Friday, January 15, 2010

Peter Watt: Why I Did It

Peter Watt has written this week's New Statesman Diary. In it, he seeks to explain his motives for writing INSIDE OUT, which is published on Monday week.

What a week. The decision to write my book about life inside the Labour Party and working alongside Gordon Brown, Inside Out, was not easy. I questioned my motives, the timing of its publication and the purpose. It was with all of that in mind that I sat on Saturday 9 January having a pint with my brother, Damien, and brother-in-law, Franki, waiting for the first editions of the Mail on Sunday to come out.

The paper was publishing the first part of the serialisation of my book, and I was nervous. Damien and Franki tried to make small talk, but I kept checking the internet for news. And then the texts started - it had begun. How would people react? What would the response be? I was about to find out.

For the previous few weeks, tension had been mounting as Isabel Oakeshott (deputy political editor of the Sunday Times) and I completed the book in record time. She had done a brilliant job in writing it, but the truth was, I was too close to know whether anyone else would think it was any good. My wife, Vilma, and my mum were worried, but not about the quality of the book. Neither wanted me to be subjected to the sort of abuse that I received in the media when I resigned as general secretary of the Labour Party in 2007. But both knew that I was determined to tell my story.

Working in front-line politics is like working in a goldfish bowl: everything you do is a potential story, good or bad. Elected politicians rightly have their say, argue their corner and defend themselves. It's different for the staff of a political party. As a political staffer, you know there's a risk that one day you could, however inadvertently, become a bad story yourself.

You know, too, that if and when that happens the "machine" will protect you as best it can. It is an unwritten but understood insurance policy andgoes to the heart of how and why political staff will go the extra mile. Yes, they believe in the party - but also that the party values them. When a difficult story breaks, there is an expectation that although it needs to be "handled", it will be handled together. It is a bond of loyalty that, once broken, is very hard to replace.

Over the years, party staff I knew became the news; others looked on with a "there but for the grace of God go I" attitude. They were, however, reassured by the duty of care that the party showed to those in trouble. I naively expected that same loyalty would be shown to me when the "Donorgate" scandal broke in November 2007. I know that when it wasn't, the impact was felt by staff across the party who saw how, under "new management", they could expect to be treated if things became tricky for them.

The impact of my enforced resignation two years ago was felt acutely by my family. In a botched piece of political management, I was (falsely) branded a criminal and the subsequent 18-month police investigation into my affairs carried a heavy price. One of my children was bullied at school, my mum was in pieces, and all the while Vilma was pregnant. This was all happening just weeks after my dad had died.

And so, I have decided to tell my story. I don't think it is a bitter book - angry occasionally, perhaps, but I don't think that is surprising. It is a book about what it was like to be involved in some momentous political events, what it felt like to be there and what the impact was on my family. The truth is that I was addicted to work and neglected home. I hope that I am honest about my mistakes; I think I am. I hope, too, that I do not go in for self-justification.

But why tell it now? The reality is that, immediately after the next election, whatever the result, there will be a glut of books about the New Labour years. Senior politicians and political correspondents will all have their say. The rule is that people like me, party staff, don't usually talk; we keep secrets and protect our political masters. If I was going to break that "rule", as I have, and tell my story, then the only time it would be heard was now.

It wasn't until May 2009 that the Crown Prosecution Service announced that I was not to face charges under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. We didn't actually start writing the book until the summer of 2009; we couldn't have got it out any earlier. Some have suggested that I am publishing the book now so that it sells more copies. Well, call me old-fashioned, but I do want people to read it! Others have suggested that I have written it because I am arrogant. Well, I guess there is some truth in that. If you don't (arrogantly) think that you have something interesting to say, then you don't write a book.

For some, I have unforgivably stepped outside the political tribal system. I may have been betrayed by those who should have stood by me, but now I have become the betrayer. I will have broken faith with their expectations of loyalty.

However, it is no longer that simple. Yes, I remain a Labour Party member. Yes, I remain a party donor. But loyalty is a two-way street, and I would hope that, whatever people feel, they will understand why blind loyalty is no longer something I am willing or able to give.

Read the full version of this article HERE.


Alan Douglas said...

Take another view - it is not Watt who has betrayed Labour, he merely betrayed those who DID betray Labour. BG certainly, TB one could argue either way. In the 80s we used to talk about Militant "entryism" into Labour (Derek Hatton/Liverpool etc). Perhaps we need to talk about entryism re Blair/Brown/Mandlebum/Campbell into the mainstream Labour party as well.

Watt is right to expose this, and certainly right to expose it now. The cowards will write their similar books after the election has wiped them out. To which my first question would be "How come, if you knew all this earlier, did you allow such a person to "lead" your party AND the whole country to the dogs ?"

Well done Watt, tho I disagree with ecery one of your principles, I think you have been (or, rather, become) true to yours.

Alan Douglas

Rupert Matthews said...

Not the money then!

golden_balls said...

Its a good defense but it won't wash with many Labour supporters.

He was letdown by the Labour Party and its an interesting view of events both personal and historic.

But why months before a election Peter. I'm afraid to say i think he was seduced by the money or thats what many people will think.

I hope the money helps his family and he moves on with his life.

Jabba the Cat said...

Ferrets in a sack?

Unsworth said...

Well said, Alan Douglas. I, too, have grown very tired of the immediate personal attack when embarrassing stories come out.

The fact that Watt is/was paid for his story does not actually make it any less true. Ghastly scum like the execrable Liam Byrne seem to think otherwise - but they would find it extraordinarily difficult to understand the concept of truth anyway.

Watt has a story to tell, it is little different to Campbell also having his 'memoirs' published and, entertainingly, brandishing them at the Chilcot 'Inquiry'. I don't object to either and everyone will make their own judgements as to the veracity of these accounts.

All of these books are subjective views, anyway. They could hardly be anything else. Readers will decide who to believe - and in my view Watt is more credible than most.

I'd go further. It's true that Iain might wish to make a large amount of money from publishing, but that is not a crime. There are those who may take the view that this is a deliberate political act - but I suspect it simply to be a sound commercial decision. And it is patent that by publishing other books, where the author or subject is of the Left, there's a certain even-handedness.

Nonethless, we can certainly expect further vilification emanating from the scalded and sordid Left Wing. I look forward with interest to see which (if any) of these 'critics' will actually address the content of the book itself. Is there the slightest chance of that?

Paddy Briggs said...

You betray an organisation if you do not tell the truth (as you see it) not if you do. Thank heavens for the fact that we live in a society which has freedom of speech and of publication. The truth will always out in the end. If anyone objects to Mr Watts's book there are actions they can take.

Penfold said...

Self-serving tosh.
He's bitter and pissed orff with the manner in which he was treated and indeed the manner in which he was cast adrift by the Party.
So he wants to get some revenge in and kick a few bodies and make a few points.
Great, super, teriff, so admit it and admit that now is a good time to distribute the book and get some of that comeback he's been looking for.

Poor lad still doesn't get it, those that live by the sword, die by the stab in the back. It's a dirty and nasty career path that he's involved with.

DiscoveredJoys said...

I was thinking about this the other day, and Peter Watt's comments bear out my thoughts.

The 'old' support model he was used to working for was based on leadership. You expect the leaders you follow to have many virtues, including looking after their own.

Unfortunately the current government are not leaders (imposing their will on events) but managers (responding to events). Management is great if you want people to comply but poor if you want people to engage.

There has been a drift from leadership to management over several governments. The current government has completed that transition - its management job is to protect the political machine. It does this by sacrificing those that do not comply and rewarding those that do. They do not seem to care that the protection of the machine is not what government should be about.

Business people will tell you that you need managers to make the business run - but you need leaders to set the direction and values for the enterprise.

I hope a different party will worry more about leadership and values and less about managing the fine details of bin collection or ID databases?

Anonymous said...

'They were, however, reassured by the duty of care that the party showed to those in trouble. '

Didn't the way his bosses treated Mo Mowlam suggest to Watts that the party might not be the caring, sharing organisation he seems to have imagined?

Kenzas said...

Was Vilma really pregnant for 18 months?

Jimmy said...

Well it's nice to know that his motives were pure although I think it is unfortunate that, no doubt for reasons of space, he omitted the details of the charity to which he donated the proceeds

nullo said...

your "About the Author" on Watt´s book´s webpage

says that he became Labour´s General Secretary in 1995. now that´s incompatible with whats said at the end of the new statesman´s article

and with what wikipedia says

and it is also just implausible, since he was 26 in 1995. Also the mistaken date makes his career as summarized there look very weird.

I hope you guys have not printed the mistake on the book! ;-)

Unsworth said...

@ Jimmy

Why should he donate the proceeds to anyone, charity notwithstanding? You seem to believe this to be necessary - care to explain why?

Then again, do you think the same suggestion applies to Campbell? And to extend that, what about Brown's books on 'Courage'? After all, Brown is surely far too busy as Prime Minister to take time off to write this stuff, isn't he? And I seem to recall that we're paying Brown to run the country rather than write books.

Jimmy said...


I would have to agree that a serving PM should not be moonlighting as an author, but neither Brown nor Campbell have sold anyone out, indeed the latter I believe has indicated that he will be using the book to raise funds for the party. I accept that Mr. Watt is entitled to keep his thirty pieces to do with as he pleases, but I merely note that donating them would add credence to his protestations of virtue.

Unsworth said...

@ Jimmy

WTF are his 'protestations of virtue'? What 'virtue'?

So, telling the truth is treachery?

In the NuLab world it certainly is.

As to "neither Brown nor Campbell have sold anyone out", don't be so silly. They've done nothing but sell this country and its people out. They are traitorous scum.

Jimmy said...

Treachery often involves telling the truth, just to the wrong people.