Cameron getting his Zzzzzs. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Tories got no soles

Plus: the PM’s early bedtime.

Jeremy Paxman, the retired rottie, has time on his hands after bidding goodnight to Newsnight, yet it was still a surprise to bump into him at the Durham Miners’ Gala. Paxo’s the type of chap who’d be more at home at a Countryside Alliance fete and his expression was bemused as the procession of brass bands and pit banners went past his hotel. At the city’s old racecourse, fiery speeches from union leaders and Dennis Skinner left the masses wanting to march on London to overthrow the political establishment. Intriguingly, I’d earwigged a discussion between Conservative MPs a few days earlier about whom they want to succeed Boris Johnson as Mayor of London in 2016. Top of the list is a broadcaster who describes himself as a “One Nation” Tory. Paxo laughed when I informed him, a response that a veteran interrogator for a certain late-evening BBC2 current affairs programme would recognise wasn’t a complete denial. I can see the Newsnight report now: Paxo at the front of a tandem, cycling to City Hall as Johnson sits behind.

We knew the chillaxing Cameron’s no Stakhanovite, but I hear from a very reliable Downing Street snout that in the summer the Prime Minister goes to bed when it’s still light. He likes to be tucked up by 9pm on Tuesdays before Prime Minister’s Questions. One unkind Tory wondered aloud why Cameron felt the need to turn in so early. “After all,” he mused, “he’s only facing Ed Miliband.”

There’s no love lost between the two wings of the ConDem coalition. Cons eagerly anticipate the demise of Lib Dems. Holier-than-thou Simon Hughes’s difficulties in Bermondsey, where Labour is putting up its stiffest challenge since he won the seat 31 years ago, are bolstering Tory spirits. Hearing the justice minister could be ousted, Alec Shelbrooke, a blunt Yorkshire Tory, was overheard offering to make a donation to the anti-Hughes cause.

Ahead of the reshuffle, a southern Tory muttered that I should watch clips of ambitious Esther “Posh Scouse” McVey when she was a humble reporter for GMTV. “She didn’t have a bloody accent then,” grumbled her resentful male colleague. Buller Boy Cameron may believe most people oop north keep coal in the bath but I suspect the Old Etonian is aware that Posh Scouse was privately educated at a minor public school. These things matter more inside a snooty Tory hierarchy than out.

Nadine Dorries boasts she didn’t always wear red-soled Louboutins. The celebrity MP told the Ampthill Literary Festival in Bedfordshire that when she was a child, her family was so poor, she often couldn’t go to school because she’d no shoes. I always knew the Tory party had no sole.

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 16 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Our Island Story

Getty
Show Hide image

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