Your weekly update from Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour Party.
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As you are probably aware, I have long been suspicious of Russian attempts to influence our democratic processes. But today's blistering revelations in The Observer and Sunday Times take my fears to a new level.
Both papers are alleging that Arron Banks, who gave £12 MILLION of services to the Brexit campaign, was offered a business deal involving six Russian goldmines in clandestine meetings before the EU referendum. We are told the deal could be worth billions to Banks, Nigel Farage's chum.
I thought the idea of Kremlin gold being used to destabilise our democracy became redundant at the end of the Cold War or was the stuff of political thrillers.
If it's true that Mr Banks's previous account of events is inaccurate, his alleged links to Russian financiers and mine owners warrant further scrutiny.
I should say at this point Mr Banks categorically denies that the Russians sort to influence his referendum campaign and has dismissed today's reports as a "political witch-hunt". On Tuesday he gets the chance to have his say before the DCMS Select Committee. It should make for a very interesting session.
Taking a stand
I am really proud of Labour's new policy of supporting safe standing at Premiership and Championship football matches.
Shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan and my DCMS team took this decision after a comprehensive consultation with clubs, safety experts, supporters' trusts and councils - and listened to the views of more than 100,000 fans who signed a petition.
We now expect the government to take the case for safe standing seriously, rather than dismissing it as the pursuit of a "vocal minority".
As Rosena said: "Clubs, fans and local authorities know their stadium far better than anybody in Whitehall - the decision should rest with them."
Hours after we unveiled our new policy, the Premier League also backed our call for "local choice" on safe standing. Look out for a Government U-turn - and yet another Labour policy turned into law.
To Russia with fun
On the subject of football, England's Young Lions fly out to the World Cup in Russia on Tuesday. What a joy it is to see supporters and the media, for once, not talking up the team's chances to preposterous levels.
I really hope Gareth Southgate's team show us flair and passion. And because they don't have a World Cup song, I'd like to suggest a tune to get them in the mood.
Click on the pic to hear the track.
This week saw the first anniversary of the day when The Sun newspaper found out it was no longer relevant. Many happy returns!
Access to online computers in libraries is an absolute necessity for many of the poorest.
Yet shocking new data - unearthed by my colleague Kevin Brennan - reveals that there are 3000 FEWER terminals with internet access in England's libraries since 2010.
Proof - if more we needed - that the Tories will decimate our country's digital potential given half a chance.
And yet again that those most vulnerable and most in need are the victims of their cruel austerity.
Having spent hours in the gym, and walked, cycled, boxed and dieted my way to a six stone weight loss, I know how sport and exercise can change your life for the better - and make you happier.
So I was delighted to be asked to give a speech to celebrate the work of the Sport and Recreation Alliance.
Think about this. Every volunteer - every coach, minibus driver, steward or supervisor - creates the capacity for 8 people to take part in sport, with all the health, fitness and wellbeing benefits that brings to lives and communities.
In this Volunteers’ Week, I want to pay tribute to everyone - young and old - who help other people to take part in sport and exercise. Thank you!
Righting wrongs with Jeremy
It was great to see Jeremy Corbyn and MPs from across the political divide at an event I hosted in parliament for supporters of the campaign to honour our nuclear test veterans with a medal.
As Jeremy said: "The UK government put these men in harm’s way by asking them to take part in nuclear tests with little to nothing by way of protection. The veterans have had to live and die with the repercussions ever since.
“A medal is the first and least thing we can do to right the wrongs these veterans and families have endured."
Please join Jeremy and I in signing the petition here.
‘Older, white people are in the majority, even when the cast is majority Black or multi-racial.’ That's the view of theatre producer Tobi Kyeremateng who is on a mission to open up theatre access by offering black people - especially the young - free tickets.
Her initiative The Black Ticket Project, launched last year in London with poet Damilola Odelola, is now going national. The project demonstrates how diversity in the arts needs action, not just talk.
Tweet of the Week
A special award has go to Jeremy Vine for making me laugh a lot. Sorry about stealing your song, Jeremy!
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Your weekly update from Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour Party.
This week started in the saddest of ways, waking up on Sunday morning to hear that my dear friend Tessa Jowell had passed away.
As I said in my statement she was a passionate believer in a fairer, more equal society, a damn fine Culture Secretary, a wonderful boss, and a truly courageous advocate in the fight against cancer.
But what struck me most over the next few days was the astonishing outpouring of love and appreciation from across the political divide for Tessa and her public service, whether it be her work bringing the Olympics to London, as architect of Sure Start or just as someone who believed in helping the most vulnerable in society.
I think it reminded many of us in parliament about why we chose to enter politics and public service in the first place.
Praise where praise is due
I was mindful of the cross-party tributes to Tessa when it came to Thursday's anouncement of the reduction of the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 a spin.
As you may well recall, I first began campaigning on the issue from the backbenches five years ago. And when I became Shadow DCMS Secretary in 2016, I knew I had a chance to help deliver a sizeable, and desperately needed, cut in the maximum stake.
But while I enjoyed ribbing Sports Minister Tracey Crouch for delivering on a Labour Party manifesto pledge, I was also aware of how hard Tracey had fought the ferocious lobbying of the multi-billion pound betting industry.
So when I made my statement welcoming the stake reduction, I was determined to praise Tracey from the opposition benches for sticking to her guns and doing the right thing. It's something we don't do enough of in the House of Commons.
The announcement is definitely a big step in the right direction. But cutting the stake is just one part of the puzzle.
We need a levy on tax-avoiding online gambling companies based in Gibraltar; research, education and treatment for gambling addiction; restrictions on betting advertising in football; and a new Gambling Act fit for the digital age.
Above all, the industry, which brings in a massive £13.8 billion a year, needs to start taking its obligations seriously to the 430,000 addicts, 2 million vulnerable players and 25,000 young people gambling every week.
To the leaders of that industry, which has got rich for far too long on the misery of others, I have a simple message: "Clean up your act or a future Labour government will do it for you."
You can watch my statement to the House of Commons by clicking the pic below.
Give music a chance
It should go without saying that every primary school child has access to learn a musical instrument. But, sadly, it doesn't.
Instead the huge pressures on school funding and the government's insistence on a binary curriculum are stifling the creativity of future generations. Worse still, they discriminate against children based on class, wealth and postcode.
That's why I'm fully behind the Every Child A Musician campaign launched by the winners of the BBC Young Musician competition.
Music should be a Universal Right for every child no matter their background.
Banking a good cause
It is 90 years since a charity was set up to pay off the national debt. Yet not a penny of the £475m in the bank has ever been spent.
Shadow charities minister Steve Reed said: “This money has sat idly for nearly a century, accumulating in value but contributing nothing to either the national debt or good causes. This money would help charities feed the hungry, house the homeless and care for the sick, as well as supporting other worthy causes.”
Steve's right. Surely it is time the government closed this moribund bank account and redistributed the money to good causes.
Book (Plug) of the Week
My friends Tom Hamilton and Ayesha Hazarika, who prepped Ed Miliband for five years, have just released Punch and Judy Politics - an insiders' guide to Prime Minister's Questions.
It's a brilliant take on the bear-pit cut and thrust of PMQs, part funny and part terrifying! It's published by Biteback and I thoroughly recommend it.
Thirteen thousand Sainsbury's workers will lose up to £3000-a-year under new contracts being imposed by bosses.
Please sign and share this petition, calling on management to rethink this assault on the wages of loyal, long-standing staff.
Tipping the rich
Each year The Sunday Times Rich List "celebrates" the deep economic divides and burgeoning inequality that allows the UK's wealthiest 1,000 to grow ever fatter.
As my shadow ministerial colleague Liam Byrne says: "We're at a tipping point. If we don't take action now, the world's top 1% are on course to control two thirds of world wealth - in just 12 years time."
It's time we ended the risible low-wage, weak rights economy - where food banks are now the norm - that allows the wealth of the undeserving billionaires to balloon.
One of these is a Neanderthal skeleton held under close security by the Natural History Museum, the other has lost 86lbs in weight!
Everyone deserves a dignified death. That means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
For more and more Brits it has meant a peaceful death at the time of their choosing at Dignitas in Switzerland. Last year one Brit went there every eight days.
I recently met two of my constituents whose partners were suffering from terminal illnesses and wished to end their lives at Dignitas.
Their experiences couldn’t have been more different.
James Howley’s partner Helen was able to get the medical documents she needed to allow her the peaceful death she wanted.
But Julie Smith’s husband Paul could not access the medical letter required by the Swiss authorities because his doctor was concerned about falling foul of the law.
No doctor should be put in that position: having to choose between granting their dying patient’s wish or facing possible investigation.
What makes this story so strange is that Helen and Paul both attended the same GP surgery in West Bromwich.
Two people, facing similar challenges at the end of their lives, had totally different deaths – one dignified, one undignified and painful.
All because the law regarding helping patients go to Dignitas is a grey area.
It’s not often you have such a clear demonstration of a situation that is not working, unfair and devastating for those involved.
When this issue came to Parliament nearly three years ago MPs didn’t agree that the law should change.
I was among those not convinced by the arguments. Hearing James and Julie’s stories has changed my mind.
Over the past week some Tory-supporting publications have published a string of completely false and ridiculous smears,calling Labour politicians traitors and linking them with Soviet bloc spies.
Let’s call these stories out for what they are – propaganda, not journalism. They are not worth the paper they are written on.
The source for these stories is a man who claims Czechoslovakian security services set up Live Aid. Documents do not substantiate his wild claims. In fact, the director of the Czech security forces archive says that historic records show the opposite to what he claims; that Jeremy Corbyn was not a “collaborator” and that the Czech official he met deliberately concealed his true identity.
Unfortunately, printing stories based on discredited sources, without any evidence, that are completely denied by the subjects of the articles, is not even a new development. We’ve seen it all before over the many years in which the right-wing press has done everything it can to discredit the Labour Party.
Neil Kinnock was vilified by the Tory press when he was Labour leader, but even he conceded the treatment of Ed Miliband by some papers represented a new low. It wasn’t enough for the Daily Mail to attack him or his policies, it decided to run a double-page spread labelling Miliband’s late father, who served in the Royal Navy, “the man who hated Britain”.
The screeching vitriol from the majority of the press that greeted Corbyn’s election as leader was unsurprising – but even those of us most acclimatised to their baseless, biased and politicised attacks were shocked to read the 13 pages of furious and demented anti-Labour coverage the day before last year’s general election, which labelled Labour “apologists for terror”.
Unfortunately for these newspapers, the years of slurs, of stretching the truth to breaking point, of completely one-sided reporting, may be creeping up on them. They do not wield the power they once did, their circulations are falling and people simply don’t trust them anymore.
The Sun, which was one of the main proponents of this week’s ridiculous story, was rated least trustworthy of all major news sources in a survey carried out by Ipsos Mori at the end of last year.
There is no doubt that social media platforms such as Facebook are disrupting the news industry. But they are not the only reason so many papers are struggling. Too many proprietors point the finger at Facebook and Google and blame the tech giants for their own commercial problems.
But the handful of proprietors who control 71 per cent of the national newspaper market need to face up to the fact that they have spent years undermining decent journalism in the UK by pursuing a partisan approach to news.
Some have accused Labour of mounting an “attack on the press” for describing these baseless smears as what they are. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are right to criticise poor journalism because it undermines good reporting – and we make no apologies for doing so.
Newspaper proprietors in this country abuse their power. It’s a unique kind of self-harm for a newspaper to print a story they know is poorly sourced, decide to run it regardless because it suits their political agenda, and pass it off as news.
There are many reasons for declining newspaper circulation but there can be no doubt the public is beginning to tire of the fact that too many papers routinely present smears, lies and innuendo as facts.
The Competition and Markets Authority has done something that too many politicians over the last 30 years have failed to do: stand in the way of the Murdochs.
Tasked with assessing the effect of the Fox takeover bid for Sky, the CMA’s provisional conclusion was clear. The merger “would result in the Murdoch family having too much control over news providers in the UK, and too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda”. Put simply: the Murdochs are too powerful already. Allowing them even more power is not in the public interest.
The history of Murdoch media domination in the UK is a long one. From buying the News of the World, then The Sun and finally The Times and Sunday Times, to launching Sky, he has owned too much of our media for too long. The result has been successive governments and politicians bent to his will, too fearful of his power to take decisions that might have challenged his hegemony.
It is still unclear if Murdoch asked Theresa May to appoint Michael Gove to her cabinet and we are none the wiser about what was discussed in May’s secret meeting with Murdoch in New York in the autumn of 2016.
The corporate culture at News UK meant that phone-hacking and intrusion went unpunished. Nearly seven years after revelations about the scale of criminality at the company, and the corporate cover up that was launched in an attempt to keep it hidden, there are still ongoing civil cases alleging criminality by Murdoch papers. The second part of the Leveson inquiry, which was backed by every major political party in 2011, has still not been held and the Tories are doing everything they can to squirm out of their commitment to set it up, despite calls from people in the public eye and members of the public to hold it.
Although the regulator’s decision today is welcome, this isn’t the end of Fox’s bid for Sky. Judging by 21st Century Fox’s press statement, you would think this decision brings them a step closer to the takeover, rather than a step further away. The company maintains they “anticipate regulatory approval” of the bid by the summer.
That is why the CMA should treat any new undertakings from Fox about a structural separation of Sky News or so-called “behavioural remedies” designed to protect the independence of Sky News with caution.
The regulatory process will now continue until May, with further submissions from all sides. Whatever the potential remedies outlined by the CMA the reality is that the only way to guarantee the editorial independence of Sky News and check Murdoch’s power is to block the bid.
Matt Hancock, the new secretary of state, has repeatedly stressed the importance of a free and diverse press to our democracy. When the CMA process ends in a few months that sentiment will be put to the test. If he really believes in press plurality and democracy there is only one option open to him: accept the CMA’s judgement and act to curb Murdoch’s power and influence.