Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn

Image credit: Creative Commons: Rwendland

Hackney South & Shoreditch Constituency Labour Party (CLP) have passed a motion calling on Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, to stand down from his position. The motion argues that “Watson’s actions seek to undermine the Party Leader, twice overwhelmingly elected by members, and are incompatible with his remit as Labour’s Deputy Leader.”

Hopefully they are the first among many CLPs to call for Watson to go. But what exactly has he done so wrong? The following list is not exhaustive.

1. He has obstructed Labour’s complaints process

Watson has repeatedly criticised Labour’s handling of complaints, including around anti-semitism. This culminated in him asking that complaints be forwarded directly to him for monitoring to deal with “opacity and delay” by the party. Jennie Formby, Labour’s General Secretary, rightly shot this down as “completely unacceptable” as a breach of GDPR and undermining the work of party staff.

Lara McNeill, Youth Representative on Labour’s NEC, has reported that it is in fact Watson who is to blame for many of the delays. She tweeted that Watson “has consistently & deliberately miscommunicated party rules” as well as not attending or filibustering meetings so volunteers have to rearrange to make it through outstanding cases. Watson is clearly more interested in using complaints as a tool to attack Jeremy Corbyn and the left than address the challenges including around anti-semitism that Labour must confront.

2. He’s a hypocrite on expulsions

Tom Watson defended Alistair Campbell amid his expulsion from the Labour Party, calling it “spiteful”. In reality, Campbell was automatically expelled according to very clear party rules after his public proclamation that he voted for the Liberal Democrats in the 2019 European Elections.

Watson also proposed an amnesty for Labour members who voted for other parties in the elections. This is a major u-turn for the man who spent 2015 and 2016 compiling dossiers of new left-wing members, slandering those energised by Corbyn’s leadership as Trotskyist entryists and battling to disenfranchise them in the leadership election. At the time members were expelled for previously tweeting positively about the Greens and (absurdly) the Foo Fighters. For Watson, some members are clearly more equal than others.

3. He uses Brexit to attack his own party

It’s no secret that the Labour figures behind the People’s Vote campaign are about as interested in attacking Corbyn as actually winning a second referendum. After a dossier of messaging from the campaign was leaked revealing plans to launch attacks on Corbyn around the European Parliament election results, it was quickly discovered that Watson had lifted large chunks and used for tweets and an article in the Observer the day the results were announced.

Aside from his inability to paraphrase, Watson displayed an open willingness to work with outside forces to attack his own party’s policy.

In a bizarre abdication of journalistic standards, HuffPost reported on a glorified Twitter poll conducted by Watson as if legitimate. The headline read, “84% Of Labour ‘Members And Supporters’ Want Online Ballot On New Brexit Referendum”. The poll was open to anybody online with an email address and wasn’t advertised widely to members. This is not the behaviour of a Deputy Leader committed to healing the Brexit divide that plagues our politics, but intent on mobilising the issue to push his own political agenda from an office in which he has no mandate.

4. He‘s neglecting Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

As well as his Deputy Leader position, Watson is apparently as Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Presumably this was to placate his ego and self-identified expertise in digital and professional disdain for Rupert Murdoch. Or maybe it was to plug the gap in the Shadow Cabinet left by the 2016 exodus of ministers which many allege Watson himself orchestrated.

Regardless of how he inherited his briefing, it’s clear he’s too distracted undermining left-wing members to fulfil it. Other than a recent intervention on breaking up tech giants, Watson has been quiet on the broad issues under his remit. This is frustrating given the extent of media reform possible (and necessary) through Corbynism, the cultural renaissance we could enjoy with funding for the arts in communities, and the popularity of policies making grassroots sport more accessible in the image of those proposed by Corbyn in 2017.

5. The Future Britain Group is shit

When the who’s who of Labour’s biggest losers (aka The Independent Group aka Change UK) jumped before they were pushed, Watson set up the Future Britain Group. It comically claims to “to uphold Labour’s social democratic and democratic socialist tradition” by bringing together intellectual heavyweights like Peter Mandelson, Yvette Cooper and Andrew Adonis in all their inspiring political diversity.

In reality, this new group is shit. They’ve only met once since late February. Their convenor, Darren Jones MP, recently threw a hissy fit on Twitter in response to Labour announcing plans to bring the national grid into public ownership as part of a green energy revolution. If Jones’ petulance is anything to go by, the Future Britain Group won’t just stand in the way of socialist policies members support, but those necessary to avoid climate death. Classy.

6. 100% of my Twitter followers want him to go

To confirm my suspicions of Watson’ unpopularity, I conducted my own survey of Labour members on their view over whether Watson should resign (open for 1 hour from 7:41am on a Friday morning). I drew inspiration from the Tom Watson School – the latest methodological innovation in political science. Given the choice of whether he should resign as Deputy Leader or MP, 100% of the 17 respondents said they wanted him to resign as Deputy Leader or MP. There’s no coming back from this.

Jokes aside, Watson was elected to Deputy Leader in September 2015. He won that election with the backing of many on the left he’s subsequently spent three and half years undermining. In that time, Jeremy Corbyn has had his leadership tested in another internal election and at the 2017 General Election. He remains popular. Watson, however, has no democratic legitimacy to remain in his position. If he wants to be Deputy Leader, he should resign and stand for re-election to rediscover a mandate. If he is unwilling to, members should organise to force him out.

Chris Saltmarsh

About Chris Saltmarsh

Chris Saltmarsh is a socialist and climate justice organiser based in Oxford. He is Co-Director: Climate Change Campaigns at student activist network People & Planet, where he manages the fossil fuel divestment and fossil free finance campaigns. He is also a member of direct-action network Reclaim the Power and of the Labour Party. He mostly writes about climate politics, social movements and the labour movement.