I’m departing Derby and calling at Peartree, Tutbury and Hatton, Uttoxeter, Blythe Bridge, Longton, Stoke on Trent Longport, Kidsgrove, Alsager, Crewe… no more will I call at Etruria Station on the slow train… (to recall Flanders and Swann).
Ah the nostalgia of going back to a place you know and love is that everything has changed and nothing is different. But as I sit on my train to Stoke-on-Trent (the train signal board cited above doesn’t have hyphens!) I reflect that Etruria railway station has closed since I was there.
Now in most by-elections, there comes a point when you campaign, know that you might win, that it is going well. Back in February 1998 (literally 19 years ago this week) we were canvassing in Etruria, Garner Street I think, and a resident came out, pledged their support to us and said “Etruria Railway Station is a joke”. The student activist who was canvassing (a very young Russell Eagling) came bouncing back to the campaign to announce were going to win for those very words “Etruria Railway Station is a joke” was the headline on our recent leaflet in that area.
Since then Etruria Railway Station has had a special place in our election story banter, and it has become synonymous with the notion that when the voters quote your leaflets back at you – then you know you are cutting through.
But for me, a classicist, Etruria has all sort of other meanings as well, but being back in the fascinating City of Stoke I find myself angry about Etruria Railway Station.
Etruria Station was a joke, an occasional service, a poor Station, unstaffed, tatty, neglected, the answer was not to close it – the answer was to develop and enhance it. Garner Street and those off of it were poor outdated terrace housing – but they needed upgrading, replacing, improving – not demolishing. As I drove through this once curious, quaint obscure corner of the City last week I saw what I have seen too much of in Stoke-on-Trent. Clearances and vast swathes of forgotten, derelict, cleared and abandoned land – brownfield sites awaiting developers who are not coming.
This is a City that with its pottery, porcelain and china exports created the very notion of Great Britain – competing with literally China and dominating the global trade in ceramics. And too often what is a part of that story, domestic, plain, even just humdrum, is being swept away in by bulldozers and a lack of vision and appreciation of the very basics that lay in front of people. I think the City of Stoke-on-Trent deserves a vision that appreciates its past, that is delicate about decisions, but bold about potential – from what I can see that is most distinctly missing right now, and has been for as long as Labour have had a grip on the politics of the City.
Next Thursday 23rd February, in one of the most suffocating elections I have ever known, the people of Stoke-on-Trent Central have a chance to vote for something difference and support Dr Zulfiqar Ali. I know Labour will mobilise every trick in the book to stop those votes – but be prepared to stand up and vote for change. Vote with your conscience, with hope, with optimism. Support Dr Zulfiqar Ali on Thursday 23rd February.
* Ed Fordham was councillor for Stoke West 1998-2002, stood for Stoke-on-Trent Central 1997 and is working full time for Dr Zufiqar Ali