The speech that never was

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The speech that never was

"Thank God we have an independent judiciary. That our constitution is bigger and stronger and better than our disgraceful Prime Minister. Some people still think it’s all part of Johnson’s grand plan. But if your strategy involves breaking the law and lying to the Queen whilst allegations of impropriety are splashed all over the Sunday Times, maybe it’s time to review the strategy."

That is how I intended to open my speech to Labour Party conference on Tuesday - until I was interrupted by events. I would have added:

"The Tories have added scorched earth tactics to their flat earth ideology. They seem to want to destroy as much of Britain as they can. Not just our economy and our social fabric, but our constitution too. In the very name of parliamentary sovereignty, they affront it to the point of destruction. I truly believe that Johnson is putting Britain in the greatest danger since the summer of 1940. 

"The Tories have become a sinister extremist sect, leaving a vacuum where there ought to be a government. That vacuum can only be filled by a national party that speaks to the future.

Photo: Working on the speech - Brighton 2019

"Do we have the will, the craft and the vision to align today’s unprecedented opportunities with the social justice we believe in?  What is important is that we show Britain how Labour can grapple with the towering dilemmas that confront us.

"Traditional Labour values sit bang in the middle of the British mainstream. These are timeless values, fundamental moral principles that underpin a good society: kindness, fairness, sharing, compassion, freedom, justice, equality, opportunity. These are traditional Labour values; and they’re British values.

"If there’s an election this year, our values must prevail. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. This is a time to keep our gaze high. To remember who we are, and what we believe, and what we’re trying to achieve."

After the events of the last 48 hours, I feel it is more relevant than ever.


In case you missed it...


Jon Lansman and I have plenty of shared history in the Labour movement. You may be surprised to hear that I have always had a soft spot for him, for reasons nothing to do with politics. However his failed, underhand attempt to abolish me at the pre-conference NEC last weekend for speaking out on Europe was incomprehensible. It damaged me, it undermined Jeremy and detonated a media explosion that nearly ruined the whole of the conference.

Still, Jon made me laugh (a lot) with his tweet bemoaning the manner in which the NEC developed its Brexit policy.


What Jo Cox teaches us

Wednesday was the last day of conference. For me, it began at 8am in Brighton with an exercise class with Kim Leadbeater of the Jo Cox Foundation, and the town's Deputy Mayor Alan Robins to celebrate National Fitness Day. Twelve hours later in Westminster we witnessed the Prime Minister seeking to expropriate Jo's memory for his divisive far right Brexit and vilifying women MPs for chastising his language.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Jo this week. Jo was a future party leader and potential Prime Minister. She could have healed a divided nation and we would have been proud of her.

* With perfect timing, a new set of awards celebrating politicians who behave with courtesy and decency to one another is launched today: the Civility in Politics Awards (CiP). Nominations will open this weekend. A shortlist will be announced in January, with an award ceremony in March 2020. As Labour peer Stewart Wood, one of the founders, says: "These awards are a small attempt by a group of people in public life – of different and no political persuasions – to shine a spotlight on politicians who argue their case with decency and civility, and are able to engage with people across the divides that threaten to scar our country”. More details here.



Hacking the hackers 

In the real world (not the parallel one which we now inhabit) the questions of character and integrity raised by a Prime Minister's friendship with the director of cyber-security firm that had, surprisingly, received a £100,000 DCMS grant would have dominated the headlines all week. When MPs were finally able to bring an Urgent Question to the House, I challenged Digital minister Matt Warman on the grant application and how the criteria (must be UK company) was met. I asked whether the Prime Minister understood that the trappings and privileges of power come with restrictions and restraints.

The minister assured me that Hacker House was a British company and everything was above board. We knew this, he explained, because Hacker House had a UK telephone number. Within minutes my office established that the UK telephone number was answered by a woman in California. This whole affair raises fundamental questions which relate to Johnson's suitability for high office. I am determined to get the answers to these questions. But we all know the broader, essential truth. We can all see who Boris Johnson is.



Rule of ridicule

The language used by people in power matters. It takes courage to call it out and it is necessary that we do so. BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty was asked as a woman of colour for an interpretation of Trump's words. Rightfully, she gave it. This ruling against her is ridiculous.


Breaking the class ceiling

When I was growing up, every BBC presenter spoke with posh accents. Thankfully the days are over when everyone sounded like they had marbles in their mouths. Well not quite. Research out this week from Ofcom says the TV industry is still biased in favour of people who've been to private schools. Their Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Television report concludes that people working in television are twice as likely than the average person to have attended one.

A lack of diversity is still an issue too — disabled people, those from minority ethnic groups and women remain under represented. Ofcom's chief executive Sharon White says broadcasters must work harder to attract "the most talented people into television – whatever their characteristics or backgrounds". In an age of Old Etonian rule, I second that.



Righting a gross injustice

Just 1,500 of our 22,000 nuclear test vets exposed to radiation during trials from 1952 to 1967 are thought to still be alive, most in their 80s. I was delighted that my shadow cabinet colleague Emily Thornberry announced Labour's pledge of compensation to those vets. It provides long overdue recognition, corrects an injustice of the past, and is reward for the tireless campaigning of the British Nuclear Test Veterans' Association, The Daily and Sunday Mirrors, and journalist Susie Boniface. Together we shall continue to campaign for the vets to be honoured with a medal for their service to our country.


Lost: a moral compass

This distressing article sheds light on the dystopian underbelly of Facebook. A world in which teams of "moderators" are instructed to pore over hundreds of vile images and posts every day containing violence, nudity and trolling. In many cases, the workers are left psychologically scarred, addicted to extreme content or brain-washed into espousing far right views.

Facebook's mealy-mouthed response symbolises a company that has long lost its moral compass. I wonder what the young, idealistic and visionary Mark Zuckerberg would make of the creation of his older self.


Evidence of sin

When Boris Johnson raged against the sugar tax, he called it a "sin tax" and wanted "evidence" of its worth. Now we have that evidence:

Tax on soft drinks = 28.8% FALL in sugar consumed.

No tax on cakes and biscuits = 2.6% RISE in sugar consumed.

The case rests.



Free to air (and borrow)

I note Nicky Morgan's announcement of equality for women's sports on free-to-air TV, and welcome her to the roll call of DCMS Secretaries who have recently adopted Labour policies.

I would now like to refer her, as a matter of urgency, to Labour's pledge to end betting sponsorship on football shirts.


Suffocating the arts

On the theme of equal opportunities, Dr Who writer and actor Mark Gatiss has spoken out about cuts and their effect on talent from less well-off backgrounds. Gatiss himself is from a working-class family in the North East. The Darlington Arts Centre which he describes as his 'lifeline' has been just one of many victims of cutbacks — it closed in 2012.

At an awards ceremony this week, the performer and director said the arts had been "suffocated in this country", adding "If you don't see that opportunity yourself you think, those jobs aren't for me." Labour is committed to ensuring that people like Gatiss don't become the 'could-have-beens' and that they are given the chance to shine brightly.  



The power of music

It's no secret that Nile Rodgers is one of my heroes. The Chic legend was this year's ambassador for BBC Music Day which this year is focusing on people living with dementia. More than 50 UK organisations involved in dementia care are collaborating with the BBC to highlight the link between health and well-being.

Alzheimer's disease has affected several members of Rodgers' family including his mother and aunt. However, the producer and guitarist says that music can be 'transformational' for people with the condition. In the case of his mother Beverly, she was diagnosed more than a decade ago but has recently developed a love of singing. Rodgers says that 'music can be your greatest ally' when faced with life's challenges.



Youth music awards

The opportunity to learn an instrument or to sing can make all the difference to young people. Including to those who live in deprived areas or who are at risk of joining a gang. Youth Music invests in projects that help people up to age 25 develop personally and socially by making music. For the first time this year, the national charity has launched awards to recognise and give exposure to emerging talent.

The winners will be announced next month after judging by music industry figures from leading record companies and others. So far they've received more than 600 nominations. It's great to see young people who've not had the best start in life getting the chance to shine


England's green and pleasant land

The Tate's retrospective exhibition on William Blake which runs until 2nd February 2020 includes the full range of the anti-establishment visionary's art and poetry. Born to a working-class family, Blake was largely ignored during his lifetime and died in relative poverty. But he refused to let his creative spirit be quashed.

His legacy includes the poem Jerusalem, now better known as a hymn. It was Hubert Parry who set it to music to boost public morale during WWI. Jerusalem is also the unofficial anthem of the Labour party. Blake's original poem has always been open to wide interpretation. Some claim it's a satire on nationalism or an attack on organised religion. Whatever the meaning, there's no doubting its uplifting and rousing effect. For me, the meaning of Jerusalem will always be about hope for the future and this country. Even in desperately divided times.



Literally speaking

The week-long Henley Literary Festival kicks off this weekend and with more media attention than normal as Theresa May (remember her) will be making an outing on Monday in the middle of Tory Party conference. Some fireworks are predicted. I will also be dipping my toe into the lit fest scene on Friday when I will be talking about the current state of politics. If you are in the area and want to come and hear me, it's not too late to book a ticket!