The dream team? Photo:Getty Images
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Deputy leader? It's a Stella for me

Prezza for Stella may sound like I’m after a lager, but I think Creasy could refresh parts of the party other candidates cannot reach.

Whilst all eyes are on the leadership race, there’s a contest that’s just as important, if not more so.

The Labour deputy ;eadership was always seen as the consolation prize for the person who failed to get the top job.

I felt this was wrong. I always believed strongly that the politics of organisation were equally as important as the politics of ideas.

A Labour leader has the direct responsibility for leading the party and convincing people that the policies are right for them and the country.

But that requires good organisation and an electoral machine. And to do that you need to motivate volunteers, increase your membership and raise funds.

That’s why I stood to be deputy leader, to be that motivator and campaigner to get Labour back to power. I stood and lost against Roy Hattersley in 1987 and Margaret Beckett in 1992.

But it was third time lucky in 1994 when Tony and I were elected Leader and Deputy. 

I stood for both posts whilst Blair only went for leader. As we waited backstage for the result I turned to him and said: “Tony, I’ve got a problem?” He looked at me nervously. “What’s that John?”he replied.

“Well I’ve only written an acceptance speech if I become deputy. If I get leader, can I borrow yours?”

From that moment on, I think we became a great team. In those three years before the election we doubled our membership and strengthened our organisation. Our ideas and organisation helped win an unprecedented three elections for Labour. Tony could concentrate on winning the election, safe in the knowledge that I had his back by building up our campaigning organisation.

That’s why the next deputy leader must be a born campaigner and organiser. You can’t do that job properly if you take a shadow ministerial brief as well. The task to rebuild our party is so immense that it needs someone focused like a laser on turning it around. We need a full-time Deputy Leader, not a Deputy Prime Minister in waiting.

And the one person who I think really gets this is Stella Creasy.

I was very impressed by her campaign against legal loan sharks and her commitment to community campaigning all year round.

I also really like her idea for the party to match funds raised by CLPs if they pledge to hit a certain target with more freedom as to what the money can be spent on.

We desperately need fresh campaigning ideas and innovative ways to raise money. Stella seems to be fizzing with ideas on turning Labour back into a sustainable campaigning party.

I think she’s got a lot to offer and I’m impressed she’s prepared to do the job full-time to get Labour ready for the electoral battles ahead.

But under our frankly bizarre leader and deputy leadership rules, the bar is too high to get on the ballot. We need as wide a field as possible. And Stella deserves to put her case to Labour members and supporters.

If I was still an MP, I would willingly nominate her myself.

But as I’m not, I really hope Labour MPs will nominate Stella so party members can have that real choice and debate on how we can become a campaigning movement again and start the journey back to Government. I also believe a Burnham-Creasy leadership could make a great team to appeal across the country. 

Prezza for Stella may sound like I’m after a lager, but I think Creasy could refresh parts of the party other candidates cannot reach.

And I’ll raise my pint to a deputy leader that can do that!

 

 

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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