In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, in which he also called for the reintroduction of elections to the shadow cabinet and the return of the electoral college for selecting future Labour leaders, Watson said he was concerned that infiltration by Trotskyists would end up destroying the party.
Many members of the grassroots Momentum movement, set up to support Corbyn’s leadership, are “deeply interested in political change, in building a more equal society, and are just on a journey in politics that they’re new to”, Watson said. But he suggested some are being manipulated by seasoned hard-left operators.
“There are some old hands twisting young arms in this process, and I’m under no illusions about what’s going on. They are caucusing and factionalising and putting pressure where they can, and that’s how Trotsky entryists operate. Sooner or later, that always ends up in disaster. It always ends up destroying the institutions that are vulnerable, unless you deal with it.”
He added that some “Trots”, who have returned to Labour after being driven out decades ago, “certainly don’t have the best interests of the Labour party at heart. They see the Labour party as a vehicle for revolutionary socialism, and they’re not remotely interested in winning elections, and that’s a problem.”
However, Watson says he does not blame Corbyn personally for the crisis in the party and instead feels “great sorrow” for him.
The fractious nature of the leadership contest has been underlined by a series of legal challenges to the party’s process in which Corbyn supporters have ended up on the opposite side to Labour’s governing national executive committee.
But Watson sought to downplay fears that Labour could split if Corbyn retained the leadership after this summer’s election.
“Every single person I talk to on the left and right of the party thinks this is a bad idea. I’ve not had anyone muse with me about it. I’ve not had anyone gossip with me about it. I’ve not heard anyone raising it as an issue.”
Watson, who was elected to his post by party members, urged Corbyn to step down in early July after he lost a vote of no confidence among Labour MPs by an overwhelming margin and suffered scores of resignations from his frontbench.
He now says he barely speaks to his boss, communicating largely through occasional text messages – about the health of Watson’s father, for example. “We still send the odd text to each other. It’s usually about family stuff, you know.”
As the battle for the future of Labour rages, Watson says allowing MPs a say over the composition of the shadow cabinet could help to “reshape and rebuild the parliamentary Labour party”.
He also condemned Ed Miliband’s decision to ditch the electoral college for choosing Labour leaders, which allowed trade unions, MPs and party members all to have a say. Watson said this was a “terrible error of judgment” by Corbyn’s predecessor and that he would like to see it reinstated.
This article was written by Decca Aitkenhead and Heather Stewart, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 9th August 2016 12.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010