The Speaker
Friday, 24 May 2024 – 23:41

Opinion: Questionable timing from Tom Watson

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

Yet another political own goal for the Labour Party.

The deputy leader Tom Watson gave a speech in London on Wednesday that warned against a snap election.

He asserted that the party must prioritise reversing Brexit through a referendum before committing to a general election, because the ‘only way to break the Brexit deadlock once and for all is a public vote in a referendum.’

This is at odds with what Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proclaimed at the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) conference on Tuesday, whereby he outlined how Labour’s Brexit strategy would look in their election manifesto.

He promised a referendum with a ‘credible leave option’, which is likely to be Labour negotiated deal, versus remain, in any election.

The fact Watson emphasised that ‘there is no such thing as a good Brexit deal’ before rebuffing calls for an election shows him and Corbyn clearly are not singing from the same hymn sheet. In fact, his statement has put him on a collision course with his party leader, in a manner that has too often been associated with the Labour Party.

Indeed, following Corbyn’s speech which contained key manifesto pledges, including the biggest ever extension of workers’ rights and the intention to create a minister and government agency, he won applause and had unanimous backing from the unions. That is what the party needs in the current plight, consensus and unity.

The polls have the Conservative Party and Labour neck and neck and Prime Minister Boris Johnson coming under intense pressure. On Monday evening, in the final session before the suspension of parliament, Johnson suffered two more commons defeats, taking his tally to six in six days. In that time he has fired 21 of his MP’s, several of which are prominent and decade long loyalists, including former chancellors and Winston Churchill’s grandson.

Even the prime minister’s own brother could not stomach working for him and his chaotic government, as Jo Johnson quit as minister, stating he could not serve with the ‘unresolvable tension’ caused by his brother’s threats to exit the European Union without a deal.

Then Amber Rudd quit her job in the Work and Pensions department, referencing the ‘political vandalism’ that was prevalent in the Tory party. Thus, a total of 23 Tory MP’s are no longer affiliated with the party, and Boris Johnson has a majority of -45.

To compound matters, Johnson’s authority has been dealt another fatal blow as Scotland’s highest court has ruled the prime minister’s decision to shut down parliament as unlawful.

Therefore, at a time when the Conservatives are in utter disarray and crumbling with each passing hour, Labour’s deputy leader shouldn’t be disseminating rhetoric that is at odds with the rest of the leadership and party policy, which is why the timing of Watson’s interference is bizarre.

Watson has been pressurising Corbyn for months to make a referendum party policy. He either conveniently ignored that it has been Labour’s policy since the 2018 conference in Liverpool, after stopping no-deal, and if Labour fail to get into power via an election to negotiate their own deal, or he was not aware of the party’s official line. If it is the latter, that would be worrying from a deputy leader.

In June 2019, Watson suggested the party must deliver a clear anti-Brexit stance, before stipulating a referendum must be central to that. But since then, Labour’s policy, as reinforced on Tuesday by Corbyn, is unambiguous, and includes a referendum. It prevents no-deal, of which there are more members of the public against it than in favour of, but keeps both leaving and remaining on the table.

Yet Watson is still on record undermining party policy and demanding a referendum before any election.

Such an approach would make sense if the Labour Party were in power and the only issue that required resolving was Brexit. However, the Conservatives are the ruling party and have inflicted almost a decade of angst, misery and hardship by virtue of their brutal austerity, which is just one of many issues, alongside Brexit, which requires tackling. Hence why Labour want an election.

That narrative needs to be shared and advanced, not countered and torpedoed. Any other counter-narratives just engender greater confusion, estrangement and deter voters rather than allure them.

Labour will only have one shot at defeating Johnson in an election, and a united front is pivotal in achieving that. Labour should be reprimanding the undemocratic and tumultuous mode of operation of the Tories, not providing soundbites that energise them and provide them with ammunition.


Photo: Tom Watson in 2016 | Credit: Rwendland [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Skip to content