Tom Watson is still agitating for influence over the Labour Party’s complaints process – but his track record is a problem
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson has persisted in trying to gain control or at least influence over the party’s disciplinary processes. After being rebuked for the breach of data laws implicit in his invitation to MPs to send information on complaints – to an address outside party servers, too – Watson proceeded to arrange a meeting with peers last week to tout for their support.
Labour’s media opponents, unsurprisingly, were quick to push a letter from peers that dismissed the data implications even though members of the House of Lords are not known for their expertise in the matter and their claim has been contradicted by those who are.
But Watson’s record of ill-advised and premature reaction suggest that Labour should not allow him near any disciplinary matters, for the sake of due process – and to avoid jeopardising action against genuine abuse or antisemitism.
In 2012, Watson claimed to have seen:
clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No 10
But Peter McKelvie, Watson’s source for any information, later criticised Watson for not listening or taking time to properly understand what he was told. During his opening statement to the official inquiry into sexual abuse of children, counsel to the enquiry said that the source had accused Watson of:
act[ing] precipitately in asking the question in Parliament, and that the language he used did not reflect the information that Mr McKelvie had given him
Tom Watson ‘mixed up’ his facts and made exaggerated claims about a ‘powerful paedophile network’ linked to Downing Street…
I would never have wanted Tom Watson to do a PMQ as a tactic until he
heard the whole story. The only thing I wanted to say about politicians is every institution has abusers in it. The more powerful people are, the more likely they are to get away with it. I never talked about rings .
According to McKelvie – as outlined by counsel to the inquiry – Tom Watson took a general comment and leaped to turn it into a huge network. Another QC involved accused Watson of phoning police to press them to chase a “non-existent network” and stated that Watson’s claims “had no basis“.
Watson also accused former Tory front-bencher Leon Brittan, calling him ‘close to evil’ – and was subsequently forced to apologise, describing his own language as “emotive and unnecessary”.
Whatever his motives – for his earlier premature judgments or for attempting to hijack Labour’s disciplinary process – Tom Watson’s history must be regarded as a red flag against any access to the sensitive and personal information of people who have not yet been ‘found guilty’ of any wrongdoing.
Even if it was not contrary to data protection laws to allow Watson access to such information, the reputation of the Labour Party, any hope of due process – and proper action against genuine cases of abuse or antisemitism – require its prevention.
Tom Watson was contacted for comment but had not responded by the time of publication.
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