Born in Sheffield, Tom Watson rose through Labour's ranks to become deputy under Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. Now, other MPs suspect he is out to split the party. He talks to Kevin Maguire about poetry, weightloss—and doing "what's right"by Kevin Maguire / March 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
If there’s any truth in Carl von Clausewitz’s aphorism that “war is the continuation of politics by other means” then perhaps Sun Tzu’s The Art of War illuminates Tom Watson’s manoeuvrings.
Watson read the 6th century BC Chinese military strategist’s treatise before he was briefly appointed a junior defence minister in the final government of Tony Blair—a Labour leader he soon helped to bring down. Watson’s allies believe it also partly shaped his tactics in battles with Jeremy Corbyn’s praetorian guard and sometimes the Labour Caesar himself. Retreating to the hills in the face of overwhelming left opposition after Corbyn’s 2016 second leadership victory and surprisingly strong showing in the 2017 general election, Labour’s deputy leader kept his powder dry.
Now that deep divisions over Europe and the poisonous row over anti-Semitism have visibly weakened Corbyn, Watson has emerged to resume combat. In the aftermath of eight Labour MPs leaving the party to create the Independent Group (TIG), Watson released a heartfelt video on Facebook where he sympathised with those quitting, refusing to criticise them—strikingly saying their decision was “premature” rather than wrong—and even echoing some of their concerns. Then he launched the Future Britain Group to rally MPs in the centre and on the right of the party—immediately gathering 130 Labour MPs to his cause. This triggered a frequently heard question in Westminster: “What is Tommy up to?”
The answer is surprising: pondering overtures to join a government of national unity. According to close confidants of Watson, pro-European Tories have approached him to inquire if he would be willing to serve. The idea sounds fanciful, requiring a political earthquake. Yet these are volatile times, turbulent and unpredictable. Asked about these rumours, he gave an intriguing response, referencing a Labour hero who had served under Churchill during the Second World War.
“Like Ernie Bevin I prefer Labour governments and I hope we never get to a point where our economy or security is so in peril that we get a government of national unity,” he told Prospect, before adding, “if needs must, we have to then do what’s right.”
Thomas Anthony Watson spent the first month of his life sleeping in the top drawer from a chest in his grandparents’ house. Born in Sheffield in 1967, he was named after a Yorkshire…