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.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

The inside track on Game of Thrones

Now that I've made up for six years of Game of Thrones not being in my life, I thought I ought to share this fabulous day from earlier this year.

Our careers and employability team got Maisie Williams (Arya Stark from Game of Thrones) to come and talk to the students. She’s set up a new venture called Daisie - a sort of a social network to connect creative people with one another to encourage co-operation and collaboration on projects. Anyway, someone had to host the event and ask the questions, which was a great experience. 

She also answered loads of great probing questions from students on how to keep going, how to raise money for a tech start-up and lots about the final series of GOT.

The coverage on the University website is here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The EU flag flies in Marple - and why we get the wrong politicians

A mate who works for an MP told me over a drink the other day how much anger he gets whenever he picks up the phone. Over Brexit? I asked. "Everything," he said. Housing, parking, fly tipping, schools, cuts, immigration, everything you can think of, and plenty more you couldn't.

I'm also reading Isabel Hardman's excellent book Why We Get The Wrong Politicians - a well written and incisive gallop through the problems of our failing political system. Politics is broken, but there is still much virtue in the intentions of people who work for our politicians, as well as among the much maligned political class too.

With that in mind, I popped into the office of William Wragg MP in Marple this afternoon. I thanked his staff for all they do, keeping democracy ticking over in the best way they can. They'd arrived at work recently to find that someone had stuck Bollocks to Brexit stickers all over the windows. At best that's a pain the backside and it will have taken them a while to scrape them off, distracting them from whatever else they do. At worst it must be very unsettling in the current climate. I made the point that I fully support the views of the people who want to resist this insane Brexit and that I'm massively disappointed in William's stance on this issue, but I'm sorry for the inconvenience that this has put his staff through. They seemed OK, and grateful of a visitor who didn't want to fight.

I did so also because I did "like" a tweet that pointed out the sticker stunt, but more so because whoever did it also hung an EU flag from the sign above the door. I thought that was funny. There has to be space to disagree well, not to escalate every slight and every action into a massive outrage on social media. But these are angry, edgy times.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The best food in Stockport

Like most people who live in the outlying areas of Stockport, we don't actually go into the town centre that much. Frankly, there's very little reason to.

When we do it's for a very specific purpose, a particular shop, or the excellent Light Cinema. In fact, that is an example of a building that is so much better from the inside than the hideous carbuncle of an exterior. I'd go so far as to say it's the best cinema I've ever been to.

We popped in to Stockport today to drop Louis at work and thought we'd check out the new Produce Hall and the work that's been done to the area around the market. It has definitely improved. Today being Monday, everywhere was closed, so we'll have to have another go later in the week. But from a pure place making perspective, the progress is really noticable and we've seen enough to make us want to come back.

What it did do however was send our fizzing tastebuds in the direction of Tyros, a sensational Lebanese cafe tucked away just off Tiviot Dale.

All three of us had wraps, lamb and two kinds of chicken. The salad extras are something else though; carrots, potato salads, possibly the best hummus outside of the Middle East. The service is not just friendly, but really enthusiastic for food, the love oozes out. And it's just such good value too - £5.50 for a wrap and two sides is incredible, really.

One fabulous previous visit was to treat Paul Lawrence before he left Stockport for a new job in Edinburgh. Paul is someone with real vision and a sense of how to build a place and all the good things now happening were started on his watch.

I've heard great things about Where The Light Gets In, but also that it's a lot of money for something I probably wouldn't appreciate. I like my food, but my palate isn't delicate, my choices unrefined. I value hearty every time.

So, there's more exploring to do, but when it comes to the town centre, I'll reserve a verdict on the Produce Hall for another day, because I've had it confirmed for now that Tyros remains the best food in Stockport town centre.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Confidence is a preference for the habitual routine for match winning Rovers known as Fist Pump!

We made a late decision to head for Nottingham Forest today to watch our merry men.

A week ago I wouldn’t have backed us to get anything from another team lolling about in mid-table, like Stoke City, with a newish manager and an eye on next season.

Something clicked in midweek against Derby County though; as soon as the ball flicked over Joe Rothwell’s heel and into his accelerating path, his control connected with his decision making faculties and he clipped the ball deftly into the corner. On such margins are games won, as are tap ins and lucky bounces.

That being Rothwell’s debut goal in a season of fits and starts was significant and it made him literally fit to start this afternoon and, I say this confidently in hindsight, certain to score. His goal came in a spell of intense pressure when he found himself within the range and lashed in the sweetest of finishes. He wouldn’t have had the confidence to even try that had he not lost his goal scoring cherry on Tuesday.

We know that Player of the Season shoe-in Danny Graham scores when he wants, and he certainly wanted it again today. But after some delightful twists and the deft drop of the shoulder, everyone in the ground expected Bradley Dack to stretch the net. At that moment he was everything I ever wanted him to be, but for minutes afterwards I was ready to announce on Instagram that Bradley and I were no longer in a relationship.

I hope that miss doesn’t knock his confidence in the way his other recent setbacks have. It shouldn’t, because Dack was immense in that second half. His trickery, his intelligent passing out to Adam Armstrong, and his offering of an option to Corry Evans and Lewis Travis, were everything we missed last week.

Rovers conceded 19 fouls today. 19. Only a few of them were what you’d call industrial challenges, the kind of roughing up we frankly don’t do enough of. No, they were what our Louis calls “Conway fouls”: forced collisions by players placing themselves in harm’s way. When we do it, Charlie Mulgrew often obliges with a free kick. Forest had one shot on target out of 22, which was our other fortune today.

So, the baby elephant in the room remains Ben Brereton. I watched him on the bench in the second half and he was like a coiled spring. When he finally bounced onto the pitch he was more like Bambi on ice, unable to challenge, trap, or control, let alone score a goal against his old team and lessen the burden of that price tag. He had the nuisance presence of a goalie coming up for a corner in the 98th minute; opponents don’t really know what to do with him, neither do his team mates, more to the point. It must be unbearable to be Ben, but I can see the future opening up for him once he’s scored, the trouble is there are no easy games in the Championship, with the possible exception of relegated Bolton at home on Easter Monday. Too easy?

I thought that Dack miss, and a fluffed one-on-one by Rothwell, would cost us. It didn’t. And I’m reluctant to be overly critical of our players. They take it to heart and change behaviour as a result. Since some wag on Twitter called Elliott Bennett “a fist pumping Liam Feeney”, the trademark celebration has vanished, though so too have the wins, to be fair. He put a shift in today, even some rough stuff when needed. It was good to have that back at the end. Very good indeed.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Getting to Ewood is an effort, and today was the day I snapped

It was quite an effort to get to Ewood on time for the kick off today. We even rang ahead to put in our order with the peerless Leavers Bakery on Bolton Road, picking up and then wolfing down our motley collection of steak, potato and butter as the whistle blew to start the game against Stoke City in the glorious Lancashire sunshine. "Thanks, love, see you next season," said the lady in Leavers, reminding us that there isn't another Saturday home game.

Next season, eh?

It seems she isn't the only one thinking ahead to August. We certainly are, and with some dread. I also get the impression that's where Tony Mowbray's head is. Those references to 50 points, the talk of a transition, the purchases of players he doesn't use, wrapping them up for a special occasion.

To be blunt, come August, the only players who played any part today that I'd be happy seeing start, I mean, really happy in the sense that I'd be gutted if they left, I could count on one hand and in descending order of affection: Darragh Lenihan, Lewis Travis, Ryan Nyambe, Adam Armstrong,  and at a push, David Raya. I feel dreadfully disloyal thinking of a team without Charlie Mulgrew and Danny Graham, the absolute bedrocks and saviours of this season, but frankly, something isn't working and they are of an age. Of my favoured five, they have the potential to become top, top footballers at the highest level, they have so much more to give our club. But in a sport dominated by agents, how long before these lads start getting the word that they don't need to be struggling among this dross?

Like at Sheffield Wednesday last month, I was most disappointed for Joe Rothwell, who once again huffed and puffed without ever seizing his moment in the absence of Bradley Dack. There's a good player in there that can have an impact, but I just don't think he's a clever player in the way that Dack or Travis is. When a loose ball fell to him early on and he scuffed a clear chance, it betrayed a total lack of confidence. Or that he's just not as good as I hoped he was.

I know it's a predictable siren cry for fans to demand they try the kids when other options don't work, and clearly they aren't, but how much might John Buckley and Lewis Travis have enjoyed pitting their wits against Stoke's Joe Allen (the Welsh Xavi) and Bojan (an actual Barca prodigy)?

On the whole I didn't think Stoke were much cop, but then seeing us lose to teams that fit that description has been the story of this season. Their young manager clearly has a different idea about what kind of team he wants next term, but they're seeing this one out with a bit more grit. A rare away win seems to prove my fear that all teams lacking confidence need is a game against Blackburn Rovers.

Which brings me back to my constant niggle. Once again we seem to adapt tactics to the style of play of the opposition and let them settle in to how they want the game to go. The way Amari Bell slows up play when we have a chance to break is baffling. And if the idea that playing League One quality bruisers in the middle would give us grit, then sadly the manager has a very different view of the abilities and possibilities offered up by Bennett, Evans and Smallwood, and of why Harrison Reed warrants a place on the bench, but not to play any part.

My patience snapped today. It snapped with the players I've mentioned just now. It snapped with Mowbray too. It takes some effort for us to get to Ewood, especially as there are other things I need to do on a Saturday to make it all work, both before and after. As I sit here now, it's been a long day. And yes, of course I question whether it's worth it. Because frankly, Blackburn's a long way to go for a pie.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Business awards are now a joke

Trophy shelf at now liquidated Noir Agency
A couple of months ago I did a talk at Alliance Manchester Business School about the challenging environment for the business media.
Before that I'd written something, here, about how no-one in the press seemed to feel any kind of duty to police the boundaries of the business community.

Most of the reaction to that was that it was a bit of an enjoyable whinge about how things were so much better back in my day. Sure, I fuelled that with a few tales and I enjoyed swapping memories with a few former muckers and occasional rivals.

That wasn't my intention though. It's much more serious than a nostalgia fuelled rant. It's about the reputation of Manchester as a serious city.

I can't remember the last time I went to a business awards ceremony. Actually, I can. It was the 2017 Business Desk Awards where I presented an award as my employer sponsored the large business category. But before that? I really can't remember.

Since I stopped being involved I've given them a swerve. I also refuse to be a judge, in case anyone was thinking of asking me.

Let me say one more thing before I say what I'm about to offload. Running a business is hard. I couldn't do it. In fact I haven't. I've worked with incredibly capable people and I've seen at close hand the weight of the decisions they make. I'll say something else. The last decade has actually created a phenomenally resilient, agile, occasionally ruthless, but actually quite a brilliant generation of entrepreneurs. The fact that the turmoil of Brexit hasn't sunk the whole of the British entrepreneurial class is a testament to how good they actually are.

They deserve gold medals.

Instead they get the devalued currency of the current crop of business awards.

I'm going to pass no comment on the story of Noir, a digital agency, except to share a few facts I've discovered this evening, ignoring the off-the-scale boasting on social media and their own website. 

They incorporated in September 2016.

They filed for liquidation in March 2019, owing £62,000 to creditors, including about half that amount to HMRC. 

In the intervening period they filed micro-entity accounts.

They won the following awards: ‘Best Brand Agency’ at The Talk of Manchester Awards, ‘Startup Agency of the Year’ at UK Fast's Digital Entrepreneur Awards, as well as being listed in YENA’s Future 15.

On February the 22nd the Noir Agency tweeted a story about what winning at the Manchester Evening News Business of the Year Awards meant to them.

Seven days before that on the 15th of February, the director of the business, Anthony Logan, had signed a legal document confirming that the business was bust. Papers were then filed at Companies House on the 21st of March.

They are facts.

Pretty much everything else I've read and learned is subjective, and open to any kind of interpretation, including clients, where the staff went for an awayday, where their offices were. It's impossible at this stage to dissect fact from fiction. And that's a problem, clearly. The people who've lost money here, staff who lost jobs, HMRC who get stiffed again, suppliers getting left to make up the loss of income, all of that is bad enough.

But the multiple award wins represent something worse. The triumph of style over content. The readiness to hand over awards to a business built on nothing. What checks did anyone make? Or did they just admire the swagger? It's become a feeding frenzy, a cycle of lies. The emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

I look at this nonsense now as a parent. Would I want one of my sons to be working for people like this? Oh, but they're award-winning, they must be good.

I came across another awards event recently where one winner had only been in business for a month.
If you care about standards in the business community and what our city represents then you should make a conscious decision today to stop going to awards events and paying the stupid amount of money for a ticket. You should not enter awards, you should refuse to judge awards, stop putting them on your own branding, you shouldn't sponsor them, support them, or give them any credibility whatsoever.

This is the equivalent of a major doping scandal in the Olympic Games. Except there's no governing body, just the credibility afforded to the competitions by those who patronise them. Only if decent people boycott these discredited, ludicrous charades will they be put out of their misery. Trust me, this would be an act of mercy.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

If you are as tired of all the hate as me, choose love

Since when did you have to pick an ugly side in this culture war? The anger, the demands, the talk of civil war, uprising, hate and “yebbut” and “whataboutery”. It is possible to be sickened and saddened by Christchurch, Paris, Manchester and Sandy Hook.

You can also find it appalling that girls were groomed and abused by gangs of men from the same ethnic group, without becoming a racist. Ask Nazir Afzal, who prosecuted them.

It’s also possible to want Brexit and not be a "thick gammon racist". People are allowed another opinion. It’s not mine, but snooty isn’t a good look either.

It’s the same with the supporters of my football team, and presumably many others too. Catastrophisers versus ‘happy clappers’. I just don’t bother worrying about what anyone else says anymore. My first thought after our recent defeats is not, ‘someone is being wrong on the BRFC Chat forum, I must correct them.’

And since I started industrial scale blocking on social media, life is happier. I don’t care about what someone else says on social media, or whether someone expresses insufficient outrage for one atrocity, but not the other. It’s not about them, it’s about the innocent people going about their lives murdered in that moment of hate.

I’m on an anger diet for Lent. It’s better that way. Trust me.

Monday, April 01, 2019

I think I made a terrible mistake

In order to unwind during my campaigning in the 2015 General Election I started binge watching The Walking Dead. There was something raw and existential about a zombie apocalypse where rebuilding communities again was a constant struggle.

Like many things I did that year, I think I made a wrong choice.

I should have got stuck into Game of Thrones instead.

The Walking Dead has got stuck in a loop of ridiculous bad characters (The Governor, various roadside baddies, Negan, even Rick Grimes stopped making sense) and all played out in the same dull predictable location, despite supposedly having crossed two states. I said at the end of Season 7, here, that the structure had got dreadfully predictable, only the breaks, the premieres and the finale episodes had anything significant happen in them. It got to the point that after three pretty ropey seasons, I was on the brink of giving up for good. However, much as I've been transfixed by a huge leap in quality in season 9, almost everything new, terrifying and surprising about The Walking Dead owes a debt to Game of Thrones. In the season 9 finale, we were pretty much teased that Winter is Coming. Even the walkers in GoT are better than the Walking Dead, and that's meant to be the actual point.

While both series have drawn heavily from original source material, Game of Thrones is clearer a far superior show. The cast, the locations, the scripts, the tension, the high politics and even the moments of humour.

However, I know this now because the second stage of this terrible telly mistake is that I decided to catch up and so watched a 90 minute Game of Thrones summary and the very last episode of the last season. Partly it was after meeting Maisie Williams at an event I hosted earlier this year, but it was also after some fairly aggressive peer pressure at home.

About five minutes in to that final episode of Game of Thrones Season 7 and I realised that the whole package is better in every way and I have to say I am truly hooked. But, because I know what happens with the interweaving and over arching plots, I can’t correct my error by starting at the beginning because the surprise has gone. I'll enjoy season 8, the last one, no question. Bring it on. But I’ll literally never get that time back when I watched those lost episodes where nothing much happened between Rick Grimes and Negan and the Hilltop and the Kingdom. Never. But at least I never got into Lost.