Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party last year, Tom Watson has tried very hard to cultivate an image of himself of someone trying very hard in difficult circumstances to do his best for the party, an honest broker, a safe pair of hands. This self-image took a severe hit during the Comedy Coup attempt by the PLP rebels but it sank with all hands in his interview in the Guardian this week. Channeling his inner Captain Renault from Casablanca, Watson was ‘shocked’, yes ‘shocked’ about news of a coup against Corbyn. Obviously he had nothing to do with any of it, ‘I’m just doing what I can’.
He felt that Guardian readers wouldn’t consider his calling on Corbyn to ‘stand down’ an act of disloyalty as deputy leader (I don’t know about Guardian readers but it’s a racing certainty that if the deputy leader position was up for re-election, Watson would be lucky to come second).
He wants to bring back the electoral college system for electing the Labour leader. He describes dropping this as Ed Miliband’s ‘terrible error of judgment’. Under the electoral college, in a leadership election the PLP, the unions and the membership were each allocated one-third of the votes. The change was brought in to reduce the power of the unions within local Labour parties, because the unions were moving to the left. The purpose of increasing the role of the members in a leadership election and then also supporters recruited from Labour voters was also to drown out the influence of the left. Unfortunately for Watson and friends, both members and supporters appear to have shifted leftwards.
In a dig at Corbyn, he says that he’s also working on proposals ‘to have women holding some of the key offices of state’ although it didn’t seem to bother him much when Ed Miliband was leader [in a similar vein, Jess Phillips has complained that there has been a rash of Labour mayoral candidate selections and elections that have all resulted in men being chosen. Fair enough but then she argues that this is the fault of Corbyn failing to promote women candidates despite the fact that these mayoral decisions are local party elections and despite the fact that when she had the chance to support a woman challenger against Corbyn for the leadership, she nominated Smith rather than Eagle]. Watson also wants to remove the right of the Labour leader to choose the Shadow Cabinet, although again there did not seem to be any problem with this when Miliband brought it in.
But the real zinger in the interview is Watson’s claim that ‘Trotsky entrists’ are up to their nefarious tricks – ‘old hands twisting young arms’. It is a sad but true law of the universe that when right wing Labour types start to lose an argument, when a majority adopt left wing ideas, when new people are attracted into the party, then it can only be explained by the fact that the forces of darkness (aka ‘the Trots’) are wielding their fiendish influence.
Of course, if any moderately intelligent person stops to think about that for more than a nanosecond, then it is obviously idiotic. Something like 300,000 people have joined the party in the last year. The idea that there is a significant number of ‘Trots’ within this group is laughable. If you collected together every single active member of all the Trotskyist groups in the country, there would be substantially fewer than the numbers that have attended the Corbyn rallies in places like Bristol or Liverpool. I doubt that there are more than 2-3000 active members of these groups in the whole of the UK. In short they are irrelevant to what is taking place in the Labour party. And Watson’s wacky claims assumes that they are all joining the Labour party, something a lot of them wouldn’t be caught dead doing.
Watson’s rant illustrates more than just his panic at what’s taking place in the Labour party: it also shows his contempt for both the internal democracy of the party and for the younger members. He seems to think that the younger, newer members couldn’t possibly have come to their own left wing conclusions without some sinister Trotskyist guru behind them.
The interview was published to widespread mockery and, in order to look a little less lame, Watson fired off a letter to Corbyn – see below – demanding to know what his position was on all this ‘infiltration’ (Corbyn’s office has let it be known that he regarded Watson’s accusations as peddling conspiracy theories).
The most entertaining part of the letter is when he turns to the ‘evidence’ that he claims to have. He refers to a document that purports to show widespread infiltration by far left groups. It does no such thing as you might expect, but judge for yourself. He later says that he is attaching another ‘document that I am reliably informed is being shared between Momentum members with links to far-left parties’. Notice the tell tale weasel phrase ‘I am reliably informed’. He then quotes from this ‘document’ and this is where his problems really begin, because many people (like Dave Osland) quickly realised that he’d simply lifted a section of a review of Michael Crick’s book on Militant from the website of the right wing Labour Progress group. To make matters worse he clearly didn’t tell the Mirror who thought they had a belting scoop. Just compare the extract of the ‘document’ Watson claims to have (but hasn’t published) with the Progress piece:
This bargain basement Zinoviev letter exposes Watson for the pathetic faker that he is. Schoolboy plagiarism to try to embarrass Corbyn. The reason he hasn’t published the ‘document’ is that it doesn’t exist, other than as a cut and paste job from the Progress website review of Crick’s book on Militant in the 1980s.
The Labour Establishment really are now in a state of panic but just as the Comedy Coup showed what a bunch of incompetents they are, so too has this amateurish nonsense exposed Watson, and as he himself said to the Guardian: ‘I know I’ve got a reputation for being a fixer. I know it’s my label. But the truth is, I’ve never been a very good fixer. And I couldn’t fix this.’ Well, at least we can agree on that.