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Digital Minister Tom Watson To Stand Down

Tom Watson, the man credited with being the UK government’s first blogger and encouraging use of open source is leaving the government

The UK Minister for Digital Engagement Tom Watson is set to resign from government for the second time according to reports in several newspapers..

According to articles in The Guardian and The Telegraph, Watson is set to step down as a Cabinet Office minister, in part of a government reshuffle catalysed by the current expenses scandal which has hit MPs from every party. He intends to remain as an MP, and contest the next election, according to reports.

Watson was named by The Daily Telegraph in its ongoing stories on MPs’ expenses but when contacted by eWeek Europe UK about the matter, Watson made a specific denial.”I didn’t claim for the legal fees associated with purchasing the Freehold on a shared property in London,” he said.

The Telegraph also linked Watson to the Damian McBride affair which centered on an alleged smear campaign against the Conservative leadership. However the Telegraph was careful to point out that Watson was not copied in on emails sent by McBride. Watson himself claims that he knew nothing about the mails and would not have approved them.

Watson posted an entry to his personal blog on the 20th May about a legal case concerning his role in the McBride affair. The entry consisted of a cut and paste of a press release from Associated Newspapers.

“Associated Newspapers Limited, the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail, apologised today to Tom Watson MP in a Statement in Open Court read before Mr Justice Eady.

“Mr Watson complained of an article by Iain Dale, headed “Smears, glowering henchmen-like the Nixon White House” published in the Mail on Sunday on 12 April 2009 in which it was stated not only that Mr Watson was copied into emails sent by Downing Street press adviser Damian McBride to Derek Draper, but that he “encouraged” them. The emails were reported to have made serious and false allegations about the private lives of a number of Conservative Party MPs in the course of discussing proposals for a new website to be known as “Red Rag”,” the blog entry stated.

If reports of Watson’s imminent resignation are accurate, this will be the second time he has stood down. Watson resigned as a junior defence minister in September 2006 amid power struggles between then Prime Minister Tony Blair and supporters of Gordon Brown. Watson then rejoined the Brown government in 2007, in the Government Whips office and was later appointed Cabinet Office Minster.

In his official Cabinet Office biography, Watson is name-checked as “Parliament’s first blogger” and having a “well-established interest in technology”.

During his time as digital minister, Watson was involved with a government announcement about encouraging open source. The move, announced on the 25th February was welcomed by open source supporters but seen as late in coming.

While it is not clear if Watson was referring to the timeliness of the whole strategy, or simply how long he took to blog about it, an entry on his personal blog on the 26th February said, “Bit late with this but there’s a change of policy on Open Source. I’d be really grateful for your ideas, views and constructive criticism.”

Watson was contacted for comment by email, via the Cabinet Office as well as at his West Bromwich constituency office but did not reply in time for this article.