LABOUR deputy leader Tom Watson has announced he is standing down as an MP in a huge blow for the party’s election campaign.
Tom Watson, who is one of Labour’s best-known figures, has represented the constituency of West Bromwich East since 2001.
The news will be seen as the final proof that the hard-left of Labour have taken over the entire party, with moderates now nearly all squeezed out.
And those moderates left in the fold fear the party will now lurch even more to the left.
In a tweet last night Mr Watson, who has repeatedly clashed with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit, wrote: “After 35 years in full-time politics, I’ve decided to step down and will be campaigning to overcome the Tory-fuelled public health crisis.
“I’m as committed to Labour as ever.
“I will spend this election fighting for brilliant Labour candidates and a better future for our country.”
In the shock announcement, he added: “The decision is personal, not political.”
Mr Corbyn thanked Mr Watson in a luke-warm letter, adding: “This is not the end of our work together.”
Labour’s Deputy Leader also found himself in a vulnerable position as he repeatedly clashed with hard-Left supporters of Jeremy Corbyn who tried to remove him in an attempted coup which he described as a “drive-by shooting”.
Despite their differences, Mr Corbyn said he was “proud and glad” to have worked with him over the past four years.
Mr Watson’s demands for a second referendum had also put him at odds with many voters in his constituency where about 70 per cent voted Leave.
It was revealed the Tories were targeting his West Bromwich East seat in a secret “decapitation” strategy drawn up by election planners.
He held his West Bromwich East seat with a 7,713 majority at the 2017 general election.
LABOUR’S DEPUTY LEADER
2001: Elected MP for West Bromwich East
2003: Voted in favour of Iraq War
2004: Handed his first role in government as a whip
2006: Forced to quit the Government after being exposed as part of ‘Curry House plot’ to oust Tony Blair as PM and install Gordon Brown.
2007: Returns to Government as a whip after Gordon Brown takes over as PM.
2009: The expenses scandal revealed he had claimed the maximum £4,800 for food in a single year. The scandal also revealed that he got a free pizza wheel after he once spent more than £150 in Marks & Spencer.
2012: Used Parliamentary privilege in the Commons to suggest a VIP paedophile ring may have existed in Westminster the past. Handed allegations to the Met Police, which led to Operation Midland.
2015: Elected as Labours deputy leader to serve alongside Jeremy Corbyn
2015: Condemned and forced to apologise after it emerged he had pushed the police into investigating rape allegations against former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, whose family wasn’t told the case had been dropped before his death.
March 2019: Described by another falsely accused former MP – Harvey Proctor – as a “vehicle for conspiracy theorists”.
July 2019: Carl Beach, the man who originally made the accusations under the pseudonym ‘Nick’, was found guilty of inventing the Westminster VIP paedophile claims.
September 2019: Survived a coup attempt by Corbyn allies to remove him as Deputy Leader
And Mr Watson’s credibility had been dented by his vocal support for the VIP sex claims against prominent politicians by fantasist Carl Beech, which have since been exposed as fabricated.
Daniel Janner, the son of Lord Janner, one of the victims of Scotland Yard’s bungled investigation, said Mr Watson’s position had become “untenable”.
He said: “Tom Watson whipped up the post-Savile hysteria which damaged falsely accused innocent prominent figures like my late father Lord Janner.
“His position had become untenable. He has stood down because he would have been defeated.”
Former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, another victim, said: “By standing down, Tom Watson has done his constituents a great favour.
“The next parliament will be a healthier place without him. He will be unable to use public office in future to promote false accusers for personal and political ends.
“Although this is not the end of it for Tom Watson, I feel vindicated.”
In 2012 Mr Watson had claimed there was “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10”.
He later met Beech – known as “Nick” before a judge took away his anonymity – and described one of his conversations in 2014 as “very, very traumatic and difficult”.
When Lord Brittan died in January 2015, Mr Watson – quoting an email from Beech whom he described as a ‘survivor’ – wrote in a newspaper column: “Yesterday, one survivor said to me that…that Britain was ‘as close to evil as a human being could get'”.
An officer in the case is understood to have indicated that Mr Watson’s interest was a priority issue for the police.
After Beech’s conviction he said: “I reassured Nick that the police had made clear that all allegations of historic sex abuse would be taken seriously and treated sensitively.
“That is what the police had asked me to do. It was not my role to judge whether victims’ stories were true.”
The West Midlands rather than the North is now emerging as the most important battleground for the December 12 poll.
Mr Watson is the most prominent of a number of centrist Labour MPs to leave the party – or quit parliament altogether – since hard Left leader Mr Corbyn became leader in 2016.
He is a friend of Luciana Berger, who left Labour to form the breakaway Change UK party, and has since defected to the Liberal Democrats.