Politics

Tom Watson’s strange journey from Brownite hit man to Labour’s last peacemaker

Blairites once reviled him as a fat thug. Now they reckon he might be the only man who can save their party

12 September 2015

9:00 AM

12 September 2015

9:00 AM

Last week I was talking to a member of the shadow cabinet about Jeremy Corbyn’s impending victory as Labour leader. ‘Forget about coups and resistance movements. There’s only one person who can save the party now — and that’s Tom Watson.’ It’s a common theme: those who had just recently denounced Watson as a fat thug now see him as the party’s only hope of salvation.

On Saturday, half an hour before Corbyn’s almost certain coronation, Watson will be unveiled as his party’s new deputy leader. He will appear a rather unlikely saviour. His dark suits and heavy jowls give him the appearance less of a political healer than of a low-rent 1970s mafia grunt. There was a time when that was an image Watson would have cultivated — first as a fixer for the right-wing AEEU union, then as a hit man for Gordon Brown. But he is older and more sensible now.

Or so his colleagues hope. Labour is currently a party without champions. Ed Miliband has gone, David Miliband still sits across the water, Ed Balls has gone and Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper have nearly gone. Chuka Umunna has been and gone. Dan Jarvis didn’t even arrive. Anyone with Blairite branding has gone for good. ‘Basically, Tom Watson is the only big beast we’ve got left standing,’ one backbench Labour MP told me this week.

And he is. The key question exercising his colleagues is precisely where he will be standing over the next five years. At his leader’s side? Directly in front of him? Or directly behind?

As well as being one of Labour’s few big beasts, Watson is one of its independent thinkers. He was a central figure in the Brownite court, but once it fractured in the wake of Brown’s 2010 election defeat he resigned from his job and struck out on his own. He is loud on defence, hand-in-glove with the unions and a staunch opponent of the government’s austerity agenda. He helped Ed Miliband take the Labour leadership, only to break with him over his handling of the Falkirk candidate-selection scandal. The Tories see him as a villain, but they’re not sure what sort: he’s difficult to pigeonhole.


This places him in the unique position of being seen by both opponents and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn as a potential ally. And both sides may be right — or wrong.

Those hoping Watson could help instigate a rapid putsch against their new leader will be disappointed. He does not believe that Corbyn’s election has exposed a traditional left-right split, but instead one between grass-roots Labour members, who have been enthused by Corbyn’s candidacy, and MPs, who have been appalled by it. This kind of split, he thinks, is a much graver danger to Labour’s survival. Reconciling MPs with activists will be his personal priority as deputy leader.

But as he knows, the healing cannot take place if the party is still at war with itself. Hence his guarded warning this week to Corbyn’s supporters not to attempt a purge of MPs who are seen to lack the requisite ideological purity. Even some of Watson’s friends see a certain irony in such a bruiser adopting the role of unifier. ‘It’s going to be hard for some of the Blairites to come to terms with the idea of Tom being the guy who pulls everyone together. A few of them have got even longer memories than he has,’ one MP told me.

This is a reference to Watson’s infamous role, almost a decade ago now, in the coup that finally forced a departure date out of Tony Blair. But the remaining Blairite MPs can forgive that act of regicide as long as Watson, too, is ready to move on. ‘I’m prepared to sit down and have a drink with him and see what we can do to get the party back on its feet,’ one Blairite shadow minister told me. ‘The question is, does he want to sit down and have a drink with me?’

The answer is probably yes — but a quick drink. Not least because Watson appears to have decided that it’s time to embark on a new political journey. For most of the last Parliament he operated on his own, embarking on a series of solo crusades against phone-hacking and establishment paedophile rings. But the mere act of standing for the deputy leadership was evidence that he wants to move back into the political mainstream. ‘Tom knows he can’t juggle the role of deputy leader and keep leading on these issues in the way that he has been,’ an ally says.

Nor is the journey entirely political. At the height of the phone-hacking scandal, Watson became a celebrity favourite, fêted by stars of stage and screen for his fight against their tabloid tormentors. It was a seductive moment that he was moved to preserve in a book, Dial M for Murdoch. ‘If you talk to Tom now, I think he’d probably admit he allowed his head to be turned a bit by all that,’ says one colleague. ‘I think that’s another reason why he ran for deputy. He wants to get grounded in some proper politics again.’

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party will be the scene of plenty of proper — and improper — politics over the course of the next couple of years. And Tom Watson will be at the centre of much of it. Until the moment of truth.

The question is when, rather than whether, a move will be made to unseat Corbyn. The new Tom Watson knows that his role as deputy means that he cannot be part of any plot. But enough of the old Brownite left is in Watson for him to know that it would not be electorally viable for Labour to fight an election with Corbyn at its helm. When the times comes, he is unlikely to stand in the way of what needs to be done. So no, Tom Watson is not the only man who can save Labour. But he’s certainly one of them.

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Show comments
  • Sean Grainger

    While watching that Commons committee on the press to perve the self-satisfied but attractive former MP for Corby Louise Mensch one couldn’t help but notice how thick Watson is. But nobody else seemed to spot it.

    • P_S_W

      Oh, a few of us did.

  • HJ777

    “On 10 May 2009 it was revealed that since being re-elected to parliament in 2005, Watson had claimed the maximum £4,800 allowance for food in a single year.”

    Only £4,800? He must have chipped in with quite a bit of his own money.

    • Fraser Bailey

      In other words, just another revolting trougher. Must we always be ruled by such evil, grasping people (of all parties)?

    • GUBU

      A proposterous assertion.

      Why would Mr Watson put his hand in his own pocket when he can so easily put it in yours instead?

      He can probably manage that with both hands full of sausage rolls.

  • A real liberal

    He’s not changed, just learned a bit about camouflage. He is still an un-principled opportunist thug, drunk on the prospect of more power. You’ll see.

    • Ralph

      When it came out a few months ago that the Mirror had hacked as many if not more phones than News International the apparently changed Watson was as quiet as a church mouse. No jumping up in the Commons to demand action, no group bookings for interviews on the BBC, no ‘Dial M for Mirror’, just unprincipled silence. No change there.

    • Paddy

      Yes, you are right “just learned a bit about camouflage”.

      I am beginning to worry about you Dan. You seem to be all over the place. It must be the thought of your beloved Labour party in its death throes.

  • whs1954

    ‘Can Tom Watson save Labour?’

    Paging John Rentoul, here’s another QTWAIN.

    Labour will need someone to save them and get them through Corbyn, but the idea that that person is Unite stooge and Noncefinder-General Watson is absurd. The person you lot need is Kendall, but none of you are prepared to swallow her medicine.

    Brendan O’Neill has it nailed: http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/12483

    • Slavosaur

      Quite so. If you read today’s Ashcroft polls on May 2015 it’s clear former Labour voters voted Tory because they thought Labour would overspend. If Watson is anti-austerity then he can’t win those voters back (let alone new ones from the right).

  • notme3

    Remember his weakness though. He will overlook vile and disgusting behaviour if it is carried out by one of his own side. He was a fearless campaigner against the sun hacking, but not a peep about the mirror. He was a fearless campaigner against powerful historic Tory paedophiles, but again. Not a peep about labour ones.

    • Shawayne

      I feel so awful for pointing this out but Mr Hodges appears to come across strangely subdued in recent days. Is that because his favourite girl, financially illiterate Yvette has been exposed as the protégé of Broon the one-eyed giant countless times?

      Is the good man now being passed down through the ranks in a frantic search for a fight he can win?

      • συκοφάντης

        Perhaps quite a few heads will roll again over at the Telegraph for making a right mess of these leadership elections. It is probably fair to say that without the enthused input of schoolswot Toby Y, his deputy Rod Liddle and that pretend anti-semite hater Louise M, the outcome of the election would have been entirely predictable and boring.

        • Lord of the Manor of Tyburn

          Well, whatever the outcome for those chaps and lasses, I have now come to my own conclusions and hereby pass judgement that Brownite Hodges is guilty by association.

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        • rodliddle

          what in the name of arse are you talking about?

  • Foeu

    “Fat thug” yep.
    But why all the hand wringing over Corbyn?
    A socialist party is going to elect a socialist as a leader. If only the Tories would elect a Tory as leader.

  • Colin

    Too funny.

  • fubar_saunders

    Oh behave yourself. The only thing that Tom gives a fluck about is Tom.

  • Shorne

    As a former Tory voter who is disgusted by what the Coalition and now the Tories have done to the Criminal Justice System in which I used to work I hope after the disaster that Labour will have if Corbyn is leader in 2020 Dan Jarvis become leader.

    • Scylla

      He has young children, used to be in the army and has acceptable hair. This is the sum total of my knowledge about him. Do you know more?

      • Shorne

        Look him up.

    • Warren Swaine

      I’d prefer Jarvis Cocker.

    • Oedipus Rex

      I believe that might be very likely – just about all the sane Labour people I know are looking to Jarvis.

      What in particular has been so bad about the Justice System these last 6 years? I ask in all neutral innocence as I can’t and don’t keep up with everything. Too often changes in the law and how it affects us goes unnoticed by the public and is poorly reported on, especially in the popular media.

      • Shorne

        OK I was a Probation Officer for 30 years, for 13 of which I worked in a prison. For a start Prison Officer numbers have been reduced by 40% which has led to prison suicides being at a 7 year high as it is not possible to maintain sufficient monitoring of vulnerable prisoners, some of whom will be unconvicted remands. Programmes designed to educate and reduce offending behaviour have been drastically cut, despite what Gove has been saying. Court charges introduced by Grayling compel defendants to plead guilty when they might be acquitted after a trial, this has led to scores of magistrates resigning and judges and lawyers protesting.
        When I used to supervise offenders in the community I would see them as often as I thought necessary, make sure they gave an at least plausible account of what they had been doing and decided if the frequency of their contact needed to be changed and what programmes they should do. Now some of my former colleagues are facing redundancy to be replaced by a sort of hole in the wall machine which the offender just has to type a code into to confirm he/she attended. This means the private companies the Tories allowed to take over supervision of so-called low risk offenders save money. I could go on.
        I’m glad it’s not just me who feels this way about Dan Jarvis, I have imagined somebody asking him what he knows about the World outside politics. He could answer ‘I led a combined force of 150 Paras and Special Forces into Helmand and brought them all out alive.

        • Oedipus Rex

          Thanks for that Shorne. Agree with all you say, but then I’m a sort of old style leftie (though socially conservative etc) who’s railed against unnecessary privatizations for longer than I care to admit.
          Also, Jarvis said he didn’t want to stand this time because his two young children had already lost their mother to cancer prematurely and he didn’t want them to miss out on their dad as well. Admirable sentiment.

          However in three to four years when Corbyn is pushing 70 and Labour will be struggling in the polls, one can only hope…

      • Alexsandr

        what same labour people are these?

  • Greenslime

    I disagree that Watson is difficult to pigeon-hole. Hodges says it in his blog. He is a fat thug.

    However, he is a relatively clever fat thug. He is a ‘long-game’ player. If he plays his cards right, he will be perfectly placed to exploit Corbyn’s failure – as the sun comes up in the morning and goes to hide in the evening, Corbyn will crash and burn.

    Of course, the newly constructed Labour Party will continue to believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong and will continue to dream of Moneytree orchards, public ownership and hanging anyone who thinks differently from them. They will quickly begin their search for a less idiotic idiot. By then, crypto-tories will have been purged from the party or cowed into a silence from which they will not be able to quickly and credibly emerge. Fat Thug will be the union’s man and it will only remain for the coronation to be conducted.

    Then the party will continue its long slow march into obscurity. The place for children and idiots to chant, “It’s not fair” and “Give us what they’ve got and give us it now”, etc.

  • TRAV1S

    The nonce finder general who turns a blind eye to Labour nonces, hypocrite.

  • JOhn Mackie

    Wait until it comes out that a person who spends much of his time loudly pointing in the other direction making accusations of child molesting is actually a sadistic nonce himself….

    • William_Brown

      Can you back that up with any evidence?

  • P_S_W

    Watson is a hypocrite of the highest order. He was fine trying to lord it over Murdoch over the now disproved allegation over the deleted Dowler voicemail and was adamant in his push for NOTW to close – and not saying he was wrong over the latter.
    He has been completely silent over the much worse hacking admitted by Trinity Mirror and indeed blocks anyone on Twitter who dares to even ask about it.

    • rtj1211

      The biggest use of third party ‘consultants’ who were known to hack for others was the Daily Mail. Amazing how that Tory rag owned by a Viscount was spared from forensic due diligence…….

      • P_S_W

        Any paper that was involved should have been forensically investigated, don’t care which side of the political spectrum they are from.

      • Stu

        Amazing how you ignore the fact that it was done by the socialist rag the Mirror, whatever you claim that the Mail did. But you have no real proof against the Mail do you.

  • The_greyhound

    To describe watson as labour’s last hope is to acknowledge that there is no hope.

  • WFB56

    “…the right-wing AEEU union”, perhaps a typo?

  • pobjoy

    Why don’t you get a proper job, Dan.

  • starfish

    A dire situation to which people are actually contemplating Tom Watson as a credible solution just shows how desperate things have become

  • Ross McGlockness

    Great guy? Helped his Unite pals into the PLP. Resigned during the Falkirk fixing scandal. Oh, and conspired against the Leader of the Labour Party. There was a time, however briefly, when Dan Hodges thought Miliband was heading in the right direction. Not long until Watson falls out of his favour.

  • Fraser Bailey

    If this revolting thug is your last hope then you really are in trouble. Such revolting hypocrisy with respect to the Mirror’s phone hacking. But what do you expect from these people?

  • MikeF

    “Reconciling MPs with activists will be his personal priority as deputy leader.”
    I think the activists will have their own way of dealing with that situation – but one that will have little to do with reconciliation.

  • hdb

    Has anyone read Harvey Proctor’s statement in full?
    https://theneedleblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/full-statement-of-harvey-proctor/

    I draw particular attention to section 29 – which fingers Watson for his role in stoking up the foundless accusations against the former Tory MP – but the full transcription of the police allegations against him is well worth reading too. They amount to absurdity from beginning to end and form no basis for any credible investigation (Proctor allegedly commits murder after murder but sees nothing odd in dropping off the main witness home immediately after!).

    Watson has been the leader in a witchhunt against a number of dead and elderly politicians, almost all Tories, which will end in his own eventual downfall when the media finally rumble the complete lack of foundation I’d put money on his being gone long before Corbyn.

  • MickC

    Tom Watson as Labour’s saviour? The man is a hypocrite, and bully, and believes only in the advancement of Tom Watson.

    If he deposes Corbyn Labour won’t win an election for ten years.

  • bombaybadboy

    God help Labour if their best, last hope of salvation is Watson.

    On second thoughts, it’s probably best if God keeps out of this one.

  • Brigantian

    The article fails is one key particular. As Gordon Brown (of all people) has said today on Radio 4 (quoting Keir Hardie) “the Labour Party belongs to the Working Class”.
    It does not belong to Blairites or any others who despise and abuse the working people of this country. In the 1980’s the working people were systematically excluded from the Labour Party. Whether Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson can tempt them back is open to doubt and will determine the party’s future.

    • The_greyhound

      What’s working class about a well off hypocritical middle class shyster like corbyn?

    • Liberanos

      Who are the working class?

      • Alexsandr

        ghink they went extinct about 1985. Just one amorphous middle class now. and an underclass.

        • Liberanos

          I think you may be right.

  • Ringstone

    “The key question exercising his colleagues is precisely where he will be
    standing over the next five years. At his leader’s side? Directly in
    front of him? Or directly behind?”
    Not even Corbyn’s daft enough to let Watson get “behind” him.
    I’d want him where I could see him!

  • JabbaTheCat

    “Blairites once reviled him as a fat thug.”

    Watson still is a fat thug…

  • Joe Long

    Question

    Why does the selective historical alleged VIP CSE “Crusader” completely ignore the Rotherham model abuse which occurs in his own constituency and the Black Country and West Midlands generally?

    http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/west-midlands-police-report-reveals-7948902

    http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/police-knew-grooming-gangs-were-9518461

    http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/child-sexual-exploitation-force-west-9151006

    • Joe Long

      Strange journey indeed, as if on cue the Sun comes up with very strong indications

      Sun undercover reporter pays £5000 in cash, tenners to be precise, in a London casino, to Faiz Ul Rasool – a Pakistani fixer, who says he commands 1.5 million Muslim votes, “through his roles with Muslim Friends of Labour and Labour Friends of Pakistan”.

      Two days later the Sun reporter is taken to a private Party function in London at which Burnham is present, Burnham makes various unflattering remarks about Corbyn

      Rasool also says he can arrange a meeting with Watson

      Watson “came to my house the other day. He is very close to me. I am taking him to Pakistan”

      Rasool takes Sun reporter to a nearby hotel – he meets “Lord Roy Kennedy, who has been fund raising for Watson”. He offers the Watson campaign £2000 in cash; Kennedy takes 2 envelopes with £500 in cash in each.

      Well then are we starting to understand why Watson has nothing to say about Rotherham in the Black Country?

      His vote grubbing in East Birmingham at the famous “segregated meeting” might usefully be recalled to mind.

      And the Daily Mail claimed that Watson has links with Exaro, they have apparently orchestrated the campaign to expose alleged high level paedophiles in the Tory Party, a campaign which now appears to be running out of road

      Watts, Editor in Chief and a Director of Exaro, was in a former incarnation a propagandist for the Iranian regime

      “It’s also odd to hear Mr Watts attempting to take the high moral ground, and to accuse unspecified others – including perhaps even myself – of working for intelligence agencies when seven years ago he was himself prepared to work as a top presenter for Press TV.”

      http://barristerblogger.com/2014/12/03/exaro-spare-us-sanctimony-spare-us-bullying-try-bit-transparent/

      Pretty obvious that Watson’s aim here is to deflect attention away from dreadful Pakistani group abuse that occurs in the West Midlands as in so many other places – there’s votes, cash and influence at stake.

      “Fat thug” is about the kindest thing you can say about him

      • The_greyhound

        Brilliant post.

        • Joe Long

          Thanks

          Here’s another damning example

          “MP Tom Watson today called for a ‘comprehensive investigation’. Staffordshire Police said they had already interviewed Ms Baker and would continue doing so this week.

          Ms Baker described the political figure, who does not come from Staffordshire, as: “One of the core members. He was there quite often – I was one of his favourites. I know every inch of his face.” Of the police officers she added: “I got the feeling very much that they were protecting somebody, that they were with one of the men.

          “One of them (police officers) I knew from church. There were a few occasions where they would be in uniform and I learned that when they were in uniform it was going to be a rough night. On occasion they would sort of join in.”

          She said she sometimes tried to run away from her alleged abusers and on one occasion a police officer caught her, carried her back and ‘said he was sorry’”

          http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2015/05/27/victim-breaks-silence-with-very-serious-claims-of-abused-by-politician-on-cannock-chase-as-police-watched/

          Lardy Tom jumped, if someone of his considerable girth can, with great alacrity on the bandwagon here. It is highly likely that Ms Baker is a complete fantasist like “Nick” increasingly appears to be and her claims should have been treated with no little degree of caution from the start

          Contrast

          “Parks, hotels and taxis: The terrifying truth about child exploitation in the Black Country….

          It identifies that offenders are typically Asian (79 per cent) with a large proportion being of Pakistani heritage and likely to be from a Muslim faith background.

          They will also typically be aged 17 to 40.”

          http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2015/05/02/parks-hotels-and-taxis-the-terrifying-truth-about-child-exploitation-in-the-black-country/

          Yet does the “fat thug” call for a “complete investigation” here?

          No he doesn’t

          For my money he is the most despicable, disgusting, fat mound of corruption in Parliament today, probably any other day too

  • Jaria1

    It will not help Watson to have the spotlight on him.
    Hes not a pleasant man and more exposure will make that more and more obvious.
    He would have done better to carry on his one sided findings in the obscurity of the back benches.
    Im no supporter of Murdoch but I wont forget the Mcarthyite words he used on Murdoch junior. It showed me clearly what an unpleasant person he really is

  • Liberanos

    Among all the words written about this person, the word ‘trust’ doesn’t seem to appear too often.

  • 6Story5

    If Watson thinks that this government is doing austerity, he must be on another planet. The deficit is one of the biggest in the western world, and its is plain obvious that Keynesianism is firmly in the driving seat. He’s not got a policy at all for the UK. His only consideration is who knifes whom.

  • blandings

    “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party will be the scene of plenty of proper — and
    improper — politics over the course of the next couple of years. And
    Tom Watson will be at the centre of much of it. Until the moment
    of truth.”

    You’ve already your moment of truth

  • Liberanos

    He may be deeply unpleasant, untrustworthy and aggressive. But what are his disadvantages?

  • Clive

    Well, from all I’ve read, Watson is an aficionado of the Byzantine – the very same Byzantine that Jeremy Corbyn is pledged to eliminate.

    It will be interesting to see what happens when those two worlds collide.

    One of the more depressing things about Jeremy Corbyn is this notion that everyone will behave properly except some – mostly unidentifiable – people of the Tory Right.

    It is more wishful thinking. His whole policy base is just wishful thinking. Most of that wishful thinking, like financial management, can be left because they are not in power

    This wishful thinking about the united behaviour of those around the Labour Party – that won’t wait. There may be purges of one kind or another before too long. Corbyn will turn a blind eye because this is all necessary to make poor people richer; refugees happy; stop wars; etc.

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