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Black Country MP Tom Watson: I did not try to manipulate leadership election

Sandwell | News | Published:

A Black Country MP has denied claims by one of the party's shadow cabinet he tried to 'manipulate' Labour leadership elections.

Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich East and a former party deputy chairman, asked shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis 'which ones do you think I manipulated' in an exchange on Twitter.

It was in response to Mr Lewis saying: "I want the party to choose leaders in an open democratic way. Your problem is, this is one leadership election you can't manipulate."

The exchange on Twitter

It came following an opinion piece Mr Watson wrote for the Sunday Herald newspaper in which he praised candidate Neil Findlay.

The bookies favourite in the Scottish contest is Jim Murphy.

Mr Watson told the Express & Star: "The answer to Ivan Lewis is 'no'. I have not manipulated leadership elections.

"And just to remind people, my candidate in the 2010 leadership election did not win.

"I'm sorry Mr Lewis felt I should not have the right to comment on who leads Labour in Scotland as someone who passionately believes in the future of the union.

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"I not only think I have that right, I think it's my duty to comment.

"I want Labour party members to have a clear choice about the political direction their party takes."

Mr Watson, who resigned the senior post of deputy chairman last year, added: "Part of the reason I am on the back benches is so I can speak out on issues I care about."

Labour has had a difficult few days as its shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry was forced to quit over a photograph she posted to Twitter from the election campaign in Rochester.

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She drew attention to England flags flying from a house with a white van parked on the drive which critics within the party and outside took to be a 'snobbish' criticism of the occupants.

Mr Watson resigned as a defence minister in 2006 after calling on Tony Blair to resign as Prime Minister. He was also previously accused of helping to mobilise the trade unions against David Miliband in 2010.

Although Mr Watson supported Ed Balls in the Labour leadership race, Ed Miliband won.

Mr Blair's supporters believe that Mr Watson played a key role in forcing the prime minister to resign.

It became known as the 'curry house plot' because Mr Watson and fellow MP Sion Simon were said to have discussed getting a letter signed by other MPs while dining at Wolverhampton's Bilash restaurant.

Mr Watson always denied the detail of the letter was discussed there.

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