If travel broadens the mind then labour activism certainly takes you to parts of the world you may not have previously had at the top of your list of fun destinations. One such destination being Stoke.
Now I am not a total stranger to what I was always told was a gritty conurbation of five towns steeped in the tradition of the potteries but which I discovered was actually an archipelago of six towns in which, yes, the ceramic trade was still a powerful force but which is actually far more than the stereotype.
It was only as I strolled around the prosperous and well-ordered town centre in Stoke that I realised I had once been a regular visitor, not as a fraternal delegate to the Ceramic and Allied Trades Union, but to the Northern Soul nights at the Kings Hall when a large group of West London soul boys (and one girl) who were irritated beyond endurance by weedy electro synth bands and who sought the raw force of Patty and the Emblems and David and the Giants – not forgetting Alfie Khan – piled into a van and headed off with plastic bags of vodka hidden in the one handbag and a supply of chalk dust for the very finest Northern Soul dancing.
The memories may have resurfaced but swiftly were they sunk again as the vaguely professorial figure of Jack Dromey, wearing a fetching home knitted Kerry green cardigan, brusquely ordered my mate Abdi from Ealing and I to put those teacups (made in Stoke) down and hit the streets with a tall figure in an enormous tan raincoat who seemed to know everyone and be liked by all and who turned out to be Gareth Snell – then a candidate and now an MP.
I won’t pretend there was universal adoration expressed for our leader but there certainly was a vehement opposition to Mr Nuttall of UKIP, who has now become a byword for mendacity and who takes his place in a porky pie pantheon headed by Baron Munchausen and Walter Mitty.
Paul the Purple Pinocchio (©Kevin Maguire) really was the gift that kept on giving and where once Lord Jeffrey Archer had been the world champion of … er… exaggeration, now Paul Nuttall stands supreme and unchallenged.
I remember once many years ago hearing a politician give speeches to different branches of the Royal British Legion on Remembrance Sunday and revealing that at the same time he had been storming ashore on Gold Beach in Normandy he was about to be parachuted into the Balkans to link up with Tito’s Partisans en route to Tokyo Bay where the Japanese Emperor awaited him in order to surrender.
This is actually rather more imaginative than claiming to play in Goal for Tranmere Rovers while working for a PhD from Liverpool university but where Paul Nuttall differs from the figures of fun who have selecting amnesia and powerful imaginations is in his Hillsborough comments.
There are some things that a person can cheerfully lie about and claim that it was all in fun or a “white lie” as authorised by St. Augustine. Claiming to have been at Hillsborough and, even worse, claiming to have lost a close personal friend there takes the matter into a different place; one so deep and dark it has its own gravity.
I entirely accept that Paul Nuttall is a Scouser – despite the lurid Home Counties tweeds as modelled by an ill-dressed hunt follower in Surrey – but surely anyone from that proud city would realise there are some things you just don’t lie about. The fact he chose to do so says much about the character of the man and it was swiftly seen though by the citizens of the six towns that he could not name.
There is, however, a profoundly disturbing aspect to the victory in Stoke. Did Labour win or did UKIP lose? The Tories blatantly stood aside to allow the ‘kippers a clear run and I have no doubt that their fresh faced and innocent young candidate will pop up in some agreeable constituency in the gin’n’Jags belt before too long.
Gareth was a strong locally based candidate and it was salutary to note that our actual campaign message was very well received – even if we need to find another string to our bow than the NHS.
I think that we need to do some return canvassing – as we do in Ealing – to ask people why they voted as they did. There were so many other factors in play in Stoke that I don’t think we can claim it as a clear-cut Labour victory so let’s take a long cool look and see where we go from here.
In the meantime – I don’t know if Gareth was a regular at the Kings Hall or even at what I still call the Britannia Stadium but he is fast becoming well known at Westminster and my very best wishes to him and my thanks to Ruth Smeeth, Rob Flello and the supreme commander Dromey for a spot of cheer in a cold climate.