Tom Watson, Labour’s embattled deputy leader, delivered a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon on accusations about the former home secretary Leon Brittan – which proved to be baseless. In response to a point of order by Sir Nicolas Soames, the Conservative MP for Mid Sussex, Watson delivered the following statement about the Brittan allegations which were later dismissed by the police. Watson acknowledged that people might have been angry with his language but did not apologise for his actions:
‘I understand the honourable and right honourable members feel aggrieved that Leon Britain was interviewed by the police and that they’re angry with my use of language. But I’m sure they’d also agree that when anyone is accused of multiple sexual crimes, by numerous completely unrelated sources, the police have a duty to investigate – no matter who it is.
‘My letter was promoted by Jane’s concern that procedures were not followed. It’s not for me to judgers the validity of these claims, but I believe I was right to demand that guidelines were adhered to. I also believe that very many victims in this country have been too terrified to speak out for too long. And it’s not all over just because a few famous people have gone to prison and hasn’t got out of hand because people in high places are scared. Survivors of child abuse have been belittled and ridiculed for too long. That’s the real scandal here.’
‘Earlier the Prime Minister has said that I should examine my conscience. Well I think we all need to examine our consciences in this House. We’ve presided over a state of affairs where children have been abused then ignored, dismissed then distained. If anyone deserves an apology it’s them.’
No one complains that Watson passed allegations to the police. They are complaining that he used PMQs to make his accusation on live television (and, ergo, feeding the beast of social media). They are complaining that he claimed, then, to possess ‘clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No.10’ when, in fact, there was no such intelligence. And they are not angry that Leon Brittan was interviewed by police: they are angry that Watson started a Salem-style witch hunt which followed Brittan to his grave.
After he delivered this statement, Watson was jeered by Tory MPs who shouted ‘shame’ across the chamber. The pressure on Watson to apologise isn’t going away, given the Prime Minister’s remarks earlier today. But if these tweets by the shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher, a key Watson, are anything to go by, he will be standing firm against those saying he was too eager to air the Brittan allegations.