A nation honours a teenage dreamer

If you'd like to receive this direct to your inbox, you can sign up here.


A nation honours a teenage dreamer


John Peel OBE said, famously: "It doesn't get any better than this." He was referring to Teenage Kicks, the Undertones single that he played, and then played again back in the September of 1978. Such was the great man's adoration for the song, the opening line "Teenage dreams so hard to beat" was engraved upon his headstone in 2004.

Peel, if he were still with us, would have been elated at today's matching OBE for the gangly kid from the streets of Derry with the shiny, tremulous voice. Feargal Sharkey has contributed so much - not just with his musical career - but as the most powerful advocate for the UK's globally-renowned creative music community, notably as the first ceo of UK Music. 

Many tens of thousands of working class kids who picked up guitars and made music together will applaud this public honour. And so do I. Feargal is not just a good friend (and occasional karaoke partner) but he's an absolute hero of mine and a cultural leader of his generation. Congratulations mate!

Photo: Feargal and I with current UK Music ceo Mike Dugher.

The Queen's Birthday Honours List has turned out to be a refreshing celebration of our music scene. Feargal is joined as an OBE by another of my great heroes Elvis Costello, and UK Music director Jackie Alway.

I am also hugely delighted to see the work of UK Music's founding chair Andy Heath recognised with a CBE. Andy, pictured below, joined the board of Beggars Group in 1989, became chair of UK Music in 2008, and also sits on the government's Creative Industries Council. He has been the most powerful unifying and influencing voice of the music scene. His reaction to the news is typically humble: "I honestly feel that this award is as much for the creators and business people in British music just as much as it is for me." Nice words.

Elsewhere, I'd like to pick out a few from many worthy recipients and celebrate: Holocaust survivor Ruzena Levy who gets a British Empire Medal; race and equalities campaigner Simon Woolley who gets a knighthood; Cush Jumbo, who contributed to my Acting Up report into diversity in the arts, who gets a CBE;  and former QPR manager Chris Ramsey who thoroughly deserves his MBE for services to football and diversity in sport.


Keeping the flame of freedom alive

Among the many notable moments of the 75th D-Day anniversary, I was particularly struck by the 300 Normandy veterans who boarded MV Boudicca in Portsmouth to retrace their fateful voyage to the D-Day beaches and defeat of Hitler. Amid the pomp these men - many in their 90s - so deserve, we must remember their work took more than a day.

That first, dreadful, extraordinary battle led to many others in an 11-month campaign that saw the Allies cross the continent, liberating villages, towns and cities on their way to Berlin.

The men who set sail again on Wednesday evening were among the 156,000 that landed in Normandy beaches and who bore witness to horrors we cannot imagine - the death of friends, the murders of innocents, the stench of death camps. They bore it all, along with their own danger and fear, in street-fighting, sniper attacks, and shelling. They arrested SS officers, they saved the sick and they held the dying.

History records Operation Overlord as the greatest Amphibious operation ever seen. It was just a beginning, and we must never forget the need to continue fighting against the inhuman evil of fascism.

We thank those men for all their service and sacrifice, and the Royal British Legion for supporting and commemorating their heroic deeds. In doing so, we also vow to keep the flame alive that those brave men lit in the darkness of 75 years ago.


Behind the front


Imagine a supposedly-respected scientific health charity that sits on UN and EU bodies but in reality is funded by Coca Cola and Monsanto, and lobbies in the shadows AGAINST sugar taxes, healthier school lunches and educational awareness programmes for children.

Meet the International Life Sciences Institute - living proof of the conspiracy by the giant food conglomerates to put billions in profit before the health of the world.



While its been all change at ChangeUK this week, Chuka Umunna would not be the first Labour MP to form an alliance with the Liberals. Historians point out that the first Labour government minister was not in 1924, when Ramsay MacDonald formed the first Labour government, but in 1886, when trade union official and Brummie MP Henry Broadhurst became the first working class government minister: at the Home Office (since you ask) where he worked to put a “fair wages” clause into government contracts.

He was a Labour minister in a Liberal government: a Lib-Lab MP. Most of the founders of the Labour Party in 1900 – including Keir Hardie – had been Liberal Party members who changed their mind in frustration at the reluctance of many local Liberal Associations to select working class candidates.  When the foundation conference was held in 1900 for what became the Labour Party, while many unions backed Keir Hardie and an independent Labour Representation Committee, the biggest, the miners’ union, refused to back a standalone Labour Party.

When Hardie's Labour Representation Committee agreed the secret electoral pact with the Liberals that helped it win so many seats in the Liberal landslide at the 1906 election, the miners’ union remained unpersuaded of Labour, and the MPs it backed instead were Lib-Labs: working class Labour MPs who sat on the same government benches as the Liberals and took their whip. 

A ballot of miners union members in 1906 voted 101,714 votes to 92,222 not to back Hardie's Labour Party and instead to continue to back Lib-Lab MPs. There were 23 Lib-Lab MPs elected in 1906, mostly miners’ union members, though a few were in what's now UNITE. Only because the miners’ union decided to have a "second referendum" of its members two years later in 1908 did what is now the NUM vote to change its mind on its Liberal liaisons and back Keir Hardie’s independent Labour Party over the Lib-Lab approach. Just think what might have happened if the miners hadn’t backed that second referendum!



Speaking the truth

Fellow MP Jess Phillips has never been afraid to speak out on what she believes in. Even when that has made her the target of vile abuse. A collection of stories from her life, Everywoman: One Woman's Truth About Speaking the Truth is set to be turned into a TV drama by the same production company behind Happy ValleyQueer As Folk, and Scott and Bailey. From being born under a Thatcher government to her work at Women's Aid and Parliament, the MP for Birmingham Yardley has plenty of inspirational stories to tell. As she says, the story of women in politics is complex and nuanced and intriguing- and 'needs telling.'


Sure start fail

It's not like we didn't warn the government. Here's the proof that providing Sure Start centres for children, delivered health benefits for youngsters in the most deprived areas, saved parents money and the NHS millions. And in cutting them by 1,000 - as my colleague Tracy Brabin points out - the Tories have undone all that good work.


No deal lunacy

The leader of Britain's leading manufacturing organisation says a no deal Brexit would be economic lunacy, driving businesses over the edge and workers to the dole. Yet this very same bout of economic lunacy appears to have struck down over half the contenders to be Tory leader and, hence - with no public mandate - our country's next Prime Minister. I am deeply worried about manufacturing industries in the event of no deal.


Pitch imperfect


Alarming figures show that over 700 council football pitches have been lost since 2010 - many sold to greedy developers as local authorities struggle with austerity budgets. In the North West 164 pitches have been lost, 129 have gone in Scotland, 84 in the West Midlands, 82 in Wales, 76 in Yorkshire and 54 in London.

That means tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of children are being denied access to healthy sport options. At a time of record numbers of obesity, it's an absolute disgrace. The government needs to ensure councils don't have to sell off the family silver to survive. And I want to work with the Premier League and FA, as well as other leagues, to make sure that grassroots football is properly nurtured.


Time to junk'em

Over half the products aimed at children, featuring cartoon characters like Peppa Pig on packaging, are high in fat, sugar or salt. We’re in a child obesity crisis and companies are using cartoons to advertise junk foods to kids. It's time to change the rules.


Sailing off into the sun

The chief exec paid himself £19.1m last year; the chairman a mere £8.5m. To avoid angry shareholders, they booked their AGM on a five-star superyacht called Sunborn, and held it off Gibraltar. Welcome to the world of GVC - the company that owns Ladbrokes and Foxy Bingo. Thanksfully my colleague Carolyn Harris will be calling these two to account before MPs. We know the injuries their businesses inflict on families through the promotion of gambling, and its related harms. It will be good to find out what Kenny Alexander and Lee Feldman actually do contribute positively to society.


Who wears what and why?

Another case in point comes with the announcement that W88 (who, you might ask) are to be the new shirt sponsor for promoted Aston Villa. W88 is an obscure online gambling online gambling company based in the Philippines. They are also one of the companies who have failed to donate 0.1% of their revenue to GambleAware, as recommended by the Gambling Commission. Last season they paid an estimated £10million to sponsor Wolves, but only gave £250 to GambleAware.

It's another shocking example of a UK licence being used as a platform for offshore operators to use the reputation of British sport as a marketing tool for their own domestic audience - where the benefits of the UK market are enjoyed but nothing is given back to address the harm that is caused. This situation simply has to change.



Father and son (and a trophy)


There was a moment last Saturday evening, after Liverpool had lifted the European Champions League, that captured the heart of millions. If you don't know the story behind the embrace between winning captain Jordan Henderson and his dad Brian, you may want to read this beautiful piece of journalism.