The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle
While taking part in a UK Music-organised pop quiz to celebrate today's National Album Day, the extraordinary global contribution of this country's music was to the fore.
In recent years it has been Adele and Ed Sheeran that have led the way. But whichever pick you take of all the many lists of all-time best albums, it will be festooned with records by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd - and let's not forget the more recent contribution of bands and artists like Oasis, The Stone Roses, Amy Winehouse and Stormzy.
It's estimated that the UK music industry contributes a staggering £4.5 billion to our economy each year. Yet the future of this brilliant creative industry is in peril because of this government's blinkered approach to performing arts on the school curriculum.
This week a thoroughly depressing survey of schools by Sussex University suggested music lessons could soon be extinct due to the promotion of the narrow E-Bacc suite of academic subjects. The figures are startling.
The number of schools offering a music A-level had fallen by more than 15% in the past two years, there's a 10% fall in the number of students starting a GCSE music course since 2016, with fewer schools providing it as an option and some offering it only out of school hours.
In 2012-13 music was compulsory for 13- to 14-year-olds in 84% of schools, now that figure is just 47.5%. Eighteen per cent did not offer GCSE music at all; in some schools the subject was taught only as an “enrichment day” once a year. Staffing levels had fallen in nearly 36%, with 70% of surviving music specialists having to teach other subjects to fill the gaps.
Obviously the UK music industry is not all about pop and rock. How on earth is a state school ever going to offer the opportunity and nurture for a talent like the brilliant young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason in the future?
That's why Labour is committed to providing a £160 million arts premium for primary schools and has pledged to return performing arts and creative subjects back to the heart of the secondary curriculum.
Anyway I'm sure you want to know that my team fell short in the pop quiz, finishing valiant runners-up behind the pros from the BPI. They run the BRITS and therefore get paid to know all the answers to the questions.
For a bit of fun, I've set you a pop quiz this week. All the headlines on this week's newsletter are the titles of famous albums. See how many you can get. Answers next week!
I gave my full backing to World Obesity Day on Thursday which majored on the message that it is time to end “weight-shaming”. Too many politicians and commentators go on about how people should take personal responsibility for their dieting and their weight. But if you don't know what's in your food how can you take responsibility? We need to stop the shaming of people who are overweight and, instead, give them the information they need to make informed decisions. Let's label the products not the people was the theme of my video to mark the day. You can watch it here.
The following day brought two significant studies. One by the Social Market Foundation challenged those who similarly contend that poor diet is the result of bad parenting. In fact it showed that the lack of geographical and financial access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables is a crucial factor in poor diets. Another study detailed how children from primary schools in the poorest areas are four times more likely to be severely obese than those from the wealthiest.
These are key issues for the commission I am setting up into how we tackle rising obesity and diabetes in the UK. I am determined that we challenge current thinking on public health policy and that, Labour in government, drives forward a social agenda that tackles the iniquity of life opportunities for the poorest families in our country.
London Film Festival, which kicked off this week, is run by a woman, supported by women and in its competition categories has put Cannes and Venice to shame with the number of women director nominees. The very best of British!
Power, Corruption and Lies
Hillary Clinton made a dramatic intervention this week joining calls for an inquiry into Russian influence in the EU referendum and stating our democracy is "under siege"
"What they did in Brexit, what they did in the United States. I don't understand why the press, the political establishment and the public are so reluctant to call out what the Russians have been doing," she said.
She's absolutely right. There is a deep well of suspicion around Russian financial involvement with Leave.EU founder Arron Banks and his cronies. Yet, as I said last week, the silence from our government is deafening
Fresh light on the government’s silence emerged in this report from Open Democracy which revealed that “political sensitivities” were holding back a police inquiry. It is disappointing that no progress appears to have been made into these investigations months after they were suppose to start.
As I told Open Democracy, the breaking of the law during one of the most critical moments in the UK’s history makes it of urgent national interest that the police investigate what happened, how it happened and who was responsible. That require a full Mueller-style inquiry into Russian efforts to meddle in our democracy.
Young, Gifted and Black
Cardiff-raised Rungano Nyoni already has a BAFTA to her name. Now the Zambian writer-director's debut feature I Am Not A Witch has been chosen as the UK's submission for the Oscar's foreign language film category. Her tale of a young girl falsely accused of sorcery has already won the praise of critics. In interviews, Nyoni has said her goal is to see both Wales and Zambia represented to a wider audience- and for more older women in characterful roles. Here's wishing her every success.
This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours
So far this year, 71 journalists and their helpers have been killed around the world. Most were murdered - deliberately targeted by warlords, drug gangs, oppressive regimes and terrorists, simply for wielding a pen.
In recent days Bulgarian TV reporter Viktoria Marinova has been killed and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is feared murdered inside his country's Turkish consulate. The motive in Marinova's case is unclear, but Khashoggi's has all the hallmarks of a state-sponsored attack on a strong dissident voice.
In too many corners of the world, the liberty of people and the wellbeing of democracy is under threat from those in authority who brazenly disseminate false news and outright lies, often backed by threats against those who challenge them.
At such times, we would do well to salute those courageous investigative journalists who take great personal risk just to tell the truth.
Ester McVey let the cat out of the bag by admitting Universal Credit roll-out will leave "some people worse off". For "some", read "millions".
In the case of low-income working families, the respected Resolution Foundation says a staggering 3.2 million households will be an average £1,800 a year worse off.
In other words, a “welfare reform” which the Tories claimed would encourage people to work is actively decimating the livelihoods of the very people it set out to help. It's not so much a welfare reform as a deceit that will plunge hundreds of thousands of adults and children into Victorian levels of misery.
Gordon Brown, who has spent a lifetime in politics fighting child poverty at home and abroad, made a brilliant intervention on Wednesday when he said: ”The greatest burning injustice of all is children having to go to school ill-clad and hungry. It is the poverty of the innocent.” The following day John Major also warned of social unrest and called for a halt in the UC roll-out.
Whatever your political affiliation - left or right - do you really want to live in a country where the very worst off families, the poorest of all, lose two hundred vital pounds every month? Even friends I know who are dyed in the wool Tories didn’t sign up to this.
Labour's position is absolutely clear. Nobody should be worse off, face losing their home or having to make the trip to the food bank because of Universal Credit.
The Tories know their position is indefensible and unsustainable. In the days and weeks ahead, with the force of our arguments and those of the charities on the poverty frontline, Labour will fight to ensure that the cruel Universal Credit roll-out is binned.
Lexicon of Love
It's becoming an all too depressing trend: bookshops being forced to close or move. The rising rents, competition from Amazon and landlords bent on making money are among the causes. The latest casualty is Newham Bookshop in East London. Manager Vivian Archer has worked there for more than three decades. However, the store's future is threatened by plans to turn floors above into offices. Fortunately, a fund-raising appeal is underway backed by Ken Follett and Nigella Lawson. An auction of donated books will take place next Sunday to help raise £25,000. This is so the store can move a few doors down.
One Hour of Girl Power
“We are all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve whilst still staying true to who we are”.
Jodie Whittaker's Dr Who was majestic in the first episode of the new series. She teased those who thought a woman couldn't take the role, designed a “Swiss army sonic with added Sheffield Steel”, and saved a few lives with the sort of deft diplomacy and speed of thought that can only be acquired through 900 years of time and space travel.
As the new Doctor said, she knows who she is and what her role is. It’s “sorting out fair play throughout the universe”.
The world did not end, my ten-year-old daughter adored her, and more than 8 million viewers tuned in, making it the biggest Dr Who launch for 10 years. Congratulations to Jodie, BBC Wales and all the creative team and cast for an epic ground-breaking adventure. Now...what was the fuss all about!
Black History month provides a perfect, and highly relevant, opportunity to celebrate Windrush and the wonderful contribution made by the pioneering generation who landed 70 years ago.
I am delighted that an exhibition marking Windrush70 has opened for the month at West Bromwich Library, Sandwell in my constituency, and urge everyone who has the opportunity to look in.