Tom Watson (Labour politician)

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Tom Watson
Large man in suit, glasses and short dark hair holding a microphone
Watson in 2008
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
Assumed office
14 September 2015
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Preceded by Lucy Powell
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Labour Party Chair
Assumed office
12 September 2015
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Preceded by Harriet Harman
Deputy Chair of the Labour Party
In office
7 October 2011 – 4 July 2013
Leader Ed Miliband
Preceded by Stephen Timms
Succeeded by Jon Ashworth
Minister for Digital Engagement
In office
25 January 2008 – 5 June 2009
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Preceded by Gillian Merron
Succeeded by Shriti Vadera
Member of Parliament
for West Bromwich East
Assumed office
7 June 2001
Preceded by Peter Snape
Majority 9,470 (25.3%)
Personal details
Born Thomas Anthony Watson
(1967-01-08) 8 January 1967 (age 53)
Sheffield, South Riding of Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Siobhan Watson
(2001-2012; separated)
Domestic partner Stephanie Peacock
Children 2
Alma mater University of Hull
Religion Anglicanism[1]
Website Official website

Thomas Anthony Watson (born 8 January 1967) is a British Labour Party politician who was elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in September 2015. He has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for West Bromwich East since the 2001 general election and was Minister for Digital Engagement and the Civil Service at the Cabinet Office from 2008 to 2009.[2]

In October 2011, Ed Miliband appointed Watson as the Deputy Chair of the Labour Party and the Labour Party's 2015 Campaign Co-ordinator.[3] 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.[4]

On 12 September 2015, Watson was elected as his party's Deputy Leader, alongside Jeremy Corbyn, the new Leader of the Labour Party,[5] gaining 198,962 votes or 50.7%, including second preference votes from those who voted for other candidates.[6]

Early life and career

Born in Sheffield, South 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. He then worked on the party's 1997 general election campaign before becoming the National Political Officer of the AEEU trade union.[citation needed]

Member of Parliament

Watson in 2009


He was elected MP for West Bromwich East at the 2001 general election. In 2002 Watson was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee when it ran an inquiry into UK drug policy. Watson voted to support the Committee's final recommendation that called upon the UK Government 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".[7]

In his first year in Parliament, Watson launched a campaign to ban album sales of convicted sex offender Gary Glitter.[8] In 2002, Watson moved a Ten Minute Rule Bill to change organ donation laws. The Organ Donation (Presumed Consent and Safeguards) Bill was part of a joint campaign with the British Medical Association to increase the supply of organ donors in the UK.[9]

In 2003, Tom Watson voted for the Iraq War,[10] and subsequently voted consistently against an investigation into the Iraq war.[11]

Tom Watson was campaign organiser for the Labour Party in the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election in July 2004, in which Liam Byrne retained the seat in difficult political times for the party, in the wake of the Iraq War. This 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.[12]

In 2003, he began to include a weblog on his website. In 2004, he won the New Statesman New Media Award in the category of elected representative for using his weblog to further the democratic process. He is also an active user of Twitter.[13]


First period on front bench

Watson was appointed as an Assistant Government Whip on 9 September 2004 and was nominated as a "Top Toadie" by The Guardian Diary on 6 January 2005.[14] He was promoted on 5 May 2006 to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence.

During his time at the MoD, Watson was instrumental in ensuring that soldiers shot for cowardice in the First World War received posthumous pardons.[15] Watson was said to have acted having met the relatives of Harry Farr, who had been executed during the war despite strong evidence that he was suffering shellshock.[16] The mass pardon of 306 British Empire soldiers executed for certain offences during the First World War was enacted in section 359 of the Armed Forces Act 2006, which came into effect on royal assent on 8 November 2006. This number included three men from New Zealand, 23 from Canada, two from the West Indies, two from Ghana, and one each from Sierra Leone, Egypt and Nigeria.[citation needed]

Calls for Blair's resignation

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.[17] 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:[18]

It is with the greatest sadness that I have to say that I no longer believe that your remaining in office is in the interest of either the party or the country ... How and why this situation has arisen no longer matters. I share the view of the overwhelming majority of the party and the country that the only way the party and the government can renew itself in office is urgently to renew its leadership.

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. He said that he had planned to dismiss Watson from Government for having signed the letter urging him to resign. Within days of the incident suggestions appeared that Watson had been to Chancellor Gordon Brown's residence in Scotland only the day before the memo was sent to Blair. Watson claimed he was dropping off a present for Brown's new baby Fraser and that neither the issue of the note, nor "any politics" were discussed.[citation needed]

As Watson recounted on his weblog, his reception at the Labour Party Conference a few weeks after his resignation got a mixed reaction from Labour Party colleagues. Some sought him out to congratulate him, whilst others sought him out to be sarcastic or to be abusive. One such encounter was with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who asked Watson, whilst he was waiting to be interviewed by Channel 4 News, if he was "going to resign again?"[citation needed]

Digital economy

After returning to Government during Gordon Brown's premiership,[19] Watson took a particular interest in digital affairs, and in making non-personal Government data more available to the public. During his time at the Cabinet Office, the Power of Information Taskforce examined the case for freer access to Government data, culminating in a report and a competition, ShowUsABetterWay,[20] which gave a £20,000 prize for the best idea for a website that used Government data in innovative ways.[21] He established policies requiring Government to consider open source software as well as proprietary solutions during IT procurements.[22] Before leaving office, Watson created a new post for a Director of Digital Engagement within the Cabinet Office.[citation needed]

Tom 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 during the 'wash-up' period before the election. He took part in a protest against the bill outside Parliament on 24 March 2010.[23]


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 share.[24] 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.[24]


News International phone hacking scandal

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.[25] 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, Tom Watson received widespread coverage for his likening of Murdoch to a mafia boss.[26]

Leveson Inquiry leak

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.[27] 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.[28]

Dial M for Murdoch

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.[29] 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.[29] 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.[30] 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."[31]

Allegations of high-level UK paedophile network

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.[32] In December 2012, the Metropolitan Police stated that, after Watson had passed information to them, they had established Operation Fairbank to investigate the allegations.[33] It was reported by The Independent that police had interviewed a number of adults who claimed that, as children, they had been sexually assaulted by senior MPs.[34] 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.[35] 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[36]


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."[37]

In August 2010, Watson was guest editor of the Labour Uncut website.[38] In October 2011, he 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.[4]

Watson has described himself as a feminist.[39]

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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 candidate to declare.[40] Watson was nominated by 59 Members of Parliament, more than any of the other four candidates, and quickly emerged as the front runner in the ballot.[41]

On 12 September 2015, he was elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.[42] He was also made shadow minister for the cabinet office

Vice President of Trade Union Friends of Israel

He is Vice President of Trade Union Friends of Israel.[43]

Personal life

Watson was married to Siobhan,[44] and the couple have two children.[45] The couple are separated. His current partner is Stephanie Peacock, Labour's 2015 candidate for Halesowen & Rowley Regis.[45]


Tom Watson is a gamer and a regular reviewer for New Statesman[46] 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.[47] Watson is a fan of alternative rock music, especially the band Drenge, whom he famously recommended to then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, in his letter of resignation when stepping down from the post of party general election co-ordinator.[48] He also likes the music of Courtney Jaye,[48] Danny Coughlan, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Primal Scream and Public Enemy.[49]



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External links

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

Political offices
Preceded by
Gillian Merron
Minister for Digital Engagement
Succeeded by
Shriti Vadera
Preceded by
Lucy Powell
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
Party political offices
Preceded by
Stephen Timms
Deputy Chair of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Jon Ashworth
Preceded by
Harriet Harman
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party