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UK Music again defends Tom Watson appointment amidst further criticism

By | Published on Friday 24 April 2020

Tom Watson

Cross-sector music industry trade group UK Music has again defended its decision to hire former MP Tom Watson as its new Chair. The latest statement follows an article in The Times that cites various critics of the appointment from within the music community.

The former MP, shadow culture secretary and Labour Deputy Leader was announced as the new Chair of UK Music last month. He takes over from Beggars Group exec Andy Heath who had chaired the UK Music board since the organisation was set up in 2008.

The appointment was very popular in some quarters of the music industry, but there are some high profile critics too. There may be a little left-wing/right-wing politics split behind that division of opinion. However, the critics cite the controversies that occurred during Watson’s parliamentary career, arguing that they mean that the new Chair has too many enemies in the political community to be an effective representative of the music industry.

The biggest of those controversies relates to the major police investigation launched partly because of pressure by Watson into various allegations of sexual abuse made against former British politicians, especially in the Conservative Party. That investigation ultimately failed because it 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.

Before that, Watson was also particularly vocal on the phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News UK company, and the other dodgy practices employed by certain British newspapers. On that issue, Watson’s concerns were mainly proven to be justified. Though it also means he has plenty of enemies within the newspaper business too which, his critics in the music community now say, also hinders his abilities to be an effective lobbyist.

Although, of course, that fact also helps his critics to get their voices heard in the mainstream press, like the News UK-owned Times. “The British music industry faces a bitter split as representatives of the country’s biggest record labels oppose the appointment of Tom Watson as chairman of an influential group”, it reported yesterday.

That statement is based on the fact that record industry trade group the BPI was the one UK Music-allied organisation that opposed Watson’s appointment during the actual recruitment process.

An open letter criticising the hiring of Watson then began circulating among some preeminent artists, songwriters and managers last week, coming to wider attention when industry veteran Mike Batt posted it on his website.

The Times now quotes Batt – a former Deputy Chair of the BPI – as saying “if Mr Watson remains as chairman [of UK Music] I would urge the BPI to leave”.

When Batt published the open letter last week, UK Music hit back, insisting that – despite what that letter said – it had instigated a thorough and entirely transparency recruitment process, and that all of the trade groups that come together to form UK Music had been involved in making the final appointment.

Yesterday, in response to the Times article, it published a lengthier statement. Stressing that the job had been widely advertising across the broadsheet newspapers and trade press, resulting in over 80 applications, it said: “The UK Music board tasked a representative cross-section of all UK Music’s member organisations to carry out the selection process. The six-member panel drew up a shortlist of six candidates for interview. Tom Watson was chosen by the panel and his appointment was ratified in March by UK Music board”.

Bigging up the former politician’s music-related credentials, it went on: “Tom Watson was Shadow Culture Secretary for more than three years before he stood down from Parliament. He was a founder member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Music. During his time in Parliament, he worked on many cross-party campaigns, including support for the reform of live music licensing and fair ticketing”.

A spokesperson then reiterated: “All 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 of Tom Watson. The appointment was ratified by the UK Music Board in March and widely welcomed across the music industry”.