My year of activity

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My year of activity

My diary had an emergency debate for crashing out of the EU pencilled in for Friday. When this was averted at the eleventh hour, I took advantage of the empty slot to go out on my new bike for a 22 mile trip.


I realise this distance is nothing to younger and/or fitter folk than me but the idea of me doing this was unimaginable, even just a year ago. It's been two years since I took up exercise and transformed my diet. The results, as you know, are the scales record I am seven stone lighter and my Type 2 diabetes is in remission. I feel the best I ever have. 

This year I want to go further and encourage other people struggling with their weight, or just wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle, to join in with me. Over the next six months, working with members of the Outdoor Industries Association, I’m taking part in a series of outdoor "Adventures 4 Health" in which I’ll be:

1. Climbing Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales

2. Canoeing the canals of the Black Country

3. Cycling 50 miles around London

4. Swimming the Serpentine

Though I’m fitter now than I’ve been for years I still think of myself as an overweight middle-aged bloke, and these physical challenges are definitely daunting. I hope by taking part I’ll show other people who are worried about their weight, or just want to get healthier and more active, how accessible outdoor activities can be.

Along the way I will be raising money for four fantastic causes that are dear to my heart - JK Rowling's Lumos charity, the Cystic Fibrosis TrustThe Albion Foundation and SpecialEffect. It would be amazing if you helped kick-start the fund-raising by sponsoring me here.

I’ll also be using the year to consult and devise a plan that could be adopted by government to help everyone in our country, young and old, to keep physically active. That’s why I don’t want to just talk the talk, I want to walk the walk, paddle the canoe and peddle the bike.

Why not join me even for one of the challenges? Seriously, if you fancy it, drop me an email at, or look out for more details in coming newsletters. It would be fantastic if we could celebrate at the top of Mount Snowdon!


Polling for Brexit

We are living through one of the most important, and difficult, periods in our country's history. The decision we take over Brexit will impact not just our children, but our grandchildren, and beyond.

As Labour's talks with the Government continue, and we prepare for the potential of EU elections, I want to know how you think we should proceed with Brexit. To that end I have put together a simple poll to gauge your views. 

Please vote here.


Rare grooves and rats

On Saturday homage was paid to the 200-plus independently-owned record stores that play a vital role in nurturing the creative genius of our music industry. Record Store Day is also a great excuse to take a peak into the old vinyl collection and dig out a favourite.

My rarest 45 is I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down from Elvis Costello & The Attractions. Intriguingly (for aficionados of the era) it appears on The Specials's 2-Tone label. According to Costello's manager he opted for the label as a one-off after the collapse of Radar Records;  to Jerry Dammers it was a cheeky stunt and Costello had no place on his ska-only label.

Either way, it's release was halted by a court injunction and the limited number of already-pressed copies handed out for free at a Costello gig. I found mine in the weekly "fresh vinyl" drop at Rat Records in Camberwell. And no, it's not available to swap!

But if you do want to let me know about your rarest record, I'll share some of the best in the next newsletter.


They shoot elephants, don't they

There is no sicker example of man's inhumanity to animals than the sight of grown adults shooting down beautiful, innocent wildlife to take them home as trophies.

Under pressure from campaigners and Labour, the UK Government passed a law banning ivory sales in this country. But we need to go further and end all trophy hunting, and the trade in body parts and live animals.

That's why I lent my support to Saturday's Global March for Elephants and Rhino in Birmingham. The world is in the midst of an extinction crisis with plant and wildlife vanishing at an alarming rate. The time for bold action is now.


Learning from Darwin

“One of Darwin’s great strengths as a scientist was also, in some ways, a disadvantage: his extraordinary breadth of curiosity. From his study at Down House he ranged widely and greedily, in his constant search for data, across distances (by letter) and scientific fields. He read eclectically and kept notes like a pack rat. Over the years he collected an enormous quantity of interconnected facts. He looked for patterns but was intrigued equally by exceptions to the patterns, and exceptions to the exceptions.”

A good article about how a curious mind, a healthy scepticism and a meticulous approach to data can change the world. These are the qualities that made the work of Charles Darwin so central to our lives today. 

I’m certain that being able to measure our body’s own diagnostics - from blood pressure to sleep patterns will help us understand our cellular biology in a way that has been beyond our reach until very recently. 



#time2 change

“I arrived in London for my new job and the CEO said: when are we going to f***? When I rebuffed him, he said: why did you think I recruited you? For your excellent strategy?”

This long-read into sexism in the advertising world reveals a male-dominated industry happy to talk about diversity but too entrenched to change.



Banishing the bigots

Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling have shown bravery by speaking out against the growing racism black footballers face from the terraces and through hate speech on social media. 

But, as I told the House of Commons on Thursday, they shouldn’t have to be brave, they are just trying to do their jobs. And they deserve the full support of politicians, police and the football authorities in doing so. That means:

- players and teams should never be punished for walking off a pitch after receiving racist abuse 
- police need to work more closely with stewards to identify offenders, intervene early and gather good evidence to facilitate arrests and charges
- the Ministry of Justice should encourage the CPS to give football hate speech a higher priority and employ harsh sentences
- education programmes such as those run by Show Racism the Red Card should be given extra funding
- hate crimes aimed at sporting figures should be included in the 'online harms' consultation on internet regulation.

The vast majority of fans abhor discrimination of any kind. Yet a small number of thugs who propagate vile bigotry - racist, homophobic and sectarian - ruin the game for players and fans. The bigots, and their hate, should have no place in football.


No debt to bet


Two absolute horror stories from the gambling industry this week. On Wednesday I met Katie, who racked up a crippling debt of over £100,000, using nine different credit cards in just two days, whilst gambling online. 

And yesterday this Guardian story revealed a gambling addict, already blocked by LeoVegas (again), re-registered for online betting after stealing his mother's bank card - and then went on to spend £20,000. Astonishingly, he was using his same email address.

Both stories highlight the wilful ability of gambling firms to turn a blind eye to addicts running up huge debts with dodgily-obtained funds. The operators must be held responsible for this disgraceful conduct, and we need to bring an end to credit card betting. No one should go into debt to place a bet.


Young Bards

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is giving young people 'a voice'. Its new Youth Advisory Board will get the views on education and outreach of 30 nine to 18-year-olds from across England. The new board is the result of the RSC’s joint study with the Tate and University of Nottingham Time to Listen.

This revealed young people hugely value arts subjects, but that’s not the message they get. Jacqui O’Hanlon, director of education, says: “The message they receive from home, school and universities is that those subjects are less valued than other subjects.” It’s the same message this government continues to give out by cutbacks to arts education.



A balancing act

‘A choice between having a family or working as a musician isn’t a choice.’ That’s Paloma Faith’s take on the career ‘penalty’ paid by parents and carers in the music industry. The singer-songwriter along with other entertainment figures including Cate Blanchett is backing calls for change.

It follows a survey by Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) and Birkbeck, University of London, revealing that people with children and those who look after others are far more likely to leave the music industry. A shift is needed so employers embrace flexibility such as job shares. Otherwise the drain of talent and loss of diversity in the performing arts will continue.



To piffle or not to piffle...

Boris Johnson is refusing to campaign in the EU elections, according to this report. Presumably because, once again, he can't make up his mind who to back.


I can't help feeling the entire country needs a break after the stresses and divisions of the last few weeks and months of the Brexit debate. So please, enjoy the weather, and have a wonderful Easter holiday.