Please don't leave the Labour Party

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A plea for Labour



As someone who joined Labour as a kid on his 15th birthday, a little over 37 years ago, it is a great privilege to be deputy leader. I also believe it is a position that, above all, carries great responsibility to keep the party united.

In the recent weeks and months many good people have contacted me to say they are considering leaving the Labour Party because they no longer feel it holds a place for them.

To me the culture of pluralism and the diversity of voices on the left has always been Labour's great strength. However there can be little doubt that, buffeted by the current tone of debate, it is now imperative to restate the great social democratic and democratic socialist tradition that has been Labour's spine for over 100 years.

We need to look past the current post-Brexit crisis to the fundamental challenges and threats that we face - of climate change, automation, health inequality, the crisis in housing, and the flow of capital and wealth from West to East. 

On Monday evening, colleagues in Westminster will join me for the launch of  the Future Britain Group to restate those social democratic and democratic socialist values, to ensure all voices are heard, and to address those major policy challenges that our country faces.

When Jeremy and I met earlier this week and discussed the formation of this new group, we talked about the need for all members of the parliamentary party to feel valued in our policy making and day to day priority setting. He is also establishing a series of departmental seminars to broaden the debate. 

I know there are some in the party who choose a doctrinaire utopianism that often denies others their voice. Yet Labour is only ever successful when our ideals and values are applied to practical and radical reform. 

There has been much nonsense in the last few days from some within our ranks who do not like pluralist discussion and the beat of civilised political discourse. They rage that I am trying to cause a split within the party.

Far from it. The Future Britain Group is the vehicle with which we can avert that split, and ensure we are ready to govern with progressive policies to deliver radical solutions. That is why I would urge anyone thinking of resigning their membership: please do not leave the Labour Party.



Closing down the space for hate


Last week I wrote about how ever major social media platform other than YouTube had taken down the profile of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka "Tommy Robinson", because of his hateful conduct.

Then late on Monday night, Yaxley-Lennon turned up at a journalist’s home, banging on the doors and windows, demanding to be let in. After being escorted away by police he returned at 5am and continued his intimidation. The incident was livestreamed. He later warned journalists in a YouTube video to expect "a knock on the door".

As my Facebook comments section has shown in the last week, anyone expressing an opinion online will know that doing so can unleash a torrent of abuse designed to make you wonder whether you should speak out at all.

This week we've heard of female colleagues having panic buttons installed in their homes because of the death and rape threats they've received for daring to have a position on Brexit, Islamophobia or anti-semitism.

On Thursday I asked DCMS Secretary Jeremy Wright to guarantee that the Online Harms White Paper will introduce measures to prevent hate figures, extremists, and their followers turning the online world into a cesspit of hate. This culture of abuse, intimidation and threats undermines our democracy and the principles of free speech. #nospaceforhate


The sickness of Arron Banks

“It’s horrific, watching that makes me feel sick. The day Jo was killed was one of the worst days of my life, and to think a discussion was going on makes me deeply upset.”

C4's report into Brexit campaigner Arron Banks and how he ordered staff to "push it harder" after Jo Cox's murder - in defiance of an agreement by all groups to halt campaigning - provoked heartfelt anger from my colleagues Alison McGovern and Jess Phillips. It also fuels the case for a proper Mueller-style inquiry.



Smashing the bronze ceiling


Just one-in-five statues in the UK are of women. In London, it's one in 10. This International Women's Day, in my role as Shadow Culture Secretary, I made the call to smash the "bronze ceiling" with more memorials to celebrate this country's great women. Two on-going campaigns are particularly dear to me:

- The Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee are fund-raising for a statue to the woman who fought fearlessly for equality against racism and fascism and for peace and international solidarity. You can donate here.

- The Mary on the Green campaign seeks to honour 18th century writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneering campaigner for women's rights and equality. You can donate here.

You can watch my video here,


Musical truth


Our thriving music industry has fostered the likes of Adele and Stormzy around the world by offering opportunity and nurture to all pupils. Yet an alarming new survey shows music lessons in state schools have slumped by over 20% in the last five years, widening the chasm between the maintained and private sector.

The very opportunities that have put this country's talent on the global stage are being scuppered by the narrow E-Bacc curriculum and devastating school funding cuts. It's a matter of urgency that music, arts and drama are returned to the heart of the curriculum with a ring-fenced arts premium fund.

We cannot allow the creative arts - one of the few success stories in our stalling economy - to be a luxury enjoyed solely by the privileged elite.



Profits of death

This grotesque report, showing life expectancy falling just as the pension age goes up, reveals a deep sickness in our society. It shows pension firms reaping windfalls worth billions of pounds from the growing health poverty and inequalities that are, literally, sending people to early graves. The pension firms are the death beneficiaries of Tory austerity.


Time to turn the page

The sight of children the length and breadth of the country dressing up for World Book Day has turned into one of the best days in the calendar. But the opportunity for everyone to access books, to open up whole new worlds, and appreciate the joy of reading is under attack through devastating library closures. Here's a few pertinent facts my team put together for World Book Day:

- reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success
- the number of eight to 18-year-olds who read daily has fallen to 25% from 43% in 2015.
- the number of books borrowed from libraries fell from 255 million in 2011 to 157 million in 2018
- 127 public libraries closed in England, Scotland and Wales in 2018 alone.
- one in eight disadvantaged children in the UK don’t own a single book.

As I told The Guardian, council budgets have been cut to the bone by Tory austerity and our library services are paying the price. It is a scandal that almost 100m fewer books are being borrowed from our public libraries. The government should urgently rethink and end these senseless cuts.


Literary pirates

Joanne Harris has hit out at sites allowing books to be downloaded for free. The Chocolat author says publishing houses need to act, just as music labels did with services like Napster. Her response comes after the alleged copyright breach by Ebooks Bike. Thousands of titles have allegedly been 'pirated' by their site. This is despite writers not having agreed to share their work.

Says Harris: "Pirate sites are like mushrooms, you take one down then one pops up somewhere else." The Publishers Association has said it's working with the industry to deal with the threat. But as Harris points out, the impact isn't just on authors who could lose their careers. Libraries and bookshops could also end up counting the cost.



Innovations in Power

The Local Government Association Labour Group has launched the ‘100 More Innovations of Labour in Power’ booklet, showcasing the work of Labour in local government.

Innovations range from becoming the first public sector body to be granted a water self-supply licence (Blackpool), providing specialist LGBT social care (Manchester), tackling the barriers faced by young black men with specialist interventions (Hackney), establishing a city-wide Children’s Charter (Bristol), implementing a sustainable transport strategy (Stevenage), protecting young people from alcohol use (my own, Sandwell) and supporting refugees (Hammersmith and Fulham).

Take a look here.  If you feel something brilliant your local Labour council is doing hasn't been recognised on the website drop me an email and I'll try to highlight some of the best next week



Theatre treasures

Drama fans have a treat in store. The National Theatre is celebrating 25 years of its archive by putting some of the highlights on public display. They've invited people including artists and critics to pick a 'treasure' and explain why. The archive's security guard Slav Kirichok has even created his own tribute to Danny Boyle. Slav happens to be a talented photographer and film-maker outside his day job. So he's done short video in tribute to Boyle's 2011 production of Frankenstein. The exhibition is also a tribute to the unpaid volunteers and researchers at the archive. Without them, these 'treasures' would no doubt remain hidden away.  



Stop Press

I love a good newspaper correction. This, in the New York Times, is an absolute peach.


Film from The Black Country

Photographer and artist Richard Billingham has made his directorial debut with Ray and Lizan account of his childhood growing up in Cradley Heath in The Black Country. I am told it is pretty brutal but gives an insight into life on the edge. And I am really hoping to find a free evening to watch it!