Tom Watson Needs to Stop Patronising Young People

His suggestion that Trotskyite "old hands" are twisting the arms of young Labour supporters is deeply offensive to the young Labour joiners.

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10 August 2016, 11:15am

Tom Watson at Glasto (Photo via Snapchat)

I was 14 when I found myself cheering for a red-faced man as he screamed his guts out at a frankly terrified Michael Gove. After being forced to sit in a porta-cabin through the English winter at school, I had developed an interest in how schools were funded and why some schools got more money than others.

The anger I developed that winter was channelled through Tom Watson when he slayed Michael Gove as a "miserable pipsqueak of a man" for scrapping Labour's "Building School's for the Future" scheme. The 14-year-old me was enthused by this outburst of passion and dedication to the cause, and I remember taking a keen interest in Watson and his defence of state education.

I later met Watson at Labour's national conference and I told him that his attack on Michael Gove was brilliant. He told me that had he known "pipsqueak" was un-parliamentary language, he'd have said something worse. I remember thinking at the time – 'that's my sort of politician'.

And, until recently, Tom Watson was everybody's sort of guy. His thumping victory in the deputy leadership race last year remains testament to his drive and his appeal across all wings of the Labour Party. Long known as a political "fixer", Watson's straight-talking style and steely determination made him a worthy friend and a dangerous foe.

In his speech to the Labour Party conference in September, Watson declared that, "We have to be a party that is genuinely led by its members." He went on to herald Jeremy Corbyn as "the people's choice... the right choice" before pledging to "give Labour back to its members." In what was seen as defiant support of the newly elected Labour leader, he called the shadow cabinet (and by extension the parliamentary wing of the Labour Party) the "privileged servants of the 600,000 [members]."

But if Watson were your waiter, you probably wouldn't leave a tip. As a member of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, Watson voted to keep Corbyn from automatically appearing on the ballot as well as hiking the registered supporter fee from £3 to £25 – something obviously more likely to affect someone who doesn't qualify for the national living wage than a few years into a career.

As a member of the party's procedure committee he recently voted in favour of appealing the high court ruling that found the NEC acted "unlawfully" in its attempt to prohibit new members from voting. The "servant" of the 600,000 voted to use membership money to exclude members from a democratic election.

For those who hadn't lost hope with Watson already, Tuesday's interview with the Guardian seems to have been the final straw. The man who rallied the party in noticing that we needed to "welcome... new members better than we used to" appears to be welcoming new members by massively patronising them. He claimed that the party was at risk from "Trotsky entryists" and that "there are some old hands twisting young arms".

Watson's comments are part of a discourse which constantly tells young people they are disgraceful for not engaging with politics while simultaneously demeaning their views as worthless and implying they are naïve when they actually get involved.

His suggestion that Trotskyite "old hands" are twisting the arms of young Labour supporters to move toward the "revolutionary road" to socialism is deeply offensive to the young Labour joiners who know exactly what they're getting into, and are perfectly capable of sussing when they're being manipulated. The main problem with Watson's recent remarks is that he knows they are untrue.

There are 600,000 Labour members. If "Trots" were a large proportion of that, the Red flag would likely already be flying over Downing Street. They certainly wouldn't have sat for hours on end watching a green man walk across a loading bar so that they could be afforded the luxury of paying £25 for the right to fight through the Labour Party bureaucracy to maybe – just maybe – get a vote in a leadership election.

Watson knows this. To claim that "hard left" revolutionaries are hijacking the party is a crappy attempt to discredit the views of those who – against Watson's wishes – are still backing Corbyn, some of whom may have boned up on the writings of Uncle Leon, most of whom won't have.

I don't doubt that Corbyn's challengers will continue down this same path. For them, it's an easy one. While elements of the Labour Party elite continue to spread damaging fears of a communist coup, members could actually gain from reading a little Marx. In his undying words, "we have the world to win."

@liamyoung

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