YouTube screengrab.
Show Hide image

Exclusive: Labour tables amendments to housing bill to save small music venues

Shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher backs "Agent of Change" principle to protect venues against developers. 

After Michael Dugher became shadow culture secretary, one of the first issues he raised was the plight of small music venues. Of the 430 that traded in London between 2007 and 2015, only 245 remain open. At the Music Trust's Venue Day 2015, Dugher, renowned for his love of karaoke, warned: "There is a real crisis at the moment and that's why we need a national strategy to support small music venues before many more shut." 

Now, ahead of tomorrow's committee stage debate on the Planning and Housing Debate, the New Statesman can reveal that Labour has tabled amendments on this issue. The party has endorsed the "Agent of Change" principle, which would require developers who build apartment blocks near established venues (open for at least a year) to pay for soundproofing and mitigate against other potential problems. At present, developers have no legal obligation to soundproof new residences, forcing developers to spend significant amounts fending off noise complaints, abatement notices and planning applications. 

The Music Venues Trust has warned that the government’s 2013 amendments to permit offices, car parks and disused buildings across the country to be converted to residences without planning permission has made the situation for venues even worse. Many chose their location deliberately so that they wouldn't be a "nuisance" to residents. The "Agent of Change" principle has already been adopted in Australia, where it has helped small music venues, and is supported by many MPs, industry body UK Music, BBC Radio 6 and venues (a petition on the issue attracted 31,586 signatures).

Jo Dipple, the chief executive of UK music, said: "UK Music is concerned about the worrying trend of closures in grassroots music venues. These venues act as important hubs for creativity and a means of nurturing talent that for an industry that contributes £4.1 billion to the UK economy. We strongly welcome encouraging signs that politicians are taking seriously the threats of further closures and look to the Government to support the introduction of these amendments into law."

Dugher said: "Since 2010, the Conservative government have just stood by whilst more and more grassroots music venues have been forced to close. 

"Small music venues play a key role in the success of the UK creative industry through enabling great young talent to grow and develop into our next global stars.  But there is a real crisis at the moment and that's why we need to adopt the Agent of Change principle to support small music venues. 

"Only a change in legislation can adequately resolve the situation and protect all concerned parties by clearly stipulating who is responsible for soundproofing and other necessary measures when a change is introduced to an area.  This has the support from the music industry and I hope the government will now back Labour’s amendments so we can help save grassroots music venues before it’s too late."

Labour sources believe there is "a good chance" that ministers, who have pledged to look at the issue, will support the amendments. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?