Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The far left needs the near enemy

The whole Corbyn project has started to look frayed around the edges. Not surprisingly, the defeat in Copeland, dire polling, constant scrutiny and media questions have taken a toll on the leader. He has always been tetchy and reluctant to answer critical questions, but his performance in Scotland bore all the hallmarks of a man cracking under the pressure.

Comedian Sarah Pascoe was talking about the Corbyn effect on the New Statesman podcast this week. She had never heard of Corbyn before he stood for leader. Like many of his early supporters she projected onto him all of the hopes of a better way of doing politics. Anyone who pointed out the truth of what he was, what the left in Britain is, was met with a plea not to be so mean to poor Jeremy. But now it's over. When sensible people said his ideas were nonsense, they were right. When they said he was unelectable, they were right about that too. And as Nick Cohen said in the Observer at the weekend - don't say you weren't warned.

But even with a government reeling over a budget U-turn, distracted by Brexit and terrified of upsetting the Daily Mail, Corbyn has been abjectly useless even by his own low standards. The non-rally against a Bill he ordered MPs to vote for represented everything that is chaotic, incompetent and hollow about the whole circus. Losing key members of his staff, as well as the fading support of Owen Jones and George Monbiot, should represent a final fracture. But this is the new politics.

Frankly, Corbyn has been given a free pass by MPs since his re-election. Disappointingly, they are either playing the long game and hoping something turns up, or have literally given up. Some MPs have agreed to serve, others to hope for the best and pick attack lines on the government (far more effectively than the front bench) from the backbenches. 

But even as his supporters peel away as they realise all of this, along comes a lifeline. Like a parasite feeding off a host, the far left needs the animated form of a Labour Party prepared to contemplate a different future. And so as deputy leader Tom Watson steps up to the plate to speak out against the organisation Momentum and its attempts to game the system, they spring to life again, emboldened. 

There isn't actually a challenge to Corbyn, but they wish it was. Just as I wish the circumstances were such that there could be, and that we could win, but instead attention is focusing on the time when he gives up. Never again can a major political party in this country ever have a leader at so odds with the elected members of parliament. It goes against the very definition of what the party is there to do. The McDonnell amendment to reduce the number of MPs required to nominate a leader would be a travesty, a perpetual threat that whomever the leader is, a small clique of Labour MPs could vote against him or her and mobilise a coup, a real coup, electing a left wing Prime Minister against the wishes of the public. It would kill the party forever.

Now there is talk on the left of a challenge to Tom Watson from the ludicrous Emily Thornberry. Just what Labour needs to win the country, led from Islington North, deputy from Islington South. It speaks volumes about the priorities of the far left that this is what excites them - taking over a party, not paying a blind bit of attention to what a Conservative government is getting away with. They need their enemies in Labour, or they have nothing. They must be defeated.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

50 points and you're still not safe

In 2013 Peterborough and Wolves were relegated from the Championship with 54 and 51 points. 54 points! I can see the 2017 total being as high, especially with Rovers having to play at least two of the teams at the foot of the table.

I've just completed the hopeless exercise of plotting the outcome. You know the drill, second guessing how each team are going to do, working out that they'll all beat Wolves and then realising that Wolves will be down there with us as well if that happens.

On the evidence of today against Preston I thought we looked like a quality side in the second half. Full of fight, led by mature courageous players like Jason Lowe, Charlie Mulgrew and Darrah Leninhan. I thought Lucas Jao and Marvin Emnes dazzled with skill and footwork. The two goals were well worked and well deserved. But we didn't know how to finish the game off. A 2-2 draw after coming from behind should be OK. But it felt like a defeat. A really hollow, gut punched, defeat.

Although we're unbeaten under Tony Mowbray our points tally for the last seven games amounts to 11 points. If we get that many from our next eight games - which include trips to Brighton (in 2nd) and Reading (in 5th) - we will have to start winning games at home.

Anyway, I reckon we'll be alright. 51 points should do it.


An unbearable but beautiful film - The Hard Way - Annapurna South Face (1970)




This incredible film documents the first ascent of the very difficult South Face of Annapurna, a huge Himalayan wall that the right team could achieve the seemingly impossible. It features my Mum's friend Ian Clough who perished in the expedition and for that reason it's unbearable to watch at times. 

These are the notes I found on YouTube. Everything about the lo-fi film and exhibition leaves you in awe.

"The ascent of the South Face of Annapurna in 1970 was one of those breakthrough ascents - both technically and psychologically. Chris Bonington assembled the cream of British mountaineering and American Tom Frost for the attempt. The documentary is punctuated by wry observation, understatement and cutting humour from a by-gone age when the game of taking huge risks was matched by a determination not to take it too seriously. The summit triumph leads to unexpected tragedy, a common theme in the Himalayas, but never told more poignantly as in the classic film."

Link: I reviewed a book about one of the characters on the expedition, Don Whillans, here.

Featuring: Chris Bonington, Martin Boysen, Mike Burke, Ian Clough, Nick Escourt, Tom Frost, Dougal Haston, Mike Thompson, Don Whillans

Director: John Edwards

Producers: John Edwards

Duration: 55 minutes

File Sizes: SD (format 4:3) 1.2GB

Released: 1971

Best Climbing Film -- Trento Mountain Film Festival 1971.

Friday, March 17, 2017

George Osborne, you can't be an MP and an editor. You have to choose

I agonised about getting involved in politics when I was a working journalist. I concluded pretty quickly that it wasn't possible. My constituency though was my readership. The business community of the North West. I ran campaigns, organised events, looked after their interests and held politicians to account, including the MP for Tatton.

On hearing the news today that George Osborne has become the editor of the Evening Standard the more I spoke about it, the angrier I got. It is an ambition born out of arrogance - a contempt for the people of Tatton who elected him, a disdain for the Conservative Party who's whip he will be under in the House of Commons and a neglect of the office of editor of a major city newspaper.

Maybe a better editor than me will know the collective noun for multiple conflicts of interest, but for now, as Guido helpfully lists them, we can call them "a Gideon".

I took his passion for the Northern Powerhouse in good faith. I accepted as a northern MP he wanted to create a legacy, I suspected it had an enormous capacity for hubris. Earlier this week I was saying to someone how he should have stood for Mayor of Greater Manchester, just to show he was serious. He clearly wasn't. And I now feel a bit of a gimp for giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Had he decided to resign as an MP, then that's his choice. It is wrong on every possible level that he can even comtemplate it. I suspect he hasn't properly thought this through or discussed it with his constituency association. When he does they need to tell him to resign.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

A challenge for the Metro Mayor candidates

The election for the new role of Greater Manchester Metro Mayor is in May. I'm worried. In my wonky world of civic engagement and politics, there is talk of it. I'm involved in organising a hustings at our University between the candidates for the business community.

But where I rub alongside and amongst the folk who matter, the people on the train, in the supermarket and on the touchline at kids football, awareness is low. On Facebook it is downright hostile and slightly devoid of facts.

But here's a response to the misnomer that the people of Manchester rejected a chance to have a Mayor and that therefore this an invalid role "imposed" on us:

In 2011, the cities of Salford and Manchester held badly promoted referenda whether they wanted to directly elect their council leaders. Salford on a 18% turnout said yes, Manchester said no. This is for a new position for GREATER MANCHESTER, an elected politician with oversight over many more newly devolved powers. Or maybe you'd prefer an appointed Chief Exec do the job.

It also emphasises the urgent need for the winning candidate not to do politics as usual, to be ambitious for Greater Manchester.

Cut and paste that, spread the word and if you please, come along to our event.



Saturday, March 04, 2017

Tony Mowbray - what a difference a manager makes

There's been plenty of talk over the last couple of weeks about players getting a manager sacked. The performance of the Leicester City team after the owners had sacked Claudio Ranieri was statistically and demonstrably better than the ones that cost the previous manager his job. So what of Blackburn Rovers?

Three games, an away draw and two home wins since the new manager arrived. It's the same players, so did they let Owen Coyle, the previous manager, down?

I don't think so. I've noticed three important differences already:

- more confidence in midfield, a readiness to move forward and press
- like for like substitutions, none of the baffling tinkering under Coyle
- Stronger in the last ten minutes

I type this as I listen to Owen Coyle's shallow patter on Channel 5. I'm pleased he wishes us well, I'm sure he's a decent man with frustrations about the owners that he's keeping to himself, but as a manager he clearly came up short.

However, on the way home I heard more in a ten minute Radio Rovers interview with Tony Mowbray, about how to manage a football team, than I ever did in all the dreary platitudes from Gary "give it a right good go" Bowyer, Owen "good group" Coyle and Paul Lambert, who talked in riddles.

Mowbray mentioned the performance analysis team. He talked openly about how he hasn't had enough time to work on the training ground with the defenders, about how he's got better performances out of Marvin Emnes and Liam Feeney. I could have listened to him all evening, he spoke with great affection about the players, the club and the fans. I might eat my words at the end of the season if we go down, but for the first time in a while I'm just going to enjoy the glow of confidence that we have a manager who knows what he's doing.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Jason Lowe and Liam Feeney - an apology

In common with many Blackburn Rovers supporters I have on occasion blasted the performances of Liam Feeney as "lamentable", "disinterested" and "lazy". When the previous manager Owen Coyle introduced him into a game as a substitute I did comment that if Feeney was the answer then it was a stupid question. In a moment of frustration I did indeed comment to my sons that "at that moment" I despised Liam Feeney and his £500,000 a year pay packet more than any other person in the world, fictional or non-fictional, alive or dead, sporting or not. In that moment.

Similarly I have on occasions, many occasions, described Jason Lowe as the crab. Always playing backwards and I enthusiastically quoted Jim Wilkinson's description of him (and others) as"They are the generic, faceless, run-around-a-lot but contribute-little, jobbing 21st century huffers and puffers." 

However, following last night's performance against Derby County and a series of creditable crosses from Feeney against Burton Albion, I am prepared to admit I may have judged him harshly. Here is a player of vision, pace and bravery. Someone prepared to take on opposition defenders and provide an option for our more visionary centre-back, the much loved Charlie Mulgrew. And in Jason Lowe we have a centre midfield player prepared to tackle and look for forward options again.

Long may it last.   

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Burton away, unsettling, but better

This was a disorienting experience. Stood on a terrace with just the oldest lad, low down in a tiny stadium, behind the goal and watching Rovers enjoy (or endure) 75% possession in the first half. I'm not used to any of that. The atmosphere amongst the Rovers fans was supportive for a change. The whole toxic mood around the useless Owen Coyle was getting me down. Howling at the Venky's is morally justifiable and righteous, yet seems so helpless.

Burton manager Nigel Clough was right when he reflected on how outclassed his side were. It's been so unusual for Rovers to dominate a team the way they did in that first half. Yet despite some excellent crosses by Liam Feeney, there was little to show for it, but an own goal from a lethal Charlie Mulgrew corner.

It's too early to make a judgement on the new manager, but I like the fact that new boss Tony Mowbray replaced like for like. Takes off two strikers, puts two on. Takes off a winger, replaces him with a winger. It's a self evident fact that the team looks better and plays better when Marvin Emnes is on the pitch, but Conor Mahoney also seems to lift the side with his energy and his ability to surprise. Guthrie was good in the first half, but invisible in the second. At one point a cross field pass went wayward and Mowbray turned in frustration to his bench. I imagine he was saying 'what the bloody hell do you lot do in training, play table tennis?'

Another new ground chalked off. I make it the 146th ground I've watched football on, 82nd out of the Punk 92 and 71st of the current 92. Next target is Brighton on the 1st of April, which will be a sweep of this season's Championship. Who knows which new ground I'll get to visit with Rovers next season.