05 June 2009

What is Tom Watson really up to?

At the end of the most tumultuous week in British politics since May 1997 it is easy to forget the resignation of the low-profile loyal junior Cabinet Office Minister, Tom Watson MP. Devoted readers of the blog will recall that I have met Watson and praised him for his role as Minister for Digital Engagement.  However, as observers of the Westminster Village know well, Tom Watson is not just the cuddly figure who makes friends on Twitter, but a key figure in the "inner circle" (copyright, Caroline Flint MP) of people around Gordon Brown, and has frequently been described by others as Brown's "enforcer". 

Watson made his resignation letter into a blog post earlier today and much as trailed in the press, he has cited pressures on his young family as the reason for his departure from government. No doubt such pressures do exist and not for one minute do I pretend to know what he has been going through, although he has recently won a libel case against the Daily Mail based an article written by Iain Dale on the Damian McBride affair. 

But if the "painful" pressure on his young family is to be taken at face value, what are we to make of the enigmatic statement at the end of his letter:

I would still like to make a contribution as a campaigner, helping you to lead Labour into the next general election, which I know we both believe Labour can and must win. We both came into politics for the same reasons; a passionate belief in decency, justice and fairness for ordinary people and an equally certain conviction that only Labour has the courage and the competence to make it happen.

That is why I will remain alongside you as we fight and win the next election under your leadership. Though not, with some wistful regret, as a member of your government.

My suspicion is that in order to serve Gordon Brown more effectively, Watson has had to ditch his ministerial role.  As a minister, Watson had civil servants who had be shielded from his political activity, he had ministerial responsibilities to undertake (the ministerial trip to New York written about below which was curtailed by the political mini-crisis in September 2008) and so on.  He's free from those responsibilities and restrictions from now on and can dedicate himself fully to Brown, who is of course, a bit short-staffed since the departure of McBride. 

It's a shame really - as I told him via Twitter today - the greater good might have been better served by keeping the ministerial role and ditching the "save Brown" one. 

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