comments iconDay 28: Manchester Ambition


Today walked: 14.30 miles

Total walk:  387.60 miles

Today raised:  £50.00 + ¥ 3,200.00

Total raised fund: £ 9,322.09 + ¥ 68,593.45

After a two-day break to help the recovery of my right foot and to allow Xuelin and I to catch up on the mountain of work which is piling up during the walk it was back on the road in Manchester.

I know Manchester quite well. It is in effect a regional capital for the North of England (though Leeds may dispute this) so for much of my life trips to Manchester have been routine. My youngest son Alex went to University here which added to my understanding of some of the areas out of the city centre. It is a fantastic cultural as well as an economic centre. The city came to prominence in the Industrial Revolution when it was a centre for textile manufacturing and since 1990 it has been undergoing something of a rebirth based around arts, culture, technology and of course sport.

Before starting the days walk from Manchester to Bolton Xuelin and I made a private visit to the Manchester Arena the scene of the devastating terrorist attack on May 22nd. We stood quietly at the foot of the steps into the Arena and remembered those whose had been killed, injured and the countless others who have been traumatised by the attack and which our fundraising through our walk is aimed at supporting.

As I started the walk up through Piccadilly Gardens towards the Arndale Centre I was struck by how life was going on–people were out shopping, children were playing in the water fountains and crowds gathered around the street entertainers. People of all ethnic backgrounds and ages mingled together happily in the sunshine. This was less that three months after the attack but I felt it was testament to the resilience of the community of Manchester that it could withstand such a sickening attack of this nature. It also showed that those whose aim was to try and bring hatred and confrontation between different racial groups had utterly failed.

As I left Manchester and entered Salford I came across a great sign outside the University of Salford which simply read ‘Ambition’. The word ‘ambition’ has a modern meaning of a goal of an aim but its origin was in the Latin word ‘ambire’ which meant to go round or to go about. The common element here is to ‘GO’ that is what ambition is. Some people make things happen; some people watch things happen and other just ask ‘What happened?’

I recall being indicted into the Government Whips’ Office in 1994–my first ministerial job. My mentor said ‘Rule 1 of being a Whip is to never underestimate peoples personal ambition’ by which he meant you might thing that this young MP will be very happy with being appointed to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee whereas he is actually terribly disappointed that he has not been appointed Foreign Secretary. It was great advice on how to manage colleagues be presenting roles as being ‘an opportunity to shine and get your talent noticed before you move on to greater things.’

This is not just politics it is in every walk of life did anyone set up a small coffee shop without having the ambition that one day it would be another Starbucks or Costa. Did anyone ever go to drama school and not think that one day they would be discovered and be whisked off to Hollywood. Ambition is what get us going. In America and China people tend to be more open about ambition. In the UK there can be a tendency to understate personal ambition for fear of being ridiculed for seeking to reach above your social class.

That is why Salford University are to be applauded for putting this word in giant letters in front of their entrance. In doing so they are inviting those who enter in to be ambitious–you want to win a Nobel Prize–that’s great we can help you. You want to be a billionaire–we can help you. You want to be a best selling author–great we can help you. You want to be Prime Minister–great we can help you.

What they recognise is that the greatest problem we face is not with people who have too much ambition, but those who have too little.

There is of course a little bit if extra insight that you gain by being 56 rather than 18 and having spent a lifetime being ambitious and working with ambitious people, it is this: There is a wonderful verse in the bible, in Jeremiah 45:5, which says this, ‘Seek great things for yourself? Seek them not’. The message was that personal ambition will only get you so far, it is like trying to quench thirst with salt water, the more you drink the more you thirst. When we are ambitious not for ourselves but for others our lives move onto an altogether more satisfying higher plain.