Watson says stepping down from Labour role was ‘very difficult decision’

Tom Watson has described quitting as Labour’s deputy leader and turning down the chance to run as an MP in the General Election as a “very difficult decision”.

Mr Watson called himself as “a kid from Kidderminster” who never imagined he would work in one of the party’s top roles, in his resignation letter.

Since joining the party on his 15th birthday in 1982, Mr Watson has moved from a being student campaigner to being a thorn in the side of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

In announcing his decision as General Election campaigning officially got into full swing, he said that now is the time for “a different kind of life” and the “decision is personal, not political”.

His decision comes just weeks after he survived a call for his deputy leadership position to be abolished, in the hours before the party’s September conference.

Mr Watson was elected Labour deputy in September 2015 and has publicly clashed with leader Jeremy Corbyn many times since.

He has also been a leading player in the call for the party to back staying in the European Union in any future Brexit referendum.

As a student, he had campaigned for reform of Labour’s youth section and moved the resolution to set up Young Labour in 1992. He was elected national chairman of Labour Students.

Mr Watson worked in the trade union movement until 2001, when he was elected Labour MP for West Bromwich East.

He served as a minister in the Labour government, sat in the shadow cabinet and also had a stint as the party’s deputy chairman.

This left him with a reputation in some quarters as a heavyweight political bruiser, although he rejected this description.

He quit as deputy chairman at the height of the Falkirk candidate selection row in 2013.

Mr Watson, a former flatmate of union boss Len McCluskey, also served as minister for digital engagement under Gordon Brown.

He was given charge of the 2015 election campaign by then-leader Ed Miliband and in 2016 took the post of shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.

Mr Watson gained wider public prominence when he turned his attention from political opponents to the Murdoch media empire and helped expose the phone-hacking scandal.

The outspoken politician has also faced criticism over his comments about an alleged Westminster VIP paedophile ring, particularly after the accuser was found guilty of perverting the course of justice, and fraud.

Earlier this year, Mr Watson said it had not been his role to judge whether convicted fantasist and fraudster Carl Beech had been telling the truth.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson

He said he only once met Beech, who was then known by the pseudonym “Nick”, in 2014, two years after speaking out in Parliament about rumours of the existence of a high-profile paedophile ring.

Mr Watson also declined to apologise to Harvey Proctor, a Conservative Tory MP in the 1970s and 1980s and one of Beech’s victims, but said he appreciated he was “hurt and angry”.

Despite conceding policy differences with his new leader on key issues, Mr Watson has said there is “zero chance” of a successful coup against Mr Corbyn and vowed to back him “100%”.

Away from politics, Mr Watson announced in May 2018 that he was the “thinnest I’ve been” since entering Parliament, after a dramatic weight loss of 39 kg.

He said his motivation to take better care of his health came after he read about Labour politicians who had died early.

Mr Watson said one part of his new regime was Bulletproof coffee, usually made using butter, which he credited as “a way of getting saturated fats into your diet which means you’re not as hungry during the day”.

He intends to still play an active part in the General Election campaign.

Mr Corbyn, who said he was “proud and glad” to have worked with Mr Watson, added: “I respect your conclusion that it is in the best interests of you and your family that you stand down.”