4 Jul 2013

Tom Watson quits shadow cabinet over selection row

The Labour MP Tom Watson resigns from his role as general election co-ordinator – saying it would be better for the “future unity” of the Labour party.

The MP for West Bromich East has been embroiled in the row over the selection of Labour’s new parliamentary candidate in Falkirk East, and alleged influence by the trade union Unite.

Mr Watson’s office manager Karie Murphy – who was a potential candidate – was suspended from the Labour party on Thursday afternoon, along with another member, Stephen Deans, over the Falkirk allegations.

Ms Murphy had been favoured by Unite, and there were allegations that the mega-union had recruited dozens of new members into the constituency party without their knowledge, in an attempt to influence the selection process.

Last week Labour put the CLP into “special measures” and is now drawing up a completely new all-women shortlist of candidates. Unite inisted it had done nothing wrong and had operated “entirely within the rules”.

There is no suggestion Mr Watson had any knowledge of what was going on, although he had strong links to Unite and its general secretary Len McCluskey: the pair were former flatmates.

Falkirk ‘mess’

Today Mr Watson cited what he called “unattributed shadow cabinet meetings around the mess in Falkirk”, saying they hadn’t helped, and said an “awful lot of spurious suppositions” were being written.

In his resignation letter to Ed Miliband, Mr Watson made it clear he felt he no longer belonged in Labour’s top team. “I feel like I’ve seen the merry go round turn too many times”, he wrote. “Whereas the shadow cabinet’s for people who still want to get dizzy.”

And he suggested that some of his colleagues had not forgiven him for resigning from the government in 2006, to help force out Tony Blair from the party leadership.

He was back a year later, when Gordon Brown took over at Number Ten, although he left unexpectedly in 2009 as part of a government reshuffle.

The shadow cabinet’s for people who still want to get dizzy. Tom Watson MP

He said he wanted to return to the back benches so that he could focus on the issues he was most interested in, like open government, the digital economy and the Murdoch scandal.

On Wednesday Mr Watson told Channel 4 News there should be a police investigation into the secret recording of Rupert Murdoch briefing staff at the Sun about the phone hacking investigation, which was broadcast exclusively on this programme last night.

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband had been coming under increasing pressure to get rid of Mr Watson from the shadow cabinet, although until today’s sudden resignation, he had shown every sign of remaining loyal to the man who was instrumental in getting him elected as leader.

Mr Miliband said on Thursday he was enormously grateful for all Mr Watson’s loyalty and friendship – saying he had helped to galvanise the grass roots and “put real spirit into Labour party activists up and down the country”.

Party loyalty

The Conservative chairman Grant Shapps described the departure as a “clear vote of no confidence in Ed Miliband’s weak leadership”, claiming that the Unite union was “taking over” the party.

However Mr Watson insisted he was still a “loyal servant” – adding “I’ll always be on hand to help you, if you need me.” And, he had some words of advice for Mr Miliband – make sure you take time to enjoy life.

He said he’d been asked why Mr Miliband hadn’t gone to the Glastonbury festival. “I said Labour leaders can’t be seen in muddy fields listening to bands. And then I thought how terribly sad that this is true”, he wrote – before recommending what he called “an awesome band”, called Drenge, a little known rock duo from the Peak District.