Category: Yorkshire

Bradford: Populism And After

Turned down by Politico Europe for being too local

The populist threat is on everyone’s mind, whether from Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, or the AfD. In the UK, it’s been argued in a classic twitterstorm that Labour’s Northern heartlands are especially threatened, precisely because they’re “the heartlands” – ultra-safe parliamentary seats and city councils where it’s very difficult for anyone but a Labour candidate approved by the local Labour establishment to get elected. So why bother voting?

The people who don’t vote haven’t gone away. They are still out there, and the potential exists for them to be reintegrated into the political system by, say, the Scottish Nationalists, the Leave campaign, or George Galloway. And in fact we can see this in action. Out of the top five local authorities by net Leave votes, one of them is notoriously corrupt and generally dysfunctional Doncaster, another, Dudley, is the scene of these bizarre shenanigans at the last election, and yet a third is Rotherham, now sadly renowned for its child abuse scandal.

And then there’s my home town, Bradford. Since 2012, Bradford has gone from a classic safe-seat cartel, through a populist insurgency, and out the other side to a Labour revival tainted by allegations of anti-Semitism, which further led to Ken Livingstone’s bizarre public meltdown.

It is true that Bradford Council isn’t permanently Labour, but it has been either Labour or no-overall-control since 1980. When the council is hung, it usually has a Labour leader. As such, the least important Labour councillors are swapped for the most important Conservatives within a permanent ruling group.
This group’s key claim is that it’s presiding over the post-industrial regeneration of Bradford, which would be fair enough if they hadn’t been at it all my life without achieving much. As someone said, Bradford folk talk about failed regeneration projects like other people talk about the weather. This is a city where the main motorway access ended in a line of traffic cones for two decades, and where half the city centre was pulled down to build a giant shopping centre and left as a gaping hole for years.

Of course all of this cost money and somebody got paid, while basic measures of poverty like infant mortality remain atrocious, things burn down, and school funds disappear.

If regeneration was the key claim, the key strategy, bridging the gap between promises and performance, was working the family patronage network. How this developed, and how it helped to secure an enduring Labour establishment, is well described in this BBC Look North piece by Sabbiyah Pervez. Irna Qureshi describes the doorstep processes well here, and makes the interesting point that Labour came to rely on the easy wins it provided so much, they weren’t that good at it any more.

The populist challenge arrived in 2012, with Marsha Singh MP’s retirement and George Galloway’s candidacy. Galloway presented himself nationally as a challenge to the Bradford political system (try here) but on the streets, he relied on key actors in it to get out the vote. He actually recruited Marsha Singh’s election agent to do the same job for him. If anybody knew Mirpuri patronage politics, he did. Importantly, signing him up also denied him and his contact book to the Labour candidate, Imran Hussein.

It may be a common feature of populists, almost a defining one, that they present themselves as revolutionaries but exist to prevent real change. Galloway’s tenure as MP for Bradford West, which was paralleled by the election of a dozen councillors on his ticket, had all the problems of Bradford politics, just more so, louder, more dramatically, and on TV, rather than in the cloistered privacy of someone’s best room in Manningham.
His solution to the regeneration problem had a simplicity, and a style, worthy of Donald Trump. He would just do it.

His policies were quite simple: regenerate the Odeon. Sort out Westfield. Sort out education. He either succeeds, in which case, great. Or he fails, in which case, we’re not exactly losing out are we?

If pressed, he said he would make a deal. He knew people in the Middle East.

I have big plans for Bradford City FC. With my connections in the Arab world, I am actively speaking to and seeking out sovereign wealth funds and Middle Eastern princes to pump investment into the club. There is massive potential. I’m also tapping up sovereign wealth funds to invest in the Odeon building”

As well he might – the Odeon, abandoned for two decades, is indeed both huge, and classy. It goes without saying that not a penny of this supposed investment ever showed up.

Old-school Bradford pols have often been accused of being soft on anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism. George rarely missed an opportunity to sail close to that particular wind. They have often been accused of sexism; he really nailed that one. A certain patriarchal authoritarianism might also be a concern. George tried to put a brewery out of business because they dissed him on Twitter, and this farrago of thuggishness defies summary.

The Labour Party meanwhile did what it does best these days – have a vicious internal feud. The problem was, in a sense, whether Galloway was a manageable populist with Bradford characteristics, or whether real change was necessary.

The losing candidate from 2012, Imran Hussein, wanted to stand again, and as the Bradford West party chairman, he, his friends, and his family had the advantage of controlling the process. His candidacy would represent either “one more heave”, or else, waiting to see if a boundary review would get rid of Galloway. Alternatively, it would leave the power structure intact in case it was possible to integrate Galloway back into the party, as happened with Ken Livingstone.

A lot of people suspected he would just lose again and keep losing, and the populists wouldn’t be as easy to manage as all that. One of those was then Labour leader Ed Miliband, who eventually decided to invoke a party rule that permits the leadership to require an all-women shortlist. That ruled Hussein out, but also ruled out an insurgent candidate backed by the trade unions, ex-bus driver Mohammed Taj. Hussein’s allies settled on councillor Shakeela Lal, but she failed to make it through the hustings to get on the shortlist, leaving them with the awful prospect of losing control of the process. In this kind of politics, control of the selectorate is everything.

It seems they settled on the following strategy: throw their support to national Labour’s candidate, Amina Ali, knowing that her Somali background would do her no good in the general election, precisely because they would then pull their support and make sure it didn’t. This would stop Ali and warn off the Labour leadership, but more importantly it would keep women’s rights activist Naz Shah off the ticket. Enjoying enormous respect in Bradford, her personal popularity menaced their control of the process. That the unions’ man had already been disposed of was a happy accident.

Galloway getting a second term was a price worth paying, especially as a boundary review was coming, his own flakiness might cause a by-election at any time, and perhaps they might come to some arrangement. Amina Ali seems to have seen through this, and resigned, thus disrupting the whole neat scheme and leading the Labour national executive committee to take over.

It was a shambles, they said. Nobody would vote, they said. An undemocratic stitchup by those people on the NEC, they said. As it turned out, though, the warnings were so much hot air. Naz Shah took Bradford West back with a wet sail, flipping Galloway’s 10,140 majority to a Labour majority of 11,420. The campaign was brutally tough – and there is no mystery why. It was a front-on challenge to a really rather unpleasant entrenched elite. As Naz Shah put it in a BBC TV interview:

“It’s family loyalties, it’s clan loyalties, it goes back to a Pakistani model of doing things,” she said, explaining that this resulted in women blocked from political office. “The kind of misogyny that exists is quite shocking. It’s a culture of gatekeeping. It’s a culture of power politics for the sake of having power, and that power resides with men,” she said.

Bradford politics is still reeling from the shock. In a follow-up move, the NEC took control of candidate selection in six more council wards, while Imran Hussein’s assistant during the campaign has been suspended from the party. Naz Shah’s intervention in the case of Samia Shahid, apparently murdered by her family in Punjab, led to the arrest of both a suspect, and a cop.

The first lesson here is that it can be done. The populist threat can be beaten. The second lesson here is that in the face of the populist challenge, the local organisations that delivered majorities for the national politicians for years are often as much part of the problem as they are of the solution. The third lesson is that the only way to do it is to do it – a political party that claims to want renewal must be willing to look elsewhere for candidates and for ideas.

And the fourth lesson is that it’s risky. First, there was that offensive Facebook meme and its astonishing cascade of consequences. That, by the way, happened immediately after Naz Shah outed a fairly important local Conservative for giving anti-Semitic speeches in Urdu. There’s a problem here, and it’s precisely one that grew in the long political stagnation, in the absence of competition, scrutiny, or self-criticism. The only way forward, though, is to confront it openly.

Meanwhile, a recent vote to replace the mayor saw someone in the council’s Labour group vote three times. To defeat the populists, Bradford Labour may have become more like them: coarser, more strident, and authentic for both good and ill.

Alternatively, this story can be seen as the process by which a whole population either excluded from politics, taken for granted by politics, or simply never addressed by politics, was integrated back into democracy, stumbling and finding its feet. For clues, try some of the blogs I’ve used as sources for this post.

Sound finance

Back in 2011 the government had been proposing to spend £190 million on a flood defence scheme for Leeds. Instead, they cancelled the scheme and only did £50m worth of the work.

The scheme was based on a hypothetical worst-case flooding scenario. In 2011, the economic losses from such a flood were estimated at £500 million. To put it another way, the additional £140m was expected to return £500m in savings when such a flood occurred, or about £3.57 for every £1 invested. Pretty decent.

Of course, you’d have to pro-rate that over the lifetime of the project and consider the annual probability of a really big flood happening in any given year, because we might never need it. If it’s never needed, it will look like a white elephant. But it’s fair to make some allowance for the risk that big floods start coming along unexpectedly frequently, or that they turn out to be bigger than we assumed. If that happened, the scheme would be more valuable than expected. Floods can be very bad, but there is no scenario in which they would do Leeds good, so our thinking about this should be biased to the high side, the so-called tail risk.

PwC estimates that the UK flooding event of December 2015 amounts to an economic loss of £2.8bn for the whole country. Very roughly, we might allocate 80% of that to the flooding of Manchester, Leeds, and their suburbs because there’s a lot of valuable stuff there to wreck and a lot of people to inconvenience.

I’ll make the mightily charitable assumption that Manchester is of equal value with Leeds, and split that 50/50. This gives us a billion-pound loss for West Yorkshire alone, or more precisely, 40% of £2.8bn, £1.1bn.

That’s twice the estimate in the reference scenario. We’re well into the tail risk here. It’s possible the PwC accountants included things that the Environment Agency modellers didn’t – they reckon insured losses to property are about half the total, so the rest must be things like disruption to transport and emergency response spending. I’ve no idea if the EA tried to estimate those.

Whether they did or they didn’t, though, they’re costs and somebody will have to pay them. So, for the £140m additional investment, we could have spared ourselves a bit more than a billion in out-of-pocket losses. To put it another way, every additional £1 spent on the flood scheme would have saved us £7.86. And I thought we were short of cash!

As we say in Yorkshire: Buy cheap, buy two.

Why the floods mean you should support my politics

I imagine we’re going to be in for quite a few of these, so let’s get in quick. As Daniel Davies allegedly wrote:

Many people will use this terrible tragedy as an excuse to put through a political agenda other than my own. This tawdry abuse of human suffering for political gain sickens me to the core of my being. Those people who have different political views from me ought to be ashamed of themselves for thinking of cheap partisan point-scoring at a time like this. In any case, what this tragedy really shows us is that, so far from putting into practice political views other than my own, it is precisely my political agenda which ought to be advanced.

Indeed. With that beautiful thought in our minds, let’s proceed. As well as property, I hope the River Aire will have swept away some illusions. The first illusion is of course that we can just go on treating floods and water as a minor news event to be managed through the technology of public relations, this being one of the great unspoken cross-party dogmas.

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It’s like that enormous coal-fired power station was trying to tell us something!
As long as I can remember, there has been endless official concern, reports beyond number, constant chin-stroking, but bugger all action. until it rains a bit. Then politicians appear in high-visibility jackets, as do token numbers of soldiers. Eventually the water ebbs away and so does the media interest. Now, surely, we’ve had a teachable moment: Leeds and Manchester flooded on the same day.

I wouldn’t sign any cheques on that, though.

The second illusion is that the devolution offer to West Yorkshire is at all useful. Very simply, it wouldn’t give Yorkshire the budget or the authority to reinstate the planned Leeds flood defence scheme. If you can’t have different policies to those selected by Whitehall, you don’t have devolution in any meaningful way. The only reason to want it is to set different priorities, and you can’t do this without a substantial capital budget. This has so far been a vague and theoretical issue. It is now as concrete as…concrete. Ask what we might have done differently, and there’s your answer.

As I pointed out here, the current proposals offer the devolution of responsibility without the devolution of power. Don’t kid yourself that we wouldn’t now be seeing the prime minister touring the North with George Osborne, blaming the disaster on one-party Labour councils and their crazy overspending. This leads me to the third illusion.

The third illusion is that the devolution offer is right in terms of geography and of politics. The water didn’t come from Leeds and is not going to end up in Leeds, nor did it come from a Leeds City Region.

Water does not care about trying to cut this or that party’s voters in or out. Instead, it defines the landscape that later defines us, in its own way. Yorkshire’s historical boundaries to the North and South are rivers. To the west, the boundary is roughly the watershed, and to the east it is of course the sea. Within this space, water flows from the moors down through the steep, narrow southern Dales, creating the heads of water that powered early industry and that filled the canals of later industry, through the cities, and down the Ouse across its floodplain, the Vale of York, to the sea. Yorkshire is roughly the River Ouse catchment area, give or take the upper Ribble.

It follows that you can’t solve a Yorkshire-wide problem in Leeds, and indeed that’s why we had a Yorkshire water authority and now have a privatised Yorkshire water company. This really ought to be obvious from that alone.

But, aren’t the Yorkshire-wide proposals rather weak? Perhaps. We have some relevant experience here, though. This was a criticism of the Welsh and Scottish assemblies and of the Greater London Authority when they were created. It was also a criticism of the Northern Irish assembly when it was created. All the devolved authorities have gained in power and authority with time. The mayor of London started out without even having any authority over the Tube, but has progressively taken over more and more power, and has even gained a veto over the commissioner of the Met. None of them has ever handed powers back to the central government.

This is, I think, because they are comprehensible, they cover the essential geography, they are elected, and they started with significant powers.

The mayor of London is mayor, of London, and his area of responsibility matches very well what is commonly called London. You can always niggle about boundaries, which are inevitably imperfect, but there is nothing grossly silly about the GLA’s. Similarly, the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish authorities do what it says on the tin. No city regions there.

These authorities also draw legitimacy from the fact they are elected. In a sense, each election is not just a choice of parties or individuals, it is also a referendum on the institution’s existence. Therefore, with each electoral cycle, the devolved authorities have become stronger, more legitimate, and better established. To get the ball rolling, though, they needed to have a minimum of substance, enough to make a palpable difference. For London, it was enough to give Ken Livingstone the buses and the congestion charge.

We can compare the various regional entities – partnerships, assemblies, government offices – which have never lasted. Without comprehensible identity, democratic legitimacy, or significant powers, they have just been afterthoughts.

You might say that a city region solution could progressively take over more territory, in the same way that a Yorkshire-wide one could take on more powers. But there is no precedent for this, and it could as well lose it as gain it. The central government frequently chops up local government boundaries. But as I say, all the other devolved governments have only ever gained more powers, while local governments have as often lost territory as gained it.

And remember:

Please, I ask you as fellow human beings, vote for the political party which I support, and ask your legislators to support policies endorsed by me, as a matter of urgency.

It would be a fitting memorial.

#devono doesn’t have to be negative, you know

As an update to this post, somebody asked a representative sample of Yorkshire folk what they wanted. What happened? Well.

  1. A directly elected, Yorkshire-wide regional assembly
  2. Stronger powers that would include some tax-setting and law-making powers; this is to ensure actual power is achieved over issues such as transport infrastructure, economic development and education.
  3. To reject the devolution deal currently on offer for the Sheffield City Region and press local politicians to push for a better deal (stronger, more ambitious, more democratic and based on proper consultation) rather than walk away from devolution completely.

Right. Project “Last Chicken in the Shop” can bugger off.

Vote no in the referendum that doesn’t exist.

Things I argue with @thomasforth about:

The problem here is that Tom thinks devolution to Yorkshire, or some subset of Yorkshire, will be all like this old post of mine where it turned out only London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland saw actual growth in real disposable income per household before 2008, and Wales at least did better than the UK average.

I worry about this tweet from intensely pro-devolution Yorkshire MEP Richard Corbett, which doesn’t say quite what he thinks it does. Belgium is the world champ of devo, what with six police forces within Brussels, both regional and linguistic governments including the Germans, and whatnot. Just look how that’s working for Hainault, next door to super-rich Bruxelles-Capitale.

I also worry about the fact that the spanking new Greater Manchester Combined Authority does all its business in FOIA-proof closed preparatory sessions and journalists following it are dependent on occasional and probably tactical document leaks.

I worry intensely about the content of the supposed “deal” with Birmingham, which is being put forward as a reason to get something signed, quick. Apparently we’ve got a Midlands Engine, to go with the Northern Powerhouse. Maybe we get a Geordie Drivetrain and a Cornish Satnav, plus a Home Counties Morocco Leather Seat Cover, and a London Just Getting The Fucking Bus, to boot. But look what’s in it.

joint responsibility with the government to co-design employment support for the hardest-to-help claimants

I think that means “the whole West Midlands Labour Party’s signature on a bunch of crazy ideas of Iain Duncan Smith’s, and don’t believe for a moment we won’t run a massive national TV ad campaign blaming you when it falls apart”.

I worry about the point made in here, and better in the Daily Mash:

So many devolvers think in terms of getting funding for big name-brand institutions that employ lots of middle-class people. This is apparently going to create growth, which is going to get rid of the need to pay out benefits to quite so many people. That’s handy, because the terms of the deal always seem to be that the new devolved authority gets to implement cuts to the core welfare state, and gets support in its property-developer inspired desire to evict social tenants in bulk and replace them with someone nicer.

The problem here is that George Osborne’s economic policy can be summed up as cut everything, as long as a landlord doesn’t get it, and chuck smallish but saleable amounts of money at what Vince Cable’s advisor memorably called “growthy stuff”. Graphene. You know. The bigger problem is that this didn’t work terribly well.

We’re now being offered the same policy, but with decentralised implementation. David Cameron thinks his local council can just sort of budge up a bit. He also, therefore, thinks the North can find all the £50bn investment gap by playing up and taking a good cold shower.

Government announcements about devolution always quote a big-dollar number as if this was some new or additional funding. This is a lie. The costs move, as does the budget, at whatever level George Osborne thinks fit. There is no more money. The responsibility moves, but no money. Birmingham will get to implement IDS’s latest assault on the disabled. It will not have a veto on his ideas. The responsibility moves, but no power. If this was on offer, it might be worth having, but is it? As David Walker points out, nothing offered provides any escape from Tory insanity, nor even one penny more money, nor any protection from more cuts.

Where in Osborne’s proffered agreement is there any commitment to recognising existing need in the conurbation in the revenue support arrangements – which the former communities secretary Eric Pickles adjusted to secure a greater flow of grant to the suburbs and the south?

And most importantly, although neither money moves nor power, the risk certainly does. As more and more of the core public services and the basic social guarantees get transferred out to cities, to the private sector, and to vaguely defined, secretive, crooked “super-councils” of the smarmy and discredited, so more of the associated financial risk is transferred from the great central national government to the town hall.

Nobody is willing to talk about this, but what happens come the next recession when tax revenues dive and benefits payments surge, like they should? If the risk is spread across the UK, we can take it. If it is concentrated on Leeds, we cannot and the payments will not be made. The point is exactly the same as it was with regard to Scotland. The Union is a risk-bearing union, or it is not a union. The Union is a risk-bearing union, unlike the Eurozone, because it is a social union. Ending the risk union between cities means, in the end, ending the social union, the risk union between individuals.

I say, vote no!

But you can’t vote no because there is no vote.

There is, at last, a debate, but to a very large extent it is a debate on childish things that are far too familiar to Northerners. Why should Sheffield get it but not me? Can’t Hull have a go on the new Christmas box? Why’s that Wakefield lad in charge of everything? Manchester told me to do it and everyone knows she’s cool. This pathetic and tiresome mithering goes on between a couple of dozen Alderman Foodbotham types, while the public when asked wants something completely different, specifically Greater Yorkshire from sea to shining sea.

This brings out an important part of the problem.

The Westfield Labour types don’t want Yorkshire as such because it would include all the Yorkshire Tories. It is that simple. The Tories don’t want it because their own party would suddenly be a voice for investment in the North. Everyone in politics sooner or later wishes they could somehow opt out of the hard work of persuasion, and instead arrange things so they could just win effortlessly, just like that. To live in democracy, though, means sooner or later being in the minority. To win, you must convince. Anything else is bullshit.

a high-entropy node in the network of networks

What is it that’s changed in the paedophile inquiry? We’re now looking at a triple murder inquiry and the police seem to be taking it deadly seriously. I have a theory. North Yorkshire police just apologised for denying for years that they ever suspected Jimmy Savile or his associate, Peter Jaconelli. In fact, they investigated but nothing ever happened and for years they claimed there were no files.

This is important because Jaconelli was a significant figure, as mayor of Scarborough, borough councillor, county councillor, and chairman of the Yorkshire & Humberside Conservative party. I suspect, but I don’t know, that he might also have been the local Conservative Association chairman at some point.

On the other hand, he owned most of Scarborough, specifically the ice-cream business, slot machines, restaurants, and venues. How Savile might have known the owner of a high traffic seaside venue ought to be obvious. This is part of what I meant with this post. So it looks like Jaconelli was the intersection between Savile’s northern/showbiz circle, and the southern/political one.

Now the Tories are historically a decentralised organisation, much more so at the time, and he would had a lot of influence over candidate selection, most of all on his own personal patch. It is a matter of record that the man who is alleged to have received Geoffrey Dicks’ dossier in 1981 before it went missing was MP for Cleveland and Whitby, a constituency split off from Scarborough, between 1974 and 1983.

Dicks, of course, was a Yorkshire Tory himself, from Huddersfield West. If by chance the document was treated as a party matter, keeping it out of the civil service’s hands, that might explain where it ended up.

Big Sportsday 2.0: Yorkshire

So yer big french pushbike sportsday. Having run away from the London ‘Lympics, you may be surprised to learn I was back in Yorkshire for it. The explanation is simple – it went through the village I grew up in twice, a unique distinction. As our old neighbour’s slogan goes, so good it’s coming twice. And despite being a Huge Event, as an entirely temporary and nomadic project, it’s hard to use it as a pretext to knock down a council estate.

My biggest impression was a sort of weird carnival of mobility. Bicycles, motor vehicles, and aircraft appeared in a very brief period of historical time, very close together and a surprisingly long while after the emergence of steam power. The cliché example would be that the French newspaper that sponsored the first Tour was called L’Auto and then retitled itself as L’Équipe. The link with the growing mass media ought to be obvious. The experience on the days literally smelled of diesel, with the waves of publicity vehicles, motorbike cops from all over the country, gendarmes, incredibly low-flying media helicopters, Garde Republicaine troopers from the French president’s security detachment, and such. It’s surprising how many big engines, indeed helo turboshaft engines, are needed to keep up with some guys on bikes.

Unlike football, say, the geographical scale of the Tour is far more than you can appreciate directly as a spectator. They hammer by and then they’re gone. Much of the driving about by all sorts of officials in big cars and distributors of samples seems to be an effort to take your mind off this. But this is part of the point. It was originally designed as an Edwardian nation-building project, something that would get people to take part in the imagined community known as France. It’s still very much like that. In fact, the pain in the arse of closing roads in a motorised society even helps. Putting it on requires a really big social mobilisation to organise it all; you know it does when your neighbour’s on the committee. In many ways, the actual race is an excuse for the participation.

And this was about the first project I can remember that was organised on a Yorkshire-wide basis. The participation was very real, not least because all the people like me who had obviously headed back up north. We literally danced in the streets of Addingham, or at least the Swan pub car park, which has front doors onto it. That’s good enough for me. This sort of mobilisation, of course, tends to obscure or postpone important conflicts and divisions, which is probably why I was openly cheering Chris Froome’s epic dash through Sheffield in the shirt of Team…Sky. Oy.

That said, folk yelled “South Yorkshire Mass Murderer” at their contribution to the route escort, roidy-looking guys in Iraq-merc shirts and BMW 4x4s doing nothing of obvious use, so don’t think we’re going soft. The police festival was something else – West Yorkshire looking astonished at people smiling, and trying to ride their motorbikes as if for a royal funeral, the national escort group showing off a little, and the French cops (I counted three varieties of French cops) doing their hell on wheels act.

Let’s hold that thought, though – the first Yorkshire-wide project in years. There seems to be a push on. Here’s York Council leader James Alexander calling for “devolution”. George Osborne, of all people, thinks the trans-Pennine railway needs money and Labour-leaning trainhead Paul Salveson comments. Wakefield council leader Peter Box wants independence for Yorkshire, although I think he’s trolling. The physical reality of this is that Box is the chairman of the West Yorkshire combined authority, which is a bit like the West Riding in that it integrates Leeds, Bradford, Wakey, and Kirklees councils. Box is the chair presumably because Wakefield is the historic capital. There’s even a movement. Even Clegg has been offering warm words, although fuck him. Labour people are making the running across these efforts, although in another sense the party likes the idea of a bigger Northern structure.

I’ve blogged before that devolution seemed to work very well for Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and London in the sense that they were the only regions not to see falling real median incomes. That sounds good, although London was a case of standing outside when it rained money. The Vale of York ‘kippers sound worse. Also, Uncle Jimmy would have been on this like the proverbial tramp on chips.

Genuinely evil

I have been reading the Leeds Teaching Hospitals report on Jimmy Savile. Obviously, it couldn’t really be any more grim, and you’ll have heard the latest shocking revelations via the mainstream media and Jamie Kenny.

But what about really sick and perverted behaviour? Here’s some for you.

A hugely important theme in the report is the remarkably vicious competition between the consultant doctors for status, resources, and career advancement. At a higher level of abstraction, this appeared as competition between LGI and other medical institutions for prestige, high technology, and investment. The huge scale of NHS infrastructure in Leeds meant that this was a seriously big deal politically and economically. This was dramatised as a rivalry with St James’s across town, a rivalry that was rooted in class distinction, as LGI historically emerged from the university medical school and St James’ from the workhouse.

The 1960s-70s board of governors, who were personally closest to Savile, were especially exercised by the perceived need to keep up with the expansion of St James’s as the light of NHS investment shone down on the previously benighted casual wards. This was why they wanted the publicity Jimmy Savile drummed up so badly.

This had direct practical consequences for Savile’s MO. One of the reasons why there were so many people crammed into the Nightingale wards, and so many children mixed into the general population, under minimal supervision by a thin scattering of student nurses overnight, was because they were desperate to retain their accreditation as a teaching hospital and needed to save elsewhere, something of enormous financial and career significance.

As time went on, his engagement with the top management shifted, in their telling at least. Rather than being personally associated with the bigwigs, he was increasingly in touch with the ambitious middle layer who used his services as a kind of broker to contact private donors, thus getting around the NHS’s procurement rules. I suspect there is more than one sordid story about money in here*.

However, this narrative is somewhat tendentious, when you look at the astonishing attempt by cardiology professor Alistair Hall, PR director Karl Milner, and others to get their hands on Savile’s estate. To recap, Hall, who was Savile’s doctor as well as his friend, gave a eulogy for him at the preposterous pseudo-state funeral in which he claimed that Savile had left much of his estate to endow a heart institute at LGI. Savile’s will contained nothing of the sort. It turns out from the report that Hall, Milner, and company had a get-together between his death and the funeral to decide how best to get their (institutional, rather than personal) hands on his money, like some gang of scheming relatives in a 19th-century French novel.

Actually, many of the recent top management demonstrate huge amnesia about him, which is astonishing when you realise one of them (former CEO Stuart Ingham) remembered Savile directly threatening him, saying that he could have him “dealt with” by people he “knew”, although he also remembered nothing else.

Which reminds me. Far below this exalted social level, Savile’s only official role was as a volunteer porter, and he made a great deal of effort to be everybody’s best mate at that level. It’s not hard to see a parallel with his career in the Northern club trade. Famously, gangsters love to control the door staff because anything that goes in or out of the club goes through the door. Savile had his own door staff to ensure that he controlled the door. Similarly, influencing the porters and security guards gave him what he wanted: access. To put it another way, he muscled in on the door at LGI with the assistance of the new chief porter, his close friend and apparent accomplice Charlie Hullighan, in the same way as he might have imposed a new Lithuanian bodybuilder on an uncooperative dance hall.

In fact, it would probably make sense to break this post up into sections by social class, but there’s only so much Savile I’m up for wading through.

And making this an underworld story is interesting, but I think it’s worth pointing the finger firmly at the cynical and ambitious medical bureaucrats driving in from Harrogate or Ilkley. They thought they were using him; he was using them; now they remember only that he’d always been hanging about and it was somebody else’s problem. They are the Schreibtischtäter of the story, and there’s something frankly Prussian about the report’s description of LGI in the postwar era.

The parallel, not-quite-equal nursing hierarchy was as bad for different reasons. They were just as ambitious but even more authoritarian, and where their medical colleagues cared about their science, they cared mostly about whether any of the students had snuck a boyfriend into halls or been seen in a pub. Nobody seems to have cared about the patients, who were somehow beside the point. The world of Orwell’s How the Poor Die was still with us.

Speaking of How the Poor Die and workhouses, the one place in Leeds where you were relatively safe from Jimmy was…Jimmy’s. Out of thirty-odd allegations on Leeds Teaching Hospitals premises, only one is recorded at St. James’s. Clearly, he had fully entered into LGI’s tribal identity. A real LGI man didn’t set foot in Jimmy’s, and neither did he.

*One that didn’t happen was the appeal for an MRI scanner in the early 90s, where Savile made it a condition of the donation – which wasn’t actually his money or even money he collected – that the machine be procured from a specific Japanese manufacturer, not named in the report. The medics refused to accept that particular model and the deal fell through.

Elections pass off peacefully in disputed territory

I was looking for news about Labour taking control of Bradford council. Here is some Bradford news. Polling day passed relatively peacefully yesterday, despite concerns over potential violence or intimidation on the streets. Yeah, us and Luhansk.

The leader of [fascist group] Britain First, Paul Golding has been challenged to a fight by a British Muslim cage fighter, Umer ‘Bullet Tooth’ Kayani.

Someone with an air rifle keeps shooting people outside fish shops.

“We’ve had customers complaining about the noise of the pellets hitting the ground outside the shop.”

Kneecapped and doused with acid in gang war.

Antiques dealer hit cannabis smoker with stick.

Prosecutor Louise Pryke told Bradford Crown Court yesterday Cox had returned home from the pub, where he was said to have drunk about 11 pints of lager, at about 9pm on April 10 to find two youths smoking in the cobbled street at the back of his house.

He believed the pair were smoking cannabis and swore at them to tell them to move on. He then entered his house and returned with the metal walking stick and struck one of the men on his head

I wasn’t trying to pick stories involving violence. Honest.