Friday, 24 February 2017

It's sunshine and showers for Stoke

Ah well, so it's Friday morning and the political storm is all over. It's back to the usual Labour domination in Stoke. As regular readers here will know, I had expected the Stoke Central by-election to be a closer vote, with the Conservative candidate doing well. In the end the actual result was:

Lab. 7,854 (37.1%) | Ukip 5,233 (24.7%) | Cons 5,154 (24.3%) | Libs (9.8%) — on a 38% turnout.

Which means the small-c conservative vote was split right down the middle yet again, as I suggested would be the case at the start of the campaign.

But the Conservative vote held up well and even increased. That's especially positive when you consider that that they only had a small-but-plucky local team battling against the combined weight of the huge well-funded Labour + Ukip campaigning teams, which drew in thousands of students from across the UK. Plus there was that strong Lib Dem leafleting operation.

But at least Ukip's Nuttall was kept out and presumably he went slinking back to Liverpool in the night. Like Storm Doris the election's dismal media coverage has left the city with a whole lot of short-term damage to repair, but 'Nuttall defeated' is a very good result for the city's reputation.

The Lib Dems did very slightly better than my predicted 9%.

There was a surprisingly high turnout, considering that Storm Doris could have pushed it to the low 20s — where I really thought it would be. Turnout was at 38 per cent, which not bad for a by-election on a soaking wet stormy February day in Stoke. My guess is that level of turnout, plus a few wads of postal votes, is probably what swung it for Labour. It'll be interesting to see what the electoral bone-pickers can pull out of the detailed statistics, when we get them.

On the upside:

* The anti-Brexit lobby can't say that this was "an anti-Brexit vote", since the majority of the voters voted for pro-Brexit parties. So hopefully our Brexit hasn't been damaged.

* The Conservatives now go into the 2020 General Election facing a weak Corbyn extreme-left dominated Labour Party. The Conservatives winning Copeland seems unlikely to unseat him, since he has the 'nuclear power policy' excuse there.

* The vote-splitting Ukip has been badly weakened, though possibly not enough to cause the party to vanish. Especially if they can now find a decent leader. It won't be Farage, who is clearly off to support President Trump. If Nuttall clings on by his fingernails, then Ukip's major funder may well decide not to sink any more cash into them.

What can Labour's Snell now do for the city?

* Take some intensive training in how to restrain himself from blabbing his mouth off in the media and on Twitter and in Parliament.

* He should try to stay out of Labour's bitter civil war if that's possible, bend the knee to Commissar Corbyn and just try to be a good solid local MP for the next three years.

* He needs to make good on his sudden change of heart on Brexit, and get behind it wholeheartedly. Brexit is happening and we need to make sure Stoke's interests get strongly factored into the national planning for Brexit. That means across all sectors of business and industry, not just manufacturing.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

By-election roundup No.13: unlucky for some

* The Guardian has just reported that the ballot boxes are being opened in the counting room in Fenton, and the count for the Stoke Central by-election is now underway. A very interesting tweet a few minutes ago from the Sky News political editor Faisal Islam (confirmed):

"Postal voting very low in Stoke - previous by elections have been won even before polling day. Not this one."

* It sounds like the workers who commute by train from Stoke may not have made it back home in time to vote:

"Rail services have been severely affected and a train was evacuated at Stoke-on-Trent railway station. West Coast services are severely disrupted. We strongly advise anyone who can postpone their journey to do so."

Fire engines were also reportedly called to Birmingham New St. at 6pm, according to tweets, so possibly there were further problems there. At least one socialist complained on Twitter they couldn't get home to Stoke vote.

* The storm apparently means that a gaggle of London journalists and TV presenters and politicos may be stuck in B&B's in lovely Coventry for the night. So sad.

* Weather wise, Storm Doris only left people in Stoke with a fairly narrow window to get out of the house or workplace, in what the D-Day landings guys once called "barely tolerable conditions", if they were walking or cycling. Remember that 45% (nearly half) of all households in Stoke-on-Trent don't have access to a car, and that figure is likely even higher in much of Stoke Central. So basically for many people who don't like to do Stoke in the dark on foot, their weather window was from about 6pm-7pm. Though one especially ditzy person tweeted that they just decided to go out to vote at some random moment around 2pm, and then were somehow surprised when they came back drenched and with a new free freeze-dried hairstyle.

Turnout will likely be low (23-28% perhaps). Before people blame Stoke's apathy for that, remember that Doris was a major storm that killed and injured people.

Cycling to the polling stations will have been difficult in places, especially in the dusk and dark of the evening, due to a great many the fallen branches and long whippy twigs that I saw on the paths today. Some quite large branches, and some in Hanley Cemetery that were almost a third of the whole tree.

* From Cannock Chase to Barlaston "about 1,500 properties were without power in Staffordshire at around noon" due to fallen trees and branches. But no power cuts in Stoke Central.

By-election roundup No.12: Doris casts her vote

9.30am and voting in the Stoke Central by-election is underway, with 50-70 miles-per-hour gusts from Storm Doris set to add to the fun well into the evening. Definitely a day for your thermal leggings and waterproofs when you go out to vote. Umbrellas will get blown away. The Sun has a picture of the sort of polling station I'd like to step into at the end of a short walk:

United Politics: "Jack Brereton deserves to win the Stoke Central by-election".

The Guardian newspaper reports this morning:

"Labour voices fears of failure" "Byelection campaign leaders try to dampen expectations".

The Sun reports that in Stoke Central the voting:

"will be very close – with possibly just a couple of percentage points between Labour, Tories and Ukip."

The Daily Express focuses on last night's dreadful Newsnight:

“They have no IDEA!” Newsnight audience slams “disconnected” Westminister political elites".

The head of the city's Chamber of Commerce was none too pleased with the BBC Newsnight team, either:

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

BBC Newsnight's Stoke special, as seen on Twitter

Hand-picked digest of the Twitter comments on tonight's Newsnight special from the Stoke Central by-election:

Can proper tell this is the BBC. Showing the worst bits of the constituency in our city.

Oh for heaven's sake. Nuttall on Hillsborough not a central issue.

Heard the first token pottery reference... #yawn

Worst. #Newsnight. Ever. I lie, #Newsnight totally worth Snell being read his own tweets.

Paul Nuttall looks like he's aged 10 years in a week.

That Labour candidate looks well weird...

The BBC f*cking hate us don't they. The veil is barely hiding the sneer.

How come when Evan Davis interviews a Tory, he wakes up...? No friendly chit-chat here.

This is surely in breach of election rules.

I feel patronised already.

Oh God, just noticed it's an extended edition.

"The 6 cities of Stoke"???

Is it just my telly or is the UKIP chap's face changing colour like a lava lamp?

Clearly, none of the guests know anything about Stoke, including the academic.

Everything said about Stoke-on-Trent in this report could be said about every city in the UK.

One of the bleakest constituency profiles ever. The absence of hope must be excruciating.

#Newsnight #Stoke is more than just Bentilee you know.

This #Newsnight feels like a wake.

So #Newsnight just referred to Stoke's "so called cultural quarter". Not at all patronising.

#newsnight has really got the tone of this Stoke thing wrong by assembling a panel of plummy intellectuals to talk waffle at the audience.

Nobody on the "panel" from Stoke-on-Trent / Staffs... and they're stating people aren't engaged... they're the problem!

Could the audience be any less engaging or passionate. They look bored stiff.

Baffled as to why #Newsnight made this an audience event; great illustration of how the voice of the people is ignored.

Why all these London journalists on #Newsnight discussing Stoke?

Amateurish sound quality from #Newsnight Stoke special.

The BBC must have loads of great shots of Middleport Pottery. Yet Newsnight use ones of it looking a state.

You wouldn't know we have a really attractive city here from, looking at #Newsnight

That was like the exact opposite of a tourism advert for Stoke.

Why did they needed an audience, if all they were going to do is lecture them?

Great idea by #Newsnight. Show how the people of SOT have been denied a voice by packing the stage with experts and denying audience a voice.

If the politicians are out of touch the #Newsnight discussion has just proved 'experts' in the media are even worse.

C'mon @BBCNewsnight "once proud potteries"? As far as I know pottery manufacturers still proud - & listen to interviewees - Stoke not a dump.

The #Stoke you see on TV is not the Stoke I know.

By-election roundup No.11: May may call

* The Prime Minister herself has been working the phones to call up people in Stoke Central: "Theresa May hits the phones ahead of closely contested by-elections".

* Labour's Mirror newspaper visits Stoke for a 22nd Feb report, only to mistake the Potteries Museum for the Library:

"Outside Stoke public library stands a larger-than-life stainless steel statue of a steelworker ..."

Another minor newspaper has sent a correspondent, a local paper in Huddersfield of all places. I thought local newspapers were all totally skint these days, but obviously at least one of them can afford a night in a cheap B&B up 'anley duck. He writes:

"The column this week comes from Stoke on Trent, where I'm watching the much-hyped parliamentary byelection taking place tomorrow. Even by the no holds-barred standards of such polls - of which I have seen more than my fair share - this is a pretty vicious contest."

* The Times journalist reports that he jumped into a car with a bunch of London lefties on Sunday, and then he seems to have jumped off the deep end with the headline: "Red Tories could save Labour in Stoke". Wishful thinking, I suspect, but I can't get more of the story because it is pay-only.

The same pay-only problem is true of the big Stoke story by the Wall Street Journal. The journalist spent two hours chatting with leading Labour people over some stiff Bennite tea at the weekend, but still doesn't get that we're a city in the Midlands and not the North.

* Out for the count:

"After the polls close at 10pm tomorrow night, the boxes of ballot papers will be taken to the count at the Fenton Manor Sports Complex in Stoke-on-Trent."

The result might be out by:

"4am on Friday morning. But the result of the by-election could come in much earlier depending on the level of turnout and the speed of the counting process."

Let's also hope that questionable bundles of postal votes won't drag this by-election even further into the mire. Thank goodness the 2020 General Election will require Voter ID to vote, and hopefully there will also be postal voting reform by then.

By-election roundup No.10

More by-election news roundup, Wednesday afternoon.

* Jacob Ferudi visited Stoke for Spiked on Sunday and — although he was seduced by the Hanley-is-the-constituency blunder — he's turned in a fair-minded and insightful article: "Stoke: the people vs the political class":

"‘In this constituency, the issue which most often comes up is Brexit’, Nuttall tells me. We’re sitting in the back of a static black sedan; a member of his security detail is in the front seat."

In a curious co-incidence, today's Guardian newspaper also runs with some car symbolism, with the headline: "Labour is a clapped-out banger on bricks, according to Stoke focus group" (10 people, presumably all who could be found who would tolerate being in the same room as a Guardian journalist).

"Asked to draw a car that summed up the Labour party, the group produced sketches of clapped-out old bangers, variously on bricks, or in one case with a steering wheel at each end “because they don’t know which way they’re going”."

Ferudi's Spiked article neatly points out the disconnect between Labour's hard-left student volunteers, and the local place and people...

"I was not surprised when Christopher, a Labour canvasser shipped in from the capital, suggested to me that the idea of regeneration in Stoke was just ‘this northern powerhouse bullshit’.

The problem in Stoke is that none of the candidates seems capable of making a meaningful connection with local people’s aspirations. They just make vague and broad statements, filled with buzzwords. They cannot handle what the Brexit vote was – a monumental two fingers to today’s insipid, uninspiring politics and a demand for something bigger and more democratic. The locals who voted for this are far more progressive, and hopeful, than the canvassers shipped in from London to talk to them about ‘hope’."

Well said, and about time too. Though it's a pity Ferudi didn't spot that Christopher thinks Stoke is in the North, when we're in the Midlands and always have been since the days of ancient Mercia.

* William Hill: "UK awaits landscape changing by-election results":

"William Hill politics believes that the results may set the agenda for the future of UK politics. The results will detail how much the UK political map has changed since June 2016’s EU Referendum."

Betfair: "Tories popular with betting markets".

* BBC Newsnight cameras have been out and about in Hanley, filming inserts for the show, and have made it their special business to interview various photogenic young local leftists and even a few of the local anarchists.

* Ooops...

"we've had hundreds of members, largely Corbyn supporters on the doors"

"Those canvassing in Stoke/Copeland say everyone is citing Corbyn as the reason for not voting Labour. Everyone."

From the tweets. You have to wonder if Labour's student canvassers have been doing more harm than good on the doorsteps.

* Storm Doris is still set to do her stuff in Stoke on Thursday, though not quite as rainy as before.

Juicy Gossip in Blurton

Some local allotments news, for a change:

A newly-launched community café is serving up freshly-prepared meals – at the same time as helping to tackle loneliness. Juicy Gossip Café has been set up at the Hollybush Training and Enterprise Centre in Blurton 10 years after the project won a £400,000 Lottery grant.

The cafe is being run by Bush Tucker Enterprises, which started out by renting two allotments at Longton Hall Lane to supply fresh produce to businesses and nurseries.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

By-election roundup No.9

More by-election news round-up, heading toward midnight on Tuesday:

* Election Day's super-storm now has the name "Doris", which seems a very apt name for Stoke. It's getting worse and worse on the forecast. The polling stations open at 7am and it currently looks like either 7am or after 6pm would be tolerable. If you're working outside Stoke and hoping to get back home in time to vote in the early evening, expect rail and other delays due to the storm.

* ITV News's Deputy Political Editor Chris Ship tweets tonight about a un-named Labour source, who claims to be worried about the Conservatives creeping up in Stoke. It's genuine, from the stream on his verified account.

But possibly it's just the Labour lefties trying to get their core vote out with the implied message that: 'Nazi Ukip may have collapsed in Stoke, but... Bash The Evil Tories!!!'. Or perhaps Labour have actually had their pocket calculators out at last.

* As I predicted earlier on this blog, ITV said an hour ago "Stoke-on-Trent by-election turning into three-way fight".

* The Telegraph: "Vladimir Putin told to keep out of Stoke by election after pro-Russia Twitter accounts target Ukip and Paul Nuttall". Sounds like Ukip may be preparing an "It was the Russians wot stole it!" defence against losing, similar to Hillary Clinton's bonkers claims after the recent U.S. election?

* The Express: "Paul Nuttall says he WILL remain as Ukip leader even if he loses Stoke by-election".

Also a just-released New Path guide to UKIP policy message, in which Nuttall announces he'll be working on the news General Election manifesto in the near future. So basically, it sounds like he's sending a a firm "I'm not going anywhere" message to his followers in the party. No mention of using his role as a Stoke-on-Trent M.P. as a base on which to build and test the new manifesto.

By-election round-up No.8

By-election round-up:

* I had cause to be out-and-about in Shelton today, an area of Stoke-on-Trent which is looking a tatty as always. The area is rancid with litter and dumping in alleys. I took a walk up to the edge of Hanley Cemetery and back and only saw one red-and-yellow Labour flyer in in a house window, plus another hand-written little sign "no ***-ing leaflets, but VOTE LABOUR". There was also one diamond-shaped poster for Dr. Ali (Lib Dems) in a side window of a barber's shop. That was it for flyers on display. But I did spot Dr. Ali himself standing outside the Shelton Post Office in a nice suit, collaring likely-looking students as they passed by. He was gone by the time I came out of the shop.

* I doubt many people buy The Sentinel newspaper's print edition on a dull Tuesday in February. But it's pretty good today, with a conservative-positive full page story on Mrs May's visit to The Sentinel office in Hanley.

The paper has also printed a useful last-minute set of pitches direct from the candidates: "The Stoke-on-Trent Central candidates say why you should vote for them".

The Sentinel also gives the results of a questionable 1,000 respondent online survey they've been running for the last two weeks. This suggests that Ukip and Labour are neck-and-neck, but you can't help thinking that such a survey will have been distorted by online activists across the nation. They'll surely have been mucking around with browser location-spoofers and different Google accounts. 30% of votes going to "other" parties looks way too high, for instance. So much so, that you have to wonder how much of that is the BNP's entire membership (five people and a dog, last I heard) all frantically clickety-clicking on the survey's voting button.

A rather amusing detail is that The Sentinel is using a lurid picture of Ukip's Nuttall which effectively covers him in a urine-stained yellow colour, when it's printed on cheap newsprint paper. It appears twice in the print edition of today's paper.

* London's Evening Standard newspaper is reporting that Paul Nuttall has given Hillsborough witness statement:

"He told BBC Radio 5 Live's Breakfast he spent "three hours yesterday morning in Operation Resolve giving a witness statement""

* The Daily Telegraph: "Labour's Stoke candidate apologises to wife and daughter for describing women as 'polished turds'".

* Guido: "Labour use the St George’s cross on a leaflet in Stoke and top Corbynista cheerleader Ava Vidal takes offence."

* Political Betting, a leading blog: "Stoke Central is set to rank alongside Darlington in 1983 as one of the great by-elections of modern times"

"We could get a very tight result with four parties being very close to each other."

More of a three-way race now I'd say, according to my calculations, but still close between the three and could break any which-way depending on turnout on the day. Of course a lot of Ukip and Labour postal votes have already been sent in. Possibly also some Conservative postal votes, though there's a certain traditionalist "I want to walk down to the voting booths and feel the pencil in my hand" attitude among such voters.

I'd also question the use of the word "Great" in the headline. A great big pile of farce, perhaps. Still, it could be worse. Apparently in the Northern Ireland by-election they're now down to throwing petrol bombs rather than lobbing tweets.

By-election round-up No.7

More by-election news coverage round-up, for those who still care. This morning brings a new crop of "I went to Stoke, and lived" stories from fly-by London journalists:

* "Will the Conservatives win in Stoke?". 'Probably not' is the verdict, but that's on the misleading basis of taking a taxi straight to Hanley and talking to a few random shoppers who were willing to stop and talk. The most substantial quotes used are from a couple from Longton, which is well outside the constituency (and with its own political topography due to the town's long neglect). I've said before that Hanley on a wet Monday morning in February is not representative of the constituency's overall vote, but it seems that London journalists resent being sent to Stoke and so they just want the easiest story possible. In this case the journalist comes away with a sinking feeling that Labour will just about manage to scrape through to a win, as enough disillusioned Ukip voters trudge wearily back toward Labour.

* "Brexit Hotbed Paints a New Future for British Politics" pitches itself to the Americans. Illustrated with an ugly picture that almost counts as 'fake news', being the worst possible photo of the worst possible bit of Hanley. Judging by the bright sunshine in the picture it looks like he visited the city centre a number of days ago, or perhaps the picture editor just managed to find the worst stock picture from a news library. The first voter the journalist speaks to manages to be a British National Party voter, then he miraculously digs up former a Labour lord mayor who was toppled years ago by the BNP. After that the article rather peters out, as if by having sort-of conflated the BNP with Ukip, the journalist feels that the required attack is over. As usual, there's no attempt to understand the complexity of the constituency or to get out of Hanley and actually talk to workers in workplaces or the many people who never set foot in Hanley in winter.

* "UK by-election a battle for survival in Brexit bastion" is another lacklustre effort, this time from a press agency. Relatively balanced but very dull, and resting on some dull stock phrases from the candidates. It reads like filler for the international syndication market.

* Ukip's Nuttall is definitely out and about again, having appeared this morning on BBC Five Live (on the spot at the Dudson Centre, apparently). He also has an article on Brexit in today's Express newspaper, "The stench of a stitch-up if Lords try to delay Brexit":

"I will spend the time between now and polling day making my case with every ounce of energy and every argument I can muster, seeking to be the authentic voice for Brexit voters of every political affiliation in the months ahead."

Will we see him on the rainy streets, knocking on doors, though? Maybe but I think it's basically over, and he must know that, as the majority of voters seem to be sick to the back teeth of hearing about it all and just want it done and dusted. In fact, many voters seem set to just shrug and ignore it all as a form of protest. None of my neighbours are going to vote, and apathy seems to rule in the streets. Which may actually be good, since a low turnout will make it rather more difficult for the feverish anti-Brexit types to say: "Stoke just voted for a Labour Remain candidate, so... cancel Brexit!".

* The voting day weather forecast gets even worse, with the wind speeds increasing on the previous forecast: