Tom Watson has announced that he will stand down as Labour’s deputy leader and as the MP for West Bromwich East. The news is a shock, but it confirms what we already know: that Jeremy Corbyn has won Labour’s civil war.
While the post of deputy leader has a symbolic and emotional resonance to the party’s Corbynsceptics, the reality, as was underlined by this year’s conference, is that there is a strong Corbynite majority on the ruling National Executive Committee, whether or not the deputy leadership is held by a Corbynsceptic.
The one remaining centre of Corbynsceptic power is the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is why the more significant victory for Corbyn is that the NEC will decide who replaces Watson in a seat that, assuming Labour can avoid a catastrophic defeat on 12 December, will return a Labour MP for years to come. But in practice, this only underlines, rather than changes, the political reality: if Corbyn can win or even form a government at the election, then his triumph will be complete for the foreseeable future. It’s not just the future direction of the country that is up for grabs in what will be, one way or another, his last as leader of the opposition: but control over Labour, too.
The possibility of another looming battle for internal dominance is reflected in Watson’s resignation letter, a message in which dieting is mentioned three times and anti-Semitism not at all. Much to the frustration of some of Labour’s defectors, Watson is pulling his punches on the way out and heaping praise on Labour as an institution – because he still thinks that his side can prevail, even though that fight is now being left to someone else.