BY JOHN ISMAEL
Eight years ago, this week, Smeargate hit the headlines and Gordon Brown’s Labour Government became engulfed in crisis after a key aide resigned and the Tories threatened legal action over explosive leaked emails discussing how to smear senior Conservatives, including David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, with rumours about their private lives. Damian McBride, one of Brown’s closest advisers, quit over his exchange with the Labour blogger Derek Draper, in which the two discussed setting up a website to air scurrilous allegations about opponents, including unfounded allegations about affairs between leading opposition MPs.
Tom Watson, then Cabinet Office minister, was also facing questions after it emerged that McBride referred in one of the emails to Watson “looking at other stories for Labour List”, Draper’s website on leftwing policy. However, Downing Street sources insisted Watson had been discussing an entirely separate announcement about Labour party staffing, which could be posted on the authorised site, rather than being involved in the gossip project nicknamed Red Rag. Watson later won £50,000 from the Mail on Sunday & The Sun after they linked him to Smeargate in ways that a court deemed unfair.
Before the smeargate scandal broke, Tom Watson listed on his website the 25 Dirtiest Political Campaigns In History as one of his favourite books. In spite of Smeargate links not being proven, Watson already had a reputation back in 2009 for treachery – in September 2006 he swiftly resigned from the Blair Government after joining a failed attempt to oust Blair for Brown; his actions described by Blair as “disloyal, discourteous and wrong. I had been intending to dismiss him but wanted to extend to him the courtesy of speaking to him first.”
Back then Watson could fall back on his relationship with his strong man Brown, who he soon replaced in 2010 with unionist Len McCluskey, who went on to become General Secretary of the Unite union. The two were close allies before the last general election and briefly shared a flat together in south London.
No longer would it seem that Watson has anyone’s wing to shelter under. He’s all alone now and being exposed from all flanks.
Last month McCluskey declared that, while he had been campaigning on real issues, Watson had sought to divide the Labour movement. He wrote: “There is another world in our movement, alas. A world of skulduggery, smears and secret plots. That is where you will find Tom Watson. When Labour has needed loyalty he has been sharpening his knife looking for a back to stab. When unity is required, he manufactures division.” McCluskey said Watson “has form as long as his arm” when it comes to political plots. “[Watson] is a product of the manipulative and authoritarian culture of the old trade union right wing, for whom power was an end in itself, and all means acceptable to attain it,” he said.
In Tory circles Watson is known as a pound shop Machiavelli; as someone who has risen to Labour deputy leader in an era when the party has never been so short of talent; when the likes of Cat Smith attend meetings of the Shadow Cabinet. Watson is the kind of politician you get the Telegraph to call a masterful organiser and skilled political assassin just so he stays on as Labour election strategist. On the Labour right, there are rumours doing the rounds that Watson is still the most likely unifying candidate to replace Corbyn as leader, which does not tally at all with the reality on the ground, but suits Tories just perfectly.
For Watson is now in the most precarious position he’s ever been in politically. He’s been Deputy Leader of the Labour Party since 2015 but, after a snide speech at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool which infuriated Labour Party supporters, there is growing talk of Emily Thornberry having a tilt at replacing him. He’s accepted £400,000+ from Max Mosley – the former fascist and one of the key players behind the unpopular attempt at a press gagging regulator called Impress. Tories will never forget Watson’s unethical interventions with the police over Leon Brittan and a lack of an apology to the Brittan family following Brittan’s death. McCluskey, Momentum and most of the existing Labour leadership now distrust and dislike him. Watson is seen by Corbynistas as undermining Jeremy Corbyn at every given opportunity and as being the puppet master behind last summer’s “chicken coup”. The conspiracy theorists amongst the Corbynistas (of which there are plenty) have even gone so far as to suggest that Mosley’s cash has been used to launch a virtual campaign to destabilise Corbyn: “the word among Labour activists is that there has been a sudden, massive upturn in the number of bots and fake accounts swamping pro-Corbyn threads on social media – often along the lines of ‘I used to support Corbyn but…‘ – ever since Max Mosley’s latest couple of hundred grand donation last month to deputy Labour leader and ‘Project Anaconda’ architect Tom Watson.” (Skwawkbox)
For those Tories and others who have waited many years for Comrade Watson’s head on a plate, the current Labour infighting is a joy to behold. Watson has become so reliant on string-pulling that his ego – a graduate of Hull waking up as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party – has inflated to such a point that he has lost vital alliances, become detached from popular support and has failed to notice that Corbyn has so set fire to the Labour Party that the strings he pulls are on fire too.
Watson’s failure to do any significant damage to the strengthening Murdoch Empire has seen previous supporters look at him as a busted flush out for only himself. While all around the Labour Party lose their heads, Watson plots. The plotting is increasingly fantastical while the polls reflect Labour’s grim reality – McCluskey recently resorted to describing his former flatmate as behaving like a “low-budget remake of the Godfather“.
Perhaps most significant of all, should there ever be a mainstream Labour replacement party to which Tories get attracted as well as those few sane Labour politicians, Watson’s rap sheet and mounting enemies assure him of a slammed door in the face. No mainstream backers will go near Watson – he’s proven disloyal and increasingly he’s seen as voter repellent.
Even that graveyard of Labour politicians, the BBC, seems an unlikely destination. A column in the Daily Mirror might be interesting for a few years but dust on the disliked soon gathers… what then? It’s hardly as if the Murdochs will come calling for Watson’s prose.
For now, Watson’s just where his enemies want him – teetering – a pound-shop puppet master whose puppets became so caricatural and obnoxious, whilst hanging from such suspect strings, few bother watching the Tom Watson show anymore.
Emily Thornberry, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. White van man, watch this space!
In all seriousness, #Emily4Deputy is a small price for British voters to pay to see the back of this poisonous, devious oik once and for all.