My week: Peter Stanford causes trouble up north

Peter Stanford meet a warm and decent politician and fends of angry letters from Burnley about a recent campaign.

Monday I attend the latest in a round of meetings with politicians to push Aspire's new campaigns department. A bunch of letters of complaint, postmarked Burnley, arrives via the paper this morning. "You wretched southerners," more than one reads. I write back to point out that I come from Birkenhead, which has Burnley licked in the misery stakes. Today it is with Tony McNulty, Home Office minister and (as the member for Harrow East) local MP for our national HQ in Stanmore in north-west London.

One of the consequences of the way we cover politics in this country is that we see our leaders more as institutions than as people, so we feel we can be as rude as we like about them without ever having to pause to think of them as real human beings who are likely to be upset by what we say.

So when you are confronted by a politician in the flesh and they are warm, open, decent and perfectly prepared to acknowledge that they don't know all the answers, you struggle to reconcile what is before your eyes with the cardboard cutouts we are encouraged to use for target practice when we are bemoaning the state of our nation.

Wednesday I'm in trouble with the people of Burnley. I visited the Lancashire town recently to write a piece for a Sunday newspaper on efforts to encourage integration in a segregated place that saw race riots in 2001 and the election of BNP councillors from 2002 onwards (there are currently seven on the council).

One scheme I saw in action was a football coaching course, run by the Prince's Trust, which brought white and Asian youths together, often for the first time, save for when they are fighting. It took place at Turf Moor, home of the town's football team. In the article, I described the club as "like much else in Burnley, a shadow of its former glories".

Friday There is, I suspect, a fledgling vigilante in most of us. Outside my children's school gates, a mother and child were recently knocked down, the accident caused in part by chaotic parking by other parents.

Since then, in my capacity as a school governor, I have been knocking on the car windows of those who stop on the zig-zag yellow lines and asking them to park somewhere else. I say it oh-so-politely, but the abuse it unleashes is quite extraordinary. One dad got out to rebuke a mother when she banged on his boot to stop him backing over her child. Next to a mark in his paintwork, a child's health meant nothing. When we talk about anti-social behaviour, we tend to picture sink estates and the margins of society.

But it's in our backyards and at our school gates.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster, chairman of Aspire and director of the Frank Longford Charitable Trust.

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