Stoke - a city in the spotlight with the YMCA up-front.
PHOTO:: This me in the Midlands UK leading a training course for young beautiful humans from around the YMCA's
Great article here, in my eyes, about Stoke on Trent, The YMCA there and Danny Flynn the 'dynamic CEO - a great human.
Stoke byelection: this is Britain on the edge, torn between hope and despair | Polly Toynbee | Opinion
The Stoke Central byelection hangs in the balance between Labour and Ukip: for either, losing on 23 February will be a calamity, causing an existential crisis – and I use that word carefully. Watch the avalanche of political obituaries for the loser.
For Ukip the stakes could not be higher. Lose here and the party is well and truly dead: its new leader, and its candidate here, Paul Nuttallburied on his first outing. Byelections are the great hope of insurgent parties, when voters can indulge in risk-free protest. No seat could be riper than this Brexit hotspot, where almost 70% voted leave: Stoke perfectly matches this week’s BBC research showing the closest correlation between high Brexit areas and low education qualifications.
Though ethnic minorities make up only 15% of Stoke’s population, on the doorstep I found immigration the hot button issue. “Too many here, filling up our schools and hospitals.” What about EU doctors and nurses working in the NHS? “They can stay, but let us choose.” “Yes, immigrants work hard – but they send all their money back home and I’m against that.” “They’re not our culture, are they?” One or two said “Trump’s got the right idea”, matching YouGov’s finding that 29% in Britain support Trump’s migrant ban.
Some are less upfront, but you suspect what’s on their mind: “I’m usually Labour but let’s say I’m thinking about it.” The BNP seized nine council seats in 2009, though was seen off later.
If Ukip can’t win in this emotionally charged, Brexit-inflected time, then it will never win anywhere. If he loses, Nuttall – being investigated by police over possible fraudulent claims on where he lives – will hammer the final nail of failure into Nigel Farage’s seven lost attempts on parliament. Ukip’s historic task was to frighten David Cameron into holding the EU referendum – but no one need pay Ukip further attention.
For Labour the stakes are sky high. Oppositions don’t lose byelections: by tradition they beat governments of the day. Losing here may signal a tipping point in a host of similar Labour seats.
“I’m usually Labour” is an ominously noncommittal doorstep refrain: Jeremy Corbyn’s name often follows. Stoke has a strong armed forces recruiting tradition, the Royal Signals recently returned from Germany. “He says he won’t press the button, so forget defence,” was typical, and one mentioned the national anthem (Corbyn’s failure to sing). But equally damaging is Labour’s poor reputation in local politics with a scandal surrounding a former mayor: though still the biggest single party, Labour lost control to an alliance of Tories and independents.
But if anyone mutters “What’s Labour ever done for us?”, the candidate replies, sharpish: 14 new schools, 13 children’s centres, tax credits and a state of the art new hospital. If past Labour glories seem long ago, what does cut through is fear for the NHS, long queues, the planned loss of a district A&E, and shrinking social care and police.
Labour may well hold rock-solid to its vote – and yet could still lose the seat if Tory voters swing behind Ukip. That’s a good reason why Labour should never be tempted to veer towards Ukip policies, risking a loss of loyal voters without gaining any would-be Ukippers.
No one sensible would call this unpredictable byelection. But the result will matter most for the people of Stoke: for their identity, their reputation, how they want to be seen in the world. Who do they want to be?
If Stoke became the Ukip seat that set off a far-right tremor, that would blight its image and prospects, branding it a lost zone of the despairing and angry. Already the city is overshadowed by nearby Manchester and Birmingham: a Ukip vote would sharpen the contrast with those cities’ self-confident civic pride.
Too often a symbol for the left-behind, the go-to place for food bank tales of hopelessness, Stoke should and could have a better future. Transport links are excellent, north and south, and it’s a good logistics base with large call centres. Rows of pleasing redbrick homes are cheap and potentially alluring for escapees from the unaffordable south. Unemployment has fallen steeply – though wages are abysmally low, in temp and insecure jobs. When I first visited, the Citizens Advice office was sorting utility bill debts for unemployed people; now it’s the same debts for people who are mostly in work, but not much better off.
There are plenty of sparks of hope: what’s left of the city’s potteries are thriving and taking on workers, ceramics still Stoke’s core identity, or “slip in our blood” as they say here. How perverse that Brexit risks such harm: the Stoke-based British Ceramic Confederation pleads for tariff-free access to the single market. Brexit reality may dawn on Stoke before long.
Peter Coates is known as Mr Stoke: the owner of Stoke City FC, chairman of the huge online betting company Bet365 (which is Stoke’s biggest employer), Labour through and through, and a champion of the city’s regeneration. Can he help to fight off Ukip’s threat to Stoke’s reputation?
Stoke still has a local daily paper and a strong community tradition. Its YMCA, where the bishop was cooking lunch the day I visited, is a great modern young people’s village with thriving projects used by 2,800 people a week. Its dynamo chief executive, Danny Flynn, takes no prisoners on Stoke’s reputation: “I won’t have it that we’re thickies in Stoke!” He sees green shoots, the city’s fortunes ready to turn. But a notorious Ukip win would impose an aura of terminal defeat.
Labour’s Brexit mixed messages are reflected here. Its young candidate, Gareth Snell – the former leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme council – is local and likable, but a remainer with an embarrassing backlist of anti-Corbyn tweets. Ukip leaflets gloat: “Labour will keep you in.”
In Westminster I hear some Labour MPs secretly hoping a Stoke loss would ignite a “Corbyn must go” move. What folly, since a Ukip win could set off a Scotland-sized landslide, from which Labour may never recover under any leader. Nor is a coalition – with Liberal Democrats and Greens stepping back – any use here. An alliance with more remainers risks harming Labour, and the others.
Stoke has unexpectedly become a make-or-break anvil of British politics. But above all, voters here will be choosing their own identity – sending a signal, optimistic or despairing, about how they see the future.