Saturday, April 22, 2017

Statement on Hazel Grove and my plans for the General Election 2017

Standing as a parliamentary candidate in my home constituency in 2015 was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. I was so proud to have achieved Labour's best ever result here, but I was even more proud of the team of activists who joined us in campaigning on a positive and lively campaign. I was particularly proud that my campaign team found room for people from right across the Labour family.

A great deal has changed since then, both in my life and in the world of politics. You won't have to look very far to find my views on Brexit, the Labour leadership and the challenges we now face as a country. I also have sons about to take GCSEs and A levels who need my support.

I'm also really enjoying my job at Manchester Metropolitan University where I work on political and external relations, including making a strong case for the Higher Education sector on developing skills and contributing to an industrial strategy. We've also established a non-partisan think-tank where we are finding opportunities to project world-class research into policy development.

For these reasons and more I wrote to the Labour Party North West office this week to make it clear I wouldn't be contesting this election.

I hope Labour select a candidate who will build on the strides we made in 2015, continue to hold together a broad based team of fantastic activists, gain the experience and, you never know, cause a major upset.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Things can only get better - Peter Mandelson at the People's History Museum

Yesterday was the first day of the 2017 General Election campaign. Twenty years since Labour won so convincingly I had the pleasure to listen to Professor Steve Fielding interviewing Peter Mandelson at the People's History Museum.

I owe an enormous amount to Peter, now the Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University where I've worked since January 2016. He's put his shoulder to a couple of projects I'm fully invested in, such as the MetroPolis think-tank, but more than that, New Labour gave shape to the ideas that have made all our lives immeasurably better.

Today, he spoke about that election, as part of the New Dawn exhibition to mark the 20 years since that groundbreaking poll victory for Labour. He discussed the ways in which the party could have done more still and scotched a number of myths and falsities about it being some kind of Tory-lite neo-liberal continuation of Thatcherism.

The podcast will be available soon of the event, so I'll share it here, but he spoke about New Labour's enabling of ambition, the under-promising and over-delivery of social reform, especially in the NHS and education. He also spoke about Labour's traditions - how Attlee and Morrison, then Wilson and Crosland bequeathed an intellectual and political legacy. It was a topic of discussion that the emphasis on the "New" rather than the "Labour" is a lesson to be learnt today. The 20th anniversary is not being marked by the present Labour leadership. 

My favourite bit was in response to the first audience question. I have heard him tell the full story before about the quote attributed to him about being "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich". For accuracy, here's John Rentoul's quote in the Independent from a seminar he did at King's College London last year
At a meeting in 1998 the CEO of Hewlett Packard, Lewis Platt, said to me, "Why should I consider investing in a country like Britain that’s now got a communist government?" And I said I was intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich, as long as they pay their taxes. That second part is often left out, usually by The Guardian. What’s the lesson there? Never do irony.    
We had a good chat amongst friends as well today, we talked about what we're going to be doing to support colleagues seeking re-election and to ensure we have a strong Labour party ready to meet the new challenges of these quite extraordinary times.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Blackburn Rovers - the despair I can handle, it's the hope I can't stand

I've never seen ball skills like it. The craft, the dedication and the persistence. And all the more impressive because it was done in the colours of the mighty Blackburn Rovers. Yes, that seven-year old girl doing keepy-ups was a brilliant half time distraction from the dross we had just been served up at Ewood today by the team we have learnt has the 9th biggest wage bill in the division, according to the director of football Paul Senior.

We were lost for something to say on the way home. I wish we'd been at the game the sponsors had seen where Jason Lowe was man of the match. Or the one the two blowhards on Radio Rovers saw where Bristol City "sat back". I've never understood that fatuous and meaningless phrase about a sporting encounter. Never mind that they managed more shots on goal and tested our (second choice) keeper far more than we tested our former third choice keeper between their sticks.

I genuinely don't think I've seen a worse performance from a centre-midfield pairing than that served up by Hope Akpan and Jason Lowe today. We saw the worst of Liam Feeney. We saw some horrendous passing by Elliot Bennett who was seemingly doing Ryan Nyambe's job for him as well. Tactically, Mowbray got it wrong today. The first half formation of 5-4-1 failed utterly. And the problem is the midfield. Ringing the changes at half time saw some kind of improvement, Bennett carried on doing Nyambe's job, he just didn't need the young defender on the pitch to do it. He put in a brilliant cross for Gallagher's goal and turned to our stand to roar his anger at the crowd, a proper snarl. I hate it when players do that. It's like he's saying, get behind the team you bunch of know-nothing idiots, love us blindly. Rightly, he'll have got some stick for some of that dreadful wayward passing today, but there's no need for that.

The goal of the season montage before the game shows that we have players who know where the net is - real quality goals. But Gallagher, Jao, Emnes and Mahoney didn't terrorise the defence enough. Then again, a player like Mahoney is always most effective running onto a ball so he can make a run into the box, or to skin a defender. Lowe has proved incapable of delivering that kind of pass.

Birmingham City seem to be doing their level best to loosen our grip on that last relegation spot. But we have win two of our last three games, if not all of them.

I've never really thought that we were good enough to stay up. We've had flickers of being a good side, but they've just been that, flickers. We didn't go to Forest on Good Friday, so we've missed a high among a season of lows. What I haven't been prepared for was just how miserable it was going to be. Watching this stumble to the inevitable is proving far more difficult than I imagined. It's the despair I can handle, it's the hope I can't stand.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Top 100 tunes - tears, laughter and triumphs

I blogged way back in 2011 about my top 100 - my own very male and very anoraky list of my 100 top songs. To make the editing easier - and there is also a top 1000, a top 500, a top 250 and a top 150 - I restricted each artist to one track each and bent the rules for the New Order, Moby thing. But there's more to this list than just 100 songs I like; each one has a particular memory. At least three throw up cherished emotions about friends who've died, many others evoke memories of special times and places. This is a refresh of the original list with about ten new tracks.

We Could Send Letters, Aztec Camera
Yes Sir I Can Boogie, Baccara
A Day in the Life, The Beatles
One Last Love Song, The Beautiful South
Let Em in, Billy Paul
The Day Before You Came, Blancmange
Union City Blue, Blondie
Tinseltown In The Rain, The Blue Nile
Subterranean Homesick Blue, Bob Dylan
Waving Flags, British Sea Power
Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen
Nobody Does It Better, Carly Simon
Father and Son, Cat Stevens
The British Way of Life, The Chords
Straight to Hell, The Clash
Bloody Revolutions, Crass
Weather With You, Crowded House
Instant Crush, Daft Punk
Life On Mars, David Bowie
Dignity, Deacon Blue
California Über Alles, Dead Kennedys
Enjoy the Silence, Depeche Mode
There, There My Dear, Dexy's Midnight Runners
I Touch Myself, Divinyls
MacArthur Park, Donna Summer
You Don't Have to Say You Me, Dusty Springfield
The Killing Moon, Echo and the Bunnymen
One Day Like This, Elbow
Getting Away With It, Electronic
Stan (Featuring Dido), Eminem with Dido
Paid in Full, Eric B. and Rakim
Love See No Colour, The Farm
Do You Realize?? The Flaming Lips
Welcome to the Pleasuredome, Frankie Goes to Hollywood
My Sweet Lord, George Harrison
La vie en Rose, Grace Jones
The Message, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Gil Scott-Heron
Your Evening of Swing (has been Cancelled), Half Man Half Biscuit
Zeus and Apollo, Hatchback
Silver Machine, Hawkwind
Love Train, Holly Johnson
When You're Young, The Jam
Tomorrow, James
Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley
Annie's Song, John Denver
Ring Of Fire, Johnny Cash
Atmosphere, Joy Division
This is the Last Time, Keane
The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
Sunny Afternoon, The Kinks
Stairway To Heaven, Led Zeppelin
Aria [with Michael Gambon - Layer Cake speech] Lisa Gerrard
All Woman, Lisa Stansfield
Wasting My Young Years, London Grammar
Idiot Child, Madness
Motorcycle Emptiness, Manic Street Preachers
Teardrop, Massive Attack
What's Going On, Marvin Gaye
Anchorage, Michelle Shocked
Irish Blood, English Heart, Morrissey
Express Yourself, N.W.A.
True Faith , New Order
New Dawn Fades, Moby
Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon, Neil Diamond
Time Of No Reply, Nick Drake
Don't Speak, No Doubt
All Around the World, Oasis
If You Leave, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Because the Night, Patti Smith
Being Boring, Pet Shop Boys
She Said, Plan B
Cruel, Prefab Sprout
Purple Rain, Prince and the Revolution
Pretty In Pink, The Psychedelic Furs
Common People, Pulp
Losing My Religion, R.E.M.
Fake Plastic Trees, Radiohead
Open up Your Arms, Ren Harvieu
Orange, Richard Lumsden
Please Read The Letter, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones
In Dreams, Roy Orbison
The Spirit Of Radio, Rush
The Great Rock n Roll Swindle, Sex Pistols
Run, Baby, Run, Sheryl Crow
Itchycoo Park, The Small Faces
How Soon Is Now, The Smiths
I Got You Babe, Sonny and Cher
Ghost Town, The Specials
Up The Junction, Squeeze
I Am The Resurrection, The Stone Roses
Good Day to Die, Sunhouse
Give A Little Bit, Supertramp
It's My Life, Talk Talk
Reward, The Teardrop Explodes
Heartland, The The
Song to the Siren, This Mortal Coil
I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone,Tom Jones With James Dean Bradfield
Up Against the Wall, Tom Robinson Band
Funky Cold Medina, Tone Loc
Wide Open Road, The Triffids
Red Hill Mining Town, U2
Lucky Man, Verve
Story of the Blues, Wah
And A Bang On The Ear, The Waterboys
Baba O'Riley, The Who

Sunday, April 09, 2017

There's no-one left to blame at Blackburn Rovers

Like most people, I watched most of yesterday's desperately depressing defeat to Barnsley in stunned silence.

I said at the end of last season that it might have been better if we'd gone down then. A team of over-paid stalwarts, loanees, cast-offs and kids needs something special to become a team capable of surviving. I think yesterday we saw what happens when it all falls apart. I still like honest Tony Mowbray. I still want to believe we can pull a series of performances out of the bag and survive, but I  also find myself asking why we'd want to.

There are always three teams who will be relegated. Therefore there must be three teams worse than us over the course of a 46 game season for us to survive. The epithet "too good to go down" has been applied to good sides before. But we know in truth that this is not a good team. It is half a team, it has some elements of a team, but it can't mask the negatives with the abilities of Sam Gallagher, Marvin Emnes and the weight of expectation that sits on the young shoulders of Conor Mahoney. They should be the sparkle that makes winning enjoyable. Instead they flatter to deceive and come up short time and time again.

I often wonder about the motivation of professional footballers. What deep inner core of determination can unite a dressing room to perform as Barcelona did against Paris St German, or for Blackburn Rovers to overcome Derby County in the play off semi-final in 1992 after going 2-0 down so early. What is it? Why do some teams accept that they're just not beaten, while others capitulate, blame each other, do that arm shrug when there's no-one to pass to that virtue signals a frustration with a team that aren't as good as the player doing the shrugging. Why?

Go through the entire squad and ask yourself who will be here at the end of next season. The club's director of football has already hinted that there are players on too much money who won't be offered new contracts, presumably that's Lowe, Guthrie, Conway and Evans. The loan players will be off. Wes Brown has presumably played his last game of football. I think Conor Mahoney can have a bright future in football, but honestly, would you blame him if he worked out that the best place for  him would be away from Blackburn Rovers? Can anyone tell me why Anthony Stokes was ever even signed?

Put like that you start to piece together the mess that the club is in from top to bottom.

I've headlined this blog, 'no-one left to blame', partly because the manager said there must be no more excuses. But the crowd yesterday was stunned and silent. We wanted to get behind a spirited performance and a dogged fightback, but none came. No player is capable of changing a game plan on the pitch, grabbing hold of a game and leading the team. The only two players at the club who could are both injured, Lenihan and Mulgrew were much missed yesterday, but if we're pinning our hopes on them coming back to save us, we're dreaming. Under Owen Coyle it would have been the hapless and clueless manager who would have got the brunt of the crowd's ire. But he's gone. Venky's are never there and don't listen. I don't honestly think Rovers have been starved of cash, if anything they've spent too much on the wrong things. We're paying dearly for the sins of the past. For them to walk away like Portsmouth's previous owners did would arguably be far worse. None of that changes the fact that we're still adrift and putting in a shift like that one yesterday.

I'm rambling now, I genuinely don't offer any solution. The world outside our club is suffering enough from people who think things are easy, obvious and solvable.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Martin Regan RIP

I was shocked and saddened to be told yesterday that the journalist Martin Regan had died. Even though we had a period of time where we were slightly bitter adversaries, I never failed to admire his dry wit and two-fisted editorial style.

When I took over as editor of Insider in February 2000 I was pretty stunned to get a congratulatory email from a predecessor and avowed rival. At that point Martin had fallen out with everyone at Insider and taken his EN magazine with him to a new venture, Excel Publishing. He used to point out that we were in fact a property magazine and in that first barbed introductory email he said he'd look forward to reading about "the next thrilling article" about "Eileen Bilton, industrial B1 workspaces in Runcorn and the price of sheds in Skem."

When we produced a 10th anniversary edition and I plundered back issues for nuggets I realised just what a fine writer and observer he was. His was a more acerbic and angry style than mine - and he never held back from telling me how he detested my embrace of corporate social responsibility, regarding me as an insipid Blairite - but if I was going to take barbs from a watchful opponent, then I'd better not be intellectually lazy or loose with facts. It was a strange but stiffening influence.

Over time we had a couple of lively legal disputes. One was his fault, one was mine. One attempt to get him to settle was met by the declaration that he'd rather cut off his own head than ever apologise or back down. But eventually over a long dinner at Nick Jaspan's house we crossed a line and moved on from such needless and wasteful squabbles. He was a man with a hinterland, a chess master, author, art collector, football lover, a writer and a father. He took more risks than most journalists and it made him all the more fascinating as a result.

At the Open golf championship in Birkdale in 2008 we were on the same hospitality table. We talked about the spoof Roger Cashman column which I'd started doing. I liked how he let me know he enjoyed it, without ever actually admitting it and we swapped notes on a few chancers and characters from around town who eventually found their way into Roger's imaginary orbit.

While I was serving my tedious year-long notice period I'd see Martin a lot more, initially on the street in Chinatown where we'd share a few more stories and tales of publishing comings and goings. We were both ready for something new and that personal competitive pride had ceased to be any kind of factor in our relationship. 

Last summer I noticed he'd appeared on Twitter and was continuing with his pet rants about economics, politics and Manchester City. He was a natural for such a sparky environment, targeting the swirl of bullshitters that social media attracts. I helped him out, suggested he used that marvellous picture of him holding a fat cigar and pointing, instead of an egg, and that he boost his followers by joining conversations and picking fights. He soon got the hang of it, and I enjoyed chatting to him again.

Last year a national newspaper called me about a businessman I'd once written about and who features as a cameo in my book. I was slightly guarded and cautious, but also tipped the wink that Martin might be willing to talk a bit more than I had as he knew the character better (there had been litigation, I believe). When the journalist called again, his tales of what Martin had spilled were typically robust, ripe and utterly unusable. He hadn't held back! 

As I've got older I've tried to make my peace with everyone I've ever fallen out with. It's for days like these.

I really liked Martin Regan, and I'm really sad he's gone so bloody soon.

Walking Dead - enough is enough

I'm Negan! credit: Andy Westwood
The Walking Dead has become a joke, a TV show that has lost its way, ceased to be allegorical or moral, and worse still, just doesn't really surprise you any more. OK, you have to suspend a certain amount of belief to indulge yourself in a drama series about a dystopian zombie apocalypse. And it isn't that the Walking Dead has got ridiculous overnight, it's that the makers have lost all ability to create tension and drama, while moving a story on at pace.

After a needlessly brutal season opener, Season 7 has been the worst yet.

I was gripped by the books, which have taken the graphic novel form to a new level, and if I'm honest I've really enjoyed a few lost weekends binge watching the earlier series. But this was substandard at best.

The season finale had its moments, as the Independent says here, the battle scene was the culmination of so many sub-plots coming together - Sacha's sacrifice, the return of "badass" Carole and of Morgan finally dropping his sullen pacifism - but the rest of the episode was tedious, drawn out and like much of the 15 episodes that went before, it could all have been done in about a quarter of the time.

The one element that was done well and was genuinely shocking was the betrayal of Alexandria by the garbage pail kids. But it still hasn't tried to add up quite why they went along with the plan for war with little supposed motive to fight Negan, or even a passing curiosity about who he is and what they are all about.

Other unanswered dead ends, for starters.

1 - Where did Gregory go? Just vanished 
2 - How did the Alexandrians not get butchered when they turned on the Saviours
3 - Dwight, friend or foe? - still not clear
4 - Are all three armies the worst shots ever? Was someone firing blanks? Who died?
5 - Why on earth do the garbage pail kids speak so weirdly, who are they, where are they from?
6 - And what next for that Tiger?

My theory since we discovered creepy Jadis and her black clad clan was that they will turn out to be Alpha and the Whisperers from the graphic novels, people who walk among the dead in zombie skin and attack those who trespass and who have reverted to a primitive animal state. The twists and turns in that story line are genuinely shocking.  

But I may never know. I won't be buying a series pass, or subscribing to Fox. If I do catch up it will be long term, on a box set, or if comes back to Netflix. When I do I can fast forward through the lingering unnecessary moping about and find something else. Because what has been exposed by the dire pace of the broadcast series is that the single episode story structure has become stymied by ad bumpers and the mid-season break. Each episode is padded out to reach fake peaks around adverts, stripping the storyline of rhythm and adding false tension. Worse still, each half season is about the build up to the end point, which the showrunners clearly obsess about, to exclusion of caring about the progress of each episode.

Early ratings indicate that the show is rapidly declining in popularity. It needs a major reboot, or this next season must surely be its last.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

We were the future once - our trip to Brighton by the sea

In the early 1990s our newly built Ewood Park was full, the team were flying and the cry from the opposition fans was always about where we were before all of this. Or as a West Ham fan sung on the tube in 1995 - "that shirt, looks awfully new." To this day, some fans of other Lancashire clubs refer to Blackburn Rovers as "plastics" - a fan base that is younger, more middle class, glory hunting and yes, female.

Our trip to Brighton yesterday reminded me of that. I genuinely don't think I've ever been part of such a civilised, gentrified and polite football crowd. Maybe it was the sunshine or the success of the local team, but actually I think it's the onward success of a club with potential in a prosperous area, something that you'd struggle to attribute to Blackburn. Even the Rovers fans seemed mostly to be marketing managers and investment directors, originally from the Ribble Valley, on a day trip from the London suburbs to see their home town club.

The Amex Community Stadium is one of the most impressive of the new builds. The stand the TV cameras are in - which you don't see on TV - is enormous, similar in shape and tiers to the Etihad. The quality of the seats even in our little away fans corner were of highly superior cushioning. The local train service was convenient, quick and well organised, and without wishing to mix two obsessions on one day, the Southern Railways trains are in a different league to what we suffer on Northern Rail.

The pre-match build up was more like that for a community arts festival than a Championship football match.  A little contrived, but at least the brass band rendition of Sussex by the Sea is more fitting for them than a limp Coldplay effort which we endured for two seasons. Every club has their own way of piping in rousing music, something I could frankly do without at my vintage. What it didn't do was make it a cauldron of hatred. If I'm honest Brighton should slip nicely into the increasingly southern and very shiny Premier League, so they can renew their rivalry with the "stripey Nigels" at Crystal Palace. They won't have problems attracting international talent to come to the south east and they clearly have a coherant and sizeable fan base to fill their stadium.

On one other occasion this season we've found ourselves directly across the segregation of the webbed seats from the home supporters. At Huddersfield it was pretty feral and intense. Yesterday, they were practically sharing their hummus dip and discussing the parliamentary performance of Brighton's Green MP Caroline Lucas. One chap at the end applauded us for longer than the Rovers players did.

You can read match reports elsewhere, from people who do it for a living, but they will no doubt tell you that we played alright but didn't create enough chances. I thought Emnes should have done better with his chance, Mahoney needs to be more deadly and we probably missed Danny Graham's poaching. Brighton aren't twenty odd places better than Rovers, but they have the luck and the persistence to win games like this.

Another new ground chalked off. I make it the 147th ground I've watched football on, I'm still on 82 out of the Punk 92 as I'd seen Brighton at the Goldstone Ground quite a few times, but it is my 72nd of the current 92 and the full sweep of this season's Championship. It was a long day out, but I was also reminded why I do this, what keeps me at it, the memories, the friendships, a little bit of the football and not a little obsession with doing the 92.