Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Is Watson the 'King Maker' in Labour's leadership election?

by Les May
Originally published in September 2015 an article in the Daily Telegraph contained the following passages; '

During the leadership election, the New Statesman quoted a Labour insider talking about Mr Corbyn and Mr Watson as Trotsky and Stalin. It’s an apt metaphor. Mr Corbyn is an ideologue and a thinker, while Mr Watson is an organiser who understands supremely well how to marshal and employ political power, sometimes to destructive effect. A mere junior minister in Tony Blair’s government, in 2006 Mr Watson assembled and deployed the forces that drove Labour’s most electorally successful leader from office the following year.' and 'A lethally efficient political fixer, Mr Watson works tirelessly behind the scenes to bring the Labour movement under his control.' 

The New Statesman passage published some five weeks before Corbyn was elected leader read;

'And if, as looks likely, Tom Watson becomes deputy leader, would his opponents in the PLP risk handing full control over the party to Watson? One insider described the transition as “swapping Trotsky for Stalin” 

The Stalin jibe comes from the fact that to seize power he constantly expanded the functions of his role as General Secretary of the Central Committee, all the while eliminating any opposition. I did not see these articles at the time. But now that I have it has made me wonder. Are we missing something in thinking the Labour leadership contest is between Corbyn and Smith?

At this point I had better declare an interest. As in the last leadership election contest I will not have a vote nor am I a member of Momentum. But I would readily vote for a Labour party lead by Corbyn. So what I have to say about Smith is not entirely impartial. I find Owen Smith 'a lightweight'. If this is the best 'the plotters' can do then I'm surprised they had the cheek to bother. He may be running on much the same platform as Corbyn, but I'm not sure he has 'the bottle' to carry it out when faced with the murmurings from the still present Blairites (a.k.a Bitterites). Certainly I don't think he would be half so tenacious as Corbyn in insisting that he had a 'mandate' from the membership if Labour's poll ratings did not start to pick up quickly. But perhaps that is the point of the exercise. If Watson really is trying to bring the Labour movement under his control, as the writer of the Telegraph article suggested a year ago, then what better way to do it? Watson has shown a remarkable enthusiasm for using the money from members who joined the Labour party after mid January to make sure they are not eligible to vote. The assumption is that this will help Smith by reducing votes for Corbyn.

Perhaps the expectation is that a Smith win would lead to the pro-Corbyn membership dwindling away and the remainder would accept the safety of a more centralised control and as one Corbyn supporter put it to me 'act as postmen for Labour candidates at election time'. That's something the Parliamentary Labour Party might find very much to its taste if recent performance is anything to go by. If that line of thinking is correct then it would make Watson not just 'the king maker' in this election, but 'the power behind the throne' for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the Labour leadership contest isn't about politics after all. Perhaps its really about who wields the power. If you do have a vote in the ballot please think very carefully how you use it.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/12/tom-watson-masterful-organiserskilled-political-assassin-and-je/ http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/08/what-happens-if-jeremycorbyn-wins https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin

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