Tom Watson promises Ed Miliband that he’ll stop behaving like a child

Ed Miliband is more like the early Tony Blair than either he or Tony would publicly admit. He is patient with his colleagues, considerate and engaging. He is irritated by complacency and policy inertia. And he is murderously ambitious for electoral success.

As Neil Kinnock once famously said “to lead a political party, first of all you have to establish whether the political party wishes to be led”. Ed’s got to put the band back together. Re-pitch the big tent.

And with what was a sublime re-shuffle – respect for defeated opponents, dignified exits for distinguished big beasts, early promotion of a cadre of new MPs – I think the band might soon, for the first time in many years, be playing in harmony.

He’s made some spectacularly audacious and very clever appointments that make it just possible for this happen. Anne McGuire joining the team as his PPS is an act of genius. She’s canny and well-respected by MPs.

The sheer intellectual rigor of Shabana Mahmood in the home office team or Rachel Reeves on the work and pensions team are balanced by the formidable political management skills of Dave Anderson and Davey Hamilton in the whips office. These men have worked deep below the earth’s surface mining coal. They’re Labour royalty. And they’ve already made me feel sheepishly timid that I voted against the government’s clause naming the date of the referendum on the alternative vote. I didn’t want to do it. I really didn’t.

Jack Dromey, who leads the new generation of older shadow ministers, complements Michael Dugher, who is considerably younger, but has the same trade union roots. They bring cunning, organisation and a popular touch to the front bench.

And, as importantly, our new leader has appointed some talented and engaging staff to run his office. Lucy Powell and Anna Yearley will give Anji Hunter and Sue Nye a run for their money. They’re bright and professional; you don’t mess with them but they show respect.

“We ended boom and bust and will govern as New Labour” was not, thankfully, the central message of our new leader’s speech to the Labour party conference. He gave an honest account of himself that made me proud to be Labour without any of the silly lecturing.

Just writing that last paragraph has left me feeling like a vicar found guilty of shoplifting. I instantly started to worry about upsetting Gordon or Tony, despite knowing that they know what has to be done. It’s not easy for former leaders to hear the message of change so close to their departure.

The desire not to directly offend Tony Blair prohibited Gordon Brown from telling his MPs a few brutal truths. So my guilt is more than outweighed by a sense I thought I’d lost. I feel exhilarated. I’m excited about the future – optimistic even.

We’ve been on a long march through an arid desert of cynicism in recent years. So, Ed: thank you for giving me my dignity back by treating me like an adult. In return, I promise to stop behaving like a child. And I expect every single one of your colleagues around the shadow cabinet table to do the same.

I voted for many of the victors in the shadow cabinet elections despite not talking to some of them for years. The least they can do in return is work together. I know they will.

Those MPs who are doubters should remind themselves that Ed Miliband won the election. It was close. But he won. He defeated his opponents. He has earned the right to stake a claim to the centre spot in whatever way he chooses. He may come at it from a different political perspective than we’ve recently been used to, but he’s the leader. He makes the calls. And I have a hunch that his openness and intellectual curiosity will lead to electoral success.

It’s only a matter of time before a commentator begrudgingly writes that our new leader has exceeded their expectations. Right now, our traditional friends and old foes in the press are being stroppy – as mad at themselves for backing the wrong horse as they are at our new leader for defying their predictions.

That grudging column will be written, though. Mark my words.

Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East.

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10 Responses to “Tom Watson promises Ed Miliband that he’ll stop behaving like a child”

  1. Forlornehope says:

    But when he ruled out rises in personal taxation he sold the pass. Realistically government revenue comes from income tax, national insurance and VAT. Everything else is just icing on the cake. If Labour does not intend to spend more on public services and benefits than the coalition, what on earth is Labour for? If it does intend to ensure that spending is sufficient for civilised levels of services or benefits then we need to be honest about the need for higher taxes than the coalition is proposing. That, of course, is unless we are planning to do it all with borrowed money and leave ourselves, once more, at the mercy of the markets. It’s time for Labour to develop a spine.

  2. Skiamakhos says:

    In what way were you acting like a child? Have you suddenly converted to believing that the DEAct was a good thing, and that democratic process should be circumvented when attempting to pass an unpopular law? I truly hope not. I think the measure of an MP is how he or she stands up for the founding principles of his or her party, how he or she remains true to the ideals he or she esposed in his or her election campaign, and how he or she represents the common people of his or her constituency. You, sir, have been an example to all during the DEAct debacle. Please don’t allow debate to be stifled, because debate & dissent are the foundations of democracy.

  3. Adam Gray says:

    What has politics come to when we have to read a Member of Parliament promising not to behave like a child? Have we really reached such a nadir among our parliamentary representatives that we can’t take it for granted that they’re adults?

    That said, it’s good to know, because Tom’s various tantrums in the past three years have done nothing but damage Labour, be they the throw-the-toys-out-of-the-pram attempted coup in 2006 followed by the sneaking up to Scotland to get a pat on the head from Brown, or the hysterical ranting at Michael Gove.

    I’ll believe his promised maturity when I see it. Labour is now a party of brats, led by a brat and that’s the sort of party the Tom Watsons of the world revel in. No wonder he’s as happy as a pig in mud.

    The “leader” can’t even get his shadow cabinet to follow him on graduate tax. Why? Because it’s a ridiculous idea: not progressive, not fair, that won’t deal with the funding problems universities face right now. So Labour has no position on this key issue when we need it. Rather that wittering on about media conspiracies denying Ed a fair hearing, I’m slightly more surprised at the lack of media analysis of what failing his first big test actually foretells of Ed’s dismal lack of leadership – and the reluctance of the shadow cabinet to follow their leader.

    The Ed Miliband weakness, failure and illegitimacy the Labour movement was warned about by the polls and the pols but which – just as with Gordon Brown – it ignored, isn’t going away. It will be the defining media story of the next four years. Mark *my* words, Tom.

    The biggest problem with Tom’ article lies in that last paragraph. It’s all a conspiracy by those of us in the public, party or media who wanted a leader who won’t drag the party to electoral suicide. We’ll come round. We’ll see the wisdom and genius of Ed rather than the vacillation, dishonesty, contempt for ordinary voters, indulgence of hard left trade union bosses and soft left dilitantes from Compass. Labour will drag the public to where it is; rather than going to where they are. Tom probably believes in pixies at the bottom of the garden, too.

    Stand by for more Tom Watson tantrums when he realises that – yet again – he’s made a catastrophic idiot of himself and the party. Growing up isn’t about promising to be good; it’s about actually demonstrating judgement and character. I see no signs of either of those – still – in Tom.

  4. Skiamakhos says:

    Adam – don’t you think it’s a little childish to resign from the only party that currently gives any viable alternative to the incumbents when you’re in opposition to those incumbents? Wouldn’t you be better off making yourself heard from within the party? Where will you go now? If the party’s not to your liking, help shape it. As it is, it looks like you’ve pulled up your stumps & taken your bat & ball home because it’s Just Not Fair or something. C’mon – play the game. 🙂

  5. Chris says:


    “Realistically government revenue comes from income tax, national insurance and VAT.”

    Ermm, no actually your totally wrong. Your missing out corporation tax for one but why let the facts get in the way of your thinking.

    @Adam Gray

    Tatty bye, nobody who quotes Barry Goldwater, FFS, is going to be missed by Labour.

  6. party member says:

    What Adam said

  7. Sack the Panda says:

    why has milliband suddenly grown a grey spot like his brother? he’s followed him to the same college, same uni, same course, same party, same job as an mp, same desire to be leader and now he’s eclipsed him the same haircut!

  8. Anontory says:

    “The sheer intellectual rigor of Shabana Mahmood in the home office team or Rachel Reeves on the work and pensions”

    Roflmao. The saying goes if you haven’t got anything nice to say.

  9. Chris says:

    @party member / Adam’s sockpuppet


  10. Jeremy Poynton says:

    “The sheer intellectual rigor of Shabana Mahmood ”

    Rigor mortis, do you mean? Or, perhaps, “rigour”?

    “Education, education, education”, as some has been once said.

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