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Tom Watson Quits Shadow Cabinet Amid Falkirk Selection 'Mess'

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TOM WATSON
Tom Watson has quit the shadow cabinet | PA

Tom Watson has dramatically resigned from the shadow cabinet, citing "unattributed shadow cabinet briefings" amid a row over whether trade unions hold too much power over the Labour Party.

The West Bromwich East MP served as Ed Miliband's general election co-ordinator as well as deputy chair of the Labour Party.

Miliband has ordered an inquiry into whether Unite, the party's biggest donor, tried stitch-up the selection of a general election candidate in Falkirk by cramming the constituency with members

And the Labour leader has been under pressure to axe Watson due to his strong union links and the fact that his assistant was a potential candidate in the constituency.

Responding to Watson, Miliband told him: "I do believe that it does now make sense for you and for the party for you to step down."

Watson said he was stepping aside to safeguard "the unity of the party", and called for an internal report into the Falkirk controversy to be published.

In his resignation letter delivered to Miliband and published today, he wrote: "I said that I’d stay with you as general election co-ordinator within the shadow cabinet as long as I was useful. I think it would be a good idea for you, and me, if I stood down from the role now.

"Yet it’s not the unattributed shadow cabinet briefings around the mess in Falkirk that has convinced me that the arrangement has run its course (though they don’t help).

"I believe that the report should be published – in full – and the whole truth told as soon as possible so that the record can be made clear. I’ve still not seen the report but believe there are an awful lot of spurious suppositions being written."

David Cameron repeatedly attacked Labour's reliance on union funding during yesterday's prime minister's questions - mentioning Unite in no fewer than eight answers.

However it appeared Miliband was prepared to give Watson his backing. Leaked notes of potential answers the Labour leader could give to the prime minister included a pre-prepared line which would have seen the Labour leader tell Cameron: "I'll take Tom Watson over Andy Coulson any day."

Watson also revealed that he had offered to quit on Tuesday - but that Miliband initially asked him to reconsider.

"I’ve thought about it and still feel it is better for you and the future unity of the party that I go now. There are some who have not forgiven me for resigning in 2006. I fully accept the consequences of that decision and genuinely hope my departure allows the party to move on," he said.

In 2006 Watson quit his job as a defence minister and called on Tony Blair to resign as prime minister. He also quit as one of Gordon Brown's Cabinet Office ministers in 2007 - citing pressure on his family.

In his letter of resignation today, Watson also said "puckish lobby hacks" should not take his decision as a signal he disagreed with Miliband's leadership of the party.

"I’m proud of your Buddha-like qualities of patience, deep thought, compassion and resolve. I remain your loyal servant," he said.

And he said that after nearly thirty years on the front line of politics, he said had seen the "merry-go-round turn too many times" whereas the shadow cabinet was "for people who still want to get dizzy".

Watson gained wider public fame after spearheading the campaign against Rupert Murdoch and allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World. He famously asked the News Corporation boss during a Commons committee hearing whether his company was like the "mafia".

As a parting thought in his letter, Watson also advises Miliband to "try to have a real life" beyond politics.

"John Humphrys asked me why you were not at Glastonbury this weekend," he said. "I said Labour leaders can’t be seen standing in muddy fields listening to bands.

"And then I thought how terribly sad that this is true. So: be that great Labour leader that you can be, but try to have a real life too. And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge."

There was no mention of Drenge in Miliband's reply.

The Labour leader said he was "enormously grateful" to Watson.

"As Deputy Chair you have helped to re-galvanise the grass roots of the Party", he wrote.

He added: "I am grateful to you for your loyalty and friendship. You are a formidable campaigner, passionate about the cause of a fairer country, and I know you will be speaking with eloquence from the backbenches on the issues you care about most."

SEE ALSO: A Very Quick Guide To Drenge

Tom Watson's resignation letter is printed in full below

Tom Watson Resigns...
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Ed Miliband MP

Leader of the Opposition
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

4nd July 2013

Dear Ed,

I said that I’d stay with you as general election co-ordinator within the Shadow Cabinet as long as I was useful. I think it would be a good idea for you, and me, if I stood down from the role now.

As you know, I offered my resignation on Tuesday and you asked me to reconsider. I’ve thought about it and still feel it is better for you and the future unity of the party that I go now. There are some who have not forgiven me for resigning in 2006. I fully accept the consequences of that decision and genuinely hope my departure allows the party to move on.

Yet it’s not the unattributed shadow cabinet briefings around the mess in Falkirk that has convinced me that the arrangement has run its course (though they don’t help). I believe that the report should be published – in full – and the whole truth told as soon as possible so that the record can be made clear. I’ve still not seen the report but believe there are an awful lot of spurious suppositions being written.

I wish to use the backbenches to speak out in areas of personal interest: open government and the surveillance state, the digital economy, drones and the future of conflict, the child abuse inquiries, the aftermath of the Murdoch scandal and grass roots responses to austerity.

Having resigned a couple of times before, I know how puckish lobby hacks might choose to misconstrue the departure. So to make it harder for them let me say this: I’m proud of your Buddha-like qualities of patience, deep thought, compassion and resolve. I remain your loyal servant. I’ll always be on hand to help you if you need me. I just don’t think you need me in the Shadow Cabinet any more. After nearly thirty years of this, I feel like I’ve seen the merry-go-round turn too many times. Whereas the Shadow Cabinet’s for people who still want to get dizzy.

You have it in you to be an outstanding Labour Prime Minister. The road ahead is always rocky but I will be with you all of the way, cheering you on from the backbenches. You’re my friend and leader, and I’m going to do all I can to make sure you win in 2015.

Here’s my parting thought:

John Humphrys asked me why you were not at Glastonbury this weekend. I said Labour leaders can’t be seen standing in muddy fields listening to bands. And then I thought how terribly sad that this is true. So: be that great Labour leader that you can be, but try to have a real life too. And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Watson
Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East

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