Back in 2015, I (along with 198,961 other Labour supporters) voted for Tom Watson for the Deputy Leadership of the party. Suffice to say, he won me over with his record of public service, having been a committed campaigner on social issues and civil liberties. However, three years on, his statement of “I promise to back our new leader 100%” has come back to haunt him.
I have the greatest of respect for his past endeavours, with his role in exposing child abuse within the establishment being key. However, as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, he has a responsibility to support the leader and the party. Granted, in such troubling times, supporting Corbyn fully is difficult for some including myself. My message is this: Its okay not to support the leader, but it is not okay to actively work against the party. And this is what Watson has done.
Let me be clear, I am not writing this article as a result of his intervention over Anti-Semitism within the party. Because in some ways, I agree with him. Not in that we should adopt the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism, but in that we should have done more sooner. His view that Dame Margaret Hodge shouldn’t be punished for her outrageous outburst in Parliament, in which she launched an expletive-ridden attack to Corbyn’s face by labelling him a “F****** Anti-Semite and a racist”, is entirely wrong. If I went up to my boss and said that, I’d be severely punished on the spot. Why should an MP be any different?
But this is not the point. The point is, the criticism of Watson is justified because all I have heard from him since he was elected is a divisive rhetoric that I’d expect from the so-called ‘Blairites’ within the party. Considering Watson was opposed to Blair himself, you’d expect him to be supportive of a more progressive, left-wing leadership. But no. Before him and the moderates were forced to eat ‘humble pie’ following Labour’s better-than-expected election result last year, he was vocally critical of Corbyn over his leadership and issues such as nominating Shami Chakrabati for a peerage. And at the end of the day, it is everybody’s job to hold Corbyn to account. But when Watson publicly goes on the attack, labelling many in the party as ‘Trotskyite entryists’ that are “manipulating the younger members”, and saying Corbyn wouldn’t get elected as he did pre-2017 election, all that serves to do is weaken our position.
We all want a Labour government at the moment. Maybe not the moderates, with many being quoted as saying they would never vote for a Corbyn-led Labour government, but most of us do want to see him in number 10, if not purely to get rid of the Tories for those of us who aren’t his biggest fan. Im sure Mr Watson is no different. I’m sure he too would like to see Labour get into power. However I’m not certain of it because of his divisive rhetoric.
With the #WeAreCorbyn twitterstorm earlier in the week, it was only a matter of time before we say one that was aiming to get rid of those opposed to the leader. This is why #ResignWatson gained so much traction. by 11PM on Sunday night, it had seen 83,100 tweets fire it to the top of the Twitter Trending list. With such a huge amount of tweets against the Deputy Leader, it was only a matter of time before the Shadow Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport responded. And respond he did, appearing to be bemused by the twitterstorm. In his tweet, he said he never expected to be facing demand to resign for “standing up for people who are facing prejudice and hate”. Now its all well and good to say that, but its a shame that he’s focused his efforts on attacking the leadership far more than on the Tories.
On the other hand though, it is worth noting that he has publicly backed Corbyn on a few occasions. While they are Few, and the criticism is Many, the fact is, he’s been one of the few Labour MP’s who is obviously opposed to Corbyn who’s backed him on occasions, urging members to “stick with him”. Should he be forced to resign because the members don’t like him? Not in my view. I completely understand why many think he should. But you cannot just get rid of people you don’t like. Thats not to say that if he goes one step further and publicly attacks Corbyn in the same manner of the ‘traitorous’ Chukka Ummuna, he shouldn’t resign. Because if he goes any further then yes, he should. But for now, it would be easier for the party to keep him in his place where he can be reasonably controlled by the leadership rather than shove him on the back-benches to be as critical of Corbyn as he wants.
And if you think about it, look at the response of Labour members to the resignations of Tory Cabinet Ministers. We’ve used it to our advantage. The Tories will do exactly the same. They’ll simply use it to show that we are once again a divided and split party.
So should he follow the demand for his resignation? In my opinion, no he should not. This will be an unpopular opinion within the party membership. But I think it’d be safer for the Party to wait and see if he falls back in line and supports the leadership than simply sack him and cause yet further controversy that will play right into the Tories hands. He is, at the end of the day, a good man. He does want to stand up for those who need help. He’s just gone about it in the wrong way.
A resignation would also be used by the Blairites to launch an inevitable second coup against the Leadership. This would of course fail, and they know it. But what they also know is that it would damage Corbyn to the point where the Tories would have a good chance of winning the next election, and this would lead to the downfall of Corbyn. A resignation by a senior Labour figure would set in motion a chain of events that would severely damage the party.
Criticising the leadership must be dealt with, because its doing so much damage to the party. But forcing Watson out could do more harm than good.
We should be miles ahead in the polls by now. And there are two reasons why we aren’t. The biased media, and the moderate Blairites like Chukka Ummuna and Dame Margaret Hodge who use everything they possibly can (including the Anti-Semitism) crisis to damage the Leadership and in turn, ruin our chances of election. Granted, Watson has now subscribed to this viewpoint, but unlike Ummuna et al, he’s in a senior position within the party. His resignation would make us look weaker than we already do. For now we must put up with him, as hard as it may be for many.