It is surely one of life’s inalienable truisms that it is always much better to have an enemy who slaps you in the face than a friend who stabs you in the back.
It is that pearl of wisdom which occupied my mind as I read Tom Watson’s excruciating first public interview since dramatically standing down from Parliament and resigning as the Deputy leader of the Labour Party.
“Does the Labour party in its current form actually want power? The ultimate betrayal of working-class people is not to take power when you can, and if you are a party that believes in power through elections, then that requires pragmatism, prioritisation, compromise and collaboration.”
Those words from Watson are shrill, shoddy and senseless in the context of a man who is more single-handedly responsible for the internal strife and divisions which so significantly wounded Corbyn’s authority among some voters, particularly the older layers more susceptible to the billionaire mainstream media narrative because it tends to be the source for their information and news compared to the younger generation who are increasingly more savvy and tuned in to the toxic and distorted nature of the mainstream outlets (among 18-39 year olds Corbyn won hands down).
Disloyalty is both Shameful and Corrosive
Tom Watson was as disloyal a Deputy Leader as you could imagine. His role in the eventual defeat of Corbyn is shameful and although he probably doesn’t realise it, the interview he gave actually condemns him wholesale as the weak, scheming hypocrite he was. Against all the odds Corbyn won the Labour Party leadership election in 2015 with a ringing endorsement from a renewed and reinvigorated membership that climbed by several hundred thousand. It was a victory for a socialist in a party which had long lost and abandoned its socialist soul. A new era in Labour politics was about to begin, and Watson was Corbyn’s elected Deputy from whom you could expect nothing but loyalty.
Personally I remember being over-joyed when they both won those positions of leadership. I knew Jeremy since the mass campaign of civil disobedience against the hated poll tax. We met in 1989 when I addressed the Campaign Group of left wing Labour MPs to seek their support for the campaign that was already underway in Scotland and was about to explode onto the scene in England and Wales in March 1990. He joined the likes of Tony Benn, Terry Fields, Dave Nellist, Pat Wall and others in enthusiastically supporting our mass non-payment campaign despite its illegal nature. ‘Better to break the law than break the poor’ was the philosophy that guided them to support us.
Meeting and Befriending Tom Watson
I didn’t meet Tom Watson until more recently. If you read the excellent book he co-authored with the investigative journalist Martin Hickman, ‘DIAL M FOR MURDOCH’ (Penguin: 2012), you will see my name crop up on several occasions and in a significant fashion. Tom Watson had become interested in the News International phone hacking story which was circulating in media circles for several years but reached fever pitch around 2010. His private Parliamentary secretary at the time was the very capable Karie Murphy from Glasgow. She had earned her labour movement stripes during years of organising health workers in Glasgow to fight for improved working conditions within the underfunded health service. She was a Scottish Labour Party stalwart so not an obvious ally of mine as my socialist party at the time was occupying the socialist ground Labour used to stand on.
However Karie Murphy’s Scottish roots meant she had an awareness of my epic battle against the News of the World who had printed defamatory lies about me in 2004 which led to a mammoth libel trial in front of an Edinburgh High Court jury which saw me emerge victorious. Using their immense power and influence in Scotland to lean on the judiciary, police and politicians News of the World were able to ensure a ridiculous, costly and unprecedented perjury enquiry ensued which quite remarkably targeted me and my family instead of the News of the World and their witnesses.
My Role in Exposing Phone Hacking Scandal Recognised by Watson
Evidence given at the remarkable trial that followed in 2010 assisted Tom Watson’s interest in exposing the illegal phone hacking activities at the News of the World. Watson travelled to Glasgow in early March 2012 to address a public event promoting his book. I was invited to attend but couldn’t as I was subject to a Home Detention Curfew (HDC) tag having been sentenced to a three year jail term in January 2011. I couldn’t leave my home after 7pm in the evening for a six month period.
On that Friday night Tom Watson travelled to meet me at my home after his book launch. We had been writing to each other during my period of incarceration and he wanted to thank me in person for all my work in helping to expose the criminality at the heart of the Murdoch News of the World and Sun Empire. He had one of those letters printed in full on pages 181-182 of his book. I remember being anxious about our meeting. Watson was a Junior Minister under Blair in the Ministry of Defence. He was then a Minister under Gordon Brown briefly and a Shadow Minister under Ed Miliband. He didn’t have a political pedigree that I approved of. Apart from our mutual distaste for Murdoch’s newspapers polluting journalism with criminality, lies and grotesque distortions of the truth what else did we have in common?
Despite my misgivings the meeting went well and Tom was very amicable and glowing in his praise for me in standing up to the bullies in the News of the World. ‘You may have gone to prison but that newspaper has now been shamed into closure and your conviction is completely unsafe’ Tom told me that night. He made me promise to come and visit him in Parliament as he assured me more revelations about the News of the World and Murdoch would be revealed. Later in 2012 when my HDC restriction expired I travelled to London to meet with the lawyers dealing with my own phone hacking case.
After all the denials under oath by several News of the World editors, journalists and executives the evidence was eventually released that I and several members of my family had indeed been illegally subjected to phone hacks on numerous occasions. They were forced to pay me and close members of my family compensatory awards but we would have preferred an actual court case. The vagaries of the law in civil cases prevented that from happening.
Lost in a Desert of Pragmatism
While in London Tom Watson insisted I visit him in Westminster and have lunch together. Again Tom was enthusiastically kind in his tributes to me over the News of the World and other political battles. I challenged him on his previous support for Blair and Brown in Labour governments which embarked on illegal wars, abolished free education and introduced draconian welfare cuts. His response to me was philosophical and memorable. He said he had lost his way in politics for many years because he had lost sight of what had initially sparked his involvement which was a thirst to change the world for the better inspired by his upbringing by socialist and communist parents. He repeated one statement over and over:
“I was politically lost Tommy. Lost in a desert of pragmatism where power was for power’s sake and nothing else. It was empty. Devoid of purpose.”
That was in 2012. I watched and listened to Tom Watson’s deliberations thereafter and considered him a friend. We shared some more calls and emails and his role in exposing the hypocritical criminality at the heart of Murdoch’s newspapers and other tabloids was exemplary. When he won the Deputy Leadership contest alongside Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 I cheered. Now he could pursue political power with a purpose in an oasis of socialist hope and vision freed from his desert of pragmatism.
My hopes and expectations were dashed with a vengeance. I have watched, read and witnessed nothing short of betrayal and disloyalty from Watson. His role as Deputy Leader has been shameful and shameless in its disregard for the basic tenets of friendship and loyalty. On issue after issue, TV appearance after TV appearance Watson used his powerful and influential role not to support Corbyn, unite the party or promote the democratically decided programme of his party but to undermine Corbyn and his socialist policies at every turn.
Collaborate With Your Friends Not the Enemy
Tom Watson spoke of the need for “collaboration” during his interview but sadly his collaboration was with the enemy, not his party and twice elected leader.
All the publicity about this Watson interview predictably concentrates on his comments about the apparent “brutality” within the Corbyn regime and how Tom felt isolated. That serves the pathetic and distorted narrative being pushed by a mainstream media desperate to bring down not just Corbyn but more importantly the socialist ideas and policies Corbyn represented.
Talk of a “disastrous result” and a “deplorable leader” is all manufactured and billionaire media refined pish. Corbyn’s votes total was actually remarkable in the face of the incredible barriers he faced.
The relentless media diatribe of invective and toxic vitriol designed to portray Corbyn as variously a “terrorist sympathiser”, a “traitor”, “unpatriotic”, a “spy”, incompetent, and a bungling but also racist and “untrustworthy” individual was without precedent and constitutes the worst hatchet job in history. The baseless and outrageous “anti-Semite” accusation just ran and ran and ran without a morsel of evidence. The credibility Watson and others gave to those accusations is a badge of immortal shame.
Corbyn’s Legacy is One of Success Not Failure
Watson and scores of Labour MPs did all they could to aid the mainstream mauling of Jeremy Corbyn before, during and now after the December election. Yet Corbyn’s legacy is not one of embarrassing failure but respectable and credible performance in the face of insurmountable odds. Even sources not friendly to Corbyn or his political project have to honestly admit he has left the Labour party in better shape than Blair, Miliband, Kinnock or Brown did.
The cold undistorted facts show Corbyn has been one of Labour’s most successful leaders but don’t expect to read that in any mainstream biased analysis.
Tom Watson’s interview should be hogging TV and newspaper coverage for different reasons to those currently promoted. His first time admission to what he did in 2016 during the second Labour leadership election in the space of 12 months shows you all you need to know about Watson’s role:
“My role is to unify the party, hold things together and make it work in difficult times… I ask Watson if it’s true that he voted for Owen Smith in the subsequent leadership challenge. Watson seems taken aback, and stutters to an answer. “Erm, I never said who I voted for. Nor did I endorse any candidate.” Another pause. “I did vote for Owen, but I’ve never said it publicly before”.
By his own words Tom should stand condemned as a disloyal, deceitful and destructive lieutenant. Jeremy Corbyn won a landslide leadership election victory in September 2015. His 59% support was the largest mandate won by any leader. However the disloyal band of Blairites within the party could never accept that democratically expressed will of the membership. They did all they could to undermine him and eventually engineered another leadership election within 12 months of his initial victory. What did his Deputy Leader do in the midst of this battle? Fight hard for his elected leader? Did he hell! He voted for his opponent. Secretly. Cowardly. Deceitfully. Yet, Corbyn didn’t just win again, he won with an even larger majority of the votes, almost 62%.
Tom Watson, if you had any honour at that moment you would have resigned. You voted against your boss. You backed his opponent. Yet you stayed in post for another three years continuing to undermine him, sow division and spread disgraceful slurs about him. I’m sorry to say it, Tom but you should be ashamed of yourself. The following words are appropriate for you:
“The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.”