The summer of 2019 special edition

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The summer of 2019



It has been a simply amazing day. I woke up full of trepidation this morning, facing a cycle ride twice the distance of anything I've tackled before. Yet by just after 12 noon I had completed the 46 mile Prudential RideLondon-Surrey.

The feeling as I crossed the finish line in a time of 3 hours 14 mins was one of pure elation. Even I find it difficult to fathom that in the last three months I have climbed Snowdon, canoed nine miles down Black Country canals, and now completed a 46 mile bike ride. Try telling the me of two years ago - 100lbs heavier and with Type 2 diabetes - that this would be the summer of 2019 and I wouldn't have believed you.

Of course I couldn't have done it without my cycling teammates: Andrew Denton from the Outdoor Industries Association, my friends James Gurling and Mark Glover, and my wonderful parliamentary colleague Ruth Cadbury.

The event was the third in my series of #Adventures4Health challenges, which are promoting outdoor activity as a means to physical and mental fitness. I've transformed my life and I just want others to be able to do the same. Honestly, if I can do it anyone can.

Thanks for all the amazing messages of support during the challenges so far. Next up is Swimming the Serpentine in early September. If you would like to donate to the four great charities I am supporting you can do so here.


Musical youth

One essential summer holiday read has to be In My Life, a musical memoir of growing up in West London by Alan Johnson. The marvellous soundtrack to Alan's early days, which helpfully appears as a Spotify playlist, includes Cole Porter, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, The Kinks, The Beatles, Elvis Costello and The Specials.

Best of all it has led to the unearthing of this song Hard Life by an unknown band called The Area (guitarist Mr A Johnson). Recently described as an "author and former politician", Alan joked “You can put that on my gravestone, that’s fine.” I think we can improve on that: "Beautiful author, brilliant politician, and a mean guitarist."

Let's get Hard Life trending on Youtube!



Roots of trouble


Today the Community Security Trust, a charity that protects British Jews from racism, has revealed a network of Twitter accounts apparently working in cahoots to dismiss claims of anti-semitism within the Labour party. As I told The Observer, this report points to a deeply troubling online culture where antisemitic narratives have been allowed to take root. 

I hope this intelligence is shared with the investigators at Labour HQ so that they can explain to the dominant faction that control our party’s national executive how a small group of prolific social media users can influence our internal discussions if they are not called out or dealt with swiftly.


Arctic fires and Amazon felled

The Arctic is burning, Greenland is melting and under Brazil’s new Far Right President Jair Bolsonaro half a billion trees in the Amazon rainforest are being felled a year. 

Destruction of the Amazon has jumped 88% year-on-year. Without this rainforest we’ll never halt climate change. What Bolsonaro likes to see as an internal attack on indigenous tribes, is also an assault on the lungs of the world. 

But it’s not enough just to tell others what to do. We must also do better ourselves. Managing woodlands is a 1,000-year project - not a quick political fix. From grazing to planting and coppicing, we need cross-party, innovative, long-term solutions to the problems we have at home. 

Please sign the Avaaz "End the Amazon Apocalypse" petition here to call on Bolsonaro, and his trading partners, to halt the rainforest carnage - and let's all decide to be better ourselves. 



Do the right thing, Johnson

On Thursday Age UK handed in a petition to Downing Street. It contains 634,789 reasons for Boris Johnson to do the right thing and - instead of breaking the 2017 Tory election manifesto promise - save the free TV licence for over 75s. I am very proud to have supported this brilliant campaign by Age UK. 


Just not cricket


This summer has reignited the public’s love of cricket. Yet opportunities to play cricket in school are dwindling with 80 pitches lost since the Tories came to power. The austerity attack on grassroots sports facilities must end.


Gambling free


Great to see Labour's policy of a whistle-to-whistle ban enacted today by the gambling companies. Next stop must be a ban on debt-fuelled gambling with credit cards and a mandatory levy on firms to fund addiction treatment.


Music for a thriller

Fans of Killing Eve should read this interview with Catherine Grieves in Music Week. She's in charge of choosing the soundtrack, with the help of Belfast musician and composer David Holmes, for the multi-award-winning TV series. What's good to see is that Grieves says they try and use a lot of independent music when they're looking for contemporary tracks. This is alongside familiar tracks by artists such as Goldfrapp and Blondie.

''We do tend to veer towards more independent sounds that are slightly more leftfield,” says Grieves who is also head of film and TV at Faber Music. This season's tunes include Where Evil Grows by The Poppy Family, a cover of classic song Angel Of The Morning by Dutch singer Willeke Alberti and a version of You Don’t Own Me by Italian singer Dalida. The Delmonas and French singer Fabienne Delsol also make an appearance in series two. “We try and find the unexpected,” said Grieves. Perfect for an enigmatic assassin.



Secrets and lies

Lynton Crosby's company majors in dark digital ads running secretive campaigns for Saudi Arabia and major polluters. Yet Facebook responds by saying CTF's practices do not breach its "coordinated inauthentic behaviour” policy. It would seem from this powerful Guardian investigation that is precisely what they do: Coordinate. Inauthentic. Behaviour. I suggest Facebook needs to take another look at its policy.


Unfair on the fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the highlight of the year for thousands of culture-lovers. So it's concerning to see that workers at the event are still being exploited by employers, according to activists. The Fair Fringe campaign is claiming that they're still subject to 'shameful' practices such as insufficient time off, low or no pay and 'terrible' working conditions.

This is a year on from its original report into poor treatment of staff at the festival and following criticism of the pay and conditions offered by major fringe operator C Venues. The Fair Fringe is urging people to sign their petition to lobby for better treatment. The situation at the Fringe highlights how it's time employers everywhere gave workers a fair deal.