Goodnight Mister Tom

July 5, 2013 9:47 am

Last Friday I headed over to the Leftfield stage at Glastonbury to watch a political debate. My mates thought I was crackers, spending the first day of the world’s greatest music festival watching Owen Jones and Tom Watson have a scrap over austerity in a tent. It was something of a busman’s holiday, sure, but I thought a debate in these surroundings would be fascinating. And so it proved to be – it was Tom Watson’s last official act as a member of the Shadow Cabinet.

With the benefit of hindsight it’s possible to note now that Tom didn’t quite seem invested in what he was saying last Friday. At the most lefty tent at a broadly lefty festival, his towing of the party line on austerity was always going to be a tough gig. But this most combative of political characters wasn’t as pugilistic as I’d expected. Since then Watson has admitted that:

“Almost to a man, woman and child the people wanted me to give them the route map back to supporting and believing in Labour. Yet I couldn’t traverse the chasmic gap between the words coming out of my mouth and the voices in my head.”

 For someone who – despite his flaws – has always been one of our most blunt and human politicians, it must be hard to continue playing the party line with a straight bat if, on some level, you find yourself less invested in what you’re expected to say than you might otherwise be. At Glastonbury last week, Watson appears to have hit the brick wall that divides political life from normal life. It’s sad that wall even exists, and one day – I hope – it might crumble. But for now it is insurmountable – going to music festivals isn’t what politicians do, more’s the pity.

Of course the subsequent suspension by the party of Karie Murphy – Watson’s aide – over the selection in Falkirk have cast a pall over his decision to move on. It’s impossible not to see an inextricable link between the two. Party officials are clear that Tom played no part in the Falkirk farrago, and no blame for what transpired there has been attributed to him. But it’s hard to see how he could have carried on in the Shadow Cabinet after a close associate was so sanctioned by the party.

That’s not to say that Watson hasn’t played an active role in party selections over the past decade – because he undoubtedly has. Labour leaders of the past – and present – have known or even tactictly endorsed his involvement in how the party selects candidates. Ed Miliband was no different to his predecessor on that score. Sometimes that’s meant Watson being involved with selection processes and by-elections with a taint of the unpleasant around them. But all the while I still found him an engaging, passionate and honest campaigner. That’s the Watson paradox – and when I interviewed him a few months I was keen to probe which Tom Watson – the campaigner or the fixer – was the real one. I didn’t get much closer to the answer. It’s probably both.

Although I’m sad to see Tom leave the Shadow Cabinet, I’m also looking forward to what he gets up to next. This is his third frontbench resignation. All have been in the teeth of a media firestorm. None of today’s media coverage will be particularly new to him. When you’ve had the tabloids rifling through your bins, being on the front  page of the broadsheets must feel like a walk in the park.

There was a clear signal less than an hour after he stood down that the backbench crusading Tom Watson would be returning, rather than slipping silently into the night, as he rattled off a letter to Senator Rockerfeller pushing for further investigations into Rupert Murdoch, his bete noir. Being in the Shadow Cabinet was restrictive, the green benches hold fewer ties. Expect a swift and pronounced resumption of hostilities against News International and others. He’ll be back fighting his corner and pursuing his causes. Because he’s always had them. Phone hacking is the cause he’s best known for. But Gordon Brown was a Watson cause too. Ed Miliband likewise. And Miliband will continue to be a Watson cause. You can expect Tom to still go out to bat for the Labour leader if that is ever needed or asked for.

It just won’t be his day job.

In his piece for Vice magazine on Glastonbury, poignantly published a few hours before he stepped down (and how many politicians would even have attempted to write such a thing) Watson – wrongly – suggests that the Rolling Stones were “shite” last weekend. He left after a couple of songs. But perhaps if he had stayed until the end, he would have heard a hundred thousand people screaming some old but wise advice across that famous Pilton field that he himself could heed:

“You can’t always get what you want.

But if you try sometimes, you just might find

You get what you need”

This may be “Goodnight Mister Tom”. But it’s not goodbye. Not by a long shot. I expect we’ll be seeing him more on these pages before too long. I for one look forward to seeing what happens next…

  • Earlshill

    Hmm….first time I’ve ever agreed with Wason…..the Stones were indeed “shite”.

  • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

    Watson suggested that the Rolling Stones were “shite” – he’s a man of very sound judgement.

  • RogerMcC

    At this stage of their career we are in Doctor Johnson on dogs walking
    upright territory – the wonder is not that it is done well but that it
    is done at all.

Latest

  • Comment The mess left by the Trojan Horse

    The mess left by the Trojan Horse

    The Peter Clarke report into the Trojan Horse allegations in Birmingham schools is an impressive piece of investigative work marred by some wishy-washy recommendations. But it deserved more than it got from the new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan in the Commons. The overall impression everyone is left with is that something nasty happened in only a handful of schools, and that Birmingham City Council could have done something about it earlier. The City Council has, broadly speaking, taken that on […]

    Read more →
  • News Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, accused of postal ballot fraud

    Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, accused of postal ballot fraud

    Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has been accused of engaging in ‘industrial-scale’ postal ballot fraud in the local elections earlier this year. Rahman, who was expelled from the Labour party in 2010 following allegations the he had links to an the Islamic Forum of Europe, was re-elected as Mayor in May. The Telegraph have reported today that John Biggs, who lost out to Rahman in the mayoral contest, has accused Rahman’s supporters of a engaging in a “considerable amount of […]

    Read more →
  • News Douglas Alexander calls for stronger sanctions against Russia

    Douglas Alexander calls for stronger sanctions against Russia

    With escalating tensions between Russia and the Ukraine, in particular following the shooting down of flight MH17, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has called for an EU Council meeting so that European leaders can discuss tougher sanctions against Russia. He said that this should include a review over whether Fifa should still hold the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He has said: “President Putin’s continued aggression towards Ukraine now requires a stronger and swifter European response. EU leaders know that tougher […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Why Labour should make energy efficiency their top infrastructure priority

    Why Labour should make energy efficiency their top infrastructure priority

     Melting into a sweaty puddle in a boiling hot office it’s easy to forget the winter, and the fact that every year, thousands of people die from living in cold homes. But they do, and it’s a national scandal. Millions more can’t afford to keep their homes warm, and suffer not only from the cold, but from the myriad physical and mental health problems that fuel poverty brings. The UK has some of the worst insulated homes in Europe. So […]

    Read more →
  • News Cameron’s new defence secretary accused of calling female columnist a ‘slut’

    Cameron’s new defence secretary accused of calling female columnist a ‘slut’

    This morning, the Mail on Sunday have reported that the new secretary of state for defence, Michael Fallon, allegedly called Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon a ‘slut’. The story comes after Gordon wrote in the Telegraph earlier in the week that a cabinet minister, who she did not name, had spoken to her in a bar in July 2010 and called her a ‘slut’. Recounting the conversation, she explained, the unnamed minister approached her and asked ‘if you work at the Telegraph, […]

    Read more →