Sweet taste of poison
Why can kids buy doughnuts in school canteens? Most people answer this question by saying “they can’t, can they?” Yet, they can and do, a lot of the time. You see, Jamie Oliver lost the battle to austerity.
The nutritional guidelines are only that, guidelines. There isn’t a mandatory obligation to provide good nutritious food on school menus and outsourced providers sell sugary products to max out on sales to an eager captive audience. Sure, they say they offer choice but what 11-year-old is going to swap chips, burger and a doughnut for salad and a few grapes? The answer according to a group of high school students I spoke to this week is hardly any.
We live in a sugar economy. It’s everywhere and in nearly every thing. From Kellog’s selling their crap packaged with cartoon monkeys to Coke sponsoring sporting events whilst breaking public health guidelines, these wretches are poisoning our kids with too much sugar.
I’m taking a deeper look at our sugar economy in the months ahead. Already I’ve found some great campaigns that encourage a nation of sugar addicts to kick the stuff.
You’ve heard of dry January? Well Southwark Council encourage “Fizz Free February”. Coke has nearly 7 teaspoons of sugar per can, so a child drinking a can a day can remove a kilogram of sugar from their diet in a month.
Well done Southwark. It’s a great campaign that my colleagues in Sandwell are considering emulating. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we can make Fizz Free Feb a national campaign? If there are any advertising guerrillas or digital creatives out there who fancy setting up a grass roots campaign, please contact me ASAP.
And if you’re a Labour Party member or councillor, do you fancy helping make it happen in your area? If so, please get in touch too.
Keep the telly on
Scrapping or means-testing free TV licences for the over 75s would be a terrible blow to elderly people who already struggle to make ends meet - particularly those housebound or isolated who rely on their TV to stay in touch with the outside world.
This was always the danger when the Government passed the cost of free licences for over 75s to the BBC. Ministers need to tell us urgently what they are going to do to ensure this benefit remains. They may also want to refresh their memories of the manifesto pledge they gave at the 2017 General Election to keep the free licence fee for the elderly.
As I told the Mirror, if ministers do nothing, responsibility for elderly people losing their TV licences will rest firmly at the Government's door.
Hiding the truth
The Tories have voted to conceal how many millions of people will lose out under Universal Credit, and by how much. What can they have to hide? "Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
New rights and robots
Technology can be used in ways that liberate us, or in ways that imprison us. That's why we need new policies that increase workers’ rights, and their bargaining power, alongside investment in new technology.
On Friday I told delegates at the European Christian Workers Movement "Digital Work" conference in Birmingham that the modern successors of the miners, factory workers, shipbuilders and railwaymen who set up what is now the Labour Party are the workers who feel equally left out today.
They are the people working two or three jobs in the gig economy: not just driving cabs or delivering takeaway meals, but building websites, translating, copywriting, editing.
They are the long-serving workers who see technology making their jobs increasingly precarious, but who haven’t been given the opportunities to train and develop the skills they need to find something new.
Workers who are on the wrong side of the power imbalance between labour and capital; who are at risk of exploitation, and who don’t have the bargaining clout to increase their wages and improve their conditions.
At Amazon “fulfilment centres” – warehouses, like the one in Rugeley – workers are walking miles every day to pick orders for next-day delivery to customers. Staff are worked so hard that 75% of them say they are afraid to go to the toilet on shift.
This is the dark side of new technology with new forms of workplace surveillance and control.
But robots can set us free - free to pursue working lives in which everyone will learn new skills, not once during a long career – but three or four times.
If we all think carefully about what work means, what we all want from it, and how technology can enhance our lives – and about what new rights and responsibilities we need to recognise in order to make that happen – then the promise of automation and new technology can be fulfilled.
Making good on FOBTs promise
In next week's Budget, the Chancellor must commit to reducing the stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2 as of April. Despite cross-party agreement, we have already waited five months for Government to fulfil its pledge. That’s why I put my name to this letter to Philip Hammond. There can be no justification for any further delay.
The legacy of Daphne
It's one year since the anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb attack in Malta. But her legacy lives on through The Daphne Project, a collaboration of 18 news organisations across 15 countries, formed to continue her investigations.
This week we learned that UK and European security - and efforts to combat tax evasion - are threatened by the Maltese and Cypriot governments selling off "golden passports" to the often-shadowy super-rich from Russia, China and the Middle East.
The sale of citizenships to the highest bidder is not just morally wrong and blatantly unfair, but potentially plays into the hands of criminals and terrorists.
This report is a powerful and important piece of work. It was started by Daphne before her assassination, and is published in her name by her investigative peers. It's a fitting memorial to her work, and governments all over the world should sit up and take note.
A study for the vets
The Cold War heroes of Britain's nuclear tests have a rate of birth defects among their children 10 TIMES the national average.
Now Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson tells me he is looking into a possible study of these servicemen's families, which might finally answer their questions about what effect radiation had on their DNA 60 years ago.
Brilliant news, but the battle for official recognition continues. Please sign the petition if you haven’t already done so.
Not another Costa
Ellie Rowsell of Mercury-prize winning band Wolf Alice has spoken out in support of small music venues. Now a board member of the Music Venue Trust, the performer talks about starting out as a 'socially awkward girl' with 'zero friends' in the industry. That's where grassroots places came in- and for her the rest is history.
Yet talent like Rowsell's may never be discovered if closures continue- an estimated 40 per cent loss of venues have been lost in London alone in just over a decade. To quote Rowsell: "When your favourite music venue turns in to another Costa Coffee, it isn't just a travesty for music, it's politics. It's a loss of culture, of community, of opportunity and individualism.”10
The Brexit bully boy
Damian Collins is a Tory MP. He also happens to be the respected chair of the DCMS Select Committee. In that position he has repeatedly called for a full investigation into the funding of Leave.EU by Ukip bankroller Arron Banks, and into allegations of Russian attempts to meddle in the EU referendum and our democracy. I share that call.
Banks' revenge is to use his dark money on a significant spend to infiltrate Collins' local Tory party and seek his de-selection, before moving on to the local parties of another "dirty dozen MPs" who dare to challenge his dogma.
There may be nothing illegal in what Banks is doing. But his bullying of democratically-elected MPs - who dare to call him and his wrecking ball politics out - by using his massive private wealth leaves a very bitter taste.
Please watch Michael Crick's excellent film for Channel 4 News. It is more important than ever that people know what is actually taking place in our country today.
A brilliant mind
Not many authors can claim to publish a book in their 100th year. But that's what philosopher Mary Midgley achieved- the last of more than a dozen in her lifetime- before dying this month aged 99.
The Newcastle University academic was regarded as one of the most important moral philosophers of the 20th century. A former member of Oxford University's Labour club, her humanitarian work included campaigning for animal welfare, the environment and against the arms trade. Her publisher Bloomsbury describes the insights contained in her final work What Is Philosophy For? as typical of 'the brilliant mind that penned it.'
This study by Cancer Research UK and Liverpool University has found a direct link between screen time, junk food ads and obesity in children. Hugely significant for parents and policymakers.
One of the most popular walks through The Olympic Park is to be renamed after the wonderful Tessa Jowell. What a perfect way to remember the beautiful spirit, humanity and legacy of my dear friend Tessa.
Last week I highlighted the scandal of this government's narrow-minded attitude to performing arts education. The government’s response is that it "expects" schools to provide arts, drama and music options at GCSEs. But expecting simply isn't good enough.
Far too many secondary schools - notably Academies - are denying creative learning. Severe funding cuts, league tables and a narrow curriculum are restricting the opportunities for state school children.
Directors of The Tate and the Royal Shakespeare Company this week called for a ring-fenced arts premium to deliver on this country's world-renowned cultural heritage. And that's what, I promise, a Labour government will bring to the classroom.
Pop Quiz: The Answers
Last week, to mark National Album Day, I used album titles as headlines. In case you didn’t recognise any (and weren’t prepared to cheat with a google search!), here’s the full list with artists.
The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle - Sex Pistols
No Shame - Lily Allen
London Calling - The Clash
Power, Corruption and Lies - New Order
Young, Gifted and Black - Aretha Franklin
This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours - Manic Street Preachers
True Blue - Madonna
Lexicon of Love - ABC
One Hour of Girl Power - Spice Girls
Blackstar - David Bowie