Labour bombshell as Tom Watson announces he is quitting Parliament and as deputy leader
Tom Watson is to quit Parliament and as Labour's deputy leader at the general election, he has announced.
In a bombshell move, he said it was time to "start a different kind of life" away from the political frontline.
He insisted it was a "personal, not political" decision and not connected to the well-documented differences he has had with Jeremy Corbyn over Labour's left-wing direction.
Mr Watson, who has been the MP for West Bromwich East since 2001, revealed his decision in a letter to the Labour leader on the first day of the general election campaign.
He said he wanted to devote his life to "campaigning to overcome the Tory-fuelled public health crisis", as well issues such as gambling reform and press reform.
"The last few years have been among the most transformational of my personal life, second only to becoming a proud father of two beautiful children," he wrote. "I’ve become healthy for the first time, and I intend to continue with this work in the years to come.
"I want to thank you for the decency and courtesy you have shown me over the last four years, even in difficult times.
"Our many shared interests are less well known than our political differences, but I will continue to devote myself to the things we often talk about: gambling reform, music and arts, stopping press intrusion, obesity and public health and of course horticulture and cycling.
"In the years to come I will be focusing even more on those policy interests. I will devote myself to writing about the public health challenge facing our country, taking on the sugar companies, campaigning for policy change, and setting up a ‘remission for all’ movement for type 2 diabetics."
Mr Watson added: "I might be standing down as an MP but I won’t be leaving politics altogether.
"This election is a turning point for our country and I know that Labour goes into it united in our determination to remove the Conservative government that has done so much damage to the communities Labour was founded to represent.
"I will be taking an active part in this election campaign. I will continue as deputy leader until 12 December and will do everything I can to return a team of Labour MPs who will transform our country.
"I still believe with my whole heart what I believed when I joined on my 15th birthday in 1982: that the Labour party is the most powerful vehicle for social change this country has ever produced. I will never stop fighting for it."
His letter made no mention of Labour's anti-semitism crisis, another area where he has been highly critical of Mr Corbyn's leadership.
In response, Mr Corbyn said: "Few people have given as much to the Labour movement as you have and I know that many thousands of members and trade unionists that you have inspired and worked with over the years will be very sorry to see you go."
He added: "I am proud and glad to have worked with you over these four years and I know this is not the end of our work together.
"I’ve always enjoyed our very convivial chats about many things, including cycling, exercise and horticulture. I hope the horseradish plants I gave you thrive."
Mr Watson's decision comes just weeks after a botched attempt by allies of Mr Corbyn to axe the post of Labour deputy leader on the eve of the party's annual conference.
At the time, he said he had been the victim of an attempted "drive-by shooting" by his political enemies.
He has also been at odds with Mr Corbyn over Brexit, insisting Labour should have supported a second referendum ahead of a general election.
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“Whilst Tom Watson had fallen out of favour with much of the Labour membership, the timing of his departure might not have been ideal.
"It overshadowed Boris Johnson’s launch speech, but dominated paper headlines and came after a very bad start to the Conservative campaign.
"Star still have quite a distance between the Tories and Labour in the most seats market, with the Tories 1/7 (87.72%) to be returned as the largest party and Labour 5/1 (16.67%) to win the most seats, whilst Star currently are 14/1 (6.67%) for a Labour Majority.
"There’s a long way to go in the campaign however, and those odds can change quickly.”
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