A mountain climbed, a milestone passed

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A mountain climbed, a milestone passed

According to Andrew Denton, the energetic leader of the Outdoor Industries Association, our country's children now spend less time outdoors than high security prisoners. 

When he shared that fact it was one of those 'stop and think' moments. It challenged me as a policy maker but perhaps more deeply, as a parent. There are millions of us that worry about screen time, console time, netflix binging and overused social media. My worry is all the more exacerbated by those stories of schools in Silicon Valley that exclude all tablets and phones. What do they know that we don't yet know, is the the question every parent asks. 

I don't have the answers but I was determined that the next Labour government should have a plan, or at least an outline, of how we can encourage more families to take advantage of the great outdoors. 

This is when things got tricky. "Why don't you meet some of the people who provide structured, outdoor recreation?" said Andrew.  It was a polite way of saying: 'here we go, another politician talking the talk, rather than walking the walk'. 

This is a long way of telling you that yesterday I climbed up Snowdon, the largest mountain in England and Wales. When I woke up in a bunk of the mountaineering centre Plas y Brenin at 4.30am I couldn't believe what I was doing. Now I've climbed the 1085 metre mountain and returned home safely, I still can't believe I did it. 18 months ago I would have found it difficult to climb up a step ladder. 

So yesterday was not just a way of experiencing the outdoors in pursuit of a policy, while fundraising for some wonderful causes, it was a personal milestone on a journey to health and wellbeing I never thought possible less than two years ago. The combined feeling of euphoria, achievement and relief when you get to the top is beyond description. I'd like to say it was satisfying but my overwhelming thoughts were: when can I climb Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike? 

Here's to the great outdoors and the people who bring us closer to the natural environment. They inspire me. 

(You can read more about my #Adventures4Health challenge in this article for Grough magazine)



A question of values

I was honoured to deliver the Fabian Society's John Smith Memorial Lecture on Monday, marking the 25th anniversary of the great Labour leader's death. I spoke of how John's values exemplified the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

I said now is the time for people to fight for his pro-EU vision of a tolerant, compassionate, global-facing, patriotic Labour party.  That's who we as a party were under John Smith and it's who we are now. 

As we go to the polls this Thursday, in what is clearly going to be a very difficult night for the two main parties, it's important to note that Remain isn't on the ballot paper. What is on the ballot paper is Nigel Farage's narrow nationalism v Labour's outward-looking patriotism.

Good luck to all our candidates, including the excellent Mary Wimbury who I met in Bangor on Saturday afternoon. 

To Labour supporters I would like to say: please don’t stay at home, don’t put that cross elsewhere, don’t let Farage win.

(You can watch the video of my speech here)



We need to talk about Nigel

It's been illuminating during the campaign to see how much Nigel Farage doesn't want people to know about either his policies or his finances. So it's a fair bet his notoriously thin skin won't have take kindly to the excellent Channel 4 investigation which revealed Arron Banks funds his man of the people charade to the tune of £450k a year. 


Plastic (not so) fantastic


One in ten pieces of plastic litter found polluting the UK's beaches carry the Coca Cola brand, according to a study by Surfers Against Sewage. Globally Coke produces three million tonnes of plastic packaging a year - polluting habitats and destroying life - along the way to revenues of £25 billion. If we are going to get serious about saving our planet, we should be making the poisoners pay. 

Meanwhile, I really hope the boss of Boots - which has rightly had some awful PR this week - is reviewing whether turning from paper bags to plastic bags for prescriptions to save costs is an acceptable way to run a business.



Tone deaf

The closure of Soho's Borderline club is another awful blow for the live music scene. I have had some great nights there over the years, and it is utterly depressing to see it go to the wall because of this government's failure to support small businesses against extortionate rate rises. UK Music and the Music Venue Trust have been lobbying the Chancellor relentlessly with pleas to support live music. All falling on the deafest of ears. 


Food for thought


When a football club with the heritage of Bolton Wanderers is relying on a food bank to support staff who have gone weeks without pay, something has gone terribly wrong.

This shocking situation once again highlights how the rules governing club ownership are not fit for purpose and need a complete overhaul. Fans deserve to know that their clubs are run responsibly, and staff need to know that they will get paid. There should be no place for takeovers by irresponsible individuals who can threaten a club's very existence.

The dire events at Bolton - with workers reliant on a begging bowl to support their families - must act as the catalyst for change.




The WhatsApp security breach, carried out by an Israeli cyber company NSO,  reads like a nightmare, a terrifying world of tech-enabled total surveillance - targeted at dissidents, lawyers and human rights activists, the very people who are fighting for justice and what's right. 

On Wednesday I asked an Urgent Question in the House of Commons: When were ministers informed? How many UK users are affected? Have they been notified? What is the Minister doing to work with GCHQ, the National Cyber Security Centre and tech industry players to protect the UK’s digital communications and privacy? I heard nothing in response to suggest this government has a handle on the threat of international cyber crime.



Cultural deficit

School theatre trips are on the decline. Shakespeare's Globe says education visits have fallen seven per cent in the past year. The National Theatre has also highlighted a drop. Justin Audibert, artistic director at London's Unicorn Theatre, warns that increasing numbers of teachers say, because of funding cuts, they can no longer bring their students to shows. 

Everyone knows arts uptake is on the decline in our schools. But the government is in denial. The cross-party DCMS Select Committee nailed the issue perfectly this week, asking: "Why do ministers insist on ignoring the 'lived experiences' of all the cultural organisations?"



The price of an internship


Amalia Illgner was paid £3.53 an hour as an intern at Monocle magazine and radio. That's less than half the national minimum wage. The publication has now admitted underpaying her which is a victory for Amalia. Monocle also says it's now changed intern pay. But the journalist had to take them to an employment tribunal just to get the money she's owed. Companies shouldn't be taking advantage young workers eager to get their foot on the career ladder. Labour has already pledged to scrap unpaid internships. Any system that exists to exploit people in this way and favours the privileged must be banned.


A musical genius

He's been described "one of the great A&R people of his or any other generation". And now British music executive Darcus Beese has been honoured with Music Week's Strat Award. It was Beese, now president of Island Records, who signed Amy Winehouse and helped develop the multi-million sellingBack To Black. In an article, he talks about discovering her, the singer's musical genius and her untimely death. In Mental Health Awareness week, it's encouraging that - according to Beese - the music business has learned lessons. He says: 'You hear the words 'well-being' and 'duty of care' a lot more now, and that's a good thing.'