4 Jul 2013

Crick on Watson’s DNA

Tom Watson’s resignation from the Shadow Cabinet is a big shock for Labour.  He was one of the most powerful men in the party, but felt very bruised by the recent row over events in Falkirk.

Watson was fed up with the assumption that because Karie Murphy works for him, then he was behind Unite’s attempts to recruit lots of new members in Falkirk to get her picked as Labour candidate.

Frankly, I reckon Watson’s role was fairly minor, and had he been behind the new members he would have handled it with a lot more subtlety.  He was ambivalent about Karie Murphy going for the seat, in fact, and quite angry over what Unite did.  On the other hand he felt a natural loyalty to Karie Murphy, and to Labour’s relationship with the unions which has been hugely theatened by the whole episode.

Watson found himself embroiled in a behind the scenes battle with the Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy, the senior Blairite in Scotland.

Murphy  was backing another candidate in Falkirk, Greg Poynton, who is the husband of Gemma Doyle, one of Murphy’s front-bench team.  And the Falkirk inquiry, whose report remains secret, uncovered evidence that Poynton was personally recruiting new members in Falkirk months before Unite mounted their recruitment drive.

Watson also felt Blairites would never forgive him for his resignation in 2006 and his key role in the coup in which Gordon Brown eventually unseated Tony Blair.

And don’t forget the personal factor.  This is the third time in seven years that Watson has resigned from the front bench – in 2006, 2009 and now.  His political career has come at huge cost to his family, and every now and then he decides mainstream politics isn’t worth the personal sacrifice.

What now?  Tom Watson may remain a hugely important and popular figure in Labour politics.  He’s told me that he’s staying on as an MP, and he has a big role to play at Westminster, too, having made his name publicly during the committee hearings over phone hacking.

Ed Miliband’s task now is to ensure Watson doesn’t became a dangerous figure, and exploit his personal standing in the party to pose a threat to Miliband’s  leadership.

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