Calamity May

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Calamity May


If any further proof were needed that Theresa May is deliberately running down the clock to the supposed Brexit withdrawal date of March 29, it came this afternoon.

Her announcement that she has delayed the decisive meaningful vote until March 12th shows her playing fast and loose with our country's economy and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

She has once again shown herself to be incapable of the agility and imagination - let alone the confidence of MPs - required to bring the country together. Instead she is having a last throw of the dice for her failed plan, stifling parliamentary debate and undermining our democracy.

There are now just 33 days left until we face the calamitous economic suicide of a no-deal Brexit. That's a no deal that no one voted for, that was not on the referendum ballot paper. Even the ideological zealots on the Hard Right of the Tory party and beyond promised us they would negotiate great free trade deals with the EU.

On Article 50 it is clear that - deal or no deal - nobody seriously believes that Theresa May has got us in a position where we are ready to leave. She has spent the last two years negotiating with her own backbenchers rather than the EU. It can only be a matter of days, or weeks, before Article 50 is delayed to allow time to find a way of healing the visceral schisms in our society and for parliament to take control of Brexit planning.

This morning, being interviewed by Andrew Marr, I made it clear that if Theresa May can't find it within herself to sign up to Labour's red lines of close economic ties to the EU, then in line with our conference policy Labour should move towards a confirmatory ballot. If the PM doesn't, I am likely to be at the rally for a People's Vote on March 23rd. 



A culture of bullying


While on Marr this morning I found myself sitting opposite Luciana Berger. I reiterated how sorry I am at the way she has been treated and the shame I feel that she had been bullied out of the Labour Party by a small number of racist thugs.

The culture of bullying and anti-semitism that drove Luciana out has continued in full view on social media this week. Since Monday, when I made my video expressing sadness at the departure of colleagues, I have received 50 complaints about anti-semitism from colleagues. I have passed these on to Jeremy and asked him to take the personal lead on examining these cases.

I also called on Jeremy to do more to unite the party and reshuffle the shadow cabinet to give greater weight to MPs with social democratic rather than socialist views. The need to see Labour as the broad church of its tradition is the main reason why I am convening a group of MPs this week who believe in the party's social democratic tradition to develop policies.

As I told Marr: “We’re only electorally successful if those traditions can rub up against each other. Harold Wilson had Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins in his cabinet, and so that is our challenge."

There is almost a crisis for the soul of the Labour Party. Everyone that cares about our future - whatever tradition they represent - has to find it within themselves to work more closely together. And that is as big a challenge for Jeremy as it is for me.



Sound salvation

The spirit of the Horsefair was strong on LBC on Wednesday when I stood in for my fellow Kidderminster-raised child James O'Brien on his morning phone-in. As you might imagine it was a fairly gruelling if exhilarating three hours. The conversations were dominated by Brexit, Theresa May's failed deal, the case for extending Article 50 and, of course, reflections on MPs leaving Labour and - while I was on air - the Tories to join The Independent Group.

One caller asked me, bluntly, if I was leaving too. I repeated how, as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party,  I felt shamed when Luciana Berger felt she had to leave. But I don't want people to quit Labour. I want people to stay and fight their corner for the Labour party I love. You can listen in to a clip here.



Digital gangster time 

A compulsory Code of Ethics for tech companies; an independent regulator with power; reform of our electoral laws; social media companies obliged to take down harmful content and proven disinformation.

The DCMS Select Committee's report into Disinformation and Fake News was ground breaking. Their investigations and conclusions show their thinking to be streaks ahead of the Government’s.

Much of their work mirrors my own views expounded in a speech last week in my role as Shadow DCMS Secretary. In summary, we in Labour, fully support the committee’s ultimate conclusion: the era of self-regulation for tech companies must end immediately. We need new independent regulation with a tough powers and sanctions regime to curb the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism and the forces trying to use technology to subvert our democracy.

Few individuals have shown contempt for our Parliamentary democracy in the way Mark Zuckerberg has. If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him and his company into line. The Committee branded Facebook as "digital gangsters". I couldn't agree more.



Don't stop the music


New HMV owner Doug Putman believes vinyl could help revive the retailer's fortunes in the face of the digital onslaught. But he can take heart from the story of Spillers Records, the UK's and the world's oldest record shop. A commitment to vinyl is partly why the store is still standing after nearly 125 years. 

The shop is an institution not only in its home town of Cardiff but globally. In 2010, it was threatened with closure but more than 20,000 supporters including Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and Bob Dylan campaigned to save it. 

Nearly a decade on, Spillers is still going strong. Owner Ashli Todd (pictured above) who took on the business from her father Nick says she has always had faith in vinyl. In an interview with WalesOnline, she says: "I was adamant that we stick with vinyl as we could see despite the downtown of music sales the enthusiasm was there." 

In the run up to Record Store Day on April 13th, I would like to celebrate the UK’s fantastic indie record shops, which are vital elements of the pathway for so many of our brilliant, creative artists.

I am hoping you can help me out here by letting me know about your favourite record store, and a few words about why you think it is so special. I’ll hat-tip some of the best in the next couple of newsletters.



Giving kids control

 Children have ben taking control ofmuseum Instagram accounts this month to get their views heard. Leeds City and Dulwich Picture Gallery are among those signed up to the latest initiative from Kids in Museums. The charity hopes the Instagram day will empower young people, and encourage adults to see through their eyes.

Thousands already take part in its annual 'takeover' day when people adopt the jobs of museum staff. From toddlers to 25-year-olds, many have become more involved in museum life as a result. Inspiring young people is vital if museums are to increase workforce diversity.

An Arts Council England report published this week highlights how museums lag behind other cultural sectors. The percentage of people they employ who are disabled or from BME backgrounds has remained static. Let's hope there's movement soon in the right direction.



Goodbye to Sir

Last year, I reported in this newsletter that the Financial Times had dropped 'Dear Sir' from its letters page. N

ow the Henley Standard has followed suit. The change comes in response to a reader who, while declaring herself 'by no mea

ns a feminist', pointed out that other papers had 'eradicated this sexist attitude'.

It’s heartening to see they're embracing equality in the 'true blue' shires and in Boris Johnson's former seat. Not so though at his employer, the Telegraph. Letters editor Christopher Howse has branded the Henley Standard 'foolish' for its titular reforms. It's time Telegraph Media Group adopted a more enlightene

d attitude. Especially given the publisher's own chief executive Nick Hugh has already been forced to admit that its gender pay gap is 'unacceptable'.



Rock'n'roll rates


Rocketing business rates are crippling grassroots music venues, over a third of grassroots have closed their doors in the last decade. Yet the opportunity to perform live gigs inspired many of our world-renowned artists and bands.

This week I called on the Government to support the campaigns by UK Music and the Music Venue Trust to extend business rate relief to protect small venues. If they won't, many more stages will be going dark for good.


Work fair for all

This week saw the launch of the Institute for the Future of Work's prospectus "Shaping a future of better and fairer work through the Fourth Industrial Revolution". I’m deeply proud the Future of Work commission I founded two years ago has taken on a life of its own and grown into this exciting new institute. The IFOW, co-chaired by engineer Naomi Climer and Nobel Prize-winning economist Christopher Pissarides, couldn’t have come at a more important time. You can read the prospectus here.


2020 fizzion


With only 4 days to go until the end of Fizz Free February, I caught up with some of the campaign's most enthusiastic supporters yesterday at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, Bristol North West MP Darren Jones and members of the senior nursing team joined me to discuss diabetic services, the impact that cutting down on sugar can have in dealing with the epidemic of largely avoidable Type 2 diabetes, and how we can develop the campaign.

The response to the nationwide roll-out of #FizzFreeFeb, which started out with Southwark Council, has been exhilarating. I am so proud of what has been achieved and the level of support. Bring on 2020!



Hymns and Arias


Shadow digital, culture, media and sports colleagues Rosena Allin-Khan and Kevin Brennan joined me yesterday at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the Wales-England Six Nations game for a team away day.. 

No prizes for guessing the loyalty of Kevin Brennan who was in particularly fine voice. But can you spot a rather grumpy-looking England head coach in my selfie!



Farewell to Paul 

Paul Flynn was very kind to me when I was first elected as an MP. He literally wrote the book on ‘how to be a backbencher’ and was greatly respected across the House. You must watch this great clip of him when he unexpectedly found himself on the front bench - hit the picture for the link.

My thoughts and prayers are with Paul’s family and his many friends in the Labour Party following the sad news of his death.