Jeremy Corbyn aides refuse Tom Watson one-on-one meeting

Tom Watson MP

Jeremy Corbyn’s aides are refusing to let Labour deputy leader Tom Watson hold a one-to-one meeting with him, claiming that Watson will try to “bully” the leader into resigning.

A senior Labour source, close to the embattled leader, said they had blocked Watson from talking privately to Corbyn because they have a “duty of care”. “They [Watson’s aides] want Watson to be on his own with Corbyn so that he can jab his finger at him,” the source said.

“We are not letting that happen. He’s a 70-year-old [sic] man. We have a duty of care … This is not a one-off. There is a culture of bullying. Maybe it’s a Blairite/Brownite thing.”

A spokesman for Watson – who has been seeking to reach a negotiated settlement with Corbyn over the latter’s future – said: “Tom has always had a very good working and personal relationship with Jeremy.”

A delegation of shadow cabinet ministers, led by shadow home secretary Andy Burnham, also failed to secure a meeting with Corbyn last Thursday to try to negotiate a resolution.

The extraordinary developments come as the Labour leader’s spokesman denied claims made to this newspaper that an emotional Corbyn, 67, had a “Wednesday wobble” over his position after prime minister’s questions last week, and that a senior aide had drawn up a five-point extraction plan for the beleaguered leader.

On Saturday the Labour leader was held back by aides after appearing to lose his temper at a “Say No to Hate Crime” rally on Highbury Fields in north London, after a reporter asked if he was running away from questions about his leadership.

Under the supposed extraction deal – allegedly sketched out last Wednesday by Corbyn’s director of policy, Andrew Fisher – Corbyn would have stood down as leader in return for staying in the shadow cabinet, senior Labour sources claimed.

His close ally, John McDonnell, would have remained as shadow chancellor and both men’s staff would have been retained. A place in a future leadership election would have been secured for a candidate on the left, such as the shadow defence secretary, Clive Lewis.

There would also have been a commitment to Labour retaining an anti-austerity policy platform.

Sources said that the plan was swiftly dropped by Corbyn on Wednesday evening, with one claiming that McDonnell was “keeping Corbyn hostage”.

On Saturday night the leader’s spokesman said the claims were “100% untrue” and that Corbyn was resolved to stay in position.

Meanwhile, a leaked internal analysis of Labour’s performance in May’s local elections, obtained by the Observer, offers a grim forecast of the party’s future under Corbyn.

The analysis concludes that they have piled up votes in parts of the country where it would make little difference in a general election, while losing support in key marginal seats.

“Outside the areas with new ward boundaries, we made 91 losses and 68 gains compared to when these seats were last contested in 2012,” officials write.

“We can look into the specific areas changing hands to better understand how and if the structure of Labour support is changing. In England, in those areas that would be considered key seats for a future general election, we made nine gains and 44 losses.

“The strategic problem is that only 14% of our gains were in areas we need in order to win general elections – while just under 50% of our losses were in those areas.”

There have been more than 60 frontbench resignations, and an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Corbyn, since this newspaper’s revelation that Hilary Benn was orchestrating a plot to remove the leader. The shadow foreign secretary was sacked in the early hours of last Sunday.

Corbyn has publicly shown little indication that he is ready to stand aside, while McDonnell has urged those plotting against the leader to spark a formal leadership contest.

It is understood that the former shadow work and pensions secretary, Owen Smith, is now in pole position to be the “unity candidate” to challenge Corbyn, should he not stand down.

However, one of the shadow cabinet ministers who resigned last week said the rebels were willing to play a “long game”. “Every day that this goes on, the worse it is for him,” she said. “Members are realising that this is an untenable position.”

On Saturday night, Corbyn allies accused the parliamentary party of sabotaging Labour’s ability to hold the government to account.

One Labour source said those at the top of the party were livid when it emerged that files on a shared Labour party hard drive relating to the finance bill going through parliament had been deleted as the shadow finance secretary Rob Marris resigned.

An internal email seen by this newspaper said: “Unfortunately, it looks like someone from Rob Marris’s office has deleted the vast majority of the finance bill records and notes on each clause from the shared drive.”

A Labour source raised the spectre of deselection, adding that it fitted in with a campaign of sabotage. He said: “The finance bill is a hugely important bit of legislation. Under normal times the party’s severest punishment to my knowledge for such transgression could go as high as deselection.

“This is because such a bill normally includes important measures involving things like tax avoidance and pensioners and working families.

“For example, in this case his actions could have led to undermining things such as our opposition to the tampon tax, which – if he had his way – would have prevented us from ending it sooner.”

A shadow Treasury spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on internal matters. It has been a busy week but Rebecca Long-Bailey has stepped forward and done a magnificent job. The shadow Treasury team will continue holding the Tories to account at this crucial time.”

In an article for the Sunday Mirror, Corbyn said he was “ready to reach out” to his enemies in the party but warned he would stand for re-election if they staged a challenge for the top job.

The Labour leader said MPs who have set their face against his tenure must “respect” the views of the members who elected him.

Top priority must be opposing the Conservatives and giving voters a real alternative, he said.

In the article, he wrote: “I am ready to reach out to Labour MPs who didn’t accept my election and oppose my leadership - and work with the whole party to provide the alternative the country needs.

“But they also need to respect the democracy of our party and the views of Labour’s membership, which has increased by more than 60,000 in the past week alone.

“Our priority must be to mobilise this incredible force to oppose the Tories, and ensure people in Britain have a real political alternative.

“That is my priority and always will be as leader of our party. Those who want to challenge my leadership are free to do so in a democratic contest, in which I will be a candidate.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Daniel Boffey and agencies, for The Observer on Saturday 2nd July 2016 20.29 Europe/London

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