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Tom Watson Wins Standing Ovation For Praising Tony Blair At Labour Conference

Labour's deputy leader raised the roof by urging the party to prepare for government again.

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Deputy leader of the Labour party Tom Watson speaks during the Labour Autumn Conference at the ACC Liverpool.
Danny Lawson / PA WIRE

Deputy leader of the Labour party Tom Watson speaks during the Labour Autumn Conference at the ACC Liverpool.

Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, received a rapturous reception at the party conference in Liverpool after praising the record of Tony Blair's government.

Watson, who in the past has been heavily critical of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and the "Trotskyist entryists" who support him, was heckled by pro-Corbyn Labour members during his keynote speech to the conference.

Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Watson urged Labour members to stop condemning Blair and Gordon Brown's New Labour governments and told the party to ready itself for a snap general election.

"I don’t know why we’ve been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years, but trashing our own record is not the way to enhance our brand," said the deputy leader.

"We won’t win elections like that and we need to win elections. The prime minister could call one next week. Now is the time to be proud of our party. We have to believe we can win, and remember how much we achieve when we do."

Watson was heckled at one point during his speech when he praised Sadiq Khan for winning the London mayoral race. A member of the crowd shouted to point out that Corbyn had won the Labour leadership contest.

The deputy leader strongly criticised Theresa May, saying she "hasn't got what it takes" to be prime minister and that the UK wasn't "safe in her hands" as the country prepares to leave the EU.

"I bear Mrs May no ill will – in fact, to be honest I feel a little bit sorry for her," said Watson. "She’s like a Lib Dem manifesto pledge: She’s been abandoned.

"David Cameron has created the biggest political, financial, and diplomatic mess in modern British history and he’s just walked away to write his million-pound memoirs – working title: Eton Mess."

After a second heckle from a woman in the audience, Watson joked to Corbyn: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo."

Corbyn’s reaction as Tom Watson points at a heckler and says “Jeremy, I don’t think she got the unity memo."

Watson repeatedly told party members to prepare the party for a snap general election, saying he was "sure" there will be one in the near future.

The deputy leader showered praise on Labour's mayors and Welsh leader Carwyn Jones, saying they were reminding people "how innovative and radical" Labour governments can be.

"I’m sure there’ll be a general election soon," said Watson. "The more often Theresa May says it won’t happen, the more certain I am that it will. And, comrades, we need to be ready.

"We need to stand together as one Labour movement, millions-strong and utterly united. Let’s get behind Jon Trickett as he masterminds our election campaign, let’s put our differences aside, link arms with our brothers and sisters in Labour, turn and face the Tories, and fight.

"It’s time for Labour to get back to business. Time to get the band back together. We’ve got to get back on the phones, out on the doorstep ... and start listening to voters again."

When Watson's praise of Blair and Brown received a standing ovation, Corbyn remained seated.

Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.

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