Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has rocked the party by saying he will not stand for re-election as an MP
Tom Watson tonight sent a shockwave through Westminster as he announced his intention to quit as the deputy leader of the Labour Party as he also said he will not contest the next general election.
Mr Watson said in a letter to Jeremy Corbyn his decision to walk away was ‘personal, not political’ and that ‘now is the right time for me to stand down from the House of Commons and start a different kind of life’.
The decision brings to an end a furious and long running battle between Mr Watson and Mr Corbyn over Labour’s future.
Mr Watson will formally step down as deputy leader on December 12 – the day of the general election.
In a tweet, with his resignation letter posted below, he said: ‘After 35 years in full time politics, I’ve decided to step down and will be campaigning to overcome the Tory-fuelled public health crisis.
‘I’m as committed to Labour as ever. I will spend this election fighting for brilliant Labour candidates and a better future for our country.’
Mr Corbyn responded to Mr Watson’s resignation letter with one of his own as he said he wanted to ‘sincerely thank you on behalf of everyone in our movement for your contribution to this Party over the last 30 years’.
However, despite the apparent warmth in Mr Corbyn’s letter, Mr Watson will leave the top of the party on terrible terms with the Labour leader.
Allies of Mr Corbyn tried and failed on the eve of the Labour Party conference to oust Mr Watson amid simmering tensions over differences of opinion on Brexit amongst other issues.
Mr Watson argued that a second referendum on Brexit should have taken place before a general election and that Labour should have campaigned to Remain at that ballot.
But his calls ultimately fell on deaf ears as Mr Corbyn stuck to his stance of wanting an election first and staying neutral on the subject of the UK’s departure from the EU.
His decision to quit as an MP came amid rising speculation that he faced an uphill battle to hold the West Bromwich East seat he has represented in the Commons since 2001.
It also comes after Mr Watson faced intense criticism in recent months over his role in promoting the false claims of a Westminster paedophile ring made by the fantasist Carl Beech.
Jeremy Corbyn, pictured with Mr Watson at Labour conference in Liverpool in September 2018, said he wanted to ‘sincerely thank’ his deputy for his ‘contribution to this Party over the last 30 years’
But Mr Corbyn, pictured in Crewe today, and Mr Watson have rarely seen eye to eye during their time at the top of the Labour Party
Mr Watson announced his intention to quit Westminster on Twitter as he said he will continue to campaign ‘to overcome the Tory-fuelled public health crisis’
Mr Watson set out his reasons for quitting in a letter to Mr Corbyn in which he said the decision to walk away was ‘very difficult’ and that ‘serving the Labour Party has been the privilege of a lifetime’.
‘But now is the right time for me to stand down from the House of Commons and start a different kind of life,’ he said.
‘The decision is personal, not political. The last few years have been among the most transformational of my personal life, second only to becoming a proud father of two beautiful children.
‘I’ve become healthy for the first time, and I intend to continue with this work in the years to come.’
Mr Watson said he wanted to thank Mr Corbyn for ‘the decency and courtesy you have shown me over the last four years, even in difficult times.’
The Labour veteran said he would continue to campaign on tackling public health challenges after his much-publicised weight loss and would publish a book on ‘downsizing’ next year.
He said: ‘I might be standing down as an MP but I won’t be leaving politics altogether.
‘This election is a turning point for our country and I know that Labour goes into it united in our determination to remove the Conservative government that has done so much damage to the communities Labour was founded to represent.
‘I will be taking an active part in this election campaign. I will continue as deputy leader until 12 December and will do everything I can to return a team of Labour MPs who will transform our country.’
Mr Corbyn responded to the letter with his own in which he said ‘few people have given as much to the Labour movement as you have’.
‘I am proud and glad to have worked with you over these four years and I know this is not the end of our work together,’ the Labour leader said as he added he ‘always enjoyed our very convivial chats about many things, including cycling, exercise and horticulture’.
Despite the cordial comments in both Mr Watson’s and Mr Corbyn’s public letters, the former’s decision to step down represents a massive win for the Labour leader.
Mr Watson was elected deputy leader in 2015 at the same time as Mr Corbyn was elected Labour leader.
But Mr Watson has been a repeated thorn in the side of Mr Corbyn, particularly on the issue of Brexit, and allies of the Labour leader will celebrate his departure.
He has also been publicly critical of the leadership’s attempts to tackle anti-Semitism in the party.
Jon Lansman, the founder of the pro-Corbyn Momentum campaign group, spearheaded a bid to get rid of Mr Watson as deputy leader on the eve of Labour’s annual conference in September.
Mr Watson has been a vocal critic of Mr Corbyn’s Brexit policy and argued in favour of a second referendum being held before a general election
Jon Lansman, pictured in Brighton in September, launched a failed bid to get rid of Mr Watson on the eve of Labour conference
The out-of-the-blue move to abolish the existing post of deputy leader blindsided Mr Watson and sparked a political firestorm.
Mr Corbyn was forced to step in to stop the move as he tried to prevent the brutal civil war totally overshadowing the party’s set piece in Brighton.
Mr Watson responded to the move by taunting his internal opponents as he described Mr Lansman as ‘the hitman that shot himself in the foot’.
The deputy leader also faced calls to quit in recent months because of his role in promoting the false claims of a Westminster paedophile ring made by the fantasist Carl Beech.
Beech’s allegations led to a number of public figures coming under police investigation, including the former home secretary, the late Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, the former head of the armed forces, Lord Bramall, and ex-Tory MP Harvey Proctor.
After facing calls to resign by some of those involved, he said that he was ‘very, very sorry’ for the way events had turned out, but stopped short of apologising.
Mr Proctor said Mr Watson ‘has done his constituents a great favour’ by stepping down.
Mr Proctor, who was a Conservative MP in the 1970s and 1980s, has now abandoned his plans to run against Mr Watson in next month’s General Election.
He said this evening: ‘By standing down Tom Watson has done his constituents a great favour. The next parliament will be a healthier place without him.
‘He will be unable to use public office in future to promote false accusers for personal and political ends.
‘Although this is not the end of it for Tom Watson, I feel vindicated.
‘I can now confirm I will not be standing in the West Bromwich East constituency at the general election. ‘
Tom Watson: Gordon Brown’s hatchet man who became the torchbearer of Labour moderates after Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-Left takeover
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
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.
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.
Scandal that tarnished Tom Watson’s career: Labour No2 was told to quit after backing ‘witch-hunt’ against VIP paedophile ring based on the evidence of fantasist Nick
Tom Watson’s meteoric rise to become Labour’s No2 was tarnished by his bid to push police to investigate a VIP paedophile ring that turned out to be completely false.
Mr Watson rose through the ranks from a party activist in the 1990s, to backbench MP for West Bromwich East in 2001 and finally deputy leader in 2015.
But he fell from grace earlier this year when convicted paedophile Carl Beech, also known as ‘Nick’, was jailed for perverting the course of justice for inventing a fake paedophile ring that falsely smeared a string of Westminster politicians.
He was blasted for ‘portraying himself as the victim’ after encouraging Beech to go to police and sending hundreds of letters and pieces of so-called ‘evidence’ to the Metropolitan Police after they launched Operation Midland.
A report by former High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques, published last month, found the Labour MP had piled pressure on detectives investigating Beech’s false claims that several high-profile figures, including MPs, were involved in murder and child sexual abuse. Police wasted £2.5million probing the allegations.
Tom Watson’s meteoric rise to become Labour’s No2 was tarnished by his bid to push police to investigate a VIP paedophile ring that turned out to be completely false
The Labour MP also took a keen interest in a bogus allegation of rape against Lord Brittan, the former home secretary, which was investigated in a parallel Scotland Yard inquiry called Operation Vincente.
Sir Richard’s report described officers as being in a ‘state of panic’ after Mr Watson’s intervention.
The two inquiries collapsed without arrests or convictions and Beech was jailed for 18 years for perverting the course of justice among other offences in July.
Mr Watson was forced to apologise for his role in the case, saying he was ‘genuinely’ sorry to those who fell victim to Beech’s claims and their families.
Carl Beech, also known as ‘Nick’, made a series of false claims
Former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, who was falsely accused of being a serial child killer by Beech, said: ‘Watson’s words are enormously hurtful. I can see through him. I hope others will.
‘He is utterly insensitive to the damage he has caused. Even now he just thinks about himself.’
Also among those accused were Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, a former Tory home secretary who died before the claims against him could be proven false.
A friend of his widow, Lady Brittan, told the Times after the Henriques report was published: ‘The extent of Tom Watson’s involvement in the witch-hunt of innocent people has been laid bare for all to see.
‘His subsequent attempts to distance himself show a complete lack of integrity.
‘By misusing his public office to recklessly repeat false allegations, and to characterise himself as a victim, he has shown that he is unfit to hold the office of MP.’
Daniel Janner, the son of the late Labour MP Lord Janner who was another of Beech’s victims, accused Mr Watson of being ‘partially responsible’, claiming he ‘applied pressure on the police and should hang his head in shame and resign.’
Addressing the media last month, Mr Watson said: ‘I try to remain calm in the face of a sort of media storm right now about it.
‘In the early days of these inquiries it was very difficult to deal with the many hundreds of allegations that were almost like a Blue Peter sack of post in my office.
‘So I had to put in place systems that I’ve never had to deal with before – how you share information with the police and how my staff record phone calls, all that kind of stuff, on a very limited budget. So that was quite traumatic.’
He admitted: ‘Even back then when I was more intense, I understood I couldn’t get too close to the people making the allegations.
‘I hate to see people in pain and I genuinely feel very deeply for the people that have had injustices done to them as a result of the failed police inquiries. I really do.
‘And I understand why they’re angry and I understand why some of their anger is targeted at me.’
Mr Watson claimed he did not want anyone to ‘feel sorry’ for him because of the backlash.
He added: ‘I did my best, and that’s all you can do in life.
‘So I’m genuinely very, very sorry and I just say I genuinely was trying to do the right thing.’ But last night Mr Watson’s apology was rejected by a relative of one of those falsely accused of abuse.
Daniel Janner QC, son of Labour peer Lord Greville Janner, said: ‘Tom Watson’s synthetic attempt to portray himself as the victim when he trashed good men’s reputations for his blatant political advantage will cut no ice.
‘If he had genuine decency he would resign for the suffering he has caused.’
He tonight resigned from the Labour Party after 35 years in politics, writing in a statement: ‘After 35 years in full time politics, I’ve decided to step down and will be campaigning to overcome the Tory-fuelled public health crisis.
‘I’m as committed to Labour as ever. I will spend this election fighting for brilliant Labour candidates and a better future for our country.’