Saturday, 24 October 2009

Dear Sir..... Hello?

I've looked twice now, and a couple of other people have looked and it's just not there....
- The letters page in South Manchester's celebrated and long-running weekly newspaper 'The South Manchester Reporter' is absent from this week's edition. Time will tell whether or not this is just a one-off, in fact I will contact them to find out. There was definately a letters page last week as the Green Party's Gayle O'Donovan had a letter published. If this is really the end of the readers letters page, it marks the end of an era, as well as another step in the general decline of local print media. For years the letters page has been a highlight of the paper, a vibrant reflection of the area's dynamic and sometimes contentious political intrigues. Indeed the Reporter and I go back a long way, and I have letters on that page on a number of occasions over the past 20 years.

Even in the SMR's parent paper, the Manchester Evening News, adverts are encroaching onto the letters page, and it is often tucked away near the back of the paper and hard to find.

Of course there is now an online alternative. Every newspaper and broadcast organ has its website, and its corresponding 'Have your say' slot. However, even in this day and age not everyone has or wants an Internet connection, and if reader's letters disappear from the print medium, those people will lose their voice. Also, and at the risk of sounding snobbish, the composing of a letter usually involved a degree of thought; the quality of 'Have your Say' type comments leaves much to be desired.

Print media in general is struggling, with weak advertising revenue in the wake of the recession, and the increased use of the Internet. It may surprise some people to see a Green defending the continued use of the 'dead-tree' format of news publication. It may also surprise people to know the environmental impact of the Internet - indeed the carbon impact of Internet servers is comparable with aviation, and is growing even faster - see here). Apart from that, traditional local newspapers have had important roles in keeping the community informed and keeping local politicians and councils on their toes.

However the ability of papers in the Manchester area to fulfil that role has declined. The Guardian Media Group enjoys almost total control over the print media in the conurbation. Increasingly in thrall to business interests, it cut 70 editorial jobs and centralised its news operations earlier this year, weakening the reporting in the surrounding boroughs and suburbs. For earlier Manchester Green Party comment see here
The recent departure of MEN editor Paul Horrocks to set up a media consultancy may also be a sign of the times.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Meetings of all Colours

The last seven days have been busy, with meetings that could be said to have come in a range of colours.

On the Blue front, I attended a couple of the Conservative Party fringes at the Climate Clinic; as expected, contributions from the ‘natural party of government’ were thin on the ground, with most of the contributions from the floor at the first meeting I attended - on financing the Green New Deal - coming from the local climate change cognoscenti. The Tories fielded Greg Clark, who made some of the right noises before departing earlier; however I lack confidence in him having much influence over his shadow cabinet companions. Confusingly the Tories other climate change spokesman is called Greg Barker, and for a while I suspected that they were the same person on the meetings programme; maybe climate Tories just have to be called Greg (or Zac).
The other fringe was on ‘Can Climate Change invigorate Democracy?’ - There were about 20 people there tops – it may be good for democracy elsewhere, but not here.

Anyway the ‘Blue Meanies’ have departed, so we’re on Red and Green now (with a dash of Lib Dem orange). I observed a meeting of our City Council on Wednesday, given the Council make-up this counts as (very pale) red, plus orange dash. I would recommend every Manchester citizen to see their Councillors in action from time to time. There were the inevitable yah-boo exchanges between the 2 main groups, but of most interest to me were the motions on climate change and the impending EDL soccer hooligan / racist demo.

Proposing that the Council adopt the ’10:10’ reduction, the Executive member for the Environment Richard Cowell promised that the Council’s Climate Action Plan will be ‘Radical and Progressive’. The Lib Dems gave their support to the proposal (and reminded the ruling group of the existence of the Airport, although without going into much detail). It was passed without demur; now let’s see if anything comes of it in practice…

Thursday was our monthly Manchester Green Party meeting, and this week included guest speakers on the shenanigans at Manchester College – and Brimar arms campaign.

After attending a display of the consultation for Chorlton Precinct on Friday, I was present at the start of the battle of Piccadilly (red in tooth and claw), between the EDL and Anti-racists. As the anti-racists seemed in the overwhelming majority, I rounded off the week in a familiar green hue at a meeting to develop a response to the Council’s Climate Change action plan (mentioned above), as a follow up to the ‘Call to Real Action’.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Manchester gets the blues

After playing host to the Labour Party twice in the past 3 years, it seems a bit strange to get another shade of ‘mainstream’ politicians flooding the city. We can expect the usual transport chaos due to closed roads, and lost souls with suits and identity badges wandering the streets (and that’s just the journalists). It will be interesting to compare the feeling engendered by a Tory conference as opposed to a Labour one.

Following last year’s 'Convention of the Left’ it’s unlikely that a corresponding ‘Convention of the Right’ will emerge (or if it does I can guarantee that Manchester Green Party will be giving it a very wide berth indeed). There will however be a Stop the War march (Assembling at the war memorial at 1 pm); whether or not it will have the same oomph as a march against Blair and Brown remains to be seen.

From a difference to a similarity – the Climate Clinic will be in full swing at The Cube just as it was during the Labour conference (see their site for a programme of events). And just as with Labour we can expect that the main attendance at those meetings will be the environmentally-aware of Manchester; with Tory delegates in short supply other than the token shadow ministers. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong but I doubt it. As the polls are predicting a Conservative victory at the next General Election, let’s hope that some education goes on (of them not us).

Climate Change is of course only one of many subjects for fringe meetings around the conference. One meeting which has attracted a degree of advance publicity is one entitled “Have the Parties Got What it Takes to Clean Up Politics?” with former independent MP Martin Bell. Answers on a postcard….

One question which is bound to resound in the local media is ‘Will the Tories win seat(s) in Manchester again?’; given the Tories recent record in the City (I’m talking Manchester here, excluding Trafford, Salford etc), I’m amazed how much coverage this gets. It is 15 years since the Tories won a council seat at an election in the city, and as for winning a Parliamentary seat here, I reckon there is more chance of finding Elvis Presley alive on the moon.

In the most recent election in this City – this June’s European elections – the Conservatives were only the fourth Party, behind Labour, the Lib Dems and, of course, the Green Party (results here. And when the politically-neutral Manchester Climate Forum invited a Tory speaker to a recent public meeting, they couldn’t even manage to provide one.

But let’s try to put all that to one side and extend a welcome to our visitors, and make the most of that rarest of sights – Tories in Manchester!