Friday, July 19, 2019

The new Blackburn Rovers away kit is just so dreadful

It was the worst kit I've ever seen. A dreadful positioning of a sponsors logo, no respect for the tradition of the club and the ultimate in crass. 

Fortunately the new Huddersfield kit was a stunt, a spoof by a betting company. 

Ours is worse. I literally hate it. Now I don't buy replica football shirts. Those I do own are in a frame and I only previously bought the odd polyester nightmare for playing 5-a-side in. 

So I get that I'm not the target market for "away kits as leisure wear". For me, football kits are for playing football in.

I'm also a bit old fashioned when I think of my own team's kit. We're blue and white halves. We're Blackburn Rovers. Blue on the left and white on the right, reversed on the back. And it's a royal blue. Not sky blue, or a tinge of turquoise. Blue.

Away kits are a different terrain. But for me it's either red and black, or yellow and blue. Anything else is tinkering with tradition. I didn't like white, there's no point. I didn't care for burnt orange either. Apparently the all black one was the choice of the players at the time they were all wealthy enough to be driving big black Bentleys and Rollers. It's also the last kit I own, because Mark and Juliet Cort got me one with Taylor 40 on for my significant birthday. Thanks guys, I still wear it to the gym occasionally, that or my Lancaster City away kit which was also a present.

But this kit is an abomination. No link to tradition, no purpose or story behind it. Not that it has to. I noticed with some disdain that Manchester City have launched an away kit with a nod towards the Hacienda's yellow and black chevrons. The launch stage was evocative of New Order's Music Complete album design. I'm sorry, but I hate that too. And what the hell is a launch of a kit all about? It's confected history, and smacks of trying too hard. And at a time when the city needs to move on. What's wrong with people?

I tremble at the thought of what was said in the meetings that created this atrocity. Did someone once say of a kit, "It'll look good with jeans"? Who decided? Was it Umbro? Or the betting company sponsor? And will they be adding vaping companies and law firms to the shirt again this season? looking in the end like a Formula One driver's outfit.

I would applaud the decision of Huddersfield to do away with sponsors (mostly betting companies) if it wasn't part of a cynical social media campaign by the cynical social media and betting company, Paddy Power.

At a time when terrace culture and styling is getting more sassy and culturally aware, this is the anti culture. A Brexit shirt in defiance of all that is modern and aesthetic. This just looks like someone's run over it with tractor tyres. I can't see any redeeming feature of it. Even the badge is mono.

To top off a truly dreadful decision, the first outing of this hideous curse of a shirt is going to be at Glasgow Rangers on Sunday. A green collared shirt and socks. At Rangers. As if taking a team captained and managed by ex-Celtic men wasn't stupid enough, we're wearing green. Maybe that's unfair to our sophisticated metropolitan opponents. I shouldn't judge. Just step up and play.

I'm looking forward to the day. We're going to enjoy it, come what may. But more often than not I find myself shaking my head at the decisions of the board at our football club. But what do I know? I'm just a fan.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

All we are saying, is give Stockport a chance

Eric Jackson, Statement Artworks 
I spend more time than is healthy thinking about how northern towns can become better places. I try and do my bit by using them. One of the traits of a failing place is that it will have lost a clear purpose and people don't go there.  There's only so long you can keep going somewhere out of civic pride and loyalty.

My nearest town is Stockport, and significantly, a framework was released today for a large part of the centre of the town that planners have called Stockport Town Centre West, from the area around the station, down to the river Mersey and along towards the bottom of Hollywood Park. It's significantly the first Mayoral Development Corporation that Andy Burnham is backing to use powers of land assembly and planning.

This is unquestionably a good thing.

Let's get a few home truths on the table first. In its present form Stockport Market is dead. Turning it into a food hall, like Altrincham, in one swoop wouldn't have worked; but it has to change. The sale and development of the Produce Hall could have been handled better. It got the whole project off to a bad start. The external aesthetics of the Red Rock leisure complex, with a great new cinema, are pretty grim. Any plan to reinvent a shopping precinct where the largest retailer is Primark is on a hiding to nothing.

Right I've said it. Can everyone move on now?

I'm on record as saying the Light Cinema is the best I've been to. I really love it. I've now been to the Produce Hall a few times and the reshaped Market Place and I think it's great too. I had a good chat to the gaffer, Steve Pilling, and he talked me through scale of the project, and the thinking behind the different "stalls" and the need to prove the concept, create footfall, then to support other decent quality operators to come once it had been established. I was delighted that our wonderful neighbourhood Cambodian is expanding from Marple and into the Produce Hall. I'm sure others will follow.

I'm really pleased that Foodie Friday is still thriving on the last Friday of every month.

The area around the Underbanks, all around the brewery is an absolute treasure trove, every bit as potentially charming and fascinating as historical cities like Chester and York. The key word there is potentially. It also has the commitment from some really sassy and innovate retailers. I'm not sold on the identity of the area as "Stockport's Soho", but as this piece from the Manchester Evening News captured recently, the will to improve the area is palpable, but also tainted by frustration. Parts of it are crumbling before our very eyes.

Here's the thing though. Without footfall, without people coming to a place, day in, day out, then specialist retail and leisure dies. It can't support a business, let alone a town. Stockport, like many northern towns, has a big challenge to attract the people with money to spend, to sustain the businesses and to provide a range of things for people from all different incomes to come and enjoy.

You can get part of the way by encouraging existing locals, by swishing things up to tempt the the Bramall set to stop by (and Marple, Davenport and Woodford types), but the re-population of town centres is what will surely be key. Town planning takes time, and everything has to be patiently and carefully consulted on.

The latest plans for Town Centre West look uncontroversial and rather urgent. The consultation period is open until the 6th of September. I know what I'll be submitting: just get on with it.

PS
This piece of news passed me by at the time, but Chaat Cart, another local Marple favourite, is also setting up in the Produce Hall alongside Angkor Soul.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

We’re putting the band back together! Manchester Y Factor returns

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to sing with my own band. One problem, I couldn't hold a note if it had brass handles.

For my significant birthday in 2006 my mates put a band together and I belted out I Fought the Law, Don't Look Back in Anger and Ever Fallen in Love. For the rest of the night they had a proper singer and it was such a laugh.

We thought it would be great to keep the whole vibe going and for the next five years after that we pulled together a charity event with Manchester business and professional folk called The Y Factor.

Owing to huge popular demand, in the words of Jake and Elwood, “we’re putting the band back together” after an 8 year absence. How time flies!

I fought the Law, 2006
The Y Factor returns to Manchester this year, at Gorilla on 19 September 2019 and it will be a fantastic night. It reminds me what a great spirit there is amongst the finance community in Manchester, who will be showing a fair bit of bravery and generosity to perform with a live band of actual brilliant musicians and in front of amazing celebrity judges. For those who were there for the first five tours – you will remember it well! For those who weren’t - prepare to be entertained!

I'll be MC for the event and I'll be jousting with our expert judges as they pass their verdict on the acts. We'll be letting you know who they are, and who the competitors are, shortly.

Y Factor winners 2009 - the Cobbettes
Amongst the event sponsors are my pal Michael Reeves' business Clearwater International, a global corporate finance and advisory firm, and ABN AMRO Bank, where Jeremy Smith works by day, when he isn't touring with Barclay James Harvest.

There was a real sense that we needed as a group to use that capacity and energy we first had to do something to address Manchester's chronic problem with street homelessness and a collapse in support for vulnerable individuals. I think our charity partner Mancunian Way is a great fit. It was formed in 2011 to support the homeless by securing employment opportunities for individuals so they can improve their lives.

As Mike says in the press release that's gone out this week: “Over the last series, we raised more than £200k for our nominated charity – once again this will be a great event and an opportunity for our professional community to support Mancunian Way with their ambitions. This is our sixth time supporting the Y Factor event. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved together and delighted to be involved with the event again.”

I'll also do some updates on the performers over the summer and a bit more about the charity and the astonishing work they do in incredibly difficult circumstances.

Tickets are priced at £25 and available HERE! This event will be a sell out - so get your tickets early to avoid disappointment and help support this great cause.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Freshwalks in the City - the benefits of looking up

I've blogged before, here, about the wonder that is Freshwalks. Maybe I haven't mentioned how it's expanded to also include Freshwalks City

It has a similar function, get outdoors, meet new people, hang out with old friends, learn something.

The lunchtime or evening walks are guided and themed, and today we had a quick jaunt around the city centre looking at the makings of modern Manchester.

I was looking forward to this one because as our city centre changes, it's important that we understand the context of how things are changing. Sometimes this isn't for the best reasons, nor are the right choices made. But we can appreciate both the beauty and ugliness that surrounds. I'm not sure at the moment there's a consistency in design styles that appreciates all of that. But for all of us a better understanding of the past equips all of us to better shape the future.

Thanks to tour guide Emma Fox, here are a few things I learnt today.

The movement of millions of artefacts in 1934 was done with the assistance of hundreds of unemployed Mancunians, carting stuff between Piccadilly Gardens and the new library in St Peter's Square.

There's a fallen soldier statue on the top of the war memorial, his great coat draping downwards.

Ship Canal House on King Street has a statue of Neptune at the top.

55 King Street, once the home of District Bank, then NatWest, is constructed from black Swedish granite, which was chosen to match the soot covered stone buildings alongside. They were subsequently cleaned and the air quality improved.

I did know that the Arndale Centre was deliberately planned in order to crush an underground and multiracial music scene in the 1960s. I didn't know that the same architects responsible for the hideous yellow tile design were also responsible for the Hulme Crescents. Wow, what a legacy.




Monday, July 15, 2019

The 6.30 am eye roll



Rob Hulme, Ann Coffey and me earlier today
We have a routine in our house in the mornings, it's called the BBC News eyeroll. Usually it's a tired and grumpy response to whatever half-baked gasp from a politician, business leader or John Humphrys that we might hear as we sip our coffee.

There's also a subset of that called the teacher shrug. Since Rachel qualified as a teacher and threw herself into the profession it's got worse. Whatever the social problem, whatever the business failure, whatever the impending tidal wave of dystopia that is heading our way, you can guarantee someone somewhere will pop up on the news and say "if only schools could do more..."

We had all the potential to indulge in a lot more of this today at the University's annual partnership conference for the School of Teacher Education. My contribution was to have asked two excellent local MPs to come and speak. I did ask some crap ones as well, but they never got back to me. I also had the privilege of introducing them both and moderating the response from an impressive panel of educationalists.

What came across loud and clear - and no doubt was discussed throughout the day - was a real fundamental quest for purpose. We're all for joined up thinking across government and policy areas, but there seems to be a clash of purposes at play now. The hyper-accountability on one hand, a governance free-for-all on the other. The collision of values at the school in Birmingham over the teaching of relationships seems to have brought this into sharp focus. Who else can have played a part in community dialogue before it got to the stage of shouting matches and protests at the school gate?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Where were you when we were getting high?

So it came down to a champagne super over. I thought of it - maybe because, you know, once an editor, always an editor. But it was as dramatic an ending as it was able to be. Snatching a hope of victory from the jaws of slow inevitable defeat.

But you can read about the twists and turns and the heroes of the Cricket World Cup elsewhere and in abundance. I can only add something of the emotion of it. In our living room, where we've seen England football teams lose semi-finals, quarter finals and send us to bed in sadness. We watched the 2012 Olympics in our holiday cottage in the Lakes, and how surreal and triumphant all of that now feels.

Louis said in the final over, please, just once, let me see in my lifetime an English team win a major tournament.

Had I been glued to the TV all day, gripped by it? No, we've been gardening and dipping in and out. I can't claim to be that big a cricket fan, but Louis was providing yelps and groans to keep us posted.

I just sort of expected disappointment. It's become part of our psyche. To be voyeurs at someone else's sporting moment of absolute triumph.

In the end though it was essential viewing. I was drawn to the collective moment and fully expected disaster. The heroic, so-close but yet so far, drama. We had to watch it together, bonded in that finale. 

Thank you.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

University open days - a non-helicopter Dad's take

Lancaster University ducks
So, I’m on another round of University open days at the moment. In so many ways it’s a fascinating sociological experiment; overhearing the snippets of chats between parents, while their self-conscious and slightly embarrassed offspring are weighing up the merits of the ‘student experience’ through a wholly different lens.

I can’t claim it’s an advantage, but I suppose I know what to expect given I’ve volunteered at an undergraduate open day at work, so I’ve seen it all fall into place from different perspectives. Although my job isn’t normally what you’d describe as ‘student facing’ the experiences were particularly helpful. It reminded you of the purpose of the organisation: to educate young people and give them an experience that raised their ambition. That starts with how they are treated at every stage of the way.

My colleagues in student recruitment at Manchester Met are pretty damn good at what they do. I see up close the hard work they put in to the small details that contribute to the open days being successful. Clearly, in such a competitive marketplace for students, these days have all uniformly shown the universities off in the very best light. You see it in the armies of staff volunteers, student helpers, the guest lecturers, advisers, senior leaders from the institutions, and it starts at the train station.

I always tried to speak to the students directly, rather than just to the parents, even if they were doing a lot of the talking. I figured it’s important to engage them in brief conversations, even in that fleeting moment, about what they wanted and what they thought of the experience. They’re on a journey towards independence  away from the influences of home, the presence of the parents is supportive, yet the dynamic has the potential to be fraught with tension and awkwardness. The only exception I made to my golden rule of ‘students first’ was when I was confronted by a musical hero, with his daughter. After a brief chat about a forthcoming festival, he gave me a look that very visibly reminded me why he was there.

As a large family, we’ve also got two other ‘advantages’. One is we’ve done it before; though I went to loads of open days with Joe, he ended up picking the one that he went to on his own and of his own volition, which rather proves the previous point. We also have the contrast between the parental experience of one of our sons passing into the care of the British Army. They presented a very realistic though very reassuring picture of military life, and the flow of information on his progress has been rather more thorough than any university would provide.

In this phase of visits we’ve also been looking at the University I went to 30 odd years ago, the University of Manchester (or down the road, as we call it) and the one a couple of miles from where I grew up, Lancaster University.

That has managed to lay a few traps for me. I think I avoided being the Dad who pointed out loudly where my old department and hall of residence was, or told slightly painful anecdotes about what he got up to ‘back in the day’. Though I did say ‘wow’ a couple of times at Lancaster because the campus I used to visit from time to time is so much better nowadays. And the ducks are still there.

But I did wince when a parent asked a politics lecturer what the ideological leanings of the department were. Came the reply: “Do you mean are we a bunch of demented Marxist revolutionaries? No.”

My son Matt isn’t being drawn on preferences just yet. It’s a complex changing picture, with many moving parts. He’s taking it all in, and I’m trying not to lead the witness.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Who benefits from the latest Labour horror show?

Who benefits from Labour's latest row? Or to put it another way, does this grim spectacle, actually suit the far left? Of course it does. By staunchly defending the mistakes of the past, the clearly dysfunctional response to antisemitism, the battle lines have been drawn. The mob has been raised.

I think the leadership have made a calculation that there is no more damage to limit on the issue of antisemitism. It has become mainstream and priced in to Labour's brand.

Straight after the European election results it was clear that the left were itching for Tom Watson to make a move and launch a leadership challenge. It was the one thing that a wounded beast needed to revive itself. It worked in 2016, when the Owen Smith challenge played right into their hands. A summer of pro-Corbyn rallies and roadshows would have been enough to fire up the base again.

Consider too the timing of the letters sent to MPs around their intention to stand in a General Election. The leadership must curse the missed opportunity of 2017 to sweep the stables and recreate the Parliamentary Labour Party in their image. By putting pressure on the present remaining 247 Labour MPs to quickly confirm their intentions was meant to put the squeeze on a few to confirm they were going to quit and couldn't stomach a challenge. On balance, I'd suggest it hasn't worked. Some have refused to say, others have said they will be standing again, but in truth they know they won't. Others know they now face trigger ballots and likely deselection.

The contrasting Twitter statements in response to the Panorama programme presents itself to the membership as a useful guide on which side MPs sit. A little less Pat McFadden, Louise Ellman and Wes Streeting, and a little more in the style of the arch loyalists - Dan Carden, Laura Pidcock and Dawn Butler.

I have only a passing interest in a couple of selection contests and it's clear that well-qualified and highly capable candidates from the wrong part of the party are being pushed out in favour of woeful but ultra loyal candidates supported by Unite and Momentum. And this is despite 'dressing to the left' in their recent statements and campaign rhetoric. Sitting MPs, even serving shadow cabinet members, will face vicious show trials and demands for statements of loyalty to the cult.

Part of me knows the left aren't as clever or as strong as they like to think. But it is their party now, and all Labour MPs (and members) have to wake up to that, however painful.

Anna Turley MP nails it when says: “If we cannot deal with internal problems like this, we cannot ask the public to put us into Downing Street.”

But as Ian Austin MP, who has had the courage to say 'enough is enough' and actually mean it, has said, they will. They all will: "They are going to have to decide whether they can really appear on television or campaign in an election to tell people that Corbyn should be Prime Minister. That is what it will come down to. There will be no ducking this question when an election approaches. It is no longer enough to issue a few angry tweets or to tell people like me privately that they understand why we left the Labour Party or that they disagree with Corbyn and the people around him."

To the absolute avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, the Panorama programme (and the unruly reaction to it) was a searing indictment of a party utterly unfit to govern. If this is how they mobilise the mob while in opposition, think how ugly it will get when they have the levers of the state at their disposal.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Cyclists and pedestrians - the unbearable tension

Every morning, when I cross Oxford Road on that last leg into work I will thank a cyclist who has stopped at the traffic lights, or the pedestrian crossing, whichever route I take. Often they seem a bit bemused, but appreciative. My logic is this: thanking people and acknowledging good behaviour starts to normalise it. It also shows respect for people who share the same space.

But here's the thing. About twice a week I'll see a cyclist just power on through a red light, weaving between pedestrians.

I point out that it's a red light. The responses are literally never - "whoops, sorry".

In the last month alone they have included: "Fuck off"; "what's it got to do with you?"; another one motioned as if to spit at me; another rode his bike deliberately at me and laughed - "well get out of my fucking way then". It's always a he, by the way. But I did once see a police officer cautioning a female cyclist on Oxford Road for ignoring a red light.

I probably over react. Maybe I shouldn't confront them because it just makes me cross. But to quote the Greater Manchester cycling AND WALKING commissioner Chris Boardman this week, cyclists are (as are pedestrians by the way) "mothers, fathers, grandparents and children all doing their bit to make Britain a healthier, greener and more liveable place."

We are all human beings inhabiting the same space, but this brutal, dehumanising lack of respect shown by some road users gets us nowhere. And wouldn't your son, daughter, father or mother be so proud that you intimidated another person in pursuit of your right to break the Highway Code?

I know how vulnerable cyclists are. I abhor boorish car and van drivers who provide a far greater risk to life and limb. And I've got rid of my car, I use public transport every day and now that the weather is better I'd like to cycle more myself.

What I also know is that this sense of mistrust, entitlement and rage has to stop. Otherwise Andy Burnham and Chris Boardman's bold and ambitious vision for our city will fail due to a lack of consent, based on intolerance and wilful blindness.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Abduls - a lament


Intellectual capital with Professor Westwood
When Abduls re-opened in 2017 with comfortable furniture, a sharp new brand and the logo - "same passion, new generation", I could barely contain my glee.

Professor Andy Westwood and I were practically rattling at the door for the grand opening demanding our chicken tikka on a naan with extra chillis and chutney. When we emerged for air, barely four minutes later, we shared our own particularly fond memories from our student days three full decades ago. I think his even involved a date with a woman he was particularly keen on. It was a story with a happy ending - a marriage and two kids. I can't trump that with my recollection of ordering 8 kebabs to take home, with Dave Knights eating the first one at the counter before we transported the others home for the rest.

Last year, when we were entertaining a group of big hitters from King's College London there was only one place we were going to take them. I think we even discussed the title of Dr Jon Davis' new book over an Abduls - in that kind of fiery environment it was always going to be Heroes or Villains, the Blair Government Reconsidered, frankly.

Dr Jon Davis, big hitter from King's
When my pal Jonathan Reynolds MP (pictured, below) comes to this part of town on important parliamentary and party business, the work can be demanding and requiring of refuelling. The solution is often Abduls. It was in this very place that he and Chuka Umunna plotted their futures in politics, I believe.

Transacting important MP business
When our University hired visiting professor Ashwin Kumar, one of the benefits of joining us, I explained, was a Tuesday evening trip to Abduls with Andy Westwood. To discuss political dynamics, obviously.

I can't face the disappointment that the branch at All Saints has closed and has no plans to re-open. It is the cradle of our modern civilisation, the wellspring for co-operation and new ideas.

We are in need of a new location. These are times of genuine crisis.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Thank you Mum and Dad

Not all these daily blogs have to be long. And it is my birthday today. So I’m just going to very briefly pay tribute to the two people who made it possible, my parents.

I owe you absolutely everything. The most generous, loving, inspirational people I have known.

Every day I go to work I try and put a decent shift in and help other people. Every time I see someone I think I can help out with something, or introduce them to someone who can help, I will. You both showed me the importance of that.

Never once in all my life have you made me feel anything other than loved and supported, though frankly at times undeserving of your patience and pride.

My family near and far are everything to me. Our world. And if I’m not there with you, I’m thinking about you and missing you every day too.

Thank you.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Yes, I'm still for change - our politics requires it

I can’t foresee any circumstances that don’t lead to a General Election in the autumn. The most likely path to that is a no-confidence vote to prevent no deal Brexit. The next most likely is an emboldened Boris Johnson doing so proactively in order to demand a mandate from the public for his deal Brexit, probably a slightly different version of the same one he resigned over when it was Theresa May’s Brexit. For any of that to give Johnson a hope of resetting the system is a deal with Nigel Farage and the targeted hounding of the remaining grown-ups in the Conservative Party.

Labour knows what it needs to do. Get rid of Corbyn. In a stroke it removes the single biggest obstacle to making a case to the British people for a new approach to public services, investment in infrastructure and international leadership. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the membership will elect someone capable of it, but it is clear that the paralysis has to end. I found myself listening to John McDonnell in a Times Red Box interview talking about his economic strategy. I think it’s wrong, wreckless and undeliverable, but at least it’s coherent. But when he got on to talking through the politics of it, the Labour positions and contortions, the defence of anti-semitism and the lame response to it. All of it was just so utterly unattractive. A real horror show. 

So where does that leave me? As a wrap up from the EU election campaign, I heard murmurings that there was a move by some of the Change MPs to dissolve the whole enterprise. I got together with some of my fellow candidates from here, and from all the other regions, and we managed to persuade most of the candidates to sign a letter to Chris Leslie, as the campaign lead, to say don’t do anything hasty. We argued that we should at least try and keep the best of this campaign, namely the candidates and the activists we fell into this with, and see what we have to contribute. The end result of that was on Saturday when we had a get together here in Manchester.

Anna Soubry summed it up well when she said we have the right analysis and the right ideas. But it’s going to be hard in the future to build from where we are.  

So I came away inspired but daunted. I’m more convinced than ever of the need for a movement of the sensible centre ground of politics. As my friend Andrea Cooper said: 'we’re the people who did something.' As were those MPs who said ‘enough’.  I can take the sneers, I can bat off the insults, because I’m convinced I’ve at least tried to do something positive. An opportunity awaits.  

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Why I'm still a Catholic





OK, so I'm blogging every day this month. So far I've ticked off a couple of common themes. That was easy. Rose Hill station, a tap in. A musical eulogy, round the keeper and into an empty net. Family life, a hard working team effort.

And yet there's something I do every week that I rarely talk about. Church. Faith. To be more precise, the Catholic Church, which I properly joined in 2007 and has been a part of me for a good chunk of my life. In the theme cloud along the side of this blog you'll see that I blog about Catholic stuff as much as I do about London, radio and food. And nothing like as much as I do about Blackburn Rovers, Manchester and the Labour party.

Part of it is a lack of confidence in what I believe, how I don't really live up to what it should be to be a practising Catholic, or have a thorough understanding of how to live an authentic Christian life, albeit an imperfect one. Though I do get that is the absolute cornerstone of our faith. It isn't about being perfect, it's not a zero sum game, it's who we are as flawed unique humans. And that a spirit in us all, an inner voice that says that you matter, you have value, you are loved. That's what made us. That's God.

I've even deflected personal responsibility for this piece of content, by making it subsidiary to something far slicker, a video from Alpha (top), a course I went on and took part in a couple of years ago. Alpha really changed how I thought about the whole religious experience, about what the essential message of Jesus Christ was and how it is as relevant today as it's always been. An idea that for all the horrors of the world, the response of kindness, humility, forgiveness and a readiness to confront injustice, we can create this on earth - God's kingdom as He intended - and it is an idea that Jesus died for. For us.

And also how it's above all else a social enterprise, a shared and collective experience of people gathered together in the name of Jesus. I actively, enthusiastically love that. There is something special about a parish. The gathering together of people of all shapes, sizes, ages, backgrounds and with all their burdens. Many of us might work in diverse workplaces, follow our sports teams with a mixed crowd, but where else do you get to look someone in the eye, having shared a ritual of such profundity, such power, such mystery, then say 'peace be with you'?  And that the same thing is happening all over the world in our universal church at roughly the same time, give or take. Or as Frank Cottrell Boyce put it - "each parish has the potential to be a neighbourhood utopia." That, for me, is a little bit of the Holy Spirit.

I'm sorry this is a bit crap. It's neither profound, nor answers the question I set.

Let me try and answer it another way. What if I wasn't still a Catholic? And what if I'm wrong?

Seriously, what will any of us have lost by taking these beautiful words of inspiration every week and to try and live our lives accordingly? What's the worst that can happen? I get to dodge the terrible car parking skills of my fellow church goers, I no longer have to endure the occasional dirge of a hymn I don't know, and drift off through a homily I can't follow because I'm not clever enough? It's imperfect, it's church, but I know I'd be far far poorer and less fulfilled if I didn't have it. That's why I'm still a Catholic.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Our family life, what you see and what you get


Birthday team photo 2016

At the centre of this month long experiment to do a blog every day of July is my own resistance to overshare.

When I started The Marple Leaf back in 2006 it was often confessional about parenting issues. I probably have overshared and there was eventually a reckoning for this when one of the kids got the piss taken out of him at school for something I’d written that a class mate’s dad had spotted.

When Twitter became a thing in 2009 I picked up a habit of sharing our weekly Saturday ritual of chaotic kid juggling between football, art class, lunch, shopping trips, going to the cinema, etc. I got loads of lovely feedback about that, much more than I did about pretty much anything else. In a trick borrowed from Twitter friend Jeremy Bramwell, I even numbered them kids 1 to 5. That’s stuck.

And how I pine for the days when we’d all do things together in such joyous family spirit. Take this week for example, kid 1 is in Ireland, I can’t tell you where kid2 is (it’s classified), kid 3 is in Cyprus, kid4 has gone to visit a friend in another city, while kid5 is off to his first concert. Rachel’s been to a Caritas event and I’ve been fulfilling my role as a Centrist (not very good) Dad at a workshop trying to reimagine our broken politics.

Younger and fatter, 2006
You never stop loving them, missing them, or making plans for things to do together. And I never stop worrying either. Given what happened to one of them in 2017, we always do what we can to make sure they get home safely.

On the plus side, the other thing we’re able to do now is afford a trip abroad with a portion of them while the others make their own plans. I think we’re still paying for our all-you-can-eat summer holidays for 7 to Croatia and Malta. But we have a plan this year to get away.

I’ve said before that as much as I enjoy watching Blackburn Rovers, the bond that really ties me to the season ticket and the commitment is that it’s time well spent with kid1 and kid3, or Joe and Louis as I call them. I know I wouldn’t go as much if they both moved further away to study, and maybe one of the reasons they haven’t is that too. 

The best we usually do is a Friday chippy tea, the occasional Sunday dinner, but life gets in the way. Last night three of us went to the cinema in Marple, I jumped at the chance to do so because I wanted to spend time sharing a moment or two. Not because I was desperate to see Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis’ summer feel good flick, Yesterday, but I do desperately crave such simple shared pleasures.

We’re watching them grow wings, they make us proud every single day. But you’ll notice that we don’t share as much of that detail as we used to. If you are reading this, and you cared enough and wanted to know about their wider lives, challenges and conditions, I think you’d probably know by now. Family get updates on those details on Facebook. But what we never do, either on here, or in person, is sugar coat it. Life is tough, keeping on top of it all is relentless, exhausting, but absolutely essential to everything we are and what our values are.

So, what you might occasionally see on here is a bit of the truth. Something selective, a trigger for something else I might want to say, but it’s not the whole story. It never is.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Happy 150th birthday Rose Hill station

Our wonderful little railway station is having a birthday party this weekend. Rose Hill will be celebrating 150 years of service.

There’s a poem to mark the occasion that takes us through the deaths of monarchs and the reduction of the station to a terminus and the closure of the through line to Macclesfield in 1970, despite having survived Beeching's axe in the 1960s. It's been a battle, but a renewed lease of life more recently has made it a valuable community asset.

In the time I’ve been using the station it has transformed from somewhere that felt truly at the end of the line to a welcoming hub. It wasn’t too long ago that the poor service was rumoured to be a tactical worsening to suppress demand and lead to eventual closure. Instead we’ve had the steady improvement of the soft infrastructure led by the amazing Friends of Rose Hill station group - tree planting, a mural, the re-opening of the waiting room and so many other delightful improvements. The curation of the station into its present form has also been supported by Tony Tweedie, the station master, who embodies the very best virtues of public service. In turn that accumulated investment of love, and comprehensive data collation about who is using the station, gave a moral imperative to some resolute and successful campaigning for a higher frequency service last year.

I've done a few blogs about it over the years, this one here harks back to the campaign over the missing mystery service in the evening and the leaf train. But I also wrote here about how much better for my mental health Rose Hill is than Marple station.

We still have a crappy train operating company with their dire rolling stock, and I shall claim to speak for the permanently malcontented when I say I thoroughly dislike the 150 Sprinters as much as I despise the soon to be extinct Pacer units. But at least we have this station to come home to.

I can see a bright future for Rose Hill, but I think in ten years time it might all look very different again. Greater Manchester’s shifting demographics require an explosion in high frequency public transport services to places like this, requiring something new and exciting, like a tram train. The case for that network to expand to Marple and Rose Hill is a strong one. The reopening of the Middlewood Way towards High Lane may be trickier.

So, thank you to everyone who has got this station to 150, the passengers, the dedication of the Marple public in supporting something worth defending, to Tony Tweedie, but most of all to the Friends of Rose Hill.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Simplicity, humility, charity, service and unity - thank you Harrytown Catholic High School

We’ve just got home from an emotional evening at Stockport Town Hall. Seeing our youngest lad get two gongs at the Harrytown Catholic High School Awards Evening was just fantastic, especially as one was for music. A couple of years ago he started getting interested in making his own music. We tried lessons, a crap guitar, but it was a proper MIDI keyboard and a download of FL Studio that propelled him to new heights. The sounds that come from our garage are like something else, like Giorgio Moroder has moved in for the night to do some electronic jamming with Kendrick Lamar. He’s had to work hard to catch up with the kids in his music GCSE class who have much better parents than he has, and have been mastering instruments and scales all their lives. So that was just brilliant.

But it was something else as well. Living round here as long as we have, knowing the families, knowing the twists and turns of their lives, the heartbreaks and the challenges, gives you a  glimpse of the importance of those moments for kids enjoying that walk of pride across the stage. Rachel taught some of them and has first hand experience of their journey. And I don’t know why but the kids with names ending in scu and ski get me every time. You know, coming over here, making friends, learning a language, putting up with bullying and the nasty stink of Brexit, coming to OUR COUNTRY, and achieving. I love it when I see them succeed.

Then there’s more still. Running a school in this climate is so hard. I was a governor of Harrytown for a while, and today isn’t the time to dwell on why that wasn’t an entirely happy experience. But I couldn’t be more delighted that the school has this week been awarded GOOD status again by OFSTED, proving that the improvement measures they required last time have been met. The head, the staff, the governors, the kids will have all made an enormous effort to get that kite mark of progress. Yes, it’s really important. Yes, it matters. But something deeper, more uplifting and joyous occurred tonight for so many families and for our community.

I think it deserves a prayer, the school prayer.

Heavenly Father, we gather together as one community in your name.
Give us the courage to live our shared vision that Christ is among us, at the centre of all we do.
Pour down your Spirit on Harrytown Catholic High School.
Renew in us the simplicity to recognise your presence at the heart of each person and the humility to put others first.
Touch our lives with your love so that we can share each day with each other and wide world in charity and service.
Unite us to live in the same spirit that moved Jesus to give his life for others so that ‘all may have life and live it to the full.’
We make this prayer through Jesus Christ, your Son.
Amen.


Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Mark Hollis - one half won't do

The death of Mark Hollis in February was a real shock to the system. Not because I knew him, or ever met him, nor that I was a lifelong devotee of his music. It was more about the outpouring of appreciation for a very special talent, and the manner of how he lived the rest of his life, seemingly in mysterious isolation. The appreciation of his work being gifted, rather than grafted.

Musicians approach fame and notoriety in different ways. Tragically, it appears to have contributed to the end of Ian Curtis, lionised and speculated on forever more for the tragedy and pain and the loss of all that creative potential. The mystery of Richie Edwards haunts all fans of the Manics, me included, tinged as well with deeper and more complex issues around anxiety.

The arch version of Mark Hollis' musical history is that the early stuff was a bit 'Duran Duran lite', but he matured, became a genius and then vanished. The tributes that flowed after his death were fulsome and touching. The best of them all was this here from Jason Cowley in the New Statesman, accompanied by a beautiful photograph by Kevin Cummins (above). In fact, I said at the time that I had sat down at the end of that week to write something about the amazing music, strange life and sad death of Mark Hollis, but Jason Cowley had saved me the bother.

But I actually loved the big sound of those early New Romantic anthems. It's My Life has been a favourite of that era ever since the very first time I heard it and assumed it was Roxy Music. Listening to the lyrics now too, piecing together what we know of Mark Hollis and his life, the ache of yearning, the trust of a pledge of commitment to a relationship seems all the more poignant - "one half won't do". 

I was talking to local switched-on cultural genius Neil Summers about him, including the embarrassingly similar memories of dancing to the pumping bassline and soaring optimism of Life's What You Make It. Neil had an idea to do a BBC4 documentary about the lost talent of Mark Hollis. He won't be the last, I'll bet.

But it was the exhalations of Elbow's Guy Garvey for Spirit of Eden that I suspect opened a doorway of discovery for many. I know it did for me. It is a work of extraordinary tenderness and beauty, a blend of styles far away from the bass and keyboards of earlier anthems, a fusion of prog rock, jazz and a touch of English folk. Brittle at times, but also majestic and life affirming. It's one of those pieces of music that you seem to find something new about it each time you listen. That the record company hated it when it was dropped on them in 1988 says as much about the music business in that era than it does about such a talent. That said, it was probably a clash that could have been foretold. His awkward interviews, his painfully bashful and very rare live performances, and his reluctance to take seriously the requirements to make a pop video were all indicators of someone not willing to play a game he probably thought to be ridiculous.  

You can't listen to any of Elbow's music without sensing the presence of Spirit of Eden all around it, something Guy acknowledges on a very special tribute to the record on BBC 6 Music, broadcast way before Mark Hollis departed, but repeated all too briefly in the aftermath of his death.  Please put it back on BBC Sounds. 

Snippets have emerged of the life Mark Hollis was living in the 20 years he was away from the music business, but I don't feel I want to know any more than the observations Jason Cowley shares: 

"There was nothing pretentious about Hollis in person: he was relatively inarticulate as a conversationalist but of course found himself supremely articulate in the language of music. Liberated from financial worry by the success of the early Talk Talk albums, notably in Italy and Germany, Hollis lived well and seemed to be content in his roles as father and husband." 

To seek more would be like a snooping voyeur, pressing our noses up against the window of something we didn't know what we were looking at. What we can know, and should celebrate, is that he had a musical gift. It's but one half, if that, of a life, of a whole person. The rest is mere speculation about someone who gave very little away, yet bequeathed so much. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

My mate Adil Bux #27

Due to the wonders of technology, but also due to sheer force of will and brotherly love I still manage to maintain a friendship that spans continents and dates back decades.

This is a series that celebrates friendship and tells a story about where that came from. And today's instalment is my mate Adil Bux.

I first met Adil back in 1988 in Perth, Western Australia, when he was a DJ and club promoter. In a crazy scene of bohemian characters, chancers and party animals I was drawn to this cerebral teetotal Muslim who shared a love of music and the wider hinterland. It was sort of my job to seek out characters, as a journalist, and his as a promoter and DJ to understand and discuss the wider music trends which I was mildly obsessed with at the time.

One of the things we did together was co-hosting a music show on 6UVS FM radio, where we'd generally talk, play records and interview pop stars. One was Kevin Saunderson from Inner City, who was massive at the time with his track Good Life. Hearing the opening bars of that track even now takes me back to the edgy highs of Limbo on a Saturday night.

Although we hooked up in London a couple of times when he was passing through, we somehow lost touch when he moved here in the late 90s and into the new millenium. There's a profile on him, here, in the West Australian, which covers most of his colourful life, including being a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in 2012.

The wonders of the internet brought us back together and with it two pieces of news - one that he was married to another old Perth friend of mine, Andrea Horwood, who was one of the first people to really show belief in me and who's determination and drive I have always admired. The other was that my old flat mate Roy Jopson had sadly died, a real life force who will always remain in our hearts, much greater than the horrible disease that killed him.

Now he has occasion to come through London a lot with his new business Nuut.com, we've made it a promise to get together as often as we can, as well as speaking on the phone and by all other means necessary. Sadly too, Andrea and he are no longer together. In 2017 I had a perfectly splendid day showing him around Manchester. We had lunch in Albert Square, and as it was in the days following the horrific attack on our young people at the Arena, respects were paid at Victoria station and in the flower bed of St Anne's Square. It was a symbol of all we shared that he knew so much of the heritage of the city, the music, but also politics and the twists and turns of our lives. Bizarrely, we topped it all off with a chance meeting with Graham Stringer MP.

Yesterday, we met up again and had a splendid lunch at Soho House White City, and we could have talked all day, even though him and his colleague couldn't always understand my accent. We talked about all sorts and laughed about even more. It's what friends are for. Safe trip home mate.

Monday, July 01, 2019

A blogpost a day - a month long experiment

I’m going to try an experiment with this blog. Before the days of Twitter I used to blog a lot more than I do now. It’s not that I’m less busy, far from it, but through July I’m going to blog every day. No matter how I’m feeling, whatever I've done, and possibly the window to do it will be on the commuter train on the way home. I’ve had a list of unfinished topics I want to expand upon for a while: the dominance of London, governance, Marple’s burgeoning restaurant scene, Stockport’s Underbank, being a Governor of a Sixth Form College, mental health issues, parenting, love, city branding, charity fraud, and possibly to get my writing mojo firing properly, there’s the small matter of my Masters thesis.

That’s in addition to the perennial subjects: commuting calamities, a few more in the 'my mate' series, book reviews, telly, films and my continued angst over which direction our progressive politics should take (and this month is significant). We've also got a couple of university open days to go to and not to forget Blackburn Rovers (we’re going to two pre-season friendlies in July). It might even lead me to better understand the purpose of why I do this, what I look to get out of it, and how and where it gets me into bother.

I'm doing this first one on the train back from a day out in London seeing friends. As usual the wifi doesn't work, that could be a subject for a blog, but I think I'm aiming higher than that.


Friday, June 28, 2019

Manchester policy, forward motion and our new handbook


We launched our new book at work last week - Transforming Policy and Research. It's a handbook to help academics navigate the way towards having a positive impact on policy. Loads of researchers I know do amazing work, far better than the kind of thinking that comes out of political parties and many conventional think tanks. Our task is to help them translate that knowledge, those insights, into a place where they can co-produce positive outcomes.

In that spirit, I invited along Elizabeth Mitchell from the policy team at Manchester City Council to speak to the audience. I'm sure many people listening to her insights and noting down her examples of good practice would have been thinking the same as me: why has this fantastically bright public servant committed her career to Manchester? I'm sure she would thrive in any central government ministry. The answer lies behind the premise of the question, I suppose. Why wouldn't you want to be in Manchester? Even with the punishing budget cuts and the apparent slowing of the progress of devolution, the city, the Combined Authority and the associated institutions are innovative and dynamic places to be. Much more so than a national government paralysed by Brexit.

In the latest issue of our bi-annual MetroPolis magazine, I touch upon these themes and the thought I keep coming back to is 'ambition'. It happens to be one of the pillars of the University strategy, which is in itself an example of that successful forward motion that good strategies are supposed to give you. There would be no point doing any of this if we were howling into the darkness. But we believe we have an opportunity to be part of a movement of policy enablers in our civic universities. It also coincided with the release of a sparkling new website, which rightly emphasises our key themes: public service reform, building a caring society, and creating future cities. We've also launched a section for Policy Thinkers, to broaden out our community of thinkers and practitioners.

Taken together, it's more than just a handbook, but a toolkit, a set of resources and structures that can bring together agents for change and better policy. It's also a work in progress, blissfully.

Brexit breakdown: 14 days that shook politics | Anywhere but Westminster



Ah well. He got the bit at the Change UK Manchester rally where the tech broke down. He included my speech in it. And he said, it's not bad, but it's not Frimley. Sums up the campaign pretty well really.

I always enjoy John Harris' analysis of where we are politically and socially.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Life in Thirty-Five Boxes – Dave Haslam book event

Me and Joe really enjoyed Dave Haslam’s launch of his first mini-book last night, a series which he has dubbed ‘Art Decades’. The first mini-book in the ‘Art Decades’ series will be ‘A Life in Thirty-Five Boxes: How I Survived Selling My Record Collection’.

Partly I think it's because I always love listening to Dave when he tells stories. I've probably heard him in this kind of setting more than I've heard him DJ now, which is a testament to his own successful second act - I won't prolong that metaphor, too many have. We also heard about some of the slightly surprising things collected by his guest panellists; poet Tony Walsh, musician/artist Naomi Kashiwagi, and DJ/producer Mark Rae, including a crazy story about a trip to Chernobyl.

The blurb for the event explained how the core of ‘A Life in Thirty-Five Boxes’ is an exploration of our impulse to collect - particularly our emotional attachment to vinyl - and the notion that every record collection reflects our life story. Dave tracks how his own collection built up, how others have fed their obsessive collecting, including the man who tracks down multiple versions of Light My Fire by Jose Feliciano. It takes us all the way to the moment Dave decides to sell all his vinyl to DJ Seth Troxler, and waves goodbye to thirty-five boxes of records as they’re loaded into the back of a van.

He talks a lot about giving up the inheritance his vinyl collection represented - he was going to pass it to his children - but feared the tragedy of it scattering and breaking up. It reminded me of the parable of the rich man getting in to the kingdom of heaven, and it being harder than a camel passing through the eye of a needle. I have always taken that to be less of a denunciation of wealth, more of a statement that you can't take any of it with you, so give it back with love.

As is often the case, the Q+A flushed out some important points. Not least, the triumph of nostalgic revisionism. Dave touched on it in a challenging essay he wrote in 2015, here:

"The city authorities habitually give a nod to Factory Records, but I’m not sure they quite get important parts of the Factory story. The Hacienda wasn’t a disco version of the Trafford Centre. The Factory label, the club, those around and involved – from musicians to video makers – produced culture. It wasn’t an exercise in consuming but creating. In addition, like Shelagh Delaney, not only were they forced into action by despair at the cultural provision of the time, Factory operated outside the margins. One of the richest chapters of Manchester’s cultural history began when the lads who went on to form Joy Division began to meet up in a makeshift rehearsal room above the Black Swan Pub, near Weaste Bus Depot.

"This self-organised, independent activity still happens of course; actors, crews, artists, printmakers, musicians, freelancers hiring pub functions rooms, meeting wherever and whenever, trying to bring ideas to life. Isn’t it time these people were celebrated and encouraged?"

Since then I feel the city has become even more of a shallow memorial to the misunderstood past of Madchester. I like to think Dave's writing and his new publishing model is a subtle nod to how to use our past to tick on to the future, but as we walked out there was a poster for another Hacienda night (at Gorilla).

Monday, June 17, 2019

Viva Marseille

We had a tremendous time in Marseille. It all came about after meeting a lovely French bloke who worked in the hotels world. We wanted to go away in early June to somewhere neither of us had been before. He recommended Hotel Dieu in Marseille. What a glorious surprise the whole city was. As a port city you expect a certain grit, but it was nothing like as rough as I feared. In many ways it felt like somewhere that is changing and modernising, while trying hard to preserve its edge, without having the swish elan of Nice and Cannes, which I've been to many times before.

We took in the sights on the first day - Notre Dam, the harbour, Mucem. Then we headed for the small coastal town of Cassis on day two.

Getting around, as it is in so many European cities, was easy and safe.

To quote my favourite film, one ought to have a room with a view on the first visit. As you can see, we certainly had that. But we also treated ourselves to a real quality hotel, way above what we'd normally go for. Poached eggs at breakfast will never be same now we've had them cooked by a Michelin starred chef.

The only disappointment was Boullabaise. We felt obliged to try it, but fish soup is fish soup and wasn't worth the tourist premium we got fleeced with.

We have a few other European cities in our sites for visits soon. Recommendations welcome.



Saturday, June 15, 2019

A recap on some great telly I've watched

Riviera, a real guilty pleasure
As we're getting stuck into the long awaited second series of Killing Eve, we're also going to have to face the inevitable sense of loss that will follow it when it ends. Just as we have following a ton of different series and boxed sets over the last year. Here's a bit of a flavour of my tastes.

Fleabag was as good as any comedy I've seen in the last 10 years. Very sharp, very well acted. The scene with Kirsten Scott Thomas was mesmerising and if anything the second series took it all to a new level.

By contrast, much as I was swept along by the last series of Line of Duty it was more miss than hit. Great one liners, good pace, but at times it seems to have disappeared up its own firmament.

Bodyguard was better and proved you can still create those moments of collective gasping both in the social media second screen, but back around the table at work on Monday.

The Walking Dead managed to redeem itself in Season 9, the time jump was a bad idea which betrays quite how over ambitious the whole enterprise is becoming. It's good that it seemed to have broken something of the cycle of plot lines and places. Conversely, the bridging of TWD with the alternate Fear The Walking Dead season 4 didn't work with Morgan walking across four states, and somehow managed to make a series with sublime promise lapse back into the ridiculous. Season 5 looks somehow better.

A strange zombie apocalypse diversion on Netflix was Black Summer, which was particularly brutal and fatalistic about the ability of society to cope with a shock like this. It ended on a bleak and very final kind of note, which strangely felt like a relief.

The algorithim on Netflix has picked up on my fascination for end of days apocalyptic drama. I was disappointed we can't seem to get hold of season 3, the final one, of alien invasion nightmare Colony. The first two were good enough and well put together.

Danish bio-disaster The Rain was better with subtitles than with dubbing into English. It was also in danger of running out of ideas as much as spending a meagre budget on limited locations and bad CGI. Still, decent enough and a similar evil biotech corporation loomed large in Sky Atlantic's Hanna, which had its moments.

I felt violated by the extreme violence of The Punisher and irritated by ITV's Paranoid, though surprised to see they shot some of it at my workplace.  I'm one episode in to the new season of Black Mirror, having been drawn in and spellbound by the intensity of the two mates getting carried away by a VR game in Striking Vipers. Warped.

A really guilty pleasure was a double series binge of Sky Atlantic's Riviera. The younger me was transfixed by Lena Olin when I saw first saw her as Sabina in the 1988 adaptation of my student era favourite novel Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. She stole the show then in her bowler hat, and again five years later as the ultimate femme fatale mob boss in Romeo is Bleeding. As the matriarch Irina Clios she also dominates every scene with a look, or a glance, in a lavish and preposterous romp that takes us back to the glory days of Dallas and Dynasty. And I spotted Doug Barrowman in the first episode.

I've written here in October 2018 about my penchant for sharply written Australian noir and a couple of series have capitalised on the wave with well-delivered follow-ups. The third season of Wanted was another step up in drama and plot twist and I do hope they are heading towards my old home of Perth for season 4. Canberra set Secret City took the geo-political stakes even higher in the follow up as my favourite new hero, Harriet Dunkley, made a seamless transition from journalist to jailbird to political SpAd.

A constant of that whole genre has been the corruption and laziness of the entire Australian police force. When I go back, please remind me not to be a victim of crime. I've seen the two Wolf Creek films with the villainous and sadistic Mick Taylor stalking unsuspecting backpackers and torturing them, I don't know if I'm quite ready for two entire series of more of this.

Similarly, Welsh noir took a dark turn with Hidden, which was gracefully acted and touched on the same unseen Wales, as I said here, that parts of Hinterland did so successfully.

Finally, as if we needed reminding of the incredible raw acting talent of Stephen Graham and the awesome combination of him being directed by Shane Meadows then Channel 4's The Virtues hit you like a steam train. Graham's depiction of lead character Joe wasn't even the stand-out, though him falling off the wagon was horrifically powerful. But Meadows seems to draw out a whole range of quite incredible close up, raw, believable and underacted performances. Helen Behan as Anna and Niamh Algar as Dinah brought such sensitivity and feeling to a disturbing and haunting storyline. I watched this a few days after finally seeing Meadows' bleak and captivating 2004 film Dead Man's Shoes. Sometimes telly can be like a snack to the full on glory of a sit down spread that a feature film offers, and sometimes it is a real treat.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The need for Change - a political howl

I don't know where we go from here.

I don't know what's going to happen in our broken political system.

I don't know what's going to break the deadlock over Brexit, or whether it can be stopped or not. I want it to be stopped, but I don't know whether we can or not.

What I do know is that the Tories are going to install Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and that Jeremy Corbyn is still the leader of the opposition. That is not an acceptable choice to lead our country.

What I also know is that I have never felt as at home politically as I did amongst the Change UK candidates and activists when I stood in the European election in May. Nor have I felt as inspired. I know we got absolutely creamed at the polls and that the experience wasn’t ultimately what I expected. I’m also disappointed at the swift break up of the parliamentary group, the shambles with the name and I do seriously wonder what can realistically carry on.

Let’s be clear. Those brave MPs who quit Labour over the toxic anti-semitism, the fudge over Brexit and the unpalatable state of the party were right to do so. Nothing has changed. It wasn’t premature to do so, something had to give. It was also disappointing that more didn’t follow. I genuinely don’t know what those MPs and members who oppose Corbyn expect to happen.

Taking it all in good faith, I did my bit and walked towards the sound of the battle. It was the usual rough and tumble, but also I believe we raised the Europe issue on another platform and LibDems and Greens reaped the rewards. Fair play to them, they worked hard for it.

But what happened in the locals and the Euros hasn't changed the mess in Westminster. The next question is what kind of ambitious realignment in the mainstream of politics is possible. If it can happen, then where might the different remnants of Change UK go next? And what kind of berth do the Liberal Democrats represent? The Liberal Democrats need an injection of serious political ambition, not to take a few seats back and to win a few hung councils, but to provide a serious government that isn’t Johnson or Corbyn, which a majority of the British people are horrified by. Maybe that's what Chuka Umunna thinks will happen now. The general in search of his army.

For those that have left, personally, I think it might have been worth waiting to see what the longer view was from a larger body of activists, candidates and the collective group, rather than to act individually, or to just walk away now, but you can’t fault them for acting swiftly and politics is often about the gut feel.

A whole series of blunders contributed to the disappointing campaign and plenty of other people have commented on all of that. Not least the leaked strategy note that seemed to regard the LibDems as an irritating irrelevance, ready for the taking. I’ve always felt they have been key to any new entity, but that culturally they need that injection of ambition and to have the confidence to get over the coalition government experience. My own frustrations with their local opportunism have also betrayed that lack of courage to stand up for what they believe. And yet when they do? Well, the result was clear.

I've reached out to the Liberal Democrats I know personally and have enjoyed some robust and forthright conversations.

But I feel two things at the moment, an urgency to act, and a deeper one not to waste time on a callow gesture. The alternatives just aren’t there. I recognise that a Westminster led group always had a better chance of building something through the centre and taking activists with it. The Renew party has attempted to build from the grass roots and got 45 votes in the Peterborough by-election.

So, it's going to be decision time soon.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Alice Webb - on leading the BBC in the North, digital change and what makes a TV hit

Alice Webb showing me round the BBC
I've always really enjoyed interviewing people in positions of leadership and at the sharp end of change. So you can imagine how pleased I was to be meeting Alice Webb, Director of BBC Children's and Education, and to have it presented so well in the edition of Met Magazine.

We covered a lot of ground, including leadership, digital change, the North, Netflix, The Bodyguard, Killing Eve and loads more.

You can listen to a podcast of the interview here, and a web page with the written feature, here.

There's a rich range of feature articles in this edition of the magazine, including a profile on Carol Ann Duffy, who has just ended her tenure as the UK's Poet Laureate, a piece covering employers’ views on the impact of degree apprenticeships, good work on research being done within the University to reinvigorate town centres, a feature on Manchester’s club culture of the 1980s and 1990s, and on the ecology projects academics are involved in around the world.

It is important that people know what we are doing and the impact we have, so a magazine is a powerful platform to profile such stories so colleagues can share them and demonstrate all the ways in which we change lives for the better, and how we shape our world.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Manchester rejects hate, and why I'm for Change


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

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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





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

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Change our country - Change our politics

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

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

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

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