Trump, trainers and tribulations

There have been many times over the past 18 months when I’ve been tempted to write about a certain Mr. Donald J. Trump.

I’ve managed to resist, partly because I didn’t believe there was a realistic chance that he could triumph (*embarrassed face emoji*), and partly because I didn’t feel there was anything original I could say.

And then people started burning their trainers.


American sportswear manufacturer New Balance has been on the receiving end of widespread condemnation from consumers following a comment from one of its vice presidents that appeared to welcome Trump’s stunning election success:

“The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.”
– Matthew LeBretton, vice president of public affairs at New Balance.

The perceived endorsement provoked outrage among those upset by Trump’s accession to the oval office, with many swearing to never wear New Balance again, and some going as far as to set their trainers alight:

Seeing New Balance’s name dragged through the social media mangle hasn’t been easy for this bleeding heart liberal. Not only am I rarely seen without a pair of the brand’s shoes on my feet, but (full disclosure) I once worked for its PR agency in the UK and Ireland.

My view of the company, having worked closely alongside it for almost three years, could not be more positive. It’s a firm that cherishes craftsmanship, values its heritage and, importantly, has decency and fairness running through its core.

The notion that it’s an organisation that supports any form of bigotry is entirely at odds with my experience. But then, that’s not surprising given the magnitude of the leap it would take to come to that conclusion based purely on LeBretton’s comment.

And yet, if you search the #NeverNewBalance hashtag on Twitter, scores of people are doing just that. It’s bewildering. 

To give LeBretton’s  point some context, New Balance is one of the very few remaining sportswear companies that still hangs its hat on domestic manufacturing. Here in the UK, it’s the only major athletic footwear brand to produce shoes in a British factory. In the US, it operates five manufacturing facilities.

While many brands have taken their production lines overseas in order to cut costs, it has maintained this commitment to domestic product and the preservation of jobs. This laudable philosophy is the reason why the brand is more vocal about American trade regulation than many of its competitors.

Essentially, the very thing that makes New Balance a company worthy of praise is now the catalyst behind the scorn being poured upon it.

The controversy revolves around the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP as it’s widely known. While I’m far from an expert when it comes to understanding the finer points of the agreement, I understand it’s a trade partnership between nine countries, championed by the Obama administration, which reduces import fees on products sourced from participating countries.

To put it into this specific context, TPP ultimately gives importers (such as Nike) a competitive edge on domestic manufacturers (such as New Balance) by further reducing their overheads. Therefore it’s loathed by many ‘Made in the USA’ firms, not to mention their employees.

Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to abandon TPP, and New Balance’s decision to welcome this fact now has them wrongly labelled as wholeheartedly endorsing the President-elect, even on issues that aren’t directly linked to trade.

Here’s the kicker, though: Hillary Clinton was also against TPP. Guess who else? Only the darling of the left himself, Bernie Sanders. I assume they’re also good-for-nothing bigots for agreeing with Trump?!

It only serves to underline the astounding lack of logic that’s driven the anti-New Balance movement that has formed over the last week.

It’s akin to finding out Trump once ate at McDonalds, then accusing your mates of being racist and sexist when you find out they like Big Macs too.

It’s also symptomatic of the main problem with modern leftism, in that we don’t bother to debate any more, or to properly articulate our views. We just angrily condemn those who disagree with us, often without bothering to discover the thought process behind their opinion. I’m guilty of it myself.

  • When people voice concerns about immigration, we label them racist.
  • When people support Brexit, or Donald Trump, we accuse them of being stupid.
  • When people, often reluctantly, vote for the option that they believe will better enable them to feed their families, we accuse them of being selfish and narrow-minded.
  • And now, apparently, when a company opposes a trade agreement, we post photographs of ourselves burning its products on Twitter.

But we never bother to find out what brought them to that view, or to discover the context behind it. It’s something that was articulated quite brilliantly in Jonathan Pie’s piece last week. And, for that matter, by Michael Moore before the US election.

How on earth do we expect people to come around to our world view when we’re seen as sneering and dismissive rather than approachable and persuasive? The likes of Trump and Farage have seized upon the resentment that has been bred by this attitude. Yet still, on we go.

How, exactly, do you believe that burning a pair of trainers contributes to a better, fairer world? Why not do something meaningful?

Volunteer. Join a political party. Campaign. At the very least, actually do some research before lurching into immediate condemnation or individuals, organisations or groups. Just do something.

And if you really don’t need those shoes, there’s plenty of people who do. Give them to charity, FFS. It might not get as many Facebook likes as a pair of sizzling sneakers, but you’ll be doing something good whilst not looking quite so daft.

What a bloody mess. Grow up, the lot of you.

You know you should. You really should.


The Morning After The Night Before

As a member of the Liberal Democrats, I’d long earmarked May 7th as a potentially difficult day. However with most opinion polls having concurred that the party was set to retain up to 31 of its parliamentary seats after a positive campaign, it was in a fairly relaxed mood that I settled down to watch the results roll in.

Then came the shocking moment when the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll put forth the view that the Liberal Democrats would go on to win in just ten constituencies, an eventuality that not even the most pessimistic of doom-mongers could have predicted.

The initial reaction, of course, was to dismiss this result as an anomaly. The venerable Paddy Ashdown soon took to the airwaves to dismiss it as claptrap, even offering to ‘eat his hat’ should it come to pass.

And yet, despite having stocked up on highly-caffeinated drinks to see me through the night, they were wholly unnecessary as the massacre unfolded, and I was left wide-eyed with amazement as what looked to be a nonsensical forecast quickly turned into reality.


Giants of our party tumbled at every turn. A shell-shocked Simon Hughes was ousted after 30 years. Ed Davey, who did so much to promote that the environmental agenda within the coalition, followed suit.

The towering Jo Swinson, whose compelling brand of progressive feminism provided a refreshing antidote to the Westminster status quo also fell by the wayside. And perhaps most shockingly of all, the hugely popular Vince Cable, whose astute ideas and policies did so much to help businesses drive the economic recovery, was sensationally ejected from his Twickenham seat.

It was with some irony that the intended recipient of much of the electorate’s ire, Nick Clegg, was among the handful of Lib Dems to cling on to their seats. But, as his speech clearly indicated, there was no cause for celebration, no reason for optimism.

For the party, this was a disaster on a quite colossal, not to mention wholly unpredictable scale.

And so here I am, on the back of two hours sleep (yet feeling wide awake), trying to turn a head full of thoughts into something coherent in the half-hour I have before I’m due to begin my day’s work.

It may seem strange, but I’m certainly not regretting the decision to go into Government five years ago. Many of our detractors dismiss Clegg as a spineless character who sold his soul for a whiff of power.

What I see is a man who had such conviction in his party’s philosophies that he simply felt that the opportunity to implement them was one that could not be missed. Far from being spineless, it was brave, a calculated risk that was worth taking, but one which, ultimately, backfired.

By and large, I think the party can be proud of what it achieved and, in time, I think history will look back kindly on the Lib Dems in Government. To those who have knocked our contribution, I’ve always said “You’ll miss us when we’re gone”, and I’m sure that will bear out in the months and years to come, with the true nastiness of Conservative policy now certain to be allowed to go unchallenged by a coalition partner.

That said, I can certainly understand much of the anger shown towards the Lib Dems. The tuition fees saga was excruciating for all involved, while issues such as food banks and the bedroom tax can’t be a source of pride for any liberally minded person. Indeed, this explains why, for much of the five years we spent in Government, I allowed my party membership to lapse.

However, I came back into the fold a year ago as I was seeing a growing tendency for the noble virtue of liberalism to be cast aside and marginalised in favour of nationalism, which in my view is the smallest form of politics.

The American talk-show host, Conan O’Brien, once said “there is nothing more liberating than having your worst fear realised”, whilst discussing how even the most unexpected of setbacks can be the catalyst for profound reinvention.

And reinvention will be key in terms of preserving a credible Liberal presence in British politics as we move forward in this ever changing landscape. For the Liberal Democrats, there will inevitably be a new leader and new structure, I certainly hope there will be a new attitude, and there could even prove to be a new identity for the party altogether.

The most important thing, now, is to ensure, despite our presence being smaller than it has been in generations, that our voice remains strong, and that we remain unshakable in endeavouring to ensure that our society is built on fairness.

A Government which panders to the powerful and marginalises the weak cannot be tolerated. And the emphasis, now, is on us to ensure that this cannot happen. Despite the disappointment of last night, I’m somehow feeling more fired-up for the fight than ever before.

And with that, seeing as it’s 9.15, I’d better do some work.

You know I should. I really should.

You’re AVin’ a laugh, Britain…

I’m stubborn. And, for that reason, there are few things in the world that irk me more than being told I’m wrong when I’m CERTAIN I’m right.

That’s very much how I feel tonight as it becomes clear that Britain has said a resounding ‘NO’ to the introduction of the alternative vote. Exasperation doesn’t begin to cover it.

My mom often tells stories about how, even as a toddler, I was into politics. I’d sit in front of the TV and, in between episodes of Postman Pat and Thomas The Tank Engine, I’d revel in the activity of the likes of Thatcher and Gorbachev. Turning 18 heralded the magical moment when I could first exercise my democratic right. I was the first through the door at 7am when the 2002 council elections rolled around, and I’ve not missed an opportunity to have my say since.

However, therein lies the problem – I’ve NEVER ‘had my say’ because my vote hasn’t once counted for anything. May 1979 saw Conservative Richard Shepherd claim the Aldridge-Brownhills seat from the Labour incumbent. 32 years on, he remains our MP. And I’m certainly not a Tory.

Some will point out that, having secured 59.3% of the vote at the last General Election, AV would not have been called into play in Aldridge-Brownhills. Obviously, I can’t argue with that. But, I can only wonder whether, under the current first past the post system, there are some who are reluctant to vote for a smaller party because it’s ‘a waste of a vote’? Perhaps some are so resigned to yet another Tory victory that they don’t even bother to head to the booth?

With AV, a fairer system which guarantees that the majority of people get to have their say, I would at least go into the polling station with a bit of hope that something MIGHT happen, rather than the familiar inevitability that it’s all in vain.

While not perfect, I haven’t seen a single compelling case to retain FPTP ahead of AV. The ‘NO’ campaign was based around the vague, the irrelevant and the notion that it was somehow so complex that our mere human minds would explode upon trying to comprehend it. Funded by the same out-of-touch ageing millionaires who bankroll the Tories, the ‘NO’ campaign took the form of one of most spiteful, condescending and morally bankrupt political crusades I’ve ever seen, compounded by David Blunkett’s admission that the oft quoted ‘£250 million’ figure was nothing but a great big whopping lie.

Compare and contrast the promotional material. On one hand we have this wholly logical and eloquently laid out argument from the ‘YES’ campaign. The ‘NO’ campaign, meanwhile, were peddling this clichéd metaphor WHICH DOESN’T EVEN EFFING MAKE SENSE.

And so, why did such an obviously superior system lose out to the current archaic method? There will be an element of ‘the better the devil you know’, obviously. Some will have fallen for the blatant lies emanating from the ‘No’ camp. Some will have voted ‘No’ because The Sun and The Daily Mail told them to. Some will claim they didn’t understand what AV was, which I can only assume means they didn’t bother to try and find out – after all, you’d need to be a total simpleton not to grasp the concept, and none of us are, so we’re all fine.

Most idiotic of all, though, are those who refused to support AV simply because it was a proposal that was forced through by the Liberal Democrats. The anti-Lib Dem sentiment that has existed since the election has puzzled me, purely because many of the arguments against what they’ve done in parliament seem to highlight a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation.

Let’s start with the initial condemnation (no pun intended) of the decision to partner with the Conservatives in the first place, and the constant insinuation that they have somehow ‘sold-out’. The truth is that the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was the ONLY viable option. A Labour-Lib Dem partnership would not have been enough to form a majority. A Conservative minority government would have been unworkable.

Here’s the reality – the Liberal Democrats lost the election. Five seats down on 2005, they hold 57 seats compared to the Conservatives’ 306. And yet, some people seem amazed that government policy is weighted towards the Tory manifesto. A coalition requires some give and take by its very nature. When you barely have one seventh of the stake in the partnership, you need to be prepared for more give than take.

The fact of the matter is that this is as good as it was ever going to get for the Liberal Democrats. If you went to the polls last year on May 6th expecting the sun to rise over Clegg’s Britain on the 7th, you are, frankly, an idiot. A Liberal Democrat majority was simply not going to happen. The possibilities were clear – either being the perennial third party, where none of the pillars of the manifesto would be implemented, or the minority player in a coalition where at least some of your policies will be utilised. As a supporter of the party, offered these two options, there’s only one logical choice – otherwise what’s the point?

Of course, mistakes have been made. The student tuition fees saga was as cringeworthy a political scenario as any I’ve ever witnessed. However it boils down, once again, to the Conservatives wielding the balance of power within the partnership. Clegg’s mistake was not backing the proposals in government, it was signing a pledge whilst in opposition.

And yet, despite all the concessions made to Tory policy by the Lib Dems, they’d managed to secure one of the greatest parts of the bargain of all – the chance to secure a fairer political future for us all, a genuine once in a lifetime chance to achieve a greater freedom of choice, a greater democracy, to make our MPs work harder, and to make our government more representative of the country as a whole.

We blew it. And we may never get the opportunity again. But then, I’m used to being on the losing side of a poll…

Bravo, Britain. Bra-bloody-vo.