Tom Watson steps down as Labour deputy leader and MP

Watson has repeatedly clashed with Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit stance and anti-Semitism

Tom Watson had told friends in recent months that he felt increasingly alienated from his party. Photograph:  Leon Neal/Getty

Tom Watson had told friends in recent months that he felt increasingly alienated from his party. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty

 

Tom Watson has announced that he is stepping down as deputy leader of the Labour Party. In a shock announcement, Mr Watson said that he would not be seeking re-election as an MP in the forthcoming general election.

In a letter to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, he said that the time had come to “start a different kind of life”. “The decision is personal, not political,” he said. “The last few years have been among the most transformational of my personal life, second only to becoming a proud father of two beautiful children.

“I’ve become healthy for the first time and I intend to continue with this work in the years to come.”

In a letter to Mr Watson, Mr Corbyn said: “Few people have given as much to the Labour movement as you have and I know 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.”

Mr Watson, who is one of Labour’s best-known figures, has represented the constituency of West Bromwich East since 2001.

He has repeatedly clashed with Mr Corbyn, including over the Labour leader’s Brexit stance and his handling of anti-Semitism. The party’s conference in Brighton in September was overshadowed by a botched bid to abolish his post.

The Labour leader called off the attempt to clip Mr Watson’s wings at the last minute – but it prompted soul-searching among some centrist Labour MPs about whether they could continue in the party.

Mr Corbyn has determinedly resisted efforts by grassroots members and his shadow cabinet to persuade him to commit to backing remain at a future Brexit referendum.

Mr Watson has repeatedly intervened in the Brexit debate publicly, insisting in one recent speech, “our hearts are remain, our values are remain”.

Mr Watson is a friend of Luciana Berger, who left Labour to found the breakaway Change UK party, and has since defected to the Liberal Democrats.

After she and other Labour MPs including Chuka Umunna left, Mr Watson formed a caucus he called the “future Britain” group, saying he felt the voice of social democrats was not being heard in the party’s decision-making.

Increasingly alienated

He had served as Mr Corbyn’s shadow culture secretary, and only this week made a pre-election announcement that the party would restore free TV licences to the over-75s.

Mr Watson is the most prominent of a string of centrist Labour MPs to leave Labour or quit parliament altogether since Mr Corbyn took over his party in 2016. Others have included Tristram Hunt and Andy Burnham, now metropolitan mayor of Manchester.

Mr Watson had told friends in recent months that he felt increasingly alienated from his party – and some allies had even begun to speculate that he could be considering joining the Lib Dems.

Mr Corbyn had made efforts to build bridges with his deputy in recent weeks but shadow cabinet colleagues said he appeared detached and had failed to attend a number of recent meetings.

He has also become an advocate for healthy eating and exercise, after drastically losing weight following a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. – PA/Guardian