Reasons to be angry

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Reasons to be angry

Albert Finney was a towering figure in the world of theatre and film. But he was angry, rightly, that as a working class actor the climb to the top was so steep. His determination to succeed, despite the odds stacked against, became his calling card in the 1960s, as he and his peers from poorer backgrounds fought their way into the system.

Fast forward 50 years and , incredibly, little or nothing has changed (as someone once said). Access for working class actors to the stage and screen is stifled at every turn. That was the reason why, as you know, in my role as Shadow Culture Secretary I set up the Acting Up commission with colleagues Tracy Brabin and Gloria De Piero two years ago.

Audition fees are one of the cruellest and most ridiculous hurdles, students from poorer backgrounds have to face. Last year, I wrote to leading drama schools urging them to drop their audition fees. The charges are unjust, unfair and biased towards the privileged. 

The response so far has been positive. Some have now ditched them altogether like the Arden School of Theatre in Manchester. Others have reduced them through new initiatives including the Drama Studio London, Italia Conti and the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts. 

This week the trio announced they're introducing a flat rate - aspiring performers can audition at all three in one day for £30. The scheme targets people in Doncaster and Newcastle upon Tyne. 

We need others to follow though especially those regarded as the most prestigious. Otherwise parents face having to find hundreds of pounds and that's not taking into account travel costs. Sadly, that can often be too high a price for giving their child a chance to follow their dream.


Albert Finney inspired many of his peers in the 60s. He remains an inspiration, for many, to this day. But really working class actors shouldn’t have to be such angry young men and women to fulfil their dreams.



Protecting us from harm


On Wednesday, in a speech to Progressive UK,  I delivered Labour’s new policy on fixing the distorted digital market and harnessing the power of technology to deliver good rather than harm. If you want to know more you can watch or read my full speech, or get the BBC’s take. Here’s a short extract:

"The BBC recently revealed that I was the first person to use the phrase social media in the House of Commons. That was back in 2008, when I looked forward to a tech utopia. But a decade on, we find ourselves in digital dystopia.

New control technologies like tracking tools and micro-targeted advertising have cast a long shadow. So I think our central task as policy leaders is to steer the power of technology back towards the public interest. 

I know Silicon Valley companies didn’t set out to undermine democracy. But they didn’t stop it happening either, and they continue to profit from it. Set me be clear: this has got to stop.  

It is simply unacceptable that even with the multibillion pound market Facebook has in the UK, appearing before our Parliament was not a priority for Mark Zuckerberg.

Even my old friends Rupert and James Murdoch made themselves democratically accountable to our Parliament. That’s why we must hold global tech platforms accountable with clear rules of the road, and align innovation with public welfare: .

1. Deal with harms, hate and fake news with an enforceable duty of care. 

2. Fix a distorted online market caused by data monopolists and tech acquisitions. This requires a regulator to stop the lobbyists and lawyers jumping through the cracks in law.

3. Encourage and shape a digital public sphere where citizens can absorb credible news and information safe in the knowledge they will not be surveilled or targeted with ads when they do.

Social justice and the public interest must be built into our market structures. We need more protection from those that wish to do us harm; more choice and control over our own lives online; more opportunities to benefit from the wonders technology has to offer.

That is the mark of a fair society that only Labour can deliver. And if we get this right, the results could be spectacular.”


It's a 10 from Len

There were two great interventions this week in support of the keeping free TV licences for the over 75s. Gordon Brown - the architect of the scheme - declared that scrapping it would be a betrayal of our older generation who ALL deserve to have "dignity in retirement".

And former Strictly head judge Len Goodman, who is an Age UK patron, spoke of how for the  chronically lonely TV is a "precious window to the world".

Len said: “Even hearing that they might have to pay for it will worry a lot of them. I just don’t understand why the Government can’t recognise that people who have given to this country for decades ought to be looked after. The idea of denying old people their telly is mean and whingeing."

Stand with Len and put your name to the petition here


Fizz free in the Big Apple

Fizz Free February has gone global! Proof that this fabulous campaign, encouraging people to give up sugary, fizzy drinks for the month, has no frontiers came with the announcement from Staten Island President Jimmy Oddo that the New York borough is on board. Apparently Jimmy was inspired after hearing the podcast I did with my Bulletproof hero Dave Asprey. I may need to pay a visit...


Done roaming

The govt has slipped out a policy change in the event of a no-deal Brexit, revoking the law that ended mobile roaming charges for Britons travelling in Europe.

Tens of millions face the return of huge and unexpected mobile bills because DCMS Secretary Jeremy Wright has caved into the telecom giants and ignored the voices of consumers.

In the House of Commons I challenged him on how the government's Brexit chaos is whacking British holidaymakers with: soaring holiday costs because of the plummeting pound, charges for visas to EU, and now a Brexit Bill to use mobiles abroad.

Unless he take a different course, Jeremy Wright is going to go down in history as the Minister for the Tory Triple Whammy Tourist Tax.


Billboards on table tops 


When I challenged the brilliant creatives of the UK's advertising industry to kill off Tony the Tiger and his sugar-promoting pals, I didn't expect such a speedy and enthusiastic response! (With many thanks to The Drum)


The true friends of Lord Ibelin Redmoore

Photo: Patrick Da Silva SAETHER / NRK

"I met Mats in a world where it doesn't matter a bit who you are, what kind of body you have, or how you look in reality, behind the keyboard." Kai Simon.

When Mats Steen died aged 25, people he had never met attended his funeral from all over Europe - Lisette from the Netherlands (pictured above), Anne from the UK, Janina from Finland, Rikke from Denmark and Kai from Norway. They met through World of Warcraft, where they knew Mats as Lord Ibelin Redmoore.

This beautiful and tear-forming long read tells the story, through the eyes of Mats' parents, of their disabled son who was given an amazing life through the power and friendship of the online gaming community.



Hey Joe where you goin'

Joe Whitmore is a thrilling young multi-disciplinary artist from Manchester whose work looks at how day-to-day technology reflects on our sub-conscious. His new exhibition "Into the Midst" has just opened at the Lauriston Gallery, Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, and runs until March 23rd. It was great to catch-up with Joe and discuss his work during a visit to Manchester last week. Do catch his exhibition if you are in the area.


Little clogs and Google cogs

While in Manchester I spent time at the Google Digital Garage which offers a wide variety of workshops. Among those I met was Jane Grove who runs holiday business suitable for young kids in Holland and Belgium. Jane told me that the workshops have taught her so much about digital skills - and they are not just fantastic but FREE. I promised Jane a shameless plug for her Little Clogs company. Plug done!


Giving communities a voice

The images of emaciated benefits claimant Stephen Smith were truly harrowing to see. The 64-year-old has multiple health issues which have left him weighing just six stone and he can barely walk. Yet this didn't deter the Department for Work and Pensions from judging him fit to work. The Liverpool Echo first highlighted Stephen's inhumane treatment. Their coverage highlights the huge importance of local and regional media.

As the paper's political editor Liam Thorp says this campaigning role is vital for communities 'who otherwise might not feel they have a voice.' The brutal reality though is that thousands of editorial roles have been lost and newspapers closed over the past decade or so. The NUJ, which is spearheading a campaign to fight cutbacks, is right to warn they pose a threat to local democracy.


Mirror to the soul

On the subject of public interest journalism, the Daily Mirror published a brilliant, but deeply harrowing, investigation into the human cost of homelessness:

- the mum-to-be who lost her unborn baby in freezing weather
- flesh-eating bugs inside tented cities
- the builder who broke his back, lost his job and ended up sleeping rough
- the half-blind, disabled man sleeping just yards from where his friend recently died.

By sending 16 reporters to 16 different cities and towns across the country, the Mirror has given voice to those forced to sleep rough. The investigation highlights how Universal Credit, lack of support for drug addiction, the paucity of mental health services and the basic lack of decent, affordable housing have sparked the 165% rise in people living on the streets.

Ultimately these powerful human stories point the finger of blame at the brutal social experiment called austerity. And in doing so they bring shame on this wretched and failed Tory government.


A very Special encore

It is more than alright that with their first new material in 37 years The Specials have made it to the top of the album charts for the very first time with Encore.