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Tom Watson (Labour politician)

Thomas Anthony Watson (born 8 January 1967) is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party since 2015. Watson served as Member of Parliament (MP) for West Bromwich East from 2001 to 2019, and as Minister for Digital Engagement and Civil Service Issues at the Cabinet Office from 2008 to 2009.[1]

Tom Watson
Portrait of Tom Watson in 2018.jpg
Watson in 2018
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Assumed office
12 September 2015
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byHarriet Harman
Succeeded byTo be decided
Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Assumed office
7 October 2016
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byKelvin Hopkins
Chairman of the Labour Party
In office
12 September 2015 – 14 June 2017
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byHarriet Harman
Succeeded byIan Lavery
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
In office
14 September 2015 – 7 October 2016
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byLucy Powell
Succeeded byIan Lavery
Minister for Digital Engagement and Civil Service Issues
In office
25 January 2008 – 5 June 2009
Prime MinisterGordon Brown
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byShriti Vadera
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence
In office
5 May 2006 – 6 September 2006
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byDon Touhig
Succeeded byDerek Twigg
Lord Commissioner of the Treasury
In office
10 May 2005 – 5 May 2006
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byNick Ainger
Succeeded byFrank Roy
Member of Parliament
for West Bromwich East
In office
7 June 2001 – 6 November 2019
Preceded byPeter Snape
Succeeded byTo be filled
Personal details
Born
Thomas Anthony Watson

(1967-01-08) 8 January 1967 (age 52)
Sheffield, England
Political partyLabour
Other political
affiliations
Future Britain Group
Spouse(s)Siobhan Watson
(2001–2012; separated)
Children2
Alma materUniversity of Hull
WebsiteOfficial website

In October 2011, Ed Miliband appointed Watson as the Deputy Chair of the National Executive Committee and the Labour Party's Campaign Co-ordinator for the 2015 general election.[2] He resigned from both roles in July 2013 following a controversy over the selection of a new parliamentary candidate for Falkirk to replace Eric Joyce.[3]

On 12 September 2015, Watson was elected as his party's Deputy Leader, alongside Jeremy Corbyn, the new Leader of the Labour Party,[4] gaining 198,962 votes or 50.7%, including second preference votes from those who voted for other candidates.[5] Since October 2016, he has also served as Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Following the conviction of Carl Beech in July 2019 for making false allegations of paedophilia, Watson was criticised by high profile victims and their relatives for his role in the affair.[6][7][8][9]

On 6 November 2019 Watson announced that he would be standing down both as an MP and as Deputy Leader, and leave office on 12 December 2019, stating that his reasons for standing down were 'personal, not political.' [10]

Early life and careerEdit

Born in Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, Tom Watson was educated at King Charles I School, Kidderminster and the University of Hull, where he was active in the Hull University Labour Club and elected President of the Students' Union in 1992. He was Chair of the National Organisation of Labour Students from 1992–93. He then worked as a marketing officer and advertising account executive.

In 1993, he began to work for the Labour Party as National Development Officer for Youth and then worked on the party's 1997 general election campaign. He then left to become the National Political Officer of the AEEU trade union.[11]

Parliamentary careerEdit

BackbencherEdit

Watson was elected MP for West Bromwich East at the 2001 general election. He served on the Home Affairs Select Committee from 2001 to 2003, and supported the committee's recommendation on UK drug policy to "initiate a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways – including the possibility of legalisation and regulation – to tackle the global drugs dilemma".[12]

In his first year in parliament, Watson launched a campaign to ban album sales of convicted sex offender Gary Glitter.[13]

In 2002, Watson moved a Ten Minute Rule Bill to change organ donation laws.[14]

In 2003, Watson voted in favour of going to war with Iraq,[15][16] and subsequently voted consistently against an investigation into the war.[17]

In 2004 he won the New Statesman New Media Award in the category of elected representative for being one of the first MPs to use his blog to further the democratic process.[18]

Watson was campaign chair for Labour in the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election in July 2004. The campaign drew criticism for its dirty tactics, particularly a Labour leaflet proclaiming "Labour is on your side – the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers", for which Watson later admitted responsibility and expressed regrets.[11][19]

GovernmentEdit

Watson was appointed as an Assistant Government Whip in September 2004.[20]

He was promoted in May 2006 to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence. Watson was instrumental in ensuring that soldiers shot for cowardice in the First World War received posthumous pardons.[21] On 5 September 2006, it was reported that Watson had signed a letter to Tony Blair urging the Prime Minister's resignation to end the uncertainty over his succession.[22] The Government Chief Whip, Jacqui Smith, told Watson that evening that he must either withdraw his signature to the letter, or resign his post. On 6 September 2006, he resigned his ministerial position and released a further statement calling on Blair to resign.[23] Tony Blair was quoted by the BBC as saying that the statement and letter from Watson was "disloyal, discourteous and wrong" and that he would be seeing Watson later in the day.[24]

 
Watson in 2009

Watson returned as a government whip in July 2007, after Gordon Brown became prime minister.[25]

Watson took a particular interest in digital affairs, and in making non-personal government data more available to the public. As a Cabinet Office minister from January 2008 to June 2009 he promoted innovative data use and open source software.[26][27] Watson served on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee from July 2009 to September 2012.[28] Watson led a number of MPs in speaking out firmly against the Digital Economy Act 2010, as the bill was being passed through Parliament in April 2010. He took part in a protest against the bill outside parliament on 24 March 2010.[29]

ExpensesEdit

On 10 May 2009 it was revealed that since being re-elected to parliament in 2005, Watson had claimed the maximum £4,800 allowance for food in a single year. From 2005 to 2009, Watson and Iain Wright claimed over £100,000 on a central London flat they shared.[30] Watson responded that a "pizza wheel" that appeared on a Marks & Spencer receipt he had submitted was given as a free gift after he spent £150 at the store. He added: "All claims were made under the rules set out by the House of Commons authorities. I fully understand why the public expects the system to be reformed. I voted for this last week and only hope that reforms can go even further as quickly as possible."[30]

OppositionEdit

In October 2011 Watson was promoted to become Deputy Chair of the Labour Party, to work with Jon Trickett and Michael Dugher in the Shadow Cabinet Office, running Labour's elections and campaigns. He resigned from this position in July 2013, in light of the 2013 Labour Party Falkirk candidate selection row.[3]

MediaEdit

Watson has been critical of conservative former Fox News host Glenn Beck, claiming Beck's "type of journalism is dangerous and can have wide-ranging negative effects on society. The kind of material broadcast by Glenn Beck is not unique; a number of other 'shock jocks' operate in the States. However, none has displayed intolerance on such a frequent and irresponsible scale as Glenn Beck. It is vital that that kind of 'news' is not made or broadcast in the UK. However, the proposed acquisition of BSkyB by News Corp means that there is an increased chance of it becoming a reality."[31]

Watson played a significant role in the News International phone hacking scandal by helping to bring the series of events at the News of the World into the open.[32] As a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, he questioned Rupert and James Murdoch, along with former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, in a Committee session on 19 July 2011. After the subsequent re-questioning of James Murdoch on 10 November 2011, Watson likened him to a mafia boss.[33]

In July 2011 it was announced that Watson and his co-author Martin Hickman, a journalist from The Independent, were writing a book dealing with the relationship between newspapers belonging to Rupert Murdoch's News International and senior British politicians and police officers.[34] Watson wrote his book at the same time as The Guardian journalist Nick Davies was writing his, which was subsequently released as Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch. Watson and Davies subsequently met and discussed their respective projects.[34] The publication date and title of Watson's book, Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain, were released just three days before it was due to go on sale amid fears News International would try to prevent the launch.[35] On the day details of the book were revealed, Watson indicated on his blog his belief that the book would be controversial: "Very excited to say we've finally finished the book. It's out this Thursday. I have a hunch it will be one of the most attacked books this year."[36]

On 27 November 2011, Watson's website published Alastair Campbell's evidence that was due to be presented to the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics during the following week. After this act was highlighted on the Guido Fawkes blog, together with references to the source material, the page was withdrawn.[37] Paul Staines, editor of Guido Fawkes, was summoned, on the same day that this appeared, to appear in front of the enquiry. It appeared that Watson was not going to be summoned to appear as the Leveson Enquiry had deemed that he copied it from the Guido Fawkes blog, a version that had been redacted. No details were to hand to verify the dates and times of his publication, nor how it appeared to be unredacted. The summons against Staines was withdrawn on 30 November 2011, the day before he was due to give evidence.[38]

Operation MidlandEdit

On 24 October 2012, Watson suggested in the House of Commons that a paedophile network may have existed in the past at a high level, protected by connections to Parliament and involving a close aide to a former Prime Minister; neither the aide nor the former Prime Minister were named. He called on the Metropolitan Police to reopen a closed criminal inquiry into previous allegations.[39] In December 2012, the Metropolitan Police stated that, after Watson had passed information to them, they had established Operation Fairbank to investigate the allegations.[40] However, by March 2016 The Daily Telegraph reported that Operation Fairbank caused much speculation on the internet but made little progress in exposing the alleged paedophile ring.[41]

In 2015, Watson was criticised for consistently refusing to comment after it was revealed that the police had been pushed into investigating rape allegations against Leon Brittan by Watson, who wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and that the police later had to apologise that Brittan's family were not told that the case was dropped before his death. Watson had repeated the allegations after the death.[42] The rape allegations were examined by the Metropolitan Police but officers could not find evidence that would lead to further action, though multiple allegations of child abuse by Brittan were still being investigated at the time.[43] The person making the original allegations, Carl Beech, was later found guilty of making up the Westminster VIP paedophile ring.[44]

Watson was described in March 2019 at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse by lawyers for the falsely accused former MP, Harvey Proctor, as a "vehicle for conspiracy theorists".[45] After Beech's conviction in July 2019, Lady Brittan said: “It is too late for Tom Watson to apologise but his attempt to distance himself from the false allegations of Carl Beech in the wake of the guilty verdict is disingenuous and untruthful".[46] Harvey Proctor said "The Metropolitan Police were lapdogs to Mr Watson's crude dog whistle. It's time for the torchlight to take a closer look at Mr Watson. It is now beyond doubt that all of these allegations could never have been true and only someone with spectacular bad judgement could think that they might be. It is time for an apology from him to me..."[47] Proctor added, "He denies it now, but he was the cheerleader in chief for Mr Beech. He was in the team. Tom Watson scared the Metropolitan Police to death over phone hacking. He intended to do the same for historic child sexual abuse. Not because Tom Watson has got any interest in historic child sexual abuse. Tom Watson has got a great interest in himself, and in grandstanding, just as he is doing currently on his so-called anti-Semitism campaign."[6] Proctor later asked the Labour Party to suspend Watson and to investigate his behaviour on the grounds of breaching the party's membership code and bringing it into disrepute.[48] Lord Bramall's son also demanded an apology.[7] One of the daughters of the late Greville Janner, who was also accused by Beech, Rabbi Janner-Klausner, said "We have a system where people are believed instantly before the evidence is examined instead of being listened to compassionately and the allegations properly investigated. People were able to accuse (my father) without a shred of evidence and were believed straight away."[8] Daniel Janner QC, his son, said "Tom Watson should resign. He appointed himself Britain’s chief paedo-finder general and created a moral panic. His motive was personal political advancement riding on a bandwagon of public frenzy which he had whipped up. He should hang his head in shame. For him to take the moral high ground in the Labour Party against antisemitism is completely hypocritical."[9][49]

Watson had also lobbied successfully Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions to reopen Operation Vincente, an investigation into an alleged rape in 1967 by Leon Brittan. The police had concluded initially that the allegation, made in 2014 by a woman with a history of mental health problems, was false.[50] As a result of reopening the case, Brittan was interviewed under caution and was not told before his death that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.[51][52]

In October 2019, details of the Henriques report emerged. The report said, of Watson, "His interest, however, in both Operation Midland and Operation Vincente created further pressure upon MPS officers.”; specifically, “A possible inference is that the officers, then responsible, were in a state of panic induced by Mr Watson’s letter.” It adds that Watson described Lord Brittan as being as “close to evil as any human being could be”, saying he “grossly insulted” the former home secretary. Harvey Proctor said: “The problem was that the police assigned to interview Beech lacked common sense and yielded to intense pressure from Tom Watson, an irresponsible politician out for his own publicity in order to galvanise his advancement to become deputy leader of the Labour party.” Lady Brittan said “The extent of Tom Watson’s involvement in the witch-hunt of innocent people has been laid bare. His subsequent attempts to distance himself show a complete lack of integrity. By misusing his public office to recklessly repeat false allegations, and to characterise himself as a victim, he has shown that he is unfit to hold the office of MP.”[53]

Deputy LeaderEdit

 
Watson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the 2016 Labour Party Conference

On 8 May 2015, the day after the Labour Party lost the general election, Watson announced his intention to stand in the ensuing deputy leadership election, becoming the first to declare.[54] Watson was nominated by 59 Members of Parliament, more than any other candidate, and quickly emerged as the front runner.[55] On 12 September he was elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party with 50.7% of the vote in the final round.[56] He was also appointed Labour Party Chair and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office by new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.[28]

In June 2017 Ian Lavery replaced Watson as Labour Party Chair.[57]

Middle EastEdit

In December 2015, Watson spoke about Labour members who took part in a vigil against proposed UK airstrikes on Syria outside the office of Stella Creasy MP, saying that "if there were Labour party members on that [anti-war] demonstration, intimidating staff members of an MP like that, then I think they should be removed from the party." His spokesman later said that Watson was unaware that the office was empty at the time.[58]

In October 2016, Watson abstained, along with 100 other Labour MPs who abstained on or voted against the Labour Party’s unsuccessful motion to withdraw UK support from the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. The Saudi Arabian–led intervention in Yemen had led to thousands of civilian casualties.[59][60]

Watson announced in October 2017 that he had gone on hunger strike, in support of two Guantánamo Bay detainees also on hunger strike, after the US government changed its policy on prisoners who refuse food; they will not be fed at all, instead of being force fed.[61]

Watson is a member of the Labour Friends of Israel and, in 2002, was a leading candidate for the chairmanship alongside Stephen Byers.[62] He is Vice Chair of Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI).[63]

Other activitiesEdit

In 2013, Watson joined a cross-party campaign in support of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. He supported an amendment by the Conservative MP Adam Afriyie which called for a referendum to be held before the 2015 general election.[64][65]

In the October 2016 shadow cabinet reshuffle, Watson was made Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. In that role he called for greater scrutiny of a planned takeover of Sky UK by Murdoch-owned Fox,[66] backed the TV licence fee,[67] criticised government pressure on Ofcom in relation to regulation of the BBC,[68] and proposed fairer rail ticketing for football fans.[69]

In March 2018, Watson backed calls for a statue to be erected in memory of women's rights campaigner Mary Wollstonecraft.[70]

In September 2018, Watson vowed that if Labour won the next general election he would set up an independent, cross-party commission to investigate ways of preventing type-2 diabetes, with the aim of eliminating the estimated rise in cases within five years.[71]

In 2017, Watson announced that the Labour Party would launch a review of the NHS treatment of gambling addiction. The review was published in 2018 which proposed a blanket ban in the use of credit cards for betting. Watson said making gambling payments with credit cards "significantly increases the risk gamblers will gamble more than they can afford."[72]

In 2019, following defections of Labour MPs to The Independent Group (TIG), Watson set up the Future Britain Group of Labour politicians.[73]

Watson has been criticised for continuing to accept funding from property developer David Garrard, who was reported to have given breakaway party Change UK £1.5m and to have financially supported Joan Ryan and Ian Austin since their departure from Labour.[74] Watson has also received funding from businessman Trevor Chinn.[75]

In July 2019, Watson was criticised by Labour's General Secretary Jennie Formby for being irresponsible in criticising Labour's handling of anti-Semitism claims. Formby said he risked exacerbating fears in the Jewish community and that, while antisemitism was a real problem, steps had been taken to tackle it. Watson had asked for a copy of the party response to a request by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which he had already been offered sight of, and had previously asked to be copied in on individual complaints, which had data protection issues. He was also criticised for attacking Formby when she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer.[76]

The same month, former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway and former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor announced individually that they planned to stand against Watson at the next general election, Galloway as a pro-Brexit pro-Corbyn independent, and Proctor in protest at Watson's role in the false paedophilia allegations of Operation Midland.[77][78] July also saw Watson be the subject of a complaint to the Labour Party for making allegedly antisemitic remarks.[79] This was also the month in which cartoonist Steve Bell protested to The Guardian after it refused to run a instalment of his long running 'If...' cartoon strip, which portrayed Watson as an "antisemite finder general".[80]

In September 2019, Watson made a speech urging Labour to become a pro-remain party, in order to win back disaffected remain voters.[81] He has been quoted by The Guardian as saying that "most of those who've deserted us over our Brexit policy did so with deep regret and would greatly prefer to come back; they just want us to take an unequivocal position that, whatever happens, we'll fight to remain, and to sound like we mean it."[82] Jeremy Corbyn rejected his proposition, saying that Labour would continue to represent both sides of the Brexit divide.[83]

ResignationEdit

On 6 November 2019 Watson announced that he would be standing down both as an MP and as Deputy Leader, and leave office on 12 December 2019, stating his decision was "personal, not political". He also declared his intention to continue campaigning on health issues.[10]

Personal lifeEdit

Watson was married to Siobhan,[84] having two children before separating in 2012.[85][86]

In September 2018, during interview with BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme, Watson revealed that he had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes but had "reversed" the condition through diet and exercise. Watson explained, that between the summer of 2017 and September 2018, he had lost seven stone (98 lb; 44 kg). Watson also revealed that he had "battled weight since my early 20s".[71]

Tom Watson is a gamer and a regular reviewer of games for New Statesman[87] and other titles. He finds it relaxing and confessed to spending too much time on Portal 2 while preparing for questions during the hacking story interviews.[88] He is also a fan of alternative rock music, especially the band Drenge, whom he recommended to the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, in his letter of resignation when stepping down from the post of party general election co-ordinator.[89] He additionally likes the music of Courtney Jaye,[89] Danny Coughlan, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Primal Scream and Public Enemy.[90]

BibliographyEdit

  • 2012 – Dial M for Murdoch (Allen Lane) ISBN 1-84614-603-8

ReferencesEdit

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Peter Snape
Member of Parliament
for West Bromwich East

20012019
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Political offices
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New office
Minister for Digital Engagement and Civil Service Issues
2008–2009
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2015–present
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