The Inconvenient Truth

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The Inconvenient Truth

Social media has many ills. But its power to amplify the voices of those who have something relevant to say can be a beautiful thing. Thus a single tweet from a keen-eyed researcher on Wednesday night, exposing how the No Deal shipping firm Seaborne Freights had copied and pasted its website T&Cs from a takeaway delivery site, was quickly picked up.

Soon the story had made national headlines, and forced the Department of Transport to defend its "due diligence" while issuing a humiliating statement clarifying the "error" made by a company it has agreed to pay £14m for its services.

Amid all the subsequent gags about the company's fast food credentials (Moules Freight was my favourite), there was a very significant point. With just 83 days to go until we are supposed to leave the EU, this country is simply not prepared for a No Deal Brexit.

Either Theresa May's government is trying to scare people into supporting her flawed deal, or we are facing the biggest economic mistake in my lifetime. Neither is palatable.



Do touch that dial


Tomorrow morning at 10am I am hosting another LBC call-in programme and I'd love it if you rang in to share your thoughts on the key issues of our time. The number is 0345 6060 973. You can watch and listen live here. Then, through the magic of modern media, I'm being interviewed on BBC WM at 12 noon for Adrian Goldberg's "The Other Side of ....." programme. You will be able to listen back to Adrian's conversation with me here.

The LBC show will be my third appearance behind the mic as host on the national call-in show and I am learning to expect the unexpected. Only last weekend Andy left me feeling worried for humanity with his demand for internment camps for asylum seekers, and his belief that poor, desperate children crossing the Channel in small boats with their families should be left to drown.

I told Andy that if push comes to shove, and he was the one making the decision, I thought his virtue would get the better of him, and he would save those lives. It's difficult to contemplate otherwise.



Time for action

Children are consuming 22 stones of sugar by the age of ten - twice the recommended total. Little wonder 26,000 youngsters were taken to hospital with rotten teeth last year; we have the worst childhood obesity rates in Western Europe; and we are dealing with an explosion in type 2 diabetes-related illnesses which costs the NHS £10 billion a year.

Yet, without political leadership from ministers, Public Health England’s response is an insipid information campaign for parents. It’s ok, but it’s not weighing in against the global sugar giants and food companies who bombard our children with junk food ads online and on TV.

As you know this year I am setting up an independent commission into how we can reverse the rise of diabetes within five years. That means looking at: clearer labelling, taxes on confectionery, bans on the promotion of sugary drinks and foods, and how we can force big business to reformulate sugar in products.

The industry will plead for another bout of voluntary regulation. But it's too late. The doors of that particular last chance saloon have long shut for those who plunder billions in profits by peddling sugar to our children. 2019 must see action not tokenism.

That's why I want to see Fizz Free February rolled-out nationwide. If you, like me, believe we desperately need to tackle the obesity epidemic in this country, then I'd appreciate your support for this brilliant campaign encouraging families to give up sugary, fizzy drinks for the month.

You can help by contacting your council, have a word with the head at your local school, or raise it with any local community groups where you are involved. You can find out more about how you can help here, or simply sign up to support the campaign.



Off to the Palace 

There were some throughly deserving recipients in the New Year Honours list. None more so than consultant psychiatrist Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones who receives an OBE for her pioneering work on gambling addiction treatment.

Henrietta responded by dedicating the award "to the children of addicted parents in recognition of all the suffering they are experiencing and of the harm it has caused them. We will continue fighting this illness until science leads us to be able to prevent it." Wonderful words.

And here's Private Eye cartoonist Neil Kerber's brilliant take...


Turning the tables

A few years back I took my then six-year-old into Vinyl Revival in Manchester. Carefully removing a record from its sleeve, I explained: “These are what we used to listen to music with before CDs, love.”  “What’s a CD daddy?” came the response.

So it was no great surprise to see the latest figures from the Entertainment Retailers Association showing consumers are abandoning CDs and streaming instead. But vinyl does provide a glimmer of hope for us traditionalists who like to own the music. Although sales have plateaued, they are still holding their own. There's clearly room for vinyl and streaming among music fans.



Playing the game


The ERA also revealed this week that the video games sector now accounts for more than half of the UK's entire entertainment market with a value of £3.86bn - more than double its 2007 value.. 

That makes it all the more important going forward that we have the right policies in place for the UK's top creatives to take advantage of the gaming boom here and abroad.


Homing in on the bacon

Campaigners are urging the government to do more to rid the cancer risk from processed meats such as bacon and ham.

There is a growing consensus of scientific opinion that nitrites in processed meats such as bacon and ham result in carcinogenic nitrosamines - believed to be responsible for bowel cancer.

So I was pleased to put my name to a letter along with the director of the Queen's University Belfast Institute for Global Food Safety, Professor Chris Elliott; senior cardiologist Aseem Malhotra; and leading nutritionist Chris Gill of the University of Ulster calling for action by policy-makers, the food industry, and the cancer-care community.


Duck duck goose

"We see your unique cosmetics container made around 1300 BC in ancient Egypt and raise you this nineteenth century plane with a weird looking duck head on it."

Twitter was at its cultural finest on Friday after the Museum of English Rural Life challenged the British Museum to show off its finest duck. Soon museums and duck-lovers from across the globe were piling in.



Packing a punch

Gordon Brown has highlighted how the Tories' private betrayal of a manifesto promise on free TV licences could end up criminalising the over 75s. A powerful and important intervention in our campaign to protect the older generation from more austerity.



Not just the privileged

It probably won't come as a shock that only one in ten theatre directors are from working-class backgrounds. That's the finding from research by industry body Stage Directors UK, the National Theatre, RADA and the Old Vic. Their report is aptly called The Director's Voice - with the vast majority of those in top theatre jobs from upper or middle class backgrounds, it's clearly time to break through the 'cut glass' ceiling.


The daily squeeze

Broken timetables, cramped carriages and now another wage-busting 3% rail fare rise as we head back to work from the Christmas break.

That's why on Wednesday morning I joined rail commuters and Labour supporters at Stourbridge Junction to highlight the dire state of our rail services under the Tories.

The next Labour government will bring our railways into public ownership and start putting passengers before profit.


Acts of violence

It's hugely worrying to see deaths of journalists and media staff on the rise again. What's even more concerning is that the toll of 94 includes targeted killings such as Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and those gunned down at US daily Capital Gazette. The International Federation of Journalists who compiled the list warn that factors including increasing intolerance to independent reporting are to blame. As I've said before in this column, those bent on silencing the truth-tellers must not be allowed to flourish.


In the pink

I guess I wasn't the only person listening to this Pink Floyd classic after the news broke that China's Chang'e-4 probe had landed successfully on the dark side of the moon.