Ten people who changed the world: Tom Watson, MP who shook the world of British politics

Whether in the cut-throat field of politics or the fashion industry's corridors of power, this year they left our planet a better place. Celebrate 10 of the best, nominated by Independent writers

Most MPs wield no power and little influence. The sense of powerlessness is especially intense for backbenchers that languish in opposition soon after their party is ejected from power. As a Labour MP in this current Parliament, Tom Watson was in such a position.

There is only one way for such peripheral politicians to make an impact. They can focus on a single issue over which they feel strongly and refuse to be diverted from their chosen cause. This is what Watson did and as a result has had more impact on public life than most ministers.

Watson's activities did not bring the hacking saga to its first breathtaking climactic – the revelation that the phone of the murdered teenager, Milly Dowler, had been hacked was the spark that lit the fire. But Watson had displayed dogged, courageous and forensic resolution before the blaze erupted and continued to do so as a powerful elite sought to cool the intense heat.

His focus before the news about Dowler's phone was pivotal. It is easy to forget how unfashionable the pursuit of the hacking saga had become. The Labour leadership was not interested and Ed Miliband's media adviser, Tom Baldwin, had written a memo to the shadow cabinet urging them to keep clear of the subject. In what now seems a distant land, the priority of Miliband was to woo News International and not to challenge the mighty empire. Most newspapers had lost interest, in some cases for obvious reasons. This is the phase when a less determined MP might have lost interest in a cause.

Watson kept going. In doing so he had two advantages. He knew he was right and that a scandal of mind-boggling proportions was being casually or determinedly unexplored. It always helps when there is no room for doubt as an MP sticks to his unswerving course. The other helpful factor was that at some point he knew vindication would come. There was too much evidence for the scandal to remain buried forever. None the less, with the party leaderships, the police and much of the media turning away, Watson made his distinct mark. Most specifically, he used Parliament to full effect.

This is highly unusual. A lot of MPs are used by Parliament in the sense that they are no more than lobby fodder for their respective leaderships. To use Parliament as a stage on which to advance an unfashionable crusade is a neat reversal of orthodoxy. At Prime Minister's Questions, whenever Watson was called, a silence descended from nowhere as if the rest of the Chamber sensed that he was on to something but did not really want to know. His early target was Cameron's former press secretary and News of the World editor, Andy Coulson. In retrospect, Coulson's departure from Number 10 at the start of the year was a sign of what was to follow. But Watson aimed much wider in subsequent questions, articles and in his role on the Culture Committee, an institution that has acquired greater significance partly as a result of Watson's persistence. The rise in the prominence and importance of parliamentary committees is one welcome consequence of the drama.

Watson's determined hyperactivity meant that when the grim reports about Milly Dowler's phone surfaced dramatically in the summer, he and a few other MPs were ready to strike. His readiness was an absolutely central part of the saga. Without the likes of Watson, a shocked public would have turned its fire on Parliament as well as parts of the media. It would have posed a damning question: why had the entire political world turned away? Instead, the political world had a voice and one that knew more or less every twist of the tale. Suddenly, Messrs Cameron, Miliband and the rest could hide behind Watson and agree that he spoke for them all.

His subsequent questioning of suddenly humbled key witnesses brought before the Culture Committee helped to cast more light on what had happened. In itself the symbolism was vivid. Watson and others were the masters now, as the Murdochs and their senior entourage apologised for what had happened, a reversal of roles that many of the most supposedly powerful political leaders never expected to see in their lifetimes – the elected politician making life uncomfortable for mighty media executives. More important, Watson was forensic in his questioning, especially in relation to what key figures knew and when.

Watson was by no means alone in sticking to his course, but as a Labour MP on the opposition benches he was less well placed than some to make an impact. He made the most of what he had on his side, the truth and a parliamentary platform. In doing so he is one of those who has changed forever the media and political culture in the UK.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power