Tom Watson has been telling friends for months that he was dreaming of retirement.
He is known to have been searching online for caravans, hoping to spend more time with his family after a years at the centre of Labour’s bitter civil war.
The fury of his confrontations with Jeremy Corbyn and his allies in the early phase of the hard-Left regime has been replaced with a much more ‘zen’ approach.
In particular the 52-year-old has overhauled his lifestyle, losing a lot of weight to control his diabetes, and even training to be a gym instructor.
But the deputy leader’s dramatic departure will still send shockwaves through a party that is barely clinging together – and is almost unrecognisable from the moderate political force that held power for 13 years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Tom Watson is known to have been searching online for caravans, hoping to spend more time with his family after a years at the centre of Labour’s bitter civil war
Mr Watson has been seen as a torchbearer for Labour moderate since Mr Corbyn’s extraordinary ascent to the leadership in 2015
It is hard to credit now, but Mr Watson was once seen as the firebrand of Labour’s centre-Left.
Having been elected in West Bromwich East in 2001, he became a hatchet man for the sullen Mr Brown.
It was Mr Watson who was at the core of the rebellion of ministerial aides that helped drive Mr Blair out of power in 2007 so the Chancellor could finally take over at No10.
But Mr Watson has taken on an altogether different role since Mr Corbyn’s extraordinary ascent to the leadership in 2015.
The two men always got on fairly well personally.
However, having won his own mandate as deputy at the same time, Mr Watson became the last torchbearer of the party’s moderates, and a persistent foe of Mr Corbyn’s closest allies such as Unite chief Len McCluskey.
He and Mr McCluskey were once close friends, but the rancour between them is now undisguised.
The lurch to the Left was something Mr Watson tried to desperately to control, always concerned to hold the party together.
Mr Watson has overhauled his lifestyle, losing a lot of weight to control his diabetes, and even training to be a gym instructor
It was Mr Watson who was at the core of the rebellion by Labour MPs that helped drive Mr Blair (pictured left in 1995) out of power in 2007 so Mr Brown (right) could finally take over at No10
As Mr Corbyn’s clique moved to take charge of all the levers of the party machine – driving out a swathe long-serving staff – he fought a guerrilla resistance campaign.
He was viewed as having tacitly endorsed a massive revolt that saw the Parliamentary Party vote no confidence in the leader after the EU referendum in 2016.
He was vocal in condemning the leadership’s handling anti-Semitism crisis that has been wracking Labour since the Corbynista influx that started in 2015.
More recently, Mr Watson was for some time a lone voice in demanding that the party moved to back a second referendum.
That was a battle from which in many ways he emerged victorious, as Keir Starmer and both John McDonnell eventually helped push Labour into campaigning for a fresh poll.
He did not, though, manage to secure his goal of turning Labour into a fully Remain-backing party.
However, Mr Watson had to fend off a series of attempts by Mr Corbyn’s allies to get rid of him.
The most recent was a bungled ‘hit job’ at Labour conference, when a bid was made to abolish his job as the gathering in Brighton began.
Mr Watson was defending a majority of around 7,000 in West Bromwich, which in normal times would have been safe enough.
However, the seat did back Leave in the referendum, and there had been whispers that the Tories are hoping to target it.