Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
6 November 2019

Tom Watson’s exit is a double victory for Jeremy Corbyn

The Labour deputy leader's resignation is a symbolic and practical triumph for Corbyn. 

By Stephen Bush

Tom Watson has stood down as Labour MP for West Bromwich East and as the party’s deputy leader, in a symbolic blow to Labour’s Corbynsceptics and a double coup for Jeremy Corbyn.

The victory is two-fold in that the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), which has a strong pro-Corbyn majority, will decide who replaces Watson as the Labour candidate in the reasonably safe seat of West Bromwich East. Assuming that Labour are not badly defeated at the 12 December election, the candidate is likely to represent the constituency for many years and have an enduring impact on the party’s politics.

Symbolically, it represents the final loss of the last centre of Corbynsceptic power within Labour’s ruling structures, outside the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), which will itself have a larger Corbynite grouping in the next parliament, almost regardless of the result.

In practical terms, Watson’s exit means very little. There is already a strong Corbynite majority on the NEC and his powerlessness was confirmed at Labour Party conference this year, after a majority on the committee voted to abolish his position, only drawing back after a revolt among the PLP. His powers, even in the event of a leadership vacancy, had been sharply reduced and curtailed by the NEC. 

In reality, if Corbyn can gain seats or form a government after the general election, his internal hegemony will be ensured for the foreseeable future. And even if he loses and resigns, the prospects for a Corbynsceptic counter-revolution in the immediate term are slim.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A weekly round-up of The New Statesman's climate, environment and sustainability content. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

But the symbolic triumph is a significant one. Watson was integral to the only serious attempt to remove Corbyn as leader in 2016 and much emotional hope was invested in him by Labour’s Corbynsceptics. Corbyn goes into his last election as Labour leader with his internal triumph secured institutionally and symbolically. Only Boris Johnson stands in his way now.