Labour deputy leader Tom Watson has rightly been pilloried this evening after a ludicrous interview in which he claimed that the party’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, had “staked her career on dealing with antisemitism” and,
She has been in post for three or four months. If I come here against at Christmas and she has not dealt with it then you may be asking me why she is still in post.
The put-downs on social media were perhaps best typified by these two responses:
Watson, of course, infamously won his deputy leader post – three years ago yesterday – on a campaign promise that he would fully support the successful leadership candidate. He thinks Ms Formby should have results by Christmas – ‘ToryFibs” is quite right about what she has already achieved – but in three years he has failed to deliver noticeably on that promise.
Female MPs and staff
But Watson has ‘form’ when it comes to having problems with strong Labour women. According to party insiders, Watson has been involved with a feud with Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry for well over a decade, since she she voted against Tony Blair’s bill to allow prolonged detention without charge. She described the incident in her own words:
Watson has also recently publicly criticised a ‘LOTO’ employee who is not in a position to answer back when he blamed Jeremy Corbyn’s chief of staff Karie Murphy for his supposedly poor treatment over his conference speaking slot:
According to the Murdoch press, Watson subsequently decided he would not speak at this year’s party conference in Liverpool because he was unhappy with the timing of his speech. The SKWAWKBOX had already broken news of the row a month earlier.
Watson’s track record prompted Yvonne Davies, a councillor in Watson’s home borough of Sandwell, to contact the SKWAWKBOX about her own experience of the West Bromwich East MP.
Ms Davies – a no-nonsense, straight-talking woman – alleges that Watson ‘made my life a misery‘ when she was a councillor in his part of Sandwell borough. Such a misery, in fact, that she says she changed wards when local elections took place to escape him.
Similarly to Emily Thornberry, Ms Davies says that the problems began when she crossed Watson – in this case a matter as trivial as a parade in the borough. She explains:
Every year in Sandwell there’s a St George’s Day parade and I felt it was a bit of a ‘boys only’ event. There’d be men pissing in people’s gardens on the route through my council area, tossing beer cans all over the place. I felt we’d be better doing a family-friendly ‘party in the park’. I’d been accosted on two occasions by people shouting racist remarks and I thought we could manage without some of the unsavoury characters, including BNP members, who would turn up.
At this time I had a bit of a set-to with Tom, because my objections to the march ended up in the papers and there was Tom jumping in, saying he supported the English flag and the problems on the march were just high spirits.
They weren’t all thugs, certainly, but there was a nasty element and there were problems, especially if you weren’t white – so I didn’t agree with it and it was a bit of a dispute with Tom because I thought we should call it out.
From that point, Tom didn’t take kindly to me, but it got worse and worse until the expenses scandal.
Although the initial cause of tension was the march, Ms Davies says that things came to a head when the expenses scandal broke in the same year and she commented on the issue during a visit to Watson’s office:
When the expenses scandal was big news, I’d just come back from holiday and I was kind of taking the mickey when I was in Tom’s office and I said “Oh my God, has Tom resigned over the expenses scandal?” [Watson resigned from Gordon Brown’s Cabinet in June 2009, although the reason given was concern over the impact of ministerial duties on his family life.]
Tom wasn’t in at the time, but his wife was and she said I should ask him if I wanted to know anything about his expenses. I said I would if he was there but I was going out door-knocking and needed to know what to tell all the people who were asking me about it, how we apologise for it and whether we need to wear a ‘hair shirt’ for a while.
Word obviously got back to Tom, because from then on he started to aggressively and very obviously ‘blank’ me. We were at Conference in Manchester and there was a West Midlands gathering and it was unmistakable that Tom and [another MP] were deliberately blanking me in front of everyone.
Remember, one of them was my local MP too. I told one of the regional officials I wasn’t above calling them both out on it right there if they didn’t at least have the decency to say hello. The official basically crapped himself and said not to do that and he’d sort it – they did kind of nod in my direction once but that was it.
After that though, the pair of them basically made my life a misery. It just went from bad to worse and I’d often have to avoid them because it was unbearable. I knew I was coming up for re-election and Tom made it perfectly clear he did not want me in his area and intended to get me deselected, so I managed to move to Langley ward outside Tom’s constituency.
What does Ms Davies feel was the root cause of her treatment by Watson and his colleague?
I was basically bullied and ignored because they didn’t like the fact that I was encroaching on their power or their patch. What’s his problem with strong Labour women? But it was very intimidating, these two powerful MPs being against me like that.
Did she complain?
I took it to the party and asked them, “Why is the machinery of the party allowing two MPs to act as if they’re judge and jury on stuff and nobody calls them out on bad behaviour?” I’m a fairly strong woman but it’s been very, very difficult and I had no support from the regional office because those two were too powerful. Nobody was brave enough to challenge them.
I’ve been seriously ill lately. I don’t think the two of them caused my illness, but the stress has certainly made it more difficult to cope. That’s why I’m speaking out now. I just thought to myself, the damage this is doing to the party, to my health, to my bank balance, none of this is really worth it – and I don’t know how I ever got myself inside the vortex to begin with.
There are very few strong, independent women in the West Midlands Labour Party, because if you’re not willing to toe the line you’ll pay for it. [One of Tom Watson’s employees] said to me when I stood for the council leadership, “You know you’ll never get anywhere in Sandwell while Tom’s here.”
And I said, “That’s very grown-up, isn’t it?” That phrase comes up a lot in relation to Tom – he needs to grow up.
My experience of Tom is that he’s a bully. I’ve had a dog’s life from him for most of the time I’ve been a councillor. Him and [another MP], there’s no point in talking to them, you can’t have a rational conversation with them. Once they make their minds up about you, that’s it – you’re out.
And all that makes me think his issue with Jennie Formby is that she’s a woman and she’s crossed him. How he can criticise anyone for their performance when he’s been such a terrible deputy leader is beyond me.
The SKWAWKBOX contacted Tom Watson last night, asking for an urgent response to the following questions about his comments about Jennie Formby, his own performance as deputy leader and Yvonne Davies’ comments:
- When/where has Ms Formby ‘staked her career’ on the party’s handling of antisemitism?
- three years ago today, you were elected as deputy leader on a campaign promise of support for whichever leadership candidate won election.
– do you feel you have fulfilled that promise?
– if readers should be asking you at Christmas why Ms Formby’s still in post, what do you have to say to Labour members asking why you are still in post?
- Yvonne Davies has said – on the record – that you made her life a misery over a prolonged period after she commented on your expenses during the expenses scandal, so badly that she moved to a ward outside your constituency. Any comment?
- You’ve also had a ’12-year feud’ with Emily Thornberry. What is your problem with competent, independent Labour women?
No response had been received by the time of publication. The SKWAWKBOX has spoken to other local officials who corroborated Cllr Davies account.
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