Archive for October, 2012

Hoo Roo Mikey

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

This is a picture of my baby brother. Yesterday, Mike flew off to start a new life in Australia.

This is not a post about politics. This is a post about my brother, how much I love him, how much I will miss him and that however much it hurts, I know he’s done absolutely the right thing and is going to have an amazing life.

Mike came to us in 1980. I have a very vague memory of asking a judge in an imposing wooden room if we could take my brother home. I guess he said yes.

Mike was such a happy smiley kid. He was also the naughtiest child you’d ever meet – but he got away with it because he was so bloody funny. He wrote himself a theme tune aged about 3. The words were “Dawdy, Dawdy – DON’T YOU DARE!” Sometimes he would play this on the small, not very tuneful piano as a special treat first thing in the morning. I’ll never forget chasing him down the street with about 10 other kids one of the first times he slipped out of a holiday home. He was fast even in nappies! Eventually he scrambled (with some help from an accomplice I suspect) up on the bonnet of our car – a good 200 metres down the road – to sing us all a chorus of Dawdy Dawdy.

Mikey had good and bad times. He had some health problems as a kid that were difficult for him and the family. But he never lost that incredible sense of fun. In a family of very silly show-offs, I’d say he always at least held his own. The time he spent the weekend getting us all to “do the chipmunk” was a great example.

As was the time he spent several hours driving me completely mad, convinced there was a poltergeist in my home. I was sat, alone in the house doing my homework (have I mentioned I was the goodie-goody of my family) when the TV I had left on for company suddenly changed channels. I thought little of it at first, until it happened again. And again. I started searching for the remote and couldn’t find it anywhere. I was convinced I was alone. I was very, very frightened. Until instead of just looking straight outside, I looked up. There was Mike sitting in the Pear Tree laughing his head off. And again he got away with it by being funny and charming.

Mike started going out with Kylie not long after I met Nik. Suddenly our family was complete. It just made sense. Cathie had Ben, I had Nik and now Mike had Kylie. Just to spend a moment with them was to see how great they are together and how clearly they are meant to be. As you might be able to tell from her name, Kylie is a native Australian. This year, she’d been in the UK for 17 years. It was time for her to go home. Mike had spent time in and enjoyed Australia before. It was time for them to make a new and – I am sure – a better life in Australia. They are going to be very, very happy. One day soon, I’ll stop getting teary about how much I will miss them and be able to focus on that a little more. I know they’ve done the right thing.

Mike and Kylie and Nik and Myself will keep in touch of course. We will visit, we will Skype, we will call and write. I love them both very much. Other side of the world or not, Mike will always be my Bro. But our relationship was always quite physical. It was always (and remains) Mike’s thing to wrestle me. I had no choice in the matter. Despite the fact that neither of us will see 30 again, this is still the case. Despite the physical oddness of it, I will miss being put into bizarre wrestling holds while I stoically try to get on with watching Emmerdale.

Mike, I don’t know if you will read this, but I want you to know I love you very much. I’m really proud of you. Proud to know you, proud to be your sister and proud of the bravery you have shown in starting a new life for yourself. We will miss both of you for always, but I will never stop being proud and hoping that it works out so incredibly well for you – I am sure that it will.

I love you.





Why People Read the Daily Mail

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

There are plenty of reasons for those of us on the left to dislike the Daily Mail. Their tin-eared coverage of race and immigration issues and their columnists espousing hateful attitudes – from the mania of Liz Jones to just about everything ever written by Samantha Brick or Richard Littlejohn. Their attitude to science is decidedly questionable, as is their mission to divide the world into items that either cause or cure cancer. This is not a piece that will attempt to convince you of the value of any of these things, because I see no value in them.

But every day, 4.275 million people read the Daily Mail. Should we write these people off? Dismiss them as cruel, racist, homophobic, bile-spouting, vicious and easily led? Should we take the worst of what we know about the Daily Mail and judge everyone who read it by that? I don’t think we should.

For my job, every day I read The Independent, The Times, The Guardian, The FT and the Daily Mail. Here’s the thing; while my job is to scan the headlines and to make sure I have a handle on anything that might affect my area of work, every day there are stories that grab my attention, that interest me, that I save up to read over lunch. More often than not, these stories are in the Daily Mail.

These stories are about ordinary people who overcome difficulties: They survive disease, find their way through horrendous loss, fall out with their families and get over personal tragedies. These are not problems every one of us has, but problems every one of us can empathise with. These people (usually women) feel like me and you. Reading about their struggles and their triumphs, their fears and their hopes in a national daily newspaper, among all the stories of celebrities and politicians make these stories feel real and important, which they are.

I’m a leftie, metropolitan, political animal. Obsessed with politics and current affairs and the ins and outs of internal Labour politics. I find my passions pretty well covered by the Guardian. But my life? My friends? I don’t see those reflected back at me from those pages. The Guardian feels like a places that is for the likes of me to read, not to appear in. I love their arts, politics and current affairs coverage. But even the ordinary people stories in the magazine or G2 (and they are always separated from the newspaper proper) seem cooler and from a different world than mine. I love We Love Each Other – I just don’t think I’ll ever feature in it.

But if I had a tragedy or a triumph I wanted to share, I can see it being reported in the Daily Mail. As we bemoan the elitism of the political class, I don’t think we should discount the power of that feeling of belonging and recognition.

One of the most important complaints of the left about the Daily Mail is the way they take the most extreme examples of the issues they want to highlight (such as immigrants receiving housing support) and by highlighting it, insinuate that this is the norm, this is the whole of the truth. It’s wrong when the Daily Mail do it. Even though I prefer our intentions, we shouldn’t do it either.

The left – particularly the online left – have a habit of behaving in just exactly this way about the Daily Mail. Every now and then they will publish an article so utterly obnoxious that it’s sheer affrontery is breathtaking. It will be linked and tweeted and tweeted and linked as we are at once outraged and confirmed in our prejudices. But in doing so, we are being just as blinkered to the whole picture as the Mail itself choose to be on occasion.

The Daily Mail is a right wing paper. There is no denying that. But remember that the paper of Melanie Phillips is also the paper of Suzanne Moore. Remember that this is the paper who went out on a limb over Stephen Lawrence. Like most papers their politics reporting, large swathes of their commentary and their editorials are very political, and I can’t remember a time I’ve agreed with them. But like most paper, while their choice of stories may sometimes highlight narratives they are pushing and agendas they want to set, they are mostly aiming to entertain and inform.

Millions of people read the Daily Mail every day. Some of them already vote Labour and several more would consider doing so. If we use the short cut of the paper they read to dismiss them, we do ourselves and them a disservice.

I have never and will never advocate pandering to the same kind of prejudices evident in the Daily Mail. It’s anathema to everything I am in politics to achieve and to everything I believe Labour can and should do.

But politics – like much of our press – is missing that sense of people finding themselves recognisable as part of the narrative. Before we dismiss the Daily Mail out of hand, perhaps we could learn a little something about how they manage that so successfully.

This post first appeared at Shifting Ground



Can “one nation” go from conference speech to the nation?

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Ed’s speech was a barnstormer. He came into conference the most secure of all the party leaders, but that didn’t stop the inevitable chatter around his leadership from the press. This might. The press have seen now what I saw in Ed before the leadership contest, and what led to me supporting him.

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Three Party Conferences – a reflection

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

The curly sandwiches have all been eaten, the beer has all been drunk and everyone has a cold. It must be end of conference season. For the first time in my life, I attended all three Party conferences this year.  I met and spoke with friends from each Party, and I also took the time to just sit quietly in the throng and listen to what the delegates had to say when talking to each other. This – far more than the stage managed media focused messages from the stages – will tell you where a party is at.

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