The burning crisis of the climate emergency

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The burning crisis of the climate emergency


The despairing scenes of the burning Amazon rainforest, fuelled by either the  complicity or the encouragement of Brazil's far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, highlight to the whole world the ecological carnage from the loss of carbon-capturing trees.

Back here in the UK, the campaign to protect and develop our forestry lands which act as vital carbon sinks is being lead by the Woodland Trust with whom I met last week. One excellent initiative they are involved with is a new cross-sectoral scheme involving the water companies, The National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trust to plant 11 million trees over 6,000 hectares of England by 2030.

Another campaign the Woodland Trust has done great work on involves the implementation of new planning regulations protecting ancient woodland and veteran trees from all but the must exceptionally vital large infrastructure projects. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) came into effect last summer. But as the Trust's senior conservation officer Richard Barnes has written:

"Sadly this new policy has not had an instant impact. Applications that will damage or destroy these irreplaceable habitats are still rolling in. We’re continuing our efforts to raise awareness of the stronger protection and why it’s important."

In fact, there are currently over 400 cases across England where ancient woodland and habitats are the subject of potentially desecrating planning applications, including one for a zoo extension and another for a caravan park.

It seems many planning authorities are not fully conversant with the new regulations. We can all help here - either by simply spreading the word about the existence and the need to enforce the NPPF - or, if you hear of threats to woodland in your locality, emailing and getting them on the case.

But there is much more to do. We must channel the same moral strength with which we condemn and rage against Bolsonaro's destruction to develop a massive tree-planting programme to build a sustainable, carbon neutral future for our lands and forests too.


Bury on the brink

These are deeply worrying time for fans of Bury FC. The club with a rich heritage dating back to 1885 has until 5pm on Tuesday to complete a sale that would prevent it being expelled from the English Football League. That gives little time for the appropriate due diligence to be done. The whole sad affair - Bury have not played any of the games yet this season - once again highlights how the regulations around governance of the ownership of football clubs need a complete overhaul.


Music brain drain

Desperate Journalist in concert, The Hare and Hounds Birmingham / Photographer: Wayne Fox

new report reveals that the decline in live music venues is worst in the Midlands. The findings from BOP Consulting show the region has a strong range of local acts and performance opportunities but lacks the infrastructure to 'make the most of this talent.' Barriers to its growing music scene include insufficient rehearsal and performance spaces. And the region has a third as many musicians — around 2,700 — that would be expected given its population.

Commissioned by the Arts Council, the researchers found that the focus groups they interviewed raised concerns about 'talent drain' from the Midlands to London. What will it take for this government to listen? I've already urged them to back campaigns by UK Music and the Music Venue Trust to extend business rate relief. This report just adds to the worrying evidence that they need to act.

* One great indie band with Birmingham roots has caught my ear recently - Desperate Journalist. They will be among 15 bands taking to the stage at the DIE DAS DER event at Muthers Studio in Birmingham on September 28. You can check out their fabulous Grow Up album here.


The betrayal of age


Over 900,000 Armed Forces veterans are set to lose their free TV licences because of the Tory manifesto betrayal. 101,799 of those will be over 90 years of age, according to analysis from Age UK and my DCMS team. Many of our veterans risked their safety and put their lives on the line for our country, and yet this government doesn't even have the decency to keep the manifesto promise it made to them. It is nothing short of a national disgrace.



Hearing the Hong Kong cries

On behalf of the UK Labour Party I delivered a video speech to the Power to the People Rally in Central Hong Kong last weekend. My message to Hongkongers was that we can only admire their bravery and determination to defend their freedom and way of life.

The UK must not sit idly by as Hongkongers lose their rights and freedoms. The British government should show direct moral support for the people of Hong Kong and scope out the steps it can take with Chinese officials and state corporations to apply pressure.

The UK government must not ignore human rights abuses in Hong Kong in order to achieve a future trade deal with China and Hong Kong, if indeed the UK does leave the European Union. I believe that Hong Kong is a litmus test for Britain’s place in the world.

Will we be a bastion for human rights? Or will we let down those who are crying out for our support? I very much hope we choose the right path. 


Twit of the week

No comment here other than I'd be really grateful for any financial support you can give to my campaign against George Galloway's politics of division and hate following his decision to stand against me in West Bromwich East. You can do so here.


A night at the theatre 

Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist pioneer and one of the great philosophers of the Enlightenment, will be celebrated in London's West End on September 30 with an evening entitled "An Amazon Stept Out", written by Bee Rowlatt.

I'm really hoping to make the event at The Lyric Theatre which will give centre stage to one of history's unsung heroes. Money raised will go to the human rights charity The Wollstonecraft Society to support the campaign for a memorial in Mary's honour and to fund educational opportunities for children from less privileged backgrounds. You can book tickets here. 



Sugar talk

To assist my independent commission into how we can halt the rise in Type 2 diabetes, I have put together a short survey on how we can best reduce sugar in our food and drink. If you haven't already done so, I would really appreciate your input. You can go to the survey here.


Two pints of lager and a gambling app please

Another low point for the gambling industry - with students being offered £5 notes and free pints to sign up for betting apps - has been discovered by The Observer. There really is no level that these companies won't venture in order to target the young and impressionable. Back in May I wrote to the DCMS Secretary saying that we need to clean up the industry. Stories like this reinforce that view and are exactly why we need a full overhaul of all remote gambling licences.