Secrets, money and lies
It has been an unparalleled week on the cyber warfare front. On Monday former UK national security adviser Sir Mark Lyall Grant warned Russian cyber-attacks are now one of the great threats to the survival of liberal world order.
On Wednesday the Atlantic Council published a report entitled Democracy in the Crosshairs which explained how the current Russian regime and other authoritarian states seek to feed money into our politics to influence and subvert it.
Then on Thursday, in an unprecedented move, the Foreign Office publicly accused Vladimir Putin's military intelligence unit (GRU) of orchestrating a string of global hacks including the Democratic Party's HQ in 2016.
That was followed by Dutch detailing of the bungled GRU attempt to hack the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which was itself probing the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury. Later that day the US and Canada piled in with details of cyber assaults on FIFA and the World Anti-Doping Association among others..
Mocking headlines such as “Carry on Spying” and “The Novichuckle Brothers” that followed news of the Dutch debacle were mildly amusing. (Hats off here to the Bellingcat investigative site for its brilliant scoop.)
I am sure Putin is infuriated and, to a degree, humiliated. But let’s keep some perspective here. Putin is a global strategist and, as he surveys his map of the world, there will still be a broad smile on his face.
Putin is a global strategist and, as he surveys his map of the world, there will
still be a broad smile on his face.
His cyber warfare programme assisted the election of Donald Trump, leading to the US’s growing isolation amid deep-blade attacks on the liberal world order; while his other key strategy - to undermine the European Union - is progressing to plan with the the emergence of ultra-nationalists across the continent and, of course, our own Brexit.
The latter , as you know, concerns me gravely. Despite Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s fanfare in detailing the activity of Putin’s spies, we are still no nearer to learning about Russian efforts to meddle in our own politics.
We seem utterly reliant on the journalism of Carole Cadwalladr and the well-intentioned but toothless probing of the Electoral Commission to draw together the suspicious web of Leave.EU funding that swirls around Arron Banks and his Russian friends. The DCMS Select Committee has also called for confirmation of what action our security services are taking. Yet the silence from the UK government on these critical issues is deafening.
That’s why on Thursday I wrote to Jeremy Hunt to ask precisely what investigations are taking place into Russian attempts to influence the EU referendum, and if such investigations are not taking place, to ensure they are now put in place.
It's time we followed the money and the lies and held a Mueller-style inquiry into the subverting of our own democracy. I promise you I will not let this rest.
Dancing in the dark
We heard nothing from Theresa May at Tory conference to spark dancing in the streets or justify any on the platform. Her meaningless offer to end austerity is reliant on a Brexit deal that she cannot deliver while prisoner of the ideological fantasists on the Tory right.
It's time for Mrs May to recognise the catastrophic impact eight years of uninterrupted austerity has had on local services and communities. By 2020, councils will have lost 77 per cent of their budget, leading to infrastructural and social collapse.
We have already seen a huge increases in crime, food bank usage and homelessness, alongside a decline in life expectancy. All are 'inevitable consequences' of the cuts. That's why, as MP for West Bromwich East, I joined forces with 60 other politicians from the West Midlands to write to Mrs May demanding an end to her ruinous austerity. Cuts have consequences and the people have had enough.
The fascination of Stanley
I have fond childhood memories of my dad taking me to visit a very old Labour Party member called Teddy Robinson. Teddy, who must have been in his eighties or nineties in the early 1970s claimed he was a relative of three times PM, Stanley Baldwin. As a kid this didn’t really register with me, but the memories flooded back when I had the pleasure of meeting nearly 20 of Baldwin’s extended family at the unveiling of a statue to him in Bewdley last week.
The event was not just of note because of the excellent lecture given by the official Conservative Party historian who is leading a one man crusade in the letters page of the Daily Telegraph to dispel the myth that it was Disraeli who coined the phrase “one nation” conservatism. Lord Alistair Lexton gives that accolade to Baldwin and also makes the point that in the late 20’s it was Baldwin’s government that built 920,000 new homes in a parliamentary term.
The unveiling of Mark Jennings beautiful statue was also of note because of the lone protestor. From my seat, all I could see was a pair of hands holding up a placard condemning the event and criticising Baldwin for failing to re-arm during the thirties. I didn’t need to see the face to know that this solitary Bewdley protestor would be my old and dear friend Nigel Knowles, a Labour stalwart, much loved by my family. Nigel’s silent protest caused mild irritation to some of the civil dignitaries who had worked hard to fund-raise for the statue and organise the unveiling but not so the thoughtful Baldwin clan who took it all in their stride. I suspect Baldwin would have approved that we live in a country where civilised disagreement is tolerated. And Nigel would not be perturbed that the reputation ruining fact that Baldwin failed to predict the rise of Hitler was comprehensively dispelled by Lord Lexton’s compelling lecture. I found the interplay between the two positions of such interest that I’m going to read more on the subject in the months ahead.
Baldwin himself interests me for another reason. During his premiership in the twenties the country was increasingly polarised. With Fascism and Communism on the rise and exponents of both marching in the streets, Baldwin was a popular Prime Minister giving a coherence to his leadership of the country. He saw the discrepancies of wealth and poverty as being a key threat to social cohesion. And he practiced what he preached - donating a large proportion of his substantial wealth not to charity, but to the nation.
I have no doubt that he would be disturbed to see the state of our politics today and appalled by the naked defence of avarice practiced by many leading members of the modern Conservative party.
And here’s one anecdote that Teddy Robinson told me. I have no way of testing it’s validity: When Baldwin died Teddy claimed he was summoned to his home by Baldwin’s butler. Teddy, a lifelong socialist, removed Baldwin’s silk pyjamas and replaced them with cotton ones. They were too valuable to waste he said and he instructed the butler to take them as they had plenty more wear in them. Once again, Baldwin would have approved.
I can’t wait to sit down with my 10-year-old daughter and watch Huddersfield's-own Jodie Whittaker in her first series as Dr Who on tonight. Having the first female Doctor in 900 years of time and space travel will be a wonderful inspiration for a new generation of girls.
On a similar thread Emmerdale has announced an all female creative team, including writers, cast and crew, for an episode marking International Women’s Day next year. Absolutely brilliant idea.
Timing is all
The warning signs are there up to 20 years before a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. It shows up in the metabolic syndrome - higher fasting blood sugar levels, higher BMI and greater insulin resistance.
Lifestyle changes are proven to prevent type 2 in most cases. I've put my type 2 diabetes in remission by losing weight - by cutting out sugar and taking the stairs.
This week’s study by Japanese researchers shows we can detect diabetes much earlier than the pre-diabetes stage. We need much earlier intervention to prevent progression. This is precisely the sort of issue my new commission into tackling diabetes will want to look at.
And on a personal note, I wish I'd known all this when I was 40.
It was no great surprise to find out Boris Johnson is paid a preposterous £2,300 per HOUR to write his column for the Daily Telegraph. But the thing that did surprise me the most was that it takes Johnson more than two hours a time to write his platitudinous piffle.
Stanley Baldwin would not be impressed.
Fraud of the dance
The government’s music and dance scheme (MDS) was established - according to its own blurb - to help “ensure that talented children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and families with limited financial means” have the opportunity to attend specialist music or dance schools.
Yet this damning investigation shows that it is being used as a luxury vehicle by the wealthy middle class - some families earning up to £190,000-a-year - to subsidise their children's private school and boarding fees.
It is wholly wrong that £172 million a year of taxpayers' money is propagating the continued dominance by the elite and privileged of access to performing arts in our country.
Marking the Fall
This summer marked 40 years of The Fall on vinyl. The band’s creator, writer, songsmith, psychic and all-round genius - the late Mark E. Smith - is one of my all-time idols. So I’d like to send a big plug for the crowdfunding campaign behind this book “40 Odd Years Of The Fall”.
Monzo and Starling, two "challenger" banks have signed up to "gambling blocks" on their apps to help addicts trying to give up betting. This is a real-time intervention that can make a significant difference. That's why we've adopted transaction blocks as part of Labour's new gambling policy, and why I would urge the big five High Street banks to answer the call from Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones at the Royal College of Psychiatrists for them to follow suit.