Mieka Smiles: Our Middlesbrough Lottery is delivering funds for local good causes

6 May

Cllr Mieka Smiles is the Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Culture and Communities on Middlesbrough Council.

As a bright-eyed, brand new councillor I came into the role with a million new ideas.

Looking after the culture portfolio, I wanted bigger and better events across the town, eye-catching and Instagrammable public art, and to help grow some of our key museums and galleries. All had the power to draw more people into town, get them spending in town-centre businesses and increase pride of place.

My belief is that investing in culture is fundamental to the regeneration of our town – but statutory commitments clearly come first: children’s services, adult social care, roads and refuse collection to give just a few examples.

So – as follows the playbook of many a naïve newbie – I quickly realised that having hopes, dreams and aspirations were one thing… but having the money to pay for them quite the other.

One night drifting to sleep (dreaming of mammoth potholes and inappropriate parking) an idea popped into my head. Every week millions of people across the UK take a flutter on the National Lottery, with millions being invested into communities across the UK as a result. Could we have a local version?

I was certain that if it was legally doable and properly promoted then we could persuade our residents to gamble for good and raise funds for cultural projects in Middlesbrough.

I quite quickly established that local authorities across the country had beaten me to it. A number of our peers were already running their own lotteries for all kinds of reasons; be it for a single issue such as fixing a crumbling historic building or investing in an array of community causes.

Our head of culture was on it and contacted a lottery provider called Gatherwell, well versed in setting up these kinds of lotteries for local authorities.

After a number of meetings we determined that their model was what we were after.

Tickets for our Middlesbrough Lottery would cost £1. Out of that £1, 50p would go to Middlesbrough groups, charities, and organisations who’d signed up with us. They would help grow the lottery by using their networks to sell tickets.

10p out of the pound would come to us, to spend on cultural activities. Punters could also choose to direct the entire 60p to us if they wished.

People seemed to be on board and think it was a good idea.

There were the usual moaners. The Labour Group was characteristically gloomy about the idea saying it was a “sad indictment of this Government’s record that councils have to resort to delivering gambling as a solution to our funding crisis.”

On the first point – I think it’s only right that we look for innovative ways to fund cultural ‘extras’ rather than relying on taxpayer’s money.

We had also very carefully considered safety measures to guard against problem gambling. Tickets are only available online via direct debit and those taking part can’t buy tickets for the same day’s draw. This fights against that impulsivity that’s invoked when you buy a scratch card.

Community lotteries are also classed as low risk by the Gambling Commission. They are considered a form of ‘incentivised giving’ and our marketing very much focuses on what this kind of fundraising can do for the town.

We’re now a year into our Middlesbrough Lottery.

Each week those who play have the chance to win £25k. Just the other week someone bagged £2k by supporting one of our 59 good causes.

We’re now on track to raise a projected £37,000 in year one and we’ve handed out £5,000 in cash prizes so far.

River rescue, domestic violence support, junior sports teams, and groups combating loneliness are just a few of the types of groups that have money deposited into their account every week.

And it’s very satisfying to see payments coming into the council coffers for a change.

Why not encourage your council to give it a go in your town?

Or, better still, take a punt on ours.

Take part in the Middlesbrough Lottery’s here.

Brandon Lewis: Northern Ireland is stronger as part of the Union. And the Union is better for having Northern Ireland.

11 Apr

Brandon Lewis is Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and is MP for Great Yarmouth.

We are now in the pre-election period ahead of the next Assembly elections in May and the people of Northern Ireland should have the space to choose their local leaders, free of divisive and destabilising rhetoric.

In all the commentary during the run up to the election, we must not give in to overly simplistic narratives about the place or overlook the huge societal, technological and economic advances that have occurred over the last two decades.

The vision of the Belfast Agreement was for a Northern Ireland in which all communities can participate and work together. A place in which you have the opportunity to thrive no matter who you are, or where you come from.

The people of Northern Ireland need strong political leadership and stable, locally accountable representation that is able to address the issues that matter most to them.

We should not forget that Northern Ireland has come a long way and there is very real and exciting potential for an even better future. The Government has an ambitious vision for Northern Ireland; we want to see a stable, resilient Northern Ireland with a mature democracy and a truly integrated society.

A levelled-up Northern Ireland means one where economic opportunity is more evenly distributed and good public services are delivering the best possible outcomes for everyone. Which is why we are working with the Executive to level up the whole region. Recently, I signed the first ever City Deal for the Belfast region, which will unlock £1 billion of co-investment, deliver over 20 ambitious projects and create 20,000 jobs.

The Levelling Up Fund itself will provide £49 million for 11 projects that will boost opportunity and reinvigorate communities – the projects include establishing an electric vehicle-charging network across the country and redeveloping a derelict Ministry of Defence site into an urban community farm.

While it has long been one of the most disadvantaged parts of the UK, its economy initially being built around relatively low-skilled and low-wage jobs has entrenched poor productivity and lower standards of living. But that is changing. And fast.

Our United Kingdom is undoubtedly stronger for all that Northern Ireland brings to it. It has particular strengths in its digital economy – artificial intelligence, advanced engineering and manufacturing. Just last month, the Belfast-based medical technology company, Axial 3D, helped save the life of a little girl in Southampton after surgeons were able to practice on a 3D model of her heart.

There are over 100 cyber security firms in Northern Ireland employing approximately 2300 people. It is home to nearly five per cent of the UK’s cyber security work force. And the Government is committed to having 5000 cyber professionals working in Northern Ireland by 2030. Fintech is another growing sector, with Northern Ireland previously ranked as the third global FinTech location for the future and Belfast consistently ranked in the Top 25 Tech Cities in the world, and second in the UK after London.

We have also seen exceptional growth in recent years in the creative industries. It now contributes over £1 billion to the local economy. As well as Game of Thrones, global companies like Universal Pictures and Disney have chosen Northern Ireland as the location for recent productions. Netflix is shooting a new film at Belfast Harbour Studios, which is set to generate local investment of around £30million and 500 jobs.

In the context of robust political debate on topical issues, it is easy to lose sight of the wider advances that Northern Ireland continues to make. It is right at the cutting edge of cyber security and defence.

Last week, I visited Thales in Belfast. They are responsible for manufacturing the NLAW anti-tank missiles that the Government has been sending to Ukrainian forces as part of our package of lethal aid to support those on the front line fighting against the bloody Russian invasion.

This Government has invested a great deal in Northern Ireland, reflecting our scale of ambition and belief in its exciting future. Since I became Secretary of State, we have made the most significant investment in Northern Ireland for a generation. The block grant for the Executive has increased to its highest level since devolution in 1998. We will now deliver a record £15 billion per year to be spent on public services, boost growth and support families with the cost of living.

This is on top of the £3.5 billion we are providing through the New Deal for Northern Ireland, City Deals, Peace Plus and the New Decade, New Approach financial package. Together these funds will be deployed to help encourage further private investment in NI and build the foundations of its future economic model.

Of course, we are not under the illusion that everything is perfect. Northern Ireland still faces significant economic and societal challenges. The Foreign Secretary and I are seeking to negotiate substantial changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol and we have been clear that nothing is off the table in our pursuit of solutions to the outstanding issues with its operation.

And we cannot ignore the legacy of the past, which continues to haunt Northern Ireland’s present. I am committed to bringing forward legislation that will deliver on our commitment to our veterans, deliver more information to victims and survivors about what happened to their loved ones and give wider Northern Ireland society the best chance to look forward as one, rather than continually back at its divisive history.

As we look ahead to the election and beyond, we must do so in the context of embracing all that Northern Ireland has to offer and a positive, proactive and optimistic vision for its future. Northern Ireland is undoubtedly stronger for being part of the United Kingdom, but the United Kingdom is more innovative, technologically advanced, creative and secure because Northern Ireland is a part of our Union.

Scott Benton: Ministers must seize this chance to put English football on a fair financial footing

31 Mar

Scott Benton is MP for Blackpool South

At the General Election, we promised to help people live more fulfilling lives by levelling up living standards and well-being across the country. We’ve since set ourselves the bold mission of increasing pride and celebrating the heritage of our local communities.

As we move forward from the pandemic, it’s time to get back to delivering on the promise we made to the country just three years ago. One way we can do so is by making sure our football clubs have a strong foundation and fair funding for the future.

Our English Football League (EFL) clubs – like my local club, Blackpool FC – are at the heart of so many communities; rich in cultural heritage and tradition, and central to local prosperity. More than a third of these clubs are in northern constituencies, where many now have a Conservative MP following the gains we made at the last election.

Across the country, 36 million people live within ten miles of an EFL club. They employ tens of thousands of people and can make a real difference to businesses in our local town centres and high streets.

Yet because of the unfairness and imbalance of football finances the vast majority of our great clubs are being pushed closer and closer to financial ruin. Just 20 Premier League clubs enjoying over £4billion more in income annually than the 72 EFL clubs combined

Blackpool are now enjoying being back in the Championship after some really difficult years, but we know all too well how vulnerable our clubs can be and how this impacts local communities pride and prosperity.

The financial gap between the Premier League and the rest is growing all the time, and becoming more and more unsustainable. My fear is that, if we do not act now, there is a real risk of more examples of proud English clubs being in financial distress – whether in Bury, Macclesfield, Portsmouth or, most recently, Derby.

Thankfully, the Government now has a chance to act and to show how the Conservative Party values our football clubs and the heritage and future of our great towns.

The Fan Led Review, chaired by my colleague Tracey Crouch, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a financial reset that can protect clubs in our communities and across the country for the long term.

The two central recommendations of the report – introducing an independent regulator to ensure clubs are run properly, and ensuring a fairer split of revenue between the Premier League and the rest of the football pyramid – would make a major difference to clubs like Blackpool.

For example, if broadcast revenues could be split 75/25 between the Premier League and the rest of English football, as the EFL has said, it would help to halve the financial gap that currently exists between the top two divisions and wipe out the current operating losses of clubs in Leagues One and Two.

This would also eliminate the need for the existing system of parachute payments, which are paid to clubs relegated from the Premier League and make it ever harder for those without them to compete.

A recent report by Sheffield Hallam University found that clubs in receipt of parachute payments were three times more likely to get promoted than clubs without. The effect of this extra money is that it fuels unsustainable losses among rival clubs, who feel compelled to spend more in order to keep pace with their better funded rivals. The danger is that should owner investment dry up, clubs and fans are then left to pick up the pieces.

The dual approach, of a fairer economic model and the introduction of an independent regulator, needs to go hand-in-hand. It would ensure that football fans in communities across the country can be confident that their club is solvent and sustainable.

If we get this right, it can also be achieved without harming the competitiveness of our top clubs in Europe (the Premier League would still be the richest league in the world by some considerable margin) or top-flight football’s attractiveness to broadcasters or investors.

In the coming weeks, the Government will announce its response. I know that many of my colleagues, who have seen first-hand the damage our broken model of football finance can cause, will be joining me in urging the Government to seize this moment.

If we do, we can take another step in delivering on the promises we made to voters in 2019 and demonstrate what levelling up means for communities like mine. Better still, we can do so without any expense to the taxpayer.

Eliza Easton: If the arts and culture are a third front in the Ukrainian war, here’s what Ministers should do

31 Mar

Eliza Easton is Head of the Policy Unit, Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC).

The Prime Minister has promised to pull every lever he can to help the people of Ukraine in the war against Russia. State and sector-led sanctions have become a focus for the Government in a war where it feels that it can’t commit boots on the ground.

The headlines have been dominated by state economic sanctions, but cultural sanctions offer significant advantages. While economic sanctions can harm citizens as well as leaders, cultural sanctions may be able to grow the anti-Putin Russian population without putting them into material poverty. In short: they offer an untapped reserve of options to help Britain to achieve its strategic aims.

Cultural sanctions have been spoken about by policymakers – particularly by Nadine Dorries – but they are not enforced by the state. It has fallen to individuals, arts organisations and industry to decide what and who to cancel.

This has bred controversy. How could it not? Glasgow Film Festival spent two weeks addressing the fallout from cancelling two Russian films from directors who have nothing to do with Putin’s regime. The New York Times has reported that one has Ukrainian roots, has denounced the war and has a grandmother hiding from the bombs falling on Kyiv. Eventually, it was revealed both films had received Russian state funding.

On the other side of the coin, we have seen big names questioning the wisdom of banning Russian artists. Julian Lloyd Webber has pointed out how powerful it can be when you let artists play.  He recalls Mstislav Rostropovich playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto at the BBC Proms with “tears pouring down his cheeks” after the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. Lloyd Webber argued that this “spoke more than words” and, implicitly, more than sanctions could.

The fact that the Government ’s promised Soft Power Strategy remains unpublished (replaced by a short section in the Integrated Review) has left those cultural organisations keen to follow official advice rudderless.

Instead, we find ourselves in a bizarre reality, whereby often low paid communications assistants are trying to communicate complex diplomatic statements to the world on Twitter.

We need a systematic approach to cultural sanctions, although not one mandated by the Government: perhaps Putin himself could attest to the fact that soft power approaches work better when not forced by the heavy hand of the state.

Instead, when our Government introduces state sanctions against another country, it should trigger a conversation convened by the Government between relevant industry players and arms length bodies – i.e: the arts councils, the British Film Institute, the British Fashion Council – and the British Council. Together, they should agree on a suggested approach for individual creative companies and charities, informed by intelligence from both cultural and diplomatic experts.

There are risks if the Government doesn’t use its convening power to help the sector to pursue such an approach. While the public mood prevents cultural events which might sanitise Putin’s position, the news cycle may move on, and industry sanctions may be at odds with public interest.

Equally, smaller organisations may unknowingly undermine the sanctions upheld by larger organisations, cancel anti-Kremlin artists – or simply go too far and play into Putin’s hands.

We have already seen the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra heavily criticised for the decision to remove Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture from their programme: a move surely made with good intentions, but which dangerously plays into Putin’s narrative of Western ‘russophobia’ – and one that he has moved to exploit.

Such a directive would not (and, in my view, should not) stop artists from performing in Russia or Belarus if they wish to, although once guidelines are in place it becomes a much more political decision for those artists to take.

When Frank Sinatra went against United Nations’ advice and performed in South Africa, the public outcry did aruguably more for the anti-apartheid movement than for those paying him millions of dollars to improve their public image.

Organisations would also still be able to choose to boycott, regardless of official state sanctions – and they might. It was revealed just last week that some of the largest cultural institutions, including the V&A, British Museum, National Gallery and the Tate, did not sign a cultural agreement between the UK Government and Saudi Arabia, aiming to strengthen cultural links between the two nations.

The best example of this approach so far comes in a statement from Arts Council England. This advised publicly funded arts organisations to cancel events which involve Russian or Belarussian state-sponsored and/or state-funded organisations, echoing similar statements from other sector bodies.

But the Arts Council went further in their advice to grantees, recommending, for example, that “organisations do not require Russian/Belarussian artists to issue a statement condemning the war in Ukraine as a condition of contract.”

People on social media had already started to identify and hound individual artists. It is sensible that Arts Council England point out that artists need to be able to make their own choice on whether to speak out based on their particular situation and the risk involved. We need consistent messaging across the entire cultural sector to avoid ostracising those who might condemn the conflict in private, and become important allies in the future.

Alongside directives of this kind, I suggest the Government ensures there is a budget to support those organisations who incur financial losses from cancelling performances, at least in the short term.

Following a pandemic which hit arts and culture hard, cancelling that tour may be the final blow for organisations which have been encouraged, by the Government, to be more international. This is the first time cultural sanctions have been recommended by a UK Government this decade, but it is unlikely to be the last. They should see this as a test case.

Advice on cultural sanctions should only be the start of a re-invigorated soft power strategy. As Julian Lloyd Webber hinted, our current approach means we are not taking advantage of the soft power opportunities we have.

While sanctions are a useful tool, opportunities to speak to the Russian public are going to be important too. We know that the numbers listening to BBC World Service in Russia have risen to from three to more than ten million each week. We should go further. Why should the cancelled London Fashion Week in St Petersburg not be an opportunity to profile those designers speaking out against Putin? Why shouldn’t London Film Week be an opportunity to show ‘dissident’ film makers? Which stars could follow in Arnold Schwarznegger’s footsteps and use their platform to make a compelling plea for peace?

If, as Dorries has said, culture is “the third front in the Ukrainian war”, then we need to start seriously – and the sector and the Government need to give it budget, strategy and diplomatic support.

Daniel Hannan: We must hold out to Russians the promise, and example, of a free society

30 Mar

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Tchaikovsky is being dropped from musical programmes all over the Western world. Audiences in Britain, the US, Canada, Switzerland and the EU have had their imagined sensitivities respected by not being exposed to Russia’s most popular composer.

Nothing very surprising there, you might think. The BBC might have broadcast Beethoven throughout the Second World War, but the Anglosphere of that era was not dominated by identity politics and cancel culture. Indeed, many Britons understood the fight against Nazism as a battle for individualism, eccentricity and freedom.

Nowadays, by contrast, it is customary to stigmatise long-dead artists for reasons that have nothing to do with their work. We are primed to look for the flimsiest connections to anything our age regards as “problematic”, and to flaunt our own purity by an exaggerated repudiation of those so connected.

Never mind that Tchaikovsky was as much Ukrainian as Russian; that his father was descended from an old Cossack family, the Chaikas; that he spent his summers in Kamianka, slap in the middle of Ukraine, and lived for three years in Nyzy, scene of some fierce recent fighting; that at least 30 of his works had Ukrainian subjects or incorporated Ukrainian folk songs.

For what it’s worth he was also, by the standards of his time, a liberal – an enthusiast for a wider franchise and for constitutional government.

Yes, he was a Russian patriot, but he had little time for bombast. He described his 1812 Overture as “very loud and noisy, and completely without artistic merit, obviously written without warmth or love.”

But, of course, cancel culture is about emotion, not detail. Drawing attention to Tchaikovsky’s relative liberalism is as pointless as to Cecil Rhodes’s. In public discourse, both men are now symbols, targets, not flesh-and-blood human beings.

So far, so familiar. But this column is not a rant about cancel culture. For war brings us up against the hard truth that, sometimes, collectivism – identity politics, if you like – is inescapable.

Even those of us who consider ourselves small-government types accept that there are some legitimate state functions. Defence is a prime example: it would be difficult to organise the protection of a nation’s territory through a voluntary subscription scheme. If we accept that armies are the business of the state, then they must also be the responsibility of those who constitute the state.

It was on this basis that we fought the Second World War. Even as we listened to Beethoven, we were bombing of German cities. We knew that we were thereby killing some pacifists, some committed anti-Nazis, come to that, some tiny children. But we did it on the basis that war is a collective endeavour.

Among the many horrible aspects of war, this dissolution of the individual into the collective is among the least remarked yet most odious. Decent citizens become enemies on no other grounds than nationality. People who might (in other circumstances) be friends are encouraged to commit what would (in other circumstances) be capital crimes.

It works both ways. Once wars start, people rally to their leaders, whatever their previous thoughts about the rights and wrongs of the conflict.

For example, I was opposed to invasion of Iraq – a lonely position for a Conservative back in 2003. But, once the fighting began, I wanted our Armed Forces to succeed. I watched with horrified disdain as some of my fellow peaceniks began to slide into a kind of gleeful defeatism, almost willing us to lose so that they could say “I told you so”.

As Guy Crouchback observes in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, once the first shots are fired, considerations of politics give way to considerations of nation.

People rally to unjust as well as to just regimes. ConHome’s Mark Wallace has noted that support for Vladimir Putin is up by around ten per cent since the invasion was launched, and support for the war itself is strong:

“Since the conflict began, polls by Lord AshcroftRussian FieldFOMstate-owned VCIOM and a group of independent pollsters all put support for the war between 58 and 75 per cent.”

While the decision to invade may have been Putin’s, the view that Ukraine ought not to be allowed to chart a wholly independent course is broadly shared by his countrymen.

Just as Lenin inherited many of his strategic imperatives of imperial Russia, so Putin has inherited many of his from Soviet Union. Successive regimes saw Russian security as being bound up with the subjugation of contiguous territories and the indirect domination of a buffer zone beyond them.

The exception was Boris Yeltsin – largely because of the anomalous circumstances that saw him, as head of the Russian Federation, take the lead in dissolving the USSR. Russia thus became a rare example of a nation that seceded from its own empire; and, to this day, many Russians feel the phantom pains of their amputated republics.

Yeltsin was exceptional in another way, too. He oversaw a more or less pluralist, multi-party system. For most of its history, Russia has been a dictatorship of one kind or another – and dictatorships, in the main, are more liable to launch aggressive wars than democracies.

All these things help explain why our policies are now directed against Russia as a whole, rather than just against Putin and his cronies. Russian sports teams are banned from competition, regardless of the political views of individual team members. Some economic sanctions are targeted at oligarchs, but many are hitting ordinary Russians. A Russian pianist was recently prevented from performing in Montreal, despite his opposition to Putin and to the invasion.

“For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

This inexorable collectivism is one of many reasons why, as a classical liberal, I hate wars. It is also, paradoxically, why I hate Putin and want him to lose. Not just so that Ukrainians can pursue their own dreams, but so that Russians can get another chance to build a more open polity. It might not work – the record until now has been disappointing – but it is surely worth a go.

In the mean time, let us try to keep our own sense of perspective. Yes, we should exert maximum pressure on Russia with the goal of pushing it out of Ukraine – and, with luck, of bringing Putin down.

But let’s not pretend that banning Swan Lake is anything other than performative tribalism. If we want to hold out the ideal of a free society as something for both Ukrainians and Russians to aim at, we need to believe in it ourselves.

Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Russians

17 Mar

In October 1956, as Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary, the Bolshoi Ballet performed to packed out crowds in Covent Garden. Being the year of the defections of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, Anglo-Soviet relations remained were already distinctly frosty, and the threat of cancellation had hung over the visit by Moscow’s leading dancers until the day they arrived.

But though the announcement that summer that the troupe would make their first appearance in the west with a month at the Royal Opera House was greeted with shock, people queued day and night for tickets. Not even Khrushchev’s tanks could stop the trip being a great success, as London’s ballet fans were coolheaded in separating entertainment and politics.

Almost six decades on, the parallels with our current geopolitical and cultural crisis are all too obvious. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, like the Soviet repression of Hungary, is an attempt by a paranoid Russian leader to prevent a country they view as part of their sphere of influence from getting too close to the West.

In Hungary’s case, that involved a revolution against their Stalinist government. In Ukraine’s, it involves the gradual Westernisation of a country cursed to straddle one of Eurasia’s traditional fault lines. In both cases, the clear evidence of Russian aggression has prompted Western condemnation. In 1956, this saw moments of high moral principle, such as the historian E. P. Thompson quitting the Communist Party of Great Britain. In 2022, it has meant some of most depressing examples of our inane contemporary cancel culture.

The comments of Nigel Huddleston to his Departmental select committee on Tuesday were a case in point. As, in part, Minister for Fun, Huddleston’s job is stand up for British sport and culture on the world stage. At times such as this, one assumes that means expressing our support for Russian athletes being excluded from the Winter Paralympics, or from having their football teams compete in international competitions.

Though painful for the sportspeople themselves, as representatives of a country that has broken international norms, that seems a decent punishment – and one fewer entry in Eurovision might at least bolster our abysmal chances. Similarly, going after the ill-gotten gains of various oligarchs, if hardly as vital as weaning Europe off Russian gas, at least gives the impression of something being done, and forces over-paid footballers to face the horror of a coach journey to Middlesborough.

But Huddleston’s comments went beyond these acts of sporting tokenism. He said that the Government is looking at the issue of those Russian players wishing to clog up our television screens for a few weeks this summer at Wimbledon, and whether they should be permitted to compete if they expressed ‘any support for Putin and his regime’.

The world’s number one – so I’m told (I’m a cricket fan myself) – is a Russian, Daniil Medvedev, who is currently competing under no national flag. That isn’t good enough for the minister though, who wants ‘some assurance’ that players like Medvedev are not ‘supporters of Vladimir Putin’, and so the Government is ‘considering what requirements we may need to get assurances along those lines.’ He didn’t go into detail on what these sinister-sounding requirements might be.

Whilst the lawn, Rolex, and strawberry enthusiasts of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club are well within their rights as a private organisation to ban someone from competing for holding dodgy or distasteful views, the idea of the Government stepping in to ensure players toe the party line is faintly terrifying.  In a very gentle way, a minister of the crown is suggesting the Government of the United Kingdom should pressure someone into a particular political view – and that is shocking.

But not unusual, in the current climate. The last few weeks have brought myriad examples of a disturbing inability on the parts of Western organisations to distinguish between the barbarities of Putin’s regime and Russian individuals, culture, and music.

Whether it was the Cardiff Philharmonic refusing to play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, an Italian university temporarily cancelling a course on Dostoevsky, or the dropping of a Russian film-maker from the Glasgow Film Festival due to his having received funds from his government (despite his condemning the war), there seems to be an ongoing competition for the most ludicrous example of Russophobic virtue-signalling. It isn’t only in the West – Eric Clapton, Iggy Pop, and Franz Ferdinand are all amongst those who have joined Disney, Sony, and other leading corporations in cancelling performances in Russia. Some, of course, would say that’s a blessing.

If this was only limited to private companies and organisations, this wouldn’t be too bad. My staunch support for private property rights is in a natural tension with my loathing of prejudice, but if New York’s Met Opera or the Munich Philharmonic wish to sack a tenor or conductor because they won’t go far enough in condemning Putin, then that is their right.

But I draw a line when it comes to our government, and the suggestion of compelling individuals to agree with an agreed point of view. What’s next? Nadhim Zahawi banning the teaching of Catherine the Great in schools and universities? Nadine Dorries encouraging us to burn Tolstoy? That really is taking the, ahem, war and peace.

We don’t consider Emma Raducanu culpable for partygate, Sir Simon Rattle responsible for Net Zero, or Great Expectations to blame for Brexit. We are able, domestically, to separate individuals from the government and its actions. When it comes to Russian culture, and sports people competing in a private capacity, ministers should take the same approach as their predecessors did to the Bolshoi in 1956. Let them come. Let them entertain. And don’t let’s be beastly to the Russians.