Tom Watson’s status as a campaigning MP against Rupert Murdoch has long been the mainstay of his credibility – he’s even written a book about it, Dial M for Murdoch. The cracks appeared in that edifice last week when he chose to continue to stand behind Gerard Coyne even when Coyne took to the Murdoch-owned The Sun to smear his Unite rival Len McCluskey.
Those cracks now look like widening rapidly as further connections to Murdoch, in which Watson opted to accept or ignore Murdoch links in key allies and staff, come to light.
The Comms Chief
Watson’s director of communications, James Robinson, is a former media editor at the Guardian. At first glance, he would appear a good match for Watson’s anti-Murdoch persona – his index page on the Guardian website reveals a string of pieces on the involvement of the Murdoch press in the phone-hacking scandal, of which these are just a few:
In fact, Murdoch/Leveson articles are so prominent in Robinson’s Guardian profile that it would probably not be stretching the point to say he made his journalistic name on them.
Robinson left the Guardian, however, to become a senior public relations consultant with a firm that was, according to the press, involved in controversy over tax-avoidance schemes used celebrities. He then left that firm to join Watson’s team in time for Watson’s deputy leadership campaign and remains with him.
Most pertinently, Robinson is married to well-known Progress MP Gloria de Piero, who last year caused controversy by writing a piece calling on readers of Murdoch publication The Sun to join the Labour Party in order to vote against Jeremy Corbyn in the second leadership election:
As his director of communications role involves heading up Watson’s press relations, it’s possible that Robinson played a role in arranging his wife’s Sun article. With his journalistic experience, writing a newspaper article would pose no problem for him; his wife had no such experience but seemed to manage well enough for her Murdoch initiation.
Either way, it cannot have escaped Watson’s attention – yet Robinson remains his comms chief and was last week seen meeting a key staffer to Unite challenger Gerard Coyne only days after Coyne’s The Sun article was published, further compounding Watson’s links to the media empire.
The right-hand man
That’s not the end of the tracery of Watson’s connections to the Murdoch empire. Watson’s right-hand man is right-wing Labour MP Michael Dugher, whom Watson appointed to head the inquiry into fake news that looks likely to ignore the UK’s primary fake news source, the mainstream media:
Small wonder that Dugher’s focus looks unlikely to be on mainstream publications as a source of fake news, as he writes for some of them – including the right-wing Daily Mail and, you’ve guessed it, The Sun:
The two men are extremely close, personally as well as politically. They are even godparents to each other’s children.
Dugher’s publication in the Murdoch rag took place a year before his appointment by Watson to head the inquiry, so it’s not as if Watson wouldn’t have been aware of it. Yet he proceeded anyway.
A senior Labour source commented to the SKWAWKBOX: