Peter Watson: In Memoriam

The last time I saw Peter Watson was on 9th June 2010.

I had sneaked out of the office at lunchtime to attend the memorial service in Egremont to remember those who had been killed during the Cumbria Shootings seven days earlier.

Normally a cheerful gentleman, on this occasion, Peter looked white – a broken man. I went over to him to comfort him but there really were no words of cheer in the context of the devastating events of seven days earlier that had utterly devastated the hearts and souls of every West Cumbrian. I asked him how many of the 12 victims he had known. Through tears he said “most of them”.

I looked back at him and I realised the devastating cost of public service. He had served his local community as a Labour Councillor for decades. He had done so wholeheartedly. He was a friend and servant of all. As a consequence, he knew most of the people who had been killed so randomly and indiscriminately by a lone gunman.

Peter went onto tell me that he had only learnt of the Cumbria Shootings because he had picked up a copy of the London Evening Standard during a recent trip to the capital. His visit had been for an awards ceremony for the community newspaper he was Editor of – the Egremont Today. This publication represents the best in Labour values. Yes, it has articles from the Local MP and MEP – but it also covers community news – and advertising from local businesses. The newspaper is published monthly and distributed to 10,500 homes across central Copeland.

Anyone who has been a political activist for more than five minutes will understand  what an extraordinary amount of work that this would involve – even with a committed group of volunteers. Every time I have sought to design, print and distribute a Labour Party leaflet, I have wondered how on earth he managed it – while also serving as a local councillor. My understanding is that he simply never stopped. He lived to serve his local community – and the Labour Party.

Peter never sought the limelight. You won’t find him photographed on #labourdoorstep with a member of the Shadow Cabinet, or hobnobbing at party fundraisers in SW1, or speaking on the platform at Labour Party Conference, or jumping in front of television cameras at community events. But it’s the work that the Peter Watsons of this world do that keep our communities – and our local politics – running. They leave a gaping hole when they are gone.

During my conversation with Peter on 9th June 2010, we were interrupted by a journalist from Channel 4. She turned to me and asked me to tell her more about the Egremont community in the light of the Cumbria Shootings. I said to her “you need to speak to Peter: he knows everyone and everything about this community”.

I trust she listened and learned.