HS2 seat-by-seat

North Warwickshire (Dan Byles, Conservative)
North West Leicestershire (Andew Bridgen, Conservative)
Rushcliffe (Ken Clarke, Conservative)
Erewash (Jessica Lee, Conservative)
Broxtowe (Anna Soubry, Conservative)

Nottingham North (Graham Allen, Labour)
Broxtowe (again)
Ashfield (Gloria de Piero, Labour)
Bolsover (Dennis Skinner, Labour)
Chesterfield (Toby Perkins, Labour)
North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel, Labour)
Sheffield South East (Clive Betts, Labour)
Rother Valley (Kevin Barron, Labour)
Rotherham (Sarah Champion, Labour)
Sheffield South East (again)

Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough (David Blunkett, Labour)
Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith, Labour)
Barnsley East (Michael Dugher, Labour)
Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis, Labour)
Barnsley East (again)
Hemsworth (Jon Trickett, Labour)
Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper, Labour)
Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls, Labour)

Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative)
Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams, Conservative)

Leeds Central (Hilary Benn, Labour)

Lichfield (Michael Fabricant, Conservative)
Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy, Conservative)
Stone (Bill Cash, Conservative)
Crewe and Nantwich (Edward Timpson, Conservative)
Eddisbury (Stephen O’Briend, Conservative)
Tatton (George Osborne, Conservative)
Warrington South (David Mowat, Conservative)
Altrincham and Sale West (Graham Brady, Conservative)

Warrington North (Helen Jones, Labour)
Leigh (Andy Burnham, Labour)
Makerfield (Yvonne Forangue, Labour)

Tatton (George Osborne, Conservative)
Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins, Labour)
Manchester Withington (John Leech, Liberal Democrat)
Manchester Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufmann, Labour)
Manchester Central (Lucy Powell, Labour)

It’s a "yes/no" question, Minister

And so, we’re getting another referendum. Possibly. Maybe. In time.

I remember those hazy, lazy far off days when the chances of Britain getting a referendum on anything was dismissed as pinko dreaming. We don’t do referendums, the Establishment sneered, that’s European.

“This is Britain,” went the line. “We have unelected, unaccountable political appointees in the House of Lords and that’s the end of it,”.

These days there is nothing which can’t be resolved without the mention of the word “referendum”. It’s radical, it’s representative, it’s hip and now and acknowledging the power of the people and all the rest. Crucially the referendum as concept is sewing itself within the fabric of our unwritten constitution – thanks to the e-petition scheme and a combination of Facebook and plummeting confidence in the political system holding referendums  is considered the strongest tool of all inside democracy’s garden shed. You can’t go too far into the nightmare world of On-Line Comment Sections without seeing people called WhitePower84 or Orwell Was Right directing you to their e-petition against or for the kneejerk demand du jour, and I think it’s fantastic that we’re walking down this particular road. “Referendum as threat” would make a cracking dissertation.

I recall when the very notion of Britain embracing the referendum was sneered at for being unsuitable. Holding a public plebiscite was an act which others did – the Swiss, for example, with their four languages and political neutrality and chocolate and giving Celine Dion her big break. Critics argued that a general election was the only referendum Britain needed, as we transferred our right to have a say to those MPs who sat at Westminster, that somehow holding a secondary vote was invalidating the result of that election.

Things changed with the Blair government, who gave Scotland and Wales the right to support devolution, and since then the Welsh have given a further thumbs up to awarding extra powers at Cardiff Bay. Voters in Scotland will soon have a say on leaving the Union, perhaps the greatest sign of the politician’s acknowledgement of the power of the referendum. “I act upon what the people say” and all that.

Of course the greatest example of the referendum on these isles was the AV referendum. I still shudder at the memory.

The “no” vote on voting change was a kick in the constitutionals, and no mistake. Voting reform was knocked back a generation. The campaign was not edifying, nor mature, and those who campaigned on either side revelled in behaviour unthinkable in a general election.

“No” supporters used the most shallow and cynical campaign tricks – “This baby needs a life support machine and a cute little puppy and hugs from his mother, not a new voting system YOU MONSTER” – which was nonetheless successful. The power of the repeated meme and all that, and something which must be combated by “In” campaigners next time round. Anything which was good for the defeat of AV will be considered good for the Scottish Independence vote too, and that’s all for the worse in the longer term.

If Cameron does go to the country after 2015 with an EU vote the difficulties faced by the Yes2AV experience will come back with a vengeance. Those in favour of the change couldn’t agree on a theme until a few days before polling day, and even when there was a hint of a united message, some of the adverts used by them accurately described a voting system which was anything but AV. Similar mess-ups both in Scotland and the EU votes would deliver defeats before midnight.

Britain’s future is within the EU, that’s my view now  as it’s been for years. I’m not particularly confident about living in a country which purposely isolated itself from the rest of the trading world at a time when every other major power is doing precisely the opposite. If there is to be a referendum, we “In” supporters must learn from the lessons of the AV disaster. We have to agree on a simple, single message, and use that message alone. We must avoid  falling into the trite, over-emotional garbage of the No campaign, which effectively distorted the pro-message without having to do anything. Crucially there has to be meat to share round years before the vote is even announced, as the AV campaign had nothing in the cupboard beyond an old tin of golden syrup, some rice and an old -fashioned manual tin opener.

The EU vote can be won because Britain needs to remain within the club for the greater, long-term good of both country and region. It would be a folly of ridiculous proportions to pretend that a Britain alone is a Britain strengthened, the kind of isolationist, borderline xenophobic thinking which permeates the “Better Off Out” brigade. But just as with the AV vote, it doesn’t take much to gain traction with peoples emotions. A “yes” to the EU is not a “no” to Britain. It’s not patriotic to support building a wall between these islands and Germany for the sake of feeling good about defeating bendy bananas and all the rest of it.

Saying “no” to AV was a constitutional disaster, putting back real reform of our voting system a generation or more, and slamming shut any real chance of improvements to the Commons, the Lords and so much more. An “out” vote in 2017 at the EU referendum would be much, much worse – economically, socially, politically. If there’s anyone worried about how the campaign might go, look back at the AV experience, take it, hold it close, cherish it……and then throw it into the sun. 

fresh faced

At the age of fifteen, I looked like this. The moustache was the talk of the school, as I recall, because suddenly the last person anyone expected to sprout facial hair walked into the classroom looking like Ned Flanders’ lost son (note – this was the mid 1990s, when the Simpsons was about to hit its peak, which both interests and saddens me somewhat.) As there wasn’t much of  a craze at the time in one small corner of Preston in 1995 for anything beyond sports jumpers and oversized trainers it didn’t occur to any of the number of us suddenly sprouting like Fantasia characters to tend and care for our new outwardly indication of impending adulthood.

My homelife being as it was there was no American teen-movie moment when my fresh-faced life coach father guided me through lessons on how to shave. It wasn’t actually mentioned at all (not that I want to dust off my Jung textbooks but there’s a lot from my father which wasn’t mentioned at all, though this cul-de-sac might be wandered down another time.) One day, without warning or explanation, I became the proud recipient of one sealed packet of cheap, easily broken supermarket own-brand razors, and that was the end of the matter. Nothing said, nothing explained. And thus, from that day, I ventured into the certain, heady world of….

….not being able to shave. At all. And as I enter 2013, that’s as true today as it ever was.

Partly through sheer apathy and laziness, partly because regrowth speed of the wire-wool mass on my face is frightingly rapid, I’ve found shaving to be an utter chore unworthy of attention. Oh I’ve tried – and at times been ordered to try by office line managers – but after a week of dedication, all it takes is one day ignoring the matter and it’s back to being an unwieldy Highland explorer face-covering. I’ve carried out ‘experiments’ to time exactly how long it is from clean-shaven to face fuzz, and even passing thirty years old has not slowed down the results to around two days. TWO days, that’s it, from having nothing showing to speckles of hair growing underneath my eye-line.

Teenage years being as they are, I tried emulating the look of whoever or whatever seemed to be the way of things style wise, and as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, at least one element of that is another hate-filled rigmarole. Inevitably enough the results of tendering the beard were unmitigated disasters. The ‘chinstrap’ beloved of so many turned out as deformed question marks, and something approaching a nu-metal goatee looked less Frank Zappa, more Frank Spencer.

Right now I’m hosting something of a World of Warcraft neckbeard, completed with an unruly mega-goatee connected to sideburns via thick slabs of spiky fur. In short – it’s a mess, and it’s not a nice looking, could be resolved with a trim kind of mess either. Because I refuse to have a “proper” shave, with half the morning taken up with softly scraping a flick-knife against my throat as though that’s somehow normal behaviour, I utilise the best gunk and pencil-sharpeners available through supermarkets, which might explain why I often remove every last hair rather than sculpture something more refined. It’s partly an overhang from my dad’s utter refusal to accept that men might want to look their best once a while, and as I’ve explained before here and elsewhere it takes just two consecutive thoughts about ”fashion” for me to become incredibly self-aware of how much cuckoo-bananas it all is.

My then work colleagues assumed a few years ago that Movember would be right up my street, as it’s clear that clean-shaven me becomes the complete opposite within 24 hours so by the end of the whole thing I’d resemble a 1970s catalogue model. The result was….well see for yourself.

Of course the consequence of all this is the suffering I’ll have to endure under the blessed double-headed curse of a beard which doesn’t slow down, and my innate inability to perform upon myself any activity which results in an approvement to my appearance. I’ll forever be stuck with feast or famine, bare face or hedge-row, stuck with an inner frustration battling with natural apathy. In the grandest of all schemes, I suppose beards are now ‘in’, so the stopped-clock of my life has at least some synchronicity success for once. Not that anybody chooses to walk around with “unkempt”, do they? It’s only acceptable to grow facial hair if you can ensure there’s not one sprig out of place, not one millimetre free from attention from three types of pruning scissors and a ruler. Rather than feel ‘as one’ with fellow beard growers, I’m left once again feeling like the spare Crufts fan at a PETA meeting through not resembling Dallas Green.

As with clothes, then, with beard, and that means, “I genuinely don’t care”. It’s too late to learn old tricks and even if that were possible, it would require spending more money than is humanly acceptable on numerous formulated chemicals specifically designed by men who resemble Dadaist refrigerators for the benefit of men who look  like alcoholic monkey-puzzle trees. Quite who benefits who is anyone’s guess, and I don’t fancy looking for an answer.  

wheels fall off

I’m not the kind of northerner who breaks out in Peter Kay sketches when conversation dries up at parties.

“So….erm…well, I see you’ve got a pretty hefty hatchback out front. That for the big shop, eh? BIG SHOP!! Isn’t Bombay Mix fancy?  They don’t do gravy down south you know!!”

I do look pastwards so often there’s a crick in my neck and most of the contemporary points of reference  can be traced back to the current comedy listings of Radio 4 Extra. I deny any childhood memory of watching All Clued Up whilst eating artic roll.

(Which I absolutely did. With my gran. In a house with a chain for the Warden)

As such I’m always happy to remember all those things which the past gave me – the Grandstand theme tune, what SOHCAHTOA stands for and the inability to shake off the anger at having a winning McDonalds/Trivial Pursuit scratchcard posted into an empty shop by bigger, harder, punchier lads…Er..yes, well as such I’m always happy but the problem with looking back is discovering how things never quite look as good as a cynical old grump.

When ITV recently repeated dozens of 80s and 90s cult children’s television faves some looked far fresher than most. It’s not abnormal, it’s to be expected. Cream always rises, be that music, films or even cheesy TV “guilty secrets”.

Of course some of those faded classics have done so because it’s deserved. Not to break out into end of the pier comedian again but, Wagon Wheels, eh? Weren’t they just awful? All mushy, two-tone slabs of processed mush, not quite biscuit, not quite pumice stone. Disco crisps, too, while I’m here. Oh come on, Disco crisps could hardly pass digestion – it was like swallowing a 50p coin drenched in caster sugar.

This is not hindsight; this is growing up. This is accepting that there are time capsules planted in the brain during childhood which are worth jettisoning, like accepting your father plodding to the back of the garden to say goodbye to Fido. What remains is that which would always have been considered as top quality – such as the vast majority of Belinda Carlisle’s back catalogue, say. Or Spangles.

Finding a joyous, trouble free paradise in the past is colouring memories with contemporary prejudice, and whilst it’s natural for people to do that when reminiscing, it’s unhealthy to base arguments on those invented truths. I know what my father used to say about his youth in the 1950s and 1960s – he was born just after the Second World War – and it’s not always pleasant.

And thus I make my way to Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (as they no longer want to be called). The basic core UKIP thinking is, “the past is another country”, based on the conceit that the UK is no longer the UK whilst the past almost certainly is. Farage talks about his ultimate aim being the return of the UK as a democratic country, just as it used to be, with all those unelected, unaccountable censors of the theatre and that. The UK of the wayback machine seen by Farage is one which is unimaginable to us now, even if you’re prone to calling the Coalition some kind of time-machine to the 1950s. We enjoy far more wealth, generally, better health, broadly, greater diversity and broader, deeper job opportunities than at any time in the recent past, and you don’t have to go far away from my dad’s memories of Wigan in the 1960s to have that proven.

But Farage doesn’t want to go back to the 1960s, or the 1970s, or at least not specifically. The UKIP aim is for Britain to be pulled into a nethertime, a space between reality and nostalgia, where the UK “ruled itself”. There’s not been much of that for generations, and until the 1960s and the great liberalisation of abortion law, sexual equality legislation and lowering of the voting age, most of the “independent” United Kingdom was an insular Edwardian island complacent and dismissive.

We’ve always been Atlantic rather than European in attitude – especially post-1945 – which comes out in 21st century Britain in our language, our television programme formats, and so on. We jump to the American cough, especially when invading Middle East countries on false prospectuses. Our scoffing at the French or the Germans copies the American sneering of Canada and Mexico, and for the most part our denial over European economic strength and liberal attitudes mirrors how the USA tends not to respect their cousins over its northern border. But in being anti-European in addition to anti-future, as UKIP seem to be, they’re swapping one paranoid fear for one uncertain reality. I’d rather not be the unofficial 51st state of the USA, thanks all the same, but UKIP clearly prefers this island of ours to be an Atlantic annexe than a European player, so far enoughski on that, Nige, replacing one uneasy alliance with another one.

I would say “this is me being unfair on old Nigel Farage, bless”, and after all he has ruled out ever getting into a Coalition with David Cameron. But that’s the point, I guess; delusion. That’s all UKIP end up talking about – delusion. They’re deluded if they think they’ll ever get an MP, or even a Council of their own, or even any kind of thanks for pulling us out of a Union with our closest neighbours. That Farage thinks he is to have any say at the next election is as laughable as the memory of one-half of my family choosing to sit around the television set, of our own accord, to watch “Telly Addicts”.

High Street Voice

And lo, it came to pass, that HMV is to bring in the administrators.

The age of the High Street has been coming to pass since the 1990s, when councils fell in love with out of town shopping centres, and shoppers fell in love with not having to pay over the odds car parking prices for city centre shopping. Sure, the streets of central London and England’s second city Manchester may look exceptionally busy, but this is the era of massive increases in Internet commerce, and once tourists/day-trippers/hipsters are taken out of the equation, both major shopping centres look pretty ho-hum.

Just as “the smoking ban did it” is not a valid response to the question “why are dozens of pubs closing every month?”, so “the ‘net did it” can’t be accepted as an answer for the demise of specific stores or the general concept of “The High Street”. In short, it’s a long and complex list of reasons. Ultimately, nobody has been outside banging the drum for city shopping for decades now. Out of town developments are cheap to build and easy to fill. Councils then engage in a PR love-in with concepts like pedestrianisation, ‘street furniture’ and café culture ‘redesigns’. Being Britain, the results are almost always complete disasters, especially when most councils refuse to provide free parking, even on weekends.

Whilst Mary Portas might be well paid for telling people how to suck eggs….I mean, how to reinvent the town centres, the reality might be very different to that looked at from a purely cold faced economic stand point. Maybe, just maybe, HMV is close to death because it was suffering the same disease as Woolworths, and managed to find better medication? They could have died off simultaneously had one not chosen holistic medicine once a week.

Woolies stopped attracting shoppers, by and large, when shoppers stopped understanding what on earth the store was focused on selling. In the Internet age being a “root about” shop isn’t attractive. Woolies sold XBox games, DVDs, pick ‘n’ mix sweets, children’s clothes, toys, with a restaurant tucked away upstairs and a garden centre shoved into a corner. Like Wilkinsons, but in an unattractive jumble sale sort of way.

For HMV, dealing with Amazon, Spotify, live streaming and all the rest of it was to fling itself into panic mode, jerking around with new identities like a drunk man trying on fancy dress. Of course nobody could have predicted how quickly consumers would kill off CD singles, but HMV held on to them amongst computer consoles, headsets, books, box sets, chart acts and oddly specific specialist sections (“BBC Spoken Word”), and from outside their stores began to resemble one of those very wooden warehouse style shops which always has window displays selling Stone Roses, REM and Alanis Morrisette for £1.99. Was HMV the first place to go for the latest album release? If not, at what point did that happen?

The very idea of having “a High Street” is looking more and more as a notion of crazed nostalgists. The free market and those who subscribe to its teachings have seen off the traditional pub, defeated the greengrocer and the butcher, and now tick off electronic retailers and general stores. HMV will sit alongside Rumbleow’s and Dixons and Jessops and JJB, all faded brands and pub quiz questions now. The reason isn’t just one of “death by on-line shopping”, it’s as much a lack of focus by the stores themselves as it is a natural turning off the light by capitalism’s Spending Corps. Had HMV focused on, perhaps, DVDs and box-sets, it could have streamlined itself into a new kind of retail experience. Maybe 2013 was just the year the growths became incurable cancer?

One thing seems very clear now.  In Town Halls across the country, there are local elected officials grappling with the questions put to them by the economic downturn, the reduction in Government funding, and less popular town centres. Most of the glossy prospectuses produced by consultants on behalf of Town Halls speak of “reinventing the High Street”. I can’t help but wonder if this is just woefully, almost embarrassingly, out of date.

MSN Messenger RIP

And lo, another piece of the “old internet” is said to be coming to a close on March 15

In a part of the distant far-aways which seems almost unthinkable to us now, the use of MSN Messenger to keep in touch with people was ubiquitous. Amongst one of the first clients of its kind, MSN grew in size and popularity as one of the first ‘hits’ of the Internet, in an age where the predominate ways to meet and greet people were not examples of ‘social media’.

MSN launched in 1999,  a stand-alone programme which more often that not would pop-up or even automatically sign-in at start up. In its earliest days it was prone to some technical fubars – most infamously allowing people to look at other conversations to which they weren’t invited – and whilst it carried on using the same interface for its entire life, the rest of the ‘net began to run off to explore greater and more advanced services. Whilst the Internet started to lose interest in message-boards, chat rooms and the like, MSN Messenger was a slice of retro charm which began to struggle for relevance.

And it didn’t take long for the relevance issue to stomp its foot against the life support machine’s wires and tubes. It wasn’t just the launch of MySpace in 2003 or Facebook in 2004 which made the ‘real time chat’ elements of MSN seem unnecessary. It wasn’t just the availability of free texts on readily available, cheap mobile phones. The ‘core audience’ for MSN – and by Jove I was one of them- was not being replaced by enough younger people. Those who had grown up with the service, however were drifting off without being fought for by Microsoft or anybody else that matter. Those who liked to sit down to connect with friends (or indeed, back in the very, very early days, people picked up through the long-since killed off MSN Chat rooms, a/s/l and all) could see more than enough ways to stay in touch without having to converse through a small, squat pop-up box.

Attempts to keep dwindling users attracted inevitably meant using tie-ins to services which were killing it off, a sort of double-deal which would have made Shakespeare drool. Statuses could be linked to Facebook or Twitter, and dozens of colour-match games were added as well as links to Bing (!) related searches and showbiz stories. It had grown larger, but less useful, and on the Internet that’s no good at all.

The passing of MSN closes one of the oldest doors in the dusty annexe which is Web 1.0. It reminds us that we’re all getting older, the Internet is moving ever forward, and there’s never been as many options to sort out how to procrastinate. But it’s legacy does live on – Facebook chat uses the device “X is typing….”.

Book of the week – "The Old Terra Vitae"

Life is hard enough with its routine and family stresses, and unfortunately the afterlife isn’t so much of a rest either. That’s the experience of Loupe, striving away at a 9-5 job under many watchful eyes. not all of them benign, and always at his side is his wise counsel, a guardian angel of sorts, realised as a talking, alcoholic dog called Juju. 

The Old Terra Vitae” is Paddy Green’s first novel, and whilst it zips along at pace this is ostensibly a comedic novel in which very little comedy actually happens. There are moments of unease, at one point in Loupe’s many flashbacks incredibly difficult, and these are woven into the otherwise mundane commuter world with flourish. It’s how Will Self might tackle things were he given a guest spot editing Dilbert.

His voice was simply awful, the distillation of every embittered bureaucrat in history, like a blackboard scraping down another blackboard. He paused, and adjusted his tie. I fervently hoped he wasn’t going to leave this long a gap between every word he had to say – this train wasn’t going to the moon so we were liable to run out of time for smalltalk.

There is the influence of Douglas Adams here but Green has a verve of his own, and this comes out particularly strongly in the darkest, most difficult passages.

As the incision was made, I saw the first wisps of smoke rising from the wound. Clearly I was the only one here who could see it, as the medical team carried on regardless – opening her up, releasing a curling shadow. It boiled over her skin like a dark dry ice, coiled up the arms of the surgeon as he did his work. Then he reached in and pulled me from the door he’d cut for me, and the proto-me was released into the light. I looked rubbery, grey, malformed – and the shadow was stuck to me as if by some kind of static electricity…

Juju and Loupe are an unexpected double team, steeped in sarcasm and double measures, and for a novel written in a month for the (in)famous “NaNoWriMo” project it comes across very well indeed, intelligent and belligerent.

“The Old Terra Vitae” is available now in hardcopy and download formats from Amazon 

Most read of 2012

With the power invested in me by Google Analytics, here’s the top 10 blog entries as chosen by you, my dear readers.

By far the most popular from 2012 was written in 2011, a love letter to the long gone but not forgotten BR logo

Similarly, two entries from 2009 continue to be well read last year, namely the infamous moment when I took to OFCOM to rally against Derren Brown, who I don’t like particularly much

I’ll be honest, I can’t remember writing an entry about violent video games and video classification, but it sits in the top ten after the year end so I can’t deny it had an audience…

Memo to candidates everywhere – if you’re hoping to be elected in Town B, don’t sound like you did when talking to Town A. Memo to MPs everywhere – don’t do as Nadine Dorries does. Ever, if you can help it.

A blog I wrote two years ago in favour of Police and Crime Commissioners picked up readers in the run up to the actual elections, and to be honest, I couldn’t be more in disagreement with myself, as I soon learned to distrust and dislike the proposals. A man can be allowed to change his mind.

Another popular blog in the top 10 came from October, in which I once again banged the drum against Council Tax.

Government re-shuffles was the topic of discussion in a blog which picked up on the growing support for UKIP (wherever that may lead us this year…)

Sadly now missing most of its images due to a Photobucket purge, my entry detailing a day-trip to Oldham just sneaks into the top 10