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24 September 2015

Stealing lunches, offending Bananarama fans, and my own personal Armando Iannucci

“Does it feel like The Thick of It?” my old schoolfriend wants to know. He’s not the first to ask.

By Tom Watson

There are some things you just don’t see coming when you start a new job. Being accused of stealing food from war veterans on day three is one of them.

As readers might know, Jeremy Corbyn and I went to St Paul’s Cathedral on 15 September for a service to commemorate the Battle of Britain. Some enthusiastic young people who worked for Costa Coffee spotted our new leader as we were leaving and beckoned him over for selfies and a chat. We left with some sandwiches that they were handing out to guests.

It was a lovely moment and completely spontaneous but Jeremy got a rough ride in the press because he had allowed the staff to hand him two bags of food. The truth is that he did this because he was worried that his new government driver, who was taking him to Brighton to deliver a speech to the TUC, would miss his lunch. It was a typically thoughtful thing for Jeremy to do.


Performance anxiety

Peace broke out at Prime Minister’s Questions the following day, when there was a notable lack of hostilities across the despatch box. David Cameron was ill at ease with Jeremy’s crowdsourced questions. I felt anxious on the front bench, not least ­because Chris Bryant warned me repeatedly to stop fidgeting. But I felt the tension behind me dissipate once Jeremy got into his stride. The truth is that PMQs have become like The X Factor. Even MPs have developed a habit of judging their leader on his performance, rather than on the quality of his argument. I hope Jeremy can change that over the coming months.

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Fit for office

One of the questions that I’ve been asked most often is: “What’s Jeremy Corbyn really like?” I’m happy to report that he has passed my kids’ test. My family and I shared a room with Jeremy and his team before the leadership results were formally announced at a special conference on 12 September and the children later told their grandma that he was very kind and very funny. I concur. I’m still getting to know Jeremy but he is also patient, genial and decent – and remarkably fit. He seems to walk at jogging pace and flies up staircases. You might not be surprised to hear that I struggle to keep up.


Women in charge

I recently met Kate Green, our new shadow cabinet member for women and equalities. We discussed how we can increase women’s representation in the party and agreed that local government should be a priority. There are 127 council leaders and executive mayors in Labour-controlled areas but just 23 are women. That needs to change.


Baggies victorious

I managed to get two tickets to see Aston Villa play West Bromwich Albion, my local team, on Saturday so that I could take my ten-year-old, who’s a Villa fan. Unfortunately for him, the team that he and David Cameron support lost to West Brom’s finest. After the match, I met a 90-year-old Labour member called Micky Finn over a Guinness at the Sacred Heart Club, in the shadow of the stadium. “You’ve got your work cut out,” said Micky, chuckling away about our family’s divided loyalties.


One Mann army

I think that I’m being trolled by my fellow Labour MP John Mann. Every time I pass him in the Commons, he shouts: “You will be judged on the quality of your voter registration!” Luckily for John, it’s a priority.

I catch up with Gloria De Piero, now the shadow minister for young people and voter registration, to discuss what we can do in the next two months to reach the six million people who are eligible to vote but are not currently signed up. With our conference looming, it’s time for one last push.


Game theory

The first diary meeting with my team is a little overwhelming. There are more than 300 invitations to events in the next month. One that I’m determined not to miss is the EGX expo at the NEC in Birmingham. I can’t miss my favourite gaming festival, even if I only get the chance to pop in and buy the new Fifa 16. Video games are going to keep a lot of young designers and developers in work over the next few decades. It’s time that political parties took the industry seriously.


Bananarama splits

Up early to do the Today programme. Angry Bananarama fans email and tweet their contempt after I compare the prospect of Labour MPs defecting to the Lib Dems with leaving the Beatles for a Bananarama tribute band. One tweet says it was no coincidence that I’d disparagingly compared the all-male Beatles to the all-female Bananarama. Do I issue a press release making it clear that I’m a Bananarama fan? You’d have to travel a long way to find a better pop song than “Robert De Niro’s Waiting”.


Of conferences past

I open a sack full of post and my conference credentials fall out. My pass says “Deputy Leader – Access All Areas” and I’m reminded of my first ever conference 30 years ago. I’ve carried out a host of roles at conference, from trade union speechwriter to a delegate voting for John Smith’s one-member-one-vote reforms. But the toughest job of the lot was when, one year, I was responsible for charging the walkie-talkies before conference staff arrived at 7am. I make a mental note to find the person who does it this year so I can thank them personally.


Tuckered out

“Does it feel like The Thick of It?” my old schoolfriend wants to know. He’s not the first to ask. It’s only week one and I’ve already stolen food from veterans and offended the fans of Britain’s most successful all-female pop group. I could do with an adviser who can make sense of all this. Is Armando Iannucci available, I wonder?

Tom Watson is the MP for West Bromwich East and deputy leader of the Labour Party

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This article appears in the 23 Sep 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Revenge of the Left