Tom Watson (Labour politician)

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Tom Watson

Portrait of Tom Watson in 2018.jpg
Watson in 2018
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Assumed office
12 September 2015
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byHarriet Harman
Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport[1]
Assumed office
7 October 2016
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
ShadowingKaren Bradley
Matt Hancock
Jeremy Wright
Preceded byKelvin Hopkins
Chairman of the Labour Party
In office
12 September 2015 – 14 June 2017
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byHarriet Harman
Succeeded byIan Lavery
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
In office
14 September 2015 – 7 October 2016
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
ShadowingMatt Hancock
Ben Gummer
Preceded byLucy Powell
Succeeded byIan Lavery
Minister for Digital Engagement and Civil Service Issues
In office
25 January 2008 – 5 June 2009
Prime MinisterGordon Brown
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byShriti Vadera
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence
In office
5 May 2006 – 6 September 2006
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Sec. of StateDes Browne
Preceded byDon Touhig
Succeeded byDerek Twigg
Lord Commissioner of the Treasury
In office
10 May 2005 – 5 May 2006
Prime MinisterTony Blair
ChancellorGordon Brown
Preceded byNick Ainger
Succeeded byFrank Roy
Member of Parliament
for West Bromwich East
Assumed office
7 June 2001
Preceded byPeter Snape
Majority7,713 (19.8%)
Personal details
Thomas Anthony Watson

(1967-01-08) 8 January 1967 (age 52)
Sheffield, England
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Siobhan Watson
(2001–2012; separated)
Alma materUniversity of Hull
WebsiteOfficial website

Thomas Anthony Watson (born 8 January 1967) is a British Labour Party politician who was elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in September 2015. He has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for West Bromwich East since the 2001 general election and was Minister for Digital Engagement and Civil Service Issues at the Cabinet Office from 2008 to 2009.[2]

In October 2011, Ed Miliband appointed Watson as the Deputy Chair of the National Executive Committee and the Labour Party's Campaign Co-ordinator for the 2015 general election.[3] He resigned from both roles in July 2013 following a controversy over the selection of a new parliamentary candidate for Falkirk to replace Eric Joyce.[4]

On 12 September 2015, Watson was elected as his party's Deputy Leader, alongside Jeremy Corbyn, the new Leader of the Labour Party,[5] gaining 198,962 votes or 50.7%, including second preference votes from those who voted for other candidates.[6] Since October 2016, he has also served as Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, Tom Watson was educated at King Charles I School, Kidderminster and the University of Hull, where he was active in the Hull University Labour Club and elected President of the Students' Union in 1992. He was Chair of the National Organisation of Labour Students from 1992–93. He then worked as a marketing officer and advertising account executive.

In 1993, he began to work for the Labour Party as National Development Officer for Youth. He then worked on the party's 1997 general election campaign before becoming the National Political Officer of the AEEU trade union.[7]

Member of Parliament[edit]


Watson was elected MP for West Bromwich East at the 2001 general election. He served on the Home Affairs Select Committee from 2001 to 2003, and supported the committee's recommendation on UK drug policy to "initiate a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways – including the possibility of legalisation and regulation – to tackle the global drugs dilemma".[8]

In his first year in parliament, Watson launched a campaign to ban album sales of convicted sex offender Gary Glitter.[9] In 2002, Watson moved a Ten Minute Rule Bill to change organ donation laws.[10] In 2003, Watson voted in favour of going to war with Iraq,[11][12] and subsequently voted consistently against an investigation into the war.[13] Watson is a member of the Labour Friends of Israel and in 2002 was a leading candidate for the chairmanship alongside Stephen Byers.[14]

Watson was campaign chair for Labour in the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election in July 2004. The campaign drew criticism for its dirty tactics, particularly a Labour leaflet proclaiming "Labour is on your side – the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers", for which Watson later admitted responsibility and expressed regrets.[7][15]

In 2004 he won the New Statesman New Media Award in the category of elected representative for being one of the first MPs to use his blog to further the democratic process.[16]


Watson was appointed as an Assistant Government Whip in September 2004.[17] He was promoted in May 2006 to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence. Watson was instrumental in ensuring that soldiers shot for cowardice in the First World War received posthumous pardons.[18]

On 5 September 2006, it was reported that Watson had signed a letter to Tony Blair urging the Prime Minister's resignation to end the uncertainty over his succession.[19] The Government Chief Whip, Jacqui Smith, told Watson that evening that he must either withdraw his signature to the letter, or resign his post. On 6 September 2006, he resigned his ministerial position and released a further statement calling on Blair to resign.[20] Tony Blair was quoted by the BBC as saying that the statement and letter from Watson was "disloyal, discourteous and wrong" and that he would be seeing Watson later in the day.[21]

Watson in 2009

Watson returned as a government whip in July 2007, after Gordon Brown became prime minister.[22] Watson took a particular interest in digital affairs, and in making non-personal government data more available to the public. As a Cabinet Office minister from January 2008 to June 2009 he promoted innovative data use and open source software.[23][24]

Watson led a number of MPs in speaking out firmly against the Digital Economy Act 2010, as the bill was being passed through Parliament in April 2010. He took part in a protest against the bill outside parliament on 24 March 2010.[25]


On 10 May 2009 it was revealed that since being re-elected to parliament in 2005, Watson had claimed the maximum £4,800 allowance for food in a single year. From 2005 to 2009, Watson and Iain Wright claimed over £100,000 on a central London flat they shared.[26] Watson responded that a "pizza wheel" that appeared on a Marks & Spencer receipt he had submitted was given as a free gift after he spent £150 at the store. He added: "All claims were made under the rules set out by the House of Commons authorities. I fully understand why the public expects the system to be reformed. I voted for this last week and only hope that reforms can go even further as quickly as possible."[26]


Watson served on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee from July 2009 to September 2012.[27]

In October 2011 Watson was promoted to become Deputy Chair of the Labour Party, to work with Jon Trickett and Michael Dugher in the Shadow Cabinet Office, running Labour's elections and campaigns. He resigned from this position in July 2013, in light of the 2013 Labour Party Falkirk candidate selection row.[4]

News International phone hacking scandal[edit]

Watson played a significant role in the News International phone hacking scandal by helping to bring the series of events at the News of the World into the open.[28] As a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, he questioned Rupert and James Murdoch, along with former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, in a Committee session on 19 July 2011. After the subsequent re-questioning of James Murdoch on 10 November 2011, Watson likened him to a mafia boss.[29]

Leveson Inquiry leak[edit]

On 27 November 2011, Watson's website published Alastair Campbell's evidence that was due to be presented to the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics during the following week. After this act was highlighted on the Guido Fawkes blog, together with references to the source material, the page was withdrawn.[30] Paul Staines, editor of Guido Fawkes, was summoned, on the same day that this appeared, to appear in front of the enquiry. It appeared that Watson was not going to be summoned to appear as the Leveson Enquiry had deemed that he copied it from the Guido Fawkes blog, a version that had been redacted. No details were to hand to verify the dates and times of his publication, nor how it appeared to be unredacted. The summons against Staines was withdrawn on 30 November 2011, the day before he was due to give evidence.[31]

Dial M for Murdoch[edit]

In July 2011 it was announced that Watson and his co-author Martin Hickman, a journalist from The Independent, were writing a book dealing with the relationship between newspapers belonging to Rupert Murdoch's News International and senior British politicians and police officers.[32] Watson wrote his book at the same time as The Guardian journalist Nick Davies was writing his, which was subsequently released as Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch. Watson and Davies subsequently met and discussed their respective projects.[32] The publication date and title of Watson's book, Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain, were released just three days before it was due to go on sale amid fears News International would try to prevent the launch.[33] On the day details of the book were revealed, Watson indicated on his blog his belief that the book would be controversial: "Very excited to say we've finally finished the book. It's out this Thursday. I have a hunch it will be one of the most attacked books this year."[34]

Allegations of high-level UK paedophile network[edit]

On 24 October 2012, Watson suggested in the House of Commons that a paedophile network may have existed in the past at a high level, protected by connections to Parliament and involving a close aide to a former Prime Minister; neither the aide nor the former Prime Minister were named. He called on the Metropolitan Police to reopen a closed criminal inquiry into previous allegations.[35] In December 2012, the Metropolitan Police stated that, after Watson had passed information to them, they had established Operation Fairbank to investigate the allegations.[36] It was reported by The Independent that police had interviewed a number of adults who claimed that, as children, they had been sexually assaulted by senior MPs.[37] However, by March 2016 The Daily Telegraph reported that Operation Fairbank caused much speculation on the internet but made little progress in exposing the alleged paedophile ring.[38]

In 2015, Watson was criticised for consistently refusing to comment after it was revealed that the police had been pushed into investigating rape allegations against Leon Brittan by Watson, who wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and that the police later had to apologise that Brittan's family were not told that the case was dropped before his death. Watson had repeated the allegations after the death.[39] The rape allegations were examined by the Metropolitan Police but officers could not find evidence that would lead to further action, though multiple allegations of child abuse by Brittan were still being investigated at the time.[40] Watson was subsequently criticised in 2019 at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse by lawyers for falsely accused former MP Harvey Proctor as a "vehicle for conspiracy theorists".[41]


Watson has been critical of conservative former Fox News host Glenn Beck, claiming Beck's "type of journalism is dangerous and can have wide-ranging negative effects on society. The kind of material broadcast by Glenn Beck is not unique; a number of other 'shock jocks' operate in the States. However, none has displayed intolerance on such a frequent and irresponsible scale as Glenn Beck. It is vital that that kind of 'news' is not made or broadcast in the UK. However, the proposed acquisition of BSkyB by News Corp means that there is an increased chance of it becoming a reality."[42]

In August 2010, Watson was guest editor of the Labour Uncut website.[43]

Watson has described himself as a feminist.[citation needed] He is Vice Chair of Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI).[44]

Opposition to anti-war protests[edit]

In December 2015, Watson spoke about Labour members who took part in a vigil against proposed UK airstrikes on Syria outside the office of Stella Creasy MP, saying that "if there were Labour party members on that [anti-war] demonstration, intimidating staff members of an MP like that, then I think they should be removed from the party." His spokesman later said that Watson was unaware that the office was empty at the time.[45]

Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen[edit]

In October 2016, Watson abstained, along with 100 other Labour MPs who abstained on or voted against the Labour Party’s unsuccessful motion to withdraw UK support from the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. The Saudi Arabian–led intervention in Yemen had led to thousands of civilian casualties.[46][47]

Hunger strike[edit]

Watson announced in October 2017 that he had gone on hunger strike, in support of two Guantánamo Bay detainees also on hunger strike, after the US government changed its policy on prisoners who refuse food; they will not be fed at all, instead of being force fed.[48]

European referendum[edit]

In 2013 Watson joined a cross-party campaign in support of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. He supported an amendment by the Conservative MP Adam Afriyie, for a referendum to be held before the 2015 general election.[49][50]

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party[edit]

Watson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the 2016 Labour Party Conference

On 8 May 2015, the day after the Labour Party lost the general election, Watson announced his intention to stand in the ensuing deputy leadership election, becoming the first candidate to declare.[51] Watson was nominated by 59 Members of Parliament, more than any of the other four candidates, and quickly emerged as the front runner in the ballot.[52] On 12 September he was elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party with 50.7% of the vote in the final round.[53] He was also appointed Labour Party Chair and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office by new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.[27]

In August 2016, Corbyn nominated Shami Chakrabarti for a peerage in the House of Lords shortly after she published a report which said that the Labour party did not contain endemic anti-Semitism. Watson said Corbyn did not tell him about the decision to give Chakrabarti a peerage, saying "The timing is not great for the Labour Party, I wasn't aware, I wasn't consulted on whether Shami was going in". Watson added that Chakrabarti was "precisely" the sort of person who should sit in the Lords.[54][55]

In the October 2016 shadow cabinet reshuffle, Watson was made Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. In that role he called for greater scrutiny of a planned takeover of Sky UK by Murdoch-owned Fox,[56] backed the TV licence fee,[57] criticised government pressure on Ofcom in relation to regulation of the BBC,[58] and proposed fairer rail ticketing for football fans.[59]

In June 2017 Ian Lavery replaced Watson as Labour Party Chair.[60]

In March 2018, Watson backed calls for a statute to be erected in memory of Mary Wollstonecraft.[61]

In September 2018, Watson vowed that if Labour won the next general election he would set up an independent, cross-party commission to investigate ways of preventing type-2 diabetes, with the aim of eliminating the estimated rise in cases within five years.[62]

In 2017, Tom Watson announced that the Labour Party would launch a review of the NHS treatment of gambling addiction. The review was published in 2018 which proposed a blanket ban of credit card payments for betting. Watson said making gambling payments with credit cards "significantly increases the risk gamblers will gamble more than they can afford."[63]

In 2019, following defections of Labour MPs to The Independent Group (TIG), Watson set up the Future Britain Group of Labour politicians.[64]

Personal life[edit]

Watson was married to Siobhan,[65] having two children before separating in 2012.[66][67]

In September 2018, during interview with The Today Programme, Watson revealed that he had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes but had "reversed" the condition through diet and exercise. Watson explained that between the summer of 2017 and September 2018 he lost seven stone (44.5 kg). Watson also revealed that he had "battled weight since my early 20s".[62]


Tom Watson is a gamer and a regular reviewer for New Statesman[68] and other titles. He finds it relaxing and confessed to spending too much time on Portal 2 while preparing for questions during the hacking story interviews.[69]

Watson is a fan of alternative rock music, especially the band Drenge, whom he recommended to the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, in his letter of resignation when stepping down from the post of party general election co-ordinator.[70] He also likes the music of Courtney Jaye,[70] Danny Coughlan, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Primal Scream and Public Enemy.[71]


  • 2012 – Dial M for Murdoch (Allen Lane) ISBN 1-84614-603-8


  1. ^ Culture, Media and Sport (2016–2017)
  2. ^ "Resignation". Tom Watson MP. 5 June 2009. Archived from the original on 12 January 2016.
  3. ^ "Unveiling Labour's new guard". BBC News. 7 October 2011. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  4. ^ a b "Tom Watson quits as Labour election campaign chief". BBC News. 4 July 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  5. ^ "Labour leadership contest live: Will Jeremy Corbyn win? – BBC News".
  6. ^ "Results of The Labour Leadership contest". Archived from the original on 21 July 2016. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  7. ^ a b Bernstein, Jon (28 September 2011). "The Politics Interview — Tom Watson". New Statesman. London. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  8. ^ "Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report". UK Parliament. 22 May 2002. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  9. ^ Bamber, David (14 October 2001). "Gary Glitter's comeback plan sparks protest". London: Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  10. ^ Journal And Information Office, House of Lords. "Publications and Records". Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  11. ^ "How Tom Watson voted on the Iraq War".
  12. ^ "Which current MPs voted for the Iraq war?". iNEWS. 6 July 2016.
  13. ^ "How Tom Watson voted on investigations into the Iraq war".
  14. ^ "Byers tipped for Jewish lobby job". Independent. 4 August 2002.
  15. ^ "Series of political knocks took toll on loyal Brownite, Tom Watson". The Guardian. 2 June 2009.
  16. ^ "The Politics Interview — Tom Watson".
  17. ^ Marina Hyde's diary, The Guardian, 6 January 2005; retrieved 6 September 2006
  18. ^ McDonald, Henry (28 October 2007). "War shame ended by plea of a daughter". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  19. ^ Minister joins Blair exit demands, BBC News Online, 5 September 2006; retrieved 6 September 2006
  20. ^ Blair under pressure to name day, BBC News Online, 6 September 2006; retrieved 6 September 2006.
  21. ^ Wintour, Patrick; Woodward, Will (11 September 2006). "Resignations and threats: the plot to oust the prime minister". The Guardian.
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  23. ^ Cross, Michael (10 July 2008). "Take your chance to free public data". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
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  25. ^ Owens, Craig (30 March 2010). "Tom Watson MP: 'Shame On' Authors Of Digital Economy Bill". Archived from the original on 9 September 2012.
  26. ^ a b Gordon Rayner and Rosa Prince (10 May 2009). "Iain Wright and Tom Watson lavish £100,000 on shared central London flat on MPs' expenses". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
  27. ^ a b "Tom Watson MP". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
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  30. ^ "Watson Hits Delete Button – Guy Fawkes' blog". 27 November 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  31. ^ "Denied Day in Court – Guy Fawkes' blog". 30 November 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  32. ^ a b Roy Greenslade (26 July 2011). "Hack Attack review – Nick Davies's gripping account of the hacking affair". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  33. ^ Hall, Richard (17 April 2012). "New book 'exposes links between Murdoch, politicians and police'". The Independent. Independent Print Ltd. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  34. ^ McNally, Paul (16 April 2012). "Tom Watson phone hacking book out this week". Retrieved 17 April 2012.
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  36. ^ "Jimmy Savile abuse: Number of alleged victims reaches 450". BBC News. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  37. ^ "Scotland Yard investigating allegations senior politicians abused children in the 1980s and used 'connections' to escape justice". The Independent. 13 December 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  38. ^ Evans, Martin (21 March 2016). "Operation Midland: The story behind the Met's controversial VIP paedophile ring investigation". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  39. ^ Cecil, Nicholas (9 October 2015). "Watson urged to break silence over Lord Brittan abuse claims". London Evening Standard. p. 6.
  40. ^ Tom Parmenter. "Watson Defends Actions Over Brittan Rape Claims". Sky News.
  41. ^ Evans, Martin (29 March 2019). "Tom Watson was a 'patsy for fake news' the child abuse inquiry is told". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  42. ^ Linkins, Jason (21 January 2011) British MP Tom Watson To Glenn Beck: 'You Are A Bigot', Huffington Post, 21 January 2011.
  43. ^ "The Week Uncut". Labour Uncut. 22 August 2010. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
  44. ^ Philpot, Robert (26 September 2015). "Shadow cabinet set for battle over Israel". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
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  46. ^ "Labour MPs rebel against party's own motion calling for action on Saudi Arabian war crimes". The Independent. 27 October 2016.
  47. ^ "Labour MP's Who Abstained on Welfare & Stopping Saudi War Crimes".
  48. ^ Watson, Tom (17 October 2017). "Why I'm going on hunger strike". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  49. ^ "David Cameron under new pressure to hold EU referendum before election". The Guardian. 6 October 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  50. ^ "Referendum now: Tom Watson backs Tory rebels calling for early EU vote". The Spectator. 6 October 2013. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  51. ^ Mason, Rowena (10 May 2015). "Caroline Flint tipped to run as Labour's deputy leader against Tom Watson". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  52. ^ Perraudin, Frances (19 June 2015). "Labour still a 20th-century party, says deputy leader contender Tom Watson". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  53. ^ "Tom Watson elected deputy leader of the Labour Party". BBC News.
  54. ^ "Tom Watson says Jeremy Corbyn didn't tell him about decision to make Shami Chakrarbati a peer". The Independent. 5 August 2016.
  55. ^ "Tom Watson criticises Shami Chakrabarti peerage nomination". The Guardian. 5 August 2016.
  56. ^ Sweney, Mark (20 June 2017). "Fox's £11.7bn bid for Sky 'should be referred to competition authorities'". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  57. ^ Sweney, Mark (13 June 2017). "Tom Watson urges Tories to reject DUP plan to abolish TV licence fee". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  58. ^ Ruddick, Graham (17 August 2017). "Labour accuses culture secretary over BBC and Ofcom 'interference'". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  59. ^ Wilson, Paul (10 August 2017). "Labour's Tom Watson calls for more flexible rail ticketing to help away fans". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  60. ^ Madeley, Pete. "Tom Watson ditched as Labour chairman in reshuffle".
  61. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn backs calls for statue to early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft". i. 7 March 2018. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  62. ^ a b "Tom Watson 'reversed' type-2 diabetes". BBC News. 12 September 2018. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  63. ^ "Proposed Ban on Credit Card Payments for UK Online Casinos".
  64. ^ Mason, Chris (11 March 2019). "Future Britain Group draws Labour MPs". BBC News. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  65. ^ "House of Commons – The Register of Members' Financial Interests – Part 2: Part 2". Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  66. ^ "MP Tom Watson finds new love after marriage comes to an end". Birmingham Mail. 26 August 2012. Retrieved 21 July 2013.
  67. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (20 October 2017). "Labour's Tom Watson: 'Do Jeremy Corbyn and I get on better now? Yes, a lot'". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  68. ^ "Tom Watson Best and Worst Games". Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  69. ^ "Tom Watson phone hacking scandal gaming confession". Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  70. ^ a b Gibsone, Harriet. "Tom Watson: 'I resign … Oh, and have you heard Drenge?'". The Guardian. Guardian Media Inc. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  71. ^ Watson, Tom. "Glastonbury Dispatches: Tom Watson MP". Noisey: Music by VICE. Vice Media. Retrieved 13 September 2015.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Peter Snape
Member of Parliament
for West Bromwich East

Political offices
Preceded by
New office
Minister for Digital Engagement and Civil Service Issues
Succeeded by
Shriti Vadera
Preceded by
Hilary Benn
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Preceded by
Lucy Powell
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
Succeeded by
Ian Lavery
Preceded by
Kelvin Hopkins
Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Party political offices
Preceded by
Stephen Timms
Deputy Chair of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Jon Ashworth
Preceded by
Harriet Harman
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Labour Party Chair
Succeeded by
Ian Lavery