Some Labour politicians playing football, possibly contemplating a tax to exploit the Premier League's wealth in this brief break in play. Photo: Getty
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Labour plans football tax to boost grassroots sport

Labour is to propose new taxes on the Premier League and sports betting firms to boost sport at the grassroots level.

As parliament's summer recess begins this week, it's clear the Labour party is adamant not to disappear like it did during its significantly quiet summer last year. It is difficult for the opposition to make many headlines – or at least positive ones – during the silly season, but it looks like Ed Miliband and his top team have a number of proposals up their sleeve they’ve saved for the summer months.

An example of this is the plan to be announced today for new taxes on the Premier League and sports betting firms. The aim is to boost grassroots football and other sports at that level.

Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman will be announcing these proposals, as well as a call to reintroduce two hours of PE weekly for all primary school children, a policy scrapped by the coalition.

Although the party is bound to face criticism for being “same old Labour”, introducing more taxes and dressing them up as policies, but this matters little because that criticism is likely to be levelled by those who wouldn’t be voting Labour anyway.

The populist angle of these proposals is more significant. Tapping the wealth of the Premier League and using the proceeds – the Times reports it could raise £275m from the tax – for developing grassroots football will be popular among ordinary sports fans, who have been hit by rising ticket prices for Premier League games.

This would go alongside the plan for a levy on sports betting firms’ gross profits in order to fund community sports facilities and raising money to help support people to fight gambling addictions. This type of levy reflects one that already exists in horseracing, which raised £82m this year.

So the Conservatives’ dismissal of these plans as a “short-term gimmick” doesn’t really hold water. Labour has clearly figured out that there is serious money to be made here, and redistributed among communities and individuals, as well as successful precedents already in place.

It is also a shrewd move towards encouraging exercise among a population that we repeatedly hear is becoming more obese and more sedentary. Rather than introducing “sin taxes”, say on fizzy drinks or fast food, it is a positive method of promoting a healthier lifestyle. So even if Labour’s detractors will tut at the idea of a new tax, it can’t be accused of nannying. And that’s more than you can say for the coalition, which has been prevaricating embarrassingly over plain-packaging for cigarettes and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.