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Mike Batt publishes letter criticising UK Music’s appointment of Tom Watson

By | Published on Wednesday 15 April 2020

Tom Watson

Songwriter and music industry veteran Mike Batt yesterday posted an open letter to his website strongly criticising the recent decision of cross-sector lobbying group UK Music to appoint former MP Tom Watson as its Chair.

Watson takes over the part-time top job at UK Music from Beggars exec Andy Heath, who had been Chair of the organisation ever since it was launched in 2008. On announcing his successor last month, Heath said that “Tom is one of the great political leaders of his generation and I know he will take UK Music from strength to strength and help continue to grow our fantastic industry”.

The former MP, shadow culture secretary and Labour Deputy Leader has been a long supporter of the music industry, making him a popular appointment in many quarters of the music community. However, his political career was not without controversy.

His interventions on the phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News UK business in 2011 means he has plenty of enemies at the Murdoch-owned Sun and Times, and various other newspapers that were heavily criticised in the resulting Leveson Inquiry. He was also Deputy Leader of Labour during a period of inner turmoil at the party, as those loyal to overall chief Jeremy Corbyn fought with those promoting a different political agenda.

However, the biggest controversy of all stemmed from Watson’s intervention in relation to a major investigation into sexual abuse claims made against a number of former MPs.

Following the Jimmy Saville scandal of 2012, he urged police to reinvestigate claims that a number of former politicians, including one-time Conservative Home Secretary Leon Britton, had been involved in a VIP paedophile ring. But that entire investigation centred on what were later proven to be the false claims of a man called Carl Beech, who was last year found guilty of perverting the course of justice, fraud and child sex offences.

The letter posted to Batt’s website basically argues that, with Watson having enemies in the ruling Conservative Party, his own party and among political journalists, he is an unsuitable candidate to head up an organisation whose primary role is to represent the music industry to Westminster and Whitehall.

The letter states: “Although Watson’s targets were establishment figures and almost exclusively conservative, he is arguably equally reviled on both left and right of politics (regardless of the few former colleagues who supported his appointment)”.

“If the British music industry is to continue to thrive”, it goes on, “it must have access to a sympathetic ear in government – currently Conservative. Can the industry be assured of a welcome with Watson as its flagbearer, and if not, is it worth the risk?”

UK Music is in essence a trade body of trade bodies, bringing together organisations that represent artists, musicians, songwriters, producers, labels, publishers and managers, as well as the collecting societies PRS and PPL, each of which has board representation in the cross-sector grouping.

The live sector is also represented via the UK Live Music Group, a sub-committee made up of the live industry’s trade bodies, the Chair of which also sits on the main UK Music board.

That entire board is involved in senior appointments, though a smaller committee of board members actually led on the process of recruiting a new Chair, as is pretty common when senior roles are being appointed. The full board then ultimately voted on Watson’s appointment.

Nevertheless, the letter on Batt’s website claims that the “appointment process remains clouded in mystery”, while also arguing that PRS and PPL – which provide much of UK Music’s funding – were not sufficiently involved.

The letter also alleges that at least one UK Music member, record industry trade group BPI, was against Watson’s appointment. And while disagreements between the different strands of the music industry represented within UK Music are pretty common, the letter says that – on the appointment of a Chair – such disagreements could jeopardise the future of the cross-sector group.

It concludes: “Were the BPI, having been so roundly ignored, to step away from UK Music, the hard won achievements of UK Music to date would be at risk. Should we allow the ambitions of a disgraced former MP and the covert machinations of a few unknown industry persons, blind to the optics of their choice, to put at risk the achievements of a body that has, until now, managed to work so very successfully on behalf of all of us?”

The letter encourages others who oppose Watson’s appointment to “make your views known” to the boards of all the other trade bodies. But UK Music yesterday stressed that the recruitment process of its new Chair was rigorous and the ultimate choice of Watson for the job had been welcomed across the music community.

A spokesperson stated: “UK Music’s member organisations were actively involved in the extensive and widely advertised recruitment process for the new Chair which culminated in the appointment last month of Tom Watson. The appointment was ratified by the UK Music board and widely welcomed across the music industry”.

As for the role of the collecting societies in the recruitment process, PRS pointed back to UK Music’s statement, while a spokesperson for PPL added: “There was an open recruitment process which took place in order to appoint the Chair of UK Music. A selection panel was established and this panel was responsible for interviewing a number of candidates with a view to then recommending a lead candidate for the role. That selection was then brought back to the UK Music board for ratification”.

You can read the letter on Batt’s website here.