Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My first brush with Brussels - but why I'm still IN

My first collision with the European Commission was over a planned directive to impose a interim analogue TV transmission standard on all European broadcasters. It was loaded in favour of European electronics companies Philips and Thomson, it was a means of attacking Rupert Mudoch's SkyTV and it was driven in a thoroughly technocratic way by an EU commission officer called Eamon Lalor.

As I tended to in my journalistic life I got rather obsessed with the story. I even door stepped Francis Ford Coppola at a trade show in America and got a quote from him on the madness of what the EU was trying to do and the harm it would do to the development of the television industry.

I say this because I know that Brussels bureaucrats can drive businesses and policy makers demented with rules and regulations.

But. There was always going to be a but. Lalor was defeated. The dead hand of the Commission does respond to reason. Good policy can follow bad. British influence in Europe won the day.

I've also dealt with the petty minded officials in local authorities and in regulators in the UK government, procurement rules in the NHS, the regional development agencies and other regulators.

So as we approach this decision on the UK's membership of the European Union I don't support REMAIN out of naïveté.

I'm also not playing any kind of games. This week I've heard it said that Nicola Sturgeon says she's in favour of voting REMAIN, but secretly wants England to vote LEAVE. That Jeremy Corbyn wants us to leave, but it's all part of his bigger plan to shift the debate to the left. That Nigel Farage secretly wants an IN vote, to sustain his sense of purpose. Don't even get me started on what George Galloway is up to.

No, I'm for staying IN because I genuinely think it's better for our economy, our standard of living and for being a full part of a global community where we can exercise our hard and soft power. 

I've done a debate tonight on PURE FM in Stockport with Louise Bours UKIP MEP and had a foretaste of what's to come. Fear, hyperbole, exaggeration and a dismissal of facts that don't suit. To be fair, she brushed off the rubbish that Iain Duncan Smith came out with about Britain being more at risk from terrorism in favour of more positive vision of the future. But she was still wrong.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

I just don't think I understand (Paul Lambert)

Small consolations first. I've been lucky enough to have seen Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, David Silva, Fernando Torres, Thierry Henry and Gareth Bale play against Rovers at Ewood Park. I can today add Dmitri Payet to that list. He is absolute class and we witnessed him at his peak today.

And in all the time I've been going regularly to Ewood Park since 1977 I've seen Rovers stick 5, 6 and 7 past teams, including West Ham. I've also been a consistent away follower and have seen us get tonked by 5, 6 and, just once, by 7 goals to 1. I can take it.

But today was a first because I've never seen Rovers ship 5 at home before. It's happened in my lifetime, but I wasn't there to see it. Even when we were destroyed by rampant Arsenal we at least had the guile to shut up shop and limit the damage. 

I didn't think we could have matched West Ham today when I saw the 4-5-Chris Brown formation. A lone forward who has never scored for us and a midfield with Chris Taylor and Hope Akpan in it. Yet it was a very enjoyable opening 20 minutes.

After that, honestly, we were taught a lesson in football and reminded how big that gulf is between the side we had out and theirs. This is the mystery of Paul Lambert. Why rest three Premiership quality players? Gomez, Graham and Hanley could have made a difference today. Two of them are his signings so he can't complain about the dross he's saddled with. 

Speaking of which, I quite like Chris Brown and Chris Taylor, but they do rather represent the depths to which we've fallen. Brown gives all, but that's not much. Taylor runs about a lot and get stuck in too, but he showed how useful that isn't today when he got himself sent off. 

In the 1999-2000 season Graeme Souness took over, was underwhelming, we finished mid-table. It was always about building for the next campaign. I would like to think we're in a similar place now, but to be honest I don't think Lambert knows what to do in the flurry of games coming thick and fast.

No, this was another rotten day to be a Blackburn Rovers fan.

It has been pointed out that Danny Graham was cup tied, though Tony Watt wasn't.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Losing to Hull. Grim.

Jordi Gomez bossed midfield and at last showed we have a midfield player who can turn his opponent. In the first half.

Elliot Ward proved he is a fit, elegant and intelligent centre back. In the first half. 

Tony Watt causes defenders problems and brought a tricky aggression to our front line. In the first half.

You've got the message by now. In the second half Rovers fell apart against a decent Hull City side today. Bringing Chris Brown on with a half an hour to go shows the depth of the problem. He put himself about, but he's Chris Brown. The games are piling up thick and fast now and the pressure is mounting. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

How I got my political mojo back

Tristram Hunt and me in Manchester

A couple of weeks ago I felt I'd got my political mojo back. I was asked to speak at the Manchester leg of the Progress grassroots tour, speaking alongside my colleagues Amina Lone and Tristram Hunt MP on the future of the centre-left.

I've always been impressed with Tristram's ability to see the bigger picture and to provoke and cajole the Labour movement to search our history in order to imagine a better future. I also really like Amina's willingness to grasp nettles - especially on how we confront fears over immigration, as she did as candidate in Morecambe and Lunesdale. That's partly what they spoke about, but it was the responses from the activists and members there that I found so uplifting.

Marshalled by Progress director Richard Angell, it was a frank, honest and refreshing discussion. No one was called a Tory, or a Trot. No one was heckled and no-one made any aimless blustering speeches. I wasn't called "far right" "hard right", or anything right wing. We are on the centre left. Richard didn't want questions for the panel, our job was to issue provocations for everyone there to contribute their thoughts to a constructive dialogue. Which brings me on to what I spoke about.
Amina Lone

In The Guardian recently Polly Toynbee spoke of her desolation at not having a political project she could believe in for the first time in her life. Given that those projects have included Ed Miliband and the SDP over the years, I won't shed too many tears for Polly's loss.

I do know what she means though. I too hold no hope for the Corbyn project. At every step it is politically doomed, ideologically bankrupt and organisationally incompetent. I don't for a minute believe that Jeremy Corbyn will lead Labour into the 2020 General Election. His mission doesn't strike me as that of a future prime minister of this country and with a plan to make it a modern socialist republic. He doesn't think in short parliamentary terms, he thinks in decades. This is a step toward re-casting Labour as a left wing party. A Podemos, or a Syrizia. He has no interest in power. Triumph is having the debate, or rather changing internal structures to build a party based on policies to fit his own interests and world view. And why wouldn't he? After all, he was elected as leader by a large margin.

The MPs I speak to are in despair. The atmosphere amongst the PLP is described as "toxic", "awful" and "dysfunctional". But they are in such a mood of hopelessness because of his "mandate" from the membership. But he doesn't have a mandate from the electorate. Every single Labour MP was elected on a manifesto and a platform far away from that of the leadership. Few of them share his platform, many of them are either keeping their heads down or appealing for party unity. It's a position I understand but don't think is in any way tenable.

I would whole heartedly support a coup in the Parliamentary Labour Party to oust the narrow cabal of Jeremy Corbyn, the awful Diane Abbott and John McDonnell. They have their mandate to lead the party, but not in Parliament. They aren't up to the job. They are an embarrassment and are unfit to perform their constitutional duty to provide effective opposition to this mediocre Conservative government. Already the key interventions are at committee stage. The best performances at the despatch box have been from Hilary Benn and Angela Eagle. It has to change.

Here's why. The most common conversation I have with non-Labour friends is this. "Isn't politics interesting?" they say. "Love him or hate him, doesn't Jeremy Corbyn represent something new and different? At least you know what he stands for."

My next question back at them is always answered with a big fat no. Well, would you vote Labour with him as leader? "No, no, no and once more for good luck, no, of course not," and that's the polite version. They just won't. In fact they laugh. The opinion polls also show this. The response on the doorstep is the same. Our answer is either to apologise for him, or to plead for a vote despite him, as we successfully achieved in Oldham.

It's understandable that you'd want to give up. But, the trouble is, unlike Polly Toynbee, I do have a zeal for a project - devolution. It may be flawed, it may lack democratic accountability thus far, but it has the potential to vastly improve the life chances of my children and to address the chronic imbalance of the UK's London-centric economy and political life. To dismiss it as a Tory trap is beyond stupid.

I could get depressed about how little recognition Labour in local government gets from successive leaderships, but instead it should motivate us to give the rest of the country a better example of how our party is responsible, capable of great innovation and demonstrates that Labour is a party that understands how to win power and use it, even in a cold climate.

But this is why I have my enthusiasm back and a restored sense of mission. There is important work to be done. Far away from Westminster we all face the challenge of getting colleagues elected to local councils, where we can see Labour governing in the interests of the people who put them there. It's never easy, but it is an example of how to use power. It involves compromises, hard choices and compassion. Campaigning to earn the right to do that involves persuasion, empathy and graft. It is a world away from the Facebook groups, Twitter timelines and comments section of the Guardian. And frankly it has been made immeasurably harder by the behaviour of a leadership team completely out of touch with the mood and the needs of the country.

Beyond May, there will be an evaluation of how it's going so far. More than ever it is vital we enter that period with the spirit of optimism, determination and no little anger.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Boro away, days like these are ones to savour

Wow. What a difference. Against the team at the top, who just stole our top scorer, I have to say we bossed that game.

1-1 was a good point for Middlesbrough because frankly Rovers deserved to win. Jordi Gomez is the player we've missed all season. Tony Watt is more tenacious than Jordan Rhodes. Saw a decent shift from Cory Evans and Tommy Spurr too.

With ten minutes to go the line of defence was on the half way line. Pushing, pressing and looking forward. Even when we beat Preston in Paul Lambert's first game in charge we desperately parked the bus. Not today. We could have and should have won. If those late loose balls had fallen to anyone but Hope Akpan or Elliot Bennett it would have been in the back of the net.

In town pre-match it's clear this set of fans think they are a team on the up. And all around us as we stood in the home end agonising as we disguised our amusement at such an excellent performance, the home fans grew more frustrated. They may still go up, fair play to them if they do, because as a group of fans they are supportive to the end. 

But not on this evidence. I thought David Nugent is so similar to Rhodes it's a mystery why they spent so much on him. And what an insult to him to be introduced as "Jason Rhodes". You had one job, Mr Announcer.

But days like today are about so much more than 90 minutes of football. Lunch and a tour of the town with an old mate, meeting his son, stories, nostalgia, memories and hopes for our families and their bright futures. That is if we survive the heart attacks induced by a Parmo, the Middlesbrough signature dish of a chicken escalope smothered in cheese.

I rather think I've tortured my lads Louis and Joe by taking them to an away game and standing in the heart of the home end. Promise we won't do it again lads. Certainly not at Burnley.