Tom Watson: It’s not your place to issue warnings to your party leader

Tom Watson MP

Tom Watson MP

Someone really ought to mention to Tom Watson – politely – that he’s the deputy leader of the Labour Party, not the leader.

It isn’t Tom’s place to issue any kind of demand or ultimatum to his boss, and he certainly doesn’t have any right to leak the fact to the press before Labour’s policy – on any issue – has been decided.

Where the proposed air strikes on Syria are concerned, he may think such actions are reasonable because other Labour MPs have treacherously briefed the media against Corbyn already – but he would be wrong in that assumption.

Mr Corbyn is well within his rights to seek support among his Parliamentary party for any proposals he cares to put forward, and he would be right to expect any such deliberations to be kept confidential.

Perhaps Mr Watson has forgotten that the dissenting voices in Labour are a minority. The vast majority of MPs will follow Mr Corbyn, and the overwhelming majority of the party is firmly behind the recently-elected leader.

Indeed, if any moves are made to oust Mr Corbyn, it seems likely the party will split, with the majority of the membership abandoning the remaining rump of pale-blue Blairites. Certainly there are plenty of new members in This Writer’s own branch whose membership is conditional on Corbyn remaining in place.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that Labour Party policy on air strikes in Syria was set at this year’s Labour conference, with a resolution that firmly opposes air strikes unless four conditions had been met – and none of them have.

I’m told that resolution was nodded through by all the MPs who are demanding blood now.

So the Independent article quoted below presents a paradoxical situation in which the deputy leader appears to be hypocritically demanding the right to throw out a policy that he – and all the others – fully supported only a couple of months ago – and Jeremy Corbyn is being presented as the villain of the piece?

Come on, Mr Watson. We deserve a little more respect than that.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has demanded that Jeremy Corbyn abandon plans to force MPs into opposing air strikes on Syria, amid growing alarm that the leader is hardening his stance against military action in preparation for a showdown.

In his strongest intervention to date, Mr Watson – who supports extending RAF raids into Syria – has warned Mr Corbyn he needs to back down and ensure MPs are given a free vote to avoid a damaging public split.

Speaking exclusively to The IoS, Mr Watson said the division within the party could be healed only with a free vote. He said: “Matters of security are perhaps the most solemn decisions that MPs have to make and they have to think about it deeply. After the week that we’ve had, the best way of holding the party together, but allowing MPs to solemnly express what they feel, is for us to have a free vote.”

UPDATE November 29: Mr Watson has tweeted a claim that he has not issued any warnings. This Writer awaits an indication from The Independent that he has contacted the paper and demanded a retraction.

Source: Tom Watson warns Jeremy Corbyn: You must back down over opposing UK air strikes on Isis in Syria | UK Politics | News | The Independent

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18 thoughts on “Tom Watson: It’s not your place to issue warnings to your party leader

  1. AndyH

    It seems surreal that someone to the left of David Cameron is portrayed as being a hardcore Marxist. This is the most scarily right-wing government I have ever known!

  2. Neilth

    As I’ve said on other threads, it is fine to disagree and argue your point of view especially when you have a strongly principled belief. That’s how democratic decisions are reached. Jeremy’s letter to MPs and his polling of the membership for their opinions is an example of that. Each of us is free to express our opinions on policing matters and as contributors to this blog we all believe we have something worthwhile to contribute. It is also acceptable to disagree with the leadership up to the point when a democratic decision is made. If you have then lost the argument then accept that decision and go along with it. That’s what democracy is about.

    It’s possible to take a contrary view to leaders while supporting their leadership, in fact supine acceptance of their position is unhelpful and contributes nothing.

    What some MPs are doing in using this debate to attack and undermine the leadership is wrong and cheap and contributes nothing valuable. Threats to resign or to attempt a coup are stupid and unworthy (though I’m not sure if anyone has actually threatened resignation outside the imagination of the media).

    I, personally, believe that Daesh are beyond reason and are behaving abominably and that innocent civilians caught up in their rabid rule of terror should be able to demand protection especially from those countries like the UK which have been instrumental in creating the conditions which encouraged the rise of this form of fundamentalism in the first place.

  3. maik

    In his acceptance speech for Deputy Leader Tom Watson promised to hear the voices of Labour Party members and i tweeted him “Do not forget your words @tomwatson because we won’t >: |” _ within 2-3 hours his account had blocked me

  4. andy

    Tom Watson has got me in the odd position of agreeing with Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn but not parts of the labour party

  5. shaun

    After the Iraq and Afghan wars there is a large section of the British population that are very sceptical about entering into this form of conflict and a lot of these, from my own experience are of the young professional middle-class – those Labour would like to vote for it. A lot of these, I had believed obstinately refused to vote Labour at the last election, but it seems from Mr. Watson’s comments they were right and I was wrong? The Daily Mirror in its survey found that most people are not in favour of bombing Syria and that after a very concerted media campaign that was pro-bombing. Personally, I can not see how bombing can solve the terrorist curse; unless, it is as a prelude to putting troops on the ground. France, Russia and the USA have enough air-power to wipe Syria of the face of the Earth without loosing either plains or pilots – unless they start shooting each other? Why is it that Labour MP’s can not think at least one-step ahead of the latest Tory led media campaign – this was disastrous when we followed their economic myth making of 2010. If just less than 50 per cent of voters are prepared to support bombing after a massive pro-bombing media campaign what will the support be in one, two, six.. months time. What will it if the campaign does not go very well and troops have to be put on the ground and body bags arrive on our soil from another foreign adventure that has produced little or no benefit? (keep in mind that Iraq war – and Afghan?- war made matters worse).
    MP’s need to jump into a metaphoric helicopter and engage in some forward (and backward) thinking rather than constantly reacting to Tory sponsored media campaigns. I know it gets you media time, but, history shows that it will in the future too. However, then your words will be used to shackle you to a failing policy, which, otherwise, could have been a point difference and strength.


    P.S. Tom Watson, is last MP I would have thought to get caught by these long-term media traps thought up between Murdoch et. al. and David Cameron.

      1. Jo

        I thought with him as deputy there would be a bit of balance, maybe I was naive in thinking he was a grown up and could present himself appropriately. Should’ve realised, those towards the right don’t seem to be able to do that.

  6. oldwaif

    On the contrary, The Right Honourable Jeremy Corbyn MP leader of HM’s opposition will exhibit tremendous authority to the Labour Party and to the country if he is able to insist on ‘a whip’ to have all Labour MPs vote against David Cameron’s disgraceful clamour to bomb Syria. Jeremy Corbyn became leader on the back of a huge historic public, democratically delivered mandate delivered to him and the Labour Party other political Party leaders can only dream of. That leadership was offered by an enthusiastic 100,000s of the young and old of Britain who joined and rejoined the Labour Party precisely because of Jeremy Corbyn. Present incumbent Labour MPs, whether of the old guard or recent new, need to be totally aware – have no qualms in realising that Labour is changing for the better for all.

  7. mohandeer

    As a paid up member of the Labour Party one might expect to hear from the Labour Party Member in a Conservative held seat as to what the wishes of the LP membership were in regard to the bombing of Syria. To date, no such enquiry has been made. How then, can this particular Labour MP lay claim to representing their constituents when the wishes of said constituents are not known? There’s BS and there’s LP parliamentarians who do not know or care what the membership wants, they will vote according to their own agenda. Sound familiar? It should, we are now, particularly with the bombing of Syria issue, right back where we started before JC came along and all the way back to May 2015 and 2003 when Blair decided what 68% of the country could do with their wishes, when poll after poll made it quite clear that Britain did not want an illegal war in Iraq. And Labour wonder why people didn’t vote for them in May? It’s like my mum used to say, “what do you expect from a cuddy(donkey) but a kick?”
    Now where did I leave my teeth?

  8. hayfords

    MPs of all the various colours represent their constituents first and their party activists second. Once an MP is elected, it should not be necessary to go back to his local party or constituents on a per vote basis. The MP was elected as someone that people have confidence in to do what is sensible.

    In the case of the current Syria vote, don’t forget that Corbyn said in Parliament a few years ago that such votes should be done on a free vote basis. If you add to that the fact that Corbyn defied his party on votes over 500 times then it would seem inconceivable that he would not have a free vote. That is apart from the fact that the majority of the shadow cabinet do not support his view and a whipped vote will generate key resignations.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      We know from experience that MPs do not represent their constituents first; they represent their parties, and the manifestos on which they were elected, first, followed by their own personal opinions in free votes, also known as ‘votes of conscience’.

      You are correct that it should not be necessary to go back to constituents on a ‘per vote’ basis, because they are expected to follow their party’s policy.

      However, in cases like the Syria vote, events have taken place which mean the mood of the party and the wider public should be reassessed. Labour’s current position is that air strikes in Syria are to be opposed unless four criteria have been met – it was passed at the Labour conference in September and represents the will of the Party. The criteria have not been met, so every Labour MP is duty-bound to oppose air strikes. They supported that policy at the time; they would be hypocrites to go against it.

      But events have moved on and it could be argued that there are good reasons to attack after all. That is why Labour is consulting members for their views now.

      Corbyn’s comments on a free vote were also made prior to the current situation. He is perfectly entitled to change his mind in response to the situation. As for the numerous times he himself rebelled, any examination of recent UK history will reveal to current Labour members that he was right to rebel, more often than not.

      Any Shadow Cabinet member who resigns over this matter, considering the current Party policy and the consultation, will leave in disgrace.

      1. bevchat

        I quite agree Mike…but we need to take stock of what happened in Iraq…how many countries does it take to stop ISIS and obliterate a country in order to try and stop Islamic extremists…One cannot bomb an ideology only create more extremists by doing such….for ISIS will only recruit more worldwide….not just in the Middle-East…How are they going to stop that happening?

  9. bevchat

    Jeremy Corbyn is standing by his principles and is right to be cautious over the UK going in with bombs attacking Syria….it wont achieve anything and Tom Watson should stand back and think before he starts dictating what his leader should do!!!

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Do you think?
      I reckon all role-holding Labour MPs need to be kept in place now, as the results of their decisions become known.

Comments are closed.