I could listen to Jonathan Schofield all day. I could listen to a talk on Manchester's radical history for even longer than that. So last night at Manchester Metropolitan University's 70 Oxford Street, the building that used to be the Cornerhouse, I listened and watched as he took us on a proper trek through Manchester's past.
The proposition our favourite tour guide and historian put to us was this: has Manchester betrayed its radical roots? It's a story of nuance and myth, heroism and sacrifice. But it's ultimately a story about the thing that really encapsulates Manchester's real radicalism - pragmatism and progress.
I won't attempt to summarise his talk, instead I'll point you to his excellent books. But I will take three examples that rather show we haven't betrayed our past in the way some may think. Jonathan's journey took us from the development of the town of Manchester, England's least aristocratic, through the English civil war and the siege of 1642, the stubborn non-conformist Christians who challenged the divine right of kings to rule. He talked about the beginnings of opposition to slavery, a careful case built against it by the preacher Thomas Clarkson, a direct influence on William Wilberforce who eventually succeeded in outlawing such barbarism, despite opposition from the Liverpool dockers who tried to kill him.
Secondly, Manchester's radicalism was, he argued, middle-class and non-conformist. Even the reaction to Peterloo - the birth of the Chartist movement - had a moderating force despite its entirely reasonable demands for universal (male) suffrage, the victories of this soft radicalism - the vegetarianism and municipal parks of Joseph Brotherton, John Bright's opposition to the needless Crimean war and Richard Cobden's free trade treaty with France were all touched not by insurrection and revolutionary radicalism but by a rounded and benevolent pursuit of the common good.
Thirdly, the incredible achievements of universal women's suffrage were characterised by a determination, a collection of evidence, a persistence and a refusal to shut up. Isn't that so very Manchester. And then there's Engels observation of the 3000 people gathered in a socialist hall on a Sunday that no Englishman can go three minutes without telling a joke.
So, I don't think Manchester today is a betrayal of those roots. What we do now, based on evidence, decent moderation and noisy anger traces a direct line to all that in some form or other. True, we all don't do enough, like voting in greater numbers, for a start. Change dot org and Facebook clicking absorb our own calls to radical action, while much is so wrong in the world we seem unprepared to do much about it. But isn't it something that there has been a sea of flowers around the statues of Cobden and Bright in St Anne's Square. Those flowers are our response to an act of medieval barbarism, not an act I would ever describe as radical, never. Flowers next to statues that commemorate an idea that we should be tolerant, open-minded and free to exchange ideas and the fruits of our common endeavour.
Friday, June 16, 2017
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Monday, June 05, 2017
So, to the latest installment of the "my mate" series where I say something about one of my mates, telling a tale about how we met, etc, after a random shuffle of the address book.
By a remarkable coincidence it's my friend Jonathan Reynolds, who this week is up for re-election as the Labour Member of Parliament for Stalybridge and Hyde, the constituency next door to where we live.
Mothers know, don't they? I was with my Mum yesterday and showed her Jonny's video of his own story (above). How he was the first from his family to go to University, in Manchester, and made a home in Greater Manchester of which his family, community and his church are very much at the centre of his life. He also chairs Christians on the Left and the All Party group on Autism. "Wow," she said, "so many parallels, and I can see why you're friends. I wish I could vote for him."
I first met Jonny when he worked for James Purnell, his predecessor, where one of his duties had been to deliver Alastair Campbell from Turf Moor to a fundraiser at Hyde Town Hall. I bumped into him after that a couple of times, but it was Chuka Umunna who suggested I invite him to speak at a Downtown business conference I was involved in. He went down a treat that day, providing thoughtful and cogent ideas and arguments on regional devolution, while sitting alongside Terry Christian on a panel.
When the opportunity came up for me to stand as a candidate Jonny was hugely supportive, giving me a reference and some good advice. He introduced me to his team, including his amazing wife Claire and to his office manager, Jason Prince, who is also a great friend now. When I was selected in 2015 he came over to Marple to support me when he was on Caroline Flint's shadow energy team. "I'm the minister for all the green crap," he said, disarmingly, quoting David Cameron, to the gathering of activists and eco-entrepreneurs we'd corralled and of which we have rather a few in Marple.
I've had the pleasure to support Jonny of the last few weeks during this General Election campaign. I have seen people do extraordinary things for an extraordinary guy. The wells of love and support for him in his constituency are deep and real. People who remember favours he did, kind words he spoke and how he fulfilled his role as a proper community leader.
You'd expect me to say nice things about a mate who is standing for election, so I'm not going to disappoint or layer it on any less thick. But I will say this, we have disagreed on a number of issues, but it is a function of a strong friendship that one can disagree well.
On the side of this blog you'll see a quote from the Dangerous Book for Boys extolling the three virtues of boyhood - "be honest, be loyal, be kind". These are the attributes you'd think of when you think of Jonny. Bluntly honest, supremely kind and fiercely loyal.
Of all the people I know in the harsh and brutal world of politics I can say without fear or favour that he is probably the nicest of them all. That may be a low bar in that space, but it actually should count for something.
There is also a call to action in that same quote - to march on when things are tough, to work hard and not grumble. They are qualities you want in your representative in parliament. Someone who doesn't just tell you what you want to hear, or takes a position because it's easy, but someone who is drawn to this as a calling, a mission, a response to the parable of the talents.
So, people of Stalybridge, Hyde, Mottram, Mossley, Longendale and Gee Cross, you are very lucky to have an MP like Jonny. And me, I feel blessed to count him and Claire as friends. Best of luck, mate.