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.
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.