Standing with Harry

If you'd like to receive this direct to your inbox, you can sign up here.



Standing with Harry

There have been so many wonderful messages of love and support on social media this week for the indomitable RAF vet and Labour activist Harry Leslie Smith who has been very poorly in hospital in Canada.

The hashtag #IStandWithHarry has been trending around the world while his son John has been using Harry's account to keep us updated from bedside in Ontario. The latest is that Harry, who has been touring the world highlighting the plight of refugees,  is doing well - which is really good news.

He may be 95 but it is far too difficult to imagine a world without Harry engaging with his 250,000 Twitter followers, championing the NHS, speaking up for refugees and decrying austerity.

His last missive said: "I don't care if I die on this refugee tour. I've had a full life. What angers me is there are millions of refugees whose lives and hopes have been thwarted by war. If I can make a little bit of difference in that, I've done my job."

Harry makes a difference every day by inspiring and challenging us. Through his wisdom of years and extraordinary life experience during the Great Depression and World War Two, Harry also reminds us of the values we should always hold dearest, and fight for the hardest.

  Harry and I in 2015 - (He's the healthy
  looking one on the left)

I had the honour of sharing a platform with Harry three years ago during the General Election campaign just after he wrote his brilliant book Harry's Last Stand. He's a truly great man.

And I am sure you would like to join with me and wishing Harry a speedy and full recovery.


A bum deal

With every passing day it becomes clearer and clearer that Theresa May has negotiated a disastrous Brexit "deal". Further proof has come from the CBI, which represents 190,000 UK companies. Publicly it offered warm words of support for the EU withdrawal agreement - presumably at the behest of No 10 . Yet privately a leaked email from the CBI's leading Brexit analyst said simply: "It's not a good deal."

Even those who profess to support the PM's "deal" are doing so through gritted teeth. It is time to end this charade and let Labour take over the negotiations.


Johnson and Johnston

A New York hedge fund pays Boris Johnson £47,254 per hour for his usual piffle of a speech about why he was the worst Foreign Secretary this country has every had.

Days later, the same speculators found themselves taking over Johnston Press - owners of the "i", The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post - which had gone into administration. Conveniently the hedge fund has been able to take over the papers while shedding the pensions of thousands of Johnston Press employees and leaving the British taxpayer to make up an estimated £109m shortfall.

Worryingly DCMS Secretary Jeremy Wright has been asleep at the wheel during this crisis for local newspapers and local democracy which everyone knew was coming down the line. I've now written to him asking whether he has had any correspondence with Boris Johnson over the matter. I'll let you know what he says!


Diabetes by numbers

Here are the numbers of type 2 diabetes sufferers under the age of 25 in England and Wales:

- Eleven children aged from FIVE to NINE
- 196 aged 10 to 14
- 1,246 aged 15 to 19
- 5,383 aged between 20 and 24.

Many are at heightened risk of the condition progressing quickly, and leading to blindness, amputations, heart disease and kidney failure.

These explosive figures - 10 times the previous recorded number - are even worse than I and many others feared. With one in three children now leaving primary school overweight or obese, the scale of the public health crisis that already costs our NHS £10 billion a year is clear.

But there are things we can do about it. It's no mystery that excess sugar leads to obesity and type 2 diabetes. We can tackle the global sugar giants who peddle poisons to our children.

We can crack down on junk food adverts using children's characters, on unclear food packaging which masks the real sugars, and we can make laws - like the sugar tax on soft drinks - to enforce change where the industry has palpably failed to show any responsibility.

That's why I am setting up an independent commission into how a government can halt the dramatic rise in type 2 diabetes cases within five years.

No longer should we tolerate those who seek to rake in billion pound profits at the expense of our nation's health.


Cereal offenders


Talking of which...I am absolutely livid at this judgement in favour of Kellogg's Coco Pops. But I can't blame the advertising watchdog one bit. They did their darnest to stop the cereal company from using cartoon characters to promote their product.

But they were beaten down by a global food company, which peddles sugar to our kids for a living, and its highly-paid lobbyists and lawyers.

I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again. If the conglomerates that pump sugar into our children won't get their act together, a Labour government will do it for them.


And, as of today, companies like Kellogg's, which pollute our children's bodies for profit, are first in the firing line.



Not App'ropriate

One million children watch I'm A Celebrity. Hundreds of thousands have downloaded the voting App. The App is sponsored by a gambling firm, which is bombarding the children with ads. Little wonder we are facing a steep and worrying rise in problem gambling by teenagers.

Operators, broadcasters and the government need to wake up to this crisis and start acting more responsibly. They must ensure adverts on social media cannot be targeted at young and vulnerable people. Anything else is unacceptable.


Stand and deliver


Hundreds of women came to Westminster on Thursday to visit MPs as part of Ask Her To Stand Day, marking the moment 100 years ago when women first got the right to stand for parliament.

It was my pleasure to host Sandwell Council's GMB officer Sarah James from my West Bromwich East constituency who watched PMQs, attended a Select Committee and met Helen Pankhurst, granddaughter of Sylvia.

The event was organised by 50:50 Parliament, the Centenary Action Group, the Fawcett Society and The Jo Cox Foundation. It was billed as the first day when women outnumbered men in parliament. And that makes it a great day!


No, Prime Minister 


The Home Office has refused to say if Theresa May, as Home Sec, blocked a pre-referendum security services investigation into Arron Banks.

The gibberish excuse - "it would impede the future formulation of government policy”- and blatant cover-up is worthy of Sir Humphrey himself.


A quiet hero

Clem Attlee is one of my absolute heroes. The inspiring and never-before-told story of the support he gave to a Jewish family fleeing Nazi persecution says so much about one of the finest prime ministers this country has ever had.

He was a truly great, kind and modest man, whose determination for social justice, and helping the most vulnerable, remains an inspiration to all of us in the Labour movement to this day.


A campaign Goodie 

Last year UK trophy hunters brought in 15 lion bodies and skulls; 17 hippo tusks, skulls and ‘leather products’; 2 polar bear bodies; 2 wolves; 2 brown bears; and a leopard skull. They also imported 8 elephant ears, 1 set of bones, 4 feet, 6 skins, 1 tail, and 4 tusks. And those are the official figures - more is likely to have been smuggled through our borders.

Many of these animals face extinction and all are incredibly important to the ecosystem.The government promised to ban such imports but has done nothing. There is no excuse. That is why I was happy to stand with Bill Oddie when he brought his Ban Trophy Hunting campaign to Westminster. 



Smart Card


Some times the simplest ideas are best. Just A Card - an initiative to boost our independent shops and struggling High Streets - is one such case.

All it asks is for people to buy just one small item every time they pop into an indie store. Just A Card is now working with 10,000 small retailers and growing by the day.

What a beautiful way of kicking back against the global corporates and their Black Friday feeding-frenzy.



Nothing is not an option

Rita Ora has described it as 'tough and annoying'. The gender imbalance in the music industry urgently needs addressing, including in festival line-ups. If anyone is committed to changing this inequality it's Vanessa Reed who heads up the PRS Foundation which funds new music and new talent. This week Reed presented a manifesto to the European Parliament calling for a raft of reforms.

These include the UK government continuing its payments into the European Union’s cultural and education programme post Brexit. The BBC recently ranked Reed behind Beyonce and Taylor Swift in the BBC's top five of most powerful women in music. But she says there are talented women out there who are being denied the same opportunities as men. In an interview with BBC Newsbeat, Reed added: 'People are beginning to realise that doing nothing is not an option.'    



Reading goals with Roy

The Roy of the Rovers annual, charting the exploits of fictional footballer Roy Race, has topped many a child's Christmas list over the decades. The comic strip character's skills on the pitch have even become a benchmark for sports commentators to judge real players by. He also inspired a joy of reading in young people.

That's why the National Literacy Trust (NLT) is to donate 10,000 Roy of the Rovers books to reluctant readers across the UK. Copies will go to NLT 'hubs'- community partnerships creating change in areas where low levels of literacy impact on people's lives. NLT's spokesperson Jim Sells says football in the classroom can 'level the playing field' for disadvantaged children.



The fastest and slowest birds on the planet

This week I had the uplifting experience of watching a peregrine falcon swoop from the top of a disused factory chimney in my home town of Kidderminster. These beautiful birds are the fastest creatures in the animal kingdom. When they swoop they can clock over 200 miles per hour. It’s the first time I’ve seen a peregrine in the wild and was a real treat to witness it on home territory. 

The avian-themed week was complete when I was given temporary responsibility for five pekin bantam chickens - possibly the slowest birds in the animal kingdom, but quite beautiful. 

I’ve put a photo of them on my Instagram account if you’re a chicken lover. 


If you'd like to receive this direct to your inbox, you can sign up here.