The "Buy one broken promise, get another one free" edition

Your weekly update from Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour Party. 

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Doing what I can to halt the illnesses caused by our country's obesity crisis is, as you probably know by now, one of my greatest determinations.

So I am left in despair by today's announcement by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of "new measures to halve childhood obesity by 2030".

At first glance the principles seem good: outlaw energy drinks for kids, halt cheap offers of giant chocolate bars at the tills, restrictions on junk food advertising, and mandatory calorie labelling on menus in restaurants.

But then look at the caveats."We will consult on introducing", "This could include extending", and then worst of all "The government is also today calling on industry to recognise the harm..."

What we are left with is the usual Tory fudge when it comes to dealing with big business - in this case, the giant food conglomerates.

Instead of announcing action now, Hunt has kicked everything into the long grass of consultation and even dangled the age-old prospect of voluntary regulation into the mix.

This offers no help for people who, for far too long, have struggled with their weight and been judged and jeered at. The system is stacked against us all - our food is pumped full of sugar, we're bombarded with advertising, with healthy choices often hard to find.

Yesterday on the eve of Hunt's announcement,  I wrote an article for the Mirror with Jon Ashworth, shadow health secretary, which concluded: 

"The obesity crisis is a timebomb too dangerous to be ignored. The Government's failure to act is threatening the health of the nation for generations to come. Its last obesity plan was a national disgrace. This time it must do better."

I'm sorry to report, it has not done better. It has failed us again.


Tory MP says Theresa Talks Tosh


This week I reported Theresa May to the Advertising Standards Authority for using misleading advertising to suggest that there will be a "Brexit dividend" to deal with the NHS crisis.

Mrs May's own backbench MP Dr Sarah Wollaston has dismissed the claim as "tosh", and the respected Institute of Fiscal Studies has stated: "There isn't a Brexit dividend."

Government departments have a duty to comply with ASA rules that ads must not mislead and that objective claims are supported by robust evidence.

Given the importance of the NHS to the millions who follow government advertising on No 10's official twitter feed, I asked the ASA to investigate whether Mrs May's claim breaches its policy.

I believe Mrs May's "Brexit dividend" is at best misleading and at worst a complete myth.

I shall look forward to the ASA's response.

   


For Billy's sake

 

On Tuesday I said the  heart-rending case of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell - and the courage of his mother battling for his life - had highlighted the inhumanity of the current law around the medicinal use of cannabis.

There are an estimated 30,000 people using cannabis illegally in this country to treat chronic pain, chemo-induced nausea, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, spasticity in multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and - as in Billy's case - epilepsy.

The following day, I was delighted when Diane Abbott announced that Labour was now officially in support of legalising the medicinal use of cannabis. Parliament has bottled a humane decision for far too long, amid fear of tabloid condemnation. The time has now come to change the law.


Of milk and water 


"I was six years old. My mum had the same thing on the menu every single day: Bread and milk. When you’re a kid, you don’t even think about it. Then this one day, she was smiling like everything was cool. But I realised right away what was going on.

"She was mixing water in with the milk. We didn’t have enough money to make it last the whole week. We were broke. Not just poor, but broke. But I swear to God, I made a promise to myself that day. I knew exactly what I had to do, and what I was going to do."

Those are the humbling words of Manchester Utd and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku. Do read his brutal, tear-jerking, yet uplifting account of triumph in the face of adversity


Sights of shame


The sight of 8-month pregnant Laura Pidcock (in agony), Jo Swinson (two days overdue), and Naz Shah (in a wheelchair with severe back pain), turning up in person to vote in the House of Commons this week shamed parliament for the way it treats pregnant women and sick MPs.

The time to debate the niceties about how to reform our archaic proxy voting system has now passed. It's time something was done about it.


Battlefield heroines

 

Fans of Battlefield V are upset the video game features women combatants. They’ve even created #NotMyBattlefield to accuse the producers of ‘mindless political correctness.’ But as writer Tracy King points out in the New Statesman (paywall) gamers need a history lesson. Women defended Britain too, including King’s grandmother Jeanne who was in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Hundreds in the ATS were killed on duty. For them and those who survived, war was no game.


Fair pay fringe


Having successfully brought in the minimum wage, Labour is also committed to raising it. That goes for workers in every sector including the arts. So I’m in support of new guidelines to improve wages and working conditions at the Edinburgh Fringe. The Fringe is a showcase for some of the best talent in the industry. But it has emerged some workers at the event last year were on zero hours contracts and unpaid ‘trial’ shifts.

The staff who help maintain the Fringe’s international reputation should not be exploited through poverty wages.


32Red alert

 

Betting firm 32Red has been fined £2m by the Gambling Commission for failing to protect a problem gambler who had deposited £758,000 in just over two years.

The judgement reveals that on 22 occasions 32 Red's internal system flagged up that the customer might be a problem gambler. How did they deal with the issue? They sent free bonus bets with an instruction to carry on gambling.

This is just the latest in a long and growing line of fines for the UK's betting firms. It shows once again that there is a systemic and callous disregard by the industry towards problem and vulnerable gamblers.

And it's time we starting taking their licences to operate away.


Beating the dhol for Banghra

 

It's more than 40 years since Bhangra was exported from Punjab to Birmingham, then across the UK, mainland Europe and North America. Yet Apple and many other music software platforms still don't bracket Bhangra as a specific music genre.


Now Punjab2000 has launched a change.org petition to bring long overdue recognition. Let's bang the drum - or dhol, if you have one - for Bhangra!


Where's Boris?

 

In 2015 Boris Johnson pledged to lie in front of the bulldozers to stop a third runway at Heathrow. On Monday evening, when the Tories will use a three-line whip to vote through the runway project, Boris will conveniently be out of the country. 

If he had an ounce of principle, he'd resign. But he's just a man of straw.

    

Heathrow really is an issue where MPs have to judge what’s right for their constituents in the long term. It strikes me that Theresa May should join Jeremy in offering a free vote to her MPs.

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