Three years have passed since I wrote “the circus leaves town” in some ways it seems like yesterday, in some ways it seems like a lifetime ago.
The circus did indeed leave town, the dishonest chap in the flat cap has now faded into obscurity and not one but two general elections have since taken place.
The city itself remains in a sort of suspended animation, on first glances not much has changed, shops are still closing, the homeless problem is rising, the food banks are still in great demand but change is coming.
The Smithfield development is gathering momentum after a stuttering start, The YMCA are building again, Spode works are taking place.
However perhaps the most significant change of all is not the physical but the political landscape, a city that has been a bastion of working class values and ideals , steeped in the union and labour movement has succumbed to a wave of blue optimism. Something unthinkable even three years ago has become a reality a clean sweep in Stoke for the conservative party at the last election.
It’s difficult to pinpoint one specific reason for this and indeed I rather suspect this is a culmination of cause and effect, Brexit of course plays a large part, I still for the life of me do not understand how people with the most to lose have supported this with such vigour and verve but they have. I somehow sense that the issue here is they don’t think they have anything to lose, one thing the right wing press have been triumphant in is painting the EU as the mortal enemy, of course behind this is immigration and a feeling that the working class have been ignored and marginalised.
That have course has been amplified by the failure of the government to implement the will of the people and I have to agree to some extent. The fact that the referendum will ill thought out has no bearing on the fact when you feel you are being ignored to win a referendum and then not see it implemented is further rubbing salt into the wounds.
While brexit certainly plays a part in the fall from grace of the labour party there are other factors, Corbyn being chief of these, almost everyone you speak of in this city has a distrust and dislike of Jeremy Corbyn. Some of it almost certainly the result of a relentless negative media campaign that has not so much sullied his character but obliterated it. Don’t get me wrong Corbyn himself must bear a lot of the blame, a life long protest Politician has found the transition to statesman problematic. While radiating a certain charismatic charm to his cult like base this has not filtered out to the public at large and especially the good folk of Stoke on Trent.
The polices where incoherent, on Brexit they came across as confused and unable to lead by sitting on the fence, It wasobvious to all looking on the party itself were fractured on the issue. In addition the dark clouds of anti-Semitism were never address and hung over the party like a ill fitting cloak. All the time the party turned in on itself and believed the murmurs of the twitterati enclave ignoring the warning signs of impending doom.
The other thing in Stoke on Trent is the failure of the labour council over many years to address the decline of the potteries hamstrung by the years of austerity the truth is when the crash came they were already behind many other cities in regeneration, granted the independents that have been here for the last few years have come across the same issues with very much the same level of success but the dye was already set.
But the times they are a changing for Stoke on Trent, whether Boris Johnson’s Government can hold on to the likes of Stoke on Trent will depend largely on his ability to either deliver on the promises he has made or at the very least be able to spin his way out of them. Additionally the labour party find themselves at the crossroads about to elect a new leader who will have to find a way to keep the party faithful united and happy while trying to re engage with a electorate that walked away when their backs were turned. Wooing the people of Stoke on Trent back will be no easy task.
In the meantime the shiny new parliamentarian’s of Stoke on Trent have started spritely, full of optimism and zest they have gone about their new roles with a spring in their step and a sincere desire to serve the people of Stoke on Trent. They are the new hope peddlers and I wish them well, not just for their sake but for the people of this great city. It is refreshing to see in all honesty but I am also under no illusion that they will have their work cut out for them in the days ahead.
Yes a lot has changed in the three years since the circus left town, an awful lot, however on a positive note KFC have come back to the city centre.