All hail the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: Lunching with a Latin lover

Plus: why has Red Ed turned a lighter shade of pink?

Rebellion is stirring in the Press Gallery after the introduction of Latin grace before formal lunches with politicians. The BBC Old Etonian James Landale, this year’s chair, replaced the usual mumble about being grateful for pan-fried Gressingham duck or whatever with incantations that few understand. And the TV performer summons reluctant hacks to their feet to listen to his Latin. The immediate target in the battle between traditionalists and modernisers isn’t grace, however. It’s the archaic loyal toast to Her Maj at the end of each meal. The head of the mods, Barney Jones, the editor of The Andrew Marr Show, has requested that the gallery committee cease instructing journalists to raise a glass to unelected power. A few of us stage sit-down protests. We all hope this thorny issue will be resolved without a second Leveson inquiry or state regulation.

Red Ed has turned a lighter shade of pink, passing up an opportunity to speak at the Durham Miners’ Gala in July. Miliband hinted that he’d return before the election two years ago, when he was the first Labour leader to address the “Big Meeting” since Neil Kinnock. Tory taunts about resurrecting Old Labour seem to have frightened him away. On the platform with a general council of trade unionists will be Dennis Skinner. The Beast of Bolsover, an ex-miner and gala favourite, shares none of Miliband’s doubts or fears.

I’m told that Con-Dem spats over knives and school places are merely the opening shots in a coalition civil war. Cabinet ministers on both sides, an informant whispered, have amassed documents to unleash a barrage of leaks against their governing partners. Who needs the Freedom of Information Act when you have parties fighting like ferrets in a sack?

There was sniggering at an invitation to sit in the presence of the chair of the public accounts committee. The billing of the soirée as “an audience with Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP” prompted her colleagues to wonder aloud if applause for bashing tax dodgers is going to her head. “I know she’s grand but this is ridiculous. I wonder if we have to bow?” muttered my snout. It’s been a long march from socialism at Islington Council to social acceptability as a national treasure.

To Ted Heath’s grand old home Arundells, in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral. In a selfless act of eternal aggrandisement, the Tory premier bequeathed the pile to the nation as a permanent shrine to himself. The House of Heath has reopened to the public. I learned a previous visitor had bridled as a guide recalled how Grocer Ted wouldn’t give the Daily Mail house room. Lady Rothermere, wife of the Mail owner Viscount Rothermere, was evidently very put out.

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 14 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why empires fall

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era