A poll for a poll

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A poll for a poll

There was a huge response to my Brexit poll in the newsletter two weeks ago, over 10,000 people having a say. Seventy-eight per cent said they wanted No Brexit at all, 15% want a confirmatory ballot on any deal, 6% want No Deal, 2% favour the Norway option, and Theresa May's deal received 25 votes, which rounds down to 0%!


I appreciate that the sample isn't exactly scientific (and yes, the statistical rounding takes the figure to 101%) but as a pointer to thinking on the left it strongly backs the case I made in last weekend's Observer for Labour to come off the fence and commit to a confirmatory referendum in our manifesto for the EU elections on May 23.

In case you missed it, here's a snippet:

"We cannot just sit back and allow Nigel Farage to prosper with a backward-looking brand of politics that offers no solutions. Instead, we must offer a radical alternative based on our values, which speaks directly to the people we represent and demonstrates Labour has a way forward out of this crisis.

Labour won’t defeat Farage by being mealy-mouthed and sounding as if we half agree with him. We won’t beat him unless we can inspire the millions crying out for a different direction. We won’t win if we sit on the fence about the most crucial issue that has faced our country for a generation

The very least that Leavers and Remainers deserve is a final say – a confirmatory referendum – on any deal. They deserve a Labour party that offers clarity on this issue, as well as the radical vision for a new political economy achieved by working with our socialist allies inside the EU. And, above all, they deserve better than Nigel Farage’s promise of a far-right Brexit that would solve nothing."


Campaigning for Labour

There are just five days left until the local elections in England. Labour is campaigning hard against Tory austerity with pledges to build more affordable homes, put 10,000 more police back on the beat, cut primary school class sizes, increase funding for adult social care, and fight to save our NHS.

I have been delighted this weekend to join campaign teams on the doorstep seeking to return Liz Giles as our councillor in Charlemont with Grove Vale Ward in Sandwell, and supporting Josh Newbury battling Norton Canes ward in Cannock Chase. Best of luck to all our excellent candidates and, if elections are taking place in your local council, please get out and vote. Every cross for Labour in the ballot box can send a powerful message that we are fed up to the back teeth with this destructive and divisive Tory government.


If you're a member you can find campaigning events in your local area by logging in to your Membersnet account at members.labour.org.uk


Go tell it on the mountain*

Many thanks to all those of you who sent in words of encouragement for my Adventures4Health challenge. I'll be stepping out on the first challenge to climb Mount Snowdon on Saturday May 18th. It will be an early start to beat the traffic on the mountain but we will have an official guide and I would love it if you can join me. Or, if not, a donation to the charities I am fundraising for would be gratefully received. 

During the course of the four events over the next few months I want to see how a Labour Government could help create a future where a healthy lifestyle is the norm. Children today spend far less time outside compared to previous generations, and over a third of 10-year-olds are obese or overweight. The Outdoor Activity Strategy will set out how a Labour can help to change these trends for people of all ages.

Our policy work will look at: helping to make outdoor activities accessible to everyone; encouraging children and young people to take part; integrating outdoor activities into our health and wellbeing frameworks. Spending time outdoors helps us be more active and more engaged with the natural world around us. I would be delighted if you would make a contribution to the policy making process by making any suggestions here.

* And here's a bit of Dolly to raise the spirits.


Holding up a light

Whilst on the subject of great outdoor activities, the very best of luck to all those taking part in the London Marathon tomorrow. I will be seeking inspiration from the legion of wonderful tales of achievement and endurance that have made the event such a national treasure.

Among this year's runners is first-timer Jamie Norton who is raising money for the Salisbury Hospice which cared for his mum Linda Brown who died of cancer last year. Jamie is co-songwriter of Take That's Hold Up A Light and has recorded a special charity single version with Mark Owen and pupils from Grasmere Primary in North London. Proceeds will go to the hospice and Stoke Newington school's FROGS appeal to build an outdoor play space. Download here to listen and support. 


Lost in a forest

Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and the greatest living Briton Sir David Attenborough have between them powered climate change, rightly, to the top of the agenda in this country and across much of the planet.

Greta, speaking directly to politicians in London, says: "You lied to us, you gave us false hope." Sir David, speaking of the school strikes, responds: "Their outrage is certainly justified, there is no doubt about that." Tellingly, he adds: "Young people understand the simple discoveries of science about our dependence on the natural world."

Greta's argument that the UK Government is guilty of "creative carbon accounting" is powerful and demands a thorough reappraisal of how we measure emissions. It also points to a global accounting problem that is highlighted by this illuminating analysis from YaleEnviroment360 into pledges to increase forest cover across the globe.

In fact, much of this growth would be in "monoculture plantations that would be quickly cut down and do little to tackle climate change or preserve biodiversity." It is, as the authors state, a scandal.



Good views, bad views


The Gambling Commission on Thursday backed Labour's call for a mandatory levy on betting company profits to pay for addiction treatment, research and education. The Commission said the current voluntary levy system only brings in £12m – and it wants to see £70m in “hard cash” as part of its three-year strategy to tackle gambling-related harm.

You might think that would be an easy win for the government? But no, true to form and dragging its heels, the government responded by declaring that the voluntary levy “does work”.

Well, I’m sorry. But for 430,000 problem gamblers in this country it is NOT working. It’s outrageous that this Tory government is ignoring its own statutory adviser’s call for a mandatory levy on gambling companies to fund support for problem gamblers. 

However there was a spot of good news with the welcome intervention of Kenny Alexander, chief executive of GVC Holdings which owns Corals Ladbroke. After visiting a rehabilitation centre for gambling addicts, he has come out in favour of a complete ban on betting ads during sports broadcasts, has dumped football shirt sponsorships, and voluntarily signed up for Labour's 1% levy proposal. 

I urge all betting company chief executives to follow Kenny Alexander's example: to visit rehab centres  - and then challenge themselves to put people's health before their company profits.


Pride of Lochgelly

This week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Open University. Over two million have been through its virtual doors, and all have cause to thank the pioneering Labour MP Jennie Lee who became this country's first Arts Minister in 1964.

The Lochgelly-born miner's daughter worked hand-in-hand with Harold Wilson to found the OU. The guiding principles of her work were access and meaningful investment, and they have remained at the heart of Labour culture and education policy ever since.

Jennie, her legacy, and her commitment to access have always been an inspiration to me in my DCMS brief and it was wonderful to see her achievements honoured. There's a lovely piece here from the Fife Free Press.



The woman who defeated Hitler


“I never, never cried before a Nazi. I only cried at night … They stole my sleep, but they never took my freedom or life.” The remarkable obituary of Neus Català, who has died aged 103, a lifelong fighter against fascism.


Faceless on Facebook

There is a darkness in our democracy when anonymized digital adverts, which purport to be the work of grassroots Brexit activists, turn out to be the craft of key Tory strategist and Boris Johnson flag-bearer Lynton Crosby.

The lesson from the US election and our own referendum is that it is vital for the health of our democracy that there is transparency in political campaigning, which must be free from secretive or overseas interference.

The Electoral Commission says new rules are needed. The Information Commissioner bemoans the Government’s failure to act. Yet the Online Harms White Paper does nothing to address the issue.

More than ever, as this country faces the biggest public policy issue of our lifetimes, action must be taken to halt the abuse of our personal data by shadowy forces who spread disinformation to undermine our democracy.


West Midlands at the Ivors

Congratulations to The Ivors short-lister Clint Mansell. The former frontman of Stourbridge indie band Pop Will Eat Itself is in the running for Best Television Soundtrack. Now a Hollywood composer, Mansell has been behind the music for many movies and TV productions over the past few decades including Black Swan, Noah and Pi, and Requiem for a Dream. He’s been nominated this time for composing the score for the TV film Happy New Year, Colin Burstead directed by Ben Wheatley.

The winners are announced on May 23rd. Many of the nominated tracks are the result of group efforts. This shows how The Ivors are a testament to the power of team working at a time when much in Britain seems fractured and divided. 



Levelling Up on domestic violence


Domestic violence is an issue which should concern us all. And it’s one I’ve campaigned on, in particular to scrap the fee victims are charged - for an ‘evidence’ letter from a GP to get legal aid. The media too has a role in how domestic violence is portrayed. Irresponsible reporting adds to the trauma that families of victims suffer.

So that’s why I welcome new guidelines proposed by campaign group Level Up. They include a call for publications not to use images that ‘reinforce the myth that domestic violence is only a physical crime’. The advice for reporters and editors has been endorsed by press regulators the Independent Press Standards Organisation and Impress. As Janey Starling from Level Up says it’s all too often that journalists report on ‘crimes of control as crimes of passion’.



Driving out the darkness

Last week in my Easter message I recalled the story of Jesus and the Garden of Gethsemane and how it is a human act of extraordinary strength and generosity to choose not to hit back or hit out at those who are persecuting others. 

At the time we were all just taking in the terrible Good Friday murder of Lyra McKee. Two days later on Easter Sunday, the terrorist atrocities in Sri Lanka brought a terrible darkness on the most celebrated day in the Christian calendar.

My heart, like yours, bleeds for the many who have lost loved ones or who have suffered life-changing injuries at the hands of those who use religion as an excuse to deliver violent hate and death. Yet the responses we have witnessed in both Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka - of love, support and kindness across faiths - must empower us to stick to our truths and values.