Monday, April 30, 2012

My mates #17 - Laura Wolfe and Anthony Turner

It's been a while since I've randomly shuffled my address book and found a friend to profile on this feature on this blog. Who better today than these two - Laura Wolfe and Anthony Turner, married by love, divided by football. Laura is a raving Manchester City fan and Anthony a slightly jaded United fan. Both great parents and wonderful friends.

I first met Laura through work, she was the director of the Institute of Directors for the North West and I was the editor of Insider. And do you know what - we really didn't get on at all. She was reaching out to all media and I was mildly offended at the status equivalence. Do you know what? She was right. The world does turn smoother if we all work together.

In my defence I was longer in the game than Laura and had seen a few muppets come and go. In time, she skilfully proved a number of things - mainly that she's good at what she does - building networks and creating great events, but also that she values investment in people. Every time I've worked with her I've enjoyed it, and every time I've learned something new. I also hope I've brought something too.

As we've become friends - she memorably came to a dinner at my old school with Kevin Roberts  - I've also got to know Anthony too, which has been brilliant. We've also seen our kids get to hang out together too as we sit in the conservatory and talk for England.

The thing I like about the two of them is just how honest and straight they both are. But also they have a wicked and mischievous sense of humour. How can I not love the creator of an alter ego that is the wife of my alter ego. Confused? All will be revealed eventually.

Tonight it is Manchester City v Manchester United at Eastlands. THE MOST IMPORTANT AND TENSE AND BIGGEST MOST MASSIVE GAME, LIKE, EVER!! Well, not here it isn't, but while me and Rachel keep our allegiances low key, the footballing divide in their house has been the subject of TV documentaries (see above), radio programmes and occasional Twitter rows. Tonight will be a tense one in their household. But love conquers all.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

More desperate nonsense from Marple's Lib Dems

I was delighted to see that the latest leaflet from Marple Liberal Democrats have moderated the ludicrous graphs that misrepresented the support of the rival parties in the local elections, just as the Conservatives have used real stats (pictured). I was also pleased that all mention of "Shan's campaign" against a supermarket on Hibbert Lane had been taken out. Good.

But they still claim credit for freezing council tax, which is a central government policy. There are the usual silly claims about small improvements that are of questionable benefit. One of these is the replacement of football posts on Hawk Green. Anyone can see this is a totally unsuitable setting for a football pitch. It can't be used by local clubs, who are struggling to find somewhere to play, and is unmarked. So why have two full sized metal posts? Nonsense.

Just as I was beginning to think the only active candidate was Shan Alexander, who I have written about here, here and here, and who has a few posters around Marple from her supporters, we received a leaflet from Conservative candidate Carl Rydings. It too draws attention to local problems like potholes, but also includes a few positive notes. He doesn't use dreary electoral strategies as the Lib Dems do, but stands up for his Conservative values. I liked his considered stance on the supermarket issue. He is against Asda on Hibbert Lane - but notes the local desire for a different site for a new supermarket.

There was no presence on the main shopping area of Marple today from any candidate, at least not when I was there at the busy time of 12.30. And posters from the Lib Dems in Marple as a whole outnumber Conservative posters. In fact, even Labour do. But Carl's campaign is targetting High Lane. He's been active on the local internet forum too, but wonder how many votes that will garner.

I noticed as well that not only is council leader Dave Goddard up for re-election in Offerton this time, so too is his right hand man Kevin Hogg in Hazel Grove.

It's going to be a close call, but one wonders how much the Conservatives bad fortnight will impact on the confidence of their vote to turn out. And how much the tainted credibility of Shan Alexander will be a factor with local people - Google her name and see what comes up. At the end of the day it's about turnout, how motivated people are to support their candidate.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Aaronovitch v Galloway, Question Time

Question Time last week didn't disappoint. It was a great start to the new series. The order in which I like the panel before they appear is worth listing, because so often it colours how we judge those who are on the programme.

1. David Aaronovitch
2. Sayeeda Warsi
3. Yvette Cooper
4. Tim Farron
5. George Galloway

Here's how I honestly think they did.

1. David Aaronovitch
2. George Galloway
3. Sayeeda Warsi
4. Tim Farron
5. Yvette Cooper

I thought the would be Labour leader was a real let down. She floundered in the teeth of attacks by Galloway. On first sight I thought David Aaronovitch had come off worse from his clashes with the odious apologist for dictators, but while Galloway was front footed in how he attacked "former Communist" and "backside licker" it rather came across as hideous name calling.

Spring clean - new blogs and links added

I've added a couple of new links on the panel and taken off a few defunct ones. If anyone wants me to add a link that they think people who come here will like, please let me know.

Outside In is an excellent and well maintained blog by a teacher called Michael Merrick. He has written widely on politics and Catholicism and does so with a compelling urgency.

Catholic Left does exactly what you'd expect, but also has an incredibly good grasp of local politics round my way.

John Leach does a brilliant blog about entrepreneurship - it's his passion and I love spending time with John and working on our goal of bringing together people with great ideas.

Thought Economics from Manchester-based entrepreneur Vikas Shah has been nominated for a webby award. He is terrific. Some of his interviews are quite mesmerising. "Between them, they have achieved accolades ranging from being one of the first from our civilisation to step foot on the moon, to bringing the telephone to India, inventing the internet, developing countries, changing our understanding of life and the universe, running the biggest sports and film events in the world, ending wars, and more. All interviews are conducted and written by Vikas Shah."

I've also included a link to Respublica, the think tank founded by public intellectual Phillip Blond. I reviewed his thoughtful and challenging book Red Tory here and remain interested in the work of this very intriguing project that addresses varied issues of civic life.

I've also taken off my Facebook profile, which is nobody's business but members of my family and the real friends I have on that social network - instead I've added a link to my LinkedIn profile

Finally, there's also Michael Taylor Events - an online journal of events I've been working on. It's going to get busier.

The start-up of you by Reid Hoffman reviewed

This is a great book - just right for me as I embark on a new career with a start-up business. But Reid Hoffman's thesis is broader than that. It isn't a guide for start-ups, but a guide to anyone to adopt that start-up mindset - always be iterating, trying stuff early - 'permanent beta' he calls it.

"We are all works in progress. It doesn’t matter whether you are a recent graduate, a seasoned professional, or a reinventing yourself mid-career. Great people, like great companies, are always evolving. They’re never finished and never fully developed. Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, grow more. Permanent beta is a lifelong commitment to continuous personal growth. It is the mindset of every entrepreneur of life."

He is full of wise and important ideas and stories. As you'd expect from someone who was involved in starting the social network for professionals - LinkedIn - then  he has loads to say about the power of networks. It brought me back to so much of what we picked up on our Silicon Valley Learning Journey.

There's a website for the book and the further ideas he espouses here.

Catholic Left: Local Elections in Marple

There is some excellent analysis of the upcoming local election in Marple by Catholic Blogger, who seems to have a good handle on local issues - there are also predictions of a long night for council leader Dave Goddard.

Catholic Left: Local Elections in Marple: Marple is on the border between Derbyshire and traditional Cheshire; it used to have an Urban District Council but was brought under the aus...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Question Time is back this week

My feelings towards BBC Question Time are complex. Some weeks I just can't bare to watch. Others I find myself cheering at people I don't really agree with, while curling at horror on listening to people I should quite like. Julie Meyer and Owen Jones spring to mind. It's a piece of theatre and sometimes it's a farce.

It's back this week and you couldn't have picked a better line-up to push all of my emotional and political buttons. I genuinely quite like Sayeeda Warsi and David Aaranovitch, most of the time. I think Tim Farron and Yvette Cooper are OK but prone to weasly cynicism. And then there's the arch pantomime villain himself, George Galloway, who's indefatigability I acknowledge, but will never salute.

Should be a good one.     

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Hope springs at Swansea

So, a full and shiny new stadium full of optimistic fans, watching a team playing attractive football led by a popular and positive manager under stable ownership.

Those days of 1994 at Blackburn Rovers seem so terribly distant now. But then so too does the team under Mark Hughes that saw a solid side qualify for Europe. As our train took us past Cardiff we saw the scene of a very happy day in 2002, the last silverware won by a Rovers team. When will we ever grace a final again?

Pretty soon the game will be up for Blackburn Rovers at the top level of English football.

For all his positive rhetoric and playing the victim Steve Kean has failed in his mission of creating a young positive team playing attacking football. That dream was exposed as a joke today by a Swansea City team - and a club - that is everything Blackburn Rovers is not.

The home fans sung: "we love our manager" - and so they should. Brendan Rogers is an honest and thoughtful football man who gets the best from his charges. Steve Kean does none of that.

The abject performance summed up everything: no heart from the players, with the exception of David Dunn and Paul Robinson; a somnolent and dejected following of about 1000; and absentee owners who have dismantled the club from top to bottom.

I have no hope of Rovers staying in this league now, none at all, and neither do the players. Rebuilding the club could take 10 years, a period in turmoil, administration and free fall will follow. But more than ever there is the hope that a strong group is ready to rescue the club through supporter ownership and canny management. It can help an "ugly, lovely town" have the lift through football. It's worked for Swansea, as we saw today at the 131st stadium I've watched football at. You have to cling to that hope, because there's nothing else. Not with Venky's, Steve Kean and SEM who have ruined our club.

Friday, April 13, 2012

If you support Labour and live in Marple, then vote Labour

There's a huge cynical lie at the centre of a lot of electioneering. Vote for me, or you'll get the other guy. I fell for it in the Euro elections last year - I voted Green - and yet the awful BNP still got in. I think the Greens are barmy, yet they took comfort from their share of the vote, one of which was cast for entirely negative reasons. Urging a tactical vote is unpleasant. Yet here in Marple the Liberal Democrats are basing their local strategy on it.

The leaflet (above left) includes a hideous chart claiming to show a share of the vote in some unsourced, spurious election. In it, there are just three parties - two of which have a share of vote that looks roughly like 45 per cent and 42 per cent. The third, Labour, is portrayed as having what looks like 12.5 per cent. I've had my ruler out, trust me.

What was the election result in this ward last time? 42, 32, 16, with a 4th party, UKIP trailing on 8 per cent. Even if you are generous and claim the graph is attempting to measure the distance between the parties and starts at 8 per cent and upwards, then it is way off. It exaggerates the Conservative support and diminishes Labour. It is based on nothing except appealing to a negative.

There's a blog here by the great Norman Geras relating to a different election altogether. He says this: "in free elections involving more than two candidates there are a number of options other than voting for one of the front-runners. One can abstain; one can spoil one's ballot; why, one can even vote for a third candidate. These are all perfectly well-known and legitimate electoral practices."

So, there are a myriad of reasons why you should vote for any candidate. Supporting the character of that person, their capacity to serve, an endorsement of the programme of that party.

So, my message to any Labour supporters in Marple is this: if you want to support your party then do so. Don't fall for dismal Liberal Democrat desperation.

In elections you should vote for what you believe in. Here's the thing with the Liberal Democrats round here, especially this candidate - I don't think they believe in anything.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

For the love of a good book

I still haven't embraced the Kindle and reading books on electronic pads yet. I borrowed an Android tablet for a couple of weeks and downloaded a few things on to the Kindle App, but just didn't take to it. I'm rather attached to my iPhone though and read all kinds of things on its tiny screen, I like the tactile interface - you can see where this is going, right? Yes, I think I'll get an iPad soon.

But ... I still love a book - and more than that I love hunting around in bookshops. I popped into Blackwells on Oxford Road yesterday. Maybe they just present academic books and the kinds of fiction and general books that academics like in a slightly different way - but it was very absorbing. I found a load of books I would buy, but rather fear they would just join a pile I struggle to get through (see above).

But this is all heading one way, I fear. I could only find a couple of bookshops in downtown San Francisco when I was there last month. All the biggies like Barnes & Noble and Borders? Gone. They have them in malls, but you can see why it's happened. The two books by American authors I had my eye on - I ended up buying them at Heathrow Airport!

But there's this piece in the Atlantic which suggests people are reading more - just not buying books in stores. It would be a crying shame and we must do all we can to use bookshops - I think though they need a new and different purpose - meeting spaces that emphasise the social side of learning and discovery. I notice Waterstones in Manchester have some excellent events coming soon - and Blackwells had one tonight. They won't replace book sales, but they might stimulate more interest in the product and provide a means to acquire more knowledge.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Catholic Church and Gay marriage - my problem with it all

When I joined the Catholic Church in 2007 it wasn't for an easy life. The moral and ethical stimulus challenges and enriches me in equal measure. I haven't tended to talk about it on this blog too much, and don't feel sufficiently comfortable with the scripture or the doctrine to pour forth. It's also a fact that most people I come across who on hearing I'm Catholic think it's akin to being in a right-wing political party. In so many ways it is so far from that.

To me it veers from being beautifully simple to achingly hard. Yet proper Christian love remains at the centre of it all. Christ's love and the simple message we used to hear at the end of every Mass - "go in peace to love, and serve the Lord". The comma is important.

Here's what the Pope had to say at Easter: "[Jesus Christ] is present as a force of hope through his Church, which is close to all human situations of suffering and injustice."

But here's a thing. At the celebration of Easter our priest's homily took a diversion from a message about Natural Law to one of the core issues of the day - gay marriage.

This is what priests should do - poke at your faith and remind us that it's not just the easy stuff about forgiveness and doing good, but the hard bits too. It was uncomfortable, as it should be. It causes you to reflect and sometimes recoil, as he should do. I make no bones about that, but what follows is where I am at the moment. Homosexuality has always caused a problem for the church, in fact for all faiths for all time, it has been one of the lines in the sand.

Evoking Natural Law brings the issue to the heart of faith, God's gifts and human existence. My difficulty is that I don't see homosexuality as a sin or against that natural law. I see it as a part of some people's human make up - their capacity to love and to share, but with someone of the same sex.

I tend to the view of controversial gay priest Father Bernard Lynch, who said this weekend: "I do feel there is need to witness to the fact that gay is good and gay belongs to God. There are millions of lesbian and gay Catholics who need a witness to the fact that their love is not evil."

So, while it's possible to take all of that on board and still say - "hang on" over accepting marriage between same sex couples in a union blessed by the Church, I find the logic here is towards taking the argument two steps backwards behind that line in the sand on homosexuality itself.  

This isn't my doctrine, this isn't even me saying I have all the answers, as you can see I haven't really said anything, but it's where I am with this issue at the moment. Any guidance gratefully received.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Make Shan History

It was mentioned here that the LibDems in Marple would stoop low to get their candidate Shan Alexander re-elected. This leaflet, pictured, is breathtaking in its cynicism.

Fact: Shan Alexander was a governor of Cheadle & Marple Sixth Form College when the issue of a supermarket was discussed. She never opposed it and she never made public to the voters that gave her the right to be a governor that it was possible.

Fact: The campaign against the sale of the land to a supermarket was led by local people, not councillors. She was taken by surprise by the ferocity of the campaign and has asked local activists to tone down the campaign. She has cynically jumped on the bandwagon. She is pictured, below, right, in the dark top and white trousers facing an angry crowd of local people who started this campaign while the councillors had done nothing but hide behind the usual "leave it to us" and "trust us, we're working behind the scenes" nonsense. This eruption of the "Marple Spring" last year shocked them. Had it not happened and been restricted to a few people I have no doubt they would have ushered Asda through the planning application and heralded their support of Marple as a success for "inward investment" and "job creation". Maybe that's too cynical, but it is the view I hear most frequently.

To call it "Shan's campaign" is a disgrace. It is an insult to all the people in Marple who have given up their time to organise and get 1000 people marching in the streets, putting up posters, filling a rally at Memorial Park and collecting signatures on petitions.

The Liberal Democrats in Marple are well organised and resourceful. I don't doubt they will work hard for their candidate, but claims like this - and there are more - have no place in this election campaign. I would be equally as disgusted if any candidate claimed the "NO to a supermarket on Hibbert Lane" campaign as their own, but I would be surprised. Not so with this candidate or her campaign team.

And another thing, I really dislike the "Labour can't win here" complacency in the leaflets. It bears all the arrogance of a lazy incumbent - it may have a ring of truth to it - but this piece here shows just how the house of cards in Lib Dem Stockport is crumbling.

Make sure you vote in these elections. It's time for change in Marple and Shan Alexander must go.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Rovers relegation run in

Blackburn Rovers have that capacity to surprise me this season. They lose games they ought to win, and have won one game they never expected to - Man United away. I've done the headscratching over the run-in, just as the Daily Mail has here and come to a slightly different conclusion. I think Rovers will end up on 36 points, just as the Mail says, but from different games. By my maths I expect us to finish fourth from bottom with Wigan, QPR and Wolves going down. In my heart, however, I feel doomed.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Quality politicians need real power and influence

Arlene Foster opens the Titanic Belfast, saying "we did it"
Who would be a local councillor? It's a serious question. I've mulled over the central matter in hand on many occasions. I was talking it over with two good friends recently, one is a Labour councillor who has come to it in her forties and is doing very well - partly because she has been experienced in education and local issues in Manchester. The other is a former councillor who doesn't see the point these days and has access to power through a very successful lobbying organisation he leads.

We have a situation in Marple South where a dismal councillor of retirement age is seeking re-election, candidates are here. For many reasons she should call it a day - but she's hanging on. Maybe it's because she's retired that she can supplement her other income with the £25,000 or so she picks up in expenses and allowances. Her opponents include a young man from the Conservative Party- who is at the start of a journey where he hopes to make a difference and represent the people through public service. The incumbent has already dismissed him as "faceless" which is a disgraceful piece of dog dirt Lib Dem politics. Personally, I hope he does well, and uses the energy of his youth and his freedom from wider family responsibilities to get stuck in. Who else would have a go? Professionals in their 30s and 40s with families can't afford to - I'm sure many who have genuinely weighed it up and just don't see elected public service as an option.

This isn't to argue for larger salaries - but it does pose a problem. Maybe there are too many councillors? Maybe there is too much local government? And what structure would work that would aid the one cause I have consistently banged on about all my life - devolution, power and autonomy for the North.

Taking this a step further, I was considering this as I watched the minister for enterprise and tourism in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, speaking at a conference I ran recently. She presides over her portfolios with great skill and I was impressed that she is a politician of some stature. Without even getting into the traditions and wings of Ulster Unionism that she comes from, you have to bear in mind that as a qualified lawyer she has other opportunities in her life. I'd estimate that if she were to have moved to England, could well be a Cameroonian Conservative and would easily be ministerial material.

Now, her electorate is only 1.5 million, yet her impact and capacity to improve and enhance the lives of people in Northern Ireland is immense, she makes that point here. Contrast that with the most powerful political jobs in the North of England. Liverpool city council were blessed to have Mike Storey as a capable leader. Beyond that? History suggests it was thin fare. Beyond Sir Richard Leese in Manchester? There is a massive quality gap. There are, I am led to believe, a number of emerging councillors, of which my friend is one, but it all requires a disproportionate investment of time and brainpower to make sure the bins are collected and the schools don't employ psychopaths. I kind of sympathise with the Nicholas Ridley view of local government, to be honest. If you know what it is, fine, if you don't, that's fine too, but you should read your political history more.

Which brings me to the issue of city and borough Mayors. Who would get the job if Manchester has an elected mayor? Probably someone from the local Labour machine, like current leader Sir Richard Leese, just as Joe Anderson is a shoe in for Liverpool mayor. It's a joke and a waste of time. But a city region Mayor, covering the 10 boroughs, with accounatbility to the people, power over the executive that is running skills, education, inward investment, health policy, transport and an airport - that's a job worth having. Just as London's Mayoral contest has attracted two heavyweights like Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, so too could a city region with a large budget, genuine autonomy over key issues and, nakedly, proper influence.

There might be a Mancunian Arlene Foster out there, we can but hope - but we can also create the structures to attract such talent to public life. Otherwise we just get lumbered with yet more like Shan Alexander.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Marple's Mary Portas Bid

Marple has applied for funding in the government's Portas Pilot scheme. This has to be worth the effort. With a nudge in the right direction and a few more things going on, the centre could start to thrive again. As Di Jackson says in the video, Marple is on a knife edge at the moment.

The bid is modest and realistic, some mentoring and promotional help for existing businesses and two more of the successful street markets. 

There's some coverage of the bid - and Stockport's - here.