5 Live called to say they were being leaned on by lawyers with regard to any reference to Tom Watson MP and before I went on, would I just be aware of that.I understand Tom Watson twittered on Saturday asking if anyone had the number for Shillings. Perhaps he wasn't joking.
I asked them what they wanted me to do with that information and were they saying I couldn’t talk about Tom Watson? No said the researcher, we are just under a bit of pressure here, that’s all, just be careful.
BBC Breakfast producer told me they weren’t taking Derek Draper on because they were being leaned on by his lawyers and he had already made ‘legal’ noises against them.
So what’s going on here then?
I’m going to stay in the constituency as I have work to do.
Meanwhile, he has broken cover, not on his blog but on a West Midland site called The Stirrer. Apparently I am guilty of smearing him.
West Bromwich MP and occasional Stirrer blogger Tom Watson says he feels “smeared” after being caught up in the email row which has already cost Labour spin doctor Damien McBride his job.
McBride – dubbed “Gordon Brown’s king of the dirty tricks” - was forced to quit at the weekend after exchanging a series of email with blogger Derek Draper containing slurs about senior Conservative MP's. These were scheduled to appear on an “unofficial” website called Red Rag, and were intended to "put the fear of God" into the opposition Cabinet Office Minister Watson has also been dragged into the affair after being mentioned in one of the emails – but he’s adamant that he’s just as much an injured party as the Tories who were named.“The bottom line is I feel smeared today” he said. “I knew nothing about the content of these emails, I didn't approve the emails, I didn’t see the emails, yet people are repeating untruths about me on blogs and on TV stations.” Watson explained that he had sent an email to a colleague about jobs in the party which he planned to make available to another Labour website – the altogether more respectable Labourlist. This was referred to, in passing, by McBride. And, er, that's it.
Despite this tenuous link, eh's even got such august journals as the Daily Mail hounding him, and questioning his cabinet role. "Because I'm a blogger and a I've got a big engagement with digital technology they are trying to nail me" Watson said.
"But it's precisely because I'm engaged in that world and I know what I'm doing, I wouldn't send this kind of material by email." Watson also made it clear that the content of McBride's emails was unacceptable. "As soon as we found out what Damien McBride was doing, he tendered his resignation and it was accepted immediately” he said.
The Minister had a strong rebuke for Conservative blogger Ian (sic) Dale, who claimed that when Watson found out about the emails, “he either tacitly or overtly encouraged McBride to send more.”
Dale asked: “Is this really what the Minister for the Civil Service should be doing? He's not some Labour Party hack. He's a Minister of the Crown and responsible for the conduct of all who work in the Civil Service” (http://iaindale.blogspot.com/).
Watson responded by accusing Dale (who has been running a vicious campaign against him) of peddling an "untruth" by suggesting that he knew what was going on.
Now that the Tory writer has made the accusation, the challenge is there for him and other media organisations who've repeated it, to prove it - in short, put up or shut (sic).
Illiterate stuff maybe, but highly revealing. What Watson doesn't answer is this: Did he know about the plans for an attack blog called Red Rag or not? I can't (yet) prove he did, and he can't prove a negative, so this is unlikely to progress very far. All I have said is that it stretches credulity, knowing his background and knowing his role in Downing Street, to believe that he knew absolutely nothing about this. He shares a small office with McBride. I just cannot believe that McBride a) didn't tell him about any of the allegations he was passing to Draper and b) that neither Draper nor McBride mentioned anything about Red Rag.
Is is so unreasonable of me to ask these questions? He clearly thinks so. I'm not, as The Stirrer says, "running a vicious campaign against him". As it happens, I quite like him and have had good personal relations with him in the recent past. But he sits an office where his close colleague Damian McBride sent emails to Draper smearing me. I don't pretend he knew about that, necessarily, but I am not going to let a personal liking for him blind me to what I know his office have been up to.
UPDATE 4.15pm: Let me just clarify something. Watson denies absolutely that he was copied in on the emails. I wrote in yesterday's Mail on Sunday that he had been. I actually emailed the MoS to take that out of the article once I had heard his categorical denial, but unfortunately the paper had already gone to print. I have since then not repeated the allegation on TV or radio and to every journalist I have spoken to I have clarified that he was not copied in on the emails, but merely mentioned. That does not mean I don't think he has questions still to answer, because I do. But out of fairness I need to be clear about the email issue.