Thursday, 25 October 2007

Muddle England

Fascinating article in this week's New Statesman that gives an interesting insight into what 'Middle England' is.

Surprisingly, it's a lot more liberal (with a small l!) than we think.

But I think more importantly, it shows how vital it is for Labour to continue to meet people's aspirations.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Move along now, there's nothing to see!

When advertising on the back of a bus, you've always got to think about the exhaust pipe!

Hat tip to Recess Monkey

Monday, 22 October 2007

Seconds for free school meals?

Great to see that the legacy of Eat Well Do Well continues to have ramifications across the UK.

The Scottish Executive, having studied our universal school meals programme, will today provide free lunch for more than 35,000 primary school children for six months in five areas across Scotland.

I seriously believe that the Hull pilot will be held up as a turning point in the fight against child obesity.

The University of Hull evaluation of Eat Well Do Well will be out this year, which should confirm the initial findings that pupils' concentration and readiness to learn was improving.

Hopefully this study will spark a real debate into what we can do to give our children life-long healthy eating habits and what price we're prepared to pay for it.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Liberation, liberation, liberation

In the week that Phil and Kirsty gave Hull its now yearly kicking, I was really proud to see our sons and daughters making history in Westminster - again.

The cast of Hull Truck Youth Theatre's Slavers last night became the first actors and actresses to ever perform at the House of Commons to mark the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. They perfomed in Westminster Hall, just after children from around the world - including Hull again - discussed slavery in a special parliamentary debate organised by the British Council and JP.

The play Slavers, by my mate Rupert Creed, is a really, really powerful piece of theatre - a ‘back-to-the-future story’ that recreates the tale of the slave trade and its abolition through the eyes of young people in Hull.

More than 200 people crammed into the Grand Committee room to see it and we all witnessed a very moving performance from such a talented cast with pupils from Hull College, Trinity House, Archbishop Thurstan, Endeavour High and Malet Lambert.

To top it off, Hull's Freedom Road singers performed on the Commons terrace at the after-show reception.

All-in-all, it was great to see that 200 years after Wilberforce, Hull people still making their mark in the corridors of power - only this time, they were all wearing hoodies!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Food for Thought

It seems modern life is slowly killing us. We do less exercise, we eat convenient ready meals and we drive everywhere we can.

The Foresight report on obesity out today is quite disturbing. To think that 60% of men, 50% of women and a quarter of children and young people would be obese by 2050 unless we start to do something now. And that’s before you add up the estimated £45 billion a year it’ll cost Britain.

That’s why it’s so important to teach children healthy eating habits as young as possible. All the research shows that inactive children who eat unhealthy foods do not develop into active healthy adults.

Bringing back practical cookery lessons into our schools, educating children about nutrition and a ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed will all help.

But we had the best answer all along – universal free school meals for every primary school pupil.

Two thirds of pupils claimed the free healthy meals and this would have only grown higher if the Lib Dems hadn’t shamelessly scrapped them. In Sweden and Finland, where healthy school meals are free, take up is now between 85% and 95% - in Hull it’s dropped to a third. The University of Hull study found that better nutritional intake improved concentration and readiness to learn so it’s a no brainer that we should do everything we can to encourage our kids to eat healthy food.

So how about this – we currently have £107 million from the last tranche of KC shares sitting in the bank doing nothing, other than earning a very healthy £7m a year in interest.

Universal Free School Meals cost £3m a year so why don’t we ring fence that and make it our yearly health dividend for our kids.

They’ll develop healthy eating habits that will last them a life time, they’ll do better at school and we’ll save money by stopping them becoming obese.

It's food for thought.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Bremner, Bird and Misfortune

I've never actually found Rory Bremner funny.

I think the way he conned Margaret Beckett into believing she was speaking to Gordon Brown was somewhat childish but to then publish the transcript and try to broadcast a misleading and confidential call was the kind of thing you'd expect from the News of the World.

I met him back in the 90s and he bragged to me like a naughty schoolboy how he used to call Blair's office pretending to be Tony. Years later on the Andrew Marr show, he did one of those "witty" monologues and the sound of tumbleweed during his set was deafening. He had to beg for people to laugh.

But he's completely over stepped the mark with his "joke" on Sunday's show that Gordon Brown was so desperate for popularity that he would discover Madeleine McCann on the eve of an election to win votes.

Channel 4's feeble excuse was that it was aimed at politicians. A spokesman defending the sketch, said it was not aimed at the McCanns but "the lengths to which politicians would go to win public support."

This is the same Channel 4 that consitently misled viewers on phone call competitions and refused to throw out women who made racist comments against another housemate on Big Brother because the ratings were too damn good.

Is it any wonder that this country has such a cynical view of polticians when public school boy pranksters like Bremner play fast and loose with people's emotions for cheap laughs. I'm sure the McCanns will stoically refuse to comment and Rory will think he's got away with it.

But I hope Ofcom, who've already received 32 official complaints from viewers, gives Bremner and C4 both barrels.

Either that or force him to watch his own show.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

In sickness and in wealth

It's my third wedding anniversary this weekend. Three years ago today Roz and I tied the knot in a wonderful catholic service at Westminster Cathedral. It seemed half of Kerry came over for the big day and we had sore heads for a few days after!

We decided to marry for three main reasons - commitment, a desire to show the world that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with each other and most importantly, love. I'm pretty sure young couples will always make that decision along the same lines.

I'm equally convinced that when a young man goes down on bended knee and gazes into his lover's eyes he won't say: "Marry me darling - the tax credit is a compelling fiscal argument for our martimonial merger."

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham claims that rewarding married couples through the tax system is just his personal view I do hope it stays that way.

My best man was Colin. He has two lovely kids and a great partner. But they chose not to marry and it works for them. So why should they miss out on a tax cut just because they're not Mr and Mrs Turner? They're a very stable and loving family, they're great parents and they work hard to give their children everything they need. So why should they subsidise married couples? Whether you like it or not, moving to such a system would be judgemental.

After a bruising couple of weeks and unfair accusations that we have just lifted Tory policies on non doms and inheritance tax (and that £600,000 threshold is only available to married couples) do we really need to be seen to be following Cameron's lead again by having a debate on how to encourage or reward marriage through the tax system?

We know funding's going to be tight over the next year but I think there are much greater priorities in Britain - a fairer deal for our pensioners, employment rights for temporary and agency workers and building more affordable homes and council houses - than a tax break for Mr and Mrs Smith.

Friday, 5 October 2007

TV worth watching

It's fair to say that the left has taken some time to make the most of the internet.

The right stole a march with internet TV but now I'm glad to say we've finally caught up with the launch of CampaignTV. (I'll declare an interest - they're friends of mine and I've been given then some programming advice.)

It hosts a selection of films and shows from on issues from a left wing viewpoint. If you have a few minutes then please watch their film on How to Beat the BNP.

It tells the story of Labour's successful campaign to stop the BNP gaining more seats in Sandwell in the West Midlands. In 2006 they won three seats, bringing the BNP group on the council up to four. This year they reckoned to make further gains and stood in 15 seats.

In the end NONE of the 15 candidates got elected, Labour majorities in the target seats INCREASED ten times over and the total BNP vote dropped by a third. This was down to tactics like making and distributing 7000 DVDs showing how Labour had benefited Sandwell to target wards. It was a combined effort from Labour, my union Amicus-Unite, local teachers, religious leaders and the Hope Not Hate campaign.

Just shows what we can do when we keep it local and work together.
Click here to watch it and be inspired.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The Tories have worked themselves up into a real lather over Gordon's visit to Iraq.

This was his first visit since becoming PM. What better way to avail yourself of the current situation then going out there and seeing it for yourself, talking to the troops and meeting the Iraqi government.

But Cameron's cronies have accused him of playing politics with "our boys," conveniently forgeting their own leader's visits to Afghanistan and Iraq with camera crews in tow.

The problem is that when the Westminster village and the media are caught up in election fever, visits like this tend to get interpreted this way (Wrongly in my opinon, but there you go.)

So expect hours of pontification on rolling news channels, yards of comment in the papers and a loud yawn from the electorate. A recent poll found Gordon has done a great job in his first 100 days but almost two thirds of the public don't really want an election now.

If we want to win back public trust in the democratic process and politcians, I think we must remove the Royal Prerogative power of Government to dissolve parliament.

Gordon has already proposed a change in the Green Paper on Constitutional Reform, 'Reforming the Governance of Britain,' to devolve this decision to MPs.

I think this is a great start and along with other proposals in the paper - allowing parliament to have a say on whether we go to war, ratify treaties and appoint judges - it shows that the democratic principle is in Gordon's DNA.

But I think we should go one step further and introduce fixed term parliaments.

We have fixed term governance in every other institution that we vote for - only Westminster is the exception.

If we knew when we'd be going to the polls, our local parties would be able to better plan their General Election campaigns, ramp up resources around the peak areas of activity and allow their candidate to bed in and start campaigning at the earliest opportunity.

It would help to prove that we are selfless reformers putting the people's interest at the very heart of our democratic process.

Monday, 1 October 2007

The Railway Sleeper

Caught the 0600 out of Paragon today to get up to Gateshead for a school visit.

We were just out of Hull when we came to a halt. Five minutes passed, then ten, then 20 before an embarrased voice came over the tannoy.

"I'm sorry but we're held up here because the man who operates the crossing has slept in. We've been told they're trying to find a substitute. The 5.20's stuck ahead of us too."

We Brits tend to be somewhat fatalistic and easily prepared to accept it was just one of those things.

Except it wasn't.

After forty minutes, the guard made a point of coming to personally apologise to us. It was a nice touch but then he added: "You know what, it's the third time he's slept in and done this in the last six weeks!"

So on three occasions Hull was effectively cut off from the British rail network. More than ten trains were delayed, hundreds of people were late and many missed their connections all because one dozy twonk couldn't wake up.

As my blood started to boil, I was left hoping it'd be third time unlucky for this railway sleeper and that he'd get the chance to sleep in more often - on his own time!