Neil Connor - Reporter, The Birmingham Post

21.04.05

MG Rover’s collapse understandably still dominates the news agenda
in the Midlands, and politicians of all parties are attempting to make
political capital out of it.

It was just six days since I had last been in the company of Tony
Blair after the Prime Minister broke off his campaigning and made a
hasty (but calculated) trip to Birmingham when the car manufacturer
went into administration.

Here he was again, shedding the sombre
look of his last foray to the Midlands, and displaying a grin as wide
as the helicopter rotor blades which carried him to Redditch’s
Alexandra Hospital. After the usual “well, we might not have time…”
from Blair’s aides, I managed to secure a 10- minute interview. At
last, I thought, this would be the first opportunity for the regional
media to grill the PM on his shameless attempts to stem the political
fallout in the string of marginal seats that surround the Longbridge
car plant.

He was on his back foot from the start, pointing to
the “booming” economy, his concerns about manufacturing and his
“sincere” attempts to secure a deal with the Chinese. “I would not try
to save jobs that could not be saved,” he said.

Not a bad day’s
work, I thought, considering earlier it looked as if the best we might
get was a photo-opportunity with a couple of matrons.

Just
finished writing my copy and I switch on the regional TV news to see
Blair defending himself again. The next morning he was on Midlands
radio stations doing exactly the same. He was everywhere, expressing
his “sorrow” for workers.

So my interview was not the pivotal
chat that I had hoped it might be. Felt like a New Labour tide of spin
had come crashing around me, but at least the Post was there in the
thick of it when Blair was getting a pasting from local hacks.

The regional newspaper awards were held in the evening.

Nominated
(again) in the Best News Journalist category, but didn’t win. However,
it was good to see a journalist from the Post win Best Newcomer, as it
ensures the paper is in safe hands for the future, and Sports
Journalist of the Year.

22.04.05

Received a text message from Labour in the middle of the night.
Well, 8am, but anyone on a regional morning broadsheet considers this
the middle of the night. “Prezza is on,” it read.

John Prescott was in town to help shore up Labour support in the
marginal seat of Birmingham Yardley. Loudspeaker in hand, he gave an
incoherent ramble to a few hand-picked Labour members before giving
journalists a few minutes.

Looking at my notes, I felt thankful I was not a Commons lobby journalist who has to listen to this nonsense every day.

Prescott
said something about the Liberal Democrat candidate “having a few bob”
and being “all right if he was made redundant”. Certainly some sort of
reference to MG Rover, but I didn’t think the polemics of the Deputy
Prime Minister were appropriate just yet.

However, there was
something different for me when I got back to our Colmore Circus
office. I heard from a contact that one of the local lap-dancing clubs
had to axe its male “strip night” as the female-only audience was “out
of control”.

Great quotes from the owner about “screaming banshees” and “when gals were gals” saw the story go national.

23.04.05

With five years’ service, I am the longest serving news reporter at
the Post but I have always resisted the urge that most journalists have
to go into a specialist area such as education or health. However, a
seasoned general news reporter such as myself (and a local one at that)
considers it an exceptional treat when I write the occasional match
report on Aston Villa. My team’s hopes of getting into Europe receded
greatly with the 1-1 draw against Bolton Wanderers, but after the game
I grabbed Villa players Nolberto Solano, Steven Davies and Mark Delaney
for interviews, which helped keep the sports desk in copy for the start
of the week.

24.04.05

Back in work on a Sunday (we work on average one in every two). The
first job was to phone up various local businesses around the
Longbridge area to gauge how the local economy and local community was
faring. Bad news. The local cafe had closed, a few newsagents were on
the brink of folding and takings were down in the pubs. Even the local
sex shop had closed since MG Rover collapsed.

“What type of sex shop was it?” I asked my contact.

“Magazines? Underwear?…”

“The sort that sells things you put batteries in,” came the reply, rather sharply.

This wasn’t the time for tongue-in-cheek anecdotes, but it was worth a mention in the story.

25.04.05

Michael Howard in Redditch (a marginal, obviously) speaking about
Blair “backing the wrong horse” when he supported the Phoenix directors
at Rover five years ago. Didn’t take Howard long to comment on Rover
during the interview, which was conducted on the phone as there wasn’t
much time to get to Redditch.

As my father worked in Birmingham’s manufacturing sector, I really
felt for those former Rover workers who, as they come to terms with
their own personal crises, read of politicians arguing about the
details of the collapse each day.

26.04.05

Interviewed Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
He reassured redundant workers at MG Rover that Government measures
would help get them back into work.

Depended on them voting Labour though.

Was told by the
features desk that a book review I promised had to be in the following
day. In the evening wrote 500 words on Simon Reynolds’ Rip It Up And
Start Again – Postpunk 1978-84 over a few beers.

27.04.05

Day off at last.

Spent a couple of hours giving a talk at a charity event exploring
mental health issues before I relaxed in the way that any good Brummie
journalist should, especially one without work the following day. I had
a balti.

On the walk home, thought about the highlight of the week. Interviewing Blair again? No. Interviewing Nobby Solano? Probably.

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