Scraping the barrel of austerity

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Scraping the barrel of austerity


I don't often start the newsletter with a call-to-arms. But the more I think about the plan to scrap free TV licences for the over 75s, the angrier I get.

Firstly, it is a full frontal attack on some of the poorest, most vulnerable and lonely people in our society, many of whom rely upon their TV to keep in touch with the outside world.

Secondly, it's the fact that the Tories are knowingly breaking an election pledge they made less than two years ago to maintain the free licence benefit.

But what really sticks in the craw for me is that the Government are using the BBC as cover to effectively scrape another £750m in austerity cuts.

The BBC's official consultation even asks people to help them decide whether the TV licence should be means-tested.

The sub-contracting of austerity management out by the Tories to the BBC is a shameless and cynical abrogation of the government's responsibilities.

If you agree with me, please take a minute to fill out this form pledging your support for my campaign to keep the TV licence free for the over 75s.


What do we want? Remission!
When do we want it? Now!  


Friday's announcement that almost half of the people on an ultra low calorie diet study have reversed their type 2 diabetes is great news. It demonstrates that up to two million of us have the potential to experience the joy of putting their type 2 into remission.

NHS England are now rolling out the diet in a pilot of 5,000 people. That's really positive. But the government needs to prioritise earlier intervention and empower people with greater choice in nutrition to include reducing sugar and starchy carbs, as well as low calorie diets.

I was elated when I got off the medication and I'd love two million people to have that same feeling of joy. Remission for all! Now!



Monkeying about

It has taken Kellogg's five long years to put traffic light labelling on "some" cereals - a shocking testament to the failure of voluntary codes of conduct in the food industry.

In the PR guff to accompany their lead-footed approach, Kellogg's say they want to help people take "healthy" options. Well I've got an even better idea. How about they tackle the promotion of "unhealthy" options.

Like using cartoon monkeys to poison our kids with sugar.


Dealing up the debate

Chancellor Philip Hammond stated this week that there is not a single scenario under which the UK will be better off under Tory plans to leave the EU.

We are now heading at full speed towards the Age of Brexterity - as the callous cuts of austerity combine with tumbling investment caused by Theresa May's failed deal.Can there ever be a case of a government so incompetent that its stated policy is to lead a country in a mass outbreak of economic suicide. It's time to make way.

Which takes me nicely on to the Leaders' debates being planned by Jeremy Corbyn and the Prime Minister. Theresa May favours the BBC, Jeremy favours ITV. As I told BBC Breakfast on Friday, if they lose out to ITV I'm more than happy to take part in a Deputy Leaders' debate with David Lidington. In fact, bring it on!


A chair for a coward

I am confident that Mark Zuckerberg's cowardly refusal to answer questions before parliaments around the world will come back to haunt him.

This week our DCMS Select committee empty-chaired the Facebook founder, and then, brilliantly, sent this picture out for all and sundry to use.

Helpfully, they captioned it: "Nine countries. 24 official representatives. 447 million people represented. One question: where is Mark Zuckerberg?"

His stand-in was Richard Allan, a man I greatly respect, who also doubles as a Lib Dem peer.  He was asked when the social network was warned in 2014 that billions of data points were being taken from the platform by services with Russian IP addresses did they report it to anyone externally.

He couldn't provide an answer. It’s hard to describe just how disappointed I am with Richard over these answers and Zuckerberg for his non-attendance. Anyone for a social media regulator?



Air con zero

There can be few more cynical ways to squeeze the profits out of families going on holiday than airlines using booking algorithms to split them up - and then forcing them to pay more to sit together.

Abuse by algorithm must be stopped. Not just because - in this case -  of the safety implications, but because of the utter immorality of it all.

This article clearly points to a worst offender. But I'd like to hear if you have similar experiences and on what airlines. Do email and let me know. 



Safety scanning


I first raised the issue of sports-related brain injuries 16 years ago when paying tribute to the late, great West Brom and England footballer Jeff Astle. Yet to this day sportsmen and women are at risk from dying too soon like Jeff.

Earlier this week, along with colleague Chris Bryant, I lent my support to an important study being carried out at University Hospitals BirminghamITM Imaging Centre into the effects of repetitive concussion in athletes.

Chris, who is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Acquired Brain Injury, and I underwent MRI brain scans and virtual reality concussion test as part of the ‘REpetitive COncussion in Sport (RECOS) study’.

There is a really important point to be made here about concussion in sport. It’s simply pot luck how safe sport is in the UK. If you’re lucky, you play a sport where they take concussion seriously and at a level that provides support.

But for far too many people, including most of the footballers in the country, their sports governing bodies turn a blind eye to the brain injury epidemic and its serious consequences - and the government is doing nothing about it.

A Labour government would act decisively to bring sporting bodies together and ensure effective standards across all sports and at all levels to help stop preventable brain injuries, disabilities or deaths. You can watch our video here.


Super Tan of Slough


I was delighted to help my good friend Tan Dhesi MP out at a Slough Labour Party fundraiser on Thursday night. Tan's excellent maiden speech in parliament described Slough as the Silicon valley of England.  He has a point. For some reason Slough has more data centres than anywhere in Europe.

I took the opportunity to offer my support for Slough Town in the FA Cup on Sunday when they take on Gillingham for a place in the all-important third round. 

The evening got even better when I drew the raffle and pulled out my own number. My prize: a goblet of make up and sweets. 



Raising the youth

Last week I was fortunate enough to join a group of potential leaders of tomorrow when I popped into Sandwell Council House in my constituency. They were taking part in a #RightsMatterSandwell event, voicing their opinions on the issues that matter most to them and identifying solutions to raise their aspirations & ambitions in Sandwell. Great stuff.


Legacy of love

Babydoll, a female gorilla, and conservationist Damian Aspinall shared an extraordinary bond through 50 years of growing up, and older, together.

On Wednesday Damian, who was one year senior of his ape-friend, had to say a heartbreaking goodbye as Babylon died of old age in his arms.

Because she was orphaned as an infant and subsequently brought up in captivity, Babydoll could never return to the wild. But her grandchildren have made the remarkable journey back to nature in the forests of Africa.

What a beautiful legacy of Damian and Babydoll's remarkable friendship.


Talent on the cheap

Using people to work for free is exploitation. Yet new figures out this week show that the vast majority - nearly nine in ten - of internships in the arts are unpaid. The findings are from the Sutton Trust which warns that this is further evidence of 'elitist practices' which prevents young people from poorer backgrounds from getting a foot on the career ladder. Labour has pledged to get rid of unpaid internships altogether. They give an unfair advantage to those who are already privileged.  


Invest in music

The link between music and well-being is well-documented. Listening and playing can reduce isolation, boost mood and destress. Music is also being used to help people recover strokes. Strokestra was developed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and the community stroke service in Hull. It provides musical activities to improve mobility and communication in patients.

Students at the University of Hull will now spend three years assessing Strokestra's impact. It's another example of the power of the arts to improve lives, and why their purpose extends well beyond just providing an entertaining night out. And why the government should be investing in the arts, not robbing the sector of cash. 



Farewell to a great Labour hero

As I am sure you know, on Thursday morning we lost Harry Leslie Smith, the fiercest of voices against austerity and one of the finest men I have had the honour to meet.

Harry, 95, was the champion of the poor, of the vulnerable, of the refugee and, of course, our wonderful National Health Service.

He spent his last years campaigning passionately in favour of the better society that emerged from the war he fought in, and the Great Depression he lived through.

Harry called out the greed and materialism that threatens the existence of that better society, and through his words and deeds will remain an inspiration to all in the Labour movement engaged in the fight for justice and fairness.

The world today is a far better place for his being, and a far sadder place with his loss. Harry, I salute you.