Saturday, December 20, 2014

Three generations of first born Taylors at the Rovers

We had a lovely day at the football today in a place that holds so many memories. That the opponents were Charlton Athletic had a certain resonance. Me and my Dad saw Rovers beat them at Wembley in 1986 on a day I'll always cherish.

My Dad also told me a story of how he saw his first ever first division match between Blackpool and  Charlton with his Grandfather in the late 1950s.

Me and Joe remembered the 2007 end of season game which relegated Charlton thanks to some flukey goals. A day when all of the fans united in a minute's applause for Alan Ball who had died earlier that week. It was the first time it had ever been done and felt right.

The game today was a good three points, some good chasing in midfield - a couple of goals from Jordan Rhodes, who proved why it's going to be hard to hold on to him in the transfer window, especially with the financial fair play rules meaning Rovers are banned from transferring players in.

But all these football issues are just a backdrop to the real meaning of these days. Time, doing things we enjoy, with the people we love. Here's to many more happy days and family memories.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Proud to be selected as Labour's parliamentary candidate in Hazel Grove

Tonight I am extremely proud to have been selected as the Labour candidate to fight the Hazel Grove parliamentary seat at the next General Election.

We have 5 months to persuade voters to break their habit of voting Liberal Democrat and thinking it will somehow get them anything other than a Tory government.

With typical brass neck the Lib Dems will be campaigning against their own record in Government. They will peddle that line that annoys me so much – that “Labour can’t win here”.

Those mathematically inaccurate graphs aimed at voter suppression. Urging our people to stay at home. How patronizing. How anti-democratic.

The Conservatives today have shown as a sham their record on economic competence – the deficit is still there and the national debt is rising. As I said on the BBC ONE O CLOCK NEWS today the Labour leadership in Northern cities like Manchester have led the way in developing the momentum the Tories are claiming credit for.

George Osborne kicked the can along the road today on business rates. Offering a review instead of reform, something that will do nothing for our hollowed out district centres that are kept alive by enterprise and ingenuity, but deserve the fair rating system that Labour propose.

Yet, they will tell the large numbers of self-employed and small business owners in this constituency that they’re on their side. I run my own business. My Dad is self-employed. Until recently he even had a white van. All the good companies I’m involved in now share the ethos of fairness, courage and supporting their staff. And as a business journalist for 20 years, I know what GOOD business is all about: inclusive, hard working and enterprising. They are my values and they are Labour values.

Ours is a vision for everyone having a fair chance, a good start in life and a country built on the efforts and endeavours of working people having a stake in its success.

Proud of our achievements in government – humble in our determination in opposition to fight for our people to re-earn their trust so they will turn out for us so our party can govern again with the message of radical hope we offered in 1945, 1964 and 1997.

 I’m going to be an energetic candidate on the doorsteps, in hustings, at events, public meetings, debates, on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Wherever the people are.

 But my biggest asset will be the wonderful people of this community who I will work hard to campaign for and with.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The scandal of Bredbury Hall and the bad banks

I wish I had a pound for every time I've been asked if I miss being a frontline business journalist. I don't, but I recalled the best of times this week when I watched BBC Panorama on Monday night about how Lloyds Bank treated Bredbury Hall Hotel (left). There was also a terrific investigative story on The Business Desk by James Graham.

On Panorama the BBC's Andy Verity and James have dug into what Lloyds inflicted on Bredbury Hall, once one of their former prized clients, featured in a promotional video. First the owners had the squeeze put on them, then their debt was packaged and sold off to a distressed fund.

One of my clients now is Seneca, a business that works hard to unravel the problems of the past in order to help businesses seize the opportunities of the future. That means helping companies who have been sold complex products by banks - often called 'swaps' - and acting for them on redress and assisting them to get back to health. Tim Murphy of Seneca has argued in front of a Treasury Select Committee that this behaviour by banks requires a completely new approach to redress for how the vast bulk of Britain's business can tackle such abuse by their banks.

"Businesses need an ombudsman with teeth, at present only microbusinesses (less than 10 employees and with sales under Euro 2 million) can apply to the Financial Ombudsman Service. Apart from the courts and the banks’ own internal complaints departments there is nowhere for other businesses to go," Tim says in a paper we're releasing next week.

For all his rhetoric Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has been weak on the banks. It's been left to the media and a few campaigning lawyers I've worked with like Alison Loveday at Berg and business organisations like Downtown. Some politicians have acted vigorously on behalf of the constituents - Jack Straw being one - but it's been driven home this week that the media has a positive and important role to play.

Yes, it reminds me of the importance of the media in campaigning. But I wonder if Bredbury Hall could have been better served by their local politicians too.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The beating of Leeds, reconnecting club and fans again

When Blackburn Rovers fans of a certain age are gathered together, nostalgia bursts to the fore. So it was when I did an event at Ewood Park with Graham Jones, the MP for Haslingden and Hyndburn (pictured above with a Jack Walker portrait).

Even though our early memories are of Second and Third Division football, the high watermark for football, entertainment, emotion and atmosphere was in the mid-1990s. Foremost amongst those memories was a 1-1 draw with Leeds in the title winning season. It had incidents aplenty and was a powerful statement of intent that this was a team ready to fight even when down to 10 men. I think it was the best performance I ever saw from Alan Shearer and there were plenty to choose from.

So there we were on Saturday with a full away end and Rovers riding high. I don't think I have ever enjoyed an undeserved win as much in years. It felt like it should do at Ewood Park. The players responded to a plea for a fightback, something that's been lacking. It felt like there was a connection between players and supporters again.

That's what has been missing. Football is such an important part of everyday life and the clubs are a centre of the community. But as I've banged on about before, there's a danger it's disappearing up its own greedy orifice.

Fair play to Graham Jones then for the tremendous work he's done in seeking the truth about the ownership issues at Rovers and for supporting the Labour policy on football involvement in clubs.

A summary, from Graham:
The plan, which has been drawn up in consultation with 95 football supporters’ organisations, and which are fully in accordance with European competition and procurement law, would require supporters to come together to form a single accredited trust in return for the right to:
appoint and remove up to a quarter and not less than two of a football club’s board of directors; purchase up to 10 per cent of the shares when a club changes ownership, if they so wish.  
Supporters made clear during the consultation that this is the only way to ensure those running clubs share information, power and responsibility with them. Labour's proposals mean fans could hold the owners of their club to account on all issues on and off the field including ticket prices, shirt sponsorship, ground naming rights, and changing the colour of the strip or the name. I am sure Newcastle United and Cardiff City fans will be very interested in these aspects of the proposal.
At Ewood I have detected a desire on the part of the management to rebuild what has been destroyed over the last few years. The future of the club will only be meaningful and successful if a new covenant with the fans is created.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Rose Hill Station - a great place to walk from too

I was delighted to be asked to get involved in the Friends of Rose Hill Station, our local station. David Sumner (pictured left), who chairs the group, has worked wonders with the other volunteers in creating a delightful ambience around our small and perfectly formed terminus. 

At the end of October we launched a guide to walks around the Marple area that are all accessible from Rose Hill. The idea is to work with Northern Rail to increase passenger numbers and usage of the station, but at the same time campaign for a weekend service and a far better frequency of trains in the evenings.

We were delighted with the launch and thrilled with the support we received from the Marple Ramblers. It's certainly one of the aspects of living around here that many people enjoy.

The leaflet is now available in the station at the booking office and in the library at the waiting room, as well as around Piccadilly Station and local tourist information centres around Manchester and the wider area.

There is a serious campaigning edge to the work of the Friends too and we've had some extremely productive and frank discussions with Northern Rail. Most recently, a squad of volunteers have been monitoring passenger numbers.

Anyway, do visit the station and get in touch if you'd like a guide.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Running the line at the Brabynabau - Marple Ath v Rose Hill Rovers

It was the Young Firm clash today, the SK6 Classico, Marple Athletic v Rose Hill Rovers at Brabyns Park. A gorgeous autumn morning for the two local Under 16 sides to play each other in front of a crowd of over 50 assorted mates, parents and grandparents. 

It was a cracking game too. It ended 2-2 and all four goals were belters.

Fair result? I'd say so. But given the injuries Marple were carrying (including to the regular keeper), the return fixture (also at Brabyns in February) will be another shot at local bragging rights.

As linesman I didn't have any tough calls to make, but I will say this as diplomatically as I can - I wouldn't fancy stepping to being a referee any time soon.

Jeanette Winterson's Foundation Lecture at the University of Manchester: From Gradgrind to Graphene

I am amazed that writer Jeanette Winterson's Foundation Day Lecture at the University of Manchester hasn't been more widely reported. It was a powerful tour of the University's radical progressive traditions - from Gradgrind to Graphene - and at times an angry call to arms to resist austerity and the forces of conservatism.

It was also a eulogy to the intellectual traditions of the city that didn't mention football or any of that music that so many pretended to like in the 90s. Maybe that's why it merited so little coverage.

As soon as there's a link to a transcript, or a more detailed report, I'll add it. In the meantime above is a delightful video which introduced her lecture. Featuring a range of voices from Brian Cox to Michael Wood and Shami Chakrabarti and touches on some of the ideas and ambitions of this fine institution.

It was another reminder of how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to attend the University in the 1980s when I got a grant to do so. It was a transformative period of my life and it's why I am so proud to give a little back by serving as a member of the Alumni Board and sitting on the General Assembly.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My mate #21 - Tom Bloxham

It's been a while since I updated the "my mate" series. It's not because I've run out of mates or anything, but more a symptom of slower blog activity to be honest. Last Wednesday I was at the University of Manchester Alumni Dinner at the Town Hall, where the guest speaker was Tom Bloxham, the Chancellor of the University and the chairman and founder of property company Urban Splash. 

We had a chat afterwards, as we often do on such occasions, and he reminded me of the times we've shared together over the years - the acquisition of my favourite hotel - The Midland in Morecambe - by Urban Splash, his innovative property business and how he used some of my articles about it in the exhibition before the launch;  how consistently supportive he was in my time as editor of Insider, speaking at events - always superbly; but socially too we've had some enjoyable times together - his wife Jo's joyful 40th at their house in Worsley and a terrific Christmas lunch with some of our other mutual friends like Ian Currie. Tom also invited me to join him at Old Trafford for United's annual drubbing of Blackburn Rovers, I declined, that being the time we won against the odds of course.

We're from the same neck of the woods politically - the pro-entrepreneur arm of Labour - and he's most recently been a contributor to the Labour Party's review of housing under Michael Lyons.

But I also recall a University General Assembly meeting during my lengthy and painful 12-month notice period as I was exiting Insider. I asked a question about what the University was doing to leverage its academic base to connect better with the intellectually curious in the city. A good answer would have been to list a number of public lectures and open days. Tom's answer was brilliant, he leant forward and asked me, "what have you got in mind, Michael?"

That encouragement was the first step on the road to developing what is now DISCUSS and I've never forgotten his support. Indeed, our motivation is part of the same civic pride to make our adopted city better than we found it, in line with his own well-used anecdote about the Ephebic oath of the ancient Athenians.

I always enjoy Tom's company and seeing him at the dinner last week reminded me of the friendship we've developed and how fond I am of him. I'll say this as well, he'll be a hard act to follow as Chancellor.