Jeremy Corbyn dismisses Labour's civil war over hard-left 'plot' as 'high spirits' in video calling for unity

Rob Merrick

Jeremy Corbyn has dismissed Labour’s civil war over an alleged hard-left plot as “high spirits”, in a recorded message appealing for party unity.

The Labour leader played down the battle with his own deputy, Tom Watson, who has warned the party’s survival is threatened by an attempted takeover.

Instead, Mr Corbyn told Labour members: “Sometimes spirits in the Labour party can run high. Today has been one of those days. That’s because we’re a passionate party.”

He appealed for an end to “navel gazing”, with elections to local councils and for new city-region mayors coming up in May.

But the unity call was undermined immediately by Ken Livingstone, who accused Mr Watson and his allies of behaving like “a dictatorship” in trying to thwart the will of left-wing Labour members.

The late-night Twitter video was posted after a torrid meeting of Labour’s Parliamentary Party (PLP), at which Mr Corbyn came in for fierce criticism from senior MPs.

Earlier, Mr Watson had pleaded with his leader to “deal with” Momentum, accusing the grassroots group of a plot to take over Labour by joining forces with the super-union Unite.

A secret recording appeared to reveal a plan for the country's biggest union - and Labour's largest donor – to channel its huge funds, as well as organisational support, to Momentum.

But, in his video, Mr Corbyn avoided the details of the row – while restating his determination to “do more to involve and empower” the members who twice made him leader.

“From the smallest branch right up to the leader’s office, our whole party must focus on the challenges and opportunities ahead for us in our journey to fundamentally transform this country in the interests of the people of this country,” Mr Corbyn said.

“That next stage is May’s local elections. To win, we need unity not navel gazing.

“My plea to all Labour party members, whether grassroots or in senior positions, is think of our people first, think of our movement first, think of the party first.”

Backing came from Mr Livingstone, who told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Mr Corbyn was being “stabbed in the back” by his MPs who are “skewed to the right”.

The former London mayor – who is currently suspended from the party, over anti-Semitism allegations – attacked Mr Watson for trying to block changes to party leadership rules.

Momentum wants to ditch a rule that requires any candidate to be nominated by 15 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs, believing it will prevent a left-wing successor to Mr Corbyn from standing.

Mr Livingstone said, of Mr Watson’s stance: “This is more like something out of a dictatorship, not a democracy.”

And he warned Labour MPs that Mr Corbyn is not going to give in to pressure, adding: “He is not going to change his beliefs, or the direction he is taking us to.”

Meanwhile, Len McCluskey, the Unite leader dismissed the allegations made by Mr Watson – his former flatmate – as “ridiculous”.

“Tom and the other right-wing Labour MPs would be best keeping their nose out of our business, because the truth of the matter is my members will reject any attempt from outside bodies to influence and to try to take over Unite - it won't work,” he said.