Now in his stunning memoirs entitled Inside Out Watt provides the ultimate insider expose’: a no holds-barred account of the spectacular decline of the most effective party political machine of modern times.
The former General Secretary of the Labour Party during two Labour Premierships is forthright in his views that the Labour Party needs to keep looking to broaden its outlook and resist the temptation to retrench into positions that would merely satisfy it’s base –
“It would be a mistake to merely indulge in instinctive attacks on the Coalition.”
Peter Watt, the man who was not Tony Blair’s first choice as General Secretary and the man who Gordon Brown labelled a criminal is proud of the New Labour project. Thatcherism and the election of 1992 are vivid reminders for Watt that the road back to government for the Labour Party will not be easy. It is surprising to hear him say;
“The Con/Lib government is to be praised for putting aside tribal differences and working together in difficult circumstances for the common good.”
Peter Watt is no ordinary former General Secretary of the Labour Party. He was part of a Labour generation that challenged received party wisdom and ensured three consecutive election victories and a fourth election that denied the Conservative Party their expected majority.
CARDIFF EAST: How did the Labour Party get within minutes of going bankrupt?
PETER WATT: It overspent between 1997 and 2005 – simply it spent more money than it raised and built up debt. By early 2006 when I became General Secretary the situation was that we were relying on the good will of creditors and unrealistic fundraising targets to survive. When the allegations of Cash for Honours broke our fundraising dried up and creditors were less prone to show good will. In order to get our accounts signed off or to ensure that we were still trading solvent we had to work hard to ensure that we could meet our liabilities – and on several occasions we got very close to not being able to do this. Ultimately we had to reschedule all of our debt and get spending under control; a process that I began and I am glad to say has now been completed. So things are much more stable now.
CARDIFF EAST: How can the Labour Party properly fund itself in the 21st Century?
PETER WATT: In my opinion traditional membership of political parties will continue to be on a generally downward trend. The current Union affiliation system will shortly be challenged by party funding legislation that the Government is going to introduce. And high value donations will become less and less common. This will affect all the Parties to some extent and ultimately that means that there should be an extension of state funding to Parties. This will be unpopular with the public, particularly at a time of great austerity. But if the Country needs to have healthy parties, which are central to our democracy, then we will have to pay a small amount to support them.
CARDIFF EAST: What motivated you to join the Labour Party?
PETER WATT: Family – my Dad was a Labour man and had been a member for years. And religious belief, we are a Catholic family and Mum and Dad instilled a strong sense of right and wrong, tolerance, valuing other people and working together to support those who needed help. I have supported the Party as long as I can remember and I joined when I was 15 becoming active after we lost the election in 1992.
CARDIFF EAST: Do you still hold to the Labour Party’s core values?
PETER WATT: Yes, I believe that we will achieve more as families, neighbours, communities, towns and countries if we work together. That we have a moral responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves and a duty to tackle prejudice and social injustice.
Peter Watt’s memoirs INSIDE OUT can be purchased at Amazon here.
NEXT WEEK PART 3: Peter Watt reveals just how close we came to a General Election in 2007.