Friends first got wind that Tom Watson’s enthusiasm for the job was waning last month, when he quietly let slip that he’d stopped bothering to attend Shadow Cabinet meetings.
‘He can’t see the point,’ one told the Mail. ‘Corbyn never wants him to say anything.’
Increasingly isolated, as one of the last remaining centrists in a party which has slowly but surely fallen entirely into the grip of the hard-Left, Labour’s former deputy leader also faced incoming strife on a number of fronts.
Friends first got wind that Tom Watson’s enthusiasm for the job was waning last month, when he quietly let slip that he’d stopped bothering to attend Shadow Cabinet meetings
Firstly, there was the growing threat to his 7,713 majority in West Bromwich East, a seat he’d held since 2001, but where the Tories increasingly believe that 70 percent of residents who voted Leave are ready to turn their back on Watson, the arch-Remainer.
Adding to his woes there, the Asian vote, crucial to his re-election, is likely to be split thanks to George Galloway, who in a move thought to be partly motivated by Brexit (and partly by Watson’s public opposition to Left-wing anti-Semitism) intends to stand against him on December 12.
Equally troublesome was the ongoing fallout from the Operation Midland scandal, in which Watson displayed a toxic combination of ignorance and gullibility over an extended period by deciding to champion the claims of fantasist Carl Beech – also known as Nick – who made a series of false child sex claims against a host of public figures.
Tom Watson is pictured before his weight loss, left, and with a slimmed down look at this year’s Glastonbury festival, right
That tawdry affair reared its ugly head again only this week, when the High Court ruled that Esther Baker – another alleged fantasist whose hotly contested claims Watson helped amplify – must pay libel damages to John Hemming, a former Lib Dem MP whom she had accused of rape and sexual abuse.
Big beast: Mr Watson at Glastonbury music festival in 2017
Though Watson has (somewhat grudgingly) apologised for his role in stoking child sex hysteria, he’s yet to properly explain why he saw fit to act as a sort of intermediary for a host of alleged victims who contacted him with outlandish tales of historical sex crimes.
At one point in 2014, he even wrote to the head of the Crown Prosecution Service voicing fears that the authorities had failed to properly investigate spurious allegations from a woman called Jane – a known liar and former Labour activist who had accused former Tory home secretary Leon Brittan of rape.
Later, days after Brittan’s death, he appeared to dance on the ex-minister’s grave, declaring that he was ‘as close to evil as any human being could be’.
Also casting a long shadow over Tom Watson’s political career was the small matter of his controversial association with Max Mosley, the former F1 boss who threw his weight and considerable personal fortune behind efforts to muzzle the Press after being filmed by the News of the World at a sadomasochistic orgy attended by five prostitutes.
Red heads: Tom Watson with Jeremy Corbyn at a Sikh temple and, above, in a pin-striped suit. Since being elected Labour’s deputy leader in 2015, he had established an important powerbase as a counterbalance to the Corbynists who had dragged their party ever leftwards
Also casting a long shadow over Tom Watson’s political career was the small matter of his controversial association with Max Mosley, the former F1 boss who threw his weight and considerable personal fortune behind efforts to muzzle the Press after being filmed by the News of the World at a sadomasochistic orgy attended by five prostitutes
Mosley later won a £60,000 payout in a privacy action against the newspaper. After the 2011 phone-hacking scandal, Watson became the leading Parliamentary advocate of the Hacked Off pressure group, which seeks wide curbs on popular newspapers.
He also saw fit to accept more than £500,000 in party donations from multi-millionaire Mosley, whom he described as a ‘friend’ over several years.
That decision came back to haunt him last February after the Daily Mail obtained an appalling racist pamphlet that Mosley, a former fascist, had published during the 1960s in which Watson’s associate had claimed ‘coloured immigrants’ spread ‘terrible diseases like leprosy’ and should be sent ‘home’.
Watson later said Mosley no longer held the views of 57 years ago and praised his work on Press regulation.
How Tom Watson was dogged by serial scandals
Perhaps the biggest cloud on Watson’s personal horizon, however, was the realisation that his political career had almost certainly peaked.
Since being elected Labour’s deputy leader in 2015, he had established an important powerbase as a counterbalance to the Corbynists who had dragged their party ever leftwards, speaking out against growing claims of anti-Semitism in the party and seeking publicly to build bridges with disaffected centrists.
In March, when eight Labour MPs walked out to create the Independent Group, he went so far as to release a heartfelt video on Facebook where he sympathised with those quitting, refusing to criticise them and instead saying their decision was ‘premature’ rather than wrong.
He also publicly called for Labour to unambiguously become a party of Remain – a policy that Corbyn, a lifelong Eurosceptic, disagreed with.
Watson, an experienced plotter himself who was central to the 2008 ‘curry house coup’ which forced Tony Blair to hand over power to Gordon Brown, knew that if Corbyn were to suddenly fall ill, or otherwise be forced to stand down, he would assume power as acting leader.
In the event of wider political chaos, he was also well positioned as a contender to lead a so-called government of ‘national unity’.
However, those prospects were dramatically shot down at Labour’s party conference in September, when Jon Lansman, the founder of the far-Left campaign group Momentum, came up with a plan to abolish Mr Watson’s job.
The classic far-Left putsch, cooked up at a late-night meeting on the eve of the conference, was dubbed ‘completely mad’ by Yvette Cooper, while Ben Bradshaw, another Labour moderate, said it was ‘totally f****** insane’.
It was eventually vetoed by Mr Corbyn after a public outcry.
However, that move came at a price: Corbyn agreed a change to party rules that meant any ‘acting’ leader can only be given ‘powers’ once their appointment has been approved by the party’s governing NEC.
Since that body is now dominated by Momentum, the rule change made it almost impossible for Watson to ever succeed Corbyn. Well and truly marginalised, in a party he’s served for almost his entire adult life, the 52-year-old father of two can console himself that he now has more time to devote to his passions for computer gaming or rock music.
Having recently shed seven stone – he gave up sugar and carbohydrates and took up exercise – he intends to throw around what’s left of his weight campaigning on issues close to his heart, from gambling reform to public health. (And then there’s the diet book he has coming out in the New Year.)
But, after four uneasy years as Corbyn’s deputy, he’ll no longer be propping up a man he profoundly disagrees with.
Tom Watson QUITS as deputy leader of the Labour Party and announces he will NOT stand at the general election on December 12 as he insists his decision to walk away is ‘personal, not political’ despite raging Brexit war with Jeremy Corbyn
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 and 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 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 this summer to oust Mr Watson amid simmering tensions over differences of opinion on Brexit and other issues.
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 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 national 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.
Mr Watson’s 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 came 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.
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’.
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
‘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 set out his intention to 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.
‘Thousands of others will be sorry to see you go… I hope the horseradishes I gave you thrive’: Jeremy Corbyn gives his deputy Tom Watson a lukewarm farewell
Jeremy Corbyn has bid a lukewarm farewell to his deputy Tom Watson after he revealed he is stepping down this evening.
The Labour leader thanked his No2 for ‘his contribution to the party over the last 30 years and said ‘many thousands of members and trade unionists will be very sorry to see you go’.
But Mr Corbyn fell short of saying he will miss his deputy of four years, choosing instead to say: ‘I hope the horseradish plants I gave you thrive’.
Jeremy Corbyn has bid a lukewarm farewell to his deputy Tom Watson after he revealed he is stepping down this evening. The pair are pictured together in September 2015
Seen by many as the last-remaining Corbyn-skeptic in his shadow cabinet, the pair have had a tense relationship since he was first elected leader in 2015.
Mr Watson played a fundamental part in trying to remove Mr Corbyn as leader in 2016.
In his farewell letter, the party leader wrote: ‘I respect your conclusion that it is in the best interests of you and your family to stand down.
‘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.’
He added that he ‘has always enjoyed convivial chats about many things… including cycling, exercise and horticulture’.
He signing off by wishing his best to his children and not his plans for the future.
Other Labour MPs gave warmer responses, with MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy tweeting: ‘All my time in the labour movement @tom_watson has been a real titan – know whatever he chooses to do next that he will continue to be a force for good and that his fight for social justice never ends.
‘Neither will ours as we continue to fight for our country’s future #Labour family’.
Grant Robertson said: ‘From your sometime doppleganger afar Tom, my very best wishes.
‘I know you will always be a staunch campaigner for the values of our movement.’
Mr Watson was elected deputy leader in 2015 at the same time as Mr Corbyn won the top job.
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.
Mr Watson became a standard-bearer in recent years for moderate Labour MPs who opposed the direction that Mr Corbyn has taken the party.
He has also been a rallying point in recent months for pro-Remain MPs and Labour activists on the issue of a second referendum.
His failure to fall in line and accept Mr Corbyn’s Brexit policy prompted widespread fury among the Labour leader’s supporters who accused him of undermining the party’s efforts.
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.
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 attempt as he tried to prevent the party’s brutal civil war totally overshadowing its annual 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 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.’
Mr Watson has held the seat of West Bromwich East for the Labour Party for 18 years.
But with the area having voted to Leave the EU in 2016 by 68 per cent to 32 per cent, and with Mr Watson’s strong pro-Remain stance, critics had suggested he could struggle to retain the constituency this time around.
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 high profile Westminster politicians.
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
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 Met 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 well-known figures, including MPs, were involved in murder and child sexual abuse. Police wasted £2.5million probing the allegations.
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.
Carl Beech, also known as ‘Nick’, made a series of false claims
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 lies and their families.
Former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, who was falsely accused of being a serial child killer by Beech, said this evening he had done his constituents a “great favour” by standing down.
He said: “The next parliament will be a healthier place without him,” he told the PA news agency.
Mr Proctor previously said of Mr Watson: ‘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.