Britain’s opposition Labour Party must unite behind new leader Jeremy Corbyn, his deputy said yesterday as he revealed his own differences with his new boss over issues such as defence and foreign policy.
Left-wing veteran Corbyn won the support of 59.5% of members and supporters but he has far less backing among Labour MPs, with several saying that the party cannot win the next election in 2020 if it lurches left.
“I understand the concern of my colleagues in parliament, this is a huge change for the party, there is no point in denying this a huge political realignment too but Jeremy Corbyn has got a huge mandate from our members,” Tom Watson, who was elected deputy leader on Saturday, told the BBC.
“I say to my colleagues, watch this space, respect the mandate that he has been given from our members, try and unify.”
Watson said there was “zero chance” of a coup against Corbyn but acknowledged there were differences to overcome on policy, which he said could be put to the vote of Labour members.
At odds with the existing Labour position, anti-war campaigner Corbyn opposes the renewal of Britain’s Trident nuclear-armed submarine programme and has advocated withdrawing from the Nato military alliance.
“I need to be honest about where I stand on things, I think Nato has kept the peace in Europe for half a century,” Watson said, adding that he did not believe most members had backed Corbyn solely for his views on Nato. “I aim to convince him of the merits of Nato ... These things have got to be worked out.”
Watson, who backs the renewal of Trident, also said he would be supporting Britain staying in the European Union at a referendum due by the end of 2017.
The rise of Corbyn, who voted ‘No’ to Europe in a 1975 referendum and has been ambiguous about how he plans to campaign in the upcoming vote, has raised fears among some British pro-Europeans that he will scupper the hopes of drawing out millions of Labour voters in support of the EU.
UK prime minister David Cameron’s Conservatives have quickly sought to play on Corbyn’s foreign policy views, saying he is a risk to Britain’s security, highlighting his past meetings with Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah.
Hamas and the military wing of Hezbollah are both officially designated as terrorist organisations by Britain. “Unlike Corbyn, the mainstream Labour Party does not believe in ducking our international responsibilities, it would never offer succour to terrorist groups,” Labour lawmaker John Mann wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Mann warned if Labour achieved success at local and regional elections next May, Corbyn would earn the right to lead the party into the 2020 national election.
Corbyn told the Observer he had a “huge mandate” and members and supporters would expect Labour MPs to co-operate with him.
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