Damn the Tory poachers

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


Damn the poachers


I have seldom had as big a response as I received this week after highlighting how Dept of Work and Pensions recruiters are trying to poach NHS nurses to carry out PIP disability assessments.

Incentives to switch careers, and help enforce the government's cruel attack on the most vulnerable in society, include a starting salary of £43k, no shift or weekend work, and PRIVATE medical cover.


It struck me as simply grotesque that when we are faced with such a crippling shortage of medics, DWP recruiters are using aggressive direct marketing techniques to poach NHS nurses - with perks those nurses can only dream about.

The pithiest comment came from a nurse who replied in blistering tone to her would-be recruiter: 

"I work to rehabilitate not debilitate. I went into nursing to support people not drive them to suffering and suicide."

One arm of government poaching from another, luring NHS nurses to carry out cruel assaults on the disabled, demonstrates raw Tory values. It's the sharpest reminder of the the fatal trinity at the heart of this administration - austerity, privatisation and incompetence.


Drowning out the nuance

When I look around the world I see people being influenced by those who can only lead by propagating the idea of the scapegoat. Some of them are the most powerful. When Donald Trump declared himself a 'nationalist' in defiance of the ‘globalists’,  he allowed a narrative to develop that made it 'normal' to think it was fine to exclude Mexicans by building a wall. 

Nationalism, to Trump and Putin, is the new normal. It's as morally disingenuous as it is politically dangerous, yet it is moving a previously fringe notion to the mainstream. It's manifesting itself on the right, but so too on the left.

This week I was stimulated by an episode of 'Analysis' on Radio 4. Peter Pomerantsev's "The War for Normal" programme claims that what the "new propagandists have in common is the idea that to really get to someone you have to not just spin or nudge or persuade them, but transform the way they think about the world, the language and concepts they have to make sense of things".

Pomerantsev sent me back to the dusty section of my bookcase where the hard to read works of Gramsci have sat, unopened for nearly 35 years. They were bought from a second hand book shop in Elephant and Castle, after I'd attended a course at the Transport & General Workers Union training centre in Eastbourne, where I'd been lectured about Historical Materialism by a sociology lecturer from Surrey University. As a newly elected shop steward, it was revelatory.

The struggle takes many forms, as Gramsci probably said. The great Italian philosopher spent a lot of time considering what 'normal' was, or rather how it was defined. To him, it was necessary for Marxists to find a political language, a grammar, that could be seeded within the masses - in the lexicon of their culture.

For Gramsci, if the Marxist is to succeed in defining the new normal, it requires "severe and rigorous internal criticism, with no lapses into conventionalism and half measures." 

It's that element of "severe and rigorous internal criticism”, often amplified by Marxist members of the Labour Party on social media, that troubles me, and not just because their boorishness make us as a party look dull and unimaginative. 

It's also not just that their conduct is often so offensive that it risks driving out good people from our ranks like Luciana Berger, who is the subject of bullying by some members of her local party. (If ever there was a 'scapegoat' in the making, it is Luciana. And what a stain on our century old institution it will be if she chooses to leave the party I love over anti semitism.)

The reason I worry most about the volume of all that judging, condemnation, criticism and disbelief by a small but very active group of Labour party members on social media is that it drowns out the more nuanced conversations that matter. 

The ones that tease out ideas to contend with the impact of the fourth industrial revolution, or the inexorable movement of wealth from west to east, or the urgency of the need for climate adaptation.

And when I look at those Marxists and all their judging, I hunger for a world where difference and debate is respected.


(Very) Good Times

Two wonderful things have happened in the last week. Firstly, Fantastic Negrito won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album with "Please Don't Be Dead" - an album which I was plugging merrily to you last June. I am totally stoked for the great man. And, secondly, Nile Rodgers was named as the curator of this year's Meltdown festival, taking over the Southbank centre for nine days in August. There are absolutely no prizes for guessing who I want to see on Nile's bill!



A plea for the arts



On Wednesday I made the case for a revolution in the school curriculum. Speaking at the launch of the Young Fabians Arts and Culture Network alongside artists Grayson Perry and Elysse Adjemon, I recalled the spirit of the transformative Labour MP Jennie Lee, this country's first ever Arts minister.

Jennie made arts and culture a public policy priority, especially in education. She oversaw the establishment of the National Theatre and the National Film School, and was a driving force in the establishment of the Open University.

The guiding principles of her work were access and meaningful investment, and they have remained at the heart of Labour culture policy ever since.

Her enduring legacy could still be seen in the work of the last Labour Government. One of its greatest achievements was in 2001, when Culture Secretary Chris Smith announced free entry to National Museums.

As Shadow Culture Secretary I am determined to emulate Jennie's work and reverse the Tory tide which is rinsing arts, drama and music from the classroom. 

Labour has plans in place to help achieve this, from our £1 billion pound Cultural Capital Fund to our new Arts Pupil Premium.

We will improve and upgrade our cultural infrastructure to support creative clusters and jobs in every part of the country; and make sure every child has access to creative learning at school, no matter where they live or how much money their parents earn.

As 50 years ago, when Jennie Lee made the case, a new social as well as artistic climate is essential.

PS: For those interested in the development of public policy in this area, this new report from the Brookings Institute is indispensable reading.


Spot the cat


Will Burrard-Lucas is a British wildlife photographer. He develops state-of-the-art remotely-activated camera traps to photograph wildlife in the raw, without any human interference.

His picture of a black leopard - the first time the almost mythical creature has been photographed in over a century - has been published for all the world to see. Truly mesmerising.


Dead trees and the wrong bark

We have seen 350 local newspapers closed, 6000 reporters' jobs lost, half the nation worried about fake news. I welcomed the Cairncross review adopting a number of Labour’s policies, including tax reliefs for public service journalism. But, to me, holding an inquiry into BBC online - rather than dealing with the destructive dominance of Google and Facebook's "duopoly" - is barking up the wrong tree. You can watch my statement to the House of Commons below.

Talking of dead trees, this week a senior newspaper exec told me that UK newspapers only hold four to five days worth of newsprint and are all making emergency plans for a hard Brexit. At best this will add a couple of days worth of storage before the presses run out of paper.


A sorry windfall


As the deadline ended for the BBC consultation on free TV licences for the over 75s, I wrote to the Prime Minister pointing out the billion pound windfall the Treasury will receive by axing the benefit and changes to pension credits.

"Rather than profiting from pensioners I ask that your government protects pensions. Instead of using this money to bolster the government's balance sheet you should use the money to honour your commitment and save free TV licences for the over 75s."




Time for Mueller

Today we learn of the first significant Leave.EU player to be subpoenaed by Mueller's Trump-Russian investigation. I suspect more will follow.

People will be bewildered that the British government has no interest in holding our own Mueller-style inquiry into the conduct of the EU referendum, that also examines the role played by the Russian state.

I look forward to the publication tomorrow (Monday) of the DCMS Select Committee report into Facebook and fake news. Could there be a Mueller angle to their inquiry conclusions. 



The magic of a bedtime story

The BookTrust is urging the nation's children to wear pyjamas all day on March 7. It's all to celebrate the joy of reading and adults are also being encouraged to join in the pyjamarama day too. That's if they fancy wearing a onesie to work.

The campaign is in aid of raising money so that families and children do not miss out on the joy of reading bedtime stories. The charity will also be giving away more than 450,000 books to children including to those living in women's refuge centres. Research shows that reading for pleasure can improve children's life chances by giving them the skills to succeed.


Tweet of the week


Tracks of my years


My "Inside Tracks" appearance with Pete Whitehouse on Wolverhampton Community Radio station WCR FM was broadcast last Sunday, allowing me to talk about my life through ten favourite songs.

I was relaying the story of my diet and fitness regime, losing seven stone, reversing my Type 2 diabetes, and remarking how I felt "a lot more chilled out".

"Great," butted in Pete. "Let's play some AC/DC." 

My track list is below, and you can listen to the podcast here.

Robert Flack  - Compared To What
Judy Garland -  Get Happy
Fantastic Negrito - Break Down These Chains
The Clash  -  Spanish Bombs
Nina Simone -  Wild Is The Wind
The Specials -  It Doesn't Make It Alright
Neil Young  -  Harvest Moon
AC/DC  -  It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n Roll)
Abba  -   Mamma Mia
The Ramones - Rockaway Beach


The memorable Banks


Gordon Banks, who passed away at the age of 81, was one of the greatest goalkeepers of his, and any, generation. His place in sporting history will, of course, be enshrined by his World Cup winning heroics, the incredible "Save of the Century", and for being such a charming, humble and passionate advocate for the beautiful game in his retirement.

Among all the written pieces following the news of his death, I loved this reminder - from Brian Reade's excellent Mirror tribute - about the man who was revered by supporters of all colours.

He was once asked how he would like to be remembered, and replied: “As a smiling, happy person who liked to laugh. Someone who thought of others, not just himself.”

Condolences to Gordon's family, and the football families of Stoke City, Leicester City and England.