I could really do with your help...

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Fizz Free Feb


I could really do with your help. Over the weekend I have written to Labour councillors across the country asking them to support a new campaign: Fizz Free February.

This brilliant initiative - created by Southwark Council -  encourages families and children to give up sugary, fizzy drinks for a month.  Fizzy drinks make up an average of 29 per cent of the daily sugar intake of a child aged 11 to 18; drinking a can of Coke every day for a month is the equivalent of eating a bag of sugar.

That's why I want to see Fizz Free February rolled-out nationwide. Already my local council, Sandwell, has signed up, and many others are planning to follow suit. If you, like me, believe we desperately need to tackle the obesity epidemic in this country, then I'd appreciate your support.

You can help by contacting your council, have a word with the head at your local school, or raise it with any local community groups where you are involved.

Very helpfully, Southwark are producing a Fizz Free February campaign pack and have kindly agreed to share designs and branding with colleagues and people who want to replicate it in their own area.

You can find out more about how you can help here, or simply sign up to support the campaign. And take a look at the video I've made to highlight this brilliant project.




The art of failure 

On Wednesday night in Committee Room 14, just down the corridor from my House of Commons office, Tories gathered to hear the result of the confidence vote in Theresa May.

The event was captured by Stefan Rousseau of the Press Association in this beautifully composed photograph which would not look amiss in the National Gallery.

It depicts the moment when the Tories indulged in another bout of self-flagellation over Brexit. Theresa May won by 200 votes to 117. But the result simply crystallised the giant schism in the Tory party.

Since then, nothing has changed. Mrs May limps on with her international tour of humiliation, with no parliamentary majority for her failed negotiations and no other plan.

In 17 years as an MP, I've never been more worried about events. We can't go on like this. If Mrs May won't let Labour take over the negotiations, or call a General Election, then she must reinstate the vote on her "deal" this week, so that parliament can take back control. 


Licence to bill

When 4-in-10 older people say the TV is their main company, free licences for the over 75s are an important tool in tackling loneliness.

At DCMS questions on Thursday I challenged Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright on how many households in his Kenilworth and Southam constituency will lose out if the free TV licence is scrapped and and linked to pension credit instead.

He didn't know. So I gave him the answer. It's 6060. That's 6060 homes where the government has broken its manifesto pledge and the local MP has broken his promise.

Nationwide the figure is 3 million. The Tories should be utterly ashamed that they are breaking their manifesto promise older people in such a brazen way.

The backdrop to all this is that pensioner poverty is on the increase again in this country, rising from 1.6 million in2015 to a predicted 2 million+ by 2022. Shamefully for this government, one in four over 75s are now eligible for pension credit because their incomes are so low.




Good.  But could do better.


It was good to see the gambling industry - for once - has taken its responsibilities seriously by announcing a whistle-to-whistle ban on betting adverts during live sports events. The next step must be to address the adverts that children and vulnerable problem gamblers see online.


Leading by example


And, a very well done to Barclays - the first major bank to allow customers to block their own gambling spend on debit cards. The self-exclusion tool is a vital weapon in the battle against Britain's hidden epidemic of gambling.

Other banks must now follow suit. And not just with debit cards - but crucially credit cards too. It's wholly wrong that people can use money they don't have to finance their addiction.



Timely recognition


Time Magazine's award of "person of the year" to Jamal Khashoggi, and other murdered and jailed journalists across the globe, is a powerful statement. As democracies face attack from autocrats peddling violence and false news, the torch of truth must burn brighter still.


Righting wrongs

Photo: Charmaine Parkin has launched a High Court action against Universal Credit.

The UK is a world-leader in creative arts because of women like Charmaine Parkin - someone who takes on the risk of self-employment to work in industries where there are no guarantees.

Whether it's acting, graphic design, software engineers, screenwriting or camera operators, they need the same safety net everyone else does when work stops, relationships fail, or children come along.

The disastrous Universal Credit is forcing people like Charmaine to suffer unnecessarily while eating away at the creative industries which produce billions in tax revenue to support the welfare state.

Charmaine is now taking High Court action against Universal Credit. Good. This madness has to stop.


Sparking an interest


Giving up the cello was 'one of the biggest regrets of my life' according to actress Rachel John (centre, as Angelica). The Hamilton star told The Stage this week that funding cuts were to blame for her having to abandon her music lessons. In an interview, John warns that reducing cash for arts education will deprive children from lower-income backgrounds. If they are denied exposure through school to the arts including theatre, she says, then they might never 'have their interest sparked.' And that would rob the country of the bright stars of the future.


No place for a child


Fleas, rats, drug dealers, homelessness and abject poverty. This brilliant but deeply harrowing Manchester Evening News investigation highlights the appalling human cost of Tory austerity. The scenes depicted in Jen Williams' report are mirrored across the country, and her journalism deserves the widest possible audience.


Sterling work

Raheem Sterling, a hugely talented England footballer, has all too much experience of being abused for the colour of his skin.

His self-control in the face of the vilest, most hateful and ignorant racism was remarkable.

So when, in measured tones, he singles out the media depiction of young black footballers for feeding the narrative of racial hate, everyone should listen.

This is not solely about newspaper coverage, there are serious questions too about the dearth of black voices and faces on sports radio and TV.

Sterling must be given the respect he deserves, and the powers that be across the media and football's governing bodies must listen, reflect, challenge and change.


An even fringe


Steve Coogan and Rachel Weisz are among numerous UK stars 'discovered' at the Edinburgh Fringe. However, comedian Sophie Duker has pointed out that non-white performers are not always given the prominence they deserve at the open access festival. A new award though hopes to change that.

The £10,000 bursary has been launched by Eclipse Theatre and festival venue Summerhall to support emerging talent as well as theatre-companies. Eclipse says the aim is to enable black independent artists to overcome barriers such as venue rental costs. The deadline for entries is 4 February 2019.


Vile extremes

Last week, I highlighted how Facebook enabled Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, to raise thousands of pounds in funding. If anyone needs reminding of the ugly reality of the far right then they should read on.

In a bid to intimidate court reporter Stephanie Finnegan, supporters of the English Defence League Founder and UKIP advisor sent her threatening messages. "I hope you get raped" and "I hope you get killed" were among those she received. They even attempted to find details of where Stephanie's family lived.

Her concerned employer issued the Leeds Live journalist with a panic alarm and informed the police. All because Stephanie was doing her job ensuring that justice is open and public.