“Seumus, I don’t think this is a very good idea”: Inept and incompetent Jeremy lost 2017 election before it started

May BrexitGood politicians learn from history’s mistakes, great politicians make sure those mistakes aren’t repeated. With trouble on the horizon, Theresa May’s announcement of a General Election shows she won’t be repeating the mistakes of Gordon Brown, and Jim Callaghan of missing the chance to go to the country.

It could be a perfect chance for a strong opposition to challenge a party pursing a divisive hard-line policy. Instead May’s Conservatives are 20 points ahead, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour at a historic low-point, and there is next to no chance of him forming the next Government.

In a strategic swoop, May will shoot Labour’s fox. By July he’ll be gone, and the Prime Minister will have a 50-70 strong majority. With a Liberal Democrat resurgence likely in the South West, and no prospect of either party meaningfully gaining seats in Scotland, reports of a 100+ majority for the Conservatives are likely to be strongly overegged.

From there, Labour will have five years to rebuild, get a leader with a solid team behind him, and could really challenge in 2022, especially if Brexit goes as badly as some fear.

It didn’t have to be this way. Corbyn was the left’s Ronnie Rosenthal moment. Huge excitement at the prospect of an open goal being put in, before realising that with the goal gaping wide, the man’s impotent. Nobody from the left will be allowed to play up-front again, instead they’ll be Left Back on the back benches.

The problems aren’t his policies, as proven in polling over the last few weeks, many are popular. Universal free school meals, good idea. Bumping up the carer’s allowance, likewise. All on top of previously established plans. His chancellor, John McDonnell’s economic strategy and ideas have been a breath of fresh air to a stale status quo, but it’s all rather pointless.

The problem is Jeremy’s team is ineffective, he’s an incapable media performer, with the strategic mind of General Haig at the Somme. Sadly for Labour MPs, they’ll be the ones playing the role of the honest Tommy cannon fodder in June.

For the media, his team take ages to respond to enquiries and request. You would have thought that a party on an election footing would have a statement ready to go if Theresa May called an election. Apparently not. As a course mate pointed out, our shorthand tutor managed to get a statement out before the British leader of the opposition did.

On Brexit, the party makes dishwater look clear. Dipping a toe in the water, before jumping out again isn’t a way to sell an idea to people. It’s at best, confusing, and at worse, looks as though you’re selling an idea you don’t believe in.

Policies are all well and good, but unless they’re fronted up effectively, they’re useless. A reason why I suspect the Liberal Democrats won’t do all that well is that they’re fronted by the equivalent of a Lancashire parish reverend.

The sad thing is, most of his backers could never have envisaged that things would go this badly wrong for him. Hostile MPs haven’t helped, but Jeremy’s hardly lived up to any sort of promise many had.

One plus point is that it will give the next Labour leader the chance to regain credibility. I’d imagine there’d be a 10-point bounce from a new leader. However that’s one of few plus points. This will be the last election fought on current boundary guidelines. The extra two years will give May time to smooth over any Brexit difficulties. A larger majority will give her a freer hand to do as she wishes in Westminster, before and after any EU negotiations.

If the 2015 result was galling, 2017’s will be worse. While I’d always back the Labour Party to be best chance of genuine progress in Britain, after the last two years, it’s difficult to see how others who weren’t convinced will be attracted to the cause. This could be the starting pistol of a very difficult five years. 20 years on from one of their biggest triumphs, Labour could be starting back at square one.

Gig review: Feeder at Leadmill – 31/3

Now fast approaching their thirtieth year, it’s easy to wonder whether Feeder are a busted flush. Their set list for Leadmill last Friday night (see below) was focused on pre-2005 tracks, but nevertheless, the old favourites still got the venue bouncing.

They say never meet your heroes. As I was walking up to Leadmill last Friday night to see Feeder, I wondered if the same applied to watching a band that I’ve been listening to for the best part of 15 years.

The closest I’d come to seeing them before was a spurned chance the night before my GCSE Maths exam. My best friend went, and despite his attempts to persuade me, I knew it wasn’t worth asking my parents. Instead I had a night revising quadratic equations and Pythagoras. I passed, in case you’re wondering.

However it’s probably for the best. 2008’s gig was at Birmingham’s NEC, which holds thousands. The Leadmill on the other hand, a few hundred. Thus, Friday’s atmosphere was magnificent.

Now in their 25th year, Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose’s band rolled out the classics. ‘Feeling a Moment’, ‘Come Back Around’, and ‘Buck Rodgers’, all appeared before the encore. I thought they were a cracking band before the gig, but my opinion of them only rose. Album tracks do not do the ferocity of the lead and bass guitar justice. ‘Pushing the Senses’ and ‘Come Back Around’ are all tracks on the gentler side, but live they had a far more distinctive beat.

Hearing those songs live showed how many of their songs follow the same structure, or are at least very similar. There’s nothing too wrong with that, most bands’ songs do, but it’s another thing that may not come across unless you see them live.

Nicholas provided two rarities in music today. One, a long haired rock-band lead singer. In 2017, it now feels like a blast from the past to see a lead having shoulder length hair. Secondly, someone on stage looking as though they’re loving what they’re doing. All too often, it’s fashionable for a lead singer to look moody, brooding, to give an edgy appearance. On Friday it wasn’t often that you saw Grant without a grin.

It was brilliant to hear them play favourites of mine, the guitar heavy ‘Shatter’, ‘Insomnia’, and ‘Seven Days in the Sun’. Not necessarily their most famous songs, I wondered if they were going to get an airing and was pleasently surprised.

Their finale four-track encore was something I’d not seen before. Even before they came back on, the crowd were singing the tune of ‘Just a Day’, so expectations were high. With four songs, the crowd were kept waiting. Credit to the band, it could have got tedious, but instead it just ramped up the anticipation.

Far from being a busted flush, Friday’s gig proved that fans will still turn out for Feeder, with the quality of their performance only encouraging people. However it’s difficult to see that without new material that catches the imagination, they’ll ever reach their previous heady heights again. Otherwise, they will have to hope that fans won’t tire of jumping around to ‘Just a Day’ and others. I certainly won’t.

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*Feeder substituted Borders for Turn during the main set.

Wednesday in Westminster

Palace_of_Westminster,_London_-_Feb_2007Fate never checks your diary. But to be honest, if it did and had asked me when I’d have been happy to be caught up in a terrorist attack, I think we’d have struggled to fix a date. For a period on Wednesday, I wondered if I was moments from being killed.

Melodramatic, you may think, but after terrorist attacks across Europe in recent years, I doubt I was the only one.

It was an ordinary sort of day, they always are. I was in Parliament having had a tour in the morning, lunch in the lords with a friend and was preparing for an afternoon in the company of political journalists from across Westminster. All our days were about to take a very sudden turn.

I, with friends had returned from lunch with another friend from the Lords, and we stood and passed the time of day stood in the corner of Portcullis House’s lobby, talking about various bits of political gossip, and spotting various MPs (Jess Phillips), and journalists (Laura Kuenssberg, more on her later).

Up we went, outside the room our afternoon sessions were due to take place. People started filing back, and my foremost thoughts were how I was going to leave and meet a Times journalist halfway through our session, and later meet my other half for her to get a tour around Parliament.

All of a sudden, people rushed forwards towards the glass panels overlooking the atrium. I went over, thinking that someone may have collapsed, an altercation could be taking place, or someone had been spotted. Instead, a clutch of armed officers were bustling outside through the doors of Portcullis House, while a few remained behind, before telling people to move away.

Seconds later it turned up to 11. They began shouting at anybody in sight to get to the back of the atrium. “Go! Run! Get away now!” Not the language armed police use if a handbag’s been stolen. You quickly realise that this was not a drill. In amongst this, BBC’s Kuenssberg was stood on the phone, reporting while people fled past her. The type of steel you can only envy.

A friend checked Twitter and found Kevin Schofield’s tweet that someone had been shot outside. Parliament was under attack.

In this fight or flight scenario, mine was clear. Flight the fuck out of there.

My first thoughts were logical. Where had this taken place? How many people attacking were there? Was this the first wave of a few? Were armed police prepared? Was there anybody inside? Was Portcullis House about to be overwhelmed? Well, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibilities.

After watching this unfold from our vantage point, a security staff member came up and told us to move to the back of the floor. I passed the message onto others that it may be best to pre-emptively ring home and tell family we were okay, and safe for now.

“Mom, this is going to come onto the news in about 30 seconds…” I began.

I relayed the information to her. The most difficult part was when she asked how I was. Not that I am devoid of emotion, but I very rarely shed a tear (although watching Up is always a risk). However when I told her I loved her before I ended the call, my tear ducts nudged the rest of my face, reminding it they were there. Only a staccato “Yes, fine.” I went.

Worse was when I text my girlfriend, Tasha, and it took me four attempts to finish a text telling her I loved her and couldn’t wait to see her later. By now we had been moved to a large room in Portcullis House, with around 60 others. All I could think was that if an attacker found us, we’d be mown down in seconds.

Any time I thought of my family, Tasha, my friends or our own mortality, my tear ducts were starting to hold the rest of my face to ransom. I’m not against crying. It’s just that 1) I look dreadful on the rare occasion I do cry, and 2) in a situation that’s bad enough already, it’s an absolute priority not to panic anybody else.

Pathetic, you may think. Melodramatic too. That may be, but you never know until you’re faced with that very real situation. You never know when you’ll be making that last call to your loved ones.

Once those calls were made, I decided to mill around asking others if they were okay. It’s easier to take attention off yourself that way, and in any situation, there’s always people in a worse position than yourself.

I looked around room for possible escape options if someone was to burst in. Two inch thick Perspex covered the windows, and there doors opened out onto the same corridor. If anything was to happen, it was unlikely I’d be doing a John McClane impression.

The time in that room was otherwise spent running my phone battery down checking Twitter for updates. I’m a big advocate of the idea that people give too much attention to their phones, but what people did that situation pre-mobile I have no idea, and it would have been far spookier without it.

Eventually we were moved to a building adjacent to Portcullis and put into a Tory MP’s office, with their staff and told to lock the door. Conversation was exchanged, and it’s always easy to feel slightly better when you know that by chance there’s someone with counter-terrorism training in the room. Firm advice was given not to reopen a door once it’s been locked. It was followed.

Yards away, out of the window was Westminster Bridge, and on the TV was Westminster Bridge. Surreal does not begin to cut it.

We were eventually put into the lobby of that building, and found ourselves in the same area as the BBC’s Kneussberg, and the Telegraph and former Labour MP Tom Harris. To kill boredom, I took to wandering the corridor and popping my head into the offices of MPs whose staff was there watching TV. A flat phone battery and an information vacuum meant it was the only way to keep up-to-date. That, and idle chatter is a great way to pass time, especially when you’re united by a shared experience. Happily I bumped into a staffer of Tory MP Justin Tomlinson, a fellow Harrier in the House as it were.

By now, hours after the incident and the lockdown was put into place, fear, had given way to tedium and everybody just wanted to get home. We heard that they were clearing Parliament room by room, searching along the way. Rumours circulated that we would be in there until 10pm, thankfully we were out at 8pm in one massive snake along with various MPs. I briefly mused to John McDonnell on the way out on how strange a day it had been. I wonder if he still believes in the power of the bullet and the bomb.

Walking out of Black Rod’s entrance was a bizarre feeling. Freedom. We were safe, and it was over.

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Freedom: The view down Millbank at the end of the day

 

As I write this a day later, staring out of the coach window into the pitch black M1, my only thoughts are how lucky I am. It’s true, we were never facing down a gun barrel. Yet we weren’t to know that the armed police had it under control. Just like those on Westminster Bridge, or PC Keith Palmer, who weren’t to know they wouldn’t be returning home that night.

It wasn’t so much a taste of one’s mortality, as the faint scent of it carried in the wind. Enough to make you worry that that phone call to your Mom may be the last one. Or that you might not be in the arms of your girlfriend that night. As the IRA pointed out, terrorists only have to be lucky once.

To look back, it’s endlessly surreal to think that we were caught up in it; probably one of the biggest events of the 2010s. We weren’t the story, neither were we eyewitnesses nor causalities but we were involved. The sad part is, it’ll no doubt be used to justify increasing anti-immigration feeling and more intrusive surveillance powers by those seeking to exploit the opportunity to fulfil their pre-existing narrative.

There but for the grace of god, and our magnificent emergency services, go we. Never was that truer than Wednesday in Westminster.

Happy Birthday John Rebus

Today, John Rebus is 30. Sort of. The brainchild of Scottish crime author Ian Rankin, Rebus starred in his first novel, Knots and Crosses, which was released on 19th March 1987. In the three decades since, the maverick, morose, belligerent Edinburgh cop has featured in 21 novels, and while Rankin has released books featuring other characters, they’ve never quite scaled Rebus’ heights.

The success of the novels has been as much down to the character Ian Rankin created as his brilliant writing. Rebus is the typical anti-authority authority figure. He’s been suspended more times than a trapeze artist, having never really given much attention to what his superiors think, and is continually hacked off with someone, or something. Usually both. Yet, his methods seem to work. Despite the modern methods of younger detectives, his going around asking after people in their known areas, getting up people’s noses and never quite letting go of the narrative he constructs in his mind, against others’ judgement, always seems to pay off.

His relationship with his DS Siobhan Clarke and on-going rivalry with villan ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty is the constant glue that holds the series together, along with Edinburgh’s Oxford Bar. Rebus being the complex character he is, he tends to invest a part of himself in others. Despite all attempts to make people think otherwise, he cares, and he doesn’t like losing. Good characteristics for a detective, but ones that make him that bit more human.

Having come into the Rebus series half way through (five books were released before I was born), when I nabbed a copy from a hotel ‘free library’ section, I’ve only just read Rankin’s 2003 book, A Question of Blood.

The plot is a former SAS serviceman goes into a school, shoots two pupils dead and wounds another. Or does he? Rankin’s writing, leading you through a maze of dead ends and tantalising near-solutions coupled with Rebus’ inability to accept what he’s told, and his suspicion of the SAS’ investigating staff leads to a completely different outcome to the police investigation. Of course, it’s only fiction, of course Rebus is right in the end, but it’s a cracking read. A typical Rebus book.

For my money it’s the best British crime series out there, and Rebus is one of the best fictional characters to come out of Scotland in generations. It’s a shame that after 30 years, he isn’t regarded as such outside of fans of the genre.

Were Rebus to be real, being born in 1947, he’d be 70 this year. A strange thought when in literature, characters only stand still. Especially when he’s been trying to give up smoking and drinking, and lose weight for approximately the last 30 years anyway.

If either ages were the case, a scene familiar to fans of the book would probably be replicated. A few drinks in the Ox with Siobhan to talk about a case, before he goes home, moves his chair in front of the window of his Marchmont flat, looking out over the street, puts on a record, pours himself a whiskey and thinks. Regardless of age, Happy Birthday John Rebus. Long may there be many more.

Ranieri’s sacking saves his legacy and gives Leicester City a fighting chance of staying up

claudio_ranieriThe final chapter of football’s greatest fairy tale has been written. Claudio Ranieri, the amiable, lovable Italian has been sacked nine months since he won the Premier League with Leicester City. Twitter, in a shock move, is outraged by his departure.

Ranieri was a huge part of the fairy tale nature of the Foxes win last season. His press conferences became an event in themselves, his humble refusal to admit they had a chance of winning the league almost until they won it, coupled with his wonderful bell “dilly-ding, dilly-dong” phrase meant you couldn’t help but warm to him.

When he strode onto the pitch to raise the Premier League trophy after their win with Everton, the pride was etched onto his face. A nearly-man, always the bridesmaid in leagues around Europe, became the man. King of the managerial mountain.

All of this is lovely rose-tinted memories from the archives. However, far be it for me to disagree with Twitter, but the owners’ decision to sack the former Tinkerman is justified. Sentimentality doesn’t pay the bills, nor does it keep Leicester in the Premier League. If he had stayed, it looked increasingly likely that he would have taken them down. Bad form is a vicious circle, and they’re in the middle of it.

The recruitment this season has been top-heavy. Slimani and Musa have been brought in, and have failed to fulfil promise from their time at Sporting Lisbon or CSKA Moscow respectively.  Riyad Mahrez hasn’t recaptured his sparkling form of last season, and Jamie Vardy appears to be suffering a hangover from last season’s year-long party.

N’golo Kanté was a big loss, but their biggest problem this season has been the aging pair of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth at the heart of defence. Grizzled experience is useful, but at the ages of 33 and 32, and never either really being leaders in their field, that should have been a priority for Ranieri last summer. It wasn’t, and they’ve suffered since this season.

If the Steve Martin look-a-like stayed, he would have risked completing the modern-day Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough analogy. Clough, a name instantly associated with Leicester’s East Midlands neighbours, won two European Cups, the First Division twice, but his final game at the City Ground was to see his Forest side relegated from the Premier League. A sad, sad way for his legacy to end. It could have been the same for Claudio.

Reports of the players playing a large part in the manager being sacked are probably true, and a sad indictment of modern football. However, it’s the field that managers operate in. As long as players are given increasingly lucrative contracts, you can expect the power they wield to continue. Not something that would have happened in Clough’s day.

Leicester could still be relegated, but if the Thai owners could have been accused of inaction if they’d have sat on their hands. The chance to build on last season’s legacy has already been lost, a relegation would have been a tear-jerking close to the chapter, without a guarentee that they could get back up out of a notoriously difficult Championship.

The focus now should be getting in the right manager, and they should accuse bookie’s favourite, dad-dancing perpetual underachiever Alan Pardew at all costs.

Beckham’s charity work smokescreen typical of modern football

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All-round good guy seeks knighthood for enhanced status purposes

An entire generation of Brits will be able to tell you where they were when they saw David Beckham bend in his free-kick against Greece in 2001. 99% of them were watching TV, where else, but regardless it’s the memory etched into the minds of many.

Simpler times, or so it seemed to an 8-year old me. I’d turned my ankle playing football the day before, and remember sitting in A&E the next day looking at him adorning newspaper back pages. Since then he’s transcended the fame of other British footballers. He, the polite footballer many women wouldn’t kick out of bed, and former Spice Girl Victoria are ‘Posh and Becks’, a global brand worth £470m. After the end of his football career (quasi-marketing tour) he seemed to honourably turn his hand to charity work. How brilliantly humble and benevolent.

Except this week’s revelations have proved Beckham’s charity work is anything but altruistic. In fact, it seems to be his desired route to an honour. The Sunday Times had an injunction slapped against them for trying to report he had labelled the honours panel “a bunch of unappreciative c****” as part of a set of emails complaining he’d not been upgraded from an OBE, in the same way he’d expect to be upgraded to first class from business. Poor old David.

More wisdom by Beckham on Katherine Jenkins’ OBE – “a f***ing joke”.

I’ve got no issue with the honours system, it’s a worthwhile way of acknowledging those who have risen to the top of their field or achieved something outstanding. A hat-tip to those who have contributed to society. A bit like autobiographies, I’m always sceptical as to how somebody under the age of 35 deserves one, but, some people under that age are extraordinary.

The main thing that troubles me is his charity work increasingly looks a smokescreen to get him a knighthood, and ladyship for Victoria. Of course, he’s done some fantastic work for UNICEF and others, but the reward should be the work itself. The ability as somebody with so much, to change lives of those with so little. Not as a fast-track to an afternoon with royalty, shouldering a glancing blow from a sword, and cucumber sandwiches afterwards.

I’m not naive, but it was so easy to believe his carefully curated ‘Nice Essex boy trying to make the world a better place’ persona when he’d appear on Children in Need or Comic Relief. However it seems Beckham embodies the petulant stroppy attitude associated with modern multi-million pound footballers. ‘What do you mean I won’t get recognition? What’s the point in doing it?’ where footballers play for the pay-rise, rather than the sport.

He’s more deserving of that afternoon at the Palace than many others who have shuffled through its doors on honours day, but that isn’t the point. To him, it should be nice if the establishment hat of recognition is tipped in his direction. Yet charity work shouldn’t be a cheap means to that end, and this week Beckham’s veil has slipped. Such a shame for an ex-footballer who was held in such a high esteem by many, a rarity.

Graham Taylor – a proper football man

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Graham Taylor’s love for football saw him on the airwaves after retirement

I can’t fathom why, but since I first got interested in football, Graham Taylor’s been one of my favourite managers. I’m not sure whether it was as though he would look as happy managing a Sunday league team, as a Premier League side, how eloquent he was on the radio, or how he seemed like a honest, good-natured football man. Five Live’s tribute show tonight was awash with examples.

The sad thing is that he’ll be unfairly remembered for that unsuccessful spell with England, and the subsequent documentary An Impossible Jobwhich gave rise to lines such as “Do I not like that”, “Hit Les!, Hit Les!”, and “Tell your mate he’s just cost me my job”.

If that is the lasting impression upon some, it’s a pity, because he embodied the best of English managers. Successful, resilient and a gentleman. (Not forgetting a propensity to prefer a long pass). A genuine ‘Proper Football Man’.

Over the last few years, the term ‘Proper Football Man’ has become a footballing byword for ex-players like Tim Sherwood, who when they’re discussed as possibilities for a vacant position, in the same breath, a pundit refers to them as a ‘Proper Football Man’. As if this multiplies any credibility. To try and reclaim the term, it’s Taylor that term should be properly applied to. A brief roll call:

At the age of 27,  after plying his trade in the lower leagues, he became the FA’s youngest coach with Fourth Division Lincoln City, and was the league’s youngest manager a year later, leading the Imps to the league title.

From there he moved to Elton John’s Watford and led them on a meteoric rise from the lowly Forth Division to the top flight, European football and an FA Cup final.

Onwards to recently relegated Aston Villa, the club where he would take the biggest side in the Midlands up to the First Division, and runners up in the league to 1980s footballing behemoths, Liverpool.

On the back of this success, he got the England manager’s job. The pinnacle of British football. At the age of 46. Bear in mind, ‘Proper Football Man’ Tim Sherwood is 47.

Taylor’s career with England understandably isn’t remembered fondly. A group-stage elimination at Euro 1992 was followed by the World Cup embarrassment. He was unlucky, injuries to Gascoigne and Shearer were compounded by a series of retirements, and a hostile press didn’t help. The media vilified Taylor. His depiction by the Sun as a turnip (following England’s loss to Sweden) is one of the decade’s most famous tabloid front pages.

Of the time, he said:

 It hurts. And that’s what really annoys me about other people. They have no recognition of how much it hurts you. They think you don’t care, and those people who do know it hurts you, they put the knife into you so it hurts you even more. I find that very difficult. I take great risks being as open and honest as I am with you, because people will say I’m bitter. I’m not bitter, I’m just bloody disappointed in myself and what happened. Bitterness does not come into it, but what comes into it, is that I wanted so much to be successful.

How many would come back from that? Graham Taylor did. He returned to football at Watford, winning back-to-back promotions, before his final managerial job at Aston Villa. That’s character.

Successful. Resilient. Two words you wouldn’t associate with Graham Taylor but looking at his career, you can’t come to any other conclusion. A man as committed, and passionate about football as anybody else you would find. He won’t be remembered in the same bracket as the Cloughs or Robsons, but he shouldn’t just be remembered for his disappointments with England. His contribution to football was so much more than that. A sad loss.