenge to the Tories. A number of MPs are now being talked about as potential future leaders, including Dan Jarvis, Angela Eagle and Chuka Umunna.
Jarvis gave a speech to the Demos thinktank last week in which he set out his vision of the future of the Labour party. He insisted the intervention should not be seen as a critique of the current leadership – but many interpreted it as the starting gun of a leadership challenge.
The challenge for backbenchers wanting to oust Corbyn is that the party’s membership remains solidly in support of him – so their only hope is to keep Corbyn off a future ballot. Some backbenchers think there is now an urgent need to act because of attempts by Momentum – a group on the left of the party that supports Corbyn – to change party rules so that will not happen. Watson said: “This is the great irony of politics in that there are people in the party who are trying to change the rules in order to try and protect Jeremy’s position and they might just be precipitating a challenge to his leadership.
“Of course, that’s just not common sense and I hope those people who are holding those different point of views can calm down a bit.”
In other comments, Watson said he and Corbyn were “incredibly disappointed” by Ken Livingstone’s recent remarks that a hedge fund manager donating to Jarvis was like “Jimmy Savile funding a children’s group”.
“That was very unhelpful because what we’re trying to do is make sure that all our members and our MPs stick to talking about policies and issues and don’t slug it out with personal insults,” Watson said.
The hedge fund donor, Martin Taylor, said the former London mayor’s remarks were “inflammatory and unfounded”.
One Labour MP told the Guardian that he did not believe Labour’s “first 11” were on the field – but said they could have a role in the debate about the future of the party with interventions, such as speeches, from the sidelines.
He said the aim was to convince members that there was an alternative to Corbyn. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and Corbyn’s close ally, said he welcomed debate from MPs like Jarvis, and Rachel Reeves – the former shadow welfare secretary, who also delivered a speech last week.
He argued that their focus on inequality was something he had been talking about for some time. McDonnell tried to convince sceptics of the leadership that they could change Labour’s poor reputation on the economy by sticking to a “Fiscal Credibility Rule” allowing them to borrow for investment but otherwise balance the books day to day with an “iron discipline”.
One MP said that it was fine to talk tough in that way, but asked why the leadership wasn’t setting out which specific spending cuts it would accept.
This article was written by Anushka Asthana Political editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 14th March 2016 00.51 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010