Tomorrow morning there will be a series of public protests at a number of railway stations around the country to protest the 2016 rail fair rises (which are officially announced tomorrow) and to provide support for the public ownership of the railways.

Protests are taking place within the Manchester and Greater Manchester area at the following locations:

Barrow in Furness, 6am – 10am

Manchester Piccadilly, 7:30am onwards

Preston, 7:30am onwards

You can see the full list and find out more at the Action For Rail website

Perhaps it’s been the impact of films such as Pride and Still The Enemy Within, but this year, Gay Pride will feature a fringe event following the main parade. The fringe event is Political Pride, and it features involvement from MMU and the People’s History Museum, amongst others.

Why do we need Political Pride? Because, as the website puts it, “Pride means more than a party in the village”

So, if you’re looking to capture that campaigning, agit prop spirit, or experience some (hopefully) meaningful and intelligent discussions, as oppose to just getting wankered and sun burnt (Ok, maybe not sunburnt, it is Manchester after all…) in hot pants, this could be the event for you.

I was on annual leave last week so I decided to do something I’ve wanted to do for years: visit the air raid shelter tunnels in Stockport. 

I was not at all disappointed, though I must declare that I do have an interest in all things subterranean, which definitely had a factor in it. The tunnels are naturally atmospheric but you are issued with a hand held device to take around with you, containing audio description and sound clips to enhance the experience and provide context. The audio description and the sound clips are really good quality, so it’s definitely worth making use the device as you travel around the tunnels.

I was very interested in the structure of the tunnels, and in how they’d been made. They were dug out of the sandstone over a period of about a year between 1938 and 1939. Sandstone is quite soft but not brittle. There is a lot of dust, and some damp, but the structures, aside from a bit of shoring up, seem to be pretty much as they were when they were last used as shelters.

The tunnels were equipped with a canteen, toilets (some flushable), benches, bunk beds, tools, Red Cross nurses station, ARP warden stations, and the workers from the Plaza would put on entertainments for those sheltering there.

The tunnels are all numbered, but it’s easy to see how you could become lost, even with signage, one tunnel looking much the same as another. Apparently people would sit with the name of their street on a bit of cardboard so that their neighbours could find them and they could all sit together. The tunnels became known as the Chestergate Hotel as more amenities and entertainments were added. You can see now how primitive the bunk beds were, how everything was functional rather than necessarily comfortable, practical and purposeful.

I’m so pleased that it’s been preserved as a museum because it is truly unique, and it tells a really interesting story.

The museum provide guided tours by night where you can see more, but you have to book pretty far in advance.

Stockport Air Raid Shelters are open Tuesday – Friday 1pm – 5pm and Saturday 10am – 5pm

Upon scurrying down Oxford Road this dinnertime in the direction of Blackwells, who were holding a copy of Tracey Thorn’s excellent memoir Bedsit Disco Queen for me, I chanced upon a small but eye catching protest taking place outside University Place.

Readers of the MEN will be aware that, post election, Manchester University is once again Occupied. The occupation is taking place in the Harold Hankins building at the Business School this time, a banner has been hung from the windows there to acknowledge this.

A similarly eloquent banner was being held up by the group of students outside University Place. It read:

9K Tuition Fees 4 years on: Still Shit.

Short, and to the point.

The MEN has reported that the students had occupied the Visitors Centre at University Place late this afternoon.

OK, I hold my hands up on this one, I didn’t manage to read both the Green Party and Labour Party manifestos before Thursday. I had unexpected overtime at work on Tuesday because we were short staffed, which cut my reading time significantly.

Next time, I’ll start reading earlier. As it is, I have had a look at the Labour manifesto since Friday and I probably still would have voted Green even if I had read it in time, so my conscience is clear on that one. As expected, Labour kept my seat (with an increased majority) and the council seat as well, so my voting Green made not a jot of difference. It just made me feel better. I have, since then, also signed a petition on Change.org that is campaigning to change the UK voting system. Which, again, may well not make any difference but makes me feel better.

I’d like proportional representation, the voting age to be lowered to sixteen, and I’d also like voting to be compulsory as it is in Belgium. Albeit with the caveat that there should be an option on the ballot paper for ‘None of the above’.

Similarly, I would support the idea discussed in the Economist in February for rearranged seating in Westminster to represent a political climate no longer dominated by two, or even three, parties. The house of commons is falling down, is full of rats (insert joke of choice here) and is going to have to be refurbished sooner rather than later. Why not do away with seats for the government and seats for the opposition and have a horseshoe arrangement as in the Scottish parliament? That would help discourage the current public school debating society culture of Prime Ministers Question Time and encourage cross party working which, in the current parliament, may well be an unavoidable option. Even if it’s not, anything that encourages MP’s to behave better and less like dicks is a good thing I reckon.

In terms of how Friday unfolded for me, I see now that it was a deeply upsetting day for all sorts of reasons (many of them not election related) and the regular updates received via work colleagues and the internet wove in and out of the events at work (which I’m not going to write about here) as a sort of melancholy ribbon amongst the general stress, exasperation and despair of the day at large.

Let’s start with breakfast: Normally I read either the Economist or Private Eye over breakfast, but as it was the day after the election I put the Today programme on instead to hear the worst. Not all the results were in at the time (this was just after 7am) and the Tories hadn’t got a majority at that point, but were certain to form the next government. As it was, I turned off just after Caroline Lucas had won Brighton Pavillion with an increased majority and Paddy Ashdown had been on predicting that the 2015-2020 Tory government would tear itself apart over Europe just as John Major’s administration of 1992-1997 had done. Which meant I left for work feeling, not exactly cheerful, but rather less depressed that I expected to.

I get in to work early on account of how the bus timetables work out, so I had time to look up the Stockport results on the council website before starting work and felt somewhat despairing to say the least: Both the Lib Dem seats went to the Tories, and the council results were still being counted at that point and weren’t declared until after dinner. When they were declared, an interesting picture of local vs national political allegiances revealed itself. Stockport was a Lib Dem council between 1997 and 2011, and the party should have overall control thanks to allegiances with Labour and the Independent Ratepayers. Pre 1997 it was a hung council for years, so maybe that partially explains it. Consequently, the Lib Dems didn’t do as badly in the council elections as they did in the general election, suggesting a mindset akin to ‘Trust them locally, don’t trust them nationally’. Not sure if the Lib Dems will think about this as they lick their wounds, but they should.

Throughout the morning, updates were passed back and forth as colleagues passed the desk I work on or I ventured into the communal admin area. A colleague arriving for work around 10 ish relayed Farage’s failure to win a seat, Milibands resignation was passed on by a colleague passing the desk, Clegg and Farage’s resignations came via the admin area again. All in all, we were talking about politics like mad on Friday at work, in amongst other more pressing dramas (of which there were many) and it was the same on the bus on the way home after more (pre-planned) overtime.

All in all, I cannot recall an election where the results and ramifications have been, verbally not virtually, so discussed, so dissected and disseminated by everyone I’ve encountered throughout the day, and it’s not slowing down. There is a lot of anger and despair out there, and people want to talk about it. The people who don’t seem to be talking are the people who voted Tory.

UK Parliament flickr banner image, October 2014. Used under a flickr creative commons licence. No changes to image were made. https://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/15307418818/

UK Parliament flickr banner image, October 2014. Used under a flickr creative commons licence. No changes to image were made. https://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/15307418818/

Now that the General Election campaign has reached the stage of proceedings where each party, beginning to panic, has thrown in the towel so far as any kind of pretext of debate is concerned and are instead behaving like squabbling toddlers, it seemed particularly apt to explain why I’ve generally given up listening to any kind of election coverage and am taking a new approach to election education.

The mode of speech and language of campaign can be particularly off putting, with Radio 4’s Dead Ringers recently likening David Cameron’s mode of speech to that of a parent talking to an eight year old child who is refusing to put on their pyjamas. The station has also provided us with a very helpful (and all too accurate) guide to election speak.

On a personal level, the much used phrase ‘Hard working families’ has confused me. I suspect that it really means ‘Nuclear families [2 parents, married, with two children] where the father works and the mother either works or is a housewife’, and if so, it’s a bit narrow to say the least. I am single, have no children, live alone, work full time. I think this therefore places me in the ‘Woman who is not really a woman’ category so far as most political parties are concerned. This doesn’t mean I don’t have a family, it just means I’m a single person household. So far, so alienating…

Another quandary, and one which is a particular feature of a UK General Election campaign, is that while the UK political culture, and media culture is steering us more and more towards the US system of personality politics, as a work colleague remarked on Saturday, we are not being asked to vote for a leader of a political party on our ballot papers, unless we happen to live in their constituencies. We are being asked to vote for local representatives of a range of political parties.

So far, I’ve received a lot of literature from the Labour party, plus one piece of literature from the Liberal Democrats and one from UKIP. The Liberal Democrat representative is currently a councillor on the local council, and rather shot himself in the foot by telling me, via his flyer, what a great job he’s been doing on the council. My thought, after finishing reading, was therefore ‘I’m not going to vote for you as an MP because, by the sound of it, I’d be better keeping you as a councillor because it sounds like it would be a shame to lose you’. UKIP, meanwhile, spent the first paragraph of their flyer listing all the various districts of Manchester they had lived in. Which seemed an odd thing to do given they are standing for a ward in Stockport. I didn’t read any further. Labour were writing from a point of view of already holding the seat, and the local council seats, so their output has been more prolific and more locally focused.

Which brings me to my own peculiar dilemma.

In 2010 I moved house 1 week before the General Election and, not thinking to register as a postal voter, ended up getting up very early in the morning on election day to travel 1 hour by bus to vote in my old ward before work, it having been too late to change wards. My old ward was a (fairly) safe Liberal Democrat seat, which has traditionally always been a two horse race between the Lib Dems and the Tory’s. The Lib Dems kept the seat.

My current ward is a safe Labour seat, and as a disillusioned Lib Dem voter I am currently deciding whether to vote Labour or vote Green. I don’t have, or watch, TV, so I’ve been getting my election information from radio, print and internet media. And I’m not finding it very helpful or very informative. My dad watched part of the first TV debate but got frustrated and turned off about halfway through, so it doesn’t sound like I’ve been missing out by not having/watching TV.

Because my ward is a safe Labour seat, and I’m not massively averse to them keeping it, and because we have the first past the post system, it really doesn’t matter a toss which way I vote because Labour will win anyway. But I vowed never to vote Lib Dem again after the 2010 election, and then caved in with the European Election last year and voted for them in the hope that they’d stop UKIP winning the North West. They didn’t, and I was really angry with myself for voting tactically rather than on principals and beliefs. Therefore, I’m determined to vote on principals and beliefs this time.

It occurred to me on Saturday night, following the conversation with my work colleague, that the best way to decide once and for all ahead of Thursday who to vote for would be to download both parties manifestos online and read them both ahead of Thursday. No silly stunts, no sniping, slightly less soundbites. Only then can I exorcise the playback of Natalie Bennett having a meltdown on a phone in, Ed Miliband being mobbed by a hen party, and put aside the fact that the Green party haven’t flyered me or knocked on the door (no one knocks on our door: it’s flats, no one does flats) and the fact that my local Labour MP has clearly been busy locally, but still tends to be dismissive 9 times out of 10 when I write to her about issues affecting me.

I am currently 9 chapters into the Green Party manifesto, and it’s an encouraging read so far. It seems to be a manifesto founded on an ethos of hope, which is strong contrast to mainstream politics, much of which these days (particularly the Tory’s and UKIP) seems to be founded on an ethos of spite. I’m planning to finish reading it today and get onto reading the Labour one tomorrow, so I can’t compare at this stage, but that said, I can tell from the layout and aesthetic feel of the two manifestos that the Green manifesto was designed to be read in its entireity and the Labour manifesto probably wasn’t. I’m basing this assertion on the fact that the manifesto page of their website gives you the option (prominently displayed) to select those issues that matter to you and create your own manifesto by doing so, whereas the link to the full manifesto is much less prominently displayed. The full manifesto also looks less good.

I’m trying not to be influenced by this, but I do wonder about the thinking behind it. Is it that the Labour party realise most people are too busy to read a full manifesto? or is it that their campaign is built around trying to attract voters on specific issues rather than on the full package? Tricky…

I’ve been completely hooked this past week by the radio 4 drama A Steal by Mike Bartlett, which at first glance has the veneer of simplicity, storywise, but the more you hear, the more you listen and think about it, the more complex it becomes in terms of characters, in terms of plot, in terms of ethics.

Hannah is a highly intelligent shop assistant working in a high end clothes store in Liverpool One. She shares a flat with a nurse, they go out, they drink and have fun, but a customer has made a complaint about her at work and colleagues have complained to management that she is loud and gets in people’s faces, and lately… Hannah is thinking a lot more about life than she used to, about unfairness and inequality, about the haves and the have nots.

Back in the sixties and seventies, plays used to be written around characters like Hannah, but increasingly this doesn’t seem to be the case. There are no Shelagh Delaney’s, no Jack Rosenthal’s, and if Hannah is a relative of any character in theatre or film it’s probably Shirley Valentine. There’s that same sense of no regrets, as well as the Liverpool connection. Laura Dos Santos is electric as Hannah, and she’s well supported by an excellent cast.

The series raises all sorts of questions about corporate ethics, personal responsibility, poverty, gentrification, inequality, civil disobedience, changes to legal aid, class war, disengagement from politics and media manipulation. And it has a realistic ending, rather than a utopian ending. Which is a really hard decision, drama wise, to take, but for the drama to be credible and thought provoking it had to end the way it did.


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