Goodnight Mister Tom

5th July, 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…

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • Earlshill

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

  • 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

  • Europe Featured News Brexit would be a “gift to Putin”, Dan Jarvis warns

    Brexit would be a “gift to Putin”, Dan Jarvis warns

    A vote to leave the EU would prompt fresh uncertainty over Britain’s security, Dan Jarvis will warn on Wednesday. In a speech in South London the former paratrooper will spell out how he believes an Out vote would be seen by Britain’s enemies as a sign the nation does not take seriously its global alliances against emerging threats. Jarvis will lay out a stark message that “Britain leaving the EU would undermine vital efforts for peace and stability”, and would be […]

    Read more →
  • News Weekly survey: English patriotism and devolved mayor selections

    Weekly survey: English patriotism and devolved mayor selections

    This week Tristram Hunt and Jon Cruddas have both called on Labour to embrace ideas of community and to develop a progressive idea of English patriotism. Do you think this is an effective way for Labour to win over voters in England? There are now three people in the race to become Labour’s candidate for Greater Manchester Mayor: Andy Burnham, Ivan Lewis and Tony Lloyd. Who do you think should be the Labour candidate for next year’s election? There are two people, […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Featured News Momentum swings behind vote to stay in EU

    Momentum swings behind vote to stay in EU

    Momentum has vowed to throw its weight behind the campaign for an In vote in next month’s EU referendum after it held a consultation with supporters. The pro-Corbyn group surprised many people earlier this year when it confirmed they had not taken a position on the referendum, despite the Labour leader and the party adopting a firm stance in favour of Remain. It was seen as the first time that Momentum had not automatically supported Jeremy Corbyn’s position, and led to […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Blair questions whether Corbyn can win in 2020

    Blair questions whether Corbyn can win in 2020

    Tony Blair has cast doubt on whether Jeremy Corbyn could win a general election as he called for a ground war to defeat ISIS. The former prime minister, who spoke out against Corbyn’s campaign last summer, also described his surprise at the rise of populist political movements in Britain and the US. In comments that will spark a furious debate among Labour supporters, Blair questioned the appeal of Corbynistas after their leader’s overwhelming win in the leadership contest. “It’s not yet […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Apprenticeships pledge reveals another broken Tory promise

    Apprenticeships pledge reveals another broken Tory promise

    Another month, another broken ministerial pledge. It centres around the delivery of a promise on apprenticeships, and it fuels the let-down felt by people and businesses in my Bristol South constituency. It seems a long time ago, but the 2015 Queen’s Speech highlighted apprenticeships as a big part of the government’s plan, with a pledge for three million new ones by 2020. Home to some of the most economically deprived wards in the country, Bristol South sends fewer of its […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit