An unaccountable oligarchy

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An unaccountable oligarchy


The appalling events in Christchurch have crystallised the case for social media regulation. First we had Facebook being used by the terrorist to livestream the atrocity, then YouTube proving incapable of taking down uploads of the attack as fast as people were putting them up. It is clear that social media platforms, by aiding and abetting the publicity of the crime, have become part of the terrorists' armoury. 

I find it incredulous that some people claim that enforcing legal responsibilities on these platforms is somehow an attack on freedom of speech. The right to freedom of speech does not extend to the right to carry out, or promote, mass murders on the grounds of racial or religious hatred. Yet that is what we witnessed yesterday, mass murder promoted and amplified round the globe.

The other argument I wish to debunk is the claim that the tech giants do not have the capability of controlling output on their platforms. From the conversations I have had on this subject, both before and in the aftermath of yesterday's atrocity, it is simply not true. The social media giants do have the technology, they just don't have the will to use it. And the reason they don't have the will is, as I explained on LBC, because they are obscenely rich and totally unaccountable. 

Yesterday I said we cannot allow this dreadful state of affairs to continue, and I am pleased that Home Secretary Sajid Javid agrees with me that new laws are urgently required. Facebook, Google, YouTube and co failed the victims of this terrible atrocity. They failed, in the face of true evil, to show any decency and responsibility. We cannot allow the oligarchs of Silicon Valley to fail us any longer.


Spirit of renewal

I was absolutely delighted with the turn-out of Labour colleagues for the launch of the Future Britain Group on Monday evening.

The departure of good people from the Parliamentary Labour Party, in particular friends like Luciana Berger and Ian Austin, had been for me a personal wake-up call to step up and do more. So it was brilliant to see so many faces from across the party coming together to discuss how we can renew our social democratic and democratic socialist principles.

With TIG emerging as a centre ground party that isn't the Lib Dems - who are still not trusted after propping up the austerity party Tories -  our electoral challenge is much tougher, particularly in the key seats we need to win back to be in government. TIG are a long way off winning seats and forming a government but they are a threat to us in the battle for swing voters in marginal seats. 

The need to focus on achievable goals, that don't split us further is as urgent as it is vital. That's a challenge to everyone, no matter where you sit on the political axis. 

The Labour Party is made of many intellectual traditions and we’ve only ever worked and been elected to government when those strands of thought have been respected. To that end the FBG will be developing radical policies over the coming weeks and months on foreign policy and defence, the future of work and pay, education and social mobility, and the future of the NHS and social care. I'll keep you updated.


Groundhog May

The utter shambles that is Theresa May's Brexit "deal" returns on Tuesday when the Prime Minister will have a third attempt to get her disastrous plan through the House of Commons. 

It's difficult to see how she can secure a majority in the House, short of subterfuge. But having already ploughed one billion pounds in the direction of the DUP to prop up her Government, who is to say she won't try the same tactic again.

Assuming the PM does lose again, then she must reach out across the floor of the House and seek cross-party consensus. That means accepting Labour's policy of a customs union and close single market ties -  the only type of deal that could possibly command a majority. If she won't, and if she won't call a General Election, then we must move towards a People's Vote.


Sky's no limit

Standing at the Sky's Edge is a new musical following three families through three generations on Park Hill estate in Sheffield - not your average subject matter for a musical. Here's a handy Yorkshire Post explainer:

A council housing estate built in the late 1950s, to the dreamers who designed it, it’s a streets-in-the-sky paradise for the workers of a great city. To successive governments, it’s a symbol of everything they’d rather ignore. To the people who live there, it’s home.

When I was a tiny tot, growing up in Darnall on the Prince of Wales Road, Sheffield, they used to talk of Park Hill which was just a couple of miles away. 

Standing at the Sky's Edge, written by Chris Bush with music from the city's
own legendary songsmith Richard Hawley (the title comes from his 2012
album),  opened last night to 
great fanfare and is running at The Crucible until April 6. You can get tickets here.I'd love to catch it on stage on Sheffield but, if not, I'm really hoping it proves to be a beacon of the current powerhouse that is Yorkshire theatre and is snapped up by a West End theatre.


Justice for Molly


The news that Molly Russell's family have been granted legal aid for their daughter's inquest is very welcome. But it is beyond belief that they should have been denied it in the first place. No family should have to face the immense power of the tech giants in a coroner's court without access to proper representation.


You can't spin the truth

Two stories this week highlighted the urgent need for a new Gambling Act fit for the digital age. The first shows - just as many experts in the field have feared - the depth of the link between problem gambling and suicide. The Swedish study predicts that problem gamblers are 15 times more likely to take their own lives. In the UK that would equate to 550 lives lost a year.

The second, closer to home, came from a TV documentary interview to be aired on Monday night with Paul Merson in which the ex-footballer talks about how he is still offered extended lines of credit by the gambling firms despite his well-documented history of addiction. In speaking out so courageously, he makes the strongest case for root and branch reform of our gambling laws.


Springfall for Hammond

Philip Hammond’s claims to have ended austerity fell apart just 24 hours after his Spring statement. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said his continued benefit freeze is costing 10m families £420 each a year - rising to £560 for the very poorest families. In other news, the richest 0.1% are getting richer. So that’s all right then.



Free to talk

Libraries only seem to make the news these days if they are forced to close or reduce their opening hours. So I'd like to celebrate my local in Sandwell which this weekend has launched its first-ever literature festival, which runs until next Saturday. There are a selection of talks with free admission. That's the sort of role libraries should have the opportunity to foster in our communities. More details here


The unusual suspects

Nominations for Bafta's Games Awards were announced this week with the headlines dominated by the usual suspects God of War and Red Dead Redemption. But it was great to see credit give to some indie titles. Two catch the eye: Florence, designed from a women's perspective offers a non-violent alternative for younger gamers, and Celeste, an adventure game featuring a girl called Madeline tackling mental health issues. I know one young girl who will love to be introduced to these two. 

Full list of nominations here.


The beat goes on

Drummer Hal Blaine, who died this week aged 90, was not a household name. But you will have listened countless times to the beat which graced artists from Frank Sinatra to Dean Martin, The Byrds to The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson declared him "the greatest drummer ever". "May he rest forever on 2 and 4", said his family in a statement. Here's a selection in his honour.