Why Tom Watson won’t resign over the Operation Midland inquiry

The deputy Labour leader implies that he too was a victim of Carl Beech’s lies. 

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Tom Watson has been called on to resign this morning in anticipation of a damning report on the Operation Midland affair, due to be published later today. 

Watson is “unfit to hold the office of MP” says the widow of the Conservative cabinet minister Leon Brittan, who was accused of child sexual abuse as part of Scotland Yard’s botched inquiry into a fictitious Westminster paedophile ring. Brittan died of cancer before he could be cleared of the offences.

After facing previous criticism over his involvement in supporting the investigation, today's report indicates that Watson's influence over and contact with the police was much more extensive than he has previously acknowledged, the Times reports. It follows the sentencing of Carl Beech, the originator of the false claims of paedophilia, to 18 years in prison for offences including perverting the course of justice. Other revelations in today's report include that the process by which the police obtained search warrants during the inquiry was potentially "unlawful". 

What will the political fallout of this report be? Firstly, Watson looks unlikely to resign, having issued a statement in which he emphasises that he had been asked by the police to encourage anyone who came to him with stories of child abuse to report the complaints. Referring to the “liar" Carl Beech, he implies that he, too, was the victim of Beech’s lies.  

From a political perspective, the interesting aspect is how the Labour leadership will respond to the report, a few weeks after their own botched attempt to oust Watson as deputy leader. Reports this morning say that Corbyn allies are “likely” to “seize” upon the findings. However, so far, sources close to the leadership suggest they aren't terribly preoccupied by the matter. 

As debate over Boris Johnson's Brexit proposals rumbles on, this story may fail to gain much traction. The scale of a potential scandal is a function of how much oxygen it receives. Some will see Watson as another victim of a deluded man who so damaged the reputations of countless figures in Westminster. Victims, however, see Watson's role as a reckless misuse of public office. 

This sad, strange story is ultimately an example of the polarisation of our media landscape. For some, this story will be the outrage of the day; others may not even see any coverage.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman

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