The most disturbing of times

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The most disturbing of times


As back catalogues go, Boris Johnson's has got more scratches than most of my old 45s. Thanks to the power of the internet, the outrageous remarks, gaffes and Trumpian revisions of history, are all easily found. It's little wonder the world of social media has had a field day this past week.

There are the letterbox and bank robber jibes at burka-wearing women, the watermelon and piccaninnies attack on black people, the lies on the side of a Brexit bus, the plea for Turkey to be welcomed into the EU (yes, welcomed), and the endless list of his failures as Mayor of London and as the worst Foreign Secretary of the modern age. 

We live in
 the most disturbing of times when a deeply-flawed, faux and self-serving careerist like Johnson is close to being anointed Prime Minister, ready to drive the UK to a no-deal Brexit disaster, without any democratic mandate for either himself or his policies.

It must now fall to the Labour leadership to fight Johnson with everything we have. We cannot sit idly by, leaving unchallenged a man whose primary economic policies are £10 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 8%, nothing for the rest, and a reckless threat to leave the EU on October 31st, imperilling the peace in Northern Ireland and destroying the trading relationship with our closest allies.

I promis
e you that I won't be sitting idly by. I will have a lot more to say on this when I make a speech on Monday to The Centre for European Reform, entitled "The Future of Britain and Europe".


Half a million voices must be heard

As I am writing this newsletter, the Age UK petition against the scrapping of free TV licence for three million older people is about to crash through the 500,000 mark. That is testament to the anger this betrayal by the Tories, and their break-taking gall in passing the buck to the BBC, has engendered.

It is no coincidence that in the week Boris Johnson championed tax cuts for the rich, the Conservative Government delivered yet another ruthless welfare cut to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

I was granted an Urgent Question in the House of Commons where I challenged Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright over the Tories' 2017 manifesto pledge to maintain the free licence concession. I made the point that the BBC is not the DWP and should not be charged with the government's welfare policy.

I also wrote to all the Tory leadership candidates asking them to honour that 2017 promise, saying: "If you are victorious in becoming Prime Minister, I know you will not want your first act to be the betrayal of three million pensioners." I was pleased three out of the 10 agreed and have kicked back against the means testing of the licence for the over 75s.

The bottom line here is that you cannot means test for social isolation. You cannot means test for loneliness. Millions of elderly and isolated people will lose because of this announcement. And I promise that Labour will fight it with everything we’ve got. 


Jewels in the crown

The Women's World Cup in France is already a fantastic tournament. The fact a record TV audience of 6.1 million people in the UK watched the England-Scotland game says it all. Now that England have seen off Argentina, and qualified through their group, viewing figures are only going to grow.

That's why I was really pleased to announce this week that Labour will give equal status to major women's sports events, like the World Cup, by adding them to the "crown jewels" list on free-to-air TV. It is time we gave women's sport the recognition it deserves. We're also pledging to make the Paralympics a crown jewel too. I unveiled the pledge at a speech to the British Screen Advisory Council on Thursday which you can see and read here.


Good Times

I haven't always see eye-to-eye with John Witherow, editor of The Times, but when he told the annual Society of Editors Satchwell Lecture that the digital media giants need to be regulated and broken up, and newspapers need to combine the sharpest technology with high quality journalism, he's spot on. 


The vanishing treasure

I sat on a deck overlooking a palm-studded stretch of turquoise coastline where thousands of dazzling reef fish – pink and emerald parrotfish, blue and yellow unicorn fish, orange-and-white-striped clownfish – had recently washed up on the shore, dead. The ocean along the western edge of this Fijian island, the ‘big island’ of Viti Levu, had become too hot for its inhabitants to survive. 

The fish lay rotting in the sun with nubbly starfish and the occasional gelatinous octopus, their brilliant colours fading, while thousands more floated belly up on the surface of the sea. Villagers waded in, trying to scoop up and save what they could, focusing on fish that serve as food and provide income for their families. 

Children swam after the bright, dead creatures washing out to sea. ‘It is our treasure,’ they lamented, ‘disappearing.’

The words are those of Meehan Crist, writer-in-residence in Biological Sciences at Colombia University. She draws from her own experience today to reflect back on marine biologist Rachel Carson's epic 1960s book Silent Spring. Carson's ground-breaking work challenged the industrial use of pesticides. She inspired an environmental movement which brought about the formation of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Crist says events like the mass die-off she witnessed at Viti Levu, and her learnings from Carson, draw her to the conclusion that, "a capitalist system built on the plunder of the natural world must inevitably be threatened by a grassroots movement to stop that plunder".

I find myself agreeing. The world today, faced with the climate extinction that Carson predicted 50 years ago, is screaming out for a radical alternative, one that challenges the protected interests of the corporations who are charging the human race towards the destruction of species, habitats, and ultimately ourselves.

(Meehan Crist's article comes from the London Review of Books. You have to sign up but get four free articles a month. It's well worth it.) 



Checking out the exhibits

Museums can help stave off dementia. Or that's the finding of new research from University College London (UCL). They've analysed a decade's worth of data from 4,000 people and found those who regularly go to museums are less likely to be affected than those who never visit. Research fellow Dr Daisy Fancourt says it's not simply about increasing social interaction. It's the engagement with culture that's the key. So if you want to keep your brain healthy, go and check out the exhibits. And remember it was Labour that made museum visits free for everyone.


Seven out of ten rats can't be wrong

On the Gambling Commission website, there is a section called Enforcement Action. What's interesting is that seven of the most recent 10 notices relate to failures by online casino operators. 

Two are from the last week: Gibraltar-based Gamesys will have to pay out £1.2m for failing to prevent gambling harm and breaching money laundering regulations. That follows a police investigation which found three individuals had gambled with stolen money. 

And Platinum Gaming will pay £1.6m for allowing a convicted fraudster to spend £629,420 of stolen money. The customer’s deposits were so high and losses so significant that Platinum Gaming should have considered refusing or barring service to the customer, said the Commission. Instead Platinum continued to allow the customer to gamble. In other words, they turned a blind eye to obvious criminality because they were so happy to plunder the profits.

That in a nutshell is why I have called for the licences of ALL online casino operators - issued since new rules were introduced in 2014 - to be forced to reapply. Most are overseas-based and many are simply taking advantage of holding the credibility of a UK licence. This has to stop.



Special young talent

A new record label has been launched to discover young talentTransformation Records says it aims to develop new music-makers and break from 'common music industry trends'. It's been set up by Blue Raincoat Music which is run by former Chrysalis Music boss Jeremy Lascelles and Grammy-winning record producer Robin Millar. They own the Chrysalis Records label which was founded 50 years ago and boasts a catalogue including Sinead O’Connor, Ultravox and The Specials. I wish them well.



A summit to climb

As you know, I’m living proof that Type 2 diabetes can be put in remission. But it can also be prevented. And yesterday,  speaking at the Health Innovation Network's Think Diabetes summit at Guy's Hospital in London, my message was that we need to get much better, as a country, at doing both.

If we carry on as we are, the NHS estimates that by 2036 the cost of T2 diabetes will be £32 billion. The human cost is terrible. Poor levels of physical activity are one reason for the overweight and obesity epidemic which is causing the rise in T2 diabetes. But I think there’s one other absolutely vital ingredient: SUGAR.

Sugar is in places it doesn’t need to be - cereals, milk products, crisps, yoghurt. It is in places parents don’t expect it to be. One of the consequences is that one in three children are overweight or obese when they leave primary school.

We have to address the roles played by food manufacturers, retailers, advertisers, GPs, nutritionists, teachers, parents as well as the fitness industry. That’s why shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth and I previously announced an independent commission on how we can halt the rise of T2 diabetes within a single Parliamentary term.

You can read my speech here. My simple message to all three million T2 diabetes sufferers is the vast majority can get off medication with the right combination of nutrition and exercise. Remission for all!


That sinking feeling

Grilled by Sky's Sophy Ridge and Matt Lavender for their Any Other Business podcast,  I recalled my worst Glastonbury moment. It involves an alsatian dog, a bunch of anarchists, and a Labour Party bus sinking in the mud. If you have a worst Glasto experience, I'd love to hear it...