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?

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

General Election: is Stoke set to be the last red pimple on a big blue map?

It's no time for victory dances, with just ten days to go until a General Election. Diane Abbott sitting down to negotiate our Brexit with Jean-Claude Juncker, while Corbyn stitches up a power-sharing deal with the Scottish Nationalists? It doesn't bear thinking about.

But locally the best predictions from the political head-scratchers all point to a certain Conservative win in Newcastle-under-Lyme, a likely narrow Conservative win in Stoke-on-Trent South, and a possible win in Stoke-on-Trent North.

Stoke would be freshly painted blue, and sitting proud on wide blue map. Because, at the MP level, Conservatives already hold all the seats surrounding Stoke, except for Newcastle-under-Lyme.

At the County level, Staffordshire and Stafford are also already Conservative. So is Cheshire East, Shropshire, Derbyshire, the Moorlands, the High Peak, the Derbyshire Dales. Stoke is effectively surrounded by a sea of blue, until you get to the town council level and then only in a few places.

So the Stoke Central constituency could soon be a tiny red pimple in the centre of a big blue map. A pimple which is set to be firmly squeezed out by the coming electoral-boundary changes. As I understand it, these boundary changes will basically re-correct for all the unfair gerrymandering under Blair and Brown, while also usefully cutting the bloat on the benches in the House of Commons.

It would be better if socialism were to be removed from North Staffordshire by the electorate. But it would also be fitting, in a way, if it were to be done with the shuffling of some papers in a distant office and a stroke of a pen on a map. Because that's the very same bureaucratic method of destruction which socialists used to such ruination throughout the 20th century.


Stoke North:

But we're not there yet. I suspect that Ruth Smeeth may just hold on in Stoke North. She's not unpopular among the public. Unlike Flello in Stoke South, she puts herself about a lot in the local media and does so even when an election isn't brewing. Smeeth has carried on the tradition of Joan Walley, who you had to respect for her pavement-pounding and crafty committee work, even if you didn't like her politics. Walley levered a lot of stuff into Burslem, in her time, and the goodwill from that has flowed to Smeeth. There's probably also a certain sympathy for Smeeth, even admiration, among many ordinary voters — due to the way she chose to stay on in a party whose noxious and proven anti-Semitism has been allowed to rise to the surface. On the other hand, she's been recently photographed out-and-about with odious characters like Tom Watson and Corbyn, and she supports a party whose policies — even in a diluted form — would once again bring this country to the brink of ruin.

But Stoke North voters are probably thinking more about Brexit, jobs, and uncontrolled mass immigration with all of its many impacts. Having unexpectedly taken Kidsgrove in the County elections, it seems the adjacent Goldenhill is now being seen by the Conservatives as the next stepping-stone in Stoke North, where a proper clean Brexit is reportedly seen as the prime concern on the doorsteps. But it remains to be seen if places like Kidsgrove and Goldenhill can outweigh the strong habitual Labour vote down in places like Tunstall, Burslem, Smallthorne and Cobridge.

The Conservatives have a strong can-do candidate in Stoke North, Ben Adams, and this time there's no UKIP candidate there to split the vote. He's a cabinet member on Staffordshire County Council and he's battled for Stoke North in a previous election. He'd be a good pro-Brexit local MP and be able to work well with the rest of 'the sea of blue' around him and nationally. So he's got to be in with a strong chance, but my hunch that it is a chance and not a certainty. As with all the local constituencies, a lot will depend on turnout and the mood of the pensioners.


Stoke Central:

The media circus seems to have lost interest in my own Stoke Central, following our recent farce of a by-election. The national BBC sent someone to Hanley for a few hours, but it felt like they were just doing a quick re-hash of their earlier by-election visit. No national statistics-shuffler sees anything other than a Labour victory here, something that'll be propped up by the usual wads of block votes. In that regard I doubt it'll make any difference that the large student block vote will have mostly gone home for the summer holidays, because it seems that many students opt for postal voting these days.

A more important factor is that UKIP is once again standing, and this time with a popular local man rather than their hapless leader. There seems to be enough residual UKIP support to once again split the anti-Labour vote, which will get Labour's lacklustre candidate back in. Many former UKIP voters are still emotionally unable to switch to voting Conservative, and from what I hear that's being bolstered by seeing photos of what they (wrongly) perceive as being a "posh Tory boy" Conservative candidate. They're aware that others think the same, and that means there's no chance of the tactical voting which would get Labour out. Under such circumstances their thinking might be summed up as:

  "Labour's certain to get in yet again, so I may as well cast another protest-vote for UKIP. Especially as they've got a good local bloke. And by doing so we'll at least remind the Tories and Labour that we're still here".

In this they'll intend to 'send a message' about mass immigration and British values, and they see the UKIP as the only vehicle by which they can do that. The UKIP candidate has been remarkably quiet in the media, though. But I can still see their man getting that 'last gasp' protest vote before the party implodes, and in quantities roughly equal to the UKIP vote in the by-election.

But much will depend on Labour's ability to get its vote out in the constituency one last time, before abolition.


Stoke South:

Stoke-on-Trent South is more certain for the Conservatives, with no UKIP to stand in their way this time. The 2015 election saw a strong and exemplary campaign by Joe Rich which took another 4% off Labour's steadily-weakening Robert Flello. That 2015 campaigning is now being built on by the excellent local man Jack Brereton. Jack fought hard in the recent Stoke Central by-election and chipped another 2% off the Labour vote, even in difficult circumstances. The city will probably regret loosing such a fresh and dynamic man to Westminster, as he's done sterling work as part of Stoke Council. It would have been good to see him continuing to build up and champion the city's industry and infrastructure for another five years. I'd say he has maybe a 70% chance of being Jack Brereton M.P. very soon.

Though it's not certain, because you have to wonder how many votes he'll get from people in places like south Longton, Fenton, the back end of Normacot, or out on the Meir. On the other hand, after decade on decade of Labour, and with a real Brexit looming, those same people may be looking around them and finally thinking: "What did Labour really ever do for us?" Anyone who's ever walked from Longton train station up into south Longton will be familiar with that question. Yes, they finally have a nice new-painted railway bridge now. And there's a sort-of a new bus-station, though a small and rather depressing one that only came with the supermarket. But how many decades did it take Labour to get around to even those gestures?

But as with all the local campaigns, it's difficult to get a sense of how hard each party is really pounding the pavements, still less about their analysis of doorstep opinions, as they all seem to be shying away from the media. As well they might, given the shoddy media treatment of the city during the by-election. But perhaps that'll change as we head into the final days.


Newcastle-under-Lyme:

Despite some hopeful sniffing around by the far-left media, Newcastle-under-Lyme now seems almost certain to go Conservative. The candidate is a strong one and I must stay he looks great in photos. It's important to factor in that a chunk of the voters only look at headlines and candidate photos, up until a few days before voting, and let their sympathies and prejudices do the rest.

Surprisingly the local left haven't yet mounted their usual screeching "Two weeks to save the NHS!" media campaign, in a town where the NHS looms so large — both in terms of the nearby mega-hospital and also all the niche private healthcare provision which clusters around the town. But perhaps they've shifted that aspect of campaigning over to social media? If they have then I haven't seen evidence for it.


Staffordshire Moorlands:

I admit I haven't been to Leek for a while, but in the Moorlands our Culture Minister Karen Bradley seems fairly safe by all accounts. Even amid a somewhat trumped-up argy-bargy about the local NHS provision 'closing'. This seems to be the same tactic the extreme left tried down in Walsall, colluding there with the local Labour council in order to yell about 'closure' of the town's big new Art Gallery — when no such 'closure' was ever likely. Bradley has stated firmly that talk of 'closure' in the Moorlands is plain wrong. Yet Labour are still standing a pro-NHS candidate, and there's also a strong Independent pro-NHS candidate who'll split that vote. I don't know the details of that split, but I'd suspect those two candidates may reflect two rival elements of the political left inside the Labour Party?

Nearby Congleton is also reported to be quite safe for the Conservatives.

Stone and Cheadle:

The Conservative veteran Bill Cash is certain to get back in again. 'Nuff said.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Feeling tree-ish

Today I stumbled onto a worrying example from Sheffield, which shows how easily a heavy-handed city council can effectively unleash an army of 'jobsworth' workers to cut down thousands of the city's healthy trees. Worrying partly because it's a city very similar to the Potteries, in terms of mature tree cover, terrain and size. Apparently the lopping and chopping has been ongoing there ever since Sheffield's LibDems/Labour council introduced it in 2007. They handed the task off to an army of Amey plc contractors, heavy-handedly supported by police, in the hope of slashing their ongoing costs in maintaining the trees. Also in the hope of preventing the council from being sued, by people claiming to have tripped over pavement tree-roots.

Some 3,000 trees, almost all healthy, have been cut down in the city, and as of spring 2016 it was reported that...

"Campaigners fear[ed] some 75% of the city's 36,000 roadside trees are at risk"

It's hard not to see this as yet another tragic aspect of how 'health and safety' is used as a cloak for other agendas. The ongoing attack on Sheffield's trees are apparently now a major election issue, in what today is a Labour-controlled city. Currently they want to cut town an avenue of commemorative trees planted to honour those who fought in the First World War.

In the face of such an aggressive and sustained attack on the trees of a whole city (and another very worrying example from Labour-controlled Birmingham) you have to wonder if the Conservative election manifesto pledge on street trees should have been a bit more beefy...

"... we will ensure that 1 million more [trees] are planted in our towns and cities, and place new duties on councils to consult when they wish to cut down street trees."

That's certainly welcome, but a bit vague. It should also extend to mature trees in parks, and on paths or on other open land. Not just to trees along streets. It might also specify the types of trees to be planted in cities, and announce there will be new research on how their early years can best be protected. Possibly there could also be something to deter people from suing a council over tree roots, although I vaguely seem to remember that something may already have been done about that under the excellent Mr. Pickles.

Most of the other parties have nothing to say in their manifestos about urban and street trees, I checked. LibDems, nothing on trees. Labour, a million new trees planted on farms. Laughably, a search for the word "trees" or "tree" shows no results in the Green Party manifesto, which these days seems more concerned with far-left posturing. UKIP has a sensible idea, though...

"UKIP will amend planning legislation to promote inclusion of trees and open space into new developments."

Friday, 26 May 2017

Newcastle's new noise app

An excellent idea from Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council. App Helps to Turn Down the Level of Noisy Neighbours, and it will presumably also help prevent the common problem of constantly-barking dogs while the neighbours are out.

"The app enables a user’s iPhone or Android device to make a recording of the noise, which can then be sent direct to the Council, along with a brief description of the problem."

The phone app is here.

The party manifestos: litter and dumping

A quick survey of the party manifestos, re: litter and dumping.

Conservative Party: "We will do more to reduce litter, including by supporting comprehensive rubbish collection and recycling, supporting better packaging, taking new powers to force councils to remove roadside litter and prosecuting offenders."

UKIP: One passing mention of litter, in a section on how plastic bottles can turn into ocean microplastics. To reduce ocean pollution "we will investigate the practicality of introducing a deposit scheme on plastic drinks bottles to encourage recycling".

Greens: No mention. But they would generally aim to "reduce plastic and other waste, including the introduction of Deposit Return Schemes [on bottles]".

Labour Party: No direct mention of either litter or dumping. But they would "set guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes, working with food manufacturers and retailers to reduce waste."

LibDems: No mention of either litter or dumping. But they would "introduce a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups".

There are lots of "you can't mention that" gaps in the manifestos, on unsayable topics. But I find it curious that most of the parties can't even bring themselves to directly address one of the simplest and hottest of doorstep issues, an issue which affects urban and rural places alike.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

In the vanguard

A nice idea from the Forest of Dean. Bring the van a carrier-bag of litter you've picked up or cleaned out of your car, and get a present in exchange.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Lord Heseltine's manifesto for city gardens

It's seems we're still waiting for the Green election manifesto, but in the meantime Lord Heseltine issues a manifesto for gardening (£). The bulk of his speech is at Horticulture Week magazine for free.

"If I had been elected earlier this month to one of the new mayoral authorities – a job in my view more exciting and powerful than half the Cabinet – I would have established an effective coordinating body to tackle the challenges of the deprived communities. That is where you will find the truly forgotten people of our time. The challenges of such concentrated deprivation – unemployment, lack of skills, low education attainment, obesity, loneliness and mental health issues - all focus on the question how do you help people feel a sense of purpose, an interest in what their life holds.

"There are no simple answers to complex questions but gardening can play a part. Derelict land is all too present. Provide them with the tools to plant it. If they plant it they may feel a pride in what they did. They may wish to defend it, even extend it. The work requires little skill but it offers ladders. If a person starts by tidying the garden of an elderly pensioner, there is a short journey to a full time job with elderly folk willing to pay someone to do the same in nearby more prosperous suburbs."

Heseltine may have been wrong on many things, including Brexit, but over the decades he's been right about new gardens and parks in cities. For instance he was responsible for getting the Garden Festival programme under-way and into Stoke-on-Trent in the mid 1980s, along with a local Conservative councillor (yes, Stoke had such people even in the heyday of Mrs Thatcher). Stoke's National Garden Festival is generally credited with kick-starting Stoke's slow multi-decade regeneration of our industrial landscape, following the global collapse of the heavy industries in the mid 1980s. These days it can be difficult to imagine what the now mostly-greened landscape of the Etruria Valley looked like before its intensive restoration.

I also like his wider idea that horticulture in general could be built up much further, becoming a major post-Brexit industry for the UK. It's what we know and what we're good at. As a nation we like planting things, watching them grow, seeing how they turn out, then planning further ahead and unselfishly planting things which will only benefit future generations.

Add to that spirit our advanced bio-science, landscape design, ecology research services, green architecture, and all the thousand other green niches we're excellent at. Then factor in the thousands of new gardens and parks which communities will want to build, once they have direct control of the wealth of local payments that will flow from fracking. Plus there's the millions of new market gardens that will be built in Africa, by the coming billions of population there — offering all sorts of opportunities for overseas advice and supplies.

More locally, I see that the leftist Green Party has already 'lost' their election deposits. They only raised £230 of the £750 target they needed to pay their deposits. The £750 campaign closed today, still at £230. Their page now claims that £230 was all they were seeking.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Mani-fuffles

Well, I was hoping that today would be the day when my commentary on the General Election might begin, all the candidates having been assembled and registered, any independent candidate platforms declared, and the national party manifestos all published.

But I see that from their websites that the Greens and UKIP have still failed to produce their manifestos. Get a move on, and stop fuffling about. How difficult can it be? It's surely only a matter of taking a copy of the old 2015 manifesto down the pub, with a red-ink pen, and updating them. :-)

Friday, 21 April 2017

Picking up the rubbish

Great news:
"Police and Environment Agency officials carried out dawn raids this morning in North Staffordshire as part of an operation to disrupt 'major' illegal waste dumping racket. The raids – which were carried out in the city and Cheadle – came as part of an investigation into 25,000 tonnes of waste being dumped across more than a dozen sites."

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

General Election: 8th June 2017

Ah well, here we go again. A General Election on 8th June 2017. At least this time poor ol' Stoke won't have to put up with a noxious cloud of London journalists descending on and libelling our city, since they'll be busy elsewhere. I suspect that the extreme-left Labour students, who flooded Stoke during the recent by-election, may also feel a bit less inclined to board their transit vans to Stoke.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Litter Strategy: open for consultation

The new national litter strategy has been unveiled for consultation and it's looking good, so far as it goes. It includes:

* No Council tip charges on dumping of household DIY stuff like offcuts and paint-tins... "Ministers will stop councils charging householders for disposing of DIY household waste at the tip, as it legally should be free to dispose of such waste at municipal waste sites and they warn the charges can contribute to fly-tipping." (Good).

* "Owners of vehicles could be fined if rubbish is thrown from their car by any driver or passenger". (But it has to be "proved", presumably by CCTV or similar)

* "Fixed penalty fines of up to £150 for dropping litter". (Good. But it should be about far more than just security guards lurking in grotty 1970s shopping centres and pouncing on unsuspecting cigarette butt-flickers, in order to rack up income for the Council).

* "Offenders put on community service, including fly-tippers, to help clean up the streets". (Good, as long as it's not just the fairweather 'stroll in the park' I've often seen. Let's see them working up a sweat in the rain).

* "New guidance for councils will be issued to update 'binfrastructure' with new designs, and better distribution of public litter bins". (Likely to be useful).

* Target the 25 worst litter hotspots on the sides of the road network. (Nice for a few car drivers, but it'll probably only scratch the surface. 'Automatic litter-fining cameras' on motorways might be good, though, if such things could be reliably developed).

* Educate children to "lead the fight against litter". ("Lead the fight" sounds to me like like they intend a rather nanny-ish crusade — which may be the wrong approach, leading to a counter-reaction in some truculent kids as they turn 13-14).

* "Boost participation in national clean-up days". (Good. Perhaps have an after-Bonfire Night clean, in those still crisp early November weeks when the wind is low, as well as the existing Spring cleanup?).

Chugg off!

Excellent, chuggers restricted from Newcastle-under-Lyme, from 27th March 2017 onwards...

"Only two town centre sites can now be used by fundraisers: Ironmarket (between Yates’s and Greenwoods) and High Street (between Boots and McDonalds), on Tuesdays and Thursdays only, between 9am and 7pm."

"Only one charity/not-for-profit organisation is allowed to operate across the two sites at any one time, with a maximum of three authorised individuals. Further conditions require the fundraisers to make sure there is an adequate ‘comfort zone’ for pedestrians who do not wish to engage with them. They also have to remain a minimum of one metre from shop frontages and keep a ‘reasonable distance’ (approximately three metres) from each other and any other legitimate street activities, such as buskers, street traders, Big Issue sellers and market researchers."

They should have been banned totally, but at least they're now more avoidable.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Green taxes on your electric bills - the view from Stoke

The Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change has this week calculated how much domestic energy bill-payers are paying for green subsidies, in terms of the green 'stealth taxes' being added by energy companies to our quarterly bills...

"In 2016, on average, nine per cent of bills for ‘dual fuel’ households – or £105 – was down to green policies."

But all-electric flats are where the poorest urban working-age people tend to be. The Committee's report admits that such all-electric households are being hit the hardest. For...

"Electrically-heated homes ... low-carbon policies make up a higher proportion of their bills: 18% rather than 9%. This is set to increase to 2030".

It's true that this 18% increase has been offset by energy-efficiency savings, from things like better insulated homes and more efficient washing machines / fridges / TVs. But the recent British government paper Energy Consumption in the UK (2014): Domestic energy consumption in the UK between 1970 and 2013 puts that offset at only at about 9%...

"At a per household level, [average] energy consumption has fallen by 9 per cent since 2000."

So, broadly... all-electric households could have seen a roughly 9% cut in bills, mostly due to better insulation and smarter appliances. But we didn't see that, because the energy companies swiped the savings to pay for green energy subsidies, via our bills — and thought that we wouldn't notice.

Around 16% of households in the city of Stoke-on-Trent are in 'fuel poverty', according to the most recent Energy Consumption in the UK government report on the topic. Outside of the council's 'council estate and bungalows' sector, many households will be electric-only. 25% of all UK flats are electric-only, for instance. The majority of new-build flats are electric-only — such as the many student flats now being built in Stoke town.

Now a Parliamentary Committee has found that in an all-electric home you're still currently around 9% worse off per year (calculation: 18% green stealth-tax, minus 9% home efficiency savings = 9% extra on the bill). That comes on top of the huge 120%+ energy price rises electric households suffered in the 2000s. The Committee admit that the problem is set to get worse for those households by 2030, if the green stealth-taxes on our bills are allowed to continue.

Perhaps, when the new "smart meters" go into homes, we need a new bright-green display slot which will reveal: "Your bill has been increased by £XXX, to pay a subsidy to farmers for useless wind-farms and bio-fuel schemes."


What about local industry, such as Stoke's ceramic companies? Well, the same Committee on Climate Change states that the energy-intensive industrial sectors (such as ceramics making) are overall set to see a "5.9%" rise in energy bills due to the green 'direct-to-the-bill' stealth-taxes, by 2030. That's a bit more hopeful, since such a rise may well be balanced out by efficiency savings and new workflows. But it seems to me that a ceramic factory could have instead enjoyed a big cut in energy costs, if the green energy subsidies were scrapped and their factory's efficiency and modernisation savings went ahead anyway.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Blank pots

There was an interesting sort-of-interview in the Sunday papers, with successful local pottery maker Emma Bridgewater: "UK skills crisis being fuelled by university courses geared towards overseas students". Emma was talking about her children's experience in the London art schools, and I must say that it's the first I've heard of such a linkage.

But more interestingly and most-likely locally, she also commented that in universities she personally finds an...

"absolute blankness and a sense that what I'm doing is so irrelevant."

I imagine that part of that will be a snobbishness arising from the commercial design of her ranges, which won't sit well with the 'oh, we're contemporary fine arts really' stance commonly encountered in contemporary crafts in higher education. Anyone who has pondered what looks like lumps of industrial slag at Stoke's BCB festival will know what I mean. But perhaps part of such a response may even be political 'snark' from leftist lecturers — Guardian-readers of the sort who instinctively bristle with horror at the sight of a British flag and a bit of cheery optimism.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

"We'll keep the red paint flying here..."

Oh dear, the Labour left (usually bitter and sore losers) are now in such a tizzy that they can't even refrain from being bitter winners:

"Ukip leader Paul Nuttall's office was plastered with red paint just hours after the Ukip leader lost the Westminster seat to Mr Snell."

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 there was only a small-but-plucky mostly-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 in time to 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". 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!!!'.


* 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:

By-election roundup No.6

More news snippets from the Stoke Central by-election:

* The Express newspaper's journalists recently managed to reach Ukip's candidate Paul Nuttall for a quote, as part of what looks like a long pre-planned Ukip-motivated story about homeless ex-soldiers. This news story was published online on Monday evening, and will presumably be on the shelves of Stoke in paper form on Tuesday morning. Nuttall also attended a hustings at the Hartshill Medical Centre on Monday evening, and said a few words — but nothing about local issues:

At the same hustings he also said something about why Ukip don't have all-women shortlists. So it looks like he's sort-of back in circulation, but not yet talking about Stoke. I can't see him pounding the rainy streets of Stoke, as Snell was still doing in Shelton on Monday night in pursuit of Labour's rather minimalist and basic hope of 'getting the core vote out'.


* BBC 5 Live is in Stoke for a breakfast show today (Tuesday morning). They've apparently invited Nuttall, but who knows if he will turn up. A hastily announced hustings round the back of Hartshill is one thing, but his going live on BBC Radio prime-time seems quite another. Live radio has tripped him up before, and the BBC's left-leaning journalists are probably going to be hostile.


* I hear that BBC Newsnight is broadcasting a Wednesday evening TV programme from Stoke Central, most likely from the Regent Theatre. With an audience packed with Momentum far-left activists and students, more likely than not, as is often the case with such things. Based on Newsnight's mid February fly-by of Stoke ('sense of despair and hopelessness', 'bleak wastelands' etc etc) we can probably expect fairly stereotypical media treatment of the city.


* It's said that Conservative betting shop odds for Stoke Central can now be had at between 10/1 and 5/1, after Mrs May's visit to Stoke.

The new odds make me wish I'd been able to get a £10 50/1 bet on a few days ago, just in case. Oh well, too late now. 'Red' Ed Miliband also mooched into Stoke today, though it appears that no-one except the Labour candidate got excited:

Most of the volunteers he mentions are — according to a blog by the Lib Dem lead activist in Stoke — connected in some way with the trades unions, if not actively drawing a wage from the unions.

One of the national bookmakers has a opened a betting 'book' on the level of turnout in the Stoke election. It'll be lower than 25% I should think, but the actual result is still anyone's guess. A local university politics lecturer is reported to have rather idly mused to the press that the 6,400 postal votes (sent out, which doesn't mean they'll all be returned) could swing it for Labour. He may be right. But he was so catastrophically out-of-touch with the city's grass-roots on the General Election and Brexit votes that it's hard to take him seriously these days.


* Down in London, the Spectator reports that Tristram Hunt has settled with a sigh of relief into a plush V&A chair, and has started his new job as a museum director. I suspect he's feeling rather glad to have swapped the crusty old antiques of the Labour Party for some real ones.

Monday, 20 February 2017

By-election roundup No.5

* Two senior Ukip figures have just quit, as a result of Paul Nuttall's comments on Hillsborough. They've quit on principle, but you can't help thinking that they're probably fairly sure there's another Ukip leadership election in the offing:

"Stuart Monkcom, the chairman of Ukip leader Paul Nuttall's own branch in Liverpool, and Adam Heatherington, chairman of the Merseyside regional branch, said comments made by party figures had been "upsetting and intolerable" for the victims of the families."

Still no sign of the Ukip candidate in Stoke, at nearly 3pm Monday.


* Conservative HQ have today sent Mrs May to Emma Bridgewater's thriving pottery factory in Stoke. "Theresa May visits Stoke ahead of 'really important' by-election".

"I want to deliver on Brexit. That's what the people here in Stoke voted for. I want to make a success of it. The only candidate who will be a strong voice to Stoke-on-Trent Central, the only candidate who is a strong supporter, supports my plans to make a success of Brexit, is Jack Brereton, the Conservative candidate."

"She said the Government would put an extra £10 billion of funding into the NHS by the end of this Parliament."


* Conservative odds in Stoke Central have been slashed at the bookmakers, now at 14/1:

"The Tories had been largely ignored in the betting until overnight Sunday, and early on Monday morning, when there was a sudden surge of support for them." said William Hill.

Oddly coinciding with my Sunday midnight post on this blog, hem hem. Though the weather forecast for Thursday may have helped, since a storm seems likely to favour the Conservatives whose core voters will battle through driving hail in order to vote. Whereas Labour voters, especially students, have always proven to be more fair-weather types.


* The school holidays have started today in Stoke, so some parents will likely have more time to talk with their kids about the election. Possibly it might make a slight difference to the turnout, re: having to walk small kids a mile or more to the polling station and back, on what looks like a wet and windy day?

Poll apocalypse

The by-election day weather gets even worse, according to the Met Office forecast for Thursday. The 'God is showing his wrath by sending storms' Christian party will be whooping it up, by the look of it. Followed, in the evening, by snow.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

By-election roundup No.4

* The Stoke Central Ukip news stories continue to become more bizarre. On Saturday a Ukip campaigner urinated on a fence, then barged into pensioner's house in order to use the toilet. Apparently the 73-year-old granny pressed the button on CCTV footage and, according to The Sentinel newspaper, "Police have launched an investigation".

Ukip HQ also issued an online picture of their leaflet-eers in a Bolton car park, but mis-titled it as being in Stoke. A petty matter, but then Ukip HQ inadvertently linked the mis-titled photo with the peeing news, by calling the confusion a "cock-up". Even their damage-limitation headline-spinning goes awry.

At the start of the election I predicted on this blog that the street campaigning would turn into a "pantomime", but I didn't realise it would also become a full-blown Joe Orton-esque toilets-and-grannies farce. Is there a tragi-comedy stage play or graphic novel or TV mini-series to be made from this election, once the dust has settled? Quite possibly, and there are still four days to go. Plus the election aftermath, in which we'll get a month of either: "Stoke goes Ukip, Labour in chaos..."; "Labour wins yet again, Corbyn secure..." or "Stoke shock sends bright young Conservative to Parliament, Ukip and Labour both stuffed...".


* Still no sign of Ukip's man Nuttall, nor his deleted website. If he doesn't get out of the doghouse and out-and-about in Stoke by noon on Monday then his Thursday tactical one-off conservative voters will be slipping away by the hour. Even normally sedate media will start asking if he'll even turn up for the final count when the polls close. But possibly he'll be too busy preparing for his new role as the next Doctor Who. The BBC have already sent him the eccentric costume and some curious assistants, now all he needs is a TARDIS (to whisk him back in time to a point before all this mess).


* Where are the Greens? Looks like they have a good honest candidate in the form of a local warehouseman. But he's not very visible in the media, although a few of his yoga-and-yoghurt students are no doubt still fervently tweeting anti-capitalist slogans and moaning about fracking. I had hoped that the Greens would have amused the Stoke electorate by trying to sell them on policies such as group marriage. The Green General Election manifesto managed to include such odd policies, but oddly didn't even mention litter.


* Stoke's dogs, recently featured on this blog, are apparently nipping at Labour's heels. If not also leaving smelly poops-on-paths. As canvassers stomp around streets and estates:

"On the doorstep we're finding that it's either UKIP or next door's damn dog again".


* The Labour candidate is still out and about on the doorsteps, and is perhaps charming the voters with his delightful poems. "Would-be MP Gareth Snell posted a poem reading "Soft Brexit, hard Brexit / Massive pile of s***" in September.

It's yet another dog/shoe encounter for Gareth, by the sound of it.


* A telling comparison of two tweets shows some Stokie ex-pat commentators living in the past, presumably by not having been back to the city in decades...

Though possibly that temporary and surprising low crime rate is something to do with all the "eyes on the streets", the result of all the leafleting and doorstep canvassing? A lesson there for the police, perhaps, re: the value of bringing back regular street patrols on foot?

On the subject of tweets, there are now said to be plenty of fake or tweaked or spoofed screen-shots of what are being claimed as Labour 'Snell tweets' circulating on Twitter. Beware of re-twating.


* I'm told that as much as a third of the total vote could be in the post-boxes already, via postal voting. But obviously some heavily insulated people are still getting up to speed, since even on Sunday night I read:

"I didn't realise until today that it's not a Labour Council in Stoke."

Yes, Stoke council is now effectively being led by some excellent and efficient local Conservatives. But when you hear comments like that from voters you have to wonder how many people in Stoke still have a hazy notion that a guy called Tony Blair is Labour's leader. Mind you, it appears that Tony sometimes still thinks that he's leader too.


Ominous headline: "Labour could lose Copeland and Stoke by-elections but Jeremy Corbyn won't quit, Diane Abbott says".

Breaking the mould

Stoke has a glimmer of good publicity today, amid the by-election. Via an AFP press-agency feature that's being widely syndicated:

"Artisans break the mould in Britain’s pottery capital".

Regrettably AFP rather spoil this very positive story at the end, by quoting the old-old moaning that implies there are no new industries:

"The mining’s gone, the steel’s gone, there’s only this, really”"

While it's true that the old heavy industries have mostly gone, new ones have replaced them. The feature might better have ended by noting that Stoke's biggest employer is now Bet365, effectively an advanced world-leading tech-media company, employing thousands of new media content-production staff in the centre of Stoke. And that the spread of industry types in North Staffordshire is now incredibly diversified, employment is booming for those with skills, and the number of staying-local graduates is increasing.

By-election roundup No.3

* The Sun newspaper visits and comes to the conclusion that:

"Inspired by Donald Trump’s unlikely win, Labour could well be ousted from the seat, which has been the party’s safest since 1950".

Most other national journalists who have visited don't seem to have stepped more than 150 yards beyond Ukip HQ and the usual faces, with The Wall Street Journal apparently spending no less than two hours on Saturday gabbing with veteran Labour supporters over tea in the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, rather than sitting on a cold bench outside Stoke public library actually talking to Stoke's voters. Most journalists seem to be 'going through the motions', pushing out lacklustre vaguely pro-Labour articles with little real insight into the city.

The Sun newspaper did however manage to get a couple of insightful new local voices:

"barrister Tariq Mahmood, a former Labour member who has lived in Stoke all his life, told how he will vote Ukip on Thursday — and has even joined the party as a campaigner. He said: “Ten years ago it was taken for granted that every single Asian voter on a council estate would vote Labour. I certainly did."

It is not just long-term Stoke residents predicting a surprise Ukip win. On the outskirts of Hanley is the studio of ceramics designer Reiko Kaneko, who moved from London in 2012 to be nearer pottery manufacturers. The 34-year-old, who is half Japanese and produces designer items for stores including posh London shop Fortnum & Mason, said: “Lots of people I speak to here seem to be ready for that change." “They’re thinking along the same lines as the Trump fans in America — they want the products made in this country put before imports.”

Yes, in the age of podcasts you do have to wonder how far the shockwaves of the Trump win will have had a backwash in Stoke Central. Not just in terms of the crazed anti-Trump left, but also in terms of the influence of pro-Trump podcasters.

And at the end of The Sun's article a local bar manager pipes up that his family is divided between Labour and Ukip, but he comments that:

"You’ll find a lot of people who have not voted here will come out for Ukip."

It's the populist The Sun, obviously, but you have to given the journalist credit for finding and talking to some people from outside the Labour bubble.


* The Sunday Times reported today that Labour trades union bosses are battling it out for power, and one of them took the opportunity to savage another in Stoke:

"The Unite chief Len McCluskey was branded a “fat cat” who presided over a “culture of freebies and favours” as the battle to run Britain’s biggest union descended into tribal warfare. Speaking to Unite members at the Michelin works in Stoke-on-Trent, Coyne talked of: “fat cat bosses living a life of luxury at the workers’ expense. I am talking about a fat cat union boss." He then "launched a blistering attack on the 'eye-watering' £417,300 'loan' McCluskey received from Unite to buy a flat"."


* On Saturday there seems to have been no argy-bargy arising from the various pavement-pounding teams in Stoke (why do they think paper leaflets still have such power, you'd think they'd never heard of Facebook?). But later on tempers may have frayed, and a member of the Welsh Assembly claims she saw a Labour activist being aggressively shouty in a Stoke-on-Trent nosh shop:


* New Labour schemer and anti-Brexit guru Peter Mandelson apparently slithers into Stoke today (Sunday), hot on the heels of his friend Tony Blair's unhinged anti-Brexit rant. If you see Mandelson around Stoke, ask him: "Labour championed the nation's switch to diesel vehicles. Around 1-in-50 of this city's people will now die an early death as a direct result of inhaling the toxic exhausts from those diesel vehicles. Would you like to say sorry to those people, on behalf of the former Labour government?"

In terms of the national politics you have to wonder if he and his mate Blair are going to be deliberately "unhelpful" via their anti-Brexit moaning, in the hope of toppling Labour in Stoke — and thus getting rid of Corbyn. A Ukip loss and national collapse would also deprive the left of a useful rhetorical enemy, leaving them without the ability to conjure up their bizarre fantasy politics which suggests to students that gangs of violent racists and neo-nazis are stalking the streets of Britain (they're not).


* I heard several curious suggestions last night that both Labour and the Lib Dems are only talking up a Ukip win in order to get their tactical voters out on polling day. Namely, to get out the new mostly young and student voters they've signed up, who think: 'we loathe Labour, but we'll vote for them to smash Nazi Ukip'. Because of the need to pander to such Ukip = Nazi delusions, it was said, Labour and the Lib Dems can't publicly admit that Ukip are "actually doing rather poorly" in the city.

I suppose Ukip "actually doing rather poorly" is possible, but it's not the impression I or many journalists get. Such a notion seems to overlook the stubbornness of Ukip's core vote, and also the determination with which Ukip and Conservative voters will show in getting to the polling stations come rain or shine. Perhaps it's a comforting false belief that's arisen among activists simply because Labour and the Lib Dems can no longer get through to the ordinary unreachable 'shy conservative' and 'unseen Ukip' voters — especially since those voters will have erected strong canvasser-blocking measures during the last week of campaigning.

Perhaps the Lib Dems' shambolic Saturday explains some of the confusion. Their blog reports that they ran out of oatcakes and bacon and then all their leafleting and canvassing went to pot. They "now have a data backlog".


Finally, the current weather forecast for polling day is looking distinctly iffy:

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Polling day: 20% possibility of a rain of hellfire?

A few posts ago on this blog I noted that the Christian Peoples Alliance by-election candidate's party is actually a 'God is sending storms to punish the gays' type of party. But, according to the Met Office forecast, they do indeed have a hot-line to the Almighty! Because it looks like He will be sending a wrathful 42 mph whirlwind to Stoke Central on polling day. ;-)

Hartshill Park entrance re-vamp

I see that good work is continuing in Hartshill Park, and that the path by the northern view-seat is being re-surfaced. On the Park's notice-board, the notice states that volunteers are wanted for a work-party on Sat 18th March 2017 to "create an improved entrance to the Park". Meet at the North St. car-park at 10am.

No sign of people in Stoke responding to Labour's Tony Blair this Saturday lunchtime, and "rising up" to defeat Brexit. All I saw that was "rising up" in Hartshill was a lovely crop of spring bulbs, all along the moist turf by the church wall.

No sign of any yellow-and-red / red-white flashes of Labour leaflets placed in front windows, either, in a half-dozen terraced and semi-detached streets where I've noticed them during past Stoke Central elections. Not a single one. All I saw today were two low-key Ukip leaflets in windows, with Nuttall's name in big letters, and one Lib Dem leaflet all soggy in the gutter. Makes me wonder if the sudden departure of Corbyn's campaigns manager today was a case of: 'go, before you're sacked'?

Just one day with dogs

More local dog news today, just a day's worth:

'Only a bullet will stop them' - the fighting dogs on the streets of North Staffordshire...

"If a French mastiff gets out and kills a child, the maximum sentence is a £12,000 fine or six months in jail. You can have these quite legally and walk down the street with them."

​Out-of-control dog swam across Endon canal before killing 7 chickens.

Mum allowed to keep pets despite her Pitbull attacking another dog.

Stoke mum recalls horror moment devil dog ripped at son's face leaving him scarred for life.

Conservative social media in Stoke

Elections are not won by Twitter, and especially not in Stoke. But for those wanting to follow the Conservative candidate in Stoke via social media in the coming week, here are a few of the key links:

* Conservative by-election candidate Jack Brereton tweets at ToryPressMids with tweets signed 'JB'.

* Stoke Central 2017 website at Jack Brereton for Stoke-on-Trent Central.

* Jack Brereton, the new personal Facebook Page.

By-election round-up No.2

Today's by-election round-up on the last 24 hours, as the city heads into the final weekend of campaigning.

* On the Labour side, Jeremy Corbyn's campaign chief has just quit, according to the Evening Standard newspaper 'in concern at the direction the party is taking'. Not sure it makes much difference locally, although without his campaign director Corbyn seems to have been let off the leash and seems to be personally spouting to the media at every opportunity. That will get down to the difficult-to-reach parts of the grassroots in Stoke with some spin on it, via the newspapers. He'll also be in Stoke today, spouting directly.

* I hadn't realised that the Labour candidate is a paid official with a trades union. His union's website usefully pipes up about that fact, today.

* Police have warned a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament for driving a van in Stoke with the English flag on it. Seriously, how many vans are they going to have to stop now? It seems that every other white van in Stoke has such a flag on it. There are highly likely to to be even more this coming week, flying out of cars and vans across Stoke. All the police have done is boost that number, as some people will now be flying it just to say 'ya-boo to the cops'.

* The Sentinel newspaper seems to be effectively swinging behind Labour, with a heavy voter-influencing piece on the NHS yesterday and a smooth feature on the extreme-left film director Ken Loach today. They're also talking down the turnout with headlines anticipating a "disappointing turnout".

* Perhaps more important than The Sentinel, in terms of getting through to insulated last-minute voters, is The Daily Mail. Today they have a long and pavement-pounding article on Stoke headlined: Violence and race hate in Britain's grubbiest by-election:

"The police are now almost as busy as the candidates in what is fast-becoming the grubbiest by-election of modern times. And we still have six days to go before the voters of Stoke Central choose their new MP. Activists have been assaulted, posters have vanished or been vandalised and there have been numerous complaints of electoral misdemeanours."

The Mail's reporter has miraculously managed to track down and talk with both the Labour and Ukip candidates, both of whom are currently harder to spot than a red squirrel in Hanley Park.

* Conservative Home's 'Ukip Watch' section has some fairly sound musings on how the Ukip voters will have taken the Hillborough reporting. They write Ukip has:

"gone through media criticism over a wide variety of quite serious errors in the past and survived untarnished in the eyes of many of its supporters. Farage in particular was able to build up a following which was willing to disbelieve anything negative they might hear about him. Nuttall would like to repeat that feat. Although he isn’t as talented a communicator as his predecessor and may struggle to do so, for now he appears to be benefiting from a continued siege mentality by which core UKIPers treat most negative coverage as inherently untrustworthy or unreasonable.

In Stoke in particular, I doubt reports of Nuttall’s bogus Hillsborough claims will have a great deal of cut-through. By-election electorates live under a continuous barrage of leaflets and other materials, and many will already have made up their minds. Those switching from one party to another for the first time ever swiftly become strongly committed to their choice, too, and Labour haven’t exactly offered a great candidate to woo them back."

Yes, as someone on-the-ground in Stoke, I suspect he might be right on that. But only for the core of the city's Ukip voters. To win against the habitual Labour vote here, it seems to me that Ukip needs to woo a big chunk of the Conservative voters to make a one-off tactical vote for Ukip. The Conservatives have such as good clean candidate that it's difficult to see conservative voters going against their conscience and forcing themselves to switch, especially when it could land the city with Nuttall. So I can't see them deciding to tactically vote now, unless perhaps... if Nuttall rolls up his sleeves and is seen popping up everywhere in Stoke for the next six days. But I doubt he'd risk that, because the media and the leftists would try to ambush him on every street-corner — though his main risk so far appears to have been sitting down with small left-leaning community radio stations without first checking out their political leanings. If, on the other hand, he just hides away in Liverpool then he might keep his leadership — but he'd definitely be toast in Stoke.