Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ear I Am: The Stone Roses, Warrington Parr Hall 23 March 201...

My mate Nigel Hughes was lucky enough to see the secret Stone Roses gig in Warrington - here is his blog on it - belting!

 Ear I Am: The Stone Roses, Warrington Parr Hall 23 March 201...: It's taken me two days to get round to this post, mostly because I just don't know where to begin. The whole thing is surreal from star...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My mate #18 - Frank McKenna

Me, Derek Hatton and Frank McKenna at Goodison Park
A random shuffle of my address book to find a random friend to profile has suggested Frank McKenna, the man behind Downtown in Business, the business networking club.

I've known Frank for about 12 years, he came through a very tough period where a spurious charge over a leaflet bill led to the early termination of his political career. He was a capable and visionary leader of Lancashire County Council. His practical brand of Labour politics was the first manifestation of New Labour in action and an important part of the development of that project. Tony Wilson put me on to him and suggested we would get on and enjoy each other's company.

He fought off the charges and embarked upon a different career - using his political brain and an urgency for change and improvement, especially in Liverpool. It led to the formation of Downtown Liverpool, a completely different kind of business organisation. I described it as "the Chamber with hair gel", which he took in good part and referred to it in a piece about male grooming here.

In that time the dinners have been glamorous and lively. The private events and the breakfast debates have been very cerebral and have included a high level of political engagement. Though a New Labour northerner, Frank has always kept a dialogue open with other parties, something I've always been impressed by.  He gets a lot of stick, but as well as being well manicured, he's also developed a fairly thick skin too.

Over the years I've always enjoyed collaborating with Frank. We have had many chats that helped one another form views on policy and strategy (and football). And whatever it is we talk about, or whoever we talk about, our chats are always fun. I like his turn of phrase and empathetic style, whether that is over lunch, coffee, over the microphone on his radio programme on CityTalk FM in Liverpool, or at Everton v Blackburn Rovers games, where we were photographed for the picture above with Derek Hatton in there somewhere.

He is a remarkably open and straight forward kind of bloke, who has been generous with his advice and personal support too; just as he has been loyally supported by a close coterie of friends and business contacts. He's also managed to stay friends with Tracey, his former wife, and is a really good and supportive Dad too.

He's moved Downtown into Lancashire and Manchester too, with plans to expand in other cities. It's a good idea - because the need for business advocacy has never been greater.

I am drawn to people who want to do things differently and who command respect through their deeds and actions. Frank is one such person and I'm proud to count him as a pal.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ren Harvieu - where you heard it first

At first I thought she was Dusty Springfield, which isn't a bad touchstone for any emerging singer. A powerful voice, possibly tortured, certainly sounding like she'd lived a life less ordinary and one longer than 20 years.

Terry Christian has been stoically playing this Salford chantuese for a couple of years on his Northerners With Attitude programme on Stockport's Imagine FM. Say what you like about Terry (and I have done, here) but he has an incredible ear for a great tune and a nose for an artist with attitude.

I finally bought her album this week - and yes, it's a triumph. She has to be nailed on for the next Bond theme.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Disco legend Donna Summer dies

I'm not going to fake grief at the death of Donna Summer, but I have reflected on how much I like her best songs. I talked about it here and one of the papers has a fine selection here.

My favourite is MacArthur Park - soaring, epic, tragic and occasionally nonsense - seems to sum her life up very well.

We're off to World Scratch Day 2012 tomorrow

I have been very excited by the movement to encourage coding for kids. So much of what is called ICT in schools seems to be using Microsoft products and low level gamification. It's not enough, frankly. I love the idea of the Raspberry Pi and will order one soon. But when it comes to creating content, something some of my lads are very adept at, I was really taken with Scatch, a program and technique developed by MIT in Boston. We're going to a session in Sheffield tomorrow as part of World Scratch Day. An added bonus is it's being run by Stuart, one of my Rovers Podcasting chums, who knows about such stuff. The video shows something of how it works.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Three cheers for Greater Manchester Police

Families gather to cheer City in a booze free Albert Square
Over the last few days I've had three very good opportunities to applaud our boys in blue.

On Saturday the chief constable came to this beautiful part of Greater Manchester - to present two of our lads with a Chief Scouts Gold Award. It was the first time I'd had the chance to talk to Peter Fahy, but was struck by what a decent honest man he seems. His speech was really inspiring and applauded the incredible work that voluntary groups like scouts do for local community cohesion. He also talked about the cuts and the climate we live in - how hard it is going to be to provide public services. He was then setting out to go on city centre patrol where his officers would be breaking up fights at 5am. This 24 hour drinking experiment has failed miserably, Britain can't handle it's drink. It's a problem for the police and sooner or later they're going to have to oppose licences. What a dismal waste of police time.

So, hooray for the dibble.

I tried to buy a bottle of champagne as a present for someone who has helped me out today. I couldn't, because at the request of Greater Manchester Police, the shops in the city centre weren't selling alcohol on the day that Manchester City were parading their Premier League trophy. Any thought that this was excessive prompts a thought back to the rampant Rangers fans drinking all day and urinating over our city 4 years ago. On walking to Piccadilly station and seeing the streams of families and kids in their City kits and flags I thought what a good idea it was to cut off the supply and change the tempo of the parade.

Another big whoo hoo for the cops!

Finally, a bit of a leap here, but let's not forget that the awful story of the grooming of young girls in Rochdale owes a huge thanks to the GMP. The main priority in this case has been to secure a prosecution. Amidst appalling tension the police have managed to get witnesses to testify and with idiots stoking up hatred and playing the race card that can't have been easy. I hope more prosecutions follow. There may be a deep seated racial motive behind the exploitation by Pakistani men of young "easy meat" white girls, but it is wholly wrong to say it's a facet of the Muslim community of Manchester.

Thanks and cheers for the Five -O.

It takes courage and dedication to take these three stances and to see the bigger picture. What a complex and difficult job policing is, and how fortunate we are to have the force we have.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Leaked letter - Mrs Desai's reply to Paul Hunt

There's a letter doing the rounds from Paul Hunt, the deputy CEO of Blackburn Rovers, which he supposedly sent to Ms Desai the matriarch of the Venkys. There's a link to the coverage of it here and here.

Here, this blog can exclusively reveal the reply from Pune.

Dear Paul,

What a terrible web we weave. Your letter has confirmed to me that we have been lied to and misled at every step of the way. We bought a football club to give us publicity and to pave the way for us to open up in Europe. We are proud people who have been made fools of.
Let me address each of your points.

1. Promotion to CEO - It seems that everyone in football wants more. Now you want more money. Why, Paul? What have you done except complain? What difference is a title?

2. Owners to invest in the club - Why must we spend more money? We are always being asked for more money. What for? Don't we have enough players? What do they do all day? Why are they all paid so much, especially the ones who say they are injured. Can't we use the younger ones? And why do we have to pay extra to Salgado and Roberts? Don't play them if it's going to cost us. Who told the bank we weren't good for the money? Was it that John Williams? We were right to get rid of him. If we need some more money, then sell some more players. They are all paid far too much anyway. Balance the books and cut the wage bill.

3. Manager to change. When we bought the club within a short space of time Venkatesh and Belaji saw our beloved Rovers get beaten 7-1 at Manchester United. Our football adviser Jerome Anderson told us we needed to get rid of the manager and put someone in charge who would stop us from getting relegated from the EPL. No-one had explained how this works. This prompted us to get rid of Big Sam and appoint Steve Kean. We were criticised for this and now we are being criticised for sticking with our man and giving him time. Sacking Big Sam cost us a lot of money, I suppose Steve will want a couple of million as well?

4. Trust the executive - bring us in. Why should we trust any of you English business people? You have taken us for fools at every turn - the Walker Trustees, Rothschild, John Williams, Big Sam, Jerome Anderson, you all thought we were fools. None of you have come clean. You have all laughed at us, called us chicken farmers and gossiped about us.

5. PR just from Ewood. Who is this PR consultant you speak of? Don't we have Paul Agnew? What does he do all day? Why didn't you sign David Beckham? Why didn't that get us better PR?

6. Regular visits to India. Another one after a free holiday in Pune. Steve comes over all the time and now you want to come. Why?

7. Regular visits to Blackburn and Premier League games. All we get is abuse when we come over, these poor white faces railing at us like we are peasants and coolies. Now who is in charge? How does it feel to be subjects of an empire? And it is very cold. Nobody warned us of this. You don't still think we bought the club because we like football do you?

8. Hire and Fire. I see what you are doing here, Paul. You want that Williams boy out of the way so you can claim the credit for all the work his Dad did.

9. Lost revenue and brand equity. We are the ones who have lost revenue. What are you doing to stop the protests? How many people know of us worldwide? Millions. How many care about a small town football team? None.

10. Support is necessary. You think we are all fools. You all bleat about relegation and peddle the lie that we didn't know of it. We do, we just don't care. The team will still be playing in the Championship, they can still wear the shirt of the 1995 Premiership champions and make us another chicken commercial. And there won't be as many protests if we cut down the numbers who come along to the games.

And if the staff don't like it, then they can go too. I hear there is high unemployment in Blackburn, if you don't like it, then get a job you like.

Mrs Rao.

POSTSCRIPT - for the avoidance of doubt and as a mark of respect to the THOUSANDS of people who have read this - I can confirm it is a work of fiction.

Monday, May 07, 2012

WANTED - For The Death of Jack Walker's Dream

There are plenty of football club owners who have tasted bitter disappointment - many lose millions, many reduce a large fortune to a small fortune out of a big one. There are plenty too who have seen once proud clubs being destroyed - look at Glasgow Rangers. But few can have had their proud legacy so wantonly destroyed as Jack Walker's has been.

Blackburn Rovers will probably be relegated tonight. I'll be there to witness it and the anger will be high. Much of it will be directed to Steve Kean and his role in managing a failing team. I haven't been part of the protests - not out of support for Kean - but because he isn't the main problem.

Those responsible include the clueless Venky's and their false promises, the manipulative Kentaro boss Jerome Anderson and Steve Kean too for his poor decision making and tactical ineptitude. He isn't going to quit - he wants a pay off like Big Sam got - three year's money and the sympathy vote from his pals in the media and his fellow managers. Always the victim, never his fault.

The current board of Blackburn Rovers have been pretty noticable by their abscence. Apart from a seat on a board of FA blazers, what is Bob Coar for?

Let us not forget too the betrayal of Jack's dream by his trustees. Professional hangers-on who had a duty to uphold a great man's legacy, but who failed in exercising a proper duty of care to supporters and staff at Blackburn Rovers.

When Venky's have stripped the club of its assets, ripped out the parachute payments and shared the spoils with whichever shady partners they have worked on in this "project" to market their chicken, there will still be a football club in a proud town. They are finished as a brand in the UK, forever tainted by association.

The glory days may never come back in an era of oligarchs and petro Sheikhs owning clubs, but if we're honest it's been a great ride that had to end sometime. The challenge now is not to scrabble around for another rich man, but to take the club off these awful people. A club owned by its fans can create loyalty and passion as a sporting totem for a community. Premier League football at Ewood Park may die tonight, but that dream must live on. We owe it to Jack Walker.

POST SCRIPT - I've just got home from the inevitable defeat and relegation at Ewood Park. Everything above is correct and still stands. It is sad, but it's also only football. The thing that most surprised me about tonight was the half hearted nature of much of the protests. It could have been much worse, they could have been more vociferous, but then Blackburn Rovers fans never had much of a violent edge. As far talk of "bouncing back" from the manager, I just shake my head in disbelief. 

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Local elections - motivation is everything

If you want something enough, then you have to be prepared to fight for it. If you can't even be bothered to vote - and most people don't - then that seems to suggest a level of discontent. I said in a number of blogs leading up to the election that the ability of the local parties to mobilise their voters and to motivate them to vote would be the key to success. The well drilled Liberal Democrat operation in Marple South dropped four leaflets through our door. The posters around the whole ward outnumbered about 10 to 2 to 1 if not more. The whole place had the feel of a Liberal Democrat safe seat, which it is.

The Conservative campaign was low key. They managed just one printed leaflet on a laser jet home printer. A national drop in votes didn't help, but the one LibDem message that chimed with me was that you just don't hear from the other parties through the year. They are invisible. Even with a chance to unseat a weak incumbent they fluffed it.

The turnout was 810 votes lower than it was a year ago. The Liberal Democrat voters bothered, no-one else did. Something similar happened in the neighbouring ward of Bredbury Green and Romiley. There, the Conservatives lost almost 1000 votes from the previous year while the LibDems held up. There was no swing, or change. Just a deepening apathy.

When there is a chance of change, a desire to make a statement, then voters will turn out. Turnout in another neighbouring ward showed this. Stockport Council's LibDem leader Dave Goddard lost his seat despite his party only actually losing 100 votes from the previous year. The difference was that Labour managed to get 140 more of their supporters to vote because they tasted change was possible.  
I anticipated a real meltdown in Liberal Democrat support across the North. It has happened to an extent, look at Manchester where they were wiped out. They lost all their seats and in places like Higher Blackley, where my pal Malcolm Evans stood for the Tories, the LibDems scraped just 100 votes and were beaten by UKIP and the BNP.

The LibDems have always been the masters of being all things to all people and then they get found out. The brief burst of support in Manchester undoubtedly came as a vote AGAINST Labour's national policies. In Stockport, the support actually seems to be FOR Liberal Democrats as a party with a set of values that a core of voters sign up to. Possibly age has something to do with that loyalty too. Marple's average age is high. There's a loyalty there that the older tribal vote believes in.

But the tricolour Britain that Fraser Nelson described recently plays here too. Swathes of Britain are heartlands for the parties - Labour in the North, Tories in the south, with isolated pockets of SNP and Lib Dem support. This has bred a complacency and a cynicism that saw very little change this week, at a time of discontent.

It's impossible to draw firm conclusions about how this week's election will play out at a General Election in three year's time. The economy will improve. Labour has the chance to get better, because at the moment they working out a fresh vision and a defining message for the future. But politics is also about how individuals and teams react to events. A senior figure in public life said something about the Conservative ministers he encounters. This lot, he said, are always one cock-up away from a crisis. That was back in December and how right those words seem now. They may yet be the architects of their own destruction, creators of the chaos that may engulf them further, or they may be able to pull rabbits out of hats as economic conditions improve. But Labour also have to prove they are fit to govern. Until then, apathy reigns.

For the moment though, the two places I have the biggest stakes in - Marple and Manchester - remain one party states.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Vote for Marple, Vote against cynicism

It's the local elections tomorrow. Here in Marple South we have a choice to vote for a candidate who has taken the local voters for granted and doesn't believe in anything except being in office.

I'm going to reject that tomorrow.

I hope you do too. If you believe in small government, are against waste and want a councillor who will work hard for this community, as he looks to make his mark in politics, then vote for Carl Rydings.

If you want to register your discontent with the coalition government, then don't stay at home and grumble, don't accept the cynical mewlings of the Lib Dems that Labour can't win here. They don't know that. It was said that George Galloway couldn't win in Bradford, and he did. These are extraordinary times in politics. If you support Labour, then support the Labour candidate. Only by seeing evidence of a bedrock of support can Labour build up a functioning campaigning force in this community.

And if you are concerned about immigration and Europe and all those Daily Mail issues, then that's your right. There is a UKIP candidate.

But please vote. I'm not going to give you the reasons why you should vote for Shan Alexander, because I've had four leaflets through my door telling me why and none of the reasons amount to anything. They are just tepid slogans and claims for credit for things that have nothing or little to do with her. It is dog dirt politics of the worst kind and it's time we said enough is enough.