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UK Music announces former MP Tom Watson as its new Chair

By | Published on Tuesday 31 March 2020

Cross sector music industry trade group UK Music yesterday announced former MP and Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson as its new Chair.

He takes over from Beggars Music boss Andy Heath, who has been chair of UK Music since the organisation was created in 2008. A trade body of trade bodies, UK Music seeks to bring together all the strands of the wider music industry, allowing the business to speak as one – especially to the political community – whenever there is consensus. It grew out of an earlier organisation called British Music Rights which united the songs side of the industry.

Watson was consistently seen as a supporter of the music industry during his nearly two decade career in Parliament, even before his stint as the Labour Party’s culture spokesperson, making him a popular appointment among many in music community.

Though his political career was not without controversy, of course. His interventions on the phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper business in 2011 and in relation to the allegations of sexual abuse made against former MPs linked to the Elm Guest House in London both created enemies for him in some parts of Conservative Party.

He was also Deputy Leader of Labour during a period of inner turmoil for the party, as those loyal to top man Jeremy Corbyn battled with those who opposed the leadership’s agenda.

Nevertheless, Watson is incredibly well connected across Westminster and Whitehall, and with existing contacts across the wider music industry too, UK Music clearly reckons he is the right person to bridge the gap between the music business and the political decision makers.

He also becomes Chair of UK Music at a time when both British politics and the music industry are in significant flux as they navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Which means the priority agenda at the music industry organisation as Watson arrives will be quite different to what it would have been just two months ago.

Something Watson acknowledged when commenting on his new role. “The cancellation of live music events has devastated the sector”, he said. “Thousands of jobs are now in peril and threaten the long-term bottom line of the UK economy. Our urgent task is to work with our colleagues and partners in government to support the national effort to defeat coronavirus, whilst protecting the jewel in the crown of British culture – commercial music”.

Then, once this crisis is over, there’ll be that other crisis everyone’s forgotten about, bloody Brexit. “When we’re through this crisis”, Watson continued, “UK Music has an important part to play in Britain’s developing new role in the world. We believe we can be the Prime Minister’s calling card to every country on the planet”.

“There will be much to say about this in the months ahead”, Watson added, “but first, let’s deal with [the COVID-19] crisis. I will be seeking urgent talks with ministers and officials to ensure that we support the music-makers of Britain and the industry that always sustains us through the good times and the bad”.

Also on Watson’s agenda as Chair of UK Music will be appointing a new CEO. His former colleague on the Labour benches in Parliament, Michael Dugher, stood down from that role in January after a three year stint. Now a new Chair is in place, recruitment for a new chief exec for UK Music will begin, with interim CEO Tom Kiehl continuing to run the organisation day to day in the meantime.