Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Our politics, my take and where we go from here

I didn't take part in the 2019 General Election, except to host a series of hustings for Quest Media Group in their circulation areas of High Peak, Ashton and Stalybridge & Hyde. It also seems like I haven't taken part in this blog much either, which is neglectful.

There are a few reasons for that; I've got a lot on. But there's also plenty of opinion out there, so I'm not making a priority of pitching hot takes and ready made opinions into a crowded market. However, a few common themes keep emerging in meetings and snatched conversations though that could do with a wider consideration.

So, here are a few longer pieces I want to write:

Me and politics - I started the year pledging to work hard to build a new political movement, getting selected to stand in an election, campaigning and sticking with it for a while. I ended the year totally disengaged. What happened?

The sheer scale of Labour's defeat hasn't sunk in with the members - I've heard it said that the Labour period of reflection will be based on suffering four straight election defeats. I disagree. Most of the Labour selectorate don't think like that. They weren't around for 2010 and 2015, they think they won in 2017 and the 2019 defeat was only because of the media and Brexit. One more heave should do it. Glen O'Hara nails it all in his long read here.

Find and Replace "industrial+strategy" - The nature and character of this Conservative government is still widely misunderstood. I'm not even convinced that they'll 'get Brexit done' to the satisfaction of Nigel Farage and the ERG.

The cunning genius theory - what's all the fuss about Dominic Cummings?

Evil conspiracy theory - how do the left think? Who is rigging the rigged system? Why are bad things happening? Who are "the few"? And why this is a really big problem.

Electoral reform, if only the rules had been different - The Tories wouldn't be in power if the electoral system had been proportional representation by national vote share. Yes, and Manchester United would have beaten Liverpool if shots over the bar counted as three points as they do in rugby. It's also highly unlikely ever to be ceded by a government elected on first past the post.

The nature and character of this Conservative government - I can't say it enough, but this is a new government in every conceivable way.

The limits and opportunities of Metro Mayors and devolution - I'm literally writing a thesis on this, so yes, it's on my mind.

Optimism and a positive view of the future - the Tories had one, none of the others did, maybe the SNP? - guess what, it works. How do the rest of us build this?

Monday, January 06, 2020

Lunch of the month for December - the Couch Potato in All Saints

The Manchester lunch of the month for December was this hearty and warming baked spud with tuna from the Couch Potato van on All Saints Park.

I nipped across the road to the Eighth Day deli for a Longley Farm cottage cheese with chives to go on the side. I used to go here at least once a week when I worked in All Saints and I have heard people being a bit snooty about it. Personally I love it, I always have a good crack with the team there and with the punters in the queue, especially builders from the sites nearby. They often have choice things to say about protesters who use the square. All life is here. Once the bloke gave me a baked potato that was so big, and with such a massive filling, he almost couldn’t close the lid. “There you go lad, a big one there for you. You’ll sleep well this afternoon.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Special mentions for Dishoom, where we had our team Christmas lunch, and which was spectacular, but rather extravagant to qualify for this competition; but also for Barbakan deli in Chorlton, where I frequently visit for work. Their custom built Polish meatloaf, tomato, mushroom, onion and mustard beauty was made with real enthusiasm.

I'll be back to picking a winner once a week from now on, with a monthly winner announced at the end of the month.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

This thing of ours - so lucky

I've said before how much I cherish our trips to the football with two of my lads. The rock on which this is built is partly our bond, but also the underlying foundation of football culture in our country. Sometimes it can be toxic and repellent, but for the most part we need to remind ourselves that it is a collective pursuit of a common good and something unifying in a time of division. Afterall, all living is meeting, and we have a really good laugh along the way.

We had a great fun day out in the sponsors lounge at Stoke with a mate and his business colleagues, who generously let the lads present the man of the match award to a gutted Joe Allen. He's probably our favourite Stoke player, though that's particularly for his international performances as the Welsh Xavi. 

Then the next Saturday, on the train home from our win over Derby, three lads from Finland got on my horrible Northern Rail train home at Manchester Piccadilly. They'd been to Everton v Chelsea, they were then heading for Norwich for a game the next day to see the Canaries Finnish striker Teemu Pukki. Clearly they were on the wrong train, having been as confused as I often am by Platform 13, and I so hope they managed to get to Carrow Road eventually. But in that short space of a journey to Stockport we talked about so much, mainly Shefki Kuqi, Stockport County and next year's European Championships, the first major tournament Finland have qualified for.

"You are so lucky," one said, while his mate shuffled anxiously through the Trainline app to find another route across our rail network. "To have this football culture in your country. We have nothing like this." He's so right, we are lucky.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

New blog feature - Manchester lunches - and the first winner is... R&V

I've started a new feature on this blog and on Instagram. Manchester lunches.

It's not a fine dining extravaganza, but where I might go in the middle of the day, either with someone I'm externally engaging with (it's my job, afterall), or catching up with one of the sons.

I picked my best one each week through November, which included Tampopo (quality but pricey and in a poor location), Cafe Istanbul (solid and filling) and VietShack in Ancoats, which did a spectacularly spicy and dirty plate of Viet fries.

But the best all round lunch of this month was a new discovery, R and V on Oxford Street opposite Churchgate House, HQ of the Greater Manchester Mayor and other 'family' institutions. I went with a politician from one of the Boroughs who highly recommended it. He wasn't wrong. The ciabatta was a decent base for a Brasilien chicken salad sandwich with pineapple, cashews and salad. Really fresh and tasty. Another major plus was the space downstairs with a really chilled ambience.

The comments on the post also suggested that the owner really knows what he's doing and has the respect of some decent foodie types.

I’m getting quite militant about this now, there really is no excuse for eating crap at lunchtime in the city centre.

Friday, November 29, 2019

A grand day out in Sunderland - the People's Powerhouse

I came away from the People's Powerhouse convention in Sunderland earlier this month with two burning thoughts. The first was the way we use language and the way we refer to actual people. These can be emotional times and we have to be feisty to get what we want. And there’s a but coming. But there has never been a more urgent need to dial down the hate and to channel the anger. There are other people out there who want to build walls. I loved the Tortoise Media “think in” about how we can fix British politics, partly because I despair of the choice we’re faced with. But we need to go out and have conversations like that in communities, in cafes, in church halls, in schools and workplaces. I want to build bridges; and that means an urgent conversation with people when you might not like what they have to say.

The second thought was the power of “one”. Nazir Afzal’s talk was both joyous and shocking. Any conversation will shock and upset when it talks about victims of rape, grooming gangs, terrorists and, yes, family members who thought they were killing for ‘honour’. But it was joyous for how one man uses his impatience, persistence and canny sense of timing to correct wrongs. We need to take on bad people in workplaces and communities. That needs to fuel a narrative of love, against the easy answers of hate. And I know that’s hard.

I love the spirit of the People’s Powerhouse. I’ll be honest, I still like the idea of the northern powerhouse. But creating an unstoppable movement in the middle of perfect storm isn’t easy. But we don’t have a choice. We have no choice at all.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Two games in two days - and the goal of the season so far

I had the good fortune to go to two games this week. On Tuesday I was part of a group at work who took some international visitors to see Pep Guardiola's Manchester City in the Champions League v Shakta Donetsk, fully expecting them to present a masterclass in tika taka pass and move.

That came last night instead at Blackburn Rovers' 1-0 win over Brentford. In fact, if Raheem Sterling had scored that goal after starting a flowing move linking in Kevin de Bruyne, Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus and Gundogan then it would be hailed as the goal of the season. For us it was a great way to win a game in some style. Something that says that on our day Blackburn Rovers are a decent team.

The stand out performances last night were Corry Evans and Danny Graham. I say that without any slight intended on any other player. They each of them brought the very best out of the other players around them, Evans to Travis, Graham to Dack. Danny Graham is such a leader on the pitch, he defends well at set pieces, he encourages other younger players, and he reads the game ever so well. He should be the first name on the team sheet.

Remind me of this day the next time I get all negative on them. See you all at Stoke.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Missing Crypto Queen - the story of the year

My favourite podcast of the year has been a real roller coaster of a story, the gripping tale of Ruja Ignatova, the so-called Crypto Queen of the so-called crypto currency One Coin, who seemingly vanished in 2017. I tried to book Jamie Bartlett to come back and speak in Manchester last year but he said he was involved in something which would blow my mind, and recommended his mate Carl Miller instead. He wasn't wrong (and Carl was great, as I said at the time).

More than just a radio documentary, Jamie has managed to create a compelling platform of information and an active network around the story. Jamie's narration, the use of music, the trust of experts, the whole feel of the production crafted by producer Georgia Catt. Jamie has written a really useful long read, here, which provides background, captures everything, but shouldn't stop you from delving in and listening to the series if you haven't already.

In the days when I used to write about conmen and scams I came across several individual acts of callous nastiness, all helped along by added helpings of delusion and greed. This has all those hallmarks on a massive industrial scale, but also with the added dimension of One Coin being almost cult-like, exploiting some of the poorest people in the world. It brings in global money laundering, tax havens and the dark web. In short it's a belting true crime tale for these dark times.

I can't believe it's not been a bigger story, and I'm now avidly following the trial in New York of some of the players in this unfolding drama. You can follow that here on a fabulous site called Inner City Press, which is all over the detail.

It feels like a real frontier moment, not just for crypto currencies, but also for the methods the BBC have deployed to get the story out.  Highly recommended.

Vinyl Finals 1980 - what a collection

The New Musical Express throughout the 1980s was at the very centre of my world, not only musically but politically and culturally too. Reading writers like Stuart Maconie really made me want to be a journalist. So to see this astonishing list of the vinyl finals 1980, from my 14th year, is something else. And then there’s this iconic photograph of Joy Division by Kevin Cummins on a bridge that I casually walk across between buildings at work.

It's hard to pick a favourite out of this lot, but it’s either Atmosphere, Going Underground or Treason.

There’s a Spotify playlist so you can make up your own mind, here.

Afterall, that’s the biggest lesson I learned of all in that decade, think for yourself and change your mind if you want. I had a great reaction on Facebook when I shared this there. Enjoy.