Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Stratfor in Stoke

Ian Morris, an old Stokie, returns to Stoke for the first time since the 1970s...

"The Jolly Potters in Hartshill, where I used to drink myself 40 years ago, was even more revealing. In the late 1970s, the pub was a distinctly dodgy place, where the clientele might be anything but jolly. Now, though, it positively shines. The Jolly Potters' enthusiastic young landlady gave me a tour of its beer garden, children's play area, pizza oven and ice cream maker — all brand new — and poured me a very good pint or two of Bass. ... The customers at the Jolly Potters weren't angry or fearful about globalization; they weren't denouncing Europe, the government or anything else. Their conversations were about lost keys, babies and used cars. No one sounded 'left behind' ... Stoke-on-Trent is not so much hollowing out as it is filling up with contrasts. For the now much more numerous homeless and drug-addicted residents, things are probably grimmer today than they were in the 1970s. For the great majority of the city's population, however, Stoke is more affluent, relaxed and open to the outside world than it used to be."

Yes, that's about right. Not all his comments are so positive, though, and readers who only bother to skim the the first half of the article would get a far grimmer impression of the city...

"On some streets, the police seemed to outnumber the shoppers".

That doesn't sound like Stoke at all, where police are absent expect on the big home match days or sliding by in a few rare police cars. Probably there was a big football match on that day he visited. Might be a bit misleading then, that bare comment, if he knew the police presence was the result of a big football match. Still, he's got a bit further that most fly-by London journalists do. Given that he's with Stratfor, one wonders if the article is part of a quiet 'testing of the waters' ahead of a visit by President Trump to the Brexit heartland in the Autumn.

And one more memory...

"Back in the 1970s, the slope between Hartshill and the main concentration of pottery factories was a gigantic dumping ground, piled high with fragments of misfired bathtubs, plates and roof tiles. One of the first archaeological digs I went on, in fact, was in the dump belonging to the Whieldon factory, where Josiah Wedgwood had been an apprentice in the 1750s. The area has since been remade as Hartshill Park with funds taken from the National Lottery. Well-maintained paths now wind through dense vegetation, opening up every so often onto follies made from abandoned potbanks. It is a delightful, whimsical spot in the middle of the city."

His "follies made from abandoned potbanks" presumably means the old Convent grotto, which the sisters there made above the pools as a stone shrine for a statue of Mary. I'm fairly sure there was never a potbank on Hartshill Park.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Harthills Church, circa 1910s?

Another postcard view of Hartshill Church, circa 1910s at a guess. Definitely an electric tram rather than a steam/horse tram.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Hartshill church, circa late 1930s?

A nice postcard of Hartshill church, road junction and bus stop. At a guess it looks like circa the late 1930s? I've lifted the dense shadows, taken off the gross coffee-coloured cast on the postcard, and repaired a few spots of damage.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Stoke-on-Trent results are all declared

A turnout of 57% in my own Stoke Central, for the predictable Labour hold.

Looking at the basic figures it seems that local former-UKIP voters steeled themselves to make an unexpected last-minute surge for the local Conservative candidate. Good for them, for making up their minds. But even the combined UKIP + Conservative vote just wasn't enough to defeat Labour in Stoke Central. My first guess, looking at the raw local results (above), is that this must have been because of the big surge in turnout. The Stoke Central vote as a whole was up by nearly 12,000 votes from the by-election (21,200 votes then, 33,145 votes yesterday), and it looks like a big chunk of that increased vote must have been for Labour. There seems to have been some sort of tightly organised 'youth surge' nationally, aided by the claim that Labour would scrap their university tuition fees. This was specially effective in university seats such as Stoke Central, and actually caused the semi-mythical youth vote to materialise for Labour for once. There was better weather here, too. I suspect that both factors have strongly helped Labour in Stoke Central.

Also as I expected, Labour have held Stoke North, where a very similar UKIP shift + Labour turnout combination occurred.

Most of the surrounding seats have announced and are Conservative as expected, including Stafford. Stoke is the red bit in the centre of the map...

But the Conservatives have taken Stoke South, so congratulations to our new MP for the city — Jack Brereton.

Nationally, about a third of UKIP-ers seem to have gone back to Labour. On current form at 5.30am it seems we may be headed for a Conservative government propped up by Unionists MPs in Northern Ireland, with a new PM in the next few weeks. The bookies favourite is currently said to be Boris Johnson for PM. I'd imagine that Gove will probably also make a return, though probably not as a PM candidate.

One bright spot is that in Scotland the SNP has been badly weakened, both in terms of leadership and Westminster MP numbers, and so it seems that demands for a second Scottish Independence referendum will now be far more muted if not impossible. That may help matters somewhat, re: Brexit.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Onward, Twitter-bots, to the Glorious Socialist Revolution!

All the signs are that Labour is getting increasingly desperate about its chances of hoisting Corbyn into the Prime Minister's chair. But parts of Labour are obviously still hoping that its Twitter bots will win it the election.

Unite Community Stoke and North Staffordshire Branch (the local Unite trades union, a major Labour funder), for instance, has today reposted a doctored Russian propaganda poster in support of Labour's cyber "Army" on Twitter. Even though a great many pro-Labour messages from the Twitter "Army" are now proven to be from automatic bots.

The poster's original socialist slogan was invented in Soviet Russia in 1953 and was "Raise higher the banner of proletarian internationalism". "Proletarian internationalism" was the phrase by which the Soviet socialists justified Russia's ruinous military intervention in Africa during the 1960s and 70s. Russia stoked and supplied weapons to a near-constant series of bitter wars across the continent — which killed and starved tens of millions. Are socialists "sorry" about that today? No, there's a total silence on that. They even feel free to blithely re-use the same propaganda posters which promoted the policy.

The Daily Mail today notes of the same Unite trades union that...

"In the 50 marginal seats Labour needs to win, 41 candidates have union links. Nineteen of them are connected to Unite, Jeremy Corbyn's main source of funding."

Saturday, 3 June 2017

On Labour's 'Garden Tax'

More gardens in the news, re: the general election. Labour is proposing a new 'Land Value Tax', dubbed the 'Garden Tax'. The manifesto isn't brave enough to explicitly commit Labour to this new Tax, but it states that the Party will:

"... consider new options such as a land value tax, to ensure local government has sustainable funding for the long term."

Looking at the name 'Land Value Tax', you might think this is only aimed at house builders with 'brownfield' sites or at footballers wanting to build a big new 'mansion' in the countryside. But according to the London think-tank which proposes it, it would be aimed at every ordinary home-owner, being levied on even the smallest garden or patch of grass in the land. Their website says it would require a Domesday Book -style army of inspectors, snooping around each and every plot and garden to mark it down for the Tax.

Note that there's no talk in the manifesto of the new Tax being a replacement for the Council Tax. It would probably be introduced softly as 'part of a mix', with the Garden Tax being the lesser of the two taxes. But as Labour (once again) inevitably runs out other people's money, the Land Value Tax would almost certainly become a larger and larger addition to the existing Council Tax. A 2015 report from a Labour Party group suggests the Tax would be 3% of a brownfield plot's theoretical future value, but that would only be an "initial" introductory rate intended to get people used to the idea. There would also be a lesser percentage, perhaps 0.85% to start with, on the land around and under homes.

The proposed Tax would include agricultural land as well, so presumably large urban allotments could be in for an annual tax-demand whammy. Because allotments would be assessed on what ground-rent could theoretically be had, if houses were built there in the future, not on the inspector weighing your current crop of potatoes and strawberries. It'd be a Tax "on the value of land if it were to be developed to its possible permitted planning use". So Labour thinks it has found a way to tax the future, basically. Not that there would be much of a future left to tax, under a Labour government.

It appears the only people who might see major benefits could be those in high-rise flats. But even people in flats may even be no better off, because there would be no way they could sell off the surrounding gardens and car-park and thus avoid the extra Tax. And you can also be fairly sure that the new Tax would be taken as an excuse to hike up the existing ground-rent and service-charges, and it would also likely also feed through to the monthly rent and deposits.

Anyway, Horticulture Week magazine has an even-handed report on the details of the proposed new Tax, if you're interested in reading more. (The first read of an article is free, then they want $s).


Lastly I'd also note that, down in nearby Birmingham, the Labour city council is already eagerly attacking those with large gardens. It's imposing a charge of £35 every time a bag of 'green waste' is collected from a house.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Taking a train to Newcastle-under-Lyme?

An interesting announcement today of a feasibility study on re-connecting Newcastle-under-Lyme to the rail system. That's dependent on the Conservative candidate winning, but that happy event seems fairly likely next Thursday.

Ideally there would be a sensibly connected Leek - Stoke - Keele - Crewe line. Connecting Leek to Stoke is reported to be fairly easy, since there's an existing disused line in a fairly good state. A series of feasibility studies have suggested some freight demand could make it viable in terms of the costs. It's all gone a bit quiet in the last few years, on that. But presumably it can be done if the will is there. It's currently ridiculous that a bus from Stoke station can take over an hour to get to Leek. The same goes for the time to get from Stoke station - Keele campus by bus.

Less certain is the Stoke to Newcastle-under-Lyme disused line (the Market Drayton line) which was allowed to become very badly fragmented in the Potteries, and there's an awkward gap which you can see below on my overlaid OS map. Still, a feasibility study for a Newcastle-under-Lyme station wouldn't have to consider the gap-to-Stoke all that closely. Judging by the map the route of the old line looks much less fragmented to the west of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Below is my basic tracing of the disused and partly-used lines concerned. You can see the awkward gap once the line is out of Stoke, into a section which is all built up now.

In terms of connecting Newcastle with Stoke, how would a restored line get from the siding-spur at Cliffe Vale (still used by clay trains from Cornwall) out across the A500 to connect with the line-end at Newcastle? That is going to be a real puzzle at some point in the future. A tram-line up the steep Shelton Old Road? A series of (expensive) tunnels? Or could the need for a rail connection be made redundant by a new robo-cars-only free-way lane on the roads?