Published on 4 Jul 2013

Tom Watson resigns: what next for Ed M?

Tom Watson has resigned from the Shadow Cabinet, the first high level victim of the Falkirk selection saga. And he’s at a very high level indeed in Labour circles.

Tom Watson was meant to be running Labour’s 2015 general election campaign – to some extent (see below) he was Labour’s Lynton Crosby. His resignation letter is characteristically unconventional. Do read it – you’ll never see another political resignation letter like it.

Tom Watson says he’s quitting the job so Labour can “move on.” He suggests that he’s the victim of a proxy battle between Blairites (still unforgiving for his role in the 2006 coup attempt against Tony Blair) and others in the party. And that certainly seems to be what has been happening in the Falkirk candidate selection row. Unite has been accused of paying for people to join the party with a view to backing its favoured candidate, who also happens to be Mr Watson’s close colleague. But Unite’s saying that “it’s the other lot that started it.” As Michael Crick has already written,  it’s suggested that someone might’ve been doing something (and quite legally) for the rival candidate who had the support of the Blairite Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy.

Tom Watson says he wants the report itself into what happened in Falkirk published. I understand it may well not have anything much about Mr Watson in it. I’m told it focuses instead on interviews with the individuals who were signed up by both sides in their very focused membership drives. Anyway, it’s hard to see how Ed Miliband avoids publishing that report now, even if it is with redactions, giving David Cameron another Prime Minister’s Question Time script gift.

What does Labour lose with Tom Watson’s departure? Even his critics acknowledge that Tom Watson brought energy to the job as well as a grasp of grassroots campaigning, demographic data, key seats and messaging.

That said, the same MP who listed that for me said he was at a loss to say what Labour’s message was right now. He said Tom Watson’s diverse interests (some are outlined in the letter explaining how he wants to focus on backbench campaigns on the press, child abuse, drones and grassroots responses to austerity) distracted Tom Watson from Shadow Cabinet duties. He was an irregular attender at the meetings, I’m told.

Tom Watson has yet again gained himself a paragraph in Labour’s history.

His activities in 2006 undoubtedly crystallised Tony Blair’s decision to quit No 10.

In 2010 he helped to persaude some MPs supporting Ed Balls to give their second preference vote to Ed Miliband.

He led the campaign to expose the industrial quantities of phone-hacking that appear to have been going on in Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers.

He has a footnote in the history of political resignations now as he effectively resigned from Tony Blair’s government, subsequently from Gordon Brown’s and now (with his florid letter of resignation) from Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet.

“Always a better puller down than a putter up,” one senior Labour MP said. “A massively complicated character,” he went on.

It’s not quite accurate to describe Tom Watson as Labour’s Lynton Crosby because the division of who does what in the run-up to the election was never crystal clear. But he was meant to be a central figure in Labour’s campaign and he test-ran some of his approaches in the May local elections (to mixed effect, his critics argue).

Some Labour sources are suggesting Ed Miliband needs to show who’s boss now and slap down some new rules on candidate selection to stop what some in Labour think is an attempt by Unite to buy up supportive candidates. They dread Lynton Crosby is building a coffin for them and that without some big grabby gestures showing he’s willing to take on the unions, Ed Miliband is in danger of lying down in it.

Ed Miliband has now given a “get tough” statement announcing that Tom Watson’s depature was actually his own judgement call not Tom Watson’s. He also says he’ll be tightening up the rules on selections to clamp down on abuse. I’m told that Tom Watson actually only managed to attend about one in four shadow cabinet meetings and had toyed with resignation more than once, most recently over a speech he was prevented from giving in which he wanted to criticise the US policy on drones.

In his letter, Tom Watson suggests the Labour leader relaxes by listening to a group called Drenge. Here, for reference, is their latest album cover.

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2 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Gary,

    It is not “Labour’s message” anymore. It is New Labour’s message – or, more precisely, New Labour’s corruption and betrayal of the founding principles of the Labour Party as typified by Blair, Miliband and the rest of the political traitors.

    Which, in case you missed it, got us into illegal genocidal wars and mass murder in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and now Syria. All because Blair said he (no doubt egged on by his loony neocon chums in the USA) “wanted to remake the Middle East.” Add in continued betrayal and privatisation of the NHS, the continued scam of tory PFIs and continued mass poverty and unemployment in Britain and you can see why New Labour is held in so much contempt.

    The wonder is that a man like Tom Watson lingered as long as he did.

  2. Philip says:

    Despite Cameron’s evident glee, this is an opportunity for Ed Milliband to shake off the “in thrall to trade union” tag, which Cameron has tried to pin on him. Indeed – that’s what he seems to be doing this morning. That’s another of Lynton Crosby’s electoral foxes shot. Perhaps he’d better look at how the Tories get their money & what influence/access it seems to buy. Besides, if the last 20 years of politics shows us, the idea that the trade unions have any significant influence on Labour (outside of the vote which chose Ed over Dave….a significant exception, I agree) is pretty ludicrous.

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