Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Manchester rejects hate, and why I'm for Change

Where we are today matters.
It certainly matters to me.
I first arrived around this very part of the city in 1985 as a fresh faced teenage Lancashire lad at the University of Manchester.
I was the first person in my extended family to go to university – but not the first to leave home. Grandads, uncles and cousins have put on a uniform and served their country in the British Army, as nephews, cousins and my own son have done since.
Anyway, I popped out for a pint of milk one Sunday morning from my halls around the corner and I walked into a riot in All Saints.
On one side of Oxford Road were Irish Republicans, egged on by the useful idiots of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and others who should have known better, on the other were the National Front. It was a tense, ugly and nasty encounter. The like of which I hadn’t witnessed before beyond skirmishes at the school gate and on the football terraces.
But it was part of a shaping of my political education. A mob politics that disgusted me. Frightened me.
It was the start of a move from dogma to dialogue, from problem seeking to problem solving.
So I have happy formative memories of here too. I was told I wasn't up to being an academic as my writing style was too journalistic.
I took the hint and fast forward 15 years later in 2001 and I find myself back in this very building as a business journalist to interview the boss of one of the region’s most interesting tech businesses. Being excited by the challenge of change, of new high tech jobs being created.
Because that's another reason why where we are right now also matters for us today.
This building which was built in the year of my birth 1966, forged in the white hot heat of Harold Wilson’s technological revolution – just down the road from where Rolls met Royce and where two scientists isolated graphene and won a Nobel prize for physics. An optimistic time.
Because I mean it when I say this matters today.
We are on the Oxford Road Corridor – funded by the European Regional Development Fund – good work, supporting infrastructure, learning and job creation.
Supporting scientists, like Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, like so many, standing on the shoulders of giants of science like Dalton, Rutherford and Turing. They are European Union citizens, collaborating, in many cases, under the auspices of European science programmes.
That’s the Manchester I fell in love with. The city I have devoted much of my working life to advancing. A Manchester that is welcoming, European, innovative and energetic.
But like I was on that autumn morning in 1985, I’m once again frightened by thuggery and the grim politics of far left the and the far right and frankly the bits where they all blur into one.
The politics of easy answers, cheap shots and hate.
You don't need me to remind you what happens when hate comes to a city like this. Tomorrow we will be remembering where we were two years ago when we heard the news about how they tried to blow apart our wonderful, tolerant, united city.
Manchester proved then it is better than this.
Britain’s better than this.
When Britain voted to leave I was gutted.
But I wanted to commit myself to something to make right what had gone very badly wrong.
My day job is to make the university I work for a civic university. Somewhere that is accessible to people from communities who don’t have the advantages, the social capital and the opportunities.
But I wanted to be part of a political movement too.
Our broken politics just stokes the fires of the division all around us.
Faith against faith, north v south, so called Somewheres versus Anywheres. This mythical mobile elite. That’s not how I see it, not how my family see it.
The only people who benefit from that division or the successors to those street thugs.
I want to stand on a platform to rebuild, reshape and CHANGE our politics. CHANGE the civic conversation.
This matters.
This campaign matters.
I was proud of my friend Ann Coffey when she left Labour.
And I’ve been prouder still of my fellow candidates in this election.
From Carlisle to Chester, from Crosby Beach to Colne. We’ve done our very best and done the team proud.
I’m proud to be a candidate. Proud to be in this team.
Because it matters.

(my speech at the Change UK pre-election rally, May 21, 2019, Manchester Technology Centre, Oxford Road, Manchester).

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

How to be happy at work - a podcast discussion during mental health awareness week

Wellbeing in the workplace can drive business success and yet stress and anxiety account for millions of lost working days each year. To mark #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek one of the Manchester partners of Grant Thornton, Paul Scully, joined a fascinating and challenging discussion with Dawn Moore, HR director of Morgan Sindall Construction and Infrastructure and Professor Marc Jones of Manchester Metropolitan University about better ways of working. I was delighted to chair the discussion and share a few thoughts along the way.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Change our country - Change our politics

I'm standing in the upcoming European elections for Change UK - The Independent Group. We have an amazing opportunity to create a unifying force in politics.

There was no plan for Britain to leave the EU, there was no way for the different false promises of brexit to be fulfilled, it is a symbol of our broken politics.

I wasn't initially convinced of the case for a new referendum on our future relationship with the EU. But it's so clear that parliament can't find a way through, so the government should have the courage to put whatever deal they can pull together to a binding public vote, with the option to Remain on the ballot paper. That way, it is clear what kind of Leave deal is being offered and we can therefore make a decision with far more clarity about what we want our future relationship with the European Union to be.

But there's something else worth fighting for. The capture of Labour by the hard left, and the marginalisation of progressive traditions in the Conservative party screams for an alternative. I've wanted this to happen for a long time. This is a great moment and I look forward to campaigning for the new politics.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

The inside track on Game of Thrones

Now that I've made up for six years of Game of Thrones not being in my life, I thought I ought to share this fabulous day from earlier this year.

Our careers and employability team got Maisie Williams (Arya Stark from Game of Thrones) to come and talk to the students. She’s set up a new venture called Daisie - a sort of a social network to connect creative people with one another to encourage co-operation and collaboration on projects. Anyway, someone had to host the event and ask the questions, which was a great experience. 

She also answered loads of great probing questions from students on how to keep going, how to raise money for a tech start-up and lots about the final series of GOT.

The coverage on the University website is here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The EU flag flies in Marple - and why we get the wrong politicians

A mate who works for an MP told me over a drink the other day how much anger he gets whenever he picks up the phone. Over Brexit? I asked. "Everything," he said. Housing, parking, fly tipping, schools, cuts, immigration, everything you can think of, and plenty more you couldn't.

I'm also reading Isabel Hardman's excellent book Why We Get The Wrong Politicians - a well written and incisive gallop through the problems of our failing political system. Politics is broken, but there is still much virtue in the intentions of people who work for our politicians, as well as among the much maligned political class too.

With that in mind, I popped into the office of William Wragg MP in Marple this afternoon. I thanked his staff for all they do, keeping democracy ticking over in the best way they can. They'd arrived at work recently to find that someone had stuck Bollocks to Brexit stickers all over the windows. At best that's a pain the backside and it will have taken them a while to scrape them off, distracting them from whatever else they do. At worst it must be very unsettling in the current climate. I made the point that I fully support the views of the people who want to resist this insane Brexit and that I'm massively disappointed in William's stance on this issue, but I'm sorry for the inconvenience that this has put his staff through. They seemed OK, and grateful of a visitor who didn't want to fight.

I did so also because I did "like" a tweet that pointed out the sticker stunt, but more so because whoever did it also hung an EU flag from the sign above the door. I thought that was funny. There has to be space to disagree well, not to escalate every slight and every action into a massive outrage on social media. But these are angry, edgy times.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The best food in Stockport

Like most people who live in the outlying areas of Stockport, we don't actually go into the town centre that much. Frankly, there's very little reason to.

When we do it's for a very specific purpose, a particular shop, or the excellent Light Cinema. In fact, that is an example of a building that is so much better from the inside than the hideous carbuncle of an exterior. I'd go so far as to say it's the best cinema I've ever been to.

We popped in to Stockport today to drop Louis at work and thought we'd check out the new Produce Hall and the work that's been done to the area around the market. It has definitely improved. Today being Monday, everywhere was closed, so we'll have to have another go later in the week. But from a pure place making perspective, the progress is really noticable and we've seen enough to make us want to come back.

What it did do however was send our fizzing tastebuds in the direction of Tyros, a sensational Lebanese cafe tucked away just off Tiviot Dale.

All three of us had wraps, lamb and two kinds of chicken. The salad extras are something else though; carrots, potato salads, possibly the best hummus outside of the Middle East. The service is not just friendly, but really enthusiastic for food, the love oozes out. And it's just such good value too - £5.50 for a wrap and two sides is incredible, really.

One fabulous previous visit was to treat Paul Lawrence before he left Stockport for a new job in Edinburgh. Paul is someone with real vision and a sense of how to build a place and all the good things now happening were started on his watch.

I've heard great things about Where The Light Gets In, but also that it's a lot of money for something I probably wouldn't appreciate. I like my food, but my palate isn't delicate, my choices unrefined. I value hearty every time.

So, there's more exploring to do, but when it comes to the town centre, I'll reserve a verdict on the Produce Hall for another day, because I've had it confirmed for now that Tyros remains the best food in Stockport town centre.