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23 April 2016

Jezza’s speeches, submarines in Derby – and why I got banned from Corbyn: the Musical

"Don’t worry,” he said, “those Tory-boy writers have already had to chop it down from two hours 30 minutes because of the rambling storyline.”

By Tom Watson

I’ve never been banned from a musical before but I’ve experienced a lot of firsts since Jeremy Corbyn and I were elected last September. The creators of Corbyn: the Musical seemed to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent me from reviewing their play about Islington’s most famous lefty for the Staggers.

First, they declined to provide me with a review ticket because I am not a serious theatre critic (hard to argue with that). Then, they pointed out that every paid-for ticket was sold out: it’s good to know that Jeremy’s popular appeal has not faded.

Not to be deterred, this publication’s resourceful arts editor took to Twitter to ask if anyone who had already bought tickets might be willing to donate a spare. The writers then claimed that all tickets were “strictly non-transferable”. It seemed like a slightlypo-faced approach to take to marketing a satirical musical but a friend consoled me. “Don’t worry,” he said, “those Tory-boy writers have already had to chop it down from two hours 30 minutes because of the rambling storyline.” For the avoidance of doubt, I’m assured that’s not because it includes several of Jezza’s freestyling speeches. I wonder if they’d turn Jeremy away?


Whittingdale’s safe word

If barring a politician from writing a review of a musical about a politician seems ironic, the idea that the tabloids would protect the privacy of a cabinet minister who went out with a dominatrix seems positively bizarre. But protect him they have. It wasn’t until James Cusick, the former chief reporter at the Independent, persuaded the website Byline to publish his account of the story that the news became public.

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Perhaps it is young Rocco Ritchie who should scoff the loudest at this rare act of tabloid restraint. Madonna’s 15-year-old son was secretly photographed by the Sun this week. Unlike his elders and betters, Rocco is a teenager who doesn’t have the power to decide whether to move ahead with the second part of the Leveson inquiry.


Automation for the nation

A lost minicab driver finally drops me close to an anonymous warehouse in north London to record a short film about automation and smart sensor technology for the BBC’s Daily Politics. To be fair to him, the company
we were filming at is on a street that shares the same name as an avenue, a mews and a close – all of which are within two minutes of each other. Sometimes, even a satnav can’t solve the problems posed by the capital’s labyrinthine network of alleyways and tiny streets.

The company is a marvel; a few dozen (mostly very young) men and women using technology including 3D printers to create everything from bracelets to miniature models of real people. There’s even a copy of a crushed Diet Coke can that looks so much like the real thing that it’s hard to resist the urge to chuck it in the recycling bin. After a lot of editing, 90 minutes of filming will be transformed into two minutes of telly, with me talking about the challenges and opportunities of the automation age.

The consultancy Deloitte estimates that 11 million jobs have a high likelihood of disappearing as a result of automation in the next decade or so. Driverless cars may ultimately render truckers obsolete; technology that allows patients to self-diagnose may change the nature of nursing; production lines manned by human beings could be staffed instead by robots who don’t need sleep, food – or holidays.

Automation will transform the world of work in a way we haven’t witnessed since the Industrial Revolutions. One thing is certain – we can’t leave the impact of this huge technological shift to fate. It will lead to a battle of ideas. In essence, Angela Eagle’s notion of the empowering state will be pitted against Sajid Javid’s free-market dogma. I know which of those world-views needs to prevail if Britain is to prosper.


Life in the silver ghost

To Derby on Friday to do my bit as the guest speaker at Margaret and Leo Beckett’s annual constituency dinner – an evening that has become legendary in Labour Party circles for its size, scale and showbiz guests.

Before the event, I managed to cram in a visit to Rolls-Royce submarines, a truly thrilling three hours that underlined how Britain still possesses an abundance of talent and engineering nous. Rolls-Royce has an order book of over £60bn and 14,000 of their 24,000 workers are based in Derby.

The technology I was shown – including a 3D screen as big as the wall of my house – has so many commercial applications that could keep the people of Derbyshire in well-paid jobs for decades to come. Rolls-Royce is just one of many world-leading hi-tech companies in the city. If I were the marketing manager at Derby council, I’d rename it the engineering capital of England.


Rubber chickens

Margaret and Leo have organised their annual dinner with aplomb for the past quarter of a century. It’s the only event in the Labour calendar at which John Bishop can stand in at short notice for Eddie Izzard. John had never spoken at a Labour dinner before and had the guests slipping off their chairs with laughter. Us diehard rubber chicken eaters (otherwise known as veterans of the Labour Party evening fundraiser scene) voted it the best dinner ever.


Triple J

Even Margaret and Leo’s dinner could not compete with the razzmatazz of WWE WrestleMania at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham, which I attended on Saturday with two excited ten-year-olds in tow. Imagine Mick McManus and Big Daddy and multiply it by 100.

American wrestling is big business and the three-hour show had the audience on its feet, cheering and waving home-made signs in appreciation of the wrestlers’ power and dexterity. It reminded me of one of Jeremy’s speeches. 

Tom Watson is the deputy leader of the Labour Party

This article appears in the 20 Apr 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Shakespeare 400 years Iater