Retro review: The Breakfast Club

When Emerald Street offered the chance to go to a free screening of The Breakfast Club at Hulme’s Zion Arts Centre, I jumped at it, and not just because of the free wine. The Breakfast Club, like Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles and even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, is one of those 80s classics that absolutely everyone has seen but that I, in fact, have not seen. Why? Well, mostly because I’m an 80s classic myself. In 1985, when this film came out, I was mostly interested in having warm milk delivered to my face.

All I knew about The Breakfast Club was: it’s about a Saturday detention; there’s a scene where they all get stoned; the soundtrack is Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me, and right at the end one of the characters punches the air while walking across a football field. Like the film’s archetypal geek Brian Johnson, I was eager to learn more.

Lesson 1: it’s hard to go back to the 80s. This is in many ways a tricky film to watch almost 30 years later. Not only is it difficult to buy Molly Ringwald as a prom queen and Emilio Estevez as anything other than a teeny tiny President of the United States (seriously – watch his face when Allison Reynolds tells him her parents ignore her. It’s like someone just told Jed Bartlet there’s been a coup in Haiti), but this, like Grease,  is one of the films that made high-school films. The stereotypes that make up this cast – the jock, the brain, the criminal, the princess and the kook, not to mention the vicious and inadequate principal – have informed the basic demographics of every fictional American high school from Stargirl to Mean Girls. The problem is, since the Kook evolved into Manic Pixie Dream Girl and we all watched the Princess get hit by a bus, the Breakfast Club characters can feel as though they’ve aged about as well as, well, Molly Ringwald’s career.

Lesson 2: it sucks to be a woman in this film. The reasons for this constitute spoilers, so if you are one of the other seven people in the world who haven’t seen The Breakfast Club and you think you might want to, don’t click here. Otherwise, go right ahead.

Lesson 3: it is a beautiful thing of 80s wonder. The dialogue is dramatic. The soundtrack is both rocky and synth-poppy. (Don’t You Forget About Me itself stayed in the UK singles chart for two years. I’m listening to it right now. RAIN KEEPS FALLING, RAIN KEEPS FALLING). The dancing is Clonetastic. The hair is beautiful and plentiful. The bad guy is Dwayne T. Robinson from Die Hard. The opening credits are a quote from David Bowie. This film couldn’t be any more 80s if it featured Thatcher playing with a Rubik’s Cube.

And it’s all the better for that. Imagine if they remade The Breakfast Club today. Jennifer Lawrence playing the Kook and Michael Cera playing Brian the Brain would be all well and good…but you know full well Robert Pattinson would play John Bender. Maybe the 80s weren’t so bad.

Why it sucks to be a woman in The Breakfast Club (spoilers alert)

If you don’t count Brian the Brain’s pushy mom, there are two women in The Breakfast Club: Claire the Princess and Allison the Kook. The three main male characters all land in detention for doing Very Bad (and therefore Interesting) Things – taping someone’s arse cheeks together, bringing a gun to school, generally being a criminal. Claire, meanwhile, is being punished for the princessly transgression of cutting class to go shopping. And Allison? Allison didn’t do anything at all. She turned up for the detention because she had nothing better to do on a Saturday. That’s how little effort the writers put into her back-story.

Still, at least both girls get a happy ending – right? Er…sort of. Allison gets a make-over, and then she gets the wrestler guy. That’s it. That’s pretty much the culmination of her narrative arc. Mascara and a nice blouse, and a bloke who wouldn’t look at her – literally – until she put on mascara and a nice blouse.

Cracked have pointed out that this is just one example of the Grease/She’s All That phenomenon, whereby young viewers are encouraged to believe that changing their entire demeanour and personality is both a) as easy as getting a new hairdo and b) essential if you want success, happiness and That Guy/Girl.

Claire, of course, has never had any trouble Getting The Guy, so at the end of this film naturally she gets The Bad Guy. (Not the guy from Die Hard. The other bad guy.) Not only is the happiness to be found with a character who has sustained a constant stream of nasty, misogynist abuse towards Claire throughout the film somewhat suspect, but according to, once again, those folks at Cracked (they’re always right), it won’t even last.

Poor Claire. Still, at least she can dance.

Today on the internet: debt, pensions and clothes-swapping

What I’ve been reading today:

I was a little surprised to wake up this morning to a small news item on the Today programme about Medway CAB in Kent teaming up with legal loan shark Wonga to run a survey on debt. Carl Packman at Though Cowards Flinch has a good summary of the online response, including his own New Statesman piece on the worrying extent of Wonga’s efforts to detoxify their brand.

Video of the day:

The 68 is too late campaign have a short simple video on why they oppose the Government’s pension changes – worth a watch, and don’t forget to sign the petition.

And finally – the coolest thing I’ve seen on the internet today:

Stolen from today’s Emerald Street email – a blog in which couples are photographed wearing each other’s clothes. Weirdly adorable.

Being Elmo review

Not just any old fly on the wall – Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey is what happens when a behind-the-scenes documentary meets The Muppets, with a quick squirt of Hairspray for good measure.

The story of how shy little Kevin Clash, growing up in 60s Baltimore, became hooked on Sesame Street as soon as it appeared on his TV screen – with a racially diverse cast and a set that looked like a street he might know – is so like the story of Walter, the Muppet inexplicably born to a human family, that you can’t help wondering if it inspired the (disappointing) 2012 movie.

It’s not only Kevin’s story but that of the Muppets themselves, and their iconic creators, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the lesser-known Kermit Love. (Have two more awesome names than Kevin Clash and Kermit Love ever appeared in a single review? What’s more, get this – Jim Henson had already named his froggy friend before he ever met Kermit Love. It was a complete coincidence. I’m not making this up, have a look at Muppet Wiki if you don’t believe me.)

The glimpses behind the scenes of Sesame Street revealed just how much effort went, and still goes into, its creation. It is a delight to see how entirely seriously the puppeteers take their craft: right from Clash’s frustration as a child that he couldn’t get the right fabric for a seamless puppet face, through his detailed-to-the-point-of-nitpicking – and yet still gratefully received – tutelage on the set of French Sesame Street, to the awestruck ten-year-old Clash wannabe who makes puppets out of sleeves and plastic spoons for eyes and can’t contain his excitement on his tour of the Muppet Workshop.

But beyond the puppetry, Sesame Street is a serious business. In The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the complex research process used to test every detail of Sesame Street before it ever made it to air – and it is still an intensively vetted, tested, focus-grouped piece of television. Clash recounts the process that led up to the formation of today’s Elmo: diva-ish puppetteer Richard Hunt tired of the red Muppet’s original caveman-like persona, and Clash observed the kids his mom took care of to come up with a new character trait.

The resulting character is a three-year-old who loves everything and everyone unconditionally and demonstrably – and, like the most well-behaved of toddlers, is universally loved back. Being Elmo‘s moving scenes are those showing children sharing a hug and a (for some of them rare) happy moment with Elmo.

Elmo is a celebrity, and Clash is too – before this film, there was also a book; and before that there was enough Elmo memorabilia to stuff a Snuffleupagus. But one little girl might not be such an Elmo fan.

Having clearly missed out on a lot of his daughter’s life while he was making other people’s children happy, Clash takes over her ‘sweet sixteen’ with a video of celebrity messages and an Elmo-topped cake. Following some pretty cringeworthy clips from the day she was born, you have to wonder whether she might have preferred the day to be more about her.

But this is the only discordant note in an otherwise lighthearted story. A heartwarming and genuinely interesting film – you’d be a Muppet not to see it.

Being Elmo is on tonight at the Cornerhouse.

Disability bullies, City fans and Batmobile lessons

What I’ve been reading today:

Ah, the Telegraph. It really is the Daily Mail with longer words, isn’t it? But where the Mail Online borders its spittle-flecked articles of incitement to hatred by captioning pictures of women with twenties slang (‘Blushing Mila Kunis slips on a 70s wedding dress…’), the sidebar adjoining the Telegraph blog instead carries the titles of previous posts by the author you’re currently reading, to remind you why you don’t like her. ‘Heterosexual marriage? I’m sorry, you can’t discuss that’? Ah, this’ll be Cristina Odone.

Even by her standards, however, this piece – “Iain Duncan Smith must not give in to the ‘disability bullies’” – seemed as though it must surely be a joke. But since she apparently meant it, let me just run through what’s wrong with it.

1. The picture. As an example of the bullying poor IDS has to put up with, Odone gives the example in her article of the Hardest Hit march in London last year, where some of the protesters ‘threw fake blood on the pavement’ (how messy!), while others ‘wore gloves’ (…eh?). Leaving aside the question of whether such behaviour is really worse than contributing to a disablist culture and forcing vulnerable people further into poverty: I can’t help noticing that the placards in the photo all say ‘Blair’ on, and it’s not preceded by ‘bring back’. If the ‘disabled lobby’ have been so unreasonably vile to this government, why couldn’t the Telegraph find a more recent picture?

2. This sentence: “The system clearly needs radical changes: it allows alcoholics and drug addicts to take away more than someone who’s blind; it allows anyone to fake a back ache and stay off work, earning money as they do so.” A few points here. Taking benefits off half a million people is not a radical change. It is lazy. It is a lazy, badly-thought-out attempt to recoup the £1bn annual cost of benefit fraud because going after the £15bn cost of tax avoidance is just too damn difficult. (Side-note: did Britain’s richest people have to chuck paint about to get the government to scrap the 50p tax rate? No. They just didn’t pay it. Would that we could all afford such quiet dignity.)

You know what else is lazy? Setting “alcoholics and drug addicts” up against  “‘real’ disabled people”. DLA is based on how much, as a result of your disability, you need extra money – not how much you deserve it. That’s because we still, for the time being, have a welfare state, not a panel of society ladies distributing alms. If you’re on daily dialysis, you probably do need DLA more than if you are, say, David Blunkett. But the idea that addicts receive more than people with sensory disabilities as a matter of course is simply false.

Speaking of which:

3. This sentence. “Few claimants are ever seen or checked, and stolen identities are now a huge factor.” I reckon someone who fakes a back-ache to stay off work probably still puts in more effort on a daily basis than Cristina Odone appears to have done on this article. Confirming that this sentence is simply not true would have taken all the journalistic endeavour required to just ask someone who has ever claimed DLA.

Stolen identities a huge factor? Huge? The fraud rate for DLA is 0.5% (figure from a PCS pamphlet, which you can download here). But let’s say it was huge – how is chucking half a million people off benefits going to combat identity fraud? Come to that, how is it going to deal with people faking back-ache? Here’s the thing about liars – they lie. Making genuinely disabled people jump through hoops in an attempt to catch the 0.5% of claimants who are already willing to deceive is as ineffective as it is cruel.

4. Finally, the entire basis of this article is backwards and wrong. Bullies? Bullies use power to get their own way. As a group already substantially more likely than the rest of the population to live in poverty (again, the DWP’s own figures!), what power do people who rely on DLA have in their fight against the government? The vote? No elections for a few years. Legal help? Not since the government scrapped legal aid for social welfare. Well, why don’t they write and present an exhaustively researched report calling the basis of the government’s proposed changes into question? Oh, that’s right – they did! And the media largely ignored it.

With every other avenue closed off, to criticise disabled people for loudly exercising their right to protest is appalling. If you haven’t done so already, have a read of Polly Toynbee’s summary of the coalition’s Monday, and ask yourself – who’s bullying who?

Video of the day:

On a much lighter note, I was lucky enough to the in the Town Hall during the Man City celebrations. I’m not a City fan (or a football fan at all, for which I apologise to everyone in Manchester) but it was still an exciting event to witness, as this picture from the clock-tower demonstrates:

As the square filled up I was watching from the safety of the members room thanks to my new discovery – the Albert Square webcam! Turns out the Manchester Digital Development Agency have webcams in various locations around the city centre, so you can watch the progress on the Central Library too. I really like it. But since that’s not technically a video, have this instead: Andrew Lansley faces the righteous anger of the Royal College of Nursing!

And finally – the coolest thing I’ve seen on the internet today:

Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky hosted their first How-To Festival, an opportunity to learn how to do 50 things, in 5 hours, in one day, all for free. From work-related training like networking and ‘creating a brand for yourself’, to life skills like making omelettes and changing your Facebook privacy setting, to fun stuff like hip-hop dancing, winning at Scrabble and HOLY HELL THEY TAUGHT HOW TO TURN YOUR CAR INTO A BATMOBILE – I can’t think of a better way to promote lifelong learning and encourage people to use their local library. Photos are on their Facebook page (sadly none of the Batmobile).

Guest post: Cllr Amina Lone

Election special guest post by Cllr Amina Lone from Manchester’s Hulme ward

If the ghost of Christmas past has his way, Liberal Democrat nightmares in Manchester could be
realised today. A year after their dangerous liaison with those blue-blooded Tories, the chickens
are coming home to roost, just in time for polling day. Today’s election results where the Lib-
Dems are contesting 33 seats including the seat which is held by the leader of their party in Gorton
South, could be the final nail in their collective coffin. This is the same leader, Simon Ashley, who
stated ‘Manchester has received a fair settlement’ when his coalition government announced in
December that Manchester’s financial settlement, including a 23.3%, £8m cut to Sure Start and
a 35%, £12.6m cut to the Supporting People Grant, leading to an incredible 25% cut in Council
spending by next year.

The subsequent realisation that this would severely impact on Manchester’s City Council’s ability to
continue to fund all its services, will haunt me as the most difficult and the most defining moment in
politics I have experienced. The harsh reality in the cold light of day meant we had to set a budget
that had service cuts of £109m in March of this year, rising to £170m next year. The decisions taken
were agonising and not what any of us entered politics for. Most politicians, me included, came into
politics to make the world a better place in whichever manner we are able to. None of us anticipated
we would have to implement a budget in March of this year which would seriously reduce services
that many of us hold dear. The worst aspect of this unholy mess was knowing that this was a
purposely unbalanced and unfair settlement set by the coalition government to punish urban
cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Newcastle whilst at the same time increasing
settlements in Tory heartlands such as Devon. This is clearly an ideological battle that the Tories fully
supported by the Lib-Dems, are waging and seems to be tantamount to a war on the poor, shifting
money from the most vulnerable communities in our society to some of the most affluent.

It is within this context when Simon Ashley states that ‘Manchester received a fair settlement’ that
the Lib- Dems will be judged today.

This is the single issue that will decide the vote in Manchester’s local council elections and the
wind is certainly not blowing in the Lib-Dems direction. A total of 33 seats are being contested
in Manchester with Labour and the Lib-Dems polling 33 candidates each. Of these, 20 are sitting
Labour councillors and 11 sitting Lib-Dems councillors. One independent seat following a Lib-Dem
resignation and one Tory seat following another Lib-Dem switch completes the picture. That leaves
13 seats up for grabs following another Lib-Dem resignation in the Burnage ward which means there
will be a by-election in Burnage too. A prudent estimate would show Labour holding all its seats and
winning 6 seats. An optimistic estimate would put Labour winning 9 seats.

If the second scenario is played out, the Lib-Dems will politically be a non-entity in Manchester
politics for at least ten years if not longer as their activists’ base for coming elections is decimated.
And the evidence is already there. Two local by-elections in the last six months in Manchester
resulted in 152 Lib-Dems votes in the Hulme by-election in November and 52 Lib-Dem votes in
the Baguley by-election in January 2011. In May 2010, the Lib-Dem votes were 1229 and 1178
respectively and in 2008, the Lib-Dem votes in the same wards were 190 and 243. The by-elections

results are an eye-watering defeat to a party that a year ago was seen as the third way. Couple those
results with national polling of the Lib-Dem swinging from 7% in January 2011, the lowest level of
support they’ve received in any national poll since 1990 to just over 12% currently.

This spells catastrophic disaster for the Lib-Dems. They have long regarded their local councilors
as the vanguard in their arsenal, the grass-root connections that bind them to local communities.
Losing their leader’s seat in Gorton South will not just leave the Lib-Dems with an internal
management problem but will devastate their morale, their blind allegiance to a very unpopular
coalition within their ranks and most importantly as a credible opposition party in Manchester. It is
entirely possible that this will happen. Knocking on the door-steps throughout Manchester, Labour’s
returns are demonstrating that the Lib-Dems are hemorrhaging support. Local people are angry,
disappointed, feel betrayed and have repeatedly said they will never vote Lib-Dem again after their
party has allowed Manchester people to take such a financial hit. These sentiments are doubly
intensified when Lib-Dems in Liverpool, Rochdale and surrounding local authorities have resigned or
openly called on Nick Clegg to remove their party from this toxic coalition partnership.

My predictions are Labour will comfortably take 7 seats and if it’s a really good day Labour will win
11 seats from the Lib-Dems. That will be one message Nick Clegg will be unable to avoid.

In praise of…Trafford (Labour)

(This post first appeared yesterday on LabourList.)

A  couple of weeks ago I wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, criticising his comparison between Manchester’s Labour council and Tory-run Trafford. It was ridiculous, I said, to compare our city with the leafy suburbs. Trafford is just more of a David Cameron kind of place.

Of course, it turned out that I had some readers from Trafford, and they had their own thoughts about the Prime Minister singing the praises of the council. David Cameron’s insistence that Trafford had managed, by ‘sharing services and binning the Mayor’s personalised number plate’, to avoid cutting frontline services, is difficult to square with what Trafford residents are seeing on the ground: cuts to youth services, early years services, support for older people, mental health services, learning disability services, the voluntary sector and more.

So they weren’t thrilled about me describing Trafford as David Cameron’s spiritual home, either. Clearly, I needed to make it up to the Labour supporters of Trafford. And that’s how I came to spend part of Saturday morning crammed among the waists of several hundred United fans, on a tram heading into Altrincham, and out of my comfort zone.

My destination was the ward of Broadheath, currently held by three Conservative councillors, including the sitting Mayor, Ken Weston. There, I found myself sitting on the living-room floor of a Labour Party member called Pat, being offered a choice of orange juice and lemonade, while every activist there was given chance to introduce themselves, to chat with the candidate, Andrew Leask (pictured above with me), about the key issues coming up on the doorstep, and to avail themselves of a 25-page ‘volunteer briefing pack’, plus the latest Voter ID flowchart.

In other words, five minutes after arriving in Pat’s living-room, I was fairly sure that Broadheath Labour’s campaign was going against everything I believe in when it comes to campaigning. We’re sitting around talking and drinking juice, twelve days before polling day? Somebody took the time to write up 25 pages of candidate biography, electoral strategy and a list of the local Tory cuts – and expects all the volunteers to read it? Manchester Labour would never stand for this sort of nonsense. New campaigning techniques? Sure. But if you’re not on a doorstep, you’re wasting time.

Except that Broadheath Labour have got more or less the same contact rate as my own Manchester ward of Fallowfield. In Fallowfield, I’m fortunate enough to be able to build on the work of hard-working Labour councillors and campaigners over years and years, and my job has mostly been to re-contact our supporters to check that they’re still our supporters (yep), and to ask former Lib Dem voters and undecideds whether they might vote Labour this year (yep, mostly).

In Broadheath, on the other hand, they had a contact rate of more or less zero until February. For the last few weeks, they’ve been working to a target of 500 contacts a week – and mostly, they’ve been achieving it. When I was sitting on Pat’s living-room floor, it was because there were fifteen other activists in the room and we’d run out of chairs. Campaign organiser Sam Bacon assured me that that wasn’t exceptional. This isn’t new campaigning techniques for the sake of it: it’s genuinely impressive. Mayor Ken Weston looks set to lose more than his license plate.

I had a chat to Sam and some of the Broadheath Labour team about how they’ve been running the campaign. It was a little Edgbaston-esque: a lot of time had gone into recruiting volunteers before they’d moved onto Voter ID. They’d done some of that on the doorstep – while asking voters what issues were going to be important to them in this election – and some by advertising for volunteers.

Actually, controversially, Sam had advertised for ‘interns’ – unpaid, of course – but with absolutely no intention of requiring the time commitment that MPs expect of their unpaid interns – he was simply looking for volunteers, to give as many evening and weekend hours as they were able and willing to give. He reckons that the word ‘intern’ can make volunteers feel a little more invested in a campaign; a little more like they’re getting some useful experience and transferable skills out of it.

“What worries me about Labour’s usual approach to campaigning is that a CLP might pay someone to design their website,” says Sam, by way of example, “while they’ve got an experienced web designer on their campaign team, but as soon as she walked into the campaign office they sent her out with a leaflet round.” He admits that it does take time and effort to find out how volunteers can contribute; but maintains that it enhances the contribution of committed activists, while enabling a contribution from those who can’t always get out on the doorstep.

The campaign employs a busy mum to make sure all their key players are in the right place at the right time – her parental commitments mean she doesn’t feel able to get out leafleting or doorknocking as often as she’d like, but she’s happy to harass the rest of the team by email. They have a volunteer in overall charge of communication, and a couple of youngsters have been tasked with updating the Twitter account. They have Pat, whose main role is to make her living-room available when asked, and who offers the volunteers breakfast every week.

I’ll be honest, in normal circumstances this would all set off my waste-of-time klaxon, but not even the klaxon is gonna argue with fifteen to twenty regular volunteers every weekend. It turns out that giving activists a little responsibility (and maybe the offer of breakfast) might just be what Labour needs to teach the Tories a lesson, in David Cameron’s favourite council right here in the North West.

Find out more about Broadheath Labour here.

Dear David Cameron…

(This post first appeared on LabourList.)

Dear David Cameron,

My name is Grace Fletcher-Hackwood and I’m a Labour candidate in Manchester, the greatest city in the world.

You might remember Manchester as the city whose budget you slashed by 21%, causing 2000 job losses, library closures, swimming pool closures, cuts to children’s services, adult services and advice services, to name but a few.

I’m writing in response to your interview with the Manchester Evening News yesterday. I wanted to let you know that you got a few things wrong.

First let’s get one thing straight: Manchester’s local government settlement has been cut by 21%. The Transition Grant you mentioned is just that – we only get it for one year. Manchester City Council’s total government grant for 2012-13, including the funding for the council tax freeze, and including the NHS funding, will be £383.6m, down from £485.8m in 2010-11. That is a cut of 21%. Don’t let Nick Clegg do your maths for you, Prime Minister: you know he can’t count above thirty.

Secondly, Prime Minister, you said that the government has been “absolutely responsible and fair” in your approach to the local government settlement. When I finished laughing – because when England’s fourth most deprived local authority area takes a higher percentage grant cut than Buckinghamshire and Richmond upon Thames, you really have to laugh or cry – I noticed that you backed this up by saying that “Manchester will receive £714 per resident…whereas in my own constituency in West Oxfordshire, residents will receive £233.”

Mr. Cameron – do you think we’re stupid? West Oxfordshire is, jointly, the least deprived local authority area in the country. How many children in West Oxfordshire rely on libraries as their only source of books, or public parks as their only place to play? How many looked after children do you think there are? (450 in the whole of Oxfordshire in 2010, since you ask, compared to 1425 in Manchester.) Mr. Cameron, the people of West Oxfordshire elected you as their MP. You might as well compare Manchester to Mars.

You accused Manchester City Council of timing its redundancy announcement to coincide with the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election. Do you expect anyone to believe, Prime Minister, that Labour organisers up in Oldham took time out from campaigning to put a call in to Manchester Town Hall? “We’re only going to win by 3500! Quick! Ring Richard Leese and tell him to make two thousand people redundant!” Sir Richard didn’t give a Shapps about Labour’s majority in Oldham, Prime Minister. He was busy trying to protect our city from you. And incidentally, those 2000 job cuts have been made without a single compulsory redundancy.

I think your mistake was in thinking that Manchester and Oldham are basically the same place. And you made that mistake again when you compared us to Trafford.

“Trafford Council is only considering removing 150 staff posts. The vast majority of their savings are coming from efficiencies which will have no effect on frontline service levels…How have they done it? Tough though it is, it’s not rocket science – cutting back office, sharing services, finding smart ways of delivering more for less.”

No, Mr. Cameron, efficiency savings are not rocket science. Manchester has led the way on this – the council has made efficiency savings of £55 million over the last two years, has often led the way in sharing services and, in fact, does all the procurement for Greater Manchester authorities. We also share legal services with Salford. Trafford is following our lead. What’s more, Manchester planned to make £96m savings between 2010 and 2013. But the scale and speed of the cuts you have forced on us have made it impossible to avoid cutting services.

Channel 4 News’ Fact Check blog helpfully pointed out the difference between Manchester and Trafford – Trafford faces a ‘spending power’ cut of only 3.8% this financial year, whereas even by your own figures, Manchester’s cut is well over twice that. Once again, Mr. Cameron, it’s not rocket science: it’s just maths. Manchester and Trafford are not comparable. Anyone in Manchester could tell you that.

Because Manchester people are not stupid, Prime Minister. You can try to blame the council cuts on our chief executive’s salary, but we’ve done the maths: if we could get Howard Bernstein to work for nothing, and then backdate that to the 19th century, we’d be able to make the cuts you’ve demanded of us. Otherwise, not. No: when I talk to people who have been affected by Manchester’s cuts, they are not taken in by the lies that you and Grant Shapps and Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander and Eric Pickles have been telling about Manchester. They lay the blame squarely with the government.

You said yesterday that you are “working incredibly hard to support the poorest paid and the most vulnerable”. Prime Minister, some of the poorest-paid and most vulnerable people in the country live in this city, and what you are doing for them is raising their VAT, putting their children off going to university, damaging their rights at work, restricting their access to justice, closing their libraries, closing their swimming pools, preventing them getting advice, cutting police from their streets – nearly three thousand police cuts in Greater Manchester! – cutting their DLA, cutting their housing benefit, cutting their pensions, cutting their Winter Fuel Allowance, allowing Andrew Lansley to play merry hell with their NHS, and finally, as if all that weren’t enough, Prime Minister, you come up here and you try to lie to Manchester people in our own paper. Manchester has had enough.

Mr. Cameron, you obviously do not know Manchester. But we know you. You are an enemy of the public sector, a Thatcherite and a liar. If you have the audacity to show your face in our city for your party conference this year, you should not expect a warm welcome. But hey – maybe they’ll have you in Trafford.



(Photo by Ed O’Keeffe)

Messing about with Storify

This week my new toy is Storify, a tool for searching out items from the social web – tweets, Facebook updates, Flickr photos, YouTube vids and more – and assembling them as a story. It seems to me the logical next step from Posterous and Tumblr – rather than just whacking up a single link or a copy of something you’ve seen elsewhere, you can seek out shared media on a specific issue and use it to create a coherent article.

It’s currently invite-0nly (invites are dead easy to get old of though, just enter your email address here) and in beta, which means that I’ve got slightly addicted to the feedback forum where you can suggest changes and improvements, and find out what changes are already planned. I don’t have an iPad but the drag-and-drop style of Storify is going to suit an iPad app beautifully.

So what to use it for? I’ve made two so far – on Sunday I put together a review/video collection of Friday night’s Elbow gig at the MEN, and this morning I used it to put together some thoughts on how to use social media for Labour campaigns (please feel free to suggest changes or additions to this. Oh, and a warning: it contains lots of Kevin), for some training I’m doing this evening. I’m going to be using the latter as the basis of a presentation of sorts, so we’ll see how well it works for that.

I’ve also considered it might be useful for:

– putting together a briefing on the social media response to a particular campaign/event/issue (basically, I’m always looking for an excuse to go on at my boss about Twitter :p)

– demonstrating an interesting or entertaining Twitter conversation (more effective than tweeting ‘OMG everyone look at @johannhari101 and @caitlinmoran’s last few tweets to each other, and almost as quick)

– creating a how-to guide: particularly if you’ve got videos available. I’m thinking I might do this if we ever start #mobmonday off again.

My Elbow story has gone down well mostly with other people who were also at the gig – including some of the people whose tweets I’d used: when you publish your story, Storify gives you the option of tweeting it at everyone whose tweets were included, which is an effective way of getting your story seen by people outside your own social network, as well as just being  polite 🙂

With both stories I’ve created so far, I was searching among a very limited number of social media items – in the Elbow story, I was searching for tweets, pictures and videos created on a single evening by people who actually attended the gig. So I’d be interested to see what could be made of an event with much more material available.

The obvious example there is the protest march on Saturday. Hundreds of thousands of people, vast numbers of whom are very engaged with social media – and many of whom had wildly different experiences of the day. I spent Saturday marching with a small group of friends, somewhere near the middle of the march, unable to see much (I’m 5’1.8″…) but definitely out of trouble; my housemate was right at the front for the speeches in Hyde Park; and of course I also have some people in my social networks who were part of the occupation of Fortnum & Mason’s. You can imagine how difficult it would be to collate tweets, pictures and videos into a story that represented the full range of experiences of an event as massive as Saturday – and how easy it would be to cherry-pick the bits that matched your own angle.

I haven’t seen any Storify articles that try to cover Saturday properly – the only one I’ve seen that related to it at all was by Greg Stekelman, who just used it to show a collection of his own tweets (and a photoshopped picture of Ed Miliband as a puppy. N’awwwww) – so if you have, let me know. Either way, if you’ve not got an invite yet, sign up!

24/3/11: Help with the census in Manchester

Kingsbrook Road and nearby streets

Got back a couple of hours ago from a meeting of the Kingsbrook residents’ association, which covers some of this area here:

Kingsbrook Road and nearby streets

It was only the second meeting and there were loads of people there to interrogate the councillors and so on, which is very encouraging!

Aside from said interrogation, the meeting included a quick talk by a member of Census staff, which apart from anything else reminded me that I still need to fill in my part of the Pallas/Fletcher-Hackwod household census.

However, she also mentioned that there are a number of drop-in sessions across Manchester for people who need guidance on completing the form. A couple of people in Fallowfield have asked me for help with this already – I’m going to see a couple of residents on Sunday to give them a bit of a hand – so I had a quick look when I got home, and the dates of the drop-in sessions are all on the Manchester City Council website. There’s a session in Fallowfield at 2-5pm on March the 31st at Fallowfield Library – if you know anyone who needs any help please point them in the right direction!