If we were to think of those who voted for the 2003 Allied invasion of Iraq and did their utmost to block any investigation into the affair, certain obvious names would leap forward; it’s significant that these names remain largely unapologetic about their role in the decision bar the odd ‘Well, what we didn’t know at the time…’ caveat carefully inserted into any justification a Paxman or a Humphrys has been able to wrestle from them over the past decade. By contrast, it’s been hard to shut up those who voted against it; any MP seeking to establish good-guy credentials since the aftermath of Iraq never misses a chance to loudly proclaim they were on the side of the angels all along. More interesting, however, are those whose approval of the invasion and subsequent war has been something to quietly sweep under the Westminster carpet in the hope that their thumbs-up for the greatest British military disaster since Suez won’t damage their future prospects as heroic crusaders for truth and justice.
Step forward one Thomas Anthony Watson, Honourable Member for West Bromwich East, 2003 cheerleader for said invasion and persistent voter against any inquiry into it. Funny how he doesn’t advertise this. Mind you, Tom has always preferred to exploit the popular mood of ‘the people’ as a means of obscuring his intentions. Elected to Parliament in 2001, he first attempted to make a name for himself by capitalising on the embryonic Paedo panic of the early 2000s by suggesting the sales of albums by Gary Glitter be banned. One wonders how many CDs by a Glam Rock has-been without a top ten album to his name since 1974 were flying off the record racks in the wake of his 1999 sentencing for possession of indecent images, but why let the facts get in the way of a good stunt?
Whilst British and American troops were busy winning hearts and minds, Tom was again displaying aspects of his character he’d probably prefer not to be publicly revisited, such as his behind-the-scenes role at the 2004 Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election. This especially unedifying campaign by Labour included a slogan declaring ‘Labour is on your side – the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers’, an example of Socialist brotherly love uncomfortably reminiscent of the slogan attributed to Tory MP Peter Griffiths at Smethwick during the 1964 General Election – ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’. Another Watson masterstroke at odds with the portrait he likes to paint of himself as the defender of fair play.
Pro-Iraq War Watson experienced apt promotion to the Ministry of Defence in 2006; his one notable act there was the pushing of legislation few were going to argue with, the posthumous pardoning of WWI British and Commonwealth soldiers shot for cowardice. The positive response to this populist move was not lost on Watson, who evidently sensed the best way to further his career was to focus on issues that would garner him the kind of plaudits that inevitably lead to high visibility and another step up the ladder to the frontbench. The increasing unpopularity of Tony Blair was something Tom next seized upon, signing a 2006 letter urging the PM to resign. When asked to remove his signature, Watson refused and then committed the ultimate narcissistic act for a nondescript MP desperate to get himself onto the Six o’Clock News: he resigned his ministerial post. Cold-shouldered by the Blair camp for his disloyalty, Tom then began making eyes at the Brown camp, just in time for Gordon’s capture of the key to No.10.
Gordon Brown’s idea of a reward once in possession of the premiership was to make Watson ‘Minister for Digital Engagement’ in 2008, a post presumably created for Tom that reflected his early embrace of the political blog as a tool for getting his message across to a wider audience – or at least the message he wanted the online electorate to hear. When what became the Digital Economy Act was passing through Parliament, a bill that proposed curbs to the internet freedoms Watson professed to favour, he was prominent in a protest opposing its introduction outside the Commons. However, this was on the eve of the 2010 General Election, so Tom could afford to be seen as a defender of free speech without fear of losing his ministerial position when school was all-but out for summer.
During the 2009 expenses’ scandal, Watson’s expanding waistline received the most attention when it was revealed he had unsurprisingly spent every penny of the annual £4,800 allocated for food; but he was instrumental in promoting the succeeding scandal, one that was to deflect attention away from the misdemeanours of parliamentarians and onto the press.
Public revulsion at revelations that under-fire journalists pressurised into finding scoops that would boost flagging newspaper sales had hacked into the phones of ‘ordinary people’ dragged into the headlines through no fault of their own was the kind of story Tom Watson had spent a decade looking for. He grabbed the phone-hacking affair with gusto, playing a starring role as one of the inquisitors who grilled Murdoch & Son at the Culture, Media & Sport hearing that was televised live before an audience of millions. His website published the evidence Alistair Campbell was due to give at the Leveson Inquiry a week before Blair’s ex-henchman was scheduled to face the music; but when the Guido Fawkes blog republished the information and credited Watson, the evidence vanished from Tom’s website and the Guido Fawkes editor was the one summoned to appear before Leveson, not Watson – mysteriously. It was as if ‘the powerful’ were being protected or something…
There was still mileage to be made out of hacking, however. Watson collaborated with a journalist from The Independent, Martin Hickman, on a book called ‘Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain’, another key step on his progress to the dizzying heights of Labour Deputy Leader. When the public eventually wearied of the scandal, the onset of hacking fatigue led Tom to turn his eye to the next moral outrage bandwagon guaranteed to keep him in the spotlight, one that had its roots not only in his first stab at backbench publicity in 2001, but even his own family.
In October 2012, the same month that the late Sir Jimmy Savile ceased to be the nation’s favourite eccentric charity fundraiser and became its most prolific unprosecuted Paedo, Watson seized the day once again by announcing the existence of a Westminster Paedophile Ring in the 1970s and 80s, one that had been protected by the police and virtually everyone in a position of power at the time. With a public now prepared to believe all their childhood heroes were ‘at it’, Tom clearly figured his opportunistic gamble, catapulted from the backbenches like a jet of treasonous piss aimed at Her Majesty’s tiara, would no longer be condemned to the David Icke Asylum for Wild Conspiracy Theories. Sadly, he was correct. Watson’s cynical route to the top had gathered such momentum that anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in its path was destined to be trampled underfoot.
Although his reckless, not to say callous, actions had been criticised for months in the alternative press of the online blog, the damage done to a dying man such as Leon Brittan and his family has finally come back to haunt Watson in the wake of last week’s ‘Panorama’; the mainstream media have belatedly woken up to the nasty, self-aggrandizing bully behind the apparently avuncular leftie now second-in-command of the Shadow Cabinet. And one can only hope that someone somewhere is meticulously sculpting a pair of concrete slippers that will fit the fat feet of the ugly sister who somehow became Cinderella.