Your weekly update from Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour Party.
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Since I was a kid I've always loved fanzines. It's probably why this newsletter is my favourite form of written communication, It's a pleasure to compose in the more personal, long-form and I Iove (most) replies and comments. I make this point because - while I'm a fan of Twitter and Facebook - I have become increasingly disappointed at the tone of political discourse on social media.
There is something quite rotten in the abusive language and personal attacks that now go hand-in-hand with the short form posts, and we have seen some of the worst of it on both sides of the political spectrum this past week.
The very talented Emily Benn has been under fire from mindless trolls on the Far Left, who believe her grandad Tony would be "rolling in his grave", after she spoke out against anti-semitism. Last time I saw Emily, she was escorting Tony to speak to the Leftfield audience as Billy Bragg's guest at Glastonbury. She made sure he was stocked up with tea and discreetly assisted him into his car seat, just what a devoted grandchild does. I noted at the time how his eyes maintained their twinkle. It was all quite lovely and antithetical to the mindless imagery of the trolls this week.
On the right, Tory MPs like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan have been subject to hideous, vituperative attacks from the Far Right, who shout down anyone who doesn't share their Flat Earth theory of Brexit.
An interesting, if depressing, analysis by Professor Kalina Bontcheva from the University of Sheffield points out that Twitter abuse of politicians has rocketed between the 2015 and 2017 General Elections. The professor rightly says this poses a threat to democratic representation, by alienating good people from taking part in the process.
All of this comes against the world backdrop of burgeoning uber-nationalism, bully-boy posturing, religious bigotry and deeper and deeper intolerance.
Yes, you may point out, I was known as a bit of bruiser in my younger days. But I believe and hope that I have mellowed with the wisdom of age. I strongly feel we need to pause and reflect on the quality of our debate today, turn the dial down on the language of disagreement and show more respect to those whose views we may not share.
If you agree I'd like to ask you to join my #nospaceforhate campaign. Click and save the image and share on social media. And wherever you see messages of abuse please use the hashtag message or image to close the haters down.
PS. I've just ordered "We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter" which might help in these tricky days ahead. And "3 Ways You’re Wrong in a Disagreement (Even if You’re Right)" is a good primer too.
If you didn't catch Gordon Brown’s speech this morning, it’s well worth a look. He gave an impassioned plea for the Labour Party to lead the campaign against antisemitism both within our own ranks and in the country. He also promoted a non-partisan petition for Labour members on the issue. I'm signing it and I hope, if you're a member, you will too.
The petition calls for Labour to:
- Adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism in full and without delay
- Devise a national political education strategy on the nature of antisemitism in the modern left
- Take swift and transparent disciplinary action in antisemitism cases while giving full public support to MPs and other members in their campaigns to identify and root out antisemitism
- Listen to and involve the Jewish Labour Movement and other representative bodies in a meaningful process to understand and tackle this problem
Mueller and Carole
While at Byline Festival last weekend I listened to the courageous investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr asking why the British people don't know whether the Russian state interfered in the EU referendum. She also questioned why politicians weren't leading the charge for answers.
It struck me that Carole was right and it was cowardly of me to say nothing. So the next day
I called on the government to confirm the National Crime Agency is investigating Russian links to Leave.EU . If not, I suggested we need a Mueller-style inquiry to establish the facts. It is time the British people were told whether the EU referendum result was stolen by the Russian state.
This clip of my words has had 250,000 views, which suggests Carole was right to ask the question in the first place.
A roar for the lionesses
Huge congratulations to the England women's football team on qualifying for the World Cup finals in France, and commiserations to the fantastic Welsh team who took them to the wire. I know the England manager Phil Neville came in for a bit of stick on his appointment, but with his unprompted praise for the Welsh team's development in his post-match press conference on Friday night he showed real class. Women's football is on a real roll in this country across all ages and levels - and it's great to see.
Figures to die for
Shock figures from the British Heart Foundation warn of a massive 29% rise in heart attacks and strokes within 20 years because of the UK's obesity crisis and the explosion in type 2 diabetes.
Chief exec Simon Gillespie says we urgently need regulatory action to reduce sugar and fat content in food, and he castigates the industry for failing to re-formulate products despite the mountain of evidence.
Simon's bang on. The giant food companies' brazen contempt for the health of our nation, which will lead to hundreds of thousands of early deaths and lifelong illnesses, is unforgivable.
Just looking at these figures should make a government health minister tremble. If they happen, the NHS will collapse. As one leading clinician said to me: “The NHS is already suffering. If this actually happens it’s game over.”
Panning in on women
Five of the ten nominees for best film at the upcoming BFI London Film Festival have women directors. Contrast that with Venice, where just one out of the 21 films entered for competition was directed by a women, or Cannes, where the figure was three out of 20.
A lot of people talk a good game about diversity and bridging the gender gap. In the UK, the BFI are delivering. Brilliant stuff.
The courage of Chris
Chris Lewis's story is one of extraordinary courage and resilience meeting human kindness. A homeless ex-paratrooper, Chris has spent the last year walking the UK coastline - much of it with his new companion Jet - to raise £100,000 for the forces' charity SSAFA.
But it is the people he has met on the way that have inspired him onwards. As Chris says: “I had, to some extent, lost my faith in humanity but I’ve learned so much about people and how lovely they are. I feel I am back to myself.”
Do read this inspiring tale and, if you can, please go to his justgiving page to help Chris reach his target.
Move on App
I was pleased to see physical video games will carry a new icon warning about in-app purchases.
I’ve been calling for this move - which should be a useful safeguard for parents - for many months now, and it’s pleasing to see the self-regulatory group PEGI moving it forward.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is proof that no matter what the cost of your education, you can still be ignorant. The border stretches from Lough Foyle to Carlingford Lough and is 310 miles long. How many ‘inspection’ points is he proposing?
Clapping for Clapton
From the debris of one of this country's proudest amateur sporting teams, Clapton Community Football Club was born earlier this year - wholly fan-owned, and steeped in its community and history.
As the team embarks on its first playing season, the club has opted for an away kit inspired by the anti-fascist International Brigade who fought in the Spanish Civil War and featuring the 'no pasaran' - they shall not pass - slogan.
What a wonderfully powerful message. Clapton's old alumni - like the great England footballer and black army officer Walter Tull, who died a hero on the Pas-de-Calais battlefield in 1918 - would surely have approved.
Did I tell you I was on Instagram? I barely use it for politics but if you're interested in fruit picking and food, music and exercise, why not follow me at @labour_tom.