Budget Day special


The Budget:  A red box full of tricks?

Theresa May has promised that “austerity is over”, and today we shall find out the truth as Chancellor Philip Hammond sets out his Budget. Ending austerity means a full commitment to restore the billions of funding taken from our schools, our police, our local services - as well as the NHS - and halting the Universal Credit roll out.

I don’t think there is a politician or a commentator in the land who thinks Hammond’s Red Box will deliver on that. This Budget will not mark the end of austerity. It’s not that it isn’t possible, it’s just that the ideology of the Tories and their weakness in Parliament makes radical change with Hammond and May impossible. 

Britain has to survive and thrive in a fast changing world. We need to recast our political economy so that it empowers the next generation of workers whilst giving security - in its broadest sense - to our older and retired workers. If Labour can make a convincing case for how this will be done in a dynamic mixed economy, we will win. 

Whatever the future holds, austerity will not end as long as Philip Hammond is Chancellor. 


Greed over good


The Budget will also tell us whether the Chancellor and DCMS Secretary Jeremy Wright have caved into the bookmakers and bought their ridiculous claims that they need more time to reduce the FOBTs stake to £2.

The only reason the betting companies need more time is to trouser another £900 million - while caring not one jot about the family lives that will be destroyed in the meantime. Now local government leaders have joined the outrage.

“As local authorities, we sadly know first-hand the devastating impact these addictive machines have had on our residents and high streets, clustering in deprived areas, fuelling problem gambling and indebtedness, and creating real misery to people’s lives,” they said.

Delaying the FOBTs cut until next October would be a triumph for greed over good.



Mourning with Leicester

Deepest condolences to the family of chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and of the four others who lost their lives in this tragedy, and to the wider football family of Leicester City.

Mr Vichai was a key and hugely popular figure in the fairytale story of the club which captured the imagination of football fans, not just here, but around the world.

He will always be remembered for his wonderful contribution to the club and the proud city.



Radio call to the nation


Since Mrs Thatcher was skewered by Mrs Gould on a point of detail over 35 years ago, spin doctors have always winced when elected representatives seek to open themselves up to public scrutiny in an unmoderated forum. So I was a touch apprehensive on Thursday when I made my debut as a radio host for LBC. But I ended up loving every minute of it. Radio is the most revealing medium and the call-in format allows people from all parts of the country to have their say in a direct one-on-one, in full hearing (and viewing these days) of millions of listeners.

LBC have turned the classic radio phone-in into a modern day technological art form. No wonder the BBC are worried about ratings. After the show is broadcast, the content is quickly cut and diced and shared on social media where the conversation continues, often for days on end. I’d not fully appreciated what a multiplier effect this has on anything you say - or don’t say, or say wrong!

The subject was Brexit and it gave me a great opportunity to get over Labour's position and to make clear that the government's failure in the negotiations has got truly frightening consequences for our country.

Inspired by my conversation with Gavin from Barnsley - who is a Labour Leaver - I ended in a plea for the country to come together, to work together for the best possible deal, and to end division and hostility in our political discourse.

Simon from Gateshead also gave me the opportunity to dismiss the nonsense that reverberates on social media about my relationship with Jeremy. I told him I talk to Jeremy all the time, some times with words and at others with

The hour flew by and I was disappointed to hand over the mic to the far more experienced broadcaster, Iain Dale!



Rogue Platform


Facebook deserves every penny - and more - of its fine by the Information Commissioner for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal: A sum of £500,000 is a drop in the ocean for such a tech giant.

A company making billions off users’ data should have foreseen and detected a legal breach of this scale and duration.

This will not be the last of the scandals on Facebook’s timeline. That’s why Labour is advocating for a new independent regulator of tech platforms that will have the powers to rein in these global internet giants.”



Dark side of the web


A secretive social media account with 489 Twitter followers and 13,000 followers on Facebook has reached more than 10 million people and spent a whopping £257,000 on pro-Brexit ads in just eight months.

It's called Mainstream Network, and that's as much as we are allowed to know. No clues as to who funds it, or their nationality. Twitter and Facebook, who know who they are, won't tell us.

On November 7 Facebook's new rules on political ads will come in. They'll now have to add the words "Post paid for by Mainstream Network". That's all. Again no clues as to the mystery backers.

Organisations like Mainstream Network are an unaccountable, interfering cancer on our democracy, and other democracies around the world. Facebook and Twitter continue to shield the dark ads funders. Once again this shows why we need new laws to force them to tell us the truth.



Up the Hamlet

I am absolutely delighted for the fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC - a great example of community grassroots football - who have won their battle to save the club from developers.

After eight months in exile, The Hamlet are coming home! Brilliant campaign. Well done everyone!






The thinnest of blue lines

The thin blue line of policing is now stretched to the point of breaking. When the chief constable of the West Midlands - Britain's second largest police force - bluntly states that criminals are well aware how badly stretched our resources are, the government can no longer sit idly by.

Pension shortfalls will see cuts of 600 officers in Greater Manchester, 500 across the Black Country, 400 in West Yorkshire and 300 in Merseyside. All at a time of spiralling violent crime.

It makes a mockery of Theresa May’s claim that austerity is over.

It is now clear for all to see that the Tories cannot be trusted to keep the public safe. As I told The Birmingham Post: “The party that once claimed to be the party of law and order is now the party of crime and disorder.”



Fear of failure


If the talks with the EU fail, it looks like the winners will be the criminal gangs, the smugglers and the tax dodgers - but for law-abiding traders and services it will be complete chaos.

This isn’t my view by the way - it’s what the National Audit Office says.

The government's failure to plan properly is leaving us in a frightening situation.



Keyboard warriors are cowards

Annabal Bagdi's 'offence' was to pen a column celebrating the benefits of immigration.

The Wolverhampton-based Express and Star journalist and proud 'Brummie' with Punjabi roots wrote how 'heartbreaking' it was that anyone could suggest her father had 'brought little, if any' value to British society.

Cue the outpouring of abuse. One troll called her 'a delusional moron' while other tweets are too vile for this column. Those who have come to her defence include Labour MP Pat McFadden. As he points out, it shouldn't take 'bravery' to write the column that she did. Annabal can take heart from Pat's support and that from many others. As one twitter follower said: 'Diversity has made my city great.'



Honour the brave

As we approach Armistice Day, which this year marks the 100th anniversary of the guns of World War One falling silent, it seems an appropriate time to remember the extraordinary sacrifices of Sikh soldiers.  

Eighty-three thousand were killed fighting in the service of Great Britain during both World Wars, and more than 100,000 were wounded. It's time those who died were honoured with a National Sikh War Memorial.

Please support my colleague Tan Dhesi's petition and help keep the pressure on on Theresa May to make good on her government's pledge to support a memorial.  

And I wish the Sikh community of Sandwell all best wishes when their own memorial is unveiled in Smethwick next weekend. 



Not shabby at all

"Not too shabby for 68, eh" declared Tom Robinson after blasting off his live set at the Shepherd's Bush Empire with the impeccably punk Up Against The Wall

Tom, best known these days for championing new talent on BBC Radio 6 Music, was playing the final gig of his "Power in the Darkness" 40th anniversary tour. It was a vinyl lover's dream. Tom plays the entire album in order, even stopping to joke about "blowing the fluff of the needle" when the band switch from side one to side two. 

I was privileged to be there on Saturday night to join the fifty-something audience on a trip back in time to the days of Rock Against Racism and the fiery politics of punk anthems including "Ain't Gonna Take It" and "Better Decide Which Side You're On".

Tom is most famous for two songs which don't actually appear on the album - the classic drive single 2-4-6-8 Motorway and (Sing If You're) Glad To Be Gay. He promised us both as encores long before he got to the end of the album set. And the 2018 version of the Tom Robinson Band delivered them perfectly, accompanied by stirring sing-a-longs from the audience.

"How many of you saw me first time around?" asked Tom. A thousand hands shot up to the air. "Nice to see you again," he replied. And it really was.