Sunday, 29 November 2015

A Great Weekend of Sport Part 2: GB Win the Davis Cup

Great Britain are Davis Cup champions for the first time in 79 years. Congratulations to Captain Leon Smith and all of the players. But I am writing this article as a tribute to the main reason GB won the Davis Cup, Andy Murray. Andy Murray won both of his singles matches and assisted his brother, doubles specialist Jamie Murray, as Britain took an unassailable 3-1 lead in the best of five contest and were crowned the Champions for the first time in the modern era. Whilst certainly a team effort, who can forget Dan Evans beating John Isner in the singles against the USA, Murray won 11 straight singles matches to catapult his way into British Tennis history. There can now be no argument that Murray is not our greatest ever Tennis player, if he was not already.

I have enjoyed some of my best TV sporting moments watching Andy Murray. I felt genuine sadness when he lost Wimbledon to Roger Federer in 2012 and we saw for the first time all of the emotion that followed from Murray. I admired as he bounced back to win Olympic Gold, destroying Federer only three weeks later. At the very next Grand Slam, he the US Open and then capped an incredible 12 months by winning Wimbledon in 2013. Now Murray has won the Davis Cup and now must be considered amongst the most successful and era defining players of his generation.

I recall in around 2005 when a very young Murray, who had recently made it onto the ATP tour, was interviewed by Sue Barker on Sports Personality of the Year and Murray said his goal was to get into the top 50 in the rankings. I always remember this interview because with around $50 million in prize money and countless more riches in sponsorship later, he has exceeded our wildest expectations. Without him British Tennis would have had nothing significant to shout about since the retirement of former fan favourite Tim Henman.

I always remember watching Murray battle against Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon in 2008, where Murray came back from 2-0 sets down to beat Gasquet 3-2 with some amazing clutch play when looking all but beaten as the turning point in his career. That tournament began a trend he has maintained since of making it to the business end of all Grand Slam tournaments in an era that has seen Murray compete for glory against three of all time greats Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

About to become a Father for the first time in 2016 with wife Kim, Murray's sporting legacy is already secured.

I believe Murray has reached the point where he could retire tomorrow and be very happy with his career in terms of sporting fulfillment. He should now be able to play without any pressure because he has done it all, although maybe that is what separates the rest of us from champions like Murray, he is never happy. But he should be. He should be extremely proud of his achievements, which are truly historic in terms of British Sport.

A Great Weekend of Sport Part 1: Fury Wins World Heavyweight Boxing Crown

Forget the Batman costumes, the unpredictable, almost crazy antics because when it mattered most, unconventional Boxing contender Tyson Fury proved the world wrong as he defeated World Champion Wladimir Klitschko in a messy and untidy 12 round fight to become the IBF, WBA and WBA World Heavyweight Boxing Champion.

At the opening bell Fury raced to the centre of the ring which suggested a high octane and fiery contest would take place. In reality, the fight was about fakes, blocked shots and awkward clinches rather than a toe to toe battle. Each round was very hard to score with little action in each and at the end of the 12th round I believed a draw was possible and even the likely outcome. The judges, however, disagreed and awarded the fight convincingly to Fury by 3 or 4 rounds. It marked a life changing 12 hours for Fury as he had found out his wife was pregnant with their third child earlier in the day.

The fight nearly did not happen at all after a range of small rows prior to the opening bell. Firstly, a row broke out regarding the ring padding. Fury's camp insisted some layers of the canvass were removed so the entire ring had to be relaid throughout the afternoon. Then, as the fighters made their final preparations before entering the ring, Wladimir Klitschko wrapped his hands without a member of the Fury camp present, which was against the rules and enraged Peter Fury, Tyson Fury's Uncle and trainer, to the extent that he stormed out of an angry exchange with fight officials declaring the fight was cancelled. A veteran of 23 world title fights and his older brother Vitali a veteran of many more, the Klitschko brothers would be well aware that the rules state a member of the opposition camp must be present for the hand wrapping. Klitschko was forced to wrap his hands again, which was inconvenient for him in the crucial pre-fight build up.

As the fight progressed, it was surprising that Klitschko threw so few punches. Perhaps he was wary of the long range threat posed by Fury's hooks and jabs, but was so inactive that the commentators speculated whether or not he was carrying a hand injury. In the end, very few meaningful punches were landed by either fighter although Klitschko did manage to wobble Fury with a left jab in the 8th round. Unfortunately for him, it was a rare moment of success in a frustrating and ultimately era ending bout for him. If Klitschko is to continue and take a mandatory rematch, as he suggests he hopes to do, he will need to be willing to mount an offense and engage blows with Fury.

Should Fury win the rematch, as he stated he will do "easily, even if Klitschko had 10 years to train for it", a number of mouth-watering future clashes could be on the cards for him over the next 12 months. These include fellow Brits David Haye, who is attempting a comeback and top British prospect Anthony Joshua, who has demolished his 14 opponents so far by knock out and looks set for the top. There is also the prospect of a fight with the current WBC Champion, the USA's Deontay Wilder, which would make commercial sense.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

8th November 2015 Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

In tonight's podcast we discuss the Tax Credits Cut proposals from the government and the implications for the House of Lords, we also cover Jeremy Corbyn's new approach to Prime Minister's Questions. We also discuss the Trade Union Bill as well as mentioning the importance of Remembrance Sunday. Click play using the button below to have a listen.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Consett Snippets

The large commercial unit adjacent to Morrisons and behind KFC on the Hermiston Industrial Park has stood empty since its construction around one year ago and many rumours have abounded as to which large retailer would take advantage of the opportunity to have a large unit, visible from the main road and next to the large footfall area that has seen B&Q, Poundland, Matalan, KFC and McDonalds establish the new commercial area of Consett, with Tesco's nearby. Let's not forget them.

They were joined this week by Sports Direct, who have taken the entire unit and I wish them well. It would be great if Mr Ashley and his Senior Managers offered their staff better than zero hours contracts, but a job is a job and if it creates opportunities that is better than nothing. I am sure it will be well used. Here is a picture I took of the store on Sunday.

Across the road, Franks Factory Flooring's massive new showroom is nearing completion. I have everything crossed they will allow their car park to be used as shoppers head into the town to enjoy the many cafes, bars (the Whistleblower looks great) and smaller businesses that exist on middle street. Time for another photo, also taken on Sunday.

FFF will be the second "Frank's" in Consett and I'm not talking about the middle street branch (now closed). Many of you may know me as the Raffle Ticket seller for the half-time prize draw at Consett FC. The club are doing really well, pulling in crowds of 400+ for most matches now which is a huge increase on previous years. The facilities are amazing, with further plans for expansion by the Chairman, Frank Bell (the real Frank of Consett!!).

You will never meet a more passionate and energetic Chairman than Frank. There was bad news this week with the problems of Durham City FC being evicted from New Ferens Park, I hope they find a new home soon under their Chairman, former Newcastle Utd left back Olivier Bernard. I managed to snap a nice shot of Consett as they beat Shildon 3-1 on Saturday. They are heading up the table with a probable top 6 finish on the cards if they remain solid throughout the rest of the season. Tickets are £6 for Adults, £3 for concessions and £1 for kids.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

A Hiatus

All good things come to an end. I like to speak my mind and it is always my own view, but when my employer is a member of the Shadow Team, it is too easy for someone else to say that what I am saying, which once again is my own view, is that of someone else. Usually someone in the public eye, an employer for example. This is rarely, if ever, the case. How stupid would I need to be to jeopardise my employment by writing something silly? However, this does not remove the possibility that I say something that is either taken out of context or twisted completely to sound much worse than it is. The upshot of this is that I will be taking a break from blogging about Politics.

In other news I'm currently reviewing all voluntary things that I do. I joined up with a lot of things to give my time in the hope that it would bring about opportunities for things that I really wanted to do. Like something prestigious or higher level than what I do now. It hasn't. It has brought me many opportunities for more of what I already do, which was not the idea. So some, or maybe all, of the unpaid things I do will most likely go in the next 6 months.

What for me politically? I remain interested in standing for Durham County Council, aside of that I'm not much interested in anything more taxing. I've run around for others for 8 years now with no reward. It's other peoples turn to do something. I see the beginnings of maneuverings for certain posts and for some those opportunities present themselves easily. I am unsure whether it is silly or admirable to plough on expecting different results for the same effort. Some say that's the definition of madness!

All the best and thanks for reading.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn Elected as Labour Leader

The pollsters can breathe a sigh of relief, they got this one right. Jeremy Corbyn is the new Leader of the Labour Party. He won with a massive 59% of the vote and crucially he would have won in the first ballot with only Labour members voting too. This is his real mandate. We now have to move forwards as a movement towards winning the next General Election. There will be a bit of upheaval with current Shadow Cabinet members moving on but we must accept this as part of the large realignment and things will settle down quickly.

So there it is. I've a week off work and once I shed this rather timely cold I'll be doing some walking hopefully and keeping myself busy.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

6th September 2015 Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

It has been a little while since we did a Politics podcast but we met up and had a go at one tonight. We discussed the refugee crisis in Syria and what this means for the immigration debate, we discuss the final activities of the (seemingly neverending) Labour Leadership election and discuss the progress of the US Presidential race. Click play using the button below to have a listen.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

My Answers to Liz Kendall's 4 Questions

In an article on Labour List posted on 1st September, Leadership candidate Liz Kendall posed four questions she feels are taboo within the Labour Party as she argues that processes and procedures are strangling the party. I offer my answer to each of her questions below;

What change in the world – or even in our neighborhoods – comes about as a result a branch meetings?

Branch meetings as the foundation of many members membership. It is a good opportunity for members to meet, socialise and have discussions. It is the responsibility of the branch officers to make meetings engaging. If organised correctly, branch meetings gives members the opportunity to plan activities and give their views on current affairs. If you take this away or profoundly change these meetings, where would this planning take place? Some members would be disengaged if not part of the small core that organise events and share ideas.

What are we doing electing each other to internal positions every year when we could be spending that time and energy talking to the electorate?

The fundamental question here is why do people join political parties? I joined in 2008 but only went to one meeting for a year because 99% of what was happening was done by one person. I wanted to do something, so I was not really that interested in listening to one other person getting to do all the fun stuff. Electing someone to a position may be a facade, but if that keeps them doing things on a voluntary basis then so much the better. Since my own CLP disbanded the General Committee structure, which meant branch delegates were no longer in post, main CLP meeting numbers fell dramatically. A similar thing happened when the District Council disbanded. This is not a co-incidence. It is very easy for Liz Kendall to say internal promotions are meaningless whilst she sits atop everything as MP, a role no-one else can do whilst she is in post, which given her age may be a long time. You simply must give people a reason to be involved.

Why should the central party have such a grip over every aspect of campaigning and messaging when it is local people who often understand what works best in their area?

This is simply untrue. The central party does not control messaging. We designed all of Pat's leaflets, every word of it and the central party checked it for overall policy compliance. This is fine because national policy cannot be regionally fragmented and if no checks occurred there would be the inevitable contradictions in messages. There is always a box left blank in our election literature for local issues. Suggesting there is no local input is simply wrong.

Can we really call asking three uninspiring and one-sided questions of the electorate a "Conversation" and if not, why did we ask members to have 5 million of these interactions?

Elections are won and lost on simple messages. If you don't believe me, think about effective it was for the Tories to ask the electorate "Do you want Ed Miliband as Prime Minister and if so, do you want him controlled by the SNP?" That one question swung everything. Regardless of what you think of spin, it's a combination of arguments presented in a form that is understood by the electorate that causes a uniform reaction that decides elections.

Monday, 24 August 2015

A Light Look on the Bright Side

Jeremy Corbyn will be the next leader of the Labour Party. The result itself is astounding. To offer you a pop-culture perspective on his gravitas, Corbyn didn't even have his own puppet in Newzoids before the election nor did he feature in Spitting Image in the 1990's despite being an MP throughout both the periods these satirical programmes mocked. On a side note, he can look forward to Series 2 of Newzoids, where he is sure to feature!

In terms of image, Corbyn can currently do no wrong. The media, certainly the usually hyper critical public, are giving him a honeymoon period last enjoyed by Blair in the mid 1990's. (Sorry to mention Blair, I know it's not allowed these days.) Maybe One Direction have announced they are to split today because they have realised they will never reach the heights of popularity that Jeremy Corbyn is currently enjoying. Of course I am speaking firmly tongue-in-cheek, but Corbyn would come a lot closer to packing out Wembley Stadium than any other politician I can think of at present.

This article will look on the bright side. I understand the arguments about the hazards of lurching to the left and the concerns that we will appeal firmly to our core vote and no-one else. The problem is that pre-Corbyn we were in grave danger of losing our core vote as we winked in the direction of floating and opposition party voters and our core voters felt they were forgotten and taken for granted. We only need look to the Lib Dems for evidence on what happens when you lose your core vote, it doesn't end well.

Corbyn's ascension (a deliberate reference to the best YouTube comment I read that was perhaps sarcastic when they said, "It is no irony that Jesus Christ and Jeremy Corbyn have the same initials") means that any seeping of votes to UKIP or the Greens will be negated as the left unites around a candidate who really speaks their language. In fact, when has the media covered comments made by UKIP or the Greens since Corbyn mania took hold? We haven't, as the media is far too interested in Corbyn and the public are apparently besotted. Time will tell how many of them, but the allure of something new and more importantly, something different will be appealing to many voters who vote in a binary fashion of who piques their interest.

A sign that we sometimes overstate the issues themselves and proof that we must appeal in terms of both detail and superficiality was listening to Any Questions on Radio 4, where Jeremy Corbyn offered a vastly different approach to the usual populist line that gets applause when it is stated by someone that "Britain is for the Brits". Corbyn correctly states that migrants are a net contributor to the economy, however, he goes further still to suggest that we should offer asylum to those in difficulty and Britain should embrace our responsibilities to both EU and Non-EU immigrants, especially when hardship is being suffered or they come from a war-torn country. Corbyn received wild applause when making this point whereas before the election he would have been met with derision and "oooh's" from the crowd.

Is it that the dissenters are persuaded? I doubt it, but the coverage is now being given to the alternative arguments to immigration, welfare, austerity and other matters where we previously held a more moderate position. The "left" (a reference I hate because it currently refers to how close to New Labour one is) arguments have been silent for some time. This is the source of Corbyn's popularity. People with a view that austerity is not the answer had no voice as Labour tried to learn from the criticisms we received after the 2010 General Election. The marginal parties picked up on this, but many voters remained loyal and voted for Labour under some duress. Sensing they now have a genuine chance to shape the direction of a party that can (at least in theory) win in 2020, they have eagerly grasped this opportunity.

In the 2015 General Election, Labour followed a logical approach that sought to react to the broadly accepted view (certainly the loudest one) was that we had little economic credibility and could not win without admitting our mistakes and pledging to be more sensible in the future. This led to a sensible but confused "we will also cut spending, but in a nicer way than the Tories" offering to the public, which did not inspire the voter to switch allegiances in enough numbers to change the result.

Being seen as "Tory lite" is toxic for our chances so we must move away from any accusation of it. The unique offering of Jeremy Corbyn is he offers a genuine choice and a completely different approach. I believe we should not be cutting local government spending at all and if he can offer a solution where local spending can be fair, whilst not appearing frivolous in terms of spending to the wider public, I will support his plans and be happy to do so. Where there is genuine choice, people can choose and hopefully they choose Labour, so let's look on the bright side and realise the standard line of "you are all the same" has far less credibility moving forward! The 2015 election taught us that "not being them" is not enough to win, so we must accept that we will now be treading a new path and unite to make the best of it.

Once Jeremy Corbyn is elected, he will have many challenges to overcome. Can he attract support from across the electorate? Can he negate the advantage the Tories will hand themselves when they redraw the boundaries? Can he unite Labour after a difficult election campaign (that was far too long)? I believe he stands to make better progress in Scotland than we would otherwise have achieved and gaining 20 or 30 seats won back in Scotland would certainly come in handy. We know that the Scottish vote is fickle given the unprecedented swings in May. They could come back.

It might all end in tears, but I see little in the other candidates that suggests our democratic epiphany exists in that direction. Politics is certainly not predictable so for us to say we are doomed does not take into account the surprising developments we have witnessed in 2015. So I'm game. I did vote for Andy Burnham because I like him as a candidate and I have never been one for jumping mindlessly onto any bandwagon, but I can tell when the jigs up. Corbyn is going to win, so let's see where this goes.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

In Corb We Trust?

It might be a little controversial but I am not one to not say what I think. Here is a video with me discussing my thoughts on the Labour Leadership contest.