In Depth

Why Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson is stepping down

The resignation comes after a series of clashes with Jeremy Corbyn

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson is stepping down from his role and will not run as an MP in the forthcoming general election.

Watson’s exit comes after a string of clashes with the party leader on anti-Semitism and Brexit - and The Guardian says his resignation “re-opens the debate about the party’s direction under Jeremy Corbyn”.

In an open letter to Corbyn, Watson said his decision to step down was “personal, not political”.

“The last few years have been among the most transformational of my personal life, second only to becoming a father of two beautiful children. I’ve become healthy for the first time, and I intend to continue this work in the years to come,” wrote Watson, who in 2018 announced that he had lost seven stone and reversed his type 2 diabetes.

He vowed to continue his battle against sugar companies and set up a “remission for all” movement for type 2 diabetes.

The deputy leader wrote: “Our many shared interests are less well known than our political differences, but I will continue to devote myself to the things we often talk about: gambling reform, music and arts, stopping press intrusion, obesity and public health and of course horticulture and cycling.”

Corbyn thanked Watson for his “service to our party and your constituents”, adding: “This is not the end of our work together.”

He told Watson that “many thousands of members and trade unionists that you have inspired and worked with over the years will be very sorry to see you go”.

In an unexpected turn, Corbyn said he had enjoyed many “convivial” chats with Watson, adding: “I hope the horseradish plants I gave you thrive.”

Although the tone of the letters was friendly, The Times points out that Watson’s letter “did not include a specific endorsement of Corbyn’s prime ministerial ambitions”.

His resignation comes a month after supporters of Corbyn attempted to abolish the role of deputy leader at the party conference. Watson said at the time the experience was an attempted “drive-by shooting”.

It also follows months of criticism over Watson’s promotion of the false allegations of a Westminster paedophile ring made in 2012 by Carl Beech, who is now serving 18 years in jail for perverting the course of justice.

As The Telegraph notes, “When Tom Watson stood up in the House of Commons and declared the existence of a historic paedophile ring at the heart of Westminster, there was only one problem: he had got it completely wrong.”

Amid calls for his resignation in recent months, he said he was “very, very sorry” for the way events had turned out.

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Paying tribute to Watson, Labour’s Jess Phillips said “It’s so very, very sad”, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan praised his “energy, passion for politics and commitment to campaigning”.

The Independent’s John Rentoul was also full of praise for Watson, saying he “has done his duty” for centrists by making sure they are “ready to help take Labour forward to a broad-based politics again” after Corbyn.

The direction of the party could be gauged by who takes Watson’s role next. “A Blairite or Brownite candidate is unlikely to succeed,” says the BBC’s political correspondent Iain Watson.

“But whether an MP on the soft left - beyond Mr Corbyn's circle - succeeds him, could determine whether the party remains a broad church.”

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