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.

nb

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:

https://twitter.com/milftears/status/796557820829175808?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

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.

RIP Dalian Atkinson

Like all Aston Villa fans, I was stunned today to hear of the tragic death of our former striker, Dalian Atkinson.

Having been a mainstay of the Villa team in the earliest years of my support of the club, Dalian played in an era when, as a child who was quickly falling in love with the beautiful game, I viewed Villa players with an almost mystical aura.

Dalian

Put simply, Dalian Atkinson was a hero to me in the truest sense of the word.

Villa supporters are today, rightly, sharing their favourite memories of Dalian. From his equaliser in the 1994 Coca-Cola Cup semi-final, his opener in the final, as well as his goal of the season winner against Wimbledon in 92/93, there’s no shortage of candidates.

However, my favourite moment occurred not in a packed stadium, but in the rain soaked confines of Villa’s training ground.

Back then, Bodymoor Heath was much more open to the public than it is today, and my dad often used to take me there on a Sunday morning to enjoy a glimpse of my idols up-close and personal.

Invariably, I’d take along my own football, and dribble along the sidelines, daydreaming of one day being part of the claret and blue first team myself.

It was on one such morning that I was lost in this fantasy when I heard a shout behind me. “Mate! Give us a kick!”.

And out from the players’ gym strode Dalian Atkinson.

Dalian took control of my ball, dribbling around me while I, starstruck, tried to take the ball off his toe. Frustrated by my fruitless attempts to dispossess the mercurial forward, my tackles became more wild, prompting fears from my dad that I was about to injure our star striker.

There was no danger of that. Dalian was just too good. After about 10 minutes, our scrimmage was over. He shook my dad’s hand, ruffled my hair, and shuffled off back indoors. I recall my dad seemed even more euphoric than I did. “Never forget this day”, he told me. And I never have.

It’s only now, when I think about it, that I understand what an incredible experience it truly was. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario today where an eight-year-old kid can enjoy a kickabout with his football hero. It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.

The tributes today from those who knew him best only serve to reinforce his public persona. A happy-go-lucky, likeable guy, who didn’t take life too seriously. Perhaps not seriously enough at times.

With that in mind, its really difficult to come to terms with the manner in which he died in the early hours of this morning. He’s one of the last people I would anticipate could end up in such a situation, and with little information in the open, it’s impossible to make sense of what happened.

For now, though, I’m going to remember him as a man who went out of his way to make a young boy’s day. I will sing his name loudly and proudly in the 10th minute at Villa Park tomorrow night.

You know I will. I really will.

Justice for the 21

Two things in life I’m fiercely proud of are my Irish heritage and my Brummie roots, and it’s always been heartening to see the city I call home embracing the culture, history and valued contribution of my ancestors.

It wasn’t always like this.

40 years ago, on this day, bombs planted by groups purporting to represent the Irish people tore through two pubs in our city, resulting in the senseless slaughter of 21 predominantly young people who were simply out to have fun. Ordinary folk enjoying their lives.

They weren’t the only victims. There’s the six falsely accused men who spent 16 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, of course. But let’s not underestimate the impact on Birmingham’s Irish community, who despite unanimously denouncing the horrors that unfolded, suddenly found themselves treated as outcasts in their own city.

Mercifully, tensions eased and wounds healed. The bombings occurred ten years before my birth and I’ve grown up in a region where Irish culture is celebrated, as demonstrated by the fact that Birmingham now hosts an annual week-long Irish festival culminating in one of the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parades.

Nonetheless, there will never be closure while so many questions remain unanswered. Us Brummie folk are the sort to keep our heads down, to accept our lot and carry on regardless. Public grief or impassioned campaigns for justice don’t really sit too easily with our psyche.

But until we achieve justice for those people whose lives were so abruptly ended on that night 40 years ago, the cloud over our heads will never clear.

It’s time for Birmingham’s Irish to stand up once more and say ‘not in my name’.

It’s time for us to maintain our united front whilst finding our voices.

It’s time for Justice for the 21.

You know it is. It really is.

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.

Enjoy the Craic. Just one favour…

Hello. It’s been a while.

I make my return to the blogosphere just ahead of one of my favourite days of the year.

St. Patrick’s Day is a wonderful indulgence in Irishness. It was a particular joy at University, when I’d rise, don the green jersey and tricolor, cook a full Irish breakfast for my lucky, lucky housemates, sink a pint of Guinness, then head out where I’d continue to get the black stuff down my neck until the early hours of March 18th. Even lectures weren’t a particular barrier, as anyone who witnessed me staggering into the University of Lincoln’s Cargill lecture theatre one year will testify (it’s not big and it’s not clever).

It’s been a less hardcore affair in recent years, what with pesky work preventing the all day benders,  but I always make the time for a swift couple of pints and a soda farl or two.

Here’s the thing, though (and this is essentially the point of this blog) – Irishness, to me, is far, far more than donning a funny hat and getting royally pissed once a year. And yet, some people remain seemingly hellbent on denying me my heritage.

It’s often jovial, but it occasionally takes the form of sneering derision, people almost hauling me over the coals as to my claims to Irish heritage, before, inevitably, coming to the conclusion that the fact that 50% of the blood sloshing around inside me is Irish isn’t enough for me to justify any significant link to the Emerald Isle.

It frustrates and confuses me in equal measure. Why are they so determined to make light of my roots? I hate to come across all Daily Mail, but a person with black skin wouldn’t have to face a similar inquisition over their claims to have African or Caribbean heritage, because there’s tangible evidence literally looking you in the eye.  As my mom often likes to say when she, ridiculously, faces a similar challenge to her right to claim Irishness: “If Irish people had green skin, I’d be green”.

And she would. My mom was born Helen O’Shea and raised in a distinctly Irish household in Birmingham. My grandparents, Cal and PJ hailed from the small, picturesque village of Kildysart, Co.Clare, before venturing across the Irish sea to make a life for themselves and their children in Blighty.

Life has dealt me a largely lucky hand, but I think the thing that makes me feel sadder than anything else is the fact that my granddad was taken from me far too soon, only a week after my first birthday. All I have are the tales from my family, their recollections of a truly great human being.

Nanny Cal also went too soon. I was 11 when we lost her very suddenly to a stroke, and words don’t accurately describe how much I miss her to this day. She was an enormous part of mine and my sister’s childhood, picking us up from school most nights, looking after us until mom got home, and one of the kindest, gentlest human beings to ever walk the planet – the quintessential Irish lady. I’ve never known a shock like the enormity of her passing, and never a day goes by when I don’t think of her.

It’s the untimely loss of my grandparents which I think makes me cling on to my Irish heritage all the more, a passion to respect their legacy, ensuring their memory will never be forgotten. It’s hard to explain how you can feel such a belonging, such a connection with a nation that I’ve never called home. But it’s something that burns inside me, which should go some way to explaining why I don’t take kindly to somebody questioning it.

This is probably as good a point as any to clarify, for the avoidance of any doubt, that I’m not denouncing my Englishness by any means. Half of the blood inside me is English, courtesy of my dad, and I’m hugely proud of that part of my heritage too. (I just don’t support the English national football team anymore because most of them are dicks, innit?)

Of course, in the eyes of the law, I’m 100% British. Going back to the smug idiots who love to question my claims to be Irish, the one thing I hate to be asked is “Do you have an Irish passport?” – because it’s a question I can’t answer ‘Yes’ to.

My citizenship is British, my passport is British, and, in every official piece of documentation I ever fill out, I’m duty bound to list my nationality as such. It may seem insignificant, but I always do so with resignation – I yearn to write English/Irish, to formalise what I feel I am, my own sense of identity.

I was recently able to do just that when filling out my census form. Thanks to the ‘How Irish Are You?’ campaign, I learned that there’s a difference between Nationality and Ethnicity. And so, while I had no choice but to list ‘English’ under national identity,the ethnicity section allowed me, finally, to list both of the nationalities I feel a sense of belonging to. I doubt there were many people to take as much joy out of filling in their census as I did, I can guarantee you that.

Having done it once, I’m eager to do it again. And thus, I’m currently looking into going through the process of registering my ‘foreign birth’ with the Irish authorities, gaining dual citizenship, and the right to carry both a British and an Irish passport.

It’s a long and arduous process, which costs a considerable amount of money and requires me to submit an almost prohibitive amount of paper work, including the original copies of my parents’ and grandparents’ birth and marriage certificates, as well as my own birth certificate – even surrendering my passport for a period of time.

People may question why I’m going through it. There are no obvious benefits or incentives to do so, but I WANT to do it. I want to honour my grandparents, I want that link to them, I want something tangible to prove what I feel so deeply inside, my commitment to my roots. And, as much as anything, I want that official bit of paper to silence the begrudgers once and for all.

So please, enjoy the Craic tomorrow. Drink, wear a leprechaun hat, do a little jig if the mood takes you. But, please… don’t call me a Plastic Paddy. Because I’m not.

You know I’m not. I’m really not.