A call to arms

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A call to arms

This week I received the answer to a parliamentary question about how many people under 21 had been diagnosed with diabetes in the last five years. The figures are simply extraordinary. They show that from 605 people diagnosed with type 2 or other diabetes in 2013, the number had risen in 2017 to 1,030 - a staggering 70 per cent jump.

The vast majority (probably 90% or higher) will be type 2, which makes it all the more important that campaigns like #FizzFreeFeb, which kicks off on Friday, take hold.

The aim - as you probably know by now - is to encourage families, teenagers and young children in particular to give up sugary, fizzy drinks for the month. This fantastic campaign was thought up last year by Southwark council and now it’s spreading across the country. The campaign views tackling excessive sugar consumptionas a critical ingredient in the war on obesity in this country.

Yet #FizzFreeFeb is not just about saving younger people from health problems. Critically, it is also about fighting back against corporations that profit from children’s high sugar consumption.

As I told The Guardian: “The heaps of sugar companies are putting in their fizzy drinks are as good as poisoning our kids. With scores of children suffering from tooth decay, obesity and even diabetes, we must do something to alert people to the danger of too much sugar."

I have already signed up Health Secretary Matt Hancock and his shadow, my colleague Jonathan Ashworth, and today I am delighted to announce that celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is going to help me front the national campaign encouraging people to go fizz free for the month.

Hugh, who like me has successfully lost weight by eradicating sugar from his diet, has been a long-time critic of the sugar industry and majored on the issue in his great BBC series from last year, Britain's Fat Fight. I couldn't be more pleased to have him on board.

It's not too late for you to join in. You can still sign up here to show your support.


Lessons from history

(Harry above left, pictured with Robert Rinder whose grandfather was from the same town)

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 in which we remember millions of genocide victims with services across the country. In my own constituency the commemorationwill include a speech given by retired Birmingham nurse Lia Lesser - one of the 10,000 children taken in by the UK as part of the Kindertransport initiative in the lead-up to the Second World War.

This year, of course, marks 80 years since the outbreak of that war against fascism. It also marks the 25th anniversary of the mass slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda and 40 years since the end of the Khmer Rouge terror in Cambodia.

The voices of people like Lia are diminished in numbers through the passage of age. But in a world where hate, intolerance and denial of truths is once again on the rise, it is crucial that those who have borne witness to the atrocities of the past are heard louder and clearer than ever.

For that reason I was particularly delighted to see a fantastic project this week in which an interview with concentration camp survivor Harry Spiro was broadcast by live webcam to over 100,000 schoolchildren.


It'll be alright on the night...

The No Deal posse have surpassed themselves this week with their blind faith, ideological zealotry, dreams of empire, economic illiteracy and their general I-know-so-much-better-than-you approach to political discourse. I guess that is what happens when you know you have lost the argument.

Nevertheless I'd like to award a joint special commendation to Tory MP David Jones - for his "I know more about the aerospace industry than the boss of Airbus" intervention - and his colleague Mark Francois for noting that the same Airbus ceo Tom Enders (born 1958) was a German parachuter in his youth, while his own father was a D Day veteran.

But the run-away winner of this week's prize must go to the right-wing writer, thinker, journalist and Breitbart executive editor James Delingpole for this priceless explanation of the sunlit uplands of life trading under WTO rules. I promise, it's well worth two minutes of your life!


Room with a view


Photos: Above: Bindon Bottom Below: 25 Boutique,  The Grange, The Swallows Rest, Hillstone Lodge


Amid the relentless gloom and doom, Trip Advisor has just revealed its list of top B&Bs in the world - and five out of the top ten are from the UK.

When tourism isn't just a main stay of our economy but also plays a massive role in our culture, heritage and identity, this is really something to celebrate.

So to all the teams that made this triumph possible at: 25 Boutique in Torquay, Bindon Bottom in West Lulworth, The Grange in Fylingthorpe, The Swallows Rest in Brigstock and The Hillstone Lodge on the Isle of Skye....a huge hats-off!


The singularity is near

If you're a science fiction lover, biohacker or technologist, you'll be familiar with the notion of the Singularity. It's an hypothesis that suggests Artificial Intelligence will trigger a technological explosion that results in an unfathomable and near instantaneous change to human civilization.

Supergeeks have been debating this topic for over a decade. Whether the revolution is to be welcomed depends on whether you view the Singularity bottle as half full or half empty. Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking have suggested that it could lead to the extinction of our race. Others, like Ray Kurzweill are more optimistic. To Kurzweill, increasingly accelerating innovation cycles in genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and AI will lead to humans merging with technology, creating new organisms that will radiate intelligence from our planet, blanketing the universe with information. 

These ideas are hard to get your head around. To illustrate just how mind blowingly wild our near future is likely to get, read this passage from Harari's latest book "21 lessons for the 21st Century":

“On 7 December 2017 a critical milestone was reached, not when a computer defeated a human at chess — that’s old news — but when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program. Stockfish 8 was the world’s computer chess champion for 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as to decades of computer experience. It was able to calculate 70 million chess positions per second. In contrast, AlphaZero performed only 80,000 such calculations per second, and its human creators never taught it any chess strategies — not even standard openings. Rather, AlphaZero used the latest machine-learning principles to self-learn chess by playing against itself. Nevertheless, out of a hundred games the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish, AlphaZero won twenty-eight and tied seventy-two. It didn’t lose even once. Since AlphaZero learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to human eyes. They may well be considered creative, if not downright genius….if chess is our coalmine canary, we are duly warned that the canary is dying.

I've been reading into this stuff for a couple of years. It's had a big impact on my thinking. There are a few headline conclusions for politics and democracy:

  • History teaches us that you cannot halt technological change.
  • It is questionable whether the direction of the next wave of technological advance can be shaped but it's worth trying.
  • Denial is not an option for civilisation.
  • As currently configured, our legislatures and executives will not be able comprehend the changes ahead, let alone respond to them.
  • There has never been a greater need for powerful global institutions to coordinate our response to a new era for humanity.
  • I'm not sure if Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or Xi Jingping have the necessary skill sets for the job in hand

The tech optimists point to the preservation of the species and the longevity of current living humans. Kurzweill and biohackers like Dave Asprey are putting their faith in the Singularity to increase their longevity beyond current biological limits. On the good days I share their optimism. In fact, one of my personal goals, made at the age of 51 is to live a purposeful life until at least 102. For what it's worth, that's about winning the daily battle against inflammation.

It's possible to be overwhelmed just thinking about the tech revolution in our near futures. Yet one positive outcome is that these mind blowing ideas help you put life into perspective. And when you find yourself being the current Deputy Leader of the Labour Party on the cusp of the Singularity, the perspective is a very good thing for stress level control, which any biohacker will tell you is very good for longevity! 


A law worthy of Natasha



"It is now vital that the industry seizes the opportunity to support Natasha's Law. For too long, food producers and retailers have been playing Russian Roulette with people's lives."

Powerful words from Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse whose daughter died after eating a Pret a Manger baguette. Like them, I strongly welcome government plans for strict allergen and ingredients labelling on pre-packed sandwiches and salads.

As they argue, there must be no backsliding from the food industry. If you want to have your say on the consultation, you can do so here.



Star performer

It may not be fashionable to praise the Premier League. But a new EY report says its economic impact is worth £7.6 billion a year - up a startling 800 per cent over the last two decades.

The Prem supports 100,000 jobs, the clubs and players contribute £3.3bn in taxes, 16,000 schools benefit from its Primary Stars programme, stadium attendance at 96% is the highest in Europe, including 680,000 foreign visitors to games, and matches are viewed in one billion homes globally.

That really does make it a star player in our economy.



Baggies buddies  

Talking of great contributions by football clubs, Baggies Buddies is an awesome new West Bromwich Albion project tackling isolation in our communities. It partners up fans, who have a feeling of loneliness, with friendly volunteers to enjoy the full crack of a match day.

The aim is not just to create friends for the day - but buddies long after. It's a brilliant initiative harnessing football's power to bring people together. If you want to get involved in any way click here .  

It is also brilliant to see so many football clubs - including 14 from the Premier League - signing up to David Dein's initiative to train prisoners as coaches and referees. Giving offenders a route back in to society, by ensuring a jail sentence isn't solely about punishment, is a vital component in battling crime. 




No space for hate


"Horrendous, degrading and dehumanising." Those are the chilling words to describe the appalling level of online abuse against people with disabilities.

The tech giants have utterly failed, and self regulation has utterly failed. It is time for a powerful independent regulator of social media. There must be no space for hate.


Taking a stand


The Malaysian government's decision to bar Israeli paralympic athletes from entry into the country to take part in the world swimming championships - a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - is completely unacceptable.

It will unfairly hinder their chances of being able to compete in Tokyo 2020 and goes completely against the International Paralympic Committee's stated mission to promote sport "without discrimination for political, religious, economic, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or race reasons."

I have written to the Foreign Secretary asking him to urge the Malaysian government to reverse this decision. If the Malaysian government will not do so, the World Paralympic Swimming championships must relocate to a country where the ideals of the Olympic movement are upheld.


Broken promises


Six months ago the Defence Secretary took the plaudits after announcing a new study into the health and wellbeing of our nuclear test veterans and their families.

At the time I said it was imperative that it explores the health of their children and grandchildren, an issue which for far too long has been ignored.

We now learn it will not. Instead it will repeat a previous, flawed study which ignores all the evidence of radiation-induced genetic damage carried down through the generations.

By raising the hopes of our nuclear veterans then dashing them with science de­­­signed to fail, the Defence Secretary has shown scant regard for the survivors, widows and children he promised to help.


Radio Ga Ga

Note to all budding radio producers: If you ever want someone to come on a local radio show and ramble for hours about stuff they shouldn't, just offer them the chance to play their favourite tunes. That's how I found myself in the studios of Wolverhampton community radio 101.8 WCR FM on Friday recording Inside Tracks with Pete Whitehouse. It's on air in a couple of weeks and I'll give you more details next week.