Tuesday 31 January 2017

Heart of England in Bloom wants assessors

Want to help judge the many entries in the 'Heart of England in Bloom' competition? There's a training day for volunteer assessors on Monday 12th June 2017 in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Monday 30 January 2017

Monster Raving Loony Party stands in Stoke

Oh good, the Monster Raving Loony Party has livened up a looking-rather-dull contest with a candidate. Incredible Flying Brick will...

* Make fishing a spectator sport by introducing piranha to the Trent & Mersey Canal.

* Develop Stoke-on-Trent Council's Civic Centre into an intergalactic space port.

* Ensure that all trains heading toward Europe will be fuelled by gravy.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

List of candidates for Stoke Central, February 2017

Stoke-on-Trent now has all the main candidates announced for the by-election for Stoke Central on 23rd February:

Ukip: Paul Nuttall, the new Ukip leader. Pro-Brexit, of course, and that will be enough for many to give him their vote. On the one hand, as Ukip leader his voice would certainly be loudly heard in the House of Commons and in the establishment media. On the other hand, being a busy party leader would he have enough time to be a proper battling turbo-charged local M.P.? Of the sort that Stoke both deserves and needs?

Labour: Gareth Snell. A local councillor for Silverdale in the neighbouring town of Newcastle-under-Lyme. Vehemently wants to remain in the EU, according to his Twitter tweets, although I guess he could suddenly have a 'miraculous conversion' to Brexit for the by-election.

Conservatives: Jack Brereton. A local Stoke candidate and one of the excellent Conservative local councillors who are now taking the lead on economic development in Stoke-on-Trent. It would be a great pity if we suddenly lost him to Westminster through a fluke vote.

Lib Dems: Dr. Zulfiqar Ali. A cardiology (heart) consultant, presumably with the NHS. Wants to remain in the EU, reflecting the policy of what remains of the Lib Dems. Looks like he'd make a good solid local M.P., Brexit aside, but there seems no chance of him winning.

Christian Peoples Alliance: Godfrey Davies. Retired Merchant Navy deck officer. Pro-Brexit, apparently. His Alliance wants investment in the pottery industry and to pressure the government to protect Christian minorities abroad, both very worthy causes. Just so long as the funding idea makes the distinction between propping up failing factories and investing in successful ones.

Doubtless there will be a few more fringe candidates looking for some free publicity, but basically it's looking like it's starting off as a straight tussle between Ukip and Labour.

Stoke Central's current prospects

In our coming by-election in Stoke Central, Labour will squeak back in with a narrow margin, winning by perhaps less than 1,000 votes. As things stood on Sunday, that would have been my view. But now I'd say that several factors have just boosted Ukip's chances of gaining an M.P. here.

* the Supreme Court ruling gave a big boost to the vote for Ukip. The more that Brexit appears to be under threat, and the more that the supine establishment media eagerly airs every snivelling gripe and irrationally doomy forecast from discredited 'experts', then the more that the Ukip-averse small-c conservatives and big-C Conservatives will hold their noses and vote for Ukip. And vote for a Liverpudlian, as I hear that the latter is a factor among some voters — London journalists may think "what's the difference, it's all 'North'?", but they can't see the millennias-old border between the Midlands and the North.

* Labour are reportedly not going to select a Stoke-based candidate, having had no real local Stoke candidate to pick from even on their long shortlist. Meredith is probably their best choice in that respect, since local people 'know the face' and associate him with the Civic Centre in Stoke.

* The prospect that voters will have to endure weeks of an unedifying series of pantomime collisions between Ukip-er's band of rag-tag activists and a small army of extreme leftists. Worryingly set amid the wider context that the Trump-traumatised left is now even more inclined to viciously hate anyone slightly to the right of John Major.

* There's also the possibility that many Stokies will become annoyed with media mis-reporting about their city from London journalists on three-hour visits (likely to include at least 90 minutes in The Glebe pub, I suspect). Actually I think a good many voters will just turn off all election news until 22nd February, but possibly that sort of cumulative media annoyance may have some sort of backwash at the polling stations.

Incidentally, the recent "Ukip-will-win" poll means nothing. Political polls are no longer worth the paper they're written on, as the General Election and Brexit and the Trump win have all shown. Only slapdash journalists and Brexit-deranged academics place any value on polls.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Allotment Arts

The Daily Telegraph newspaper muses today on how "Allotment artists find beauty in the cabbage patch"...

"There are many people who look at allotments and see nothing but mess, jumble and a landscape desperate for a good tidy-up — though often such people have some ulterior motive and an eye on future development. It is good to discover that those of us who see beauty in wiggly paths, cabbage patches and tumbledown sheds are in excellent and artistic company."

Picture: lino-cut by Peter Clayton.

Friday 20 January 2017

MIT Treepedia

MIT Treepedia uses Google Street View's panoramas to accurately determine the extent of a city's "green canopy" of trees. Only ten cities have been completed so far, but many more are planned. I imagine that when their computer bot eventually reaches Stoke, it'll spring a sprocket over how many mature trees we have here.

Picture: Stoke Minster seen from the Honeywall.

Thursday 19 January 2017

Gnomes in decline? The survey

Gnome Protect, a new survey of 3,000 Brits about gnomes and gnome-napping...

"It has been a bleak year for Britain’s gnomes. Once a common or garden sight around the UK, the last 12 months has seen a slew of stories charting their decline. A study showed that 94% of us wouldn’t find space for them in our gardens, while last October, the Home Office released figures that showed that gnomes and other garden ornaments make up almost 10% of all reported robberies."

"The safest place for gnome ownership is the Midlands"

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Stafford plots

This might interest readers who know people in nearby Stafford. Chance to snap up an allotment in Stafford...

"There is normally a long wait to secure an allotment but plots on some of the 20 sites in and around the town have now become available. Anyone interested in snapping one of them up has been urged to act quickly. Plots of varying sizes are available and the annual rent – which is paid in March – is between just £40 and £60."

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election: top 10 likely issues

So what might be the main 'doorstep issues' in the coming Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election? Here are ten ideas, in very rough order of likely importance to the more thoughtful voter. I'm assuming voters will somewhat mix up national and local issues...

1. Jobs and the creation of better-quality jobs, also ways to keep local talent in the city and to attract the right types of skilled workers from abroad. This issue is tightly linked to housing and schools and transport in the city.

2. Education and the schools, especially in terms of attracting high-quality teachers and raising student aspirations (which is not the same as vapidly 'raising esteem', which has so damaged the 'millennials' generation) and levels of school discipline. There are also lingering problems around adult literacy, including digital literacy.

3. Getting a real and strong Brexit, one that works for a city like Stoke-on-Trent today and also works for the generations who are coming. That includes genuinely valuing the cultural pride that necessarily runs alongside Brexit and which will help make it a success.

4. Offering a roadmap on how we move toward a sustainable and nimble NHS. In the shorter term: cleaner hospitals; more midwives and matrons; and the need for shorter waits to get a doctor's appointment. Everyone knows that the headline problems at A&E have their root in the doctors' appointment system. For some voters the pressure on the doctor's surgery may be linked with immigration. The time available with a doctor may be linked to the city's mental health and loneliness issues, re: needing a longer and more discursive talk.

5. National measures to help sustain the survival of the pottery industry, especially lowering or doing away with the green taxes/regulations which can cause crippling energy costs for the factories. The city dodged a bullet on that when we voted for Brexit, but such taxes and regulations must not be allowed to creep back onto the agenda.

6. Transport, specifically the high levels of road traffic congestion in the city. Also our very high levels of deadly roadside air pollution, re: invisible particulate 'dust' breathed in from the air when walking or cycling along main roads. Then there's the generally poor and expensive bus services in the city, made worse by the congestion and also by the "you need to change buses in Hanley" thing that's required to get to many destinations.

7. Home electricity prices, since the high winter bills will be coming through the letter-box just before the election. This has a national/city dimension, in terms of the measures needed to help sustain the survival of the pottery industry. Especially scrapping the green taxes/regulations/red-tape which can lead to rising energy costs in our pottery factories.

8. Serious crime, of course, especially hard drugs. Although the local police consistently keep on top of hard drugs rather well, and reportedly keep out dealers and gangs from Birmingham and Manchester and Nottingham. Some voters will also probably link serious crime to the regular media reports about the inability to deport proven criminals, although such reporting seems to have become less frequent under the Conservatives.

9. The cost of renting a home, the quality and control of private landlords. Local house purchase prices, being low, are not so much of an issue for many first-time buyer couples as they are elsewhere in England.

10. Anti-social behaviour such as the shouty groups who persistently hang around and blight Hanley (the city centre). Litter and ugly graffiti will also be very noticeable when people are walking to the polling station.

Sunday 15 January 2017

More fake news from the left

London journalists and politicians are going to get in soooo much trouble because they have no clue about Stoke-on-Trent, or even where the city is (they've been mis-labelling us as a "town" in the "north" for decades now). First up, with his foot in his mouth, is the trades union baron Len McCluskey on BBC 5 Live. He just told the nation, on live radio...

"Stoke is a great city, great people but they’ve been decimated in terms of the policies of this government and previous governments, whether it be Michelin Tyres closing, the steel industry, the ceramics industry."

I'm sure that'll be news to all the people clocking on at Michelin in Stoke on Monday morning.

Friday 13 January 2017

The Hunt is on...

So Tristram Hunt M.P. (Labour) is leaving politics, triggering a by-election here in Stoke-on-Trent Central. Nigel Farage has reportedly just announced he won't be standing. He would have won the seat, but now it looks like the small-c conservative vote will again be equally split between Ukip and the Conservatives, thus letting in another Labour M.P. by default. If the small-c conservative vote were to be combined, a conservative candidate would easily beat Labour.

The Conservatives could have laid the groundwork for this by-election by deploying a heavy-hitter candidate here in the last General Election, but they sent only a young low-key student politician from somewhere down south. Nor have they yet done much locally to engage with the city's huge Brexit vote, in order to bring former-Labour Brexit voters over to the Conservatives. There are a couple of excellent local councillors in the city who are Conservatives, and they have a prominent ongoing role in leading the Council — but that's nothing like a targeted and funded and locally-savvy campaign to actively bring Old Labour voters over to the Conservatives. But perhaps the by-election battle will now be that much-needed campaign, albeit very awkwardly entangled in national and Brexit issues.

Given the split in the vote it would be nice to see one or other of the conservative parties putting the people of Stoke-on-Trent first by stepping aside, or together backing a combined 'independent right / pro-Brexit' local candidate. But now that Farage is out of the running, it seems we're more likely to end up saddled with a Corbyn-approved extreme-left Labour candidate as the final winner — albeit probably winning because presented as a 'wolf-in-sheep's clothing' and as someone who doesn't say much about all the national Labour policies that would badly damage our city. Even an extreme socialist would probably be elected by a narrow margin, due to the ingrained habitual Labour vote, if Ukip and the Conservatives are engaged in a pointless vote-splitting battle with each other on the sidelines. But the bravery needed to jointly back an independent, and thus put the long-suffering people of Stoke-on-Trent first, seems lacking.

Of course, the turnout level will matter. Until now it's always been low here (sub 60%) because the result has been a foregone conclusion — Labour wins both at the M.P. level and the local council level. The same was true of the situation before the Brexit vote, when for months the entire establishment media had been saying that Leave would lose heavily. In such circumstances, "why bother going out to vote?" has been many people's default position. But given a cheery early-spring day in mid March, and a roster of strong close-run local candidates, the turnout level could be rather different. But every episode of a silly punch-up between the Conservatives and Ukip will lessen the turnout by 5%, because people will look at it and say: "the conservative vote is going to split down the middle, and that'll let Labour in again".