by Matt Baker
For far too long the default position of the Labour Party in Stoke has been to look to the past. This is not just exemplified by Tristram Hunt’s decision to quit Parliament to take up a job in a museum. Or the previous MP, Mark Fisher’s similar interest in museums (he wrote a book about museums and had a second job as a museums adviser in Qatar).
The most worrying example of this mindset actually saw some in Labour show pride at peddling politics from a bygone era.
When Stoke experimented with a directly elected mayor at the turn of the millennium, it elected the progressive independent, Mike Wolfe, whose campaign was heavily critical of “Labour dinosaurs”. Bizarrely, some Labour councillors took this as a compliment and would wave plastic dinosaurs at the Mayor in the Council Chamber.
In the 20-years I lived in the city, with the exception of Wolfe, the tendency to look to the past became synonymous with its political leaders. It was a mind-set that guaranteed decline. The feeling that the city’s past shone so much brighter than its future was palpable. Sandwiched between its neighbouring cities of Birmingham and Manchester, which were both experiencing an urban renaissance, there was a keen sense that Stoke was missing out. Living standards were deteriorating and it was crying out for a vision of the future. But its leaders, and the Labour Party in particular, had no answers and all it could do was fall back on nostalgia.
When Sir Stanley Matthews, the city’s favourite son, died in 2000, more than a hundred thousand people lined the streets and I saw people in tears as the funeral procession slowly made its way round his home town. Mixed in amongst the grief was the sense that a bright link to a better time had been finally broken.
Restoring that link to a strong sense of pride in Stoke and optimism about the future has to be the number one priority for Labour and Gareth Snell.