Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Election Special

A coloured voting box

Did you vote yesterday ? You’re not alone !

I’ve decided I’m going to try and blog more often. Here’s my starter for 10 …

I’ve wrestled with my conscience about whether to vote in yesterday’s elections for Police Commissioners. It struck me right from the start that these elections would be marked by a mixture of total apathy, and by outright opposition. If I’d been keeping up to my blog I’d have been able to link to a previous post so that I could say “I told you so !”.

Well I didn’t keep up to my blog so I can’t, and I didn’t, but I could have.

It all seemed so obvious to me …

In the first instance,  the public simply don’t have the appetite for more ranks of elected officaldom. (As demonstrated by the widespread rejection of the option of having elected Mayors ). Democracy for the British people it would seem is about electing people with sufficient seniority to appoint other people that they choose on our behalf to do the donkey work for them.

And really, what’s wrong with that ?

I’m actually fine with that state of affairs.

Secondly – if you’re going to politicise any thing, then please do not make it the Police Force – it’s the last thing in the world that most people would want dominated by an elected official.

It feels very wrong in my own opinion – and also feels decidedly un-British. A bit like having a Sheriff in the Wild West.

I’m not actually sure where the idea came from – was it an issue in the general election ? If it was then I missed it. It seems we’ve had this wonderful idea dropped on us from on high – and unlike the idea of AV voting, and elected mayors, this time we weren’t given a choice of whether to accept this innovation to our democratic process – we were merely given the choice of who we wanted to do the job that had been invented.

Well I didn’t want anybody to do the job. OK – I’d prefer a Labour candidate. And I’d prefer any candidate that’s not part of a far right racist group. Really though – I’d prefer it if our time wasn’t wasted on this rubbish.

So what happened at the Ballot Boxes ?

Record low turnouts; very high numbers of spoiled ballots; and a high number of independents elected (it remains to be seen how many of them are well qualified ex-policemen, and how many are dangerous authoritarian nut cases – I’m hoping the former is the case).

We’ve also had the Electoral Commission announcing that it will launch an inquiry into the low turnouts, which they describe as “a concern for everyone who cares about democracy”.

So what does David “I’m in touch” Cameron have to say ?

David Cameron speaking after the election : “It takes time to explain a new post”

Well according to the BBC David Cameron said low turnout in a first-time election was expected. (which begs the question of why he didn’t address that before polling day). When told that ‘Numerous areas have confirmed turnouts ranging from 13-20%.’ – he said

“It takes time to explain a new post,” and he predicted voting numbers would be “much higher next time round”

What was that Prime Minister ? Next time ? Next time ? – are you having us on ?

I’m sorry Mr Cameron but you’ll have to do better than that.

Cast your minds back about a year – when various unions took ballots regarding strike action to protest against Government plans for public sector pensions.

A well reported one was this : Unison members vote for pension strike  which Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude responded to by calling on Unison members not to go ahead with a strike.

“Today’s Unison ballot received a very low turnout – with less than a third of their members even voting – which shows there is extremely limited support for the kind of strike action their union leaders want,”

So what he was saying was that despite the technical legitimacy of the mandate for strike action by Unison, they should not take the action because there was no ‘popular’ mandate – no ‘moral’ mandate if you prefer.

This on a vote of members who’d chosen to join the union, members who would not be bound by the result of the ballot; and who voted 78% to 22% in favour on a 29% turnout.

This equates to around 22.5% of the total eligible to vote. Admittedly it’s hardly overwhelming.

It stacks up well though compared to the Conservatives’ share of total possible votes in the 2010 general election – 26% – slightly more than 1 in 4 of the electorate.

And it looks very much like a landslide in comparison with the victory for new Conservative PCC  Matthew Ellis in Staffordshire. Mr Ellis described his share of the vote as “a decent mandate” – yet on the meagre 11.63% turnout his share of the vote amounted to just 6% of the electorate.

Rt Hon David Cameron, MP, Conservative Party l...

“You’ve all done very, very well !”

Mr Cameron when 6% is a decent mandate, then we have a problem. The process of appointing these commissioners needs, at the very least, to be suspended pending further parliamentary debate. While no one seriously questions the technical legitimacy of these elections, it’s clear that there is very little support for the new proposed Police Commissioners- how ill any one gain by imposing this measure on the public ?

Elsewhere all the elections went pretty much as expected. Two Labour holds in Manchester Central and Cardiff South & Penarth; from which precious little can be learned especially on the very low turnouts.

The turnout was more respectable in Corby where Labour’s Andy Sawford won with a large swing to Labour following semi-celeb Louise Mensch’s resignation recently.

It’s difficult to really divine what this means in national terms – it’s by no means an absolute death sentence for the Government – but it’s also still a pretty positive and healthy result for Labour.

What really struck me about the Corby by-election though was Louise Mensch staying

Louise Mensch MP, Corby and East Northamptonshire

Louise Mensch – It’s all about me ! (Photo credit: Stop Climate Chaos Coalition)

true to her media image by singularly failing to keep her gob shut.

Having ousted a Labour MP incumbent since 1997 at the 2010 general election, Louise handed a hard earned Conservative seat straight back to the opposition half way through the parliament. Perhaps she’d have thought today was a day to merely congratulate the victor, and offer some apology to the defeated Tory candidate.

Here’s what she said  :

Election result will not be a verdict on either Christine, or the Conservatives, but only on the decision I took to step down mid-term

Well get you Menschy !

Who the hell does she think she is ? Obviously she thinks she’s so important that the people of Corby will vote on no other issue other than her resignation – they won’t be bothered by the omnishambles of a Government, they won’t bother looking at what any of the candidates have to say – for any of the parties. No they’ll just be so furious at the loss of their darling Louise that they’ll take it out on her old party.

And with these words Louise once again illustrates that character trait running right through the Tory Party – the characteristically self-centred sense of superiority and elevated status which they feel is their entitlement. Perhaps if Louise had campaigned with Christine in Corby and told the pleb electorate to know their place and vote for who she told them to, then they might have won.

Finally we had the news of John Prescott failing in his bid to be elected as a Police Commissioner in Humberside. Conservative MP Robert Halfon exhorted to Twitter :

At least John Prescott didn’t get elected as Police Commissioner -#notalltoday’sTorynewsisbad

And yet even in this hashtag he is at least partially mistaken.

John Prescott’s defeat, was not achieved through the First Past the Post system. It was achieved through the AV system – that system that the country voted so overwhelmingly to reject, and which most of the Tory Party (including Robert Halfon) campaigned vigorously against – rejecting it as undemocratic.

English: John Prescott, British Labour politic...

A not so recent picture of John Prescott looking grumpy. The ones today were pretty much the same

On a first past the post vote, John Prescott would have been elected.

On a count of first preferences, winning candidate Matthew Grove’s 29,440 votes account for just 4% of the total electorate

Yet the Tories seem to be dancing in the street.

Do they even know what democracy means ?

Omnishambles !

Omnishambles !

Omnishambles

November 16, 2012 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We’re all in this together

I spotted two news articles today, which were reasonably interesting in themselves, but didn’t have me salivating with rage or frothing with indignation. Taking them both together though, they threw up a couple of interesting numbers.

The first article was this 37 Tory donors with a combined fortune of £10,258,000,000, have gifted the Tory party with £2,891,436 in the last 13 weeks. on Eoin Clarke’s blog “The Green Benches”  .

I’ll be honest, although I’m fairly left wing, I don’t hold that it’s immoral to earn money, or indeed to amass wealth, and if you’re wealthy, why not donate some to your favourite political party ? Seems reasonable.

I noticed on the list a couple -  Carol & Eddy Haley, – who have an estimated wealth of one and a half  billion pounds. An astonishingly large amount of money. I’m not going to speculate on whether they deserve it  – I’ve no particular reason to doubt that they do. I do know that they suffered a particularly nasty violent robbery some years back – for which they have my sympathy. They donated a large amount to the Conservative Party in the last three months – as they are entitled to I believe.

Elsewhere in the news we have the spectacular story of Annunziatino Attanasio Cardiff waterslide woman jailed for £20,000 benefit con who’s own home video of her lapping up a luxury holiday, and sliding down a water slide, when she was claiming the highest rate of Disability Living Allowance helped to land her in big trouble. She has been found guilty of fraud and has received a prison sentence. I could speculate about the fairness of this – but let’s not. I’m not going to second guess the court – she pleaded guilty and is therefore deesrving of the punishment meted out. She has after all diddled “the taxpayer” out of almost £20,000 over 5 years.

Hang on though – that number – almost £20,000 – actually it was £19,374 – and she was claiming the top rate of disability living allowance for 5 years ?

So forget what she’s done for a minute – that’s the amount that a disabled person – on FULL benefits, can expect to receive over FIVE years !

That’s right : £3,874 per year – £74.51 each week to live on.

£10.65 per day

Meanwhile, Carol & Eddy could if they so choose, place all their money in a savings account. Times are not great for savers, but they’d easily get an account that GUARANTEED them a return of 1.75% until 2015  Top Savings Accounts (They’d probably get a lot more, but let’s choose a low interest example for now).Then they could go to sleep, loaf around, slide down waterslides or do whatever takes their fancy – secure in the knowledge that their savings would  net them £26.25 million per year – or if you like, £504,807 per week

£72,115.38 per day

Now I know these figures are misleading a little – they’re liable to tax on all that for a start, and if they liquidised all their assets, which presumably make up that total, then the assets themselves would probably fall in value because of the very fact that they were cashing in.

However – the difference here is stark. The difficulty we have is not that the Haley’s are doing anything wrong. Nor that it’s wrong to prosecute those who defraud the benefits system.

But when a severely disabled person is only able to receive crumbs from the table – some   0.174%  of the income that a donor to the Governing party can receive  by doing nothing except put his money in the bank, then there is something wrong somewhere. The pretence that we’re all in this together is offensive, and the Government’s determination to villify and demonise disabled people is so very very wrong.

December 5, 2011 Posted by | Disability, news, politics | , , | 1 Comment

Pro-Life AND Pro-Choice

[ Since publishing this, there's been quite a bit of movement from the Government - See links at bottom of post ]

I’m continually disappointed at the failure of those people who approve of abortion (who call themselves “Pro-Choice“, and are called “Pro-Abortion” by their opponents) and those people who do not approve of abortion (who call themselves “Pro-Life” and are called “Anti-Choice” by their opponents) to engage in any kind of constructive discourse which takes any notice at all of each other’s positions regarding abortion.

The “Pro-Life” argument is this : Human Life is sacred, and to take it away deliberately is an act of murder. Human Life begins at conception, therefore an abortion is the deliberate taking of life and is therefore an act of murder. That is why they oppose abortion.

The “Pro-Choice” argument is this : Human life may well be sacred – but the mother’s life is the one principally affected in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Human life begins at the moment of birth, and an unborn child is therefore not alive, and an abortion is nothing more than a medical procedure to remove what is technically a part of the mother’s body. This is why they support a woman’s right to choose whether she has an abortion or not.

Now is it just me ?

I can see that there is an eloquent logic in both of these arguments. They are both reasoned positions, they are both admissible arguments, irrespective of whether you agree with either position. I find it easy to respect the thinking behind each of these arguments.

So why can’t the Anti-Choicers or the Pro-Abortionists ?

It’s really not so difficult to understand these arguments, but each side gets ever more deeply into the dismissing the other sides claims as “madness” or even “evil”.

It frankly bores me. There’s no attempt at accommodating each others position, no attempt at a move out of the impasse, no thought of synthesis or reconciliation – just ridicule and venom in equal measure, to and from both sides.

It seems very clear to me that the key issue separating the two sides of the argument is not over whether the mother or the child’s life is more important. It is about whether life begins at conception, or whether life begins at birth.

It seems though that neither side seem to want to address this fundamental difference of opinion. This saddens me.

It saddens me further that it seems highly likely to me that neither position is true. Human Life clearly does not start at birth – since births can be induced prematurely, and babies can be delivered by section, all without harm to the child – if performed at the right time. It’s also unlikely that Human Life begins at conception – other than in an abstract sense. Is a group of cells a person ? Does it have conciousness ? Does it possess – dare I say it – a soul ? I think it’s unlikely.

So the question of exactly when a foetus or embryo becomes a human being is an important one to ask. Unfortunately it’s not one we’re likely to get a definitive answer on – it involves complex moral, religious, and philosophical considerations, as well as complex issues of science and human biology. We might as well argue about angels dancing on the head of a pin.

For me though the argument around abortion becomes simpler when I consider this. Human Life clearly begins at some point between the moment of conception, and the moment of birth – which is quite a long time for a margin of error.

To me abortion doesn’t seem quite right. It seems that when we carry out abortions we are carrying out actions which are at least ethically questionable, and which many people find undesirable.

Neither though does it seem quite wrong. I can not believe that an abortionist, or a woman who has an abortion, is a murderer. They are clearly entering into a procedure in the firm belief that they are not taking a life, and there are many reasons why they should do so.

When it comes to the anecdotal heart string pulling stories that are wheeled out both for and against abortion, I think I’ve encountered most variations of them in my life.

I’ve had female friends who’ve had abortions, and never regretted it for a second, and I’ve had those who’ve spent the rest of their lives feeling guilty. I’ve known those who’ve considered abortion and rejected it, and been delighted with their baby. I’ve never known anyone say out right that they’ve regretted NOT having an abortion – but I’ve seen a few who don’t need to say it – it’s written all over their face frequently.

I could tell you wonderful stories – like my cousin who was told she was expecting a Down syndrome child, and advised to terminate the pregnancy. She did not – and her baby is loved by all the family – and doesn’t have Down syndrome.

A fairy tale ending – but not all of the stories have a happy ending. I’ve taught children with some of the most severe disabilities throughout my career – and though I’m particularly attuned to valuing the lives of all of these children however disabled they are, I also see some of the almost unbearable suffering that some of them endure – and see parents struggling to cope, year after year. I could not judge those parents if they decided to abort the pregnancy of  a potentially disabled child.

I could tell you a story of a girl, abducted by soldiers in Africa, forced to become a sex slave, who then escaped to England, only to be pimped into prostitution on arrival and abandoned when it was realised she was pregnant. She had her baby who suffered severe brain damage and will have severe medical problems and learning difficulties throughout his life. She loves her son dearly but who could have blamed her for terminating that pregnancy ? And who can fail to be moved by her faith and strength of character in choosing not to abort ?

So I find that I’m someone who is pro-Life – I don’t like abortion. I want to promote life, not end it. Though many pregnancies are unwanted, most children are wanted – and I’d hope that my own daughter would be able to feel confident that she could have a child that she would be helped to provide for, should she find herself in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy – she’s 15 at the moment.

I’m also pro-Choice though. I don’t think these decisions are easy, I accept that I may be right or wrong on these issues, and I accept that there are situations which make the issue so complex that it is nigh on impossible to come to a reasoned conclusion one way or another. And I realise that ultimately it will be the woman carrying the child, who will need to make that decision – and will need to live with it afterwards. If that’s the decision my daughter came to, my wife and I would support her and help her all the way.

That the issue of abortion has risen to the surface on social media and in mainstream press in the last couple of days or so seems almost entirely due to the amendments proposed to the upcoming Health Bill made by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, and Labour MP Frank Field which propose amongst other things, to prevent the existing agencies Marie Stopes, and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service giving counselling and advice to women considering abortion, on the grounds that as paid providers of abortion services they have a conflict of interest, and are not independent. It has been reported – notably in the Guardian Ministers back anti-abortion lobby reforms  that the Government intend to implement this part of the proposals without legislation, in favour of independent advice – provided by agencies as yet unknown – but it’s widely thought that anti-abortion group Life will be invited to form part of this.

It’s understandable why this has caused a storm. On the one hand it seems entirely reasonable that women considering abortion should be able to avail themselves of as much advice and counselling as they can. On the other it seems ludicrous to brand esteemed organisations such as BPAS and Marie Stopes as biased, in comparison with the lop sided argument they are likely to receive from Life.

I feel that in any open debate this would not be seen as a way forward – there are many sources of truly independent advice which considers all options : The Brook charity for instance is one such source that is widely respected, and BPAS and Marie Stopes could well argue that they already provide impartial advice.

The thing is though that this is not going to be an open debate. It’s going to be tagged on to the much larger – and potentially much more important – debate regarding the Tory proposals to change the NHS. ( See Kerry McCarthy MP’s blog regarding this : Right to choose -v- right to know ) Any time spent discussing changes to abortion law in parliament, will be time not spent discussing the rest of the proposed legislation.

So we now come to see the real political opportunism that Nadine Dorries and Frank Field are using. They’ve managed to bring their proposals to such a state that they could potentially threaten to de-rail the Tories’ show piece legislation that is the Health and Social Care Bill. They know that MPs from all sides of the house will be clamouring to debate and de-rail their proposals on abortion. They know also that David Cameron’s government, can ill afford to waste time on this side show to the main event. They have thus apparently been successful in extracting a concession from the Government in the shape of the proposal to alter the provision of counselling and advice.

Both Field and Dorries are mavericks in their parties, Dorries in particular is a grandstander who delights in being controversial

While Pro-Choicers everywhere seem to be chomping at the bit to denounce them as mad fruitcakes, the pair seem to have pulled off a remarkable coup – extracting a change of policy without legislation from the Government, presumably in exchange for leaving the way clear in the commons to push through the changes to the NHS.

If you really believe in choice you might want to consider whether the new bill will give any of us greater or less choice in our lives, or indeed those of our unborn children

UPDATE : Since writing this it would appear that David Cameron has done a U-Turn on the promise to change the regulations on provision of counselling, without legislation. He’s now saying that this is NOT on the cards, and that Tory ( & Lib Dem) MP’s will be advised to vote against the amendments (although still allowed a free vote) – If they are debated . Quite how much time this will leave for debating the rest of the bill is by no means clear.

Full Details in this Guardian Article : Downing Street forces U-turn on Nadine Dorries abortion proposals . This analysis of the situation is also rather enlightening Abortion advice from Nadine Dorries is classic backstreet politics

 

This all leaves things in a rather uncertain state – perhaps the only certain thing is the Guardian’s assertion that

“The U-turn, stemming from No 10′s frustration about the health department’s handling of the situation, is another embarrassing blow for the health secretary, Andrew Lansley.”

August 30, 2011 Posted by | politics, Uncategorized, women | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Base, common & popular

Tony Blair & Margaret Thatcher - Royal London ...

Blair & Thatcher visit the wax works - Image by Alanna@VanIsle via Flickr

There have been a flurry of rumours on Twitter and on the internet more generally that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died, or is about to.

All so far have proved to be false, but have already shown that there are many – particularly within the Labour fold, that will almost literally dance for joy when she finally does pop her clogs.

I’ve despised her for many years. I won’t be dancing on her grave though – displays of joy at the demise of other human beings only serve to upset people further, and such displays will only weaken the public opinion of Labour.

Many on the left see Margaret Thatcher as possibly the most despised figure in politics in recent memory. She’s certainly the one I despise the most.

We should beware of deluding ourselves though. The real reason why so many people dislike her, is actually because so many more people thought that she was the best thing since sliced bread.

It’s also common place amongst certain Labour supporters to decry Tony Blair as some kind of demon as well.

Perhaps some people think he is. Most do not.

You’ll often hear people say that “Everybody hates Manchester United”

Why ? It’s because they’ve been the most consistently well supported, and most successful club of recent years. It’s because they’re so popular with so many, that they are so unpopular with a few. (And I’m certainly no Manchester United supporter)

The most popular, and the most significant post-war  Prime Ministers have without a doubt been Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Whether you like them or not, it is an inescapable truth that there are many millions who did – and probably still do.

So I’m just saying !

May 9, 2011 Posted by | blogs, idle banter, politics, twitter | , , , , , | 2 Comments

#NoToAV – please don’t insult my intelligence

AV could cost up to £250 Million

Do they really expect us to swallow this rubbish ?

I just got the #NoToAV leaflet through my door. I’m not committed either way on this – so here’s an opportunity for them to gain a vote.

I pick up the leaflet with the back cover towards me.

“The Alternative Vote system could cost the country £250 Million” – which is about a fiver each for a voting system that is intended to last a century or more. Not bad I think.

They go on : “£91 Million on the referendum.”

That much ? I don’t know – but aren’t we having local elections anyway ? So it shouldn’t cost too much – the polling stations will already be up, etc etc.

Oh and it will cost us that anyway – whether or not you vote AV

Oh and it was an election promise for both Lib-Dems and Labour and a condition of Coalition for Conservatives. So I think we can say that there’s a bit of a mandate for the referendum.

“£26 Million explaining how people should vote”

Really ? I thought you just put numbers in the ballot box.
Anyway ten bob per head of population sounds pretty cheap to me.

“Up to £130 Million on electronic vote counting machines.”
Except that you don’t need them, and there are no plans to buy any.

So it’s just a load of rubbish.

There are some very powerful arguments against the AV system. None of them are contained in this leaflet.

April 18, 2011 Posted by | politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our union makes us strong

Time to decide...the future!

Image by Scootzsx via Flickr

Within seconds of the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader being announced this afternoon, media outlets and the twittersphere began to complain that Ed had been elected not by grassroots Labour supporters but by the “Unions” – hinting at some terribly un-democratic process which somehow these terrible militant organisations had managed to wield over the Labour Party. (  David Cameron punches air as unions hand Labour leadership to Ed Miliband (guardian.co.uk) )

Well let’s get a bit of perspective on that …

First of all the only Unions that get to have a say in the Labour leadership election are those formally affiliated to the party – and there aren’t that many of them. My own union – the National Union of Teachers is not one of them.

Next – members of affiliated organisations know about their union’s affiliation before they join it – there’s no such thing as a closed shop any more – and can opt out of paying the ‘political fund’ part of the membership fee (although that would also lose them their vote in the leadership election).

There’s also no such thing as a block vote – every vote in an affiliated organisation is worth the same – whether you’re one of the 83 members eligible to vote in the Labour Party Irish Society or one of the 1,055,074 eligible members of Unite the Union – the largest affiliated organisation. Every individual vote counts the same – and goes to make up 1/3 of the electoral college.

1/3 of the college is made up of Labour MP’s

1/3 is made up of Labour Party Members.

This means that different votes have different values in each section. Effectively an MP’s vote is worth 0.12 per cent of the total electorate, a party member’s vote is worth 0.0002 per cent and an affiliated member’s vote is worth 0.00000943 per cent. ( see this Next Left blog for details Next Left: What Labour leadership votes are worth when they are counted) (This assumes 100% turnout btw – which is far from the case)

It’s all very clear – a little involved, but does manage to capture every aspect not just of the Labour Party, but of the wider Labour movement – which allows Labour supporters in affiliated groups to have a say even if they are not formally party members.

Note also that the party, and many affiliated organisations have been very open about giving new members a vote – in this way opening up the election to the general public should they take the plunge and join even up to a few days before voting closed.

The full results Votes by round | The Labour Party show that indeed sections 1 and 2 of the ballot, the MPs and the Party Members, placed David Miliband first, whilst section 3 – the affiliated organisations – of which the unions are the biggest part, plumped for Ed Miliband.

Just have a look at the numbers though – 211,234 returned votes from affiliated members, as opposed to just 126,874 from full members of the party.

Undemocratic ? Not in my book it’s not.

Compare it with the way that the Conservatives choose their leader Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 2005 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – in the Tory system, the rank and file party members don’t even get to vote until the MP’s have selected the last two candidates for them.  Even then they have to have been a fully paid up member for at least 3 months to get a vote. A distinctly less democratic approach in my own humble opinion.

Democracy is always flawed to some extent, but is an attempt to reach a difficult consensus, in the fairest way possible. I think the approach used in the Labour leadership election is probably the fairest that could have been achieved. I say that having voted David Miliband as first choice – yes I’d have preferred him to win – but Ed Miliband has been elected fair and square by hundreds of thousands of Labour members and members of affiliated trades unions and organisations. I have no complaints – and will support him as best I can.

If Labour were to look at difficulties in the electoral college by the way, they might want to consider the anomaly that a low turnout in any of the 3 sections means that individual votes in that section are given relatively more weight as part of the whole college as a result. Just a thought – maybe next time ?

In the meantime congratulations to Ed Miliband – please leave a comment if you happen to read this !

Ed Milliband MP speaking at the Labour Party c...

Image via Wikipedia

September 25, 2010 Posted by | news, politics | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Poll position

Seems that the latest opinion polls are the next big thing in the election campaign.

I’m not so sure if I’m honest, We’ve seen a lot of widely different ‘exit polls’ after the “Leaders debate” – seemingly working every permutation of who came in 1st, 2nd or 3rd using apparently the same data source (You ! , the public !), and polls which have been published incorrectly then retracted and “nationalised” based on local samples. And the Mail on Sunday now seem to using someone called  BPIX to do their polls – who ever they are.

It does make me wonder whether they’re going round getting lots of different polls done and just publishing the ones which make most impact. Certainly Sky News seemed to run about 4 different versions of their after debate poll on Thursday night, presumably because the real results didn’t say what they wanted.

Despite this though, I’m  not dismissive of them. If these were favouring Gordon Brown rather than Nick Clegg, I’d be tweeting from the rooftops with the rest of the Labour twibe. So let’s take them at face value – even if they aren’t necessarily all that reliable.

The most sensational of these polls seems to place the Lib Dems as front runners in first place, with Labour in 3rd. As various commentators have pointed out (and sorry for the lack of links tonight – I don’t have the time !) – this could lead to the bizarre situation where Labour ended up as the largest party in parliament, with the fewest number of actual votes; and perhaps the Lib Dems with the fewest seats, and the largest share of the votes.

Will this be the turning point where the Lib Dems finally come of electoral age and seize power ? Or will it be (as Iain Dale has said on his blog) – David Cameron’s Wobbly weekend ?

Well I’m not sure – but I will say this – These polls would certainly appear to have woken the public up, and all of the parties. Last year when we had the Euro elections, the polls looked bad for Labour – not much better for the Lib Dems, and we had a frustratingly predictable low turnout bad news election.

The political geeks (like me)  have done their best to liven things up since then – there’ve been better polls for Labour, and lots of games with posters and stuff. Still – until last week – none of it was really catching the wider public interest.

But now it is. Now we’ll see who can run an election campaign.

The polls don’t show what WILL happen. They show that anything CAN happen.

The turnout at the last election was 61.5 % – imagine if just half of the remaining 38.5% decided to vote this time round.

Anything really COULD happen.

So what I’m taking from these polls is this : It really is  #GameOn !


UPDATE : Just came across this blog on the Sky polling after the ‘Leadership Debate’ – it’s a beauty. Respect to Loveandgarbage ! : Leadership debate – pie in the Sky

April 17, 2010 Posted by | Election 2010, news, politics, twitter | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gordon Brown & National Debt – why I think he’s got it right

This morning I came across this image of the world, sent via Twitter. Yfrog – u6c – Uploaded by tjerubbaal

It intrigued me – it shows areas of the world scaled according to their overall Government debt, and coloured according to the debt as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product. It carried the caption from Twitter user @tjerubbaal “Truly disturbing image: are you paying attention @conservatives, @labour, @libdems? Tinkering won’t work.”

The poster is clearly not making a party political point – not between the three main parties anyway. Which is what intrigues me – because I feel quite strongly that the understanding of this issue, is at the heart of the difference between the Labour party and the Conservative party at the current time.

Forget about whether you understand the diagram or not – it’s not particularly easy to comprehend. Just know this – the debt which the country has taken on really is large – as @tjerubbaal points out – some might say disturbing. There’s no dispute amongst the political parties about that.

You could be forgiven though, if you’ve been reading the popular press, or listening to the Conservative election campaign, that this has come about from some bungling incompetence by Gordon Brown & his chancellor Alistair Darling. You would be wrong. the scale of the debt is intentional – and marks the dividing line between the philosophies of the two major UK parties.

The tradition in recent years among Conservatives has been in favour of light touch Government – ‘small government’ as it’s now being sold. The idea being that the key players in the world’s and the nation’s affairs will effectively manage things with least intervention (interference ?) from outsiders like Governments. The ‘market’ we are told will self regulate – it will have times of lean and times of plenty – in Labour-speak times of boom and of bust. The wise prepare for this, and put by in times of plenty/boom to see them through in the lean/bust years.

This approach carries a certain logical appeal. It has a simplistic fairness, but it is harsh because in lean times, the people who suffer the most are the people who are least able to put aside plenty in the boom years – not the entrepreneurs, landowners, and businessmen – but the workers who work for those people. This was the case in the early 1980′s when Margaret Thatcher argued “There is no alternative !” and allowed market forces to work through the hardship of a recession, meaning millions of people faced mid to long term unemployment.

It also has the disadvantage that, as we have seen recently, the market doesn’t always work well in regulating itself, and there are those operating within the market, who take reckless risks, which put the prosperity of whole nations at risk.

The new Labour approach, under the Blair & Brown government, embraced some aspects of the Conservative free market approach. Labour realised that the nation as whole tended to benefit from being a prosperous trader – but sought to smooth out the cyclical peaks and troughs of a totally free market approach, whilst allowing the market to benefit the economy. (It is a significant shift from a traditional socialist approach).

No return to boom and bust was Gordon Brown’s mantra as chancellor – one which is now often ridiculed.

It was however a highly successful approach – but it fell foul of a factor over which no chancellor can truly have control – the UK economy is not isolated from the World economy. We can dampen the effects of the outside world, we can ignore them for a time, but ultimately we are interdependent with the economies of every other nation, and we are prone to the booms and busts of their economies as well as our own.

As Gordon Brown yesterday acknowledged one of the errors which was made was to grant the financial institutions too much freedom, and provide too little intervention (interference ?) in their affairs. BBC News – Brown admits he made a mistake over bank regulation . The unfettered actions of those institutions then led in large part to the Global recession from which we are now slowly recovering.

For the Conservatives then to blame Gordon Brown for the recession is grossly unfair – in the first place the errors to which he admits, are ones which any Conservative chancellor would have been clamouring for – small Government, free market, and giving business the opportunity to manage its own affairs. These are actually the self same philosophies which the Conservatives wish to re-impose.

Secondly to blame Gordon Brown for the actions of banks, because he didn’t regulate them is akin to blaming householders, who didn’t have the right locks or alarm systems for having their house burgled. Sure they could have made things more difficult for the burglars – but the blame lies with the house breakers. Similarly, whether regulated or not, financial institutions in Britain and around the world, took irresponsible actions which have affected everyone.

Personally though I don’t feel it’s helpful to apportion blame – we are where we are. What is important is how we react to this. This brings us back to the debt which Gordon Brown has incurred.

Margaret Thatcher said “There is no alternative”. (There is no alternative – Wikipedia, )

She was wrong – Gordon Brown has shown this. His actions have been taken to dramatically reduce the impact of the recession, to prevent long term mass unemployment, to keep the economy active, and to put off the difficulties of repaying to a time when the nation will be more easily able to bear it.

The Conservatives still argue that this is wrong. That things should be left to take their course, and massive cuts in public spending should be imposed as soon as possible in order to hasten the economic recovery – but that this is the only way that recovery can happen. The mass unemployment and prolonged economic hard ship for many are seen as the price that has to be paid.

Whilst blaming Gordon Brown for the recession may be unfair, the Conservatives’ criticism of his borrowing to tackle the recession is not without logic. Their policy is philosophically defensible.

It is however a philosophy to which I do not subscribe, and which I feel is morally reprehensible.

So be in no doubt – that huge debt that is illustrated in the diagram in the link above  is not there by accident. It’s there because there is an alternative, and that alternative has protected us from the worst ravages of the recession – which may well still come back to bite us if we are foolish enough to elect a Tory government on May 6th.

[ Just as a test I've got Labour's Eddie Izzard election video - let me know if you can't see it ]

April 15, 2010 Posted by | economy, politics, twitter | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Election 2010 Day 1 – The Great Ignored

So Gordon named the big day today, and we’re on with the campaign.

All went pretty much as expected – all according to the plans, everyone saying the things we expected them to say.

Or did they ?

Well – not quite – the press release for David Cameron’s speech said that he’d be talking about the people who he called “the great ignored” -  “Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight.” (Armchair election: The great ignored – Financial Times Blog) and he duly did his “without notes speech” trying his damnedest to upstage Gordon Brown before he’d even announced the election, speaking outside the old GLC building over Westminster Bridge, and he certainly did talk about “the great ignored”.

Only he missed a bit out – He ignored his own planned reference to “gay, straight” people. Which only leaves us to wonder why. Especially coming hot on the heels, as it does, of shadow home secretary Chris Grayling’s reported comments this past weekends, in which he apparently defended the actions of Bed & Breakfast owners who had turned away an openly gay couple.

This was very quickly picked up on, and so we had the first “incident” of the election campaign.

I could tell it was making the news because when I turned on Radio 2 in the car (partly in an attempt to avoid the tedious repetition of the lack of election news on 5 Live), I was surprised to find the issue being discussed between the music – Jeremy Vine taking the issue up with Gavin Hayes from the left leaning Labour group Compass; and arguing the case against, was Telegraph columnist Charles Moore (he is actually a former editor of the Telegraph- and the Spectator, and is currently chair of the Right Wing think tank ‘Policy Exchange  – which the BBC failed to mention. I think it’s fair to say he’s a Tory !)

Hayes promptly pounced on Cameron’s remarks, and brought up again Chris Grayling’s weekend comments citing them as evidence that the party had not changed, and that it was the same old Tories. A solid if fairly predictable response.

His opponent, for his part, did probably less well, choosing to focus only on the issues of Chris Grayling’s comments and taking pretty much the line of “An English man’s home is his castle, and I’ll be buggered if I’ll have sodomy going on under my roof”.

There followed a bit of to-ing & fro-ing, in which each protagonist re-iterated their position. End of skirmish.

One – Nil to Labour eh ?

Well I’m not too sure. I agreed with Gavin Haye’s arguments, and profoundly disagreed with the line taken by Charles Moore.

When all said and done though, my vote doesn’t have to be fought for – I’m voting Labour anyway.

That’s not the case for the votes of millions (well at least thousands) of listeners to Radio 2 this afternoon though. The casual listener, who hadn’t been following recent events could well have been forgiven for thinking that the right to exclude gay couples from B&Bs was a cornerstone of Conservative Party policy.

Which left them with an apparent choice between a party wanting equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation; and a party wanting to give business owners the right to exclude gay couples.

Now whilst the latter option is particularly odious to me, the sad truth is that there are many people who sympathise with  that position. They also have a vote – and right now, the important thing is not to change their way of thinking – we have the rest of eternity to do that. No – the priority is in 30 days to get them to cast their votes for Labour.

So if you’re involved in this debate at some time over the next couple of days – don’t get suck into arguing about whether B&B owners should be able to exercise their prejudices. Point out instead the real choice that is available.

Point out that Chris Grayling voted in parliament to make it illegal for B&B owners to discriminate, point out that he’s said that he has no wish to change the law back, and point out that he’s happy to say and write and commit himself to one thing in front of the learned intelligentsia – but peddles something entirely different when he thinks he’s not going to be called to task.

Point out that David Cameron’s quite happy to write things down saying that his party’s changed, and that he’s not going to discriminate against gay people when he’s trying to demonstrate that his party has changed – but just like Grayling, he can’t be courageous enough to commit to the same thing in a live speech, that he knows will be seen by Sun reading potential tory voters, who might be a little anti-gay.

So point out the real choice, between a party that says that it is in favour of equality, and that takes steps to ensure that it really is; and a party that says it’s in favour of equality, but sometimes does something else – and whether you’re a homophobe or an egalitarian, you’ve no way of knowing what they’re really going to do.

My guess is this  – what they’ll actually do is whatever they think it takes to gain them power – not because they believe it or want it, but precisely because they want that power. My feeling is that the reason the Conservatives find it so hard to say what their principles really are is because they really don’t have any  – unless you count narrow self interest, and the pursuit of power and money.

Finally, I did think it was rather interesting, after having debated the issue of exactly who is or is not, on David Cameron’s list of “The Great Ignored” on BBC Radio this afternoon, that the BBC should then choose to not mention any of them on their website’s reporting of David Cameron’s speech. Cameron launches Tory campaign with ‘hope’ message

“And let’s win this election for the good of the country that we love.”

Mr Cameron said he was fighting the election for “the great ignored”. [ <-- OOPS ! THEY MISSED A BIT HERE - northernheckler !! ]

“They work hard, they set up businesses, they work in factories, they teach our children, they keep our streets safe, they obey the law and they their pay taxes,” he said.

Truly there are some things that are great, and are ignored.

April 6, 2010 Posted by | Election 2010, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Education, Education, & Private Schools

I came across this “News” on the Conservative Party’s own website : Widening education gap between the many and the few

There are so many things about this post that niggle me that it’s difficult to know where to start – but I’ll try !

OK – first up – the language is lifted straight from Gordon Brown’s speech yesterday – fine, that’s politics. It is clear however that they seem pretty pleased that a privileged few are apparently making greater educational achievements than the rest of the school population – that’s not a GOOD thing in my book – Oh but wait – I’m missing the Tory point (not the first time that points have been missed with Tories though)  – they’re blaming this on Labour.

Right, now I see. Actually – no I don’t – the figures that they quote (which incidentally have been in the public domain since August 2009 – so why any of this is “news” I do not know) – do show some significant differences between A level performance in independent schools and state schools. They also show some similarities – state school performance at 3 A’s has roughly doubled since 1998 – (I wonder why they chose that date – and not 1996 – the year before Labour came to Government ?) – whilst performance at independent schools using the same measure has – hey ! roughly doubled. Which does make it even less newsworthy.

So really the gap hasn’t widened – it’s the same gap – except that all students are far more likely than they were in the dark days before Labour took office, of gaining 3 A’s.

So murky are the Conservatives’  figures though that it’s really difficult to work out exactly what is going on here. Now I thought that there were around 300,000 A level students last year ( A-level results: One in four A-levels passed at grade A | Education | guardian.co.uk ) but it seems the Conservative party think otherwise – If 32.6 % of students in private schools gained the 11,500 three straight A’s they claim, then that gives us, by my calculations, 35,276 A level students in private schools – so that leaves 264,724 or so in the state sector.  A little bit more than just three times as many that the Tories claim.

That of course would make the paltry figure of 9,725  students with three A’s from the state sector even worse – but hang on – 9,725 isn’t 8.1% of 264,724 – it’s only 3.6%.  8.1% would represent 21,442.

But which is it ? Something’s wrong here isn’t it ?

Well maybe they’ve got their sums wrong again.

Look closely though, I suspect that may not be it  – they’re not really doing what I’m doing – I’m comparing independent sector with state sector. Isn’t that what they’re doing ? No – they’re (deliberately ?) creating confusion by saying “comprehensive” – which of course leaves out all manner of different types of state schools. It doesn’t include grammar schools and other selective schools (obviously not important to Conservatives !) – it doesn’t presumably involve Voluntary Aided & faith schools – it may not include Foundation Schools or Academies – Who is to say what it does include ? Not the Tories that’s for sure.

I wonder if those schools were included whether things would look rather different. Perhaps if they included FE  and Sixth Form Colleges as well they would. (Don’t forget also that the Government also ultimately have a responsibility for monitoring and maintaining standards in Independent schools)

So I’m not convinced by any of this “data”

Even if I were, I would point out that a commercial organisation commanding fees on the basis of a reputation for getting students to 3 straight A’s would be hardly like to select pupils who were unlikely to do so. State schools on the other hand tend to take the students they end up with – and are obliged to adopt an approach which states that “Every Child Matters” – that’s ALL of them – not just the straight A students, not just the ones with money, not just the ones who are likely to go to university. ALL of them.

So I don’t buy the Conservative idea of turning all state schools into private schools. Private schools achieve the success they do (and I could argue extensively about narrow definitions of educational achievement) because they provide only for a moneyed elite. In just the same way as Nicholas Winterton finds that he needs to avoid the different type of people travelling in standard class, parents sending their children to private schools find their oasis of privilege by paying for something which the other ‘type of people’ can not afford (or like me – choose not to).

By making all schools into independent schools, the advantage that independent schools now hold would vanish. It would however quickly be replaced by a hierarchy of provision with the richest people receiving the most prestigious education – and the poor receiving a provision based on the minimum cost to the government, rather than the maximum benefit to the pupil.

I call that a scandalously archaic approach to education in the 21st century – I will do everything I can to oppose that.

UPDATE Comment via twitter from Secretary of State for Children, schools & Families, Ed Balls (@EdBallsMP) You’re right – FE students deliberately excluded RT @northernheckler: my latest blog on Tories & private schools http://wp.me/pycui-lU

So encouraging to get feedback from the man who is ultimately my  ‘boss’ in education, on the occasion of my 100th blog !! Thanks Ed !

February 21, 2010 Posted by | education, politics | , , , , , | 8 Comments

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