How we get the healing done

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How we get the healing done*


Like someone who works with heavy machinery or lives next to a railway line, it’s possible to get so accustomed to the ugly noise that blasts out of our political system that you don’t always hear it.

But whenever I step back, I can tell the sound of our politics has become shriller and angrier, particularly since the referendum of 2016 which split our country in half. Yet, among the sound and fury there is the beginnings of a different tone, quietly insisting to be heard. 

As you know, last Saturday I went on the People’s Vote march. It was huge and passionate but there was also a calmness and dignity in this million-strong protest I have not always experienced in the past few years.

Then, on Wednesday night, my party came together around a position on Brexit that can unite our members, voters, MPs and, yes, the leadership too. I respect the different judgements reached by some of our MPs - none of these decisions are easy– but more than 80 per cent of Labour MPs backed Margaret Beckett’s motion saying that any deal to leave the EU should not be pushed through by parliament unless it has also been approved by the people.

This is a compromise position that provides a clear path to break the deadlock. Whether you voted leave, like the majority of people in my area did, or whether you voted remain, the current parliamentary paralysis works for no one. 

Our plan recognises that any Brexit deal agreed by this Parliament is going to be so different from that promised three years ago – and so potentially costly to our economy and communities -  it’s only reasonable to let the people decide whether to accept it. If Parliament imposes a Brexit deal on the nation - or decides to scrap Brexit altogether without checking with voters – it would seem undemocratic in the extreme.

We now have until April 12th to either agree a new path to a viable Brexit deal, with an extension to Article 50 that means taking part in European elections, or crash out with no deal.

I think Labour should embrace European elections just as we should welcome a General Election that might get rid of this broken government. If we go into either contest with a positive policy on Brexit and say any final deal must be put back to the people, I am confident Labour can win. We already have a fund raised by local parties to pay for the campaign and I’ve asked our NEC to develop a plan to get grassroots members involved in selecting candidates.

Ministers have started saying that taking part in EU elections would be somehow be an “affront to democracy”. They no longer make the case for a stronger economy, £350 million extra every week for the NHS, or amazing new trade deals negotiated by Global Britain. All they have got left in their locker is a promise to give us fewer chances to vote.

The Tories are right to be frightened of elections. Their internal war over Europe, waged for the last 30 years, has led the country to this point. They’ve messed up Brexit which has gone from chaos to national humiliation and are completely incapable of providing the leadership we need.

In contrast, Labour emerged from this week this stronger and more united. Our values have always been internationalist and outward-looking. The biggest gains we made in 2017 were among young people who share those values and want to “build bridges not walls”. It falls to Labour to develop a modern programme of change to address the root causes of why 52% voted for Brexit. 

Whenever a final deal is reached, and whatever that deal eventually looks like I think this question can only be truly settled by giving the decision to the people.

Our plan to put any final Brexit deal back to the people has already begun to unite the Labour Party. And, if the last referendum divided our country, I believe a new one might help heal it.

(* Here's a bit of musical inspiration from Van the Man)



Not the land he promised



There are front pages that age well. And some that don't. This biblical call to arms from The Daily Telegraph lasted about 48 hours before the man-that-seeks-to-be-your-prime-minister had rendered it obsolete by letting his unfortunate lust for power get the better of him. It's almost as if the man has written two versions of his life to choose from every day.



Cleaning up the cesspit of hate


Social media is an incubator for Alt-Right white nationalism allowing the virus of violence and race hate to spread across the globe.

Yet this weekend a deeply disturbing investigation shows Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook accepting the money of hate groups despite all the promises made to stop doing so in the days after the atrocity.  One, the so-called Identitarian Movement, has even been linked to the Christchurch terrorist in his manifesto.

Zuckerberg is either unwilling or unable to enforce simple blocks on sponsored ads by race hate groups on Facebook. This dire state cannot continue. If he can't be trusted to clean up his own cesspit, then we will find laws to clean it up for him.

* Today The Irish Times has published a brilliant long read about life as a "content moderator" for Facebook. It is terrifying and depressing in equal parts.



No room for racism

A new campaign "No room for racism" was launched today by The Premier League. It follows a commitment by the League and clubs to do more to promote inclusion and diversity in football.

The timing couldn't be more appropriate after the events in Montenegro on Monday night when young England players suffered appalling racial abuse. With this new campaign, the Premier League is attempting to deliver on its responsibilities, and that is really welcome.

What we must see now is European football's governing body UEFA also stepping up the mark - a mark they have woefully failed to reach before. Officials must heed the significant words of Raheem Sterling, who has shown himself to be a powerful advocate and role model for young black footballers, and impose a full stadium ban on all Montenegrin fans.


State of Grace


A new comedian Grace Campbell will be road-testing new material before she heads to the Edinburgh Fringe. Her show titled: "Why I'm Never Going Into Politics" takes place London's Kings Cross on April 22. Tickets here.

You might bump into her dad...



Love, unity and Ranking Roger


            "I see no joy. I see only sorrow. I see no sign of your bright new tomorrow." 

This week saw the passing at the tender age of 56 of Ranking Roger - a man whose songs helped a generation to dance with love and, sometimes, with anger.

The Beat's "I Just Can't Stop It" was my second most played album of the 1980's, after the eponymous album of The Specials. I have been listening to it all week and the memories have come flooding back. I remember the day my Uncle Chris took me to HMV and bought me the album. It's a thing of beauty both musically and in design. It was so precious that I hid it under my coat to hide it from the rain on the way home.

And I remember Ranking Roger taking his band to the Leftfield tent in Glastonbury. I managed to pay my respects as he came off stage. He was decent and kind, as you'd expect of a man who would sing "love and unity, the only way" .

Thanks for the memories, great man.


Food for thought

On Wednesday a very important study by Cancer Research UK highlighted how supermarket promo offers for foods high in sugar, salt and fat are contributing to rising obesity. Obesity increases our risk of serious conditions, like cancer and type 2 diabetes, and places a huge financial toll on our already squeezed NHS.

We must work towards a system where fresh, healthy and less processed foods are available and affordable for everyone. Achieving this is a crucial part of improving the country’s health. It’s a scandal that the food available on special offer is often so unhealthy.



For the love of music

MEPs this week voted in favour of the EU Copyright Directive, which is an important victory for creators and campaigners in the face of the tech giants’ dogged misinformation campaign. 

This new directive will help ensure that music creators are paid properly for the work that they produce. This change is crucial to ensuring that our world-leading creative industries continue to flourish in the future. Congratulations to all those involved in the #LoveMusic campaign that made this happen.



Living longer, dying sooner


Many millions of women born in the 1950s and early 60s have worked all their life, paying into the state pension pot, only to find the goalposts were moved as they approached retirement.

This week we learned that the poorest of those women will also die younger, their health and wellbeing battered by the full force of austerity.

Labour has demanded the Government review the pension age and compensate the victims of this burning injustice. But the Prime Minister will not budge. There will be no more chilling epitaph to Theresa May's failed premiership than the fact she made women work for longer to die sooner.


Tearing down the walls of hatred

"Raed Saleh was 5 years old when his family left their Palestinian village in the West Bank for a better life in Germany. Now 41, the Muslim has become one of Berlin's top politicians and is spearheading efforts to rebuild a synagogue in the German capital that was destroyed by the Nazis 80 years ago."

What a simply beautiful story.



Dip, dippy and away

Museum visitor numbers have rocketed since Labour introduced free admissions in 2001. But due to the concentration of national museums and galleries in London, along with a traditional elitist approach to culture, social inclusion and access for all has remained behind the curve.

What is encouraging about the latest report from the Association for Leading Visitor Attractions is to see the rewards for our cultural and heritage attractions spreading across the country - with the Terracotta Warriors at Liverpool's World Museum, Dippy the dinosaur on tour at Birmingham's Museum and Art Gallery, and the V&A opening up in Dundee.

That's why Labour's commitment to a £1billion Cultural Capital Fund fund, building a cultural infrastructure fit for the digital age, and inspiring new creative clusters across the country, is the right model. And the Tories' austerity experiment, slashing and burning through local authority services, is so wrong.


A song for D


Scott Mitchell, husband of Barbara Windsor, has spoken movingly this week about the acting legend's battle with Alzheimer's. Speaking on Steve Wright’s Radio 2 show, Mitchell highlighted the stressful daily reality both for Windsor who was diagnosed in 2014 and for him as her carer.

Dementia in any form is a cruel disease affecting people in many different ways, as Mitchell points out. It's also the theme of a new single The Secret D produced by Nathan Timothy who has also produced anti-bullying songs for charity Beatbullying.

The Secret D is performed by the Skylarks Community Choir and aimed at raising awareness about a condition that affects nearly a million people in the UK.