Q&A: Tom Watson
The MP for West Bromwich East and Deputy Chair of the Labour Party Tom Watson has made his name as the relentless pursuer of tabloid hackers as a member of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, even comparing James Murdoch to a mafia boss. We hacked into his private thoughts to find out what makes him tick
Describe your religious upbringing
I had a mixed upbringing. My staunchly atheist father used to barely tolerate my C of E mother sending us to Sunday School. Her priest in Sheffield had been the communist Alan Ecclestone, so she could always outwit my father’s Marxist objections.
How would you describe yourself now in terms of “belief”?
It’s love – the tiny particles of which form an invisible force that makes the world a better place.
Have your views on religion informed your politics?
No, but the values of my mother’s Sunday School often form the inner conversation. I guess this is also why I’m currently enjoying Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists.
Many secularists feel the political establishment is too deferential towards religion. What is your view?
I think they’re right.
If you could disestablish the Church would you?
There are many challenges I want to meet in politics. Disestablishing the Church is not top of the list, though I wouldn’t object if a cogent plan was advanced by the executive.
Both the Labour and the Coalition governments have expanded the role of churches in education. Where do you stand on this?
Forgive me, dear secularists, I don’t have a problem with faith-based schooling provided kids are allowed to retain a sense of curiosity, scepticism and open-minded inquiry.
Before the hacking inquiries, what was your proudest political achievement?
I worked hard to achieve a pardon for the people who were “shot at dawn” in the First World War. Many were executed as deserters when they were suffering serious trauma. It meant a lot to see that go through.
There are many tiny wins. A huge piece of work on open data whilst at the Cabinet Office is probably the most useful, though not particularly high-profile, achievement. This agenda is about allowing data sets like transport timetables or mapping data to be released into the public domain so that clever people can do creative and inventive things with it. It should be one of the pillars of open government.
You made quite an impact at the inquiry into phone hacking – what was your favourite moment?
Rupert Murdoch trying to understand my colleague Jim Sheridan’s growly Scottish accent.
Baroness Susan Greenfield argues that video games and social media are bad for the brain. As a keen gamer what do you think of this argument?
She has consistently failed to produce any convincing evidence. It’s usually politicians who make claims they can’t back up with evidence, not scientists.
What’s the best thing about the Internet? And the worst?
Best: Fark.com; worst: David Aaronovitch on Twitter.
What’s the most important attribute to have in politics?
A sense of humour and proportion.