Watson becomes shop steward of Labour’s Corbyn skeptic majority in Parliament

Tom Watson is in effect setting himself up as shop steward of a Parliamentary Labour Party Credit: PA

The second most important political act today was the impassioned declaration of near UDI by the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson.

His sorrowful response to the resignation of Berger, Umunna, Leslie, Smith, Gapes, Coffey and Shuker was that they were wrong to resign but they were correct to identify that the party he loves has lost its way, especially over anti-Semitism.

Watson was in effect setting himself up as shop steward of a parliamentary Labour Party that feels almost totally detached from the Labour leader and the shadow cabinet.

In an initiative without precedent (that I know of), as deputy leader he will set up an informal backbench structure that some will doubtless see as a shadow shadow cabinet of Labour moderates, or a shadow cabinet in waiting, to rejuvenate social democratic and democratic socialist politics.

Former Labour MPs (left to right) Chris Leslie (Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, (both hidden left), Gavin Shuker, Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna. Credit: PA

His idea is to encourage groups of backbench Labour MPs to develop new policies to tackle the big challenges of the age, such as automation, climate change and ageing societies.

His concern is that if more Labour MPs are not given a voice in their party, they will follow the seven refuseniks out the door.

As I just said on News at Ten, what is at stake is nothing less than the survival of Labour as a party with a serious and credible claim to govern. Or that at least is the unambiguous implication of his attempt to re-enfranchise his parliamentary colleagues.

The inevitable headlines are understandably about the attacks on Corbyn for failing to take appropriate punitive action against anti-Semites and ignoring the majority of Labour supporters and members who want a Brexit referendum.

But what Watson has brought into the open is the widespread view among Labour MPs that the party’s flaws under Corbyn go both wider and deeper.