Category Archives: Blog

Chewing the fat and talking bollocks.

A Perfect Storm

In 2020, I started to write up several essay type blogs on my thoughts on what was happening in North-East politics and in particular the Labour Party.

This in turn was building on a blog I wrote back in 2017 concerning Labour and the North East (here), I got bored, and then Hartlepool came along in 2021. This is the introduction to about 5-6 pieces, depending on editing, which I wrote last year providing a personal assessment as the root cause of Labour’s woes in the North East and what can be done to tackle it.

But before we get started, I’d like to thank Dave Lee, a writer, director, producer, and self-appointed arsehole from Hull (my late Dad’s birth city). While we may disagree on the details, I believe we share the same belief that the interests of working-class people will never be served by the Conservative Party. So thank you, Dave, for the humour, suggestions and candour when starting out on this little project last year.

I was born in Labour’s industrial heartlands, Stockton North, which now neighbours a host of Conservative Party constituencies, Hartlepool, Darlington, Stockon South and Sedgefield. Unthinkable a few years previously. 

As with Hartlepool, Stockton North returned a Labour MP in 2019 mainly due to the pro-Brexit vote split between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party, which allowed Labour to squeeze through. This luxury, of course, will not be available to the incumbent Alex Cunningham next time round.

Alex and I have a little history. We had both campaigned to be nominated as Labour Party candidate for the Stockton North parliamentary seat. The seat had potentially become available when the mandatory reselection process had been triggered against the sitting MP Frank Cook. We failed, of course, and Frank went on to win another term.

I then fled to pastures new (with much relief to all concerned, including myself). Alex stuck around, and in due course, was crowned Frank’s replacement.

The simple point I’m seeking to make here is that I not only know the North East from my heritage, given I was born there. I was educated there. I was brought up in a council. My first job for 7 years was working in a foundry, where I joined a union and participated in strikes and campaigns for better conditions and pay. I also spent a decade as an elected Labour Party councillor on the local authority.

I’m immensely proud of my North East DNA. Something most people have been abundantly aware of as I’ve moved around the country due to work, Lambeth, Greenwich, Salisbury and of course Bristol.

Up until the pandemic, I’ve also been a frequent visitor to my home town and region. Quietly, as an observer, witnessing the subtly changes, the frustrations and undercurrents eroding political foundations.

To suffer an election as Labour did in 2019 hurts. I recall the same feelings during the 1980s and hoped that I would never endure those emotions again. It was not the loss, this time, but its magnitude and manner.

In February 2020, I started to write a series of essays about my personal opinions on how Labour was managing to get it so wrong in the North East amongst mainly white working-class communities. My thoughts, of course, carry no more weight on this subject than anybody else. I guess my frustration, like others, is that we saw what was coming, but nobody was prepared to listen until it was far too late. So I write these words from the heart and personal experience because hearts need to be won back.

The 2019 election in the North-East was a perfect storm. An inadequate campaign, twiddling core vote, a feeling of being forgotten and taken for granted. The region had been in pain since the industrial collapse of the 1980s. It badly needed something different. Something it could believe in, which touched its nerves, its self-doubt and help rebuild its confidence, identity and restore a sense of pride, of power.

Its political class was more than adequate at reflecting its hurt. Though often impotent at constructing a compelling vision offering the economic and social stability enjoyed by other regions. A clear vision passionately advocated by leaders they could believe in.

The 2019 Conservative Party election campaign was specifically designed to correlate with a broad set of concerns, which had been vibrating away in the North East for some time. These concerns may have been packaged around Brexit and the personality of the Labour leader. However, the dark forces at play were changing the Conservative Party too.

The old elitists in the Conservative Party born from traditional capital, wealth and hereditary power declined. Those with new money with greater adherence to radical libertarian principles were in the ascendency in the Party of Wealth.

The traditional Conservative Party, last led by Theresa May, and its Christian traditional value base has been subjugated. It is now led by a new political class with close ties to American right-wing agitators and institutions.

Johnson is nothing more than a public puppet who initially thought Brexit and exit from the Single Market wrong. Having sold his soul to those who view democracy as a dictatorship of the majority, he is now effectively held hostage. During my near 20 years of working in London local government, including the period Johnson was Mayor. His administrations were viewed with embarrassment, and rumours were frequent of nepotism. However, he does not have a monopoly on this front.

He was good at portraying an interest in people. Often shadowed by a hapless adviser whose sole role seemed to be capturing the endless promises he inadvertently would make. Johnson is not only a serial truth twister. He also has sociopathic tendencies, who enjoys being popular though riddled with self-doubt and confidence when challenged. He gave the impression of being prepared to say absolutely anything to bolster his fragile ego and shore up his endless desire to be liked.

The Jennifer Arcuri incident and the allegations of preferential contracts were no surprise, like the outrageous PPE contracts during the pandemic. As an old colleague who worked in City Hall at the time said to me, “same shit, just a bigger pie.” He is more of a Del Trotter than a cunning mastermind of Black Adder proportion.

A political Del Trotter, wheeler, dealer, laughed at but nonetheless admired by working-class people. The little man struggling against the odds as he dodges a little rule here, giving a cheeky wink there, all rolled up in his bumblingly self-made caricature. It was a caricature able to exploit the fractures in social coalitions increasingly prevalent in North East white working-class communities.

Labour are losing seats in areas where it had once dominated the political landscape. Although recovering in Wales recently, the truth is Labour’s core vote has been in decline throughout its traditional heartlands (Scotland, the North East and the Midlands) for two decades. The dark forces of nationalism, for many years, yes, have been at work. Still, they don’t account for the misfortune the Labour Party is enduring.

During the peak popularity of the Corbyn period (2017), Labour still failed to convince a majority of people to vote the party into power. No amount of belly searching, the suggestion of inner-party sabotage. Having the benefits of being the most extensive political Party in Europe can hide that fact, Labour lost.

They lost against a disastrous Conservative election campaign, appropriately recognised as one of the worst election campaigns in modern history, with a PM losing credibility every single day of the campaign. Still, in 2017, Labour lost in total votes, and the Conservatives still out-performed Labour in many vital constituencies. A large chunk of the 30 seats gained in 2017 was to be lost in 2019.

On the surface, it would also seem the most significant benefit in the collapse of the UKIP vote (down nearly 10.8%) in 2017 was Labour (up 9.5%). The underlining argument being, if Labour had maintained its Brexit policy of respecting the vote to leave the European Union, then it would have fared better in the 2019 election. I’m not convinced.

Between the 2017 and 2019 general elections, Labour had lost almost 10% of its voting base. Looking further back, neither Blair’s (1997) or Corbyn’s (2017) election results have managed to eclipse the level of votes the Labour Party was enjoying 6 decades ago.

The Beast of Bolsover, Denis Skinner, did not lose his seat simply because of Brexit in 2019. His 1997 majority (close to 30,000) had been chipped away bit by bit, and like an eroding coastline, it finally collapsed. Brexit may have been the final straw that pushed matters over the edge.

Bolsover, like Sedgefield, is the very constituency where a set of growing resentments and social changes were taking hold in predominately white working-class communities.

The 2019 Conservative election campaign had no guarantees. It was high risk, although devastatingly designed to breach the mythical red wall. It was a mixture of luck and strategists targeting northern working-class concerns, grievances, albeit with the irony they had been the architects of many of these grievances. More importantly, from the Trump textbook, they began to learn how to exploit these grievances.

It was a campaign confident enough to believe Blyth Valley residents (17,700 Labour majority in 1997) were able to be persuaded to vote Tory for the first time in their lives (712 Tory majority in 2019). However, the Conservatives were safe knowing that Tory marginals would never vote for a Corbyn led Labour Party.

Ultimately, Johnson is an opportunistic shapeshifter. He will be difficult to dislodge in the North. It can be done, but to do so needs an understanding and acceptance of how we got here in the first place. 

Next up, born and breed.

No.5: Bullitt

One of the cool things about being a year older than most of the kids on the street I was brought up in 1968, was the difference between wanting a replica Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or the iconic Mustang drove by Steve McQueen in Bullitt. Both films were released in 1968, I was 8, and very much appreciated that I got both. One for my birthday and one for Christmas, only the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang survives to this day in a well- battered form, but what of that Mustang!

By the 1970s a whole sway of films featured iconic cars. In 1972s blaxploitation film Super Fly we had the Cadillac Eldorado, grotesquely named ‘the pimp machine’. James Bond drove and spun over a river in his AMC Hornet, 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. in 1977 Burt Reynalds had kicked off his Smokey and the Bandit franchise, which often featured the Pontiac Trans Am. But nothing compared to McQueen’s Mustang, not even (sacrilege) James Bonds, Aston Martin DBS. which made an appearance in Sean Connery’s last great Bond film Diamonds are Forever.

McQueen always, to me, cut the cool maverick anti-hero in his Ford Mustang GT Fastback and before videos, DVD’s, satellite and cable this impatient youngster would endure the whole film just to watch the mesmerising car chase through San Francisco.

Plenty of people have lusted over that Highland Green Mustang, which has over-time achieved legendary status. Although it was not until much later that I fully appreciated Lao Schifrin’s original score that tracks the various moods and action of the film to perfection. It took until 2009 for the never-before-released original recording of the score, as heard on the movie, to be made available.

My tribute to McQueen’s Ford Mustang GT Fastback is the Shelby (Cobra) GT-350, built between 1965 and 1970 by the American the high-performance vehicle manufacturer founded by former racing driver Carroll Shelby. The most famed car in American cinema, sold for $3.4 million at auction in Florida during 2020.



No. 4: Cuts – SOLD

Cuts released their second album Unreal on the Village Green label towards the backend of last year, a progression from the 2018 A Gradual Decline, album.

Unreal brings texted vocals and beats to the mix.  As one observer suggests Cuts are, “The sound of a world collapsing and it is sublime.” I could not put it better myself. The person behind the Cuts project is Anthony Tombling Jr.

Anthony’s work also ventures into the world of the visual arts, film-making and contributing to film soundtracks. Unit 3, where his film output materialises is a treasure trove of creative collaborations with community and campaign groups, as well as the likes of Alan Moore, Michael Sheen, Beak> and Massive Attack. The sublime soundtrack to the film Ex-Machina on Invada Records features Cut’s goose pimple raising Bunsen Burner track. A track that also brought the TV series ‘Person of Interest’ to its finale.

The Dinky model I used in this piece is from around 1951/2 and is not for sale given it already has an owner. The real Trojan vans, by the way, were manufactured in Croydon, London. They used diesel and petrol engines, as well as a revolutionary electric-powered version in 1951 known as the ‘Electrojan’. It may be difficult to comprehend that 70 years ago our grandparents were ahead of their time when it comes to alternatives to fossil fuel but, they did.

No. 3: Pink Floyd

The third toy vehicle from the lockdown production line (under the stairs) is my attempt at replicating the original Pink Floyd tour van, a Bedford, from the mid-1960s.

Pink Floyd are one of those bands who been consistent throughout my musical journey, I bought my first Floyd album in the mid-70s, ‘Wish You Were Here.’ Legend has it that on the day the band were completing the mix for the albums opening track  “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” an overweight man with shaven head and eyebrows entered, carrying a plastic bag. Nobody recognised him until Gilmour identified him as Syd Barrett. The photograph (left) is from the Pink Floyd archive and contains the original Bedford van with Nick Mason loading his drum kit (not sure if this is copyright infringement?). The remainder of the band can be seen peering out of the house window. The model has been refurbished from an old 1960s Dinky Bedford van.

No. 2: Buena Vista Social Club – SOLD

The second vehicle off the lockdown production line (under the stairs) is dedicated to the ensemble of Cuban musicians known as the Buena Vista Social Club. A project directed by Juan de Marcos González and produced by Ry Cooder.

Capturing the music of pre-revolutionary Cuba the subsequent album was recorded in March 1996, released in September 1997 and featured several Cuban musicians, like, Compay Segundo, Rubén González, and Ibrahim Ferrer, all retired, in their twilight years and would all pass on between 2003 and 2005.

The toy car itself is a refurbished 1950s Dinky Studebaker, which is reminiscent of those old American cars found cruising the roads of Havana, Cuba today. Paint stripped, primed, repainted with rust and copied of authentic replica decals from the members’ club in the Buenavista quarter of Havana, a popular music venue in the 1940s. 

No.1: The Eton Rifles – SOLD

First off the lockdown production line (under the stairs) for sale and in aid of good causes is my homage to The Jam’s classic single The Eton Rifles released on 26th October 1979 and reached number 3 in the UK charts.

This model consists of a refurbished 1940s Dinky (#25C) flatbed truck toy, which has been stripped down and resprayed. The toy has an affixed billboard (cannot be removed) honouring two of the UK’s most elitist leaders. Eton educated duo Jacob William Rees-Mogg and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. The model is housed in a purpose-built display box, utilising the original sleeve artwork from the 7″ single enabling viewing of both sides of the billboard, allowing the viewer to focus their rightful frustration toward either of these self-serving shapeshifting elitist creeps.

All materials upcycled. If you would like to own, this one-off piece then drop me a line here with an offer and I’ll get in touch with you.  100% of any funds raised will then be passed onto an independent charity to support their work in these difficult times. On this occasion, the charity is the St. Matthews Project Brixton.

The St. Matthew’s Project is much more than just a football club, delivering a wide range of activities and development opportunities and offering support to young people on and off the football pitch. You can read more about this project here, along with how you can help and donate.

Old Models and Rusty Cars

As we prepare to kick the ass of 2020 goodbye. I’d like to share one of my efforts, which has enabled me to maintain a certain level of sanity through this challenging year and in the absence of the 2020 Glastonbury Festival. 

Once it dawned that we were in this for a long haul I assembled a small craft studio, under the stairs and started to track down, refurbish and rebuild vintage models and dingy cars…..with an added little twist. 

Things started rather slowly after discovering a vintage Saturn 5 rocket kit online. Still, the rocket found a happy home pretty quickly. Since the rocket, 10 months in and 10 little projects are on their way to being completed, each project is aligned with one of my favourite bands/artists or reflect my personal politics. They all have an individual back story which I will share.

Where an individual model reflects a passion for a particular band or artist I have been in contact with them and the plan is to auction them off during 2021 with some additional merch to raise funds for two local charities in Bristol. 

I don’t class myself anywhere close to being a master model maker, far from it, where my father had honed his skills since his childhood. My skill level is rather basic, albeit deployed with enthusiasm and a rye sense of humour.  With all the shit going down, I just wanted to find some time and some way to give a shit. 

Ode to Johnny Dowd

As we mull the prospect of a successful vaccine and a return to enjoying live music. I would guess the artist I’ve seen more in concert over the years will be Johnny Dowd. On one occasion travelling from Bristol up to The Band Room (properly the greatest small venue on earth, according to the Hanson Family) on the North Yorkshire Moors. The Thunderbolt, Bristol, gig on the 19th October 2016 was also a particular joy too.

If you’ve never come across Johnny Dowd, his musical style may be difficult to define although the term maverick is often applied. Zappa, Beefheart, Waits, Cave and a big drop of wry, dry humour forced into a kitchen blender on full speed and left unattended to spin. Amongst his various release’s I tend to migrate back to the No Regrets album, 2012.