The great Tory betrayal
You may recall six months ago in this newsletter I wrote in praise of Tracey Crouch for the way she had stood up to the ferocious lobbying of the multi-billion pound betting industry. I said she had stuck to her guns and done the right thing by reducing the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals from £100 to £2.
Spin forward to this Thursday when that same principle saw Tracey resign as sports minister in utter despair that Jeremy Wright, the new DCMS Secretary, has delayed the stake reduction.
Tracey again showed courage and principle. I was particularly taken with the line in her resignation letter where she admonished "commitments made by others to those with registered interests" for the delay.
In the House on Thursday, just hours before Tracey resigned, I raised the question of whether the DCMS Secretary had met with Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, since taking office. I have yet to receive a reply. But rest assured I will.
What is clear is that the Tories have prioritised corporate interests over victims, profits over public health, and greed over good. Jeremy Wright should be thoroughly ashamed. For while the bookmakers get to trouser another £900m in the meantime, more lives and families will be ruined by these dreadful "crack cocaine" FOBTs.
However all is not lost. This week an amendment will be lodged to the Budget Bill which would implement the stake reduction in April 2019, as Jeremy Wright's predecessor promised. I very much look forward to joining Tories including Tracey and Iain Duncan Smith, who will table the amendment, in the voting lobby.
Nothing but the truth
The decision by the Electoral Commission to refer Arron Banks and his cronies to the National Crime Agency over the funding of the Leave EU campaign is long overdue, but still I strongly welcome it.
If crimes took place or rules were broken during the EU referendum, we need to know. That means getting to the bottom of where Arron Banks' millions came from, and whether foreign - even Russian - cash was being laundered through offshore accounts.
As I told Newsnight on Friday, the NCA needs to follow the money, go abroad if necessary, and interview people under caution. If there was wrongdoing, we need to make sure that it's never allowed to happen again. Both Leavers and Remainers need to know our democracy is safe and robust.
Weight loss update
I’ve now lost 102 lbs thanks to a change of nutrition and exercise. To mark the occasion, and highlight the fact that it is possible to reverse Type 2 diabetes, I was invited to make a short film by BBC2’s Politics Live. They even followed me round the gym!
My message to others with Type 2 diabetes is "don't panic", in up to 60% of cases, it can be reversed. I’ll have more details soon on the independent commission I am setting up into how we can tackle the public health crisis around obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
I get a lot of requests about how I lost the weight. I might try to write it all down as it saves writing long emails and messages to Facebook friends!
Dingwalls is one of my favourite live music venues: a grungy corner of the Camden underground scene. And, as you may recall, Fantastic Negrito is my favourite artist of 2018. So put the two together and you have my idea of a perfect evening of blues, funk, rock and attitude.
Taking to the streets
The Budget showed THERE IS NO END TO AUSTERITY. There are still billions of pounds in social security cuts to come, our NHS and social care remain in crisis, and crime is soaring while neighbourhood policing is denied the resources it needs.
That's why yesterday thousands of Labour supporters and councillors up and down the country took part in a National Campaign Day. I was out and about in Walsall North and West Bromwich East spreading the message that only a Labour government will halt the roll-out of Universal Credit, fund our public services fairly, create 400,000 well-paid green jobs, tax the rich fairly, and finally bring an end to this government's cruel austerity. Only Labour can rebuild Britain.
Thousands of workers from local libraries, museums, galleries and cultural centres marched on parliament yesterday demanding an end to the Tory austerity years that have cuts arts and cultural provision across this country to the bone.
It is a terrible indictment of this government that under their watch over 500 libraries have closed or are in the process of closing. Yet the Tories have the nerve to claim that austerity has ended. Well, austerity hasn’t ended and those that work in the culture sector know that all too well.
I couldn’t make the demo, as was campaigning in Walsall, but sent a message of support to the organisers - Unison, Unite and PCS - that they have my and the Labour Party's full support. Let's hope Theresa May gets the message. #saveourlibraries
Facing down cancer
(Phillip with his girlfriend, Jayne)
Phillip Brightmore's story is utterly heartbreaking. At the age of 32, he has been diagnosed with myeloma, a rare terminal blood cancer.
Phillip says: "It is likely to end my life someday, but it cannot be permitted to stop me living my life now. One in two will be touched by cancer, so we cannot let it defeat us."
Facing down the cancer, Phillip, who is a councillor on the Wirral, has vowed to carry his life as normal and will stand for re-election next year.
But, most importantly, he is now using his experience to help others with blood cancers by encouraging stem cell and bone marrow donations with the amazing Anthony Nolan charity. You can find out more here www.anthonynolan.org.
Phillip is a remarkable young man and I would like to salute his courage.
This must-read story should make us all sit up and think. A leading professor of surgery says medical students are spending so much time in front of screens that they have lost the dexterity to stitch and sew up patients.
It suggests that learning isn't just about exam grades, and life experience is more than just tapping your thumbs on a screen keyboard.
And it concludes with a call to restore craft and creative skills, design and technology, music, art and drama to the classrooms - equipping children to navigate the future of work, and stay ahead of the robots. Hear, hear!
Polly put the Osborne down
“This man has done such harm and damage to this country… your treatment of the poorest people in this country has been despicable”
This week I wrote to the Prime Minister asking her to confirm that she will honour the Tory election manifesto pledge to maintain free TV licences for the over-75s.
If she fails to do so, responsibility for this broken promise and the removal of this benefit from vulnerable elderly people will lie firmly at her feet. The Tories will be hitting the over-75s with austerity by the back door.
The tech giants do need to pay more in tax. But the digital services tax announced in Monday’s Budget is pittance for these massive international companies.
Under the Tories the percentage of tax paid by the big five tech companies has halved since 2013. The new tax isn’t even set to be implemented until 2020 at which time the tech giants will start to enjoy a 2% cut in their corporation tax rate.
The lack of ambition in this announcement is derisory.
Pink has long been the colour of choice in ballet. Times are changing though. Dance company Ballet Black, whose dancers are black and Asian, have teamed up with a footwear company to create bronze and brown shoes. They say it addresses the fact non-white dancers have been forced to customise their pumps so they tone in with their skin.
English National Ballet dancer Precious Adams is among those who've taken a stand on the costume-front by choosing to wear brown tights, not pink. And Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood, who used to have to add ‘pancake’ to his ballet shoes, has helped co-design a range in darker tones. The long overdue good news to come out of this is it reflects the fact that ballet is becoming a multi-racial institution.
Honour for Daphne
Murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was honoured posthumously this week at the Rory Peck Awards. The trust behind the prize ceremony was set up in memory of the cameraman who was killed in 1993 while filming a gun battle during Russia's October coup.
Sarah Ward-Lilley, the organisation's chair, said Daphne, who was blown up by a car bomb last October, had won in recognition of her 'extraordinary dedication and courage working under the most challenging of circumstances.’ I couldn’t agree more with the award.
Girls get jam
Shagufta K. Iqbal is a Bristol-based Punjabi poet and film-maker. I love her work, and the contribution she is making to other South Asian women writers through the Yoni-Verse Poetry Collective.
If you have time, you can hear her interviewed on this Lunar Poetry Podcast. If you don't have the time, try and spare five minutes to listen to the opening where she reads her extraordinary "Jam is for girls, girls get jam."