Forgive me for starting about eighteen miles south-east of Durham. To anyone interested in politics - and that should be all of us - what happened in Hartlepool on Thursday is of real significance. To a veteran observer, the constituency looked and felt like a Conservative gain from day one, but the scale of the victory and the extent of Labour's decline does lend added significance. It is amplified by the results in council elections elsewhere.
If Jeremy Corbyn's admirers really imagine that Labour can rescue its fortunes in former industrial areas by tacking back towards unreconstructed socialism, they are wrong. The emerging truth is that Labour is perceived as a party for young, affluent, middle class progressives. And the problem is obvious, London and the suburbs of a few prosperous cities can never produce the votes required to elect a government. Labour is suffering the consequences of, among other phenomena, the death of pan-British industries such as coal, shipbuilding and steel and the collective identities these and their associated trades unions and cultures created. It has lost Scotland - although Anas Sarwar has greater credibility than Keir Starmer. It has continued to ignore the very voters to whom it most needs to appeal.
What does it mean? Above all that Labour's unpopularity may not be a temporary or shallow phenomenon. Boris Johnson has momentum despite everything (and perhaps in part because of everything: Conservative activists are convinced that his bad-lad persona appeals to many former Labour voters). There are social democrats on Labour's backbenches who may, perhaps, one day emerge to reconstruct a version of Labour that might win elections as Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair once did. We should be aware, however, that the electoral college Ed Miliband created is more likely to replace Keir Starmer with another Corbyn supporter than a centrist capable of winning power. The consequences of such a reversion would be to accelerate Labour's decline.
The bigger issue is starkly apparent: Scotland is where the future of the United Kingdom will be decided. Nicola Sturgeon's SNP are on the brink of an absolute majority. Our United Kingdom has existed not only since the Acts of Union in 1707. It was first brought into being by the Union of the Crowns in March 1603. That moment when James VI of Scotland became James I of England and Ireland as well. Breaking it up would be a disaster for Scotland and for the remaining bit of the UK, whatever we might choose to call it.
Forgive me for offering you a political column. Now to South College. It has been a week of positives. On Wednesday I enjoyed watching our netball players train on the MUGA. I am looking forward to watching them play against Van Mildert on Sunday. I'm also looking forward to South Hockey's first match against Trevelyan. I shall spend some very happy hours at Maiden Castle this weekend. (*Note that I shall attend these events as a Club Official which is permitted under current guidelines. Broader attendance by supporters is not yet permitted*) I hope to see South College Boat Club on the water very soon, and I hope to watch some cricket too. College sport is a fantastic Durham tradition. We have been without it for too long.
We have been without music, theatre, and dance too. I look forward to all taking their rightful place in South College life. Some of the best bits of the Durham experience extend beyond superb academic teaching and learning. These are the experiences that make Durham so distinctive and so superb.
Of course, College Days and College Balls fall into the same category, and Alicia Bathurst and Richard Freeman have done a tremendous job to organise our first Summer Ball. I am looking forward to it immensely and I have invested heavily in champagne to get the evening off to a sparkling start.
Plans for the College Day are well under way too, but here I would like a little help from Southies with musical ability and ambition. We will open College Day with a Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving in the Hub. This will be conducted by The Revd Gavin Wort, University Coordinating Chaplain. Gavin and I have devised a very uplifting service. We'll march into the Hub at 11am to the Radetzky March by Johannes Strauss Senior (1804-1809) and march out again to the Royal March of the Lion by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). During the service, there are two opportunities for South College musicians to perform. It might be a choir; it might be an orchestra. It could be a quartet or a solo. I know the talent exists in our wonderful college community. If you would like to perform, please let me know. I am very keen to showcase the best of South music at this first annual South College Service. It is a great Durham tradition to begin College Days with such a service. All the best colleges do it. South must therefore do it best.