The Age of Brexterity
There can't have been many more dispiriting weeks in politics than the one we've just witnessed. Theresa May's disastrous "deal" has plunged her party, and her Cabinet, to new lows of backstabbing, disloyalty and sectarianism.
The ultimate betrayal, however, has been of the people of the UK. People voted to leave the European Union. But they didn’t vote for food shortages, problems with medical supplies, the loss of workers' rights, or not to be able to sell goods to the European markets. And they voted to bring sovereignty back to the UK, not to see sovereignty taken away.
Yet that is where we sit today, facing arguably the biggest peacetime crisis in this country's history. The PM doesn't even appear to have a majority in her own Cabinet, let alone her own party - and definitely not in the House of Commons.
If she can't get her disastrous deal through Parliament, then the country needs a general election. If we don’t get an election, then - in line with Labour conference policy - Jeremy Corbyn, Keir Starmer, John McDonnell and I have all been explicit that a people’s vote is still on the table.
What is absolutely certain is we in the Labour party cannot support this deeply flawed deal which will leave working people facing a double whammy - the callous Tory cuts of austerity alongside the calamitous threat of collapsing economic investment caused by this failed Brexit.
The Age of Brexterity is dawning and it needs to be stopped.
Taking out the trash
Paul Dacre likely let out a curse or two when he saw Friday's Daily Mail front page. If he were still in charge, there's little doubt he would be raging against the PM's Brexit deal, in the style of his "Enemies of the People" and "Crush the Saboteurs" front pages.
But life is different at Rothermere Towers under new Editor Geordie Greig. To him - and now The Daily Mail - the saboteurs are the extreme Brexiters of the Tory right wing like Jacob Rees Mogg and Boris Johnson.
Greig, who only took over in September, is trashing Dacre's legacy in record time. And isn't that a welcome change to the discourse in our right-wing newspapers?
Food for thought
The changes at the Daily Mail help explain how I managed to find myself writing an op-ed for the paper on Wednesday to mark World Diabetes Day. I am determined we are going to have a national debate around changing public health policy on obesity and diabetes-related illnesses. To do that, we need to engage with the whole country not just through the funnel of Labour-sympathising newspapers.
In the article I highlighted how some milkshakes contain 39 teaspoons of sugar per glass, that sugars are hidden in pizzas, and that sweetened children's drinks are adorned with cartoon images. The conclusion was that our food packaging laws are a farce. Instead of truthful packaging, we are getting packets of lies from a food industry raking in billions.
Meanwhile the toll from type 2 diabetes includes 24,000 deaths a year, 120 amputations a week, children as young as 8 who are diabetics, and an annual cost to our NHS of £10 billion. I made the similar argument at an important Action on Sugar conference later in the day. You can see a clip here.
Late on Friday night Johnston Press - owners of the 'i', the Scotsman, Yorkshire Post and 200 local newspapers - announced it was going into administration. This marks another grim moment in the demise of local newspapers, who have been buffeted by the land-grab of the social media giants, and another deeply worrying one for local democracy.
Most worrying of all is the threat to jobs, and to staff past and present -staring at a pension fund shortfall of more than £200m - who already have been told they are going to lose out.
Today I have spoken to the company's ceo David King, the NUJ's General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet and representatives of the New York hedge fund who have inherited the business, minus most of the debt. My goal is to ensure the new owners JPI guarantee a long term future for the titles, protect jobs and assist loyal employees with their pension shortfall.
Johnston Press's collapse has been signalled for months, yet Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright and the government have palpably failed to support an industry in transition by challenging the uncompetitive behaviour of tech platform monopolies.
William, It Was Really Something
It's not particularly fashionable on the left to praise the work of the royals, but I must give The Duke of Cambridge his dues this week. Hosting a Cybertech Bullying conference, William rounded on the social media giants, saying:
“Their self-image is so grounded in their positive power for good that they seem unable to engage in constructive discussion about the social problems they are creating."
He called on them to “reject the false choice of profits over values” and added “that on every challenge they face – fake news, extremism, polarisation, hate speech, trolling, mental health, privacy and bullying – our tech leaders seem to be on the back foot”.
Harsh, but true. And exactly why we need a powerful independent regulator for social media.
Scrapping the fee
This week our Scrap The Fee campaign to outlaw GPs charging domestic violence victims up to £150 for a vital legal aid referral letter has won the critical support of Health Minister Lord O'Shaughnessy. It was great to see the matter raised in the Lords by my good friend Roy Kennedy.
The campaign was started by Wythenshawe Councillors Sarah Judge and Suzanne Richards, together with Mike Kane MP and myself. Sarah and Suzanne were inspired to take action after being approached by domestic violence survivor and volunteer at the Safe Spots centre in Wythenshaw, Lisa Clover. Lisa told them of the countless women who are being put in the impossible situation of having to choose between paying the bills, and paying for a legal aid letter from their GP.
Victory is now within our grasp. But please lend you support, if you haven't already done so, by signing the petition. Help for domestic violence victims should never have a price.
Hiding the truth
The government's climbdown on the FOBTs stake delay shows the disastrous political judgement of Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright and Chancellor Philip Hammond.
It’s very sad that it took an honourable resignation of a good minister and a cross party revolt to achieve the blindingly obvious and necessary reforms.
The cover-up stinks as always, as I found when I asked a series of Parliamentary Questions. No, says the Philip Hammond, you can't see the secret bookies' report (ghost-written by KPMG) used to justify the grubby, flawed Budget decision to delay the FOBT stake reduction. "It's commercially sensitive", says his office. No it isn't. It's pathetic.
And NO again, Jeremy Wright won't volunteer the simple answer to my question about whether he met the industry lobby groups before caving in to the bookmakers' greed. It's another pathetic response. Why not? What do these people have to hide?
Freedom from fear
Great campaign this week from shopworkers' union Usdaw. Freedom from Fear highlighted that everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplace, free from the fear of violence, threats and abuse. Abuse is not part of the job.
Stan Lee superhero
The tributes paid to the creative genius of Stan Lee celebrate him as the ultimate master of the comic, and as a wonderful human being. They are worthy of a superhero.
A good law
Huge congratulations to my shadow ministerial colleague Steve Reed for making Seni's Law an Act of Parliament. Mental health patients will now be protected from abusive restraint.
This is the biggest mental health reform for over a decade and only the second time in 22 years a Labour MP has brought in a new Act of Parliament from opposition.
The law is named after Olaseni Lewis who died in September 2010 after being restrained by 11 police officers at Bethlem Royal Hospital. It is the result of a brilliant campaign by Steve and Seni's parents. They should be very proud.
The late, great Mirror editor Richard Stott - champion of Britain's nuclear test vets - would put his giant stamp of approval on this ground-breaking piece of long-form online journalism.
Health at the heart
On Friday my colleague Luciana Berger will introduce the second reading of her Health Impacts (Public Sector Duty) Bill which would be the first systemic attempt to introduce health in all policies into the heart of governance.
What it means in practice (as Luciana explains in this article) is that national and local policies would only be implemented after the full impact on people’s mental and physical health had been fully assessed.
For example: when we design urban environments and build more homes, we need to build in opportunities for walking, running, cycling, swimming, gardening, sports and socialising, as well as community safety. When we imagine transport systems, we need to consider their impact on noise, the environment, journey times, and mental health, and opportunities for active travel.
It's a brilliant, radical Bill and I hope it gets the support it deserves.
Get it while it's hot
Get It While It’s Hot is Sherman Theatre’s brand new platform for emerging theatre companies in South Wales. First up was Cardiff based Clock Tower Theatre Company with Shed Man by Kevin Jones, which marked the debut as a director of Siobhan Lynn, a fine young artist. Here's a review. This is a fantastic scheme to encourage new and emerging talent. Well done everyone involved.
Every word counts
Millions of people in the UK who suffer deafness or hearing loss may be missing out on the arts, according to charity Stagetext. This week theatres and venues ran special captioned performances to support the charity's campaign to make arts more accessible. Major shows including Les Miserables and Mamma Mia were among those that showed on-screen captions. Stagetext is also calling for greater information in museums and galleries so hearing impaired visitors benefit from the full cultural experience.
... and sad news
Richard Baker, who has died aged 93, was the first BBC television newsreader. For a generation his face, and that unforgettable voice, were synonymous with the news.
This great obituary reveals an absolute gem: "In his final years, he moved to a retirement home where he continued to read newspapers and cut out the headlines. Then at Six O'Clock he would read them aloud to fellow residents over supper."
Love it. RIP Richard.