Sunday, October 26, 2014

Running the line at the Brabynabau - Marple Ath v Rose Hill Rovers

It was the Young Firm clash today, the SK6 Classico, Marple Athletic v Rose Hill Rovers at Brabyns Park. A gorgeous autumn morning for the two local Under 16 sides to play each other in front of a crowd of over 50 assorted mates, parents and grandparents. 

It was a cracking game too. It ended 2-2 and all four goals were belters.

Fair result? I'd say so. But given the injuries Marple were carrying (including to the regular keeper), the return fixture (also at Brabyns in February) will be another shot at local bragging rights.

As linesman I didn't have any tough calls to make, but I will say this as diplomatically as I can - I wouldn't fancy stepping to being a referee any time soon.

Jeanette Winterson's Foundation Lecture at the University of Manchester: From Gradgrind to Graphene

I am amazed that writer Jeanette Winterson's Foundation Day Lecture at the University of Manchester hasn't been more widely reported. It was a powerful tour of the University's radical progressive traditions - from Gradgrind to Graphene - and at times an angry call to arms to resist austerity and the forces of conservatism.

It was also a eulogy to the intellectual traditions of the city that didn't mention football or any of that music that so many pretended to like in the 90s. Maybe that's why it merited so little coverage.

As soon as there's a link to a transcript, or a more detailed report, I'll add it. In the meantime above is a delightful video which introduced her lecture. Featuring a range of voices from Brian Cox to Michael Wood and Shami Chakrabarti and touches on some of the ideas and ambitions of this fine institution.

It was another reminder of how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to attend the University in the 1980s when I got a grant to do so. It was a transformative period of my life and it's why I am so proud to give a little back by serving as a member of the Alumni Board and sitting on the General Assembly.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My mate #21 - Tom Bloxham

It's been a while since I updated the "my mate" series. It's not because I've run out of mates or anything, but more a symptom of slower blog activity to be honest. Last Wednesday I was at the University of Manchester Alumni Dinner at the Town Hall, where the guest speaker was Tom Bloxham, the Chancellor of the University and the chairman and founder of property company Urban Splash. 

We had a chat afterwards, as we often do on such occasions, and he reminded me of the times we've shared together over the years - the acquisition of my favourite hotel - The Midland in Morecambe - by Urban Splash, his innovative property business and how he used some of my articles about it in the exhibition before the launch;  how consistently supportive he was in my time as editor of Insider, speaking at events - always superbly; but socially too we've had some enjoyable times together - his wife Jo's joyful 40th at their house in Worsley and a terrific Christmas lunch with some of our other mutual friends like Ian Currie. Tom also invited me to join him at Old Trafford for United's annual drubbing of Blackburn Rovers, I declined, that being the time we won against the odds of course.

We're from the same neck of the woods politically - the pro-entrepreneur arm of Labour - and he's most recently been a contributor to the Labour Party's review of housing under Michael Lyons.

But I also recall a University General Assembly meeting during my lengthy and painful 12-month notice period as I was exiting Insider. I asked a question about what the University was doing to leverage its academic base to connect better with the intellectually curious in the city. A good answer would have been to list a number of public lectures and open days. Tom's answer was brilliant, he leant forward and asked me, "what have you got in mind, Michael?"

That encouragement was the first step on the road to developing what is now DISCUSS and I've never forgotten his support. Indeed, our motivation is part of the same civic pride to make our adopted city better than we found it, in line with his own well-used anecdote about the Ephebic oath of the ancient Athenians.

I always enjoy Tom's company and seeing him at the dinner last week reminded me of the friendship we've developed and how fond I am of him. I'll say this as well, he'll be a hard act to follow as Chancellor.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Whatever happened to the aspirant northern Tories?

The rise of UKIP and the dent they have made in the Labour vote in Heywood and Middleton seems to have shocked a lot of Labour people. Not me.

I grew up in the north, but it was in a Tory area and not even a posh one. For me Tory was normal and “common sense”. This wasn’t the North of Ken Loach and David Peace, where you wore your yellow Cole Not Dole sticker with pride. Where the Labour votes were weighed rather than counted. This was the City of Lancaster, where our MPs were Elaine Kellett-Bowman and Mark Lennox-Boyd.

I wasn’t born into Labourism or a Trade Union tradition. My Dad was a self-employed milkman and my Mum a nurse. Political debate around our dinner table was about what an idiot Arthur Scargill was and why surrendering nuclear weapons would be akin to inviting the Red Army to invade our shores.

It was where standing for socialism in 1983 made you out to be a bit of a nutter, frankly. I used to work with my Dad on his milk round, knocking on doors every Friday night to collect the money. The reaction to my political badges then told me everything I needed to know about how out of touch Labour had become.

I remember stumbling upon a disco in the church hall in the city centre one Friday evening. In there were all the sporty lads from our school, the rugby team and the quiet lads who did well in their exams. Their equivalents from the Girls Grammar School were there too. Attractive girls with a bit about them, who you’d never see at the punk gigs we went to, or the CND meetings at the Trades and Labour club. No, this was the Lancaster Young Conservatives. One of my mates did some childish graffiti in the toilets, we insulted a few people and left. But what bothered me more than anything was that this lot weren’t meant to be having a good time, Tories were anti-fun.

Even when I took to knocking around with the lads I knew through football few of them had much positive to say about the divisive issues that faced the working class. They were for patriotism, working hard, getting off your backside and wishing they could get a £20,000 pay off from a job down a pit like Scargill and his mob.

I mention all of this because there seems to have been a selective memory loss about what the North was like during the 80s. It wasn’t a sea of rebellion and insurrection against Thatcher. Many people quite liked her. Many people started their own businesses – often in the teeth of a workplace culture of sloth, petty theft and entitlement. I remember one lad I knew describing one of his mates thus – “a typical Labourite – you know, going off sick and always bloody complaining.”

When I went to University it was the aspirant working class kids from the Home Counties that were politically apathetic around University but were sufficiently attracted to the surge in Thatcherite capitalism that they ended up working for Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch, or became feisty entrepreneurs.

They may have also been imbued with a loathing of racism, a sense of fairness, but they were the people who quietly voted Tory in 1992. But where has that layer in society gone now?

I keep a close eye on what Ged Mirfin has to say on this and many other matters. A northern Tory and a councillor in Lancashire who has some keen observations to make on all of this: “Political affiliation has become less about aspirant lifestyles, and more about the maintenance of living standards.”

It's why I don't quite buy the line that Mondeo Man is voting UKIP, as Rod Liddle has, it's more nuanced than that. 

As John McTernan says here, in Heywood and Middleton. Labour seem to have fought the campaign on the single issue of the NHS. This is at a time when people all over the North want to hear something new and someone addressing their concerns over living standards and immigration in the way that Simon Danzcuk seems to do in Rochdale. 

The demography of Britain is changing. The last couple of years has seen record levels of new company formations and new businesses. According to Start-Up Britain 500,000 new businesses were started in 2013. That enormous figure may mask a multitude of different stories – it includes one-man bands, sole traders, kitchen table eBay traders, white van men, shell companies as well as a fully fledged companies with dreams of world domination. Lumping them all together as “entrepreneurs” is dangerous, but they do have that shared hope that screams to be supported, not held back.

George Osborne is hoping these people will also become Tories. But Labour have as much a claim to this as the Conservative Party. Small Business Saturday,  imported from the US, was modestly successful and was well championed by Chuka Umunna.

Aspiration is one of those words that gets too easily reduced to a slogan. But it used to be what people associated with Conservatism. I see much to be optimistic about in the North, I meet energetic and creative people everyday. Politics doesn’t often come into it, but what we have seen in less than a generation is the collapse of the Conservative Party as any kind of organising force in the urban North and the complete disconnect from any claim to be the party of Northern aspiration.