The case for the Union

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The case for the Union


Today Gordon Brown has delivered a significant warning that the future of the Union is under grave threat from no-deal and the rising tide of nationalism in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Gordon is absolutely right to raise the alarm. We can see the mess caused by the prospect of the UK leaving the four decade-long union with Europe. Imagine how much more disruptive it would be to break our three centuries-long Union of Scotland within the UK. 

In 2014, Labour led the successful campaign for Scotland to be part of the United Kingdom and to defend working people from the austerity that would have inevitably come with separation. In 2017 our Labour manifesto opposed a second referendum as ‘unwanted and unnecessary' and said 'we will campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the UK'.  

Last year Richard Leonard our Scottish leader said: "We want to be absolutely clear to the people of Scotland that there is no case for a second independence referendum. We just had a referendum in 2014. We think that settled the will of the people of Scotland.”  

I want to endorse the statement from our independently elected leader of the Labour party in Scotland. Leaving the UK would turbo-charge austerity in Scotland with the inevitable threat to thousands of jobs and livelihoods.  Another independence referendum isn’t the answer.  More nationalism, more uncertainty, and more division isn’t the answer. 

We need to regroup and rebuild. To reassert our shared values of fairness and respect. And to remember that we can achieve far more together, than apart.

You can watch my video on the subject here.



Of myths and madness


The great Tory myth is that they are good stewards of the economy. But the news our economy is shrinking blows that apart. It will be very bad news for people in places like my constituency of West Bromwich East who already have enough to deal with.

This area is a manufacturing heartlands - has been for over a century. But a tanking economy, and more than anything else - a disastrous no deal Brexit - puts all that at risk.

The price of the Tories reckless ideological focus on no deal won’t be paid by Boris Johnson and his mates. It’ll be paid by ordinary people round here - in hikes in prices, tariffs on our exports and job losses. That is why Labour will fight no deal and the Tories with all we’ve got.


What can Aristotle teach us about the early General Election?


Aargh. If there is to be an election, please let it be sensible; thoughtful even. A quick, shrill, populist and shouty election is the last thing this country needs right now. 

What do I mean by this? In recent months I've been working with former MP Graham Allen to promote the ideas of deliberative democracy. Graham's commitment to a citizen led democracy has inspired all sorts of reading this year.  It's not just his ideas on democracy that have taken me back to Aristotle, who told us  “to remind people to return a kindness; for that is a special characteristic of grace, since it is a duty not only to repay a service done to you, but at another time to take the initiative in doing a service yourself.”

To me, Aristotle is the world's first ever self-help guru. He taught me about habits. I'll say more on this in future newsletters, but for now let me recommend everything ever written by Edith Hall, particularly her easy to read "Aristotle's Way".  

Yet, when it comes to Aristotle's "polity", there is much to learn. Firstly, there is the notion of national or "common interest":

"The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether to the one, or the few, or of the many, are perversions."

But where he gets interesting is in the notion of the wisdom of crowds, or the "hive mind" as we early digital utopians used to refer:

"If the people are not utterly degraded, although individually they may be worse judges than those who have special knowledge, as a body they are as good or better."

Which brings me back to the idea of an early election. To Aristotle, the idea of "extreme democracy" where leaders could override laws based on a perceived popular mandate or referral to a popular assembly, leads to demagogues:

"…in which, not the law, but the multitude, have the supreme power, and supersede the law by their decrees. … The demagogues make the decrees of the people override the laws, and refer all things to the popular assembly. And therefore they grow great, because the people have all things in their hands, and they hold in their hands the votes of the people, who are too ready to listen to them."

A populist election, with potential demagogues slugging out cheap slogans on TV? Please save us. Here's an idea how deliberative democratic ideals might influence an election in the digital age.


Holiday follies

The fall of the pound to record lows is fuelling sky high holiday prices for Britons. This week my DCMS team discovered that 4.6 million under 16s stand to lose their vital health cover in Europe, known as EHICS, under a no deal Brexit. The chaos caused by the Tory Party could mean that millions face extra charges to go on holiday. 

While on the subject of tourism and Europe, we faced the self-defeating and regressive announcement that the UK's private rail operators were pulling out of the much-loved Interrail scheme. For almost 50 years millions of young people have had the joy of adventures, at an affordable price. I immediately wrote to Nicky Morgan, newly-installed DCMS Secretary, and the Rail Delivery Group expressing Labour's concern at the damage this would do to the UK's regional tourism economies. Thankfully common sense prevailed and the RDG did a U-turn.



The propaganda seeds

Carey Gillam interviews Dewayne ‘Lee’ Johnson, the first cancer patient to beat Monsanto in court. Photograph: Araceli Johnson

"I’m just one person, just one reporter working from a home office in the midwest, juggling three kids with irregular writing deadlines. So the knowledge that a multibillion-dollar corporation spent so much time and attention trying to figure out how to thwart me is terrifying."

Read Carey Gillam's first-person account of how Monsanto tried to destroy her reputation because of her work investigating alleged cancer links to its glyphospate and Roundup herbicide business.


Wages of spin

Wayne Rooney and Derby County’s deal with 32Red to pay a share of his wages is concerning and highlights a fundamental problem with the rules of football governance. The system prioritises profit over fan welfare. 

Problem gambling ruins lives and affects hundreds of thousands of individuals and families right across the country. Football must play its part in tackling this hidden epidemic, and that’s why Labour is calling for a ban on football shirt sponsorship by betting companies. 

Whilst this particular deal is under scrutiny, it is the rules of football governance that have allowed it to happen. If we want to see an end to dubious deals, football governance needs to change and do far more to protect public welfare.


Building bricks



Through his philanthropic work Paul Bassi has shared his success with his friends, neighbours and local community. His generous spirit and belief that everyone – no matter where they come – should be able to succeed as far as their individual talent and hard work can take them is inspiring.

Paul has finally put pen to paper and in Brick by Brick: Success in Business and Lifedocumented his remarkable journey from a penniless family of Indian immigrants to becoming one of the West Midlands most prominent property investors and one of the nation's most successful Asian businessmen. As he says:

“People believe somebody else can be that footballer, journalist or businessman. They don’t believe it belongs to them, but if you follow a matter of disciplines, there is no reason why you can’t be that person.”



Factory favourites

It's hard to believe the label that inspired 'Madchester' was founded 40 years ago. Factory Records was home to a string of legendary bands including Happy Mondays, Joy Division and New Order. To mark the anniversary, Warner Music is releasing two box sets, and an exhibition called Use Hearing Protection FAC 1-50/40 to showcase the iconic label's design heritage.

Curated by author Jon Savage and archivist Mat Bancroft, the Factory event starts next month as part of the London Design Festival. The plan is also to open an expanded exhibition next year that's been developed by the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. So come on now. Let's imagine we're at the Hacienda, dance like Bez, and remember the 80s at their barmy best.


The smell of the farm

Today we learned through The Observer that Boris Johnson's enforcer Dominic Cummings - he of the Vote Leave bus  - and his family have been the lucky recipients of £235,000 in EU farm subsidies. I feel sure that Cummings would be the first to agree that this money could have been better spent on the NHS.


Dog's life in the fast lane

I admit to low-ish expectations when I was dragged along by the kids to see the film version of The Art of Racing in the Rain, the Garth Stein novel. Not only did I get to meet a lovely hound called Lottie, but ending up thoroughly captivated by the movie which depicts the aspirations of racing car driver Denny to become a F1 star, told through the narration of his beloved dog Enzo. It turned out to be a great summer holiday interlude for adults and children alike. Beware though - if you see this film I guarantee you will weep.