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.

Friday 17 February 2017

By-election round-up

So, what's new in the by-election, this morning? A lot of nonsense that's obscuring the real issues, mostly.

* Can the Ukip candidate even vote in the Stoke Central by-election, asks a national newspaper. From this morning's Times newspaper:

"Paul Nuttall, the Ukip leader, was facing questions last night about whether he signed on to the electoral roll in time to vote in the Stoke-on-Trent byelection".

Nuttall has also bizarrely chosen this moment to launch a brave new policy suggestion. That Ukip would remove VAT from fish and chips. Really, as if that's the most important thing on the minds of people in Stoke Central? I love a good bit of fish as much as the next person. But not only is it a futile suggestion, it's also a bit patronising — since it implies that's the most important thing we care about.

* On the other side of the fence, more Labour tweets have emerged. Labour candidate Snell managed to slur both our own Robbie Williams and women in one phrase, by calling Robbie a "publicity whore". There's also a curiously phrased tweet which has newly emerged, describing his girlfriend as "half muslim".

I'm absolutely fine with him having a "half muslim" girlfriend, good for him. But the clumsy phrasing does suggest that he has a surprisingly hazy grasp of the religious strictures involved. Because, so far as I'm aware, one is either muslim or one is not. There are no half-measures. And once one becomes a muslim, then there's no going back on it without becoming an apostate.

* It's also emerged that the sender of the 'vote Labour or go to hell' texts was not just some hapless teen volunteer on Labour's text messaging desk, but the current Chairman of the Hanley Park Residents Association.

* Alerted by some of the evangelical phrases which I heard being used by the Christian Peoples Alliance candidate, I took a look at their notion of Christianity. The casual voter might have assumed they were fairly normal wishy-washy Christians, and that was also my assumption. But it seems they're actually the crackpot 'God is sending storms to punish the gays' type of party.

* Looking at the wider picture, presumably the various campaigning teams and big-names are gearing up today for a massive push in Stoke at the weekend, the last such before the vote. Perhaps we'll finally get down to talking about some real issues that affect the city, and with the city's people rather than with the party apparatchiks who packed the main hustings in the last few days. Or possibly it's time for voters who have already made up their minds to turn off / unplug the phone, un-wire the doorbell, and perhaps even flee Stoke for a nice calming visit to Tristram Hunt's new haunt at the V&A museum in London? Come back, Tristram, all is forgiven.

Thursday 16 February 2017

'Scarred for life' in Stoke-on-Trent dog attack

A few readers of this blog may have thought my recent research-based post on the danger of dogs in Stoke's green spaces a little over-the-top. But today comes sad confirmation of the very real danger, from BBC News: "Boy, 4, 'scarred for life' in Stoke-on-Trent dog attack" in Blurton...

"We were just walking across what we call the Black Path and my son fell and my daughter started screaming."

"...her son may also have speech problems".

For life.

And the by-election loser is... Ladbrokes

A few more bits of Stoke Central 'by-election spotting', for those not yet tired of it all.

I read a slightly worrying report that Labour has registered mostly 2,500 student voters at the local university. Worrying, because it evokes past media stories about dodgy 'ballot stuffing' in elections around the UK, which for some strange reason always seems to favour the Labour Party. But I don't see why any students should be getting postal votes en masse at this time of year, since the university is not on holiday, so presumably there's less risk with the postal votes at least.

Assuming that 20% of those 2,500 students can be bothered to get out of bed and slog a mile up the hill on a main road to vote, and assuming they vote the way they've been indoctrinated, that's perhaps 300 extra votes for Labour. Plus another 150 for the Greens, and perhaps 50 votes from lads dragged along by their Green-y girlfriend and 'aving a laff by striking their cross for the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Bettingpro reports "There has been a sudden swing in the betting towards Labour retaining the seat", based on a small flurry of bets placed today. I also heard you can now get a silly 50/1 on a Conservative victory in Stoke. I've never bet before in my life, but on a whim I tried a quick sign up with Ladbrokes online, just to put a very speculative £10 on. I chose their "PayPal Quick Registration" option and thought I primed the account with an initial £20. Apparently...

"PayPal Quick Registration lets you sign up without needing to enter all of your information, this means you can open an account, place a bet and get your free bonus in a matter of minutes. This is currently provided by Coral and Ladbrokes."

But no, rather than "Quick" it appears to have been a complete failure. PayPal appeared to send the £20 and the balance updated... but then obviously it must have failed — in that there was no PayPal email, no site login details displayed, and not even a response to my enquiry sent to Ladbrokes' Helpdesk service. No sign of it on my PayPal dashboard, either. Oh well, they've lost me as a potential account holder. Probably just as well, since when I later clicked on the PayPal information button on Payment Methods at I got this warning...

If they can't even keep their own site security certificates up-to-date, on a PayPal button, I wouldn't feel secure placing a bet with them anyway. If and when the PayPal £20 deposit payment does eventually show up, I'll be asking for an instant refund.

It's all going to hell...

This dismal by-election just sinks lower and lower. I took a short break from monitoring the news, and what do I find on returning to the keyboard this lunchtime?

Firstly I picked up a bit of news I had missed, that Labour activists recently screamed abuse at a jewish man as he entered the recent Ukip rally. Today other Labour activists have been caught out telling local muslim voters that they will 'go to hell' if they don't vote Labour. As a result the Lib Dems have officially reported Labour to the police and electoral authorities.

No condemnation from local Labour feminists of their candidate's anti-women tweets, or none that I've been able to find through various searches.

I see that Ukip's Nuttall hasn't yet withdrawn his candidacy, though he has suddenly withdrawn his entire website. Perhaps it'll be replaced by a claim that he was once Cilla Black's stylist, or had a former career as a secret member of Echo & the Bunnymen. He's pulled out of Stoke-on-Trent's City Centre Partnership hustings today, but judging by an article in The Express it looks like he's going to brazen it out. Yet his lies have lost him the Conservative tactical voters who he might perhaps have had, and without whom Ukip very probably can't win.

The Evening Standard is even suggesting that...

"So fed up are the people of Stoke Central that there is little chance more than 30 per cent will turn out to vote in seven days' time".

I might take this with a pinch of salt, though. It's a big London newspaper, always distinctly leftish in tone (although that's set to change soon). The report's journalist mysteriously managed to rock up at the extreme left's secret 2pm rally with Ken Loach yesterday, and his report managed to imply that the rally was a sedate 'local community' event. Is the left trying to 'talk down' the turnout?

Oh well, in a way it's all good for Brexit, which is some kind of silver lining. Since now, if a Remainer wins, not even the most jaded London hack or rancid Remoaner will be able to say that 'the Stoke Central result is a mandate for stopping Brexit'.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Old Hartshill postcard with allotment

I saved this from eBay, a view of Stoke from Hartshill, including a large allotment plot in the foregound. Judging by the horse-drawn carriages and carts on the road, it might be pre-1914. At the north end, looking toward Etruria.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Nuttall on toast

It looks like both Labour and Ukip candidates are now badly damaged candidates in this sorry excuse for a by-election. Voters now have to choose between a Labour candidate who has openly tweeted about "rancid twat-bags" and giving women "a good slap", and an increasingly dodgy-looking Liverpudlian fibber.

It seems clear now that neither should have been chosen, and neither is a good choice to represent the city to the world, regardless of what you may think of the respective merits of 'save the NHS' or 'secure Brexit'. Though there seems little hope that both candidates will do the decent thing and jointly withdraw for the sake of the city, thus letting the two excellent local Lib Dem and Conservative candidates take the race to the finishing line in a respectable manner.

Well, at least the 7000+ local conservatives in the Stoke Central constituency (probably more now, after the 2015 election and Brexit and the Trump victory) can now vote for the fresh and local and squeaky-clean Conservative candidate, without too many qualms that they'll be splitting the vote and letting in Labour. Because the antics of Ukip and Labour have jointly thrown it all up in the air and the votes are going... who knows where? The Conservatives now need to get some more heavyweight speakers and campaigners up here sharpish, I'd suggest. Ideally, as I suggested here at the start of the by-election campaign, they might have started doing that back in the 2015 General Election.

Allotments and politics

Here's a novel way for a business to sort out potential new recruits...

"... the shortlisted candidates took part in a community challenge at a Burslem allotment as part of a week of activities set by Novus."

There's an idea. Perhaps we could bypass all the 'playground politics' currently going on among the by-election candidates, and just have a dig-off? Each candidate would be presented with a partly-frozen neglected allotment plot next Monday morning — and the one who has best dug it over, stripped out the couch grass roots, and planted some seed potatoes by sunset becomes our next MP. :)

"No idea" about Stoke

Oh dear, the Twitter trawling gets even worse for the Labour by-election candidate in Stoke Central, after the anti-women tweets...

I'm even starting to wonder if the local Labour Party picked their anti-Brexit foul-tweeting candidate hoping that he would lose and thus unseat Corbyn, just a means of fighting the bizarre internal civil war that's currently raging within the Labour Party.

Monday 13 February 2017

New grants for allotments in Stoke

This morning the The Sentinel carries news of a new grants fund. It's from Stoke-on-Trent City Council and it will be able to fund allotments projects when it opens in June...

"Groups will be able to obtain one-off grants of up to £50,000 to pay for things such as new equipment, building refurbishment or software licences to help them improve their communities. Deputy council leader Abi Brown believes there are a lot of groups in the city prepared to embark on projects to enrich their neighbourhoods. .... "For example, there are people who are interested in creating new allotments, but they need funding for that". The CIF will open for applications in June, with a closing date in September."

Sunday 12 February 2017

Meet the relatives

* Ed Fordham, the Lib Dems candidate's right-hand man in Stoke Central, on his blog 9th February 2017: "The simple truth is no-one knows what the result is, nor where the candidates will come, nor the number of votes cast."

* Chris Lovell, the Lib Dems campaign manager, in The Observer newspaper 12th February 2017: "From our data, I’d be relatively confident that Ukip aren’t going to win." The journalist adds: "Local activists believe that if Labour wins, they can beat Ukip into third."


Stoke Central as seen via Facebook

A quick survey of the numbers on relative Facebook strengths in the Stoke Central by-election...

* The door-knocking campaigning teams:

Couldn't find one for Ukip, locally. Presumably they do their campaigning comms behind closed apps.

* Some long-standing Facebook Groups, easily found:

Momentum are the extreme-left sect of Corbyn supporters who now dominate the national Labour Party, reportedly a feuding mix of Trotsykites and Stalinists with perhaps a few lurking Maoists keeping their heads down.

'Air Force One, you are cleared to land at the Hartshill heli-pad...'

From the Sunday papers...

"Donald Trump 'will address a stadium crowd' when he visits Britain later this year and could hold his rally in the Brexit heartland of the Midlands"

This is because the visit has reportedly been hoiked out of London due to security concerns about the rally venue. Well, we're "the Brexit heartland". We do have a very nice football stadium here in Stoke-on-Trent, and the rather surreal notion of President Trump and the Queen sitting down to tea together at Alton Towers would appeal to the media. It's probably unlikely, but anything seems possible on Planet Trump.

Friday 10 February 2017

Handy map of Stoke Central constituency

Handy map of the Stoke Central constituency in Stoke-on-Trent.

The Financial Times fly-by

The Financial Times newspaper has just lobbed its big 'I did a fly-by of Stoke-on-Trent and lived' story. It's behind their heavy paywall. Mostly it's a stodgy recounting of ancient histories, and some boilerplate national political commentary, by a journalist who sounds rather peeved and bored at being sent to the provinces. But it at least opens with some amusing bits about the Stoke Central campaign...

Are we witnessing the strange, lingering death of Labour England?

"Even before I left home, Chris Lee, the Labour party’s press officer in the Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency, made it clear that the Financial Times would not be allowed to interview their candidate in this month’s by-election. Nor could I accompany their canvassers on the streets. On arrival, the restrictions were tightened. I could not talk to any other Labour members either. Asked if it was OK to speak to anyone at all in Stoke-on-Trent, Lee seemed to think it over before concluding that might be a problem: Labour no longer even controls the council in what was once its most secure city in England.

The contrast between the atmosphere in Labour’s tucked-away headquarters and that of its main rival, the UK Independence party, was overwhelming. Ukip has taken over an old bakery with pole position in the main shopping precinct: in the windows were 46 pictures of the party’s leader and candidate, Paul Nuttall.

On a mild afternoon the doors were flung open and there was a near-party mood, as though the entire population of Britain’s most pro-Brexit city (69 per cent Leave) were about to pop in for cheap wine and nibbles. “We’ve encountered no hostility, no nasty stuff,” said Peter Whittle, the deputy leader. “Some people are saying they’re Labour but they’re being very courteous about it.”

I must say that I walked all the way down Piccadilly on Thursday, having been to pay in at the bank at Hanley, and I couldn't even spot the Ukip HQ. Nor were there any cheery folk with clipboards and invites for tea and biscuits. Just the usual Hanley dossers being glared at by police sitting in a police van. I guess the HQ must be further up, right up at the top.

One of the fatal mistakes that journalists are making, local and national alike, is to assume that cold and windswept Hanley shoppers in February represent the constituency. When was the last time that someone from the smart bits of Etruria or Cliffe Vale, or Hartshill or Penkhull, last set foot in Hanley in winter?

Can you name the... erm... Six Cities of Stoke?

The London press really don't get this "not a town... it's a city" thing about Stoke-on-Trent, do they? But at least The Daily Mail is trying hard to make amends, by giving us no less than six cities in one...

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Great British Spring Clean - 3rd-5th March 2017

This year the Great British Spring Clean national litter-pick is on 3rd-5th March 2017.

In the bunker...

An amusing insight in the leftist New Statesman magazine, by a journalist who came up from London for the Stoke Ukip by-election rally...

"... the Labour operation is keeping Snell [Labour candidate] out of the spotlight. He is focusing on canvassing and being kept at arm’s length from the national press. Any more gaffes like his anti-Brexit tweets could blow the party’s chances of limping to victory. When I visit, its campaign office has a bunker feel to it..."

So the implication is, that he talks like he tweets? What, even to journalists?

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Polly parachutes into Stoke - and usefully teaches us something

Labour journalist Polly Toynbee was parachuted into the city centre for a quick photo-opportunity at the Hanley YMCA at the weekend. Inside a small steel-fenced secure garden she posed for photos alongside the Labour Party candidate and some Church of England bishop or other. The result is her quick article on Stoke in today's The Guardian newspaper. I say "quick" because — although her article reports a half-dozen pro-Ukip remarks noted by Labour's doorstep election canvassers — there's no indication she stepped outside of Labour's steel-ringed bubble during her brief visit. She does however leave the city's undecided conservative voters with a rather useful observation from London...

"In Westminster I hear some Labour MPs secretly hoping a Stoke loss would ignite a "Corbyn must go" move. What folly, since a Ukip win could set off a Scotland-sized landslide [in England], from which Labour may never recover under any leader."

Thanks, Polly. Some conservative voters in Stoke might have been mistakenly assuming that another Labour victory wouldn't be so bad — since it would keep the useless dithering idiots of the Labour Party in charge until the next General Election. I mean, who wouldn't want that? They're such fun. There are more laughs each week skimming through their incompetent squirmings in The Guardian and the New Statesman than there are in a copy of The Beano. So we don't want to trigger an anti-Corbyn coup and thus spoil that fun, by hoisting some possibly-competent evil schemer like Tom Watson into the leadership.

But now Polly has usefully confirmed that a Ukip victory in Stoke Central could make posterity see Stoke as the place where the rotten corpse of socialism was finally buried for good. Many conservatives might not have quite yet realised what a opportunity we have here to make history. If Polly is correct then many could be rather proud of a tactical Ukip vote, given what an utter disaster state socialism has been for the last 100 years. For some, having the honour to screw down the coffin lid on that horror might be worth a month of being called "racists" by hysterical London journalists, and then having to chuckle at Ukip's hapless Nuttall and his tweedy menswear for a few years.

But, then... London has been spluttering such empty names at us for a very long time now. We're actually kind of used to it, Polly, so your threats that we'll be tarred and feathered for a Ukip vote are not as scary as they would have been ten years ago. Been there, done that, with Brexit. Few of us have university degrees, but we can see through a brick wall given enough time and a bit of careful thought. As was proven with Brexit, when we didn't just see through the brick wall of 'Project Fear', we smashed it down. As a result we can now see that such ugly words as "racist" and "bigot" have largely lost their meanings, through the Guardian-reading elite spraying such words at everyone who expresses a sensible opinion that's slightly to the right of the mild-mannered John Major. Such perpetual cries of "racist" by the left bring to mind a wise and ancient fable called "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", which modern leftists have obviously never read or heard of. I presume that New Labour long ago replaced the tale in our schools with "The Boy Who Adopted the Wolf and Started a Wolf Sanctuary run by a Feminist Collective", which perhaps explains their ignorance.

Their calling everyone 'racist' for 20 years has unfortunately even emboldened a few real racists, since the word has been drained of its old power through misuse. But I'd say that most Stokies have the common sense to be able to tell a serious far-right racist from some drunken student idiot who just made a silly joke, or from a researcher who stated an undeniable fact that was then deemed 'politically incorrect', or from a bloke who proudly flies a crisp English flag on his allotment, or some lonely Burslem pensioner who once read a BNP leaflet in 2003 and put it in her front window. Not that there are many real far-right nationalist racists left in the UK these days, since we're one of the most tolerant and welcoming nations on earth. According to the anti-fascist researchers, they number no more than 400 in the whole UK, made up of roughly 250 thuggish types and another 150 who can actually read a book...

“Neither the facts, nor the evidence at hand, point to a rise in the organised far right [in the UK]. Its decline is bordering on terminal: it is smaller and more [organisationally] badly behaved than people would care to imagine.” — Hope not Hate’s research director Matthew Collins, in the left-wing online magazine Left Foot Forward, July 2016.

In that sort of climate many conservative voters may think it worth braving a few harsh words from London journalists, by holding their nose and voting for Ukip, just to get a chance of making history by dancing on the grave of socialism.

Monday 6 February 2017

Survey: Dog-free parks and green spaces in Stoke and north Staffordshire.

Here's a quick survey, in which I search for local outdoor places which are dog-free. Don't care for un-trained manic mutts? Want to be free from constantly having to negotiate your way around dogs and their stretchy leads every fifty yards? Where can you go in the Potteries to enjoy nature, rather than endure other people's pets?

Well, in late 2014 (PDF) there was a new blanket Dog Control Order issued for all of Stoke-on-Trent, and it reportedly...

"requires owners to keep their pets on leads in all town centres, cemeteries and shopping areas in the city [and also includes] all public sports pitches and all fenced children’s play areas in the city." (Sentinel newspaper, 12th Oct 2014).

Is this blanket Order still in force? Presumably, but it seems uncertain. The Council's relevant 'green spaces' Web pages do not mention the 2014 Dog Control Order, to the extent that some might even wonder if it was still in force. A search of the Council website for "dog control order" finds nothing but years-old committee reports.

I found one old online forum comment, to the effect that that Stoke's formal Victorian parks have "long had" a "dogs on leads" stance. But I can see nothing about that on the relevant Council Web pages. Possibly a peeling and mildewed by-laws sign is still standing somewhere, un-regarded, in some of the parks? Judging by press reports of dog attacks on swans, there's certainly no 'dogs on leads' rules even at beauty spots such as Whitfield Valley Nature Reserve.

If the Stoke-on-Trent Dog Control Order is still in force, then I'm uncertain if the phrase "public sports pitches" indicates just the tightly-constrained area of the pitch itself, or if it indicates the wider recreation grounds on which the pitch sits. One has to assume that, in the case of un-fenced 'white-lines and rusty goal-posts' type of open access public pitches, the Order would logically extend to the whole of the adjacent turf on the recreation ground. Since it would be a matter of seconds for a dog to run across the turf and onto the pitch area. Presumably the Order would also apply even when a kick-about or match was not in progress.

According to my online searches of all of the parks, nature reserves, greenways and towpaths in Stoke-on-Trent and abutting areas, they all currently allow dog walking. That includes private sites such as Festival Park and Trentham Gardens (both the estate and the ticketed gardens alike — it seems such a pity that dogs are allowed in the Gardens too). The Staffordshire Moorlands' Web pages for their parks and nature reserves all just suggest that you "keep your dog under control".

Dog access is allowed at open space National Trust sites such as Downs Banks etc. It seems that North Staffordshire's large new Queen's Diamond Jubilee woodland plantations are not yet open to the public. I'm uncertain about access to local Woodland Trust woods. The Woodland Trust website returns no relevant results for "dogs" or "dogs policy". A post on their official blog however, recently seems to indicate that all their woods are open to dogs...

"Did you know it costs us £4.6m every year to keep our woods wonderful for walkies? A donation from your owner will help us carry on our four-legged fun!"

One small local exception is Apedale Country Park in Newcastle-under-Lyme, in which dogs are banned from a few wildlife paddocks (presumably these are fenced), due to wildlife disturbance concerns.

The only absolute bans I could find were a couple of sensible rural parish councils which have excluded all dogs from their children's playing fields. These being...

"Harrison Close playing field (Audley Parish Council) and Whitmore Village Hall sports field (Whitmore Parish Council)"

Most parish councils don't however have such exclusions, and of course the adjoining rural footpaths and bridleways are often used by dog-walkers.

So that seems to be the state of play. As a walker you can shut yourself in a small paddock in Apedale Country Park, or venture out to a wind-swept village playing field in Audley or Whitmore. You might find a remote Stoke cemetery where there are no local dog walkers who flout the city's Dog Control Order, although good luck with that. That's all of your options. Basically there is no escape from the barking, slobbering, wildlife-chasing, fur-shedding, shitting £10-billion tide of doggie domination. It's "love green space, love dogs"... or else bog off and do something else.

I suppose the best we can hope for now is that most of the psychotic untrained yappy 'toy dogs', mostly acquired during the Great Recession to save on dog-food, will soon die off. Hopefully people will now be more inclined to replace these with more sensible trainable intelligent breeds like collies, and will also have the cash to get them trained properly. Training as in coming to heel immediately when told, rather than trained to do amusing tricks or attack people.

A few relevant headlines from the news...

Revealed: Rising numbers of people and animals are being attacked by out-of-control dogs in Staffordshire... "A Sentinel investigation has found the number of dog attacks in Staffordshire has increased every year since 2010 to leave 584 victims."

Toddler needed lip stitched back on after dog attacked her in park in Stoke-on-Trent ... "police take no action because the pet was on a lead ... girl was feeding the ducks with her grandmother".

Blind woman's horror as her guide dog is savaged by bull mastiff at Stoke bus stop.

Two-year-old girl rushed to hospital after being mauled in the face by dog... "She was standing with her mum and a family friend in a car park. Her mother could only stand and watch as the dog attacked her daughter..."

Girl was mauled by dog... "Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard the dog escaped from its owner, Lee Taylor, and came across the girl who was sat on a wall chatting to friends ... she jumped over the wall into a garden. But the dog followed and began to attack."