30 Sep 2012

Crick’s picks: Chuka, Manchester and a very persistent protester

CHUKA UMUNNA was interviewed by Gary Gibbon on stage this lunchtime in the latest Channel 4 News ‘In Conversation …’ event. Gary asked him how he’d been affected by his father’s death when he was only 13.

“People normally only get a sense of mortality in their 20s,” Umunna said, explaining how it had given him such a sense right then.   “It made me grow up very quickly. I kind of leap-frogged a bit.”

Credit: Meabh Ritchie

As a biographer, I find it fascinating to explore what originally fires the rockets of high-achievers, and it’s striking how many politicians lose parents at a young age.

MANCHESTER is my favourite conference venue these days, but then I am a Mancunian.  The conference centre is the old Manchester Central railway station, which I recall visiting as a ten-year old trainspotter in 1968, in the months before the station closed, and during the final days of steam.

And there’s a wonderful picture, taken in 1909, of the Manchester United team arriving back from London with the FA Cup and being  carried through the crowds on the forecourt in a horse-drawn   open-top coach.

At a previous conference here I told the owners of the building that they should have a big blow-up of the picture somewhere on the site, but they’ve not done that, so far as I know.

It’s a wonderfully historic spot politically too.  The Radisson Hotel next door is on the site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819  when 15 demonstrators calling for parliamentary reform were killed by cavalry wielding sabres (and event which in turn sparked the foundation of the Manchester Guardian).

Next door, in contrast, in the Midland Hotel, Rolls met Royce.  And only a few hundred yards away, in 1868, the TUC was founded.

As I arrived today, I bumped into STUART HOLMES, who should win an award for being the most persistent protester in Britain.  He invariably turns up outside Labour and Conservative conferences every year, though never gets inside.

I first met him almost 30 years ago, in 1984 or 1985, when I even did a short profile of him for Channel 4 News.

At that time smoking was his big issue, and he’d just achieved considerable success getting municipal bus companies in most of the major conurbations to run thousands of ‘SMOKING KILLS’ posters on the sides of their buses.

These days Stuart is concentrating on what he sees as the evils of nuclear energy.  He always badgers me, tries to press his leaflets into my hand, begging me to stop and listen to his latest conspiracy theory.

To be honest, my one-time admiration has developed into a slight irritation, and I hope to get in without him spotting me.  But I’m always nagged by what the late  Paul Foot always used to say: “Listen to the nutters.”

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