Tom Watson’s resignation has inspired the fullest possible range of emotions among Labour MPs. But they are united on at least one thing: his successor as deputy leader will almost certainly be a woman.
The Labour leadership has long desired to balance the gender representation of its top team, and failed spectacularly to clip Watson’s wings when it botched an attempt to introduce a second, female deputy leader at the party’s conference in 2018.
Now, with the post vacant – and, crucially, still existent – Corbynites in the shadow cabinet believe that it must be filled by a woman. In this, at least, they are in agreement with senior figures on Labour’s organised right, as well as Corbynsceptics in the Parliamentary Labour Party. As long as Jeremy Corbyn is leader, consensus dictates that the case for a female deputy is inarguable.
That has led discussions over the succession to turn quickly to when, as well as who. If Corbyn is still in post after the general election, or the contest for a new deputy takes place before that of a new leader, rather than concurrently with it, MPs believe that an all-woman race is far more likely – so long as male contenders agree to stay out. Would-be deputies of both genders might also seek the top job if it falls vacant after an election.
The two potential runners generating the most discussion in Labour circles this evening are Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, and Laura Pidcock, the shadow employment rights secretary. Long-Bailey’s name is often raised when the question of Corbyn’s successor is mooted – not least by her mentor, John McDonnell – but one frontbench ally suggests that a run for deputy is much more likely.
That Watson’s resignation came just 24 hours after Long-Bailey revealed a well-produced and personal campaign video and personal logo – interpreted by many colleagues as an early leadership pitch – has not been lost on others in the shadow cabinet. “It’s almost like she knew this was coming,” says one. Pidcock, meanwhile, is a grassroots favourite held in particularly high regard by Corbyn’s inner circle.
A glaring absence from chatter tonight, meanwhile, is any agreement on the main contender from the Labour right. That, above anything else, is testament to how its organisational heft has withered since 2015.