Month: June 2009

Lights, Camera, Action! TV crews descend on The Birchcliffe Centre

Little did I realise that working for ALDC would see us at the centre of the filming of a new TV series.  This week, a film crew have moved in to some of the empty office space in the converted chapel that ALDC share with other organisations such as Pennine Heritage, the White Ribbon Campaign and the mysteriously named ‘Project X’ (I have no idea what it is, but I think I would rather maintain the mystery than find out the mundane reality).

OK, so a new comedy for BBC3 may not exactly be Hollywood (more Callywood – the corny nickname given to the Calder Valley due to the number of things that are apparently filmed around here), but it is interesting and has already created a lot more life and activity around the building and the town itself and they only started it today.

The series is called The Gemma Factor and it is about a girl from a small town who dreams of being famous, and there was a pilot on BBC3 last year.  The cast isn’t exactly top names, although Gwyneth Powell who once played Mrs McCluskey in Grange Hill is in it (now I am showing my age) as is Claire King who was once Kim Tate in Emmerdale.   There were rumours of Johnny Vegas, but it seems that wasn’t true.  However, I suppose if it takes off as some BBC3 comedies do then even some of the more obscure names could end up becoming famous.

Hebden Bridge also seems to be a popular place for northern TV actors to live.  The town is also the home of various members of the cast of Emmerdale and in fact, I saw the man who plays Eric Pollard on my train home last week.

Will we ever forgive Andy Murray for his “anyone but England” comment?

It has been almost impossible for any journalist covering Andy Murray’s recent run of success at Wimbledon to not mention how lots of people in England don’t like him because of his supposed anti-English comment three years ago.  In fact, there was even a letter in this week’s Metro from someone saying they would never support Andy Murray in tennis matches because of that comment.

For me though, these people who are so anti-Murray must simply be using it as an excuse for not liking him as a person anyway or perhaps just hate Scotland.  I suspect it’s also partly a side-effect of the lop-sided devolution (i.e. giving devolution to Scotland, without settling the West Lothian Question), that had led some people to become generally more anti-Scottish

I can understand some people in England not warming to him generally as Andy Murray’s public persona has been that of a fairly grumpy individual who is intensly focused on his game (presumably the reason for his success so surely a good thing), as opposed to the more cheerful demeanour of Tim Henman, who also happened to be the epitome of the English rural middle-class.

Whilst, the comment about supporting “anyone but England” has been overinflated.  After all it was only said in jest, (see about a third of the way through the column), whilst he was being ribbed by a sports presenter and Tim Henman for the inability of the Scottish football team to qualify for the World Cup.  What annoys me more is the hypocrisy of many who say it.  After all, how many football fans out there don’t get a smug satisfaction in seeing their biggest rival fail in a football match, especially if that team is a team that has traditionally been one of the most successful around.

A good equivalent example, albeit about local rivalry, is when Doncaster Rovers beat Leeds United in the 1st Division play-off final last year.  The Sheffield Telegraph ran a cartoon showing a bill board advertising the match with the words Doncaster Rovers crossed out and replaced with South Yorkshire.  For the last few years the rivalry between Sheffield (and the rest of South Yorkshire) and Leeds has, at least as far as football is concerned, seen the former have the upper hand.  Whilst many Sheffielders may take great delight in that, and did again this year when Leeds failed to gain promotion yet again, it doesn’t mean that people from either Sheffield or Leeds wouldn’t support someone from the opposite city if they were up for some other accolade in another sport where the two weren’t competing against each other.

In the end, football is about the separate nations rather than Britain, but in tennis it isn’t the case.  Andy Murray plays both for himself, Scotland and Britain.  Most people in England understand that it’s perfectly possible for people who are English to also be British, so why can’t we understand that the same applies to Andy Murray.  It’s just that inevitably when our nations are represented in a sport separately we are bound to support our own nation and at the same time get some enjoyment out of our greatest rival being defeated.

My favourite letter ever written to a local newspaper

Local newspapers have acquired an often deserved reputation for headlines or articles that are either amusing or poorly written. Even my local newspaper in Sheffield – The Star – has been mentioned by the late lamented Linda Smith on QI for its headline “Worksop man dies of natural causes”. Which is at least a proper sentence as opposed to its usual choice of three random nouns, such as “Bus strike threat”, which has led to a long-running joke with friends.  There is also the day when in a front page article it decided to describe a couple who had been convicted of benefit fraud as “the thieving scroungers of Castlebeck Avenue”, which you could argue is a factual statement but it perhaps doesn’t meet the standards of journalism excellence that even many local newspapers normally aim for.  In fact, whilst I am picking on The Star (and hoping this doesn’t lead to them trying to ruin any of my future career plans), my favourite free Sheffield magazine Now Then does an occasional fisking of the newspaper in its Starwipe column – subtitled “Reading the Sheffied Star so you don’t have to” – and the best has to be is its coverage of a horrendously sexist and patronising article on female councillors written by its (female) political editor, (and a former colleague of mine on Tapton School’s magazine).  To read it follow this link and find page 17 of the PDF, although admittedly it is probably only really amusing if you also know something about Sheffield politics.

However, despite this amusement at a newspaper’s expense, the one part of its content that is entirely in the hands of the rest of the community – the letters page – is often worse.  The letter page of newspapers has generated Tunbridge Wells Bingo, (which now seems impossible to find except bizarrely in the archive of Sheffield Forum – see the post by Andy C about halfway down the page), but when clearing out some old newspapers at home today I stumbled on a letter from the ever brilliant Cambrian News.

For those not versed in the pleasures of the Cambrian News – the local newspaper for mid Wales – this is a newspaper with a certain amount of reputation when it comes to its journalism.  Known by some locals as the “Pre-Cambrian News” for the fact that many of its stories are old even before the weekly edition of the paper is printed, it has also generated its own Facebook Group – the Cambrian News Headline Appreciation Society.  Top billing on this site is the now infamous “I didn’t know guinea pigs could swim” headline, and I see that this week has also generated the excellent “Help… Dog urine is seeping into my flat”.  So after that extensive build-up, my favourite letter ever comes from the 11th October 2007 edition and I still cannot decide if it is a deliberate piss-take, (if you’ll excuse the pun), or a serious complaint:

Urinals too high off ground in new harbour toilet block


On a recent visit to Aberystwyth, I went to the newly-designed toilet at the harbour.

The urinals were very high.  Another visitor who was five feet two inches tall had to go into the cubicle because of this.  Incidentally, there are no boys’ urinals there.

Thinking more deeply about the height of urinals following this visit, I would also like to point out that Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons in our area have urinals set 12 to 14 inches off the ground, much lower than in Aberystwyth.”

Your etc,
Roger Pye, Kinerton, Herefordshire

An open letter to Diane Park

Diane Park was the Liberal Democrat PPC for Halifax.  She resigned yesterday and at the same time quit the party to sit as an Independent councillor on Calderdale Council.  This is what I want to say to her.

Dear Diane

I was really disappointed when I found out today that you have resigned as the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Halifax.  However, when I read the article in the Halifax Courier explaining why you had quit I was frustrated far more than you will ever imagine.

I don’t know if you will remember me.  I was the person who accompanied Nick Clegg when he visited Halifax about eighteen months ago to meet some of the people tackling crime in the town centre and then to speak at your fundraising dinner.  I enjoyed that evening and I came away thinking what an impressive pair of PPCs Calderdale had, with you in Halifax and Hilary Myers in Calder Valley.

Although I am disappointed at the Liberal Democrats losing someone of your talents, I am even more annoyed at your reason for resigning.  You say that you are “shocked and appalled by the scandal that has befallen the House of Commons” and I understand that.  I really do.  As someone who has spent a lot of his own time, money and energy trying to elect Liberal Democrats to councils and parliaments since I joined the party 14 years ago, I am as angry as anyone at the way that some MPs have behaved.  I am angry not just because they have been dishonest, or because they have taken advantage of the system, or because some have quite blatantly stolen my taxes to put in their own pocket.  But I am also angry because I believe politics is, on the whole, a force for good and by some MPs behaving in that way we have reached a situation where a lot of people will never trust another politician again.

You say that you, “have decided to become an independent.  That way, I will have no constraints on what I say and can concentrate on serving the electors.”  But surely it isn’t the political parties that are wrong, it is the system and the way that the cosy boys club that exists in Westminster creates and perpetuates the system that we have.  Being an independent doesn’t solve that, but being a Liberal Democrat may do.  After all, there is no guarantee that other independents who get elected will somehow agree with us on how to change the system or are as committed to the Liberal Democrat beliefs that we hold.  Of course they don’t, that’s why they aren’t Liberal Democrats.  I accept that as the third party it will be hard work to overturn the system.  But no one else is going to do it apart from us.  We have been the reformers for years wanting to change the way politics works from top to bottom.  We led devolution both from Westminster and within local government.  We led the calls to reform the voting system to one that actually reflected how people vote.  We led the way in having our party leader go out and talk directly to ordinary people in his Town Hall meetings.  And we also led the calls for reforming MPs expenses well before it became fashionable.

I am in politics because I want to change the world.  It may be a bit idealistic and utopian, but I don’t think you should be in politics if you think everything is fine the way they are.  I am a Liberal Democrat because I believe in the principles that the party stands for.  Just because I am a member of a party it doesn’t mean I can’t say what I think.  After all I have kept up this blog whilst working for the party leader, the current shadow home secretary and now for ALDC, whilst also sometimes dissenting from the party’s policies and opinions.  You and I both know that the majority of people in politics are honest and decent.  If you and I want to change the world, we should work hard to elect the people who will do it and who stand for the things we believe in.  That is going to involve sticking with it through the tough times, (God only knows the number of times over the last few weeks when I have wondered why I put up with the flack and abuse you get through being in politics), and electing people who like us want to change the world to make it more Liberal Democrat.

I am sorry you won’t be one of the people who gets elected to parliament to help us to change the world together, as I think you would have made an excellent Liberal Democrat MP for Halifax. But nonetheless I wish you well and I hope that whatever you do with your life is a success.

Yours sincerely

Anders Hanson

Race for the Speaker: from hope to despair

A few weeks ago I wrote about my support for Frank Field to be the next Speaker, but at that time there were a few other names being touted who could have been pretty radical and anti-establishment.  Now just an hour and a half before voting starts the line-up looks pretty uninspiring and is a real let down if parliament is to genuinely reform itself.  I think Michael Martin may have been unfairly scapegoated, but ousting him as Speaker was an opportunity to make a real difference to the public perception of the House of Commons.  Unfortunately Parliament looks as though it won’t do that.

However, rather than writing my own post on it, Alex Wilcock pretty much sums up how I feel.  So my advice is to read his post instead.  My main criteria for Speaker would be for it not be another grandee or party hack but with a zeal for reform.  That pretty much limits the options and many of the people who now portrait themselves as reformers don’t really have a long track-record of it.  Like Matthew Huntbach in a comment on the Liberal Democrat Voice piece about the Speaker’s race, I can’t quite get used to John Bercow being a cuddly left-wing Tory when not that long ago he was a right-wing headbanger, however I think if I had a vote I could just be tempted to go for him.

Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin

How can I have left reading this book so long.  I have always loved crime fiction, as will be apparent from anyone who reads this blog regularly but doesn’t skip over the non-political bits – you know who you are Cllr Mohammed.  I also love crime dramas on TV and so I know Rebus already from that.  So given the popularity of the Rebus books it is amazing that I hadn’t read one before.

Actually, I have started to read this very book before.  I bought it shortly after I moved to Aberystwyth, but I just couldn’t get in to it.  Perhaps it had something to do with me trying to read the book in the evenings whilst I was staying in someone’s spare bedroom before I had moved in to my proper flat and spending every night in a sleeping bag, in a cold room in an attic where all you could hear until early every morning was the thump thump thump of music coming from the Angel Inn that backed on to the house.

Anyway, enough of this nostalgic rambling.  Travelling by train to work means that I read a lot more and a lot more quickly.  But it is rare for me to finish a book in just two days, but that is what happened with this book.  Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin is an interesting first book in the Rebus series.  Not only is it a gripping story, but it also makes very clear early on exactly the sort of character that Rebus is and quite a bit of his back story.  But Rankin’s books are also very good at keeping you hooked whilst being very easy to read.  This isn’t high-brow literature, it is simply a very good read.  What any detective story has to do is keep you hooked so you never want to put the book down (I really wanted to stay on the train to keep reading rather than get off and go to work) and also create a character that is believable.  On both of these Rankin succeeds and I can’t wait now to catch up on all these books I have been missing by not revising Rebus earlier on.

Dave, I don’t care that I didn’t elect Gordon Brown as PM

Every week at Prime Minister’s Questions David Cameron trots out the comment about Gordon Brown being a Prime Minister that none of us elected.  I kn0w he is playing to the gallery as opinion polls show that people think we should have had an election when he took over.  But until David Cameron comes up with a plan for direct election of the Prime Minister I wish he would drop it.

I know he isn’t the only one to complain about Gordon Brown not being elected – I think Nick Clegg may have said it too – but this is far from being the first time it has happened.  When John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher in 1990 it was greeted with relief rather than demands for a General Election (then, as now, there were plenty of other reasons for an election anyway), and when Gordon Brown first took over from Blair there was an element of that as well.  There are many other precedents as well, such as Callaghan taking over from Wilson and Douglas-Home taking over from Macmillan.  In fact it isn’t that unusual.

The fact is that in this country we elect our local Member of Parliament (not even the party of government) and we shouldn’t make the assumption that people only choose the government on the basis of who the Prime Minister would be.  There is some evidence that the idea of Brown taking over from Blair actually gained them votes as well as probably losing some too – just as the Conservatives found out when they started one of their ad campaigns at the last General Election when they warned people that Brown could be Prime Minister only to find that made Labour more popular.  If we want to have a direct say on the Prime Minister then we should change our parliamentary system and elect the Prime Minister separate from our MPs, (which I don’t actually agree with anyway), but until then we should just accept that whoever is leader of the ruling party will be Prime Minister, whether we chose them or not.