This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 3rd February 2017.
Back in December, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced a new funding formula for schools. She promised to end "the historic unfairness". I'll admit I was more than a bit sceptical. Despite higher needs here, Barnsley's had bigger cuts to our public services than in many better-off parts of the country.
But Greening said: “This unfairness is seen right across the country. For example… a school in Barnsley could receive 50 per cent more funding, with no changes to its circumstances, if it were situated in Hackney instead.”
Interesting, I thought. Maybe the Government's finally listened? Not a chance. It's now emerged that our schools will have even less cash in future.
According to research from the teaching unions, any gains made by Barnsley schools will be outweighed by major budget cuts.
According to their 'School Cuts' website, school budgets in Barnsley will shrink in real terms by £6.58 million by 2019/2020.
For instance, figures show the All Saints Academy in Darfield could see its budget shrink by £130,836 by 2019/20 – a huge cut of £711 per pupil.
Over the same period, Shafton Primary Academy faces a £121,386 cut – the equivalent of £519 per pupil, or the equivalent of losing four teachers.
The Forest Academy in Kendray faces a £102,485 cut – the equivalent of £436 per pupil. That could be the equivalent of losing two teachers.
Oakhill Primary Academy faces a cut of £101,580 – the equivalent of £367 per pupil, a loss equivalent to losing two teachers. The list goes on.
These budget cuts come on top of existing teacher shortages in Barnsley - revealed in the Barnsley Chronicle - as well as cuts to children’s centres, libraries and school sports. It’s time the Government lived up to their promise to give Barnsley a fair deal.
That's why I’ve written to the Government to demand some answers. Our dedicated teaching staff, parents and most of all our young people deserve better.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 3rd February 2017. Back in December, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced a new funding formula for schools. She promised...
When I was in Israel at the end of last year visiting Yad Vashem, the deeply moving and powerful memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, I was reminded of a story I'd heard in a film: A young Israeli child is learning for the first time about what happened in the Holocaust in Europe and the child innocently asks "why didn't we send in our army?"
Back here in the UK, a recent survey in this country found that 91 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds did not even know what the word 'genocide' meant.
Today, on Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember what happened in the Holocaust and we remember the victims. But as well as remembering, we reaffirm our commitment to teach future generations about the Holocaust and about the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Bosna, Darfur and Rwanda.
Last year I also had the unbelievable privilege of spending time with Freda Wineman, one of the inspiring but now sadly dwindling number of Holocaust survivors, at the annual dinner for the fantastic Holocaust Education Trust.
We talked about many things. I recall she was keen to know what my constituency was like and in particular what life was like for young people in Barnsley - what opportunities they had, what problems they faced. I was also struck by the fact that Freda seemed to have amazing energy for her age. I couldn't quite believe how busy she still was in travelling around the country telling her story and educating people, especially children, about the Holocaust.
Freda, of course, was one of the lucky ones who survived. I've read that if we held a minutes silence for every victim of the Holocaust, we would be silent for the next eleven and a half years.
So today let us pause to remember what happened. But let's also vow to teach our children about what happened. When I signed the Holocaust Education Trust's Book of Condolence in the Houses of Parliament, I wrote: "This happened. So it could happen again."
When I was in Israel at the end of last year visiting Yad Vashem, the deeply moving and powerful memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, I was...
It seems like the crisis in the NHS is never out of the headlines at the moment – and sadly we're not immune to the problems here in Barnsley.
According to latest official figures, only 87.7 per cent of patients admitted to Barnsley Hospital’s A&E were seen within four hours – well below the 95 per cent target set by government.
But these figures were for November (before the cold weather). Despite the brilliant efforts of our dedicated NHS staff working under intense pressure, we may not know the worst of it yet.
That's why last week Dan Jarvis and I met with Barnsley Hospital’s chief executive, Diane Wake, and chairman, Stephen Wragg, to discuss action being taken to deal with the problems.
The Hospital is doing its best and has implemented contingency plans to cope with the crisis.
The pressure on Barnsley Hospital has increased partly because people are finding it harder to see a GP, so they turn up at A&E. For others, by the time they've managed to get an appointment with the GP, their illness has worsened and they need to go to hospital.
Government cuts of £4.6 billion to social care budgets have also put huge strains on hospitals because they are unable to discharge vulnerable patients due to a lack of home care.
There were always going to be pressures on the NHS - like an ageing population. But Government's cutbacks and bungling management of the NHS - like problems with NHS 111 - have created a perfect storm. And as I've argued, closing community pharmacies will only make things worse.
It's time the Government got a grip. That includes putting more money into easing the crisis. They could start with bringing forward the £700 million earmarked for social care in 2019/2020.
Responding to recent headlines, Ian McMillan tweeted: "I hope my last memory of the world is not the harsh light of a hospital corridor - and the sound of a rich country wringing its hands". Well said, Ian.
It seems like the crisis in the NHS is never out of the headlines at the moment – and sadly we're not immune to the problems here in Barnsley. According...
The following appeared as Michael's op-ed for The Guardian.
Good journalism is a vital part of our democracy. Our inquiry will look at false stories on the web and inaccurate reporting in the mainstream media
When the president-elect accuses US intelligence agencies of leaking lurid and unverified allegations about a Russian dossier on his private life, the global scale of the problem with fake news is clear. Donald Trump furiously denied the allegations to his 19.6 million followers on Twitter and at a press conference, condemning the leaks as something out of “Nazi Germany”. As the next leader of the free world, Trump has a powerful platform to rebut these salacious stories, apparently from a memo compiled by a former British intelligence officer. But even someone with views as unpalatable as Trump deserves to be scrutinised on the basis of truth and reality – not on fake news.
There is a clear duty on news organisations and journalists to make strenuous efforts to verify the information they receive to ensure it is accurate and to avoid the temptation to publish clickbait nonsense in a voracious quest for web traffic. It is not good enough to say we have serious doubts about this story, but we are going to publish it anyway.
Advances in technology and global communication, including how we consume news, have brought huge benefits. But they have also paved the way for fake news to become a worldwide problem. In America, we saw alarming attempts to influence the presidential election with hoax stories, among them the bogus claim that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump.
In Britain too, our politics risks becoming infected by this contagion. Rumours on social media can quickly get picked up by the mainstream media and given wider circulation without proper checks. We must not allow fake news to undermine our democracy or we risk the prospect of people’s political choices being formed on the basis of lies.
But the problem of fake news is not just about the damaging impact it can have on politics and democratic processes both here and abroad. It can also cause deep distress to individuals who find themselves the victims of these online make-up merchants and internet bullshit artists.
In December, England rugby star James Haskell became the latest famous name forced to deny that he was dead after fake news stories emerged on social media that he had died of a steroid overdose. It was left to Haskell to condemn the tales as “absolute rubbish”.
The authors of these fake news stories will probably never be discovered. But the way these stories swirl around the internet raises the question: what constitutes “news”? If a story is shared thousands of times, it can effectively be seen as news – regardless of whether it is based on truth or its provenance is clear – with the details, often unchecked, subsequently picked up by mainstream media. Even when a denial of the fake story is issued, it is often seen by far fewer people than the original tale which has done the damage.
The motivations of those behind these fake news stories are mixed. Some seek notoriety, while others are in it for the money by dragging clickbait traffic to their websites. For others, it is about promoting propaganda or deliberately creating false stories to damage those you wish to undermine.
But our determination to tackle fake news does not mean that we shouldn’t embrace the changes in the way people now consume news. Nor does it mean that we are against the increased plurality and independence from vested interests that the internet offers.
For too long, the way news is reported in Britain has been concentrated in the hands of those who run the mainstream media. The news agenda has been dominated by national newspapers, large sections of which are controlled by unaccountable billionaires. The explosion in the number of outlets means people have more choice than ever about how, when and from where they get their news.
The dominance of tech giants like Google and Facebook means they are often the gateway into accessing news material – something that gives them huge power over what we see. And with that power must come greater responsibility. It leaves the government facing similar policy challenges over plurality, ownership and potential monopolies that previous governments faced when newspapers were the dominant force.
The Labour party inquiry that I have been asked to lead will look at the changing ways that news is consumed and shared online, as well as the practical, political and ethical issues raised by fake news. It will examine what more social media and news websites could be doing to make sure readers see a wider variety of views, and whether they have a responsibility to prevent fake news stories being shared. The inquiry will also look at what online communities could do to help verify news stories and advise consumers of deliberate and malicious hoaxes. We plan to take evidence from a wide range of groups and compile a report later this year.
But in the course of this inquiry, we must reject the false choice offered by some that we can either look at fake news on the internet, or we can tackle inaccurate reporting in the mainstream media. This is not an “either/or”. And we must demand high standards in both.
We in the Labour party, who have so often been on the wrong side of misrepresentation and unfair attacks from the rightwing media, have a responsibility to be vigilant and reject fake news material on social media and elsewhere – even if it purports to come from the left. Everyone who wants to see honest and rigorous news reporting, proper fact-checking, investigative journalism and robust political debate also has an interest in fighting fake news. The only people who have anything to fear from this inquiry are those who are deliberately spreading stories they know to be untrue or those who are turning a blind eye to it.
We have a responsibility to stand up for good journalism everywhere. It is an essential part of our free speech and our democracy. The old adage that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes has never been more true. The growing risks posed to our democracy mean we can no longer ignore the threat from the proliferation of false news stories.
The following appeared as Michael's op-ed for The Guardian. Good journalism is a vital part of our democracy. Our inquiry will look at false stories on the web and inaccurate...
On New Year's Eve we sing: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot?" Rather like the character in in the film 'When Harry Met Sally', I've never understood why we sing it. I certainly don't believe it.
Many of us have lost loved ones in the past year – friends and relatives. New Year's Eve is often when we think of them. I thought about my grandmother, who died before Christmas of dementia.
2016 was also year that saw the passing of so many of the 'great and the good' - pop stars, actors, and TV personalities.
For me, I'll always remember that 2016 was the year that Jo Cox was murdered. She had only been an MP for a year, but she made such a difference.
I first met this fiercely brave Yorkshire woman 20 years ago. And this Christmas I thought in particular about her husband - my old mate Brendan - and their young children.
It's hard to see what good could possibly come out of the horrific circumstances surrounding her death.
But before she died, Jo was working with MPs from all parties on tackling loneliness in our society. Her Commission on Loneliness will launch at the end of this month and will look at finding solutions to a problem that affects so many people in our society.
According to Age UK, 82,500 people aged over 60 in Yorkshire and the Humber were on their own over the festive season. Across the country, around 1.2 million people are said to be “chronically lonely” or had been coping with loneliness for years.
We should all be doing more to visit neighbours, relatives and friends that might benefit from a bit of company.
2016 was the year when we said a sad farewell to Jo Cox, but let's make 2017 a year when she will not be forgotten - and where we honour her memory by continuing the work she began.
On New Year's Eve we sing: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot?" Rather like the character in in the film 'When Harry Met Sally', I've never understood why we sing it. I...
This column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 30 December 2016.
Whatever else 2016 is remembered for, this will be the year when a new word really entered the English language: Brexit.
A couple of weeks ago I voted in the House of Commons for Brexit and for the Government to invoke so-called Article 50 – the process by which we get the ball rolling on Britain leaving the EU – at the end of March next year.
In the referendum I campaigned to Remain. I did so knowing most people in Barnsley would vote to Leave, which you may think is a little counter-intuitive for a politician.
But politicians should also do what they think is right and stand up for what they believe in – not simply go with the tide.
I was worried what might happen to the economy if we came out (with forecasts for growth being revised downwards and government borrowing set to be billions higher, I still am). When the economy goes belly up, places like Barnsley tend to struggle the most.
I also never believed the claim from some Tories and UKIP (who want to privatise the NHS) that Brexit would deliver billions more for our cash-strapped National Health Service.
Most importantly I did understand and shared many of the concerns that people had about the EU, especially the scale and pace of ‘free movement of people’ that can put pressure on communities and have a downward impact on pay and conditions. I’ve argued for donkey’s years that Labour needed to champion tough new controls on immigration, despite its undoubted benefits in some areas.
But in the end I voted for Brexit because we must now respect the will of the people.
Yes, the Government needs a proper plan. Brexit can’t mean Britain going backwards on jobs and workers’ rights.
But I think it’s our job to get on with it – uncertainty itself is bad for the economy. And it’s our job to get the best deal for Britain and for Barnsley. That’s exactly what I intend to do in 2017.
This column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 30 December 2016. Whatever else 2016 is remembered for, this will be the year when a new word really entered the...
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 9th December 2016.
150 years ago, at 1.15pm on 12 December 1866, a huge explosion was heard for miles around in Barnsley. As a powerful new exhibition at Experience Barnsley records, word spread quickly: "The Oaks has fired".
The catastrophe at the Oaks Colliery near Stairfoot remains the worst disaster in the history of coal mining in England, killing 383 men and boys - including 27 volunteers who joined the rescue effort.
Our history is hugely important to us in Barnsley. As someone who grew up in a South Yorkshire pit village close to my Barnsley East constituency, I know that we must never forget where we came from.
That's why it is fitting that there are a series of events planned to remember those who lost their lives in the Oaks disaster.
I am honoured to be a patron of the Oaks 150th Anniversary Disaster Memorial Fund Campaign which has raised the money for a statue by local sculptor Graham Ibbeson to be erected at the site in the Spring.
With the funds raised locally and with the excellent backing of the NUM, the statue will be a permanent reminder of that terrible day.
On Sunday morning, I will be joining local people at a special service on the site of Barnsley Main, which took over the Oaks Colliery workings, to remember those who died.
A total of 383 crosses, with a name of a man or boy who perished etched on each one, will be placed at the commemoration in a fitting tribute devised by Barnsley’s deputy mayor, Cllr Brian Mathers.
The disaster at the Oaks shattered a community well accustomed to the difficult and dangerous work of miners. The bodies of some of the victims were never recovered.
The youngest boy to die was just 11.
The coal industry powered an industrial revolution in Britain and it made a few people very rich indeed. But it also came at an incredible cost to many of the communities and people who worked in it.
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 9th December 2016. 150 years ago, at 1.15pm on 12 December 1866, a huge explosion was heard for miles around in Barnsley. As...
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 25 November 2016.
A few months ago I was watching an old comedy called ‘Clockwise’ about a headmaster starring John Cleese. His wife in the film takes two old ladies out for a drive in the country. Although never mentioned in the movie, the two elderly women clearly have dementia.
But the impression given in the film is that dementia is almost a jolly condition: the two women are amusingly portrayed as ‘away with the fairies’, yet seemingly cheerfully happy in themselves. Sadly, this is not the reality of dementia in many cases.
A few weeks ago my grandmother, Jean Dugher, died. The woman I remember was intelligent and full of love. She was also a fine looking woman – a regular winner of the ‘glamourous granny’ competition on the caravanning holidays I remember from my childhood.
But when I saw her last, the dementia that had for years slowly devastated her mind had also in the end destroyed her body – despite the tender loving care she had received from my grandfather and from our NHS.
When I looked into her eyes for that heart-breaking final time, I saw a woman not merely bewildered, but utterly terrified.
Dementia is the worst kind of thief. It breaks into your home. But instead of robbing your stereo, it steals away a precious loved one. And it can devastate the human body like any kind of cancer.
Unfortunately, many more of us will suffer from it. There were around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK last year. This is projected to grow to over a million in 2025 and over two million by 2051.
Fortunately, research is getting better all the time – thanks to people like Selina Wray, the Barnsley-born world-renowned Alzheimer’s scientist.
Selina is also ambassador for BIADS, the fantastic Barnsley dementia charity that I’ve been patron of since 2010.
As our understanding grows, treatment is getting better too. There is some wonderful care available out there. But don’t let anyone kid you dementia is a barrel of laughs.
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 25 November 2016. A few months ago I was watching an old comedy called ‘Clockwise’ about a headmaster starring John Cleese. ...
The following piece appeared on Politics Home on 17 November 2016.
This week Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, led a delegation of MPs, including Rosie Winterton, Gloria De Piero, Ruth Smeeth and Michael, to visit Israel and the Palestinian Territories. At Yad Vashem, the powerful memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, Tom laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance on behalf of the whole British Labour Party. We also met with our sister party - fellow socialists dedicated to promoting peace in the region.
The backdrop to our visit with the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) was though, to say the least, challenging. The original invitation to visit Yad Vashem was made to Jeremy Corbyn by Isaac Herzog, the Israeli Labor leader, following months of grim headlines about anti-Semitism inside the Labour party back in the UK.
A few months ago in London, I remember attending the incredibly moving annual dinner for the Holocaust Education Trust (HET) where I had the enormous privilege of sitting next to Freda Wineman, one of the inspiring but sadly dwindling number of Holocaust survivors who support HET's amazing work promoting lessons from the Holocaust amongst young people in Britain today. I remembered the sense of shame as Ken Livingstone's comments about Hitler were referenced at the dinner.
Allegations involving high-profile figures like Ken Livingstone or Momentum's Jackie Walker, reports about anti-Semitic incidents at Oxford University Labour Club, the unsavoury furore over Shami Chakrabarti's controversial peerage, as well as anti-Semitic attacks on Labour MPs like Luciana Berger or Ruth Smeeth, have all been front page news in Israel.
We wanted to come to Jerusalem and say that abhorrent anti-Semitic views do not represent the British Labour party. At Yad Vashem we not only remembered the victims of the Holocaust, history's greatest crime against humanity, but renewed our determination to fighting anti-Semitism and the foul hatred that fuelled it.
On our arrival in Israel we were also reminded about the current stalemate in the Middle East peace process, a cause of great concern and deep frustration for myself and many others. Several years ago I remember Tony Blair, then Middle East peace envoy, telling a number of us that however bad things get in the Middle East, the key is to keep some kind of process alive. Sadly that is not the case at the moment.
We know that we cannot affect change from the sidelines. Britain can be a force for good when we build up strong international alliances based on friendship, solidarity and a determination to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace. That's another reason why the negative press about our party in Israel has been so damaging. You can't have any influence when you're not in the room.
Of course Labour in the UK, like our sister party in Israel, have many huge differences with the current Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. We are against settlements. We defend Israel's right to exist free from terror, but we also support the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
It's incredibly helpful, positive and well-received when Labour MPs, especially senior figures like Tom Watson, seize any opportunity to engage with Israel and the Palestinian Territories and crucially the delegation will include Labour's general secretary, Iain McNicol.
But there is no substitute for engagement from the very top. Sadly, Jeremy Corbyn's office say that he is too busy to visit Yad Vashem anytime soon. That's a real shame and a missed opportunity. I genuinely think that Jeremy would find the visit moving and informative.
Yad Vashem is a place I've been to many times. Every time I go there is the almost overwhelming sense of horror about what happened during the Holocaust. Yet amongst the despair, there is always a little hope - like the stories of the 'Righteous Among the Nations' the non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jews and who are honoured at the memorial.
And on every visit I see something I hadn't noticed before. This year it was some examples of very early Nazi propaganda showing how Jews were negatively caricatured in language and imagery, long before they were sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. That is how it all started.
Whilst the backdrop to our trip this week was difficult, fort all the gloom and doom, our visit has also instilled a sense of hope for the future of the region. Whilst there is little improvement at a political level, at a grassroots level there are signs of a powerful movement for progress and peace in a number of impressive co-existence projects.
It was particularly heart-warming to meet a young Palestinian, Marina Burshen, and a young Israeli, Anat Gilenson, in East Jerusalem who had participated together in the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET) programme. Viewing the success of these projects first-hand has only strengthened my view that these are essential to any long-term peace, and I would urge all those supportive of this goal to support the LFI campaign for the UK to significantly increase its funding on co-existence projects like Meet.
We know that Jeremy Corbyn has had a longstanding interest in the Middle East. But there is so much to see. And a visit to Yad Vashem in particular would do so much good. British Airways, Easy Jet and El Al all do regular flights from London to Tel Aviv. So what are you waiting for, Jeremy?
The following piece appeared on Politics Home on 17 November 2016. This week Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, led a delegation of MPs, including Rosie Winterton, Gloria De Piero, Ruth Smeeth...
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 11 November 2016.
Can you remember what you were doing at the beginning of July? With the dark nights drawing in and the weather turning distinctly chilly, summer seems like a long time ago.
1st July marked the centenary of the Battle of the Somme – the worst day in the history of the British armed forces in terms of casualties.
Hundreds of 'Barnsley Pals', local men who joined up together to form two “Pals” battalions in the York and Lancaster Regiment, were among more than 57,000 casualties on that terrible day.
But what most people don't realise is that the Battle of the Somme raged until 18 November 1916.
If July seems like a long time ago, what must it have felt like for those young lads fighting for four and a half long months in the trenches a hundred years ago?
To mark the centenary, I revisited the battlefield in July with my family. I wanted my children to understand the courage and sacrifice behind the tributes we pay on Remembrance Sunday.
And, like thousands of people in Barnsley, I will be honouring the fallen on Remembrance Sunday this weekend.
Every year I go to a different part of my Barnsley East constituency to support a local branch of the Royal British Legion.
This year, I will be at the Church of St Mary and the War Memorial in Wombwell.
Sadly, the membership of our Royal British Legion branches has declined as we say farewell to many stalwarts, particularly Second World War veterans.
But, did you know that you don’t have to be a veteran to join the Legion and support their fantastic work?
Their Poppy Appeal is not only about remembering the fallen, but also helping the living by providing support for servicemen and women, veterans and their families.
Summer does seem like a long time ago. But this Remembrance weekend, do spend a few moments filling in a form to join the Royal British Legion. It doesn't take long and it makes a real difference.
The following piece appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 11 November 2016. Can you remember what you were doing at the beginning of July? With the dark nights drawing in...