Tom Watson’s diary: My “diminished figure” and the final round with Murdoch

Labour’s deputy leader talks about his weight loss and his mission to hold journalism to account. 

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I keep reading in the newspapers that I’m a “diminished figure”. It may not be entirely flattering but in the most literal sense it’s true. It was looking back at Labour figures of the past who died in their fifties – Hugh Gaitskell, John Smith, Robin Cook – that convinced me to lose weight and get healthy.

Since last summer I’ve taken off 86lbs through a regime of cutting out sugar, eating better and exercising. I lift weights, struggle at circuit training, cycle wherever I can, and try to take 10,000 steps a day. I’ve motivated myself with some rudimentary “nudge” theory – every time I reach a weight loss goal, I buy a new piece of kit for my bike. When I’ve lost my hundredth pound I’m going to treat myself to a new bike (I’m considering a Brompton but do send suggestions).

This morning started with what the LA set call a “bulletproof coffee”. When I mentioned it on Robert Peston’s show last month, more than a few eyebrows were raised. In politics you often need something to get you through the day and this coffee certainly helps. It’s basically butter from grass-fed cows blended with fresh coffee – the idea is to get saturated fats into your diet so that you’re not as hungry during the day. Does it taste nice? It tastes like milky coffee, as you’d imagine, when you think about the source of butter.

Sugaring the pill

The experience has made me think a lot harder about how we should deal with health problems associated with obesity. I’m sick of the tabloids and politicians judging the overweight. It’s almost impossible for people to keep the weight off when the system is stacked against them. We need food manufacturers, retailers, policymakers and politicians to work together to make it easier for people to eat more healthily and get more exercise.

I keep hearing that the government is going to restrict TV advertising. That’s fine as far as it goes, but nowhere near ambitious enough when there are four million people with type 2 diabetes in the UK. Contrary to popular belief, it can be a reversible condition – when you deal with the sugar inputs.

All hail the Fantastic Negrito

I managed to take a pal to see Fantastic Negrito, aka Xavier Dphrepaulezz, perform one of the best live gigs I have ever witnessed. Watching him and his band play their unique brand of R&B, rock, roots and blues at Dingwalls in Camden, north London, was almost a religious experience.

He knows exactly how to work an audience, switching from comic banter to savage polemic. This man is at the peak of his career. I can’t wait for his new album to come out later this month. I love being shadow culture secretary. I go to gigs and call it work. 

Dave and the Goliaths

It was a scary pleasure to present Billy Bragg with an award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music at the Ivor Novellos this week. Is it really more than 30 years since I used to sharpen the pencils for the Red Wedge meetings that took place at the old Labour HQ in Walworth Road? Billy was the energy behind one of the most remarkable periods of youth politics in recent history. That was the time Porky the Poet, aka Phill Jupitus, gave me my first Housemartins badge.

With his customary grace, Billy used his acceptance speech to praise Dave, a young rapper who’d also won an award. His biting lyrics really hit me. In “Question Time” Dave rallies against Theresa May and David Cameron, but puts tough questions to Labour, too: “Honestly, I wanna put my trust in you/But you can understand why if I’ve got trust issues.” There’s our challenge for this parliament in a single lyric.

Leveson’s long tail

There’s always a sense of drama when the government announces a statement in the House. My team has to scramble to draft a speech, change scheduled meetings at short notice and brief the media – and we only find out the contents of the government’s statement 45 minutes before I get to my feet in the chamber. This week it’s the proposed takeover of Sky by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox. The government has given it approval as long as Sky News is sold to another organisation.

This feels like the tail end of my battles with the Murdochs. In truth I wish I could leave Rupert Murdoch, phone-hacking and press abuse behind. But you’ve got to finish what you started and this isn’t over. There are obligations and promises to fulfil. The government capitulated to pressure from media barons and cancelled part two of the Leveson Inquiry a few months ago. The inquiry was due to look at how corporate governance failure led to the culture of phone-hacking and how the press colluded with the police and politicians to cover it up. The government’s decision to cancel it ensures the cover-up continues.

Power and responsibility

Although many of our national newspapers are much reformed since the hacking scandal, there are still examples of terrible behaviour. The Kerslake Report looking at the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing said the panel was “shocked and dismayed” by the behaviour of some reporters towards grieving families. One mother described how she and her partner had gone to the stadium to look for their son. While they were out searching, a journalist turned up at their door and broke the news casually to their teenage daughter that her brother had died. I can’t imagine the anguish that must have caused. Stories like this remind me why campaigners for reform must keep going. If you’ve got a platform, you’ve got a responsibility to use it to advocate for others without one. That’s what I intend to keep doing.

Tom Watson is the deputy leader of the Labour Party and shadow culture secretary

Tom Watson is the MP for West Bromwich East, and Deputy Chair of the Labour Party. He is also an avid gamer and campaigner for media integrity.

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Who sunk Brexit?