Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 - I've had a great year thanks

In the Spring of 1992 Labour lost an election, Rovers looked like blowing their promotion push and I was single and skint. I sat in the pub around the corner from work before heading out on a US trip to cover a trade show, which I was mildly dreading, and one of our grumpy subs told me to pull myself together and that these things didn't matter, life goes on. To a 25-year old in London it really felt like the worst of times. The following week, while in Las Vegas, where things went better than I feared, I heard the devastating news that my dear friend Julie had been murdered in New Orleans.

Nothing could ever make right what happened to Julie, nothing ever has, but as regarding the other things - they really didn't matter. Life did go on, but if I learnt anything that summer it was that there are some things you can control, take responsibility for and change and some things you can't. You also can't do it on your own. I realised how much I loved my friends and family. I went on to make many more catastrophic mistakes and rode with the highs and lows of life with all its relative triumphs and disasters.

So, to 2016. I look back as everyone does and think of Trump and Brexit and Corbyn and Venky's. I read back through this blog and it occurs to me that because it focuses on Rovers and Labour then it must seem like I live my life in a perpetual state of existential disappointment. I really don't. There is so much more to life than what we choose to display on the surface.

Well, this time last year I was sizing up a new start and a new job at Manchester Metropolitan University. I've enjoyed it more than I dared to dream. It's made me realise how much I appreciate smart people, new challenges and a strong sense of mission. Same with the two businesses I'm on the board of - Liberty won SIPP provider of the year and New Charter Housing crowned a year of resilience with an honour for our chief executive Ian Munro.

Beyond that this has been a momentous year for our peer group from back in 1992 - we've hit 50, John and Rachel Dixon had a tremendous party in July, Chris's stag hike and wedding were joyous occasions. As was my own special day with my Rachel watching New Order and then having a day with my parents, sister and family.

So, do have a happy new year. Things can get better. Some things matter and others are more in the background than we probably appreciate.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Barnsley away - the tipping point for Owen Coyle

Our pre-match prediction ritual sees us each have a stab at the score. We all thought Rovers would lose 3-2 today. It would have been the fourth such score in a row. As it was, it would actually have been a pretty fair result.

Barnsley worked out our weaknesses and used what they had to beat us. No problem with that.

But once again this season Rovers looked like the parts just don't fit together properly. As the remaining 10 players left the pitch, a few people screamed the cry of the angry - "you're not fit to wear the shirt". I don't agree with that. It wasn't for lack of effort that we lost the game, but that the team is set out all wrong, they aren't fit enough and substitutions only serve to disrupt what cohesion the team has. Charlie Mulgrew looked decent in both positions, but his excellent long weighted passes found the two players least able to outpace and weave past a defence to score. Had Sam Gallagher been played in the position he excels - centre forward - the chance of a goal would have been far greater.

Inevitably much of the post-match discussion has centred on the fans who gave the manager a hard time at the end of the game. Owen Coyle has never been liked by the fans, but this was the first game I've been to where the hatred was fully vented. Make no mistake, he's always been on a sticky wicket, but a fourth straight defeat on top of everything else we've seen over the last five years isn't likely to prompt any other response than anger. His response in the post-match interview was that they came "with their own agenda". Oh dear.  In an answer straight out of the Jerome Anderson playbook he tried to isolate the most vocal fans from the rest. It's hardly as if fans protesting against the owners are new, nor is it likely that 1400 people would fork out £23 each and travel on a cold Bank Holiday because they're plotting a new sinister agenda that means they'll fail to support their team if we were to score, or heaven forbid, to win.

This isn't going to end well for anyone. Under any other circumstances Coyle would be on his way out by now. The only thing likely to ease the hostility towards the owners is either a winning streak, or a manager to absorb all that frustration. But as we've been here before under these wretched Venkys, the circus of the absurd just rolls on.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Dear Rovers, sorry, but I'm not not coming on Saturday, I'm sick of you

Dear Rovers,

I'm not not coming on Saturday, I've had enough of you.

Put it this way, Brighton and Hove Albion are top of the league and therefore the best team in the Championship right now. Trouble is, on the evidence of last night, I thought they were bang average. Player for player they weren't that much better than Blackburn Rovers. They were better enough though, and on the night a few players of ours had real stinkers - Evans (just had a rotten game), Marshall (body language and attitude all wrong), Steele (at fault for the third goal), Greer (for getting sent off). Add to that - Emnes made no impact, Gallagher was wasted on the wing.

The difference almost every week is courage and strategy. Once again last night, faced with a Brighton midfield standing there being midfield players, Jason Lowe, Corry Evans, Hope Akpan and Ben Marshall did what they must have practiced in training every night, they turned backwards, or passed it sideways. It wasn't even what you would describe as a pressing game. But logic surely dictates that if you are going to foresake the hoof up to the forwards and play through the middle, you will at some point have to take a player on, or make a forward pass.

And frankly, when Liam Feeney is the answer, it must have been a stupid question.

Rovers, I am sick of it. I really can't face it this Saturday, and the 10,345 crowd you will announce for the home game against Reading will actually not include the three seats we won't be occupying.

Hope you win, see you at Barnsley.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This is the day

Make a diary note, get out the popcorn and get ready for the change.

A year from now, the 12th of December 2017, Labour will have closed the gap on the Conservatives in the polls, Jeremy Corbyn will be on course for 10 Downing Street.

It's true, Diane Abbott and Ken Livingstone have said so yesterday. A 17 point lead isn't acceptable and it will have to change. It's a marker, an ambition, a hope, but it's also a threat.

These things aren't coincidences. Two close allies like that don't come out with things like this randomly.

But really? It's not just that the gap will be narrowed. It will be closed.

Honestly, do you really think that's going t happen? No, me neither. Corbyn will limp on as ineptly and as dismally as he has since he was elected. The only difference is the Parliamentary Labour Party will let him get on with it. The polls won't narrow, if anything they will widen. He will then be under pressure. But the PLP won't be the ones to wield the axe, for the most part they are currently playing a safe strategy, or as Andrew Rawnsley called it a "shut up strategy" shoring up Labour's base in their constituencies, circulating ideas to renew social democracy - examples include Chuka Umunna and Alison McGovern's paper on the economy.

There's a realisation across the party that he's here to stay, that the leadership challenge merely strengthens Corbyn, gives him a purpose to define himself by what he's against, rather than having to actually come up with anything meaningful on his own.

A putsch will come then, and the marker is down. I don't know whether Abbott means it or not when she says he will prevail. But the moves will be from within the clique of Abbott, McDonnell and Livingstone. They will realise what is so obvious, Corbyn is a liability, even by their narrow standards. He won't be given the chance to own his own electoral failure, but don't for one moment think I believe this is in any way a disaster from which Labour can recover.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Me and my Dad at Deepdale, 1972 - 2016

The crowd around Deepdale was excitable for the derby game, boisterous rather than violent, beer had been drunk, the police were very much in evidence. After an incident where rowdy fans blocked the view when they should have been more considerate, family duties being what they are, the father and son moved to a safer spot for a better view. The role of protector requires wisdom, experience, but more than anything a firm desire to make this experience a treasured one, placing comfort and enjoyment of the match ahead of a desire to bounce around with the lads.

My Dad could have written that about taking the 6 year old me to Deepdale for Preston North End v Burnley in April 1973, my first ever match. As it is, I'm writing today after taking him, aged 72, to see the Rovers. We missed the first goal, due to boozy young lads blocking the gangway, so moved, just as we shifted to the front in 1973 when North End fans flooded onto the pitch to celebrate the goal that ultimately kept them up (pictured).

We've shared so many memories of watching football together over the years - there's a link here about my 20 strongest football memories - but as Rovers have got worse, and as Dad's got older, we've been to fewer games together.

Before the game Dad explained to his North End supporting pals that we used to come to Deepdale, but I chose Rovers. I shuffled from foot to foot as I would being introduced to a girl I used to go out with in my school days. Not shame at having caused hurt, or embarrassment, just a shrug and a look as if to say 'it's not you, it's me'. That was then, and this is now.

Running my Dad through the unrecognisable Rovers team yesterday I quoted Jim Wilkinson's description of Jason Lowe and Corry Evans:

They are the generic, faceless, run-around-a-lot but contribute-little, jobbing 21st century huffers and puffers who will leave no indelible mark whatsoever on the memory save for the pub-quiz moments when they contrived to score their once/twice a decade goals. 

Keep your eyes on Graham though, he's a poacher, a cut above, I said. The ball can stick to Emnes' feet if he gets the chance, Williams is a decent defender. Both our centre halves are playing out of position, Charlie Mulgrew's getting better, I hope he stays fit, I said. Liam Feeney wouldn't have got in the Rovers Full Members Cup Final side we watched lift the trophy in 1987, let alone the Wrexham team we saw draw with Roma in 1984.

We know how it worked out. Rovers are a team with goals in them, but are a couple of players short and lack a proper game plan.

Before the game all the songs were about Burnley, obsessively, defiantly so. As if to say to Preston, we don't care about you. "What do this lot think of having an ex-Burnley manager in charge?" my Dad asked.

At the final whistle, with him long gone back to meet his lift back to Lancaster and me reunited with my teenage lads, I saw the response to Owen Coyle as he made an attempt to applaud the travelling fans. Put it this way, it's not language I'd use in front of my Dad.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Missing pieces of The Missing

The Missing on BBC this winter has been one of the best series of a very good year for TV drama. Brilliantly acted, superbly written and it managed to create an atmosphere of almost complete intrigue and edge.

As a piece of linear narrative it is an odd tale, but the shifting in time gives it a deeper and more palpable sadness, a horrible view through a rear view mirror of how the past contributed to the mess of the present day. 

Everyone you knew who had seen it had theories, some of the more outlandish ones even turned out to be true. It kept you guessing right until the very end. 

My favourite TV review site, Den of Geek, has this superb loose end gathering

Here are mine: 

Lt Stone was faking his dementia, it helped him not have to confront the fact he'd led his friend to be killed and it protected him from the horrors he saw in Iraq. 

Nadia Herz was up to far more than losing control of Adam Gettrick and her squad.

No-one has quite answered why Daniel Reed wanted to fight for the Peshmerga when his unpaid debt was to a family of a Saddam Republican Guard. Clearly the shadowy figure tailing Baptiste was a red herring, but it suggests deeper corruption and malpractice from 1991.

Did Daniel Reed survive? 

Will Matthew walk away from his grim German pals if he escapes prosecution? 

Though there is no doubt in my mind at all that Julien Baptiste has survived. Series three may be a couple of years away, but we'll need it after all that excitement.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Story of the Blues - what Blue Labour isn't - come and join us next Saturday

I get a bit weary explaining that Blue Labour isn't about becoming more Tory. It absolutely isn't.

When Maurice Glasman came up with the name he was thinking about the blues, about blue collar issues, not the colour of another party.

Anyway, I'm involved in this event next Saturday in Manchester which I think is an important opportunity in our politics.

Since 2009, Blue Labour has been exploring and detailing the growing disconnect between the Labour Party and those whom it has traditionally sought to represent. This has included wide-ranging analyses - from welfare to economics, mass immigration to family policy - but at its heart has remained a consistent, core insight: an all-out embrace of liberalism, both social and economic, has alienated the Labour Party from its traditional working-class support. This conference aims to further explore those key insights, discerning where common cause might be found beyond the confines of current party orthodoxies, assisting the Labour Party in once again becoming a broad coalition of diverse interests and aims.

We've got a wide range of speakers - MPs Lisa Nandy and Graham Jones, controversially we've also invited Stephen Woolfe, who was elected a UKIP MEP. There will be a smattering of thinkers and writers including Maurice Glasman, Philip Blond, Nora Mulready and Rod Liddle. But more than anything we want to properly start a hard conversation about our politics and what's going to be important. There's one thing I can guarantee, there are no easy answers.

I'll leave you with a word from the wiseguy, Pete Wylie, from Story of the Blues, part 2:

"Well that's my story and I'm sticking to that. So let's have another drink and let's talk about the blues. Blues is about dignity, it's about self-respect, and no matter what they take away from you - that's yours for keeps..."

Tonight we burn responsibility in the fire - banning papers is wrong

I think sometimes the answers to many deep moral questions lie where they always do, in a Jam song.

After hearing about the latest University student union to embarrass itself by passing a motion to ban sale of The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express from their shop, I couldn't help but hark back to Funeral Pyre by The Jam, a pounding warning against the book burners of fascism.

Down in amongst the streets tonight
Books will burn, people laugh and cry in their turmoil
(turmoil turns rejoiceful)

On its own it really doesn't matter what a single union shop in London agrees to stock, or not. My local newsagent doesn't sell copies of Investor's Chronicle because people don't walk in off the street and buy it. So the truism remains, if you don't like something, don't buy it.

Shed your fears and lose your guilt
Tonight we burn responsibility in the fire
Well watch the flames grow higher!
But if you get too burnt, you can't come back home

I've looked at the motion passed at City University last week and a barely comprehensible one tabled in support of the censorious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that seems to think the country most worthy of student ire is the only stable parliamentary democracy in the Middle East.

We feast on flesh and drink on blood
Live by fear and despise love in a crises
(what with today's high prices)
Bring some paper and bring some wood
Bring what's left of all your love for the fire

It would be a cop-out to point out that barely 200 students attended the meeting. So would it to point out that I tend not to buy the Daily Express or The Sun. I do however skim read the Daily Mail when I see it knocking around and do occasionally buy the Mail on Sunday. I like Peter Hitchens, Rachel Johnson and Dan Hodges and I think the investigations into financial malpractice by the Financial Mail team play a key role in keeping the sector honest. I also happen to agree with much of what Alastair Campbell has to say about the Mail generally - the worst of Britain's values posing as the best. But who do you think really benefits from this censorious showboating in the name of fighting racism?

And as I was standing by the edge
I could see the faces of those who led pissing their selves laughing
Their mad eyes bulged their flushed faces said
The weak get crushed as the strong grow stronger

One of the paradoxes of our times has been the knee-jerk reaction to things we don't like and a quick call to ban things. I'm convinced it's formed a key plank of the backlash against liberalism that has resulted in Brexit, Donald Trump and the triumph of identity politics that has defined Labour's core purpose over and above looking to represent working people.

Instead of all this, let me tell you a story about about how two mates of mine met. They were on a flight to Europe to watch England somewhere and caught each other's eye because they'd both bought The Guardian and The Sun. When I lived in Bristol a fellow Labour activist once spotted me at our local newsagent and asked an assumptive question that I'd come to get my Guardian. I purposefully bought the Financial Times and the Sun that day.

We seem to have lost that ability to think plurally and open ourselves up to other ideas. Social media has undoubtedly made this worse. Our algorithms set to validation, agreement and that ever more hostile view of anything that isn't in our sphere.

Censorship is always wrong, always.

But the greater tragedy in all of this is we've created a funeral pyre in our own minds.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Ambassador Matthew Barzun reminded me why I love Vital Topics at Alliance MBS

So, you're stuck at Chicago Airport in the snow. You're desperate to get to New York, but all the flights have been cancelled. If your ticket is with a mainstream airline the staff will be firm, polite, courteous and honest. They'll say, there simply aren't any flights, it's a real shame, we're really sorry and as soon as can we'll make it right.

A certain budget airline, on the other hand, has a different approach. Their staff would hold up a bit of paper and say, 'look, they've cancelled all the flights, but we're going to get you home'.

The first airline is Jeb Bush and Hilary Clinton (and arguably the Remain campaign). The second is what Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders (and Vote Leave) have done. Basically, they've placed themselves outside of the problems in front of the electorate, but said they'll sort it.

That was a taste of the colour, verve and wisdom of the US Ambassador Matthew Barzun on Wednesday night at Alliance Manchester Business School. He was everything you'd expect a speaker at a Vital Topics lecture to be - provocative, original and compelling. In fact I can only think of one that has left me disappointed and that was Lord Digby Jones. I like the stridently and brazen intellectual aspiration. I love the unspoken verbal jousting between the guests asking questions (me included). But most all I just love that understanding that there are forces in the world that are seeking to make things better, fairer, flatter and more interesting. It reaffirms the view that progress doesn't aways - rarely ever - comes from government, but from the slightly haphazard way in which business implements good ideas born in universities. Sure you need good governments to convene, direct and bring order, but none of his will stop because we've got a buffoon as Foreign Secretary and there's going to be an even bigger one in the White House.

Barzun drew some great discussion points on networked businesses and hierarchies. Reminding us that the forces at work need not always be the ones of regression.

These are dark times indeed. Sometimes it really does feel as if the lights are going out everywhere, but sometimes you just need reminding that we will overcome. And it feels better that there still are people prepared to take ownership of the challenges. Because eventually the madness will end. Things can be made better and I fondly hope that we'll be hearing more from a laid back and funny business guy who tweeted us back the next day to say how moved he was to be gifted with a vinyl copy of A Certain Ratio live in Groningen, which includes an epic long version of the demanding Winter Hill. Like all good climbs, like even the most difficult journeys, it will be worth it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Tear down this wall - a fresh start for Piccadilly Gardens

"If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity if you seek liberalisation, come here to this gate. Open this gate. Tear down this wall."

That's what President Ronald Reagan said in a speech in Berlin in 1987. Just over two years later, on this day in 1989, it indeed came down. It may seem strange to be quoting American presidents on the subject of walls today, but the issue has resonance.

The Berlin Wall was a symbol of division, but also of profound ugliness and a brutal crushing of the human spirit.

I would never go as far as to suggest that's what we have in Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester, but it was announced today that a new masterplan is to propose knocking down the curved concrete edifices between the gardens, bus interchange and the tram tracks. When it was designed it was probably one of those functional architectural plans that may have looked like a good idea on paper, but has become a symbol of something that doesn't work.

The coverage in the Manchester Evening News for their campaign to restore the Gardens to some kind of former glory has spoken of how the wall divided opinion in the city. True, there was Sir Richard Leese defending it and virtually everyone else railing against it. He was right on a couple of points though, the Gardens are a well-used public space and what went before seems to have been lost to the collective memory of the city, or at least a very rose-tinted idyllic view. The trouble is, the area has become a magnet for crime and feels very scruffy. A co-ordinated approach with the police, the city council and the landowner L&G is addressing this.

It now provides an opportunity to really debate the wider aesthetic of the city. To make it work better everywhere. I have a fear though, that without a completely different approach to beauty, safe spaces and gentler development then this will never work.

For the last three years the city centre has been a mess. The long term gain will be a better St Peter's Square and a Second City Crossing for Metrolink, but people have just got used to their comfort and appreciation of beauty being disregarded.

At the recent Design Manchester festival debate, the starting point was the ambition of a devolved city region administration that has a huge opportunity to re-imagine how the city looks and functions. People can be very grumpy about design and see it as a top level luxury, especially in age of austerity. I disagree. In The Times last week - Clare Foges drew attention to the planning system to be more thoughtful, subtle and appreciative of beauty.

I thought the debate was a missed opportunity for would-be Mayor Andy Burnham to make a far bolder and more imaginative claim for a new pitch for the aspiring city to properly embrace design and a better vision that respects everyone's right to live in a community surrounded by beauty. And for the avoidance of doubt, this applies as much to forgotten towns like Marple, or Bolton, or Middleton, as it does to the very centre of the conurbation, represented to millions as Piccadilly Gardens. There is a body of evidence, gathered here by Caroline Julian that bolsters this thought.

And at a functioning transport level, let's not forget the impact of the colour coded tube map in London and the impact of the orange overground lines to how these services were perceived, used and appreciated. Transport Minister John Hayes touches on this in a speech on the need to make new stations better designed and less ugly, but it goes beyond that.

I hope this is a beginning. An appreciation of city planning and how space should be shared and valued. But for now, tear down the wall.

PS - This, from Manchester Confidential, is very good.

Monday, October 31, 2016

So where are we going to build all the houses?

Launching the IPPR North report at Manchester Met School of Art
One of the most important debates we've ever had in Greater Manchester is about to get going. Where are we going to build all the new homes the city region needs to grow?

The newspaper coverage of a very thoughtful IPPR North report (of which I chaired the launch today) came down to the one issue guaranteed to get middle England foaming at the mouth - the Green Belt.

The Greater Manchester plan for this is now out for consultation on the ambitious plan to build 225,000 homes in the next 20 years, 20,000 of them in the Borough of Stockport. Only so much of this can be taken up with brownfield sites and creative high density building in district centres and around transport hubs. So this will mean Stockport giving up 10 per cent of its Green Belt to green light schemes in High Lane and Woodford for 4000 and 2400 units around the route of the new Airport relief road.

Already I've had leaflets from local politicians - well, our Conservative MP and his Councillors in Marple, asking us to "protect the Green Belt".  There was comment today from Trafford's leader that this intervention is most unwelcome and clearly disappointing to him. Political pressure on Labour council leaders in Bury and Stockport to resist the Green Belt erosion will also be immense. And so it should be, as it's actually an existential question for where we live.

Taking it to a Greater Manchester level is a decent start. It recognises meaningful economic geographies and appreciates the flows of people to where they work, from where they might want to live. A Greater Manchester planning system can then take into account housebuilding around services and infrastructure and not the lag that responds to these when they reach breaking point and gridlock.

There is a desperate need for new houses to be built in this country. The price of land, the price of housing, is terrifying. There is a market failure that requires state intervention, a boosting of the institutional private rented sector and a role for the imaginative co-operation demonstrated by forward thinking and resourceful leaders in the social housing sector.

The demand for housing - fuelled by the fact we live longer, more people live alone and we absorb more immigrants to this country than we lose expats - has rendered the old planning system not fit for purpose. So many glitches in the system mitigate against a mature and sensible response, one that is long term and actually involves some actual, er, planning.

The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework consultation
IPPR North report - Closer to Home
Place North West commentary on this
Jonathan Reynolds MP on this
My Policy at Manchester blog from 2015
Marple Neighbourhood Forum launch

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Why I didn't join the 1875 protest

It saddened me yesterday that Rovers fans who quietly trooped out of the Riverside stand on 75 minutes were booed and jeered, just as my lad was when he took his seat at 5:48. It saddened me too that whistles were blown from the 18th minute to the 75th when the protesting fans entered the stadium.

The whole thing is a mess.

I packed a lot into the day to get to the match, including taking in the Northumbria University open day in Newcastle, taking three trains, dropping off one son in Marple and picking up another in order to drive the 80 miles round trip to see the Rovers play Wolves. We held our insolent and defiant Barmy Flag up towards the camera gantry before kick off and there were stickers distributed and displayed that summarised how I feel about the owners. But I chose not to join the 18:75 protest, but to support the team in the way I usually do for the full 90 minutes.

It saddens me every day that these owners remain in control of our football club. It cheers me that there are fans who care enough to want to do something about them (I just wish they could spell and use basic grammar). The coverage in the papers, on BBC Radio FiveLive and Sky, who screened the game live, focused on the protest. There can be no doubt now that we have an unhappy fanbase.

But while I won't attack or condemn those who protested in the way they considered best we can't return to this corrosive and divisive situation again.

I genuinely don't believe the protest affected the outcome of the game. So please don't play that card in the cause of attacking the protestors. But the next stance to highlight this just cause has to be targeted towards the ultimate goal - persuading the Rao family that they should enter talks to exit the business. I don't know how we do that, genuinely. But for those who do have an influence on what the next move is, could you please learn whatever lessons you can from last night and pledge to pursue a course of action that doesn't cause such division again.

The team is playing better than in the gutless and clueless performances at the start of the season. Whether there will be three worse teams in the division by the time we visit Brentford on the 7th day of May is debatable. What other clubs around us seem to have is a strategy to get out of this mess, the courage to change manager, the ability to invest in new players. We just have to hope loanees can stay around and that key players don't get injured. And we need all the support we can muster to get behind the team.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Design Manchester debate - identity, opportunity and devolution

City ID – The Great Debate at DM16 from Images & Co on Vimeo.

The headline political event at this year's Design Manchester festival brought together top designers, leading politicians and Manchester's design community to discuss city identity, devolution, Brexit and the role of the creative industries in creating successful, inclusive and connected cities.

Chaired by magneticNorth's Lou Cordwell, the panel included urbanist and designer Claire Mookerjee of Future Cities Catapult, former EU Trade Commissioner and UK Cabinet Minister Lord Mandelson, now Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, the Co-op’s tech engagement lead Emer Coleman, who founded the London DataStore, Designer Republic's Ian Anderson, Manchester Mayoral candidate Andy Burnham MP and Mike Rawlinson, founder of City ID and pioneer of the “legible cities” wayfinding methodology.

The debate took place in the stunning Bonded Warehouse at Old Granada Studios, in the St. John’s cultural district of Manchester, and was sponsored by city law form Pannone Corporate.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Futureproofing the Northern Powerhouse | How businesses can benefit

Manchester Mayoral candidates The Rt. Hon. Andy Burnham MP and Councillor Sean Anstee outlined their ambitions for the Northern Powerhouse at this special Manchester Metropolitan University Business School event I hosted.

I've said before how important it is that as a city region we get this right. Rightly, this was a very business focused discussion. Productivity, new jobs and global competitiveness were all at the top of the agenda. How you get to support this is built upon education, logistics, and a strong base in financial and professional services. We'll return to this again and again, but I'll just leave it here for now.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bas Salmon, my greatest teacher, may he rest in peace

Brian "Bas" Salmon was the greatest teacher I ever had. Bar none. A remarkable, kind and eccentric history master at Lancaster Royal Grammar School, I will never forget his methods, nor his wisdom. Especially memorable is a delicious Latin phrase he once chalked on the board - Parlum Taurum Excrementum (speak intelligent bullshit) - which isn't even correct, but then that's probably the point.

He was part of a history department at LRGS that could probably match many universities for sheer brain power, depth of knowledge and certainly what we refer to as "teaching excellence".

All three, Jack Lea, Jock Fidler and Bas Salmon as we knew them, also had wide hinterlands beyond school - either in drama, quiz teams and the church, all were High Anglicans.

All three also influenced me very directly in how I live my life. It was sad then to learn today that Flea and Bas have both recently passed away, but they will have been given great send offs filled with love and affection.

Fidler, who survives the other two, I never liked. He seemed a vain and uptight bully who is widely despised by almost everyone I ever meet who was taught by him. Yet there was always a paradox about him, he gave so much to the school and to the Air Force cadets thing he ran - the Fidler Youth, we called it - and whenever I saw him out of school he held the hand of his wife or his daughters, something that showed an otherwise hidden side of a man capable of such warmth and affection. Having shared a version of this short tribute on the Lancaster Past and Present Facebook page I've had a few people give Fids the benefit of the doubt, which is as it should be.

Bas was the first person who suggested I go to university, or rather he just assumed I would be doing, which had a remarkable affect on me at a time when Fidler had made me feel awful, humiliated and useless. I always burned with a desire to go back and show him he was wrong about me, when in retrospect I now simply regret not telling Bas he was right.

The point of the Marple Leaf blog and the future

The tenth anniversary of The Marple Leaf blog rather passed me by. But it does represent a point to reflect on its future.

When I started out in May 2006 it was before Twitter and Facebook. It was when I had a senior job in journalism and it was an outlet to write about stuff I didn't get to tackle through work.

It has at times been deeply personal and confessional, but equally there are also relationships that I don't talk about at all. I've always quite careful to protect the dignity of my children. More recently, some of them have even insisted I never feature them at all. One is alright about it, as long as it's just about going to the football.

By numbers it still suggests it's worth doing.

501,953 visits in total
6867 visits to the most popular post about the death of Gary Speed and hateful football fans
324 posts tagged football
1067 comments (I didn't allow them for 4 years)
1865 posts over the 10 years
23950 views from the largest number of views from a country I've never been to (Russia)
337 is the record for posts in a single year (2007)
687 is the current leader in page views for the month (why Labour should split)
5 of the top ten posts are about Blackburn Rovers
ZERO is the amount of money I've made through Google Adwords simply not working

Due to the powers of Google Analytics I know this stuff, but it doesn't really steer me towards doing anything more than what interests and inspires me. I suspect it hasn't really served as a shop window for my events work.

It's had a makeover since the early days, a new logo and a few tonal changes. My Twitter name was actually taken from the blog - a diary from my adopted home town of Marple. That meant that it tended to be about football, politics and local stuff. It also started as a bit of a pre-Facebook family diary, in fact the early blogs are very much like what my Facebook is now. 

There have always been a number of subjects that have proved popular drivers of comment and social media interest - Blackburn Rovers, Marple and Labour. The issue that pre-occupies me more than anything now is how the modern civic university connects with the wider public. This blog probably isn't the place for that.

I've had a few long running features which I've not updated for a while - the my mate series, where I randomly profile a friend and talk through our personal history. A couple I barely even know any more, one has moved away and one North West power couple are sadly divorced.

I used to do book reviews as if I was describing it in the time it took to rise 8 floors in a lift. 

I enjoy doing telly reviews, but wonder if this is the best outlet.

I wrote a fictional novel, but didn't extract or attempt creative writing on here.

In April 2015 it was all about the election campaign I fought and ever since has become occasionally bitter and angsty about the state of our politics. Locally, there is going to be an enormous debate about where houses are to be built, once again igniting a question about the future of this community.

I'm not certain what the rules are on Search Engine Optimisation by cross-posting content that appears on, say, the Progress website. Personally, I'd like it all to be here, as I control it. Though I do also link to blogs I like and maintain these as best as I can. 

So, the point of this now is I'm interested in your views as to what I should do next, but that ultimately I'm going to carry on, revive a few features, start a few new ones and continue to do what  I've always tried to do, be honest,  be loyal, be kind. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Why I love Cold Feet

In a year of a significant birthday, of key rites of passage for my children and of various birthdays, weddings and reunions, Cold Feet is back. And on the Prolific North news website today I note with some delight that it's being recommissioned for a follow up.

I so desperately wanted it to work. It's been a little like seeing a group of old friends again, not real ones, but people I like who I haven't seen for ages. In a marginally parallel but believable universe I used to play seven-a-side football at Parr's Wood with Adam and Pete. I have definitely been registered at conferences at the Midland by Jenn and I still laugh at David's attempt to ply me with favours to win Dealmaker of the Year, while as editor of Insider magazine I instead placed his far more interesting wife Karen in the 42 Under 42.

Cold Feet played a role in luring me back to Manchester in 2000. As my life moved on so too had the city of my student days. Spotting locations and continuity gaffs has always been a minor delight. So too have the excellent musical choices.

Yes, it's really funny at times, but as I've said before, drama in the unlikeliest settings has to have grown from a grain of truth. As a piece of television this series has always been at its best when it's been raw. For me the standout storyline and performance has been John Thompson as the depressed Pete Gifford. We keep coming back to this, don't we?

Monday, September 26, 2016

To be honest, I'd prefer it if Labour split - here are my reasons

Walking last weekend I came up with twelve good reasons not just to leave the Labour Party, but to actively wish a split. I'm not leaving, because of the last point, but many good people are. 

1. It makes me sad and angry
If we were starting from scratch, there is no reason on earth right now why I would join Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. I wouldn't look at it and think - that's what I'd like to be part of, that looks exciting. It doesn't, none of it, all of Labour makes me sad and sometimes angry. So this blog is partly me thinking aloud about why I should stay or go, but it's actually not my decision that matters, but whether others lead in that direction. It's something I think about every day, I wish I didn't. I've walked away before, mainly because membership was incompatible with my work. I could take the easy option and say that as I'm now working in a politically sensitive role I ought to step away, but that's not it.

2. This cult of Jeremy makes me feel uneasy
It is sometimes said that Queen Elizabeth and her entourage must think everywhere in Britain smells of paint, such is the care and preparation invested in sprucing each place she visits. This endless leadership campaign must be like that for supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, bouncing from meetings of the like minded, a world of rallies and demonstrations. It is no surprise to discover a recent opinion poll by YouGov where 80% say they have literally no friends who would vote Tory. It's a kind of politics I utterly abhor, dogma, personality cult worship and a tin ear. Worse still, because the policy programme of the Corbyn project is so light on detail, then people tend to project onto him whatever they want him to stand for.

3. Labour has become the nasty party  I know lovely people, who I count as friends, who are firmly on the left of the party. But the promise of a kinder gentler politics was always a hollow one. To witness the Corbyn supporting mob in action on their medium of choice - social media - is a horror show of intolerance, ill tempered hostility and shallow sloganeering. The use of "vermin" is a horrible term of abuse, whether it is used on a t-shirt, or a placard. I'd never use it about anyone. Yet such is the paranoia and delusion involved now that even the authenticity of a notorious picture of an offensive t-shirt has been questioned - because the two young people who discovered it are "RWBV" themselves. As Philip Collins says in the Times, the Labour membership sees itself as morally superior to the nation that rejects it. Whether the targets are one of Britain's most respected businessmen (Richard Branson), best loved writers (JK Rowling) or anyone in the media who subjects the dear leader or his acolytes to the most basic scrutiny, the result is the same. At the Sky debate, one member of the audience spoke up for Corbyn, saying: "I'm just so angry at what the rest of the Labour party are doing to Jeremy Corbyn. I think they're cowards. They're old Blairites. Everybody hates Tony Blair."

4. Embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing
I want to watch the news and feel proud of my team. I want to sit down to Question Time and see my side put a good shift in against the Tories and the SNP and whichever media pundit they pick to play to the gallery. I don't though, I get angry and want to switch off. One after another they line up on TV, and in parliament, to be stripped of any pretense at competence, Emily Thornberry, Richard Burgon, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and of course Corbyn himself.

5. This is not a social movement

After the General Election last year I went to a meeting of new party members at a club in Manchester. I tried to find out why people had joined a political party, what they wanted to give, what they expected to contribute and what their motives were. I still don't think I'm any the wiser. Is it like a bowls club taking over a golf club and changing the rules and ethos? Partly. But first and foremost, Labour needs to win elections, that's what it exists for. In order to do that Labour can also become effective by building a network of social activists, something I wrote about in my report from 2015 and in this book. Momentum seems to share this ideal, but are going about it in completely the wrong way. What worries me more than anything though is how many of these new party members will survive contact with the enemy, not the "traitorous Blairite scum", but Tory voters who need to be persuaded and inspired, not shouted down. Owen Jones has clocked this too. Already the kind of seats Labour should be holding in Sheffield and Stockton are lost to the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. Only the turmoil in UKIP will spare Labour further losses.

6. The leadership supports an ideology that is wrong about everything
This, from John McDonnell, shows him welcoming the crisis in capitalism. That's the opposite of what I think. Same on Northern Ireland. Same on the Middle East, same on terrorism. And all those positions are driven by an anti-western hatred. That's not me and that's wholly incompatible with social democratic values too.

7. I wouldn't want a leftist programme, even if it was the path to victory
I subscribe firmly to the guiding principle that what matters is what works, in the words of he who is no longer allowed to be named. It is my burden. I believe in evidence, evaluation and unlike Michael Gove I haven't had enough of experts. And the very reason why every opinion poll has Jeremy Corbyn at rock bottom is precisely because the British people can see what Labour members cannot. It is this, Corbyn is a lightweight, a phoney. He advocates little beyond slogans, about peace and being anti-austerity. But his policy papers, his uncosted policies, are unworthy of serious attention. Most are like a half-baked undergraduate essay; poorly evidenced and based on anecdotal personal experience. His promise of scrapping university tuition fees is, to quote our Chancellor this week - "not an honest promise". I dare not imagine the state of the next crowdsourced election manifesto. It's a way of thinking that fails to take into account the seismic changes in society of technology, wealth, power and the future role of the state.

8. I can't be dishonest
Owen Smith's campaign played the "Labour is doomed with Jeremy Corbyn" card. It's undoubtedly true, but it has utterly soured relations in the party beyond repair. The best we can hope for is an amicable divorce. Afterall, think how those words will look on Tory posters, quoted back at every party member and MP in the thick of an election campaign where Labour activists will have to make a case for Corbyn to lead our country. How can every MP who voted for no confidence in him, if they survive a reselection process, campaign for Jeremy Corbyn to be a plausible prime minister? There will be a charm offensive that will tempt some MPs back, some will do their patriotic duty, because they think it's the right thing to do. But if you do, then you all risk treating the electorate like fools and campaigning for something you know is not in the national interest. This doomed coup and leadership election is grounds for divorce, or as Gordon Lynch optimistically calls for here, an amicable one.

9. They've won and it's the end of the world as we know it
At the Greater Manchester Mayoral hustings I got a sense of the problem for our politics. This was the Labour family. Councillors, activists, election agents, those I didn't know I recognised from those cheerful pictures on social media with the caption - "great response on the Labour doorstep in *insert as appropriate*."
There was no heckling, no chanting of their candidates name. These were committed political operatives who have delivered Labour dominance across most parts of Greater Manchester through hard graft, targeting and community work. When Andrew Russell, the chair, asked the question where the candidates stood on the leadership, there was an audible groan around the room.  For many of these people 'Labour family' means just that. It was a reminder that there is something that is going to blow all of this apart, and yet they are the glue that will actually hold it all together until the bitter end. They/we inhabit a world that is ending. They are tribally loyal to Labour, councillors I know well are angry that the leadership election took place, because it distracted from what they want more than anything, party unity. These people are the best of Labour. The heartbeat of local politics, even in the tightest of circumstances it is primarily Labour councils who have brought verve and innovation to progressive political delivery - service design, collaborative working. Labour MPs too deserve far better than the abuse they get as "traitors". How on earth will they put it back together again?

10. You don't have to pick sides 
I get taken to that place where to leave Labour makes you a Tory, where the aggressive "which side are you on?" question is put. Sometimes I find myself having to take sides, but I can't though. It isn't a binary choice. I see the worst of the Tories in the Grammar School debacle, a comfortable reminder of their narrow priorities and the hollow rhetoric of One Nation Conservatism. And for all the tribalism and power of the Labour brand, and the decency of the Labour family, pre-Corbyn, it is now tragically toxic. Millions are turned off the shallow populism that Corbynism offers. I don't subscribe to the doctrine of my party, right or wrong. The easy answers, the shouty style and coarse sloganeering turns me right off. I also don't want to have to answer for mob behaviour the next time protesters spit in the face of "Tory scum". I've always been a free-thinker, a political magpie, essentially a centrist who can see virtue in many political traditions - even the left of politics.

11. Corbyn has to truly own his defeat
One of the key moments of the last year was the Oldham by-election. Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish, ran a tight and focused campaign wholly based on Jim McMahon's character, record and strengths. Imagine for a moment if Chris Williamson, the former MP for Derby, had been selected and campaigned on an overtly pro-Corbyn anti-austerity platform, run by Momentum. I think he would have lost as he did in the General Election and where he forever forfeited the right to call himself an MP, except on Twitter.
Even when Labour is smashed in the polls, there will be elements of the party that will blame the Blairites. Maybe therefore this essential truth will never hit home until the idea is firmly rejected by the British people. I want them to justify to the public the existence of the magical money tree that will pay for a universal basic income, free university education, all drug research done by the NHS, a nationalised railway system, unlimited welfare, a national social housing programme, redundancy payments for defence industry workers and a disbanded army.

12. Paul Mason is right
Former journalist Paul Mason has adopted a tone of "bring it on". He sees this as a war and is in no mood for healing. He wants the old party gone and for the deselections to begin. I am absolutely certain that Corbyn and McDonnell think this too. 

13. So here's the only reason I stay...
Of course there's the devilment of supporting those brave enough to stand and fight. Not to let the left have their way. Why should they? There's also an important need to ensure progressive change in society at a local level is victorious, whether that be Andy Burnham being elected as Greater Manchester Mayor, or our local council building on recent success having so narrowly taken control of Stockport Council in May. I was proud that Richard Leese and Joe Anderson are supporting the Northern Powerhouse Partnership started by George Osborne. There has to be scrutiny of policy nationally, if not from the front bench, then from the back. Take the powerful and forensic stance against grammar schools argued by Liz Kendall last week, then there's the amendments on country by country tax reporting tabled by Caroline Flint. These Labour MPs, leaders and councillors represent the best of politics. 

For now, I stay to support them, because I'm paid up for the year. There isn't anywhere else to go. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We might want Venky's out, but how? And what next?

Blackburn Rovers fans have been protesting against their absentee owners for nearly 6 years. What does our experience of decline tell us about the prospects for football’s protesting fans?
We’ve tried chickens on the pitch. We’ve had marches, banners, protests, letters to MPs, questions in parliament and calls to Robbie Savage. I'm rather proud of my effort that doubles up as a tribute to a band close to the hearts of many Rovers fans. But none of it has worked. The debt has piled up as quickly as the club has fallen down the leagues.
The owners box at the front of the Jack Walker Stand lies empty and unused, yet Blackburn Rovers is still a wholly owned subsidiary of a mysterious company called Venky’s London PLC, an offshoot of Venkateshwara Hatcheries of Pune, India.  
But not only have we lost 30 odd league places, we’ve also tumbled in the sympathy stakes with other fans. The highly personalised “Steve Kean Out” focus of the last wave of protests in 2011/2012 enabled the manager to position himself as a hapless victim of mob rule. The anger and the vitriol gave uber-agent Jerome Anderson – who I blame for all of this -  the confidence to stick his brass neck out and appear on Sky Sports News. Sitting with his chums (and clients) he was able to allege that “certain groups” don’t want the Venky’s to own Blackburn “for whatever reason”. It was a disgusting implication that we’re basically a bunch of racists being whipped up by the local branch of the EDL, but he was reinforcing a firmly held view we’d helped create.
I stopped going for a bit, others fell out amongst themselves. Many haven’t returned and whether it was a boycott or just lethargy, a League Cup tie v Crewe saw a crowd of 3,000. Crowds of less than 10,000 for league games won’t be far off as the team struggles to chalk up a first win. Of those that remain, the anger is back.
So what do we do now? Bottom of the league. A crap manager who looks out of his depth and talks a good line in cheery Glaswegian bullshit, a rag bag of a team of loan signings, journeymen and kids. It sounds like 2012 all over again, except we’re bottom of the second division this time.
The truth is, there aren’t any easy answers once you get past the war cry of “We want Venky’s Out”. 
The problem is this is the age of the easy answer. From Jeremy Corbyn to UKIP, from Donald Trump to the Occupy movement, there is always an outlet for protest and forever an enemy to blame. It is also the age of the instant answer. Want to campaign about something? Sign a petition, join a political party, vote in a referendum and make your point. The day of reckoning comes when things don’t change. When poverty isn’t made history, when control isn’t taken back and we find out that actually, Jez just can’t. Then what?
Usually it is time and apathy that kills a campaign. People get fed up turning up when nothing changes. A march, a rally, followed by a rainy day and a splintering of interest. Not least the shrewd ability of the powerful to splinter protests by granting minor concessions and buying that other precious commodity, time. Then there’s the capacity for groups to fall out amongst themselves when they don’t get what they want.
Activism, or its on-line version, clicktivism, has as many challenges as it does limitations. It’s possible to accelerate the early momentum, but equally to exaggerate and simplify the wide range of opinions, views, egos and basic human weaknesses.
Here’s our problem at Blackburn Rovers. Our owners are just like many others in the top two divisions of English football. Overseas foreign tycoons with their trophy asset of an English football club (Chinese investment in foreign football clubs this year stands at $2billion). But our particular curse was this – we got owners who were poorly advised, stubborn and have now effectively disappeared. I’ve picked through their annual accounts and they don’t even refer to the fact they own an English football club, let alone one that’s cost them and their shareholders a ton of money. All reasonable efforts to engage with them, to assist in an orderly exit, have come to nothing.
We can do what Charlton and Blackpool fans did last season – tennis balls, sit down protests and lots of noise – but look where it got them. Same owners, same trajectory.
Saving face is apparently an important part of the Indian character. For the life of me the only way forward I can think of is to politely embarrass them in their own back yard. Keep up the pressure on the board at the home games, in case one of them turns up or has someone pass a message on. Humiliate them, expose them, but give them no space to plead the moral high ground. But to do that we probably have to take the fight to India. We’ll have to orchestrate our own protests in their home city, at the cricket when England play in Pune in January, protest outside their places of business, lobby the Indian stock exchange and make the case for their utter incompetence wherever their reputation can be damaged.
And then what? Who would buy all that debt? Who is the debt to? Who's going to make payroll every month? What would happen to a club in administration? How far would we have to fall before we could begin to build a club worthy of our past? I’ll tell you what, I’m terrified of the future under any scenario, but the present status quo is simply unsustainable.
Any help, any suggestions, gratefully received.

(Originally published in STAND fanzine).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sir Howard Bernstein - his legacy for Manchester is to push forgreatness

None of us can be surprised at the news this morning that Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester Cty Council, is to retire. But it is still a shock. There was always going to be a post-Howard era. 

Howard has made an incalculable contribution to Manchester over a lifetime of public service. He has constantly driven the city to be more ambitious, to think globally and as a result we have a city that is the envy of others around the world.

He has pioneered a particular way of doing business in Manchester that prides unity and ambition over everything else. His ability to bring together and inspire disparate groups of businesses, politicians and officials to find a common purpose has directly contributed to the culture of success.

But he would never want his own professional legacy to be a festival of black slapping, but to continue pushing the ambitions of the city still further. The constant building work, the improvements to infrastructure like Metrolink remind you that Manchester is a work in progress, and is never finished. In fact, Manchester is finished when people think it's "job done". 

In my time as a journalist, in business and now at Manchester Metropolitan University he has always been incredibly supportive. He has always demonstrated that same encouragement and forceful ambition that informs our strategy to be a great institution in a great city. He makes himself available and works tremendously hard to make the city better. I have so many Howard stories from over the years that remind us all of what a character he is as well as a organisational force of nature. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Community Clothing - Made in Blackburn - quality clobber

I was pretty excited about the Community Clothing launch - all the romance of re-opening a factory, making clothes in Blackburn, Lancashire. I have to say I'm thrilled to bits with the coat and the selvedge denim jeans. Really comfortable, well-made and with excellent detailing that makes both items well worth the wait.

The project hasn't been without its ups and downs. I got in touch to ask about the closure of the Cookson and Clegg factory in the town and the loss of jobs, as reported in the Lancashire Telegraph here.

I was reassured that it's back on track and to learn that Patrick Grant and his team are are still opening a store in Blackburn, and that the garments are still being produced in the Cookson and Clegg factory in Blackburn.

Eloise from Community Clothing told me: "The closing of Cookson and Clegg was a major blow to us both on a financial level and a personal one. Basically, what we have been arguing – that U.K manufacturers are facing foreclosure because they do not have consistent work and rely on a few major clients to survive; ended up occurring in our own factory. We set up Community Clothing to help supplement this issue but it came about two months too late, and when we lost a huge client (without warning) we were forced to immediately close. We repurchased the factory within three days and it is now back up and running! We are now using a collection of different factories to produce our products, but Cookson and Clegg will continue to produce the bulk of our clothing. So, I can assure you that all of our products are and will remain to be made in the UK (and primarily in Blackburn)! We still very much believe in our ethos and can take pride in the fact that the source of our product supply ranges from Blackburn to Rochdale, all the way to Scotland."

The eBay shop is due to open any day and a store is going to pop up in Blackburn. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Blackburn Rovers are a League One team - accept that and it all makes sense

It all makes sense to me now. Blackburn Rovers are a League One club, or the Third Division if you prefer. League One crowds, third rate manager, a hotch potch of lower league players. 

Brushed aside by almost Premiership quality Norwich, humiliated by the League One champions Wigan and ultimately beaten by Championship strugglers Fulham who had that little bit of quality in the shape of Tom Cairney.

In the cup, they've made heavy work of beating two League Two sides, but that's because the gap in quality wasn't sufficient to justify a weakened side.

Off the pitch our home fans dipped below 10,000 yesterday, carry on like that and it takes us out of the top 44 best supported clubs in the country, firmly in the third tier.

I said after the Norwich game that we should probably have been relegated last season in order to give us a chance to regroup and rebuild. As it is, we've a manager fighting fires and dropping his own recent signings to the bench, in order to make way for his new new signings. Sounding for all the world like his old mate Steve Kean, Owen Coyle ducked a question about his clear lack of contact with the owners in India by saying he's trying to bring in new faces to give the "group" a boost.

At the end of the match I joined in the applause of the players we put out to face Fulham yesterday. I was pleased that most of the fans did too. It was a better performance than we'd been used to, but it was a sign that we now approach each game as the plucky underdog, not the entitled former champions.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Holiday reading review, eight recommendations and one stinker

I'm just finishing the last of my designated holiday reads - Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive - about his life with depression. I hesitate to describe it as a battle, because it doesn't do it justice. It just is. His depression is part of who he is, it doesn't define him. Anyway, he is talking at the moment about what a period of intense reading does for him. For me, that's what holidays represent, that and sunshine and spending time with the people you love the most.

I read two biographies, two factual books, five thrillers, one set in Ibiza and Liverpool, one in Scotland, two in the US, one in Geneva. And then there was one I ditched, which I'll come to later.

So here's a quick review, left to right. The latest Jack Reacher is another stormer. I think I've read them all now and they are like a guilty pleasure, a comfort blanket, a familiar journey involving bad people bullying good people and the satisfying dishing out of rough justice.

Jon Ronson's So You Have Been Publicly Shamed was on the reading list for a debate I hosted at the International Festival of Business in Liverpool. The social media apprentices at Juice Academy wanted to thrash out whether social media is out of control. After reading Ronson's book and after seeing the destruction of civil debate before our very eyes, I am convinced it is, especially the way the algorithms continually serve to amplify our prejudices and fill our echo chambers with more and more noise.

Kevin Sampson's The House on the Hill sees the return of Detective Billy McCartney. I liked his attention to the musical and cultural detail of Ibiza 1990 that peppered and then lit up a sharp and urgent writing style. I loved that he has the brass neck to retrospectively write a terrorist plot based on what we know now, rather than what was going on back then. Flawed characters and plausibly but outrageous bad guys permeate the pages. I loved it.

Tim Marshall's medley of football songs and culture, mixed in with his early life, was a bit of a ramble, but I lent it to a football mad teenager who lapped it up. I was pleased he identified this fantastic Stockport County song as one of the best.

Robert Harris' Fear Index picked up on the terror of a world led by machines out of control. I devoured Dave Eggers' dystopian Silicon Valley tale The Circle last year, this Hollywood movie script in waiting was every bit as good and brilliantly researched.

I gave up on Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo. Disgraceful poverty porn masquerading as irony.

After randomly ploughing through James Crumley, Mark Timlin, Kevin Sampson and now Lee Child, I've found a new author to immerse myself in. Christopher Brookmyre's Scottish noir is rapier sharp and lightning quick. Full of knowing references to football, politics and Scottish culture, I think I'm going to like Jack Parlabane almost as much as Jack Reacher.

Having seen New Order on my special birthday for the first time, it seemed right to get Bernard Sumner's take on the evolution of one of the greatest bands of my lifetime. It's an extraordinary early story, jaw dropping at times. But the edited highlights of the New Order story seem to be as fascinating for what's left out as much as what is in. That said, he doesn't seem to leave much out of his account of the deteriorating relationship with Peter Hook.

Finally, Gone Girl was a strange experience. A skillful manipulation of the loyalties and emotions in the story, veering between the perspectives of the two characters. Rarely comfortable, sometimes shocking.

That's a pretty good catch up on where I'm up to book wise at the moment. I have to read a lot for work, so fiction and biogs are a nice complement to industrial strategies, sector reviews and political tracts. Any recommendations gratefully received.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Face - the magazine from 1983 that defined my life

Back in early July, I finally managed to track down a copy of the ultra rare July 1983 edition of The Face magazine. Reading it now it is such a treasure trove of personal memories and cultural totems.

Foremost is Kevin Sampson's splash on football terrace fashion, probably the first such piece in the media. A chronicle of something I knew, something that lived, but was truly of the street and not in any way media made. But there is also a rare interview with New Order, pre-Blue Monday, which massively opened my eyes and ears to them and what they were all about.

But it's also got so many of the staples of my journalistic and cultural upbriging, Robert Elms, Julie Burchill and one of those random Face delights about horror films. 

I bought mine at WH Smith's in Lancaster, providing a massive vindication to my sartorial leanings back then, but I lent it to one of the Blackburn lads when we went to Swansea away and I never got it back. Maybe I influenced a movement, maybe it just got binned.

I was a habitual Face reader, later migrating on to i-D and Arena, but this was the starting point. I simply can't overstate how influenced I was by The Face, and subsequently all that was inspired by the publisher Nick Logan and his crew - it shaped not just what I consumed, but how I approached journalism, ideas, politics, design, aesthetics, fashion, music. Even my university dissertation in 1988 was about male sexuality and the modern media (I'd have got a first if my approach hadn't been so 'journalistic').

I have searched for ages for this particular copy and am embarrassed to say how much I paid on eBay, but it's going in a glass case.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Leaked scouting report on Blackburn Rovers

Leaving the DW stadium yesterday I found a copy of the scouting report on Blackburn Rovers prepared for the Wigan Athletic manager Gary Caldwell.

"OK lads, this should be a piece of cake. We know Owen's teams won't be as fit as us, so make that count. All that table tennis and card schools get you so far. Think of them like a League One side. Put pressure on their weakest players and it'll work for us.

"When they've got possession press them at every opportunity in midfield, or even in the forward positions, none of them can turn and create space, so just keep pushing them and the ball will go further backwards. If they're daft enough to play Stokes and Marshall behind Graham it will open up the whole midfield for us, especially down our left where Feeney will be. He's fast, but never tracks back.

"Lenehan will charge into challenges, but make sure you're quickly in the space that he leaves. Byrne can't cover it on his own and as long as we press across the middle he'll soon realise the only option is to go backwards.

"Defensively just keep putting pressure on Henley and Lowe, neither have any confidence. Both are out of position. 

"If we get a free kick in the final third, have a go. They've no clue how to build a wall and there's a good chance the keeper will fluff it.

"If you have a chance to get it in the box, give Duffy some stick, or get the ball near him, there's always the chance he'll spoon it in his own net, handball it or rugby tackle one of you.

"As you were lads. Three easy points."

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Honestly, it would have been better if we'd been relegated last season.Grim reflection on Rovers loss to Norwich

I always feel optimistic at the start of a new football season. The sun is shining, the horrors of the previous season are long forgotten and every team starts afresh. We'd also moved to superb new seats right on the half way line, no restricted view and perfect for keeping that Maltese tan topped up.

In our usual pre-match prediction I even shed my nauseous negativity and predicted Blackburn Rovers would beat deflated and relegated Norwich City, expecting they'd be unused to the rough and tumble of Championship football, just as Newcastle proved by surprisingly losing to Fulham the night before.

Joe and Louis, far better readers of football than I, went for a loss and a draw respectively.

We shouldn't really have been surprised. Why on earth a team consisting of 10 of the same team that were crap last season, plus a new signing from relegated Bolton, would find a winning mindset should be obvious. Norwich, relegated they might have been, seemed to assert their collective superior quality in order to prove a point. Rovers, frankly, have no point. Even before the opening goal I couldn't work out a game plan that played to the collective strengths of the team. 

If there is a sliver of optimism it is that the three subs who were introduced, three new signings to boot, were the three stand out performers. Gordon Greer can potentially boss this team, Anthony Stokes shook off the curse of wearing Chris Brown's lead lined number 9 shirt by scoring and Jack Byrne looks like the first Rovers player since Tom Cairney who can do the unexpected AND turn an opponent in midfield. 

They are also the only three players who are winners. Once the first goal went in the rest of the squad did what they did all of last season. They fell to pieces. They have no collective belief. No options. No answer to the constant puzzle about what Ben Marshall's best position is. No confidence in each other to grip a game of football.

Part of me suspects the manager knew all of that. He wanted the team he inherited to prove what they were all about and they stooped to that challenge. 

In many ways it would have been better if we'd been relegated last season. I know that sounds dreadfully negative, but I don't think we can bounce back until we hit our floor and we haven't yet. We're sliding down the pecking order in the Championship, outspent, out thought and out supported by more and more clubs. A club in perpetual decline with no real plan to arrest it.

It's going to be a fairly grim season I'm afraid.