Opportunity Knocks ““ Full Council 9 December 2010

A lot of things were discussed at full Council last Thursday and I could blog about many of them, but I thought I’d blog today on something that was just a bit different.

Petitions are often submitted to full Council, and the petitioner can request they are looked at by a relevant commitee ““ usually the petitions are to do with straight forward issues ““ parking problems, potential loss of services, or potentially controversial new services in particular areas ““ however we had one yesterday that was a suggestion, and specifically a suggestion to erect statues of two internationally-renowned heavy rock musicians somewhere in the City.

A suggestion has wafted around that this was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek petition, not really serious and a bit of a joke. Well, maybe it is, but I actually think it’s quite a good idea. The musicians in question ““ Slash, former lead guitarist with Guns’n’Roses and latterly of Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver, and Lemmy from Motorhead ““ both spent their early years in the City, and have large respective followings. Yes, another “Ëœfamous son’ of the Potteries, Robbie Williams, was not mentioned, and I have heard it said that this exclusion means it wasn’t a “Ëœserious suggestion’, but I don’t think we should discount it just because someone didn’t come with a fully costed, planned out idea ““ big oaks from little acorns grow!

We have a great many names who could feature in a Walk of Fame or a Park of Celebration, with names such as Gertie Gitana, Havergal Brian, Nick Hancock, Arnold Bennett alongside Lemmy and Slash, all celebrating the many creative individuals from Stoke-on-Trent who have gone on to feature in the popular culture of their time. It doesn’t have to be with formal statues, and would be an ideal use for one of the many smaller parks in the City.

No doubt some naysayer somewhere will doubt the pull of such a park ““ but in my defence, I hold up the famous Paris cemetery of Pere Lachaise, which is a tourist destination in its own right. Who would ever think a graveyard would attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, who wander between the graves of Jim Morrison, Noel Coward and George Bizet, amongst many many others? The cemetery was originally considered too far from the centre of Paris to be viable, but careful marketing began to attract people to the handful of “Ëœcelebrity’ graves; it now has over 330,000 “Ëœresidents’. Perhaps a bit morbid, but I think it illustates the influence of popular culture.

Of course, as a City we are not great at celebrating our own. Perhaps this should be a twin project, with a Park of Pottery also? So little celebrates the many great potters that gave us our name, and with the exception of the Potteries Museum, nowhere can you see the greats all together. Maybe we should just have a Park of the Potteries, celebrating all who have passed this way and gone on to make a great mark on the world? We could then include Reginald Mitchell, Oliver Lodge and others? A few statues of famous Potteries folk already exist around the City ““ Josiah Wedgwood outside Stoke Station, Sir Stanley Matthews in the City Centre and also outside the Britannia Stadium ““ and there is no reason why these can’t remain in their landmark positions, but a site that brought them altogether would really be something special and also probably a UK-first.

But then, perhaps our lack of properly celebrating the people who have made Stoke-on-Trent the place it is, is the problem? We are so unassuming that we think “Ëœour’ heroes don’t really figure on the national stage ““ and our history is “Ëœnothing special’, despite people like Matthew Rice of Emma Bridgewater highlighting that despite the industries that made places like Hull and Northampton, nowhere else is known by its main trade as we are ““ the Potteries.

We need to learn to love our City again ““ don’t get me wrong, I’m not pretending everything in the garden is rosy, but we have a lot of great things going for us and we need to see them as the opportunity they are, as other cities have done (look at Liverpool and the Albert Docks for a similar rags to riches story). We are blessed with fantastic parks all across the City, and now a suggestion that we celebrate two sons of Stoke who have made it (albeit that Slash and Lemmy may have only spent less than 20 years between them here, in their formative year). Let’s put the two together, take the opportunity, who knows where it might lead?

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt Gives Maiden Commons Speech.

Stoke-on-Trent Central Member of Parliament Tristram Hunt gave his maiden Commons speech yesterday [Monday].

Tristram succeeded veteran MP Mark Fisher in the Labour Party stronghold of Stoke Central following a controversial selection procedure prior to the 2010 General Election.

However, he has put all that behind him and is tipped as one of the Labour Party’s rising stars.

His speech, in full, was as follows:

Great privilege to be called in this debate to make my Maiden Speech. I would like to congratulate other honourable members who have made such a fine array of speeches this afternoon ““ on a subject of great importance to our constituents who have sent us here to hold this government to account.

Let me begin by paying tribute to my esteemed predecessor, Mark Fisher, who sat in this House for 27 years and conscientiously, effectively and passionately represented the interests of Stoke-on-Trent Central. Mark’s connection to the Potteries began, improbably enough, when he was writing film scripts in the Staffordshire Moorlands ““ an ambitious venture in Los Angeles at the best of times, but even more so in North Staffordshire. He became a Labour councillor, stood for the Moorlands, and then was selected to succeed Bob Cant in Stoke-on-Trent Central. All the while as an Old Etonian son of a Tory MP ““ they are, as I have discovered, enormously forgiving in the Potteries.

Mark’s maiden speech to this House ““ in 1983, in the midst of the Thatcher recession ““ was a heartfelt lament at the state of the National Health Service in North Staffordshire thanks to sustained underfunding. He spoke of “Ëœold buildings, out-dated operating theatres, waiting lists for general and orthopaedic surgery of more than 12 months.’ Now, after 13 years of good Labour government, that decline has been reversed and Stoke-on-Trent has a brand new £370 million university hospital springing up around the old City General. The first new hospital for 130 years. In addition, we have new GP surgeries, walk-in centres and marked improvements in public health. This year alone, teenage pregnancies are down by some 20% – that is what an active, interventionist, compassionate state can help to achieve.

But Mark was also highly active in this place ““ working closely with Tony Wright on his reforms to the workings of Parliament (which we back-benchers hope to enjoy the fruits of), the All Party Parliamentary History Group ““ which I once had the honour to address and was deeply impressed by the Rt. Hon. Member for Hitchin & Harpenden’s knowledge of dialectical materialism and the life of Friedrich Engels. And Mark also made a significant contribution to the management of the art collection within the Palace. He was, indeed, an arts minister in 1997 and formed part of that heroic DCMS team which delivered a great Labour pledge of free entry to museums for the British people. As his successor, I will be watching closely the incoming government’s commitment to honour that pledge.

It is now my great privilege and profound honour to take up his seat in Parliament. In his excellent maiden speech, my Hon. Friend the Member for Derby North made an ambitious play for his city as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. And while I am a deep admirer of the Derby Silk Mill, the Derby Arboretum and the Derwent Valley, we all know that historic, earth-shattering event ““ the stir of industrialisation ““ began with the great Josiah Wedgwood’s factory in Etruria, near Shelton in my constituency. The pot-works started in 1769 and since then Stoke-on-Trent has become the premier global brand-name for ceramics.

In a recent programme of his excellent series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, British Museum director Neil McGregor described how, “ËœHuman history is told and written in pots more than anything else.’ He went onto quote Robert Browning, “ËœTimes wheel runs back or stops, potter and clay endure.’ At the heart of the English Enlightenment and global civilization, Stoke-on-Trent made its place in history.

But from the 6 towns has emerged more than pottery ““ from the works of Arnold Bennett to the rise of primitive Methodism, from the football of Stanley Matthews to the lyricism of Robbie Williams to the social justice politics of Jack Ashley.

But it has also faced profound challenges: to be frank, globalisation has knocked the North Staffs economy sideways. Cheap labour in east Asia sparked a freefall in ceramics employment; the steel industry could not compete with China and India; and, sadly, Michael Heseltine did for the last of our coal mines. A “ËœPits and Pots’ economy faced the full force of liberalisation with tough local consequences for employment, public health and civic pride.

This brutal process of economic dislocation ““ when “Ëœall that is solid melts into air’ ““ has by no means ended, but there are signs of hope. A vibrant University Quarter is springing up around Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent College and the brand new 6th Form centre. “ËœOn-shoring’ is seeing the return of ceramics jobs to Stoke-on-Trent, while a new generation of designer-makers ““ led by the likes of Emma Bridgewater ““ are creating high-value, locally rooted companies. Businesses like Port Meirion ““ which produce the iconic Spode designs ““ is successfully growing from its Stoke base, exporting to Europe, America and South Korea.

But we have much to do in rebuilding our engineering supply chain; raising skills levels across the constituency; and making sure the natural and human capital of Stoke-on-Trent is fully realised. So, we will watch with interest as this government seeks to rebalance the economy and invest in our manufacturing base ““ but, I have to say, the best way to achieve that is not to begin by cutting the budgets of regional development agencies. Nor is it by putting at risk the Building Schools for the Future programme which was set to put right years of underfunding …

My seat, Mr Speaker, is an old if not ancient one. It has a proud pedigree. Born of the 1832 Reform Act ““ of which the Deputy Prime Minister is now such an expert ““ it was first represented in this place by Josiah Wedgwood, the son of the potter. Before then, the people of the Potteries had to make do with backswood MPs from Staffordshire. Wedgwood was a liberal ““ in the proper sense of the word. Like his father, he was committed to the abolitionist cause and was a stalwart of the anti-slavery movement. And it was a great pleasure to have seen that spirit reawaken this year as my electors sent the racist, reactionary and frequently criminal British National Party packing. In doing so, Stoke declared itself once more open for business ““ for new ideas, people, products and cultures.

But Stoke-on-Trent also knows that change has to be matched with continuity and my constituents share a deep apprehension over the government’s ill-thought out plans for constitutional reform. They want to know that when a government fails to win a vote of confidence, Parliament can be dissolved by 50% plus one vote ““ rather than the absurdity of a 55% self-protecting ordinance, designed simply and solely to shore up this misbegotten government. As the honourable member for Christchurch put it so eloquently in his Adjournment Debate, what this proposal does is take away from this House is “Ëœour historic right to vote a Government out of office with a majority of one.’ It was never in a manifesto, it goes against the spirit of giving Parliament more power, and is a retrospective constitutional innovation.

Then we come to the five year Parliament: again a retrospective, constitutional fix to get this government through some muddy waters ““ when, as my Hon. Friend for Rhonda has suggested, the average length of a Parliament since 1832 is 3.8 years and the Liberal Democrats campaigned for four year Parliaments. And all that is before we get onto flooding the House of Lords with new appointees, redrawing parliamentary boundaries to disenfranchise Labour voters, leaving 3.2 million voters off the register, and underfunding the individual registration scheme. But my honourable friends and I will come back to these issues in coming weeks.

In the meantime, I would simply thank the House for its great indulgence in listening to this my Maiden Speech on the Gracious Address. And I would extend an invitation to each and every Member to visit the Six Towns which my honourable friends for Stoke-on-Trent North, South and myself for Central are so deeply privileged to represent in this place.

Tristram Hunt has thrown himself into representing the electorate of Stoke-on-Trent Central with great gusto. Writing a diary entry for the Spector Magazine recently he said:

“One of the more surprising greetings I have had walking in the Palace of Westminster is the cry of “ËœZac! Zac!’ as a hefty, backwoods Tory MP lumbers after me in the forlorn hope I might be the new member for Richmond Park,” boasts Hunt. “As I turn on my heels ready to explain the small matter of a billion pounds between myself and Mr Goldsmith, there is a pained display of disappointment. But I explain to them that while Zac Goldsmith is MP for a flight path on the edge of Heathrow, I represent one of the great conurbations of England, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, home to Arnold Bennett, resting place of the Staffordshire Hoard …”

So, the Labour Party’s latest Stoke-on-Trent MP’s parliamentary career is well and truly under way and if the pundits have got it right, we will be hearing a great deal more of him in the near future.

Reality Killed The Video Star”¦. Robbie Williams.

After three years, Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous son blasts back into the public eye. With the dreadful “ËœRudebox’ album left where it needs to be, Tesco’s discount drop bin, Robbie seems to have remembered what makes a stunning record, which he has done many time over the last decade, and with Trevor Horn fiddling the sound knobs, went about doing it yet again.

There are weaknesses here, two or three times you again hear Pet Shop Boys dance pop slipping in on tracks like Last Days Of Disco and Difficult For Weirdos, but you can tell Robs got his famous mickey-taking head on with them. Most of the album is full of what was needed for a comeback, classic songs that, even after the first play, grab you, and by the second play are part of you.

The album kicks in with one of the standout tracks, “ËœMorning Sun’ which is firmly in the Sergeant Pepper class of great album openers, very much destined to be a classic. The first single, “ËœBodies’ follows and is fine, if a little to pop like for me. This is followed by the second single,’You Know Me’, and another stand out track. Forget the video which sees Rob sporting a daft set of rabbit ears and romping around the wood, this song is class, it sticks in your head, in a nice way, with a retro feel of the late 50s to it.

The next track, “ËœBlasphemy’ will not be to everyone’s taste, but I like it, it’s simple in the way it’s put together, but the words are its magic and it hit’s a heart cord, with me anyway. “ËœDo You Mind’ is the next track, a sort of middle of the road rock track, all good and jolly, then the aforementioned “ËœLast Days of Disco’ appears with a bit too much 80s cheap pop for me, but the wife can’t stop playing it. “ËœSomewhere’ a nice little ditty that breaks the 80s feel up, but what follows for me is THE standout track of the album. “ËœDeceptacon’ with its Bowie like words it holds a real treat to the ears, it’s a work of art. Yes, it’s strange but what the hell, I love it.

“ËœStarstruck’, another good track with a Bond feel to it, nice track. “ËœDifficult for Weirdos’ comes next, not that bad, but on an album, there’s always one track you don’t like much, and with its Pet Shop Boys feel reminding you of the nightmare that was “ËœRudebox’ this ones is mine for this record. ‘Superblind’ is yet another standout track, it’s a classic Robbie song to add to his many fine ballads, and will stay with people for years. “ËœWon’t Do That’ is next and is a little Beatles like, but in a good way. A retune of “ËœMorning Sun’ rounds things off nicely, and Rob’s done it, he’s pulled off a brilliant comeback.

Reality Killed The Video Star brings Williams back to where he was after the release of “ËœIntensive Care’, he makes good albums that will sell by the truck load, because that’s what they are, good albums full of good songs, something missing in the market today. Ask most people if they know the name of a Girls Aloud or a Westlife album, and they will say the greatest hits, their albums don’t stick in the mind and are soon left on the racks or in cars to gather dust. Stokie Rob’s different, he makes albums that are remembered and played for years, and this is one of them.

Has anyone got the album yet, do you think Rob’s cracked it, is it a class album, and what do you make of him joining the other four in Take That?