Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Election 2024
30 September 2015

Tom Watson delivers a stark warning to the Corbynites

Deputy leader calls for party to move on from "summer of introspection" and hails New Labour achievements. 

By George Eaton

One of the things that most troubled Labour MPs about Jeremy Corbyn’s speech was how little he had to say about the importance of winning elections and of returning to government. This is not a charge that one can level at Tom Watson. His first conference speech as deputy leader ended in dramatic fashion as he cried for activists to move on “from our summer of introspection” and declared: “We have to get back into government. I’m not in politics to play the game; I’m here to change the game.” The difference in tone from Corbyn, who failed several times to join in with the applause for Watson, was stark. Rather than moving on from the summer, the Labour leader and his supporters often prefer to relive it.

Though Watson pledged loyalty to his new chief (“Let’s be clear: because he’s the people’s choice, he’s the right choice”), he delivered an unambiguous warning to the Corbynites: Labour must remain in the winning business. “We have to be the party of everybody, or we’re the party of nobody,” he cried (a line that should have in Corbyn’s speech). In his peroration, he delivered a Brown-esque rollcall of New Labour achievements of the sort that one could never imagine the party’s new leader giving. “In government we made this country a far, far better place: Record numbers of new schools and hospitals. Far better pay for public sector workers. Led the world on climate change and international development. The minimum wage. Tax credits. The pension credit. Civil partnerships. The Disability Discrimination Act. The Human Rights Act. The Gangmasters Act. Paid holidays. Maternity leave. Paternity leave. Union recognition rights. Temporary and agency workers’ rights. And literally a thousand more progressive things we did to change our country for the better. That’s what a Labour government means”. It was a reminder Watson, who hails from the party’s old right, stands in a very different tradition to the hard-left Corbyn.

The speech was by some distance the finest delivered at the conference and an apt demonstration of why some speak of Watson as a potential future leader. As well as an impassioned tribute to the power of government, he spoke lucidly and authoritatively on micro-businesses and the digital revolution. The activists lapped his old-style tribalism up. The Lib Dems were derided as “a useless bunch of lying sellouts” (don’t go betting on a pact), while “the nasty Tories” were to be “[kicked] down the road where they belong”. In a party increasingly denuded of big beasts, Watson showed why he is one of the biggest beasts of all. 

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action