5 Live Energy Day: Dynamo Salford

Where pleas rang out for us to watch the show that day online instead of merely listening.

“We are in a piazza outside the BBC’s prestigious Salford facilities and this afternoon my programme is being powered entirely by bikes!” To be honest, Richard Bacon didn’t sound like he was giving his whole mind to the BBC Energy Day (5 September), even if out of his mouth rolled eager phrases: “It’s happening and it’s REAL,” and “There will be points in the show when we’ll fall off air!”

Over the next couple of hours, Bacon rather longingly played the dead-air onetone bleep that might suddenly come upon us if the bike-power should fail, so that we were fully prepared and knew not to panic. But both test runs were the only time we heard it; the Salford cyclists doggedly succeeded in powering the show.

“OK, so it’s not the most exciting concept in the world,” Richard conceded, going to look more closely at the volunteers. “See how knackered they look. Hard to get a sense across on the radio . . . today might actually be a brilliant time to watch.”

It was the first of many pleas for us to watch the show that day online instead of merely listening: Bacon is TV-savvy and manifestly aware that, despite the cyclists’ dedication, all this wasn’t coming over exactly like a chariot race and that there were limits to how many times a person could hear “it’s chafing a lot” and (more curiously) “Alex from CBeebies isn’t even trying” before things became rather too detached and drowsy, and you started feeling towards the radio a little puzzled distrust, as though it were an old friend who’d refused you a simple favour.

So you logged on and sneaked a peek, just for a moment, taking in a quick green-andgrey webcam flicker, before returning to listening, soothed and vague once more, if a bit bloody irritated that you got talked into letting the side down.

BBC facilities at Media City, Salford. Image: Getty

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

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Commons Confidential: Smith, selfies and pushy sons

All the best gossip from party conference, including why Dennis Skinner is now the MP for Selfie Central.

Owen Smith discovered the hard way at the Labour party conference in Liverpool that one moment you’re a contender and the next you’re a nobody. The party booked a luxurious suite at the plush Pullman Hotel for Candidate Smith before the leadership result. He was required to return the key card the day after Jeremy Corbyn’s second coming. On the upside, Smith no longer had to watch his defeat replayed endlessly on the apartment’s giant  flat-screen TV.

The Labour back-room boffin Patrick Heneghan, the party’s executive director of elections, had good cause to be startled when a TV crew pounced on him to demand an interview. The human submarine rarely surfaces in public and anonymity is his calling card. It turns out that the bespectacled Heneghan was mistaken for Owen Smith – a risky likeness when vengeful Corbynistas are on rampage. There’s no evidence of Smith being mistaken for Heneghan, though. Yet.

Members of Labour’s governing National Executive Committee are discovering new passions to pass the time during interminable meetings, as the Mods and the Corbs battle over each line of every decision. The shadow cabinet attack dog Jon “Sparkle” Ashworth, son of a casino croupier and a bunny girl, whiles away the hours by reading the poetry of Walt Whitman and W B Yeats on his iPad. Sparkle has learned that, to echo Whitman, to be with those he likes is enough.

I discovered Theresa May’s bit of rough – the grizzled Tory chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, a former Derbyshire coal miner – does his gardening in steel-toecapped wellies stamped “NCB” from his time down the pit thirty years ago. He’ll need his industrial footwear in Birmingham to kick around Tories revolting over grammar schools and Brexit.

Another ex-miner, Dennis Skinner, was the MP for Selfie Central in Liverpool, where a snap with the Beast of Bolsover was a popular memento. Alas, no cameras captured him in the Commons library demonstrating the contorted technique of speed-walkers. His father once inquired, “Why tha’ waddling tha’ bloody arse?” in Skinner’s younger days, when he’d top 7mph. Observers didn’t dare.

The Northern Poorhouse minister Andrew Percy moans that he’s been allocated a broom cupboard masquerading as an office in the old part of parliament. My snout claims that Precious Percy grumbled: “It’s so small, my human rights are violated.” Funny how the only “rights” many Tories shout about are their own.

The son of a very prominent Labour figure was caught trying to smuggle friends without passes into the secure conference zone in Liverpool. “Don’t you know who I am?” The cop didn’t, but he does now.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories