Thursday, August 27, 2015

Motherwell Rules - the only answer to being called a Tory

The Jam - About The Young Idea exhibition

I went to The Jam exhibition in London over the summer, a real indulgence of nostalgia on a sticky hot day. It reinforced the power of Paul Weller's cultural influence in my upbringing, the vast range of musical and political nuggets he absorbed into those incredible formative years.
I'll get my moan out the way first. The sound from each individual room blasted out so loud you were never far away from competing tinny blasts of Town Called Malice or Funeral Pyre. But then comfort zones were never part of the experience. Weller always challenged your ideas and safe preconceptions. He was always keen to unsettle your assumptions - including his dismissal of punk posturing by the throwaway line that they would be voting Conservative in 1979. In so many ways the exhibition  took you back to Jam gigs where feeling safe and comfortable was never part of the deal. They were a boiling, heaving mass of adolescent fury and emotions. Some solid bonds, but the flames grew higher too.

I took two quite staggering points away with me that I never knew before. Paul Weller's school report where his lowest mark was in music. The second was the sheer force of personality of John Weller, his father. Sure, I remember him introducing the band, but a short film and the clippings really highlighted his powerful role in pushing the band and his son.

Just like I mentioned when I reported from a From The Jam gig in Preston a few years ago, I was as fascinated by the audience of fellow Jammers. I was there in dark suit and clicky brogues, as described by Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail earlier in the day, but there were well turned out geezers in Sta Press and Ben Shermans, Fred Perry and Levis and a few in sharp suede desert boots. Then there was Peter York looking as dapper as he always does.

But The Jam was so much more than just a great band and a look, I loved how Weller opened my eyes to ideas too. So I was pleased that due prominence was given to Orwell books and Shelley's poetry as there was to the musical influences and the clothes.

It's at Somerset House in London and runs until the end of August. I'm sorry it's taken me a month to write this up, but I've been dreaming of a quiet life, the one you'll never know.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Reviews of 40 by 40 and where to buy it

I've been moderately pleased with the sales for 40 by 40 - but the response from those who've read it has been even better than I could ever have imagined.

I'd love to push you all towards specialist local bookshops like Marple Bookshop, Simply Books in Bramhall and the local authors section of Waterstones on Deansgate. There's a great shop opened in the Northern Quarter, opposite my office, called Chapter One. It's just what the area needs.

If you can't stomach Amazon, and I can understand why, then I've set up a PayPal payment page where another imperial internet behemoth will only take a modest fee and I can send it directly to you. Just click on this button and see what happens.

Here are a selection of reviews anyway, there are others on the Amazon website.

Kevin Sampson, author, Awaydays: "Haha, brilliant! As amoral antiheroes go, Cashmore knocks Gordon Gekko, John Self and Steven Stelfox into a tin hat. What a lovable twat!"

Martin Vander Weyer, business editor of the Spectator: "You are the Martin Amis of this generation. Really enjoying it, but had to Google 'rusty sheriff's badge'."

William Lees-Jones, brewery owner: "Read it on a sun lounger by a pool in Mallorca, the irony of which amuses me - great read and happy not to feature in it."

AK Nawaz, crime writer: "First novel I've read tackling 2008 credit crunch is cracking read - fantastic first book."

Andy Tupholme, private equity investor: "Snippets of genius had me chuckling."

Kristian Dando, business journalist: "I think i'm going to enjoy this."

Steven Lindsay, corporate financier: "The shocking, outrageous, abusive excesses would be unbelievable if they weren't so realistic."

Rachel Thompson, digital wiz: "Really enjoyed the book... Did feel a bit sorry for Roger but then hated him in equal measures!"

Dave Smith, corporate funder: "Like a fly on the wall documentary."

Michael Fort, entrepreneur: "It was the talk of the Cote D'Azur".

Greg Broadhurst: "Laughed a lot, loved it."

Aidan O'Rourke, photographer: "Phew, if you want loveable good-hearted characters; a gentle storyline don't read this book!"

Gaynor Black: "Loved it."

Phil Morgan. "Interesting."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why a rush to English identity is a mistake @ProgressOnline

Here's a piece I've written on our very Fluid English identity. It was sparked by a piece by Eddie Bone from the Campaign for an English Parliament, who I disagree with.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Labour: scrutinise Corbynomics, mellow Kendall, substance please from the other two

Our leadership voting packs will drop on our doormats soon - though knowing the Labour Party it will probably be an email.

The hustings for leadership are over and the decision time is nigh. Here are three things I'd like to happen regarding the candidates.

Liz Kendall has got the pitch all wrong, the campaign needs to get warmer. It needs to break out of policy detail, it needs to sparkle with excitement. She was the stand out star for me at conference last year, my first for six years. She had ideas, clarity and a self confidence about her that made me sit up and take notice. At a supporter's Q&A in Manchester I was impressed again at how personable and bright she was. But, and there was always going to be a but, this awful, awful leadership campaign has seen her struggling to articulate that brighter view of social democratic politics I know she has. Her eagerness to critique the last leadership (correct in her analysis, by the way) for failing to appeal to Tory voters has been shouted down. The spats at the side about Continuity Miliband and the Blairite Taliban and the vile "virus" comment have just further positioned her as a candidate who will divide.  

Some of this isn't her fault, but there is a tonal problem. Kevin Meaghar nails this in a Labour Uncut piece here. I fear it may be too late.

Secondly, Andy Burnham is threatening us with a vision this week. I'd desperately like to see this from him and Yvette Cooper. He's promising a bold challenging manifesto. It takes me back to a Progress conference in Manchester last year where casually dressed Andy - my Dad's favourite Labour politician - said our challenge to get back into government was to offer the British people a competing vision for the future that rejected the Conservative one. I leaned forward in anticipation, desperate to discover the intellectual heft behind this most likeable bloke and hoping it was a little more substantial than his 2010 leadership pitch for "aspirational socialism". None came. There wasn't one. It was just that we had to come up with one. He was right, but he is promising now what didn't come then. 

Finally, give Jeremy Corbyn and his policy programme some proper scrutiny. It's a great shame that Corbyn's critics drag up his shouty interactions on Channel 4 News, his cosy relationships with dictators and brutes like Hizbollah, Hugo Chavez and George Galloway. It's a greater shame that the trump card most frequently played is that he would be an electoral disaster.

The shame here is this is the kind of scrutiny for a candidate that isn't taken seriously.

I think we're past that now and it's time to sit down, seriously and open up what he actually stands for. 

It took a while for me to re-commit to Labour after a long abscence. I was particularly concerned that a return to opposition offered a comfort zone of naysaying, righteous anger and an opt out from a period of tremendous challenge and change. The world is a very complex place requiring detailed and complicated solutions to long term deep seated social change. You can confront that, dive in and seek to be driven by the values of making this complex world work for everyone. Or you can just sit back and say it's all crap and someone else's fault.

There is no question that globalisation doesn't work for many, many people. Neither should we as members of a party constututionally committed to extending power to the many not the few accept the Conservative narrative on a long term economic plan that isn't delivering.  

But I was genuinely taken aback when I read Jeremy Corbyn's Economic Plan. It is a frightening set of slogans for the bits of Tory economy we don't like, with no attempt to craft a solution based upon the elements of society we do. That, at least, would have been an impressive start.

It's a curious mish mash of higher taxes and flippant buzz words about austerity. It amounts to little more than the usual platitudes about taxing business more and investing in infrastructure, oh, and nationalising the railways. A scrawl on the back of a beermat reckons that should be enough. 

Everything else? Self employment is dismissed as the flip side of zero hours contracts. Entrepreneurs are part of a Tory myth. Social enterprises, co-operatives, contracting? Nothing. 

Small and medium sized businesses, the role of universities in developing intellectual property as part of a national treasury of ideas and innovation? Nothing here either. There's a cursory nod in the direction of "suppy chains" without even a thought to what they consist of and who makes them up.

If this is the economic plan for a serious contender to lead a party of government then we are truly stuffed. 

The members of the public I met on the street stall yesterday showed the full range of challenges for Labour. Foremost amongst them was a need for a clear leadership. 

My conclusion at the end of all of this, and what will be the last word on it all is this: I really wish Caroline Flint had stood for leader. And sometime soon, she may have to heed the call. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Summer reading special - are the characters in 40 by 40 real?

Roger Cashmore, the central character in 40 by 40, is obviously fictional. But there are truths in his persona. People tell me they know who it is based on. And they are right. Even if it's a different person every time.

One of the key lines in one of my favourite films is: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled, was convincing the world he didn't exist."

Some of the other characters are also "inspired" by people I've come across, there's also an "easter egg" in the naming of all the minor characters. There's a lunch at San Carlo, or a coffee in Costa in Alderley, for the first person who can spot it.

I was asked another great question for a piece in The Big Issue in the North. Why include real people and situations?The answer is in the interview below.

And if you'd like to order the book, pop into your local bookshop - including Waterstones, or order from Amazon. We have a few events lined up - hopefully one at Waterstones in Wilmslow and another in Alderley Edge.

Where did the idea for the book come from?
I’ve always wanted to write fiction, but on the basis you should write about what you know, the subject matter jumped out at me. I had a ringside seat for the biggest story of my journalistic life. I loved Kill Your Friends by John Niven, which is about the music industry in 1997, it tells so many truths, as you’d expect from a former A&R man, despite being a work of fiction. Truly, 2008 felt like it was the last days of Rome, fortunes were lost, reputations trashed, people died. I also wanted to weave together some extra jeopardy by putting the twin worlds of hooligan gangsterism and serious business together.

What’s the key to creating a monstrous character who will still engage readers?
Two things, making him darkly funny and letting the reader know that he’s not as clever as he thinks he is. Flag up a few obvious clues that he’s heading for a fall. If you think about, that’s what made Wolf of Wall Street watchable. With my central character,  Roger Cashmore, he’s got his money in an Icelandic Bank on the Isle of Man, it’s 2008, you know that isn’t going to end well.

Why did you decide to include real people in among the fictional characters?
As it’s set in a real time and place, Manchester and Cheshire in 2008, where real events happened and I was a witness to them, it seemed mad not to. It roots it in reality and makes it all the more plausible. Why invent a moment when everyone was warned about the looming global financial crisis when one actually happened. A conference in May 2008 at the Yang Sing restaurant,  where Jon Moulton predicted it all, I was there, I took copious notes, I have his slides, I have the guest list, all the other people in book who were there - football managers, property developers, big hitters - all add colour. You literally could not make it up.

There’s insider detail on everything from corporate espionage to complex financial instruments. How did you go about your research?
Talking to people, lots and lots of people. It’s my job to understand corporate finance and understand the way that world works. The money laundering and the espionage stuff came from a detailed briefing from a real spy. I also interviewed Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, but she didn’t tell me any secrets as such.

Was it easy to find your fictional voice after a career in journalism?
I did write a spoof column for a few years where the voice was honed. In many ways it was easier to tell this story through that prism, as I could take liberties. I do really admire long form journalism and the sketch portraits of a crisis that Michael Lewis does so well in the Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour. I could have done something similar but there are fewer outlets for that.

Are women really as sidelined in North West business as they are in the business world portrayed in the book?
Less so now, happily. But just look at the Rich Lists and the Power 100 – overwhelmingly male, pale and stale. But although the book is centred on Roger Cashmore as a sexist arse in a world of “good lads” it is also a book about redemption and lessons learned. It has to be, doesn’t it?

Will Roger Cashmore be the progatonist of another book?

Absolutely. I’d like to fast forward to 2015 in a slightly different world, where a bruised and confused Roger is up for something new and stands for election in an unwinnable seat, for the Tories. I’ll call it; “We’re all in it together”.

Do buy the Big Issue in the North off one of the vendors when you're out and about. It's a great social enterprise originally set up by my friend Ruth Turner and now edited by my former super sub Kevin Gopal.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

For the party, for the country, Deputy Flint

Caroline meets the Taylors
I was deeply honoured to be asked to chair a rally for Caroline Flint on Saturday in the council chamber in Manchester Town Hall. She is the stand-out candidate for the deputy leadership. An impressive roster of Labour politicians - Hazel Blears, Peter Dowd, Richard Leese, Claire Reynolds, Jonny Reynolds, Nick Bent - all gave short speeches about why they are supporting her and what we need to do when she wins.

Here is mine.

We have much to take from this election, if nothing else some valuable lessons about why people DON’T consider voting Labour. Afterall, in Hazel Grove we talked to many more Tories than most Labour campaigners and so feel we understand some core issues about what cost us.

Jonny Reynolds MP, also with family
But you realise what Labour needs to do for people when you knock on someone’s door, or they respond to you in the street and they  say THANK YOU for being Labour in our area – an area they felt had been colonised by the Liberals and we’d given up.

We can’t give up – we must never give up.

Because there was something Caroline Flint said which struck with me – Labour must have a 650 seat strategy.

We must operate in a different way – be there for people.

Becoming a social movement isn’t just about knocking on doors, but getting people to knock on your door too.

In every council ward in the country there are probably 100 people who make a community tick, sometimes they are known as community organisers – sometimes they would never dream that such a moniker could be attached to them.

They organise sports teams, kids activities, church events, carnivals and festivals. But also food banks, home helps and credit unions. They may not even be overtly political, but they care.

Hazel Blears
We have to be these people. And be amongst these people in our communities. Not for cynical electoral advantage, but to provide leadership when it is needed. 

We have use the skills and talents of each and everyone. Learn lessons from the very best practices of community organising and growing organisations.

The Women’s Institute, the Churches who provide comfort and social assistance in our communities. How organisations embrace technology to coalesce and organise.

Let me end by telling you a story about Joe.

A first time voter and a party member. He’s built a business doing something called the Teenage Markets.  

I contacted him and got him involved in our election campaign. His Dad stuck a massive Correx board up – in fact I think Jonny gave it to him when he popped into the office in Market Street in Hyde.

I could have handed him a bag of leaflets and gone round Mill Lane Estate with him as I did with many of the volunteers who joined our junior army in the campaign.

Caroline Flint MP thanks her supporters
But Joe also loves making films and has that talent and so he did one with me (the link to YouTube is here) – I’ve no idea how many votes that gained us and I know not every party member can do that. But if you start from the perspective that as Labour we wish to develop the potential of every human being, then it is incumbent on us to nurture the talents within our party and amongst our activists too.

I love the vision Caroline has for creating a party that finds more Joe's – that’s why I’m proud to be with you all today.