The cricket's coming home special

If you'd like to receive this direct to your inbox, you can sign up here.


The cricket's coming home special


I hit the button on this newsletter at the end of an extraordinary day of sport at Lords, Wimbledon and Silverstone. Billions of people across the globe have marvelled at some of the greatest, thrilling feasts of sport.

Massive congratulations to Eoin Morgan's World Cup winners for pulling off a truly astonishing victory over New Zealand. How good was it that the final was shown on free-to-air TV and back where it belongs on Radio 5 Live's TMS, allowing millions to enjoy the exploits of Ben Stokes and the nerve-tingling finale.

There was also much to cheer at the British Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton recording a record 6th chequered flag, and the news that this iconic element of the motor sport calendar has been secured until 2024 at its fabulous Silverstone home. 

As referenced in my memo below, politicians need to do far more to improve access for all, and to promote and develop sports offerings. Last weekend I highlighted how almost 2,500 sports pitches have been lost in our schools since the Tory austerity era began in 2010. 

Today my DCMS team reveal that 677 tennis courts have gone the same way in the same time across England. If we want to nurture the next generation of sporting talent then the austerity drive which is eroding grassroots facilities has to end.

One great idea, which I have backed, is for schools to stay open over the summer holidays. Nearly half of all sports facilities sit behind the school gates. Throwing them open would be a great way to tackle record levels of obesity and inactivity. 


Memo to Tory leadership candidates

To:         Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt.
From:    Tom Watson, Shadow DCMS Secretary

Subject: Policy ideas for PM

It has struck me several times in recent days that you are both a bit light on policy detail as you bid to become this country's Prime Minister. In fact, other than extremely costly promises to garland the rich through corporation and income tax cuts, and your various Brexit fantasies (which I shall ignore for the purposes of this memo), I am struggling to find any detailed plans for government. In particular, there appears to be a vacuum in thinking around Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

I am sure (given your well-publicised entrepreneurial acumen Jeremy, and your eye for a good headline Boris) you are both aware that the creative industries are the fastest growing sector of our economy, now worth over £100bn a year. Yet this global dynamo of the UK has received scant support and recognition during Theresa May's tenure.

I believe there is an excellent opportunity for whichever one of you wins to put right your predecessor's failure in this regard, and would like to offer my assistance with a few initial thoughts on what needs to be done across DCMS and how you can deliver a programme for our global-leading creative sector with fairness, access to all and diversity at its heart:

Put art and creativity back at the heart of our classrooms and curriculum.
End the local authority cuts that cause public libraries to close their doors.
Invest in our cultural infrastructure to rebalance the creative economy. 
Add diversity and inclusion criteria to the Film and High End TV tax reliefs to improve representation on and off screen, including social class.
Add crown jewel sporting events like the Women’s World Cup and the Paralympics to the list of sporting events to be broadcast free to air. 
Save Free TV licences for all over-75s.
Back the copyright directive and #LoveMusic campaign so creators are fairly paid.
Extend shared parental leave to freelancers.
Extend business rate relief to grassroots music venues.
Repeal the Lobbying Act that gags charities and extend the right to time off work to charity trustees.
End cuts to public sports facilities like tennis courts, football pitches and swimming pools.
Pledge to aim for the same level of sports and creative facilities for students in state schools as in Eton and Charterhouse.
Set up a new robust regulator to deal with the harms, hate, and fake news online.
Update competition and merger laws to make them fit to regulate the digital market and bring data monopolies like Facebook and Google to heel.
Introduce a more ambitious Universal Service Obligation for broadband and pledge to end digital exclusion.
Introduce a mandatory levy at the increased level of 1% on gambling companies to fund support for problem gamblers.
Introduce a new gambling ombudsman to give customers compensation when appropriate.

Of course, you may not actually be in No 10 long enough to get any of this done. But I hope you appreciate the offering of ideas anyway.



Mountains high and rivers deep

Saturday sees the second of my ‘Adventures 4 Health’ challenges, organised with the assistance of the Outdoor Industries Association, encouraging the young, overweight or overworked to get outside and find an activity they enjoy.

In May, as you know, 25 friends and I conquered Snowdon in Challenge I. Challenge 2 sees me leading a group canoeing nine miles of the Black Country canal ways from Tipley to Brindley Place in Birmingham. 

Along the way we are raising money for some great causes: JK Rowling's Lumos charity, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, The Albion Foundation and SpecialEffect. If you would like to contribute please do here, and if you have already done so, many thanks.

We'll also be highlighting the British Canoeing campaign for fair, shared, open access for canoeists on the waterways of England. The Clear Access, Clear Water Campaign is for cleaner, healthier rivers and greater recognition of the right to access these amazing 'blue' spaces.

Though I’m fitter now than I’ve been for years I still think of myself as an overweight middle-aged bloke, and these physical challenges are daunting. I hope by taking part I’ll show other people who are worried about their weight, or just want to get healthier and more active, how accessible outdoor activities can be.

At the end of it all I’ll be putting together an outdoor activity strategy for the Labour Party which we’ll implement in Government. If you would like to take part in that policy debate you can do so here.

Finally, if you are nearby, it would be great if you could join me and the team to see us over the finish line at - hopefully - 1.30pm on the towpath by the ICC bridge, Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2HL. 



Creating dragons... and other things

Photo: David Bebber

New children's laureate Cressida Cowell plans to defend public libraries, make school libraries a legal requirement, deliver creative writing into primaries, and spread the joy of reading. Good luck with the new quest Cressida. Go work that magic!


Marvellous night for a Roundhouse

There are few better live musicians than Van Morrison, and few better live venues than The Roundhouse in Camden. Last Saturday’s gig brought another epic performance from the great man, and I was lucky enough to be there. 

The Roundhouse runs as a charitable trust. A former railway engine repair shed, the Grade II* listed building was transformed into a groundbreaking performing arts venue over 50 years ago, and they’ve welcomed legendary artists from all over the world to perform in the unique spaces – from Patti Smith to Jay-Z to Van.

It’s also a space for the next generation of young artists. Each year, 6,000 11–25-year-olds develop their skills and confidence through creativity – in music, media or the performing arts. From DJ and radio drop-in sessions to backstage access courses learning about behind-the-scenes careers. Or young people can hire rehearsal space an equipment in the state of the art studios. 

Most important is the diversity of the young people who take part – over half the young people come from low-income households and over a third are from a black and minority ethnic (BAME) background. They also do a huge amount of work out and about in the Camden community. Working with local schools, charities and groups, and housing estates, they take creativity out to young people in the local area. 

There are plans to expand the reach of the Roundhouse and increase the number of young people who take part in opportunities to 10,000 a year. To do this they’re building a new Centre for Creative and Digital Entrepreneurs. With jobs in the creative industries set to grow by 1 million by 2030 and a lack of diversity in the sector – the Roundhouse wants young creatives to be at the heart of this growth, and so they’re building a campus, where young people can develop their businesses and be at the centre of the sector growth.  


Mission creep

This story is not a one-off. It's part of a growing catalogue of stories - see Google's Home Mini speaker, Amazon's Alexa, now Google (again) Assistant - which reveal private home conversations are being recorded and uploaded to the Cloud. The giant tech monpolies claim the data is stripped of identifying coding. But then it turns out that isn't quite the case.

Now imagine the temptation for hackers, enemy state actors, police who suspect a crime, blackmailers, or an authoritarian regime seeking dirt on its opponents or control of the masses.

The digital dystopia, once the preserve of 20th Century science fiction, is on its way.



Sweet danger

Consuming excessive amounts of sugary drinks - including juices - may raise risk of cancer, according to this 9-year study of over 100,000 people. That's the sort of clear evidence Boris Johnson asked for - debunking his gibberish plan to axe the sugar tax.

It is studies like these that fuel my determination to tackle the high prevalence of sugar in our food and drink, and why I am setting up an independent commission into how we can halt the rise in Type 2 diabetes. It would really help me if you could answer a quick survey I am compiling on how we best to tackle the issue.



Child's play

One-in-five children has never been to the seaside, never had an ice cream on the prom, never built a sandcastle on a beach or paddled in the water. Official government statistics show 2.6 million families cannot afford a one-week holiday, 1.46m struggle to find the cash for even one day out together.

These dreadful statistics are the inevitable result of this government's relentless battering of the poorest in society through austerity. It is desperately sad that it falls to charities like the Family Holiday Association to pick up the pieces and help the children of those who have least. But they do a wonderful job and we should all support their appeal with the Daily Mirror to give every child the opportunity to enjoy our beautiful beaches.


A matter of honour

It’s hard to describe just how big a blow to our diplomatic standing in the world Kim Darroch's resignation represents. It is the inevitable result of a leak organised by dark forces who do down our country, and Boris Johnson's failure to stand up for our sovereignty. Always personal ambition before country with Johnson. In contrast Kim Darroch has resigned with honour.


A culture desecrated


It is almost five years since Islamic State's genocide against the Yazidi community in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. An estimated 5,000 were slaughtered, while women and girls were abducted to be sold or given as sex slaves to IS fighters.

There has been little respite for the community and its heritage since. This week the Bellingcat investigative website has revealed in extraordinary detail how early last year Turkey's Operation Olive Branch swept into the Kurdish region - notably the Syrian border district of Afrin - desecrating and destroying numerous cultural sites, some dating back over 2000 years. Alexander McKeever's report makes for solemn reading.


In woods we trust

It was a pleasure to meet the team at the Woodland Trust this week. My interest in trees and woodlands is getting near to obsessional. Politicians rarely get beyond executive summaries in documents but “Wood Wise - Future Forests” is a very good primer for those thinking about long term public policy towards Woodland management. 

As the document says:

“Presently many British woodland wildlife populations are experiencing declines, possibly even facing local extinction, largely due to changes in the intensity and type of woodland management. There also remains a tendency to consider only the trees and not the full range of species and ecosystem processes that make up a wood.”

It seems to me that there is nothing more long term in public policy terms than forestry management, other than perhaps the long term management of nuclear waste. What we do to our woodland landscape now can have an impact lasting a 1000 years. 

So it stands to reason that any approach to policy must be deeply considered and enjoy cross party support.  As the document also says:

“Natural and human processes have shaped the climatic and physical environment experienced by our trees and woods through the ages. The woodland biodiversity of today is a reflection of soil patterns and climatic variations across the country, but also past management. Clearly then, how we choose to manage (or not manage) our woods in future will affect what species they contain; equally if we want to maintain certain species or assemblages, that will affect what management we need to apply.”

And farming is obviously part of the solution. 

“Embracing multiple land uses on some ancient woodland sites, like grazing cattle,
could actually be a good way to achieve the restoration of old-growth characteristics. Paradoxically, with less focus on the trees, it could ensure that more old trees actually occur in our future landscapes.”

And if you don’t fancy reading this document, here’s another beautiful short story that shows the enchantment of trees growing:



End of the week

What better way to end the week than a homecoming gig at Coventry Cathedral with The Specials. I couldn't agree more with their message...