So tonight was the biggest single hustings that will take place in Stoke-on-Trent Central. Hosted by Staffordshire University and The Stoke Sentinel this was 8 of the invited candidates – including the British National Party and the Monster Raving Looney. It was quite an affair.
But at one point, having stumbled previously, the UKIP candidate was challenged to name again the 6 towns of the City and he managed it just. He didn’t forget Fenton (damn you Arnold Bennett), but he still called it Stoke not Stoke-upon-Trent. I suspect he doesn’t know the reasoning or the difference of the Stoke-on-Trent versus Stoke-upon-Trent. And then the Labour candidate followed it up a bit later by saying he would “fight for the City”. I groaned as he said it. And there in a nub is the fundamental issue here.
I’m sure the Labour candidate wants to “fight for the City”, in the way that he fights for the village of Silverdale where he lives or Newcastle-under-Lyme where he is on the Council. But repeating the mantra and by just blandly fighting for the City he perpetuates the mistake of 70 years of Labour before him.
Stoke-on-Trent is a complex places that grew up over time, is a federation and has a complex industrial heritage. In geographic terms it is a linear city, not a radial city. Yet for year, Labour nominees, unaware of the reality and the history just “fight for the City” because that is their short cut for not being from here or of here. The drive to push Hanley as a city centre is false, wrong and stupid. It has sought to break the other five towns and lead to years and millions of wasted pounds in marketing and false economies. Shopping centre yes, City centre no.
In fact what is available in this by-election is the chance to look again at this proud, localised, federated City and plot forwards an industrial strategy based on localism, community, ideas, heritage, entrepreneurial instinct and proud people who work hard. What I fear will happen is the blunt instrument of political ambition – “fighting for the City” blind to the opportunities available, blind to the uniqueness of Stoke-on-Trent and ignorant of the realities on the ground.
Instead of being depressed about these fears however, I have decided to do something about it and have taken time off to come and work for Dr Zulfiqar Ali – he is of this city, it is his home, he lives in the towns and he knows the local area. He was on the council representing Shelton, Etruria and Hanley – he understands the importance of the canals, the railways, the communities and the diversity and he will be thorough and assiduous in standing up for the residents. What he will not do is make bald statements that lack understanding, nuance or reality. That is why I am supporting him. I hope you will too.
* 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