Peter Watt talks exclusively to CARDIFF EAST, in the third of a four part series, about life behind closed doors in Downing Street during the Labour Government.

Peter Watt was the General Secretary of the Labour Party from January 2006 until November 2007 when he resigned in a blaze of publicity following ‘Donorgate’.

As one of the most senior Labour Party figures Watt was an eye-witness to history as he presided over the transition from Prime Minister Tony Blair to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

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.

Peter Watt with Tony Blair

As we talk Peter Watt sits in his kitchen with the sounds of his family all around him filling the house. He is a dedicated family man. Watt is brutally honest in his memoirs of the toll that a job at the centre of power took on his family. Perhaps, the most striking passages in the book are those that tell of his father’s final illness and death. In the book he quotes the eulogy he gave for his father David Watt.

And that I think will be Dad’s greatest legacy – he and Mum taught us the value of family, the value of community and valuing others and value of inclusivity. That legacy will live on in every one of his children and grandchildren.”

CARDIFF EAST: How close was ‘the election that never was’ to being called in the autumn of 2007 and do you think that Labour could have won it?

PETER WATT: The Party was operationally ready – leaflets were printed, cars booked, campaign launch planned, funding was in place and staff recruited.  We had even got extra furniture and phone lines.  Across Whitehall Ministers were having leaving Parties.  The election was never formally declared but as far as most people were concerned Gordon called it off rather than decided not to call it.  Would we have won it?  I think so; we’d have been the largest Party at least.  We certainly wouldn’t have suffered our worse result since 1918.

CARDIFF EAST: What are your political priorities?

PETER WATT: The economy must be our political priority.  People need jobs, need to keep as much of their wages as possible and need to feel that they and their families’ lives will, on balance, improve in the future.  That means that we must better explain the role of the state as an enabler of economic success, the relationship between state and citizen and celebrate & nurture the success of the business community.

Vilma, my wife, and I foster.  We see all too often the results of bad parenting – children who have had their life chances compromised by poor parenting before they can walk properly.  Of course there are often economic or other mitigating factors, but for the sake of the children involved we should understand the parents’ circumstances a little less and the impact of their poor parenting a lot more.

I also think that we need to understand unfairness – not just how we in the Party define it but how those in communities across the country define it.  Benefit fraud is a working class issue; immigration is a working class issue.  Does that mean that we pander to prejudice? No! But it also means that we shouldn’t patronise people with a ‘we know what is best for you attitude.’

Finally – global security.  Environmental protection ‘yes’, supporting recycling and sustainable living ‘yes’.  Greater energy security – including a rapid expansion of a variety of sustainable power sources including nuclear power ‘yes’.  But also supporting our armed services in their increasingly complex and dangerous roles in the World.  The left is all too often seen by the armed services as not being on their side – that must change.

Peter Watt

CARDIFF EAST: What made you want to be General Secretary of the Labour Party?

PETER WATT: A good question!  I loved working for the Labour Party – it was an honour to work for an organisation that had delivered, and had the potential to deliver, amazing things for the Country.  I couldn’t believe my luck when in 1996 I began being paid for working to help deliver a Labour Government.  Ten years later I was given the incredible chance to be the Party’s General Secretary and shape its organisation as we entered a second decade of Labour Government.  Even though in a sense it all ended in tears – I don’t regret it at all.  I worked with some incredible people; some amazing staff and I think that we made a difference.

CARDIFF EAST: Which of the Labour candidates do you think are capable of leading the Labour Party back into government?

PETER WATT: Winning the next election will be very difficult for whoever wins the contest – the Coalition is very cleverly marking out the centre ground of politics as its own and, if the polls are to be believed, is winning the argument on cuts.  That all means that opposition will have to be a bit more sophisticated than attack every cut, brand the Tories as nasty and then wait for an angry public to vote them out.  In fact the Government has done a good job of branding Labour as being financially irresponsible and the extent of the cuts as inevitable.  The new Leader must therefore be able to articulate difficult messages to both the Party and critically the Public.  It will be easy to tell the Party what it wants to hear, more difficult to tell it what it needs to hear.  Several of the candidates can do this, but for me that means that the Candidate best able to lead the Party back into Government is David Milliband.

CARDIFF EAST: What attributes does the next leader of the Labour Party require?

Inside Out: Peter Watt's memoirs

PETER WATT: The new Leader will face a barrage of pressure from the Party to talk tough on cuts, to face down the Government on party funding reforms and to change party institutions.  They will need to be tough enough to face this down and begin to talk about the world after the cuts and after the party funding reforms have happened – because that is when the general election will happen.  They need to worry less about internal Party reforms and more about how the Party reaches out to those who don’t see party politics as having anything to do with them.  Most of all they need to lead the Party, listen to it of course, be inclusive of course – but ultimately lead it.

Peter Watt’s memoirs INSIDE OUT can be purchased at Amazon here.

NEXT WEEK PART 4: Peter Watt reveals more of his fascinating character. What makes him tick?

You can follow Peter Watt on:

twitter: @PeterWatt123

Part 1 – read here Part 2 – read here


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