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 ?
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.
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
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.
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 ?
Last week the inquest for the victims of the 7/7 London bombings completed its deliberations and published its report.
Nine recommendations were made – the final one of which concerned the air ambulance service which was so vital on the day of the attacks. The coroner called for a review of the level of cover the London Air Ambulance is able to provide and its funding. She went on to note the reliance of the service on volunteers (source Guardian : July 7 inquest: coroner’s recommendations )
“I am concerned that London, a major global capital, host to the Olympics in 2012 and a prime terrorist target, should find itself dependent upon corporate funding and charitable donations, and upon professional volunteers giving up their limited free time in order to provide life-saving emergency medical care. It is equally concerning that the capability to provide such care is limited.”
It’s difficult to disagree with the implications of that observation – and I feel sure that the London authorities and the national Government, will ensure that the recommendation is addressed.
I’m certainly not being facetious when I say that I feel that it’s very laudable that Mr Cameron should seek to promote community empowerment, and the notion of people working together – freely and voluntarily – to promote the common good of their local neighbourhoods. Volunteers are a powerful force, and the act of volunteering is one which can provide enormous benefit for the individual as well.
What I disagree with is the underlying Conservative philosophy that the big society is needed because big Government is not. The notion that Government is not and should not be involved in the minutiae of daily life, because our society should be big enough and strong enough to let people run their own communities and lives.
It sounds very noble – in fact it sounds almost socialist – but be under no illusions – what it really means is starving essential services like the London Air Ambulance of public money, and public accountability – and leaving them to the vagaries of charitable donations, and voluntary help.
I feel that the terrible events of 7/7/2005 tell us so many things.
One of them is that some services are so important that they can not be left to chance – they require a Government that is strong enough and big enough to ensure that they are provided effectively.
- 7/7 inquest: coroner’s nine recommendations in full (telegraph.co.uk)
- 7/7 inquest: London ‘woefully’ unprepared for terrorist attack on 2012 Olympics, warns coroner (telegraph.co.uk)
- 7/7 inquest: Breakdown in communication did not cost lives – The Guardian (news.google.com)
- The Big Society is happening; but what is happening? (politicalpromise.co.uk)
- My daughter and the Big Society (newphilanthropycapital.wordpress.com)
To say I’m interested in politics is something of an understatement, yet I’m not someone who necessarily enjoys some of the more high profile political rituals we have.
Prime Minister’s Questions for example.
It drives me up the wall. Petty point scoring on both sides which leaves key issues completely unexplored, and commentators saying who “won” and who “lost”
To me that’s not politics. True political debates takes more than a few soundbites and glib put-downs to make an argument, and the strength of an argument, lies in just that – the strength of the argument – and not the smart arsed manner in which a party leader can make a joke at his or her opposite number’s expense.
Yesterday was a case in point.
I jumped in my car hurriedly trying to find somewhere to buy a sandwich for lunch before heading back to work. Along the way I chanced to hear on BBC 5 Live, a fair bit of Prime Minister’s Questions. On this occasion it was Ed Milliband‘s turn to have David Cameron on the ropes, belligerently grilling him on lack of economic growth, and rising hospital waiting times – among other issuess. To which David Cameron responds, by resorting to the time honoured tactic of not answering the question about the particular statistic he has been questioned about, but picking another more sympathetic statistic to present so that he can claim that the leader of the opposition is talking rubbish.
It irritates me. In a sensible discussion all of the different indicators could be discussed in an adult manner which attempted to shed some light on the issues at hand. Instead there are merely attempts to embarrass each other – which in David Cameron’s case are increasingly turning into opportunities to act like a smug condescending upper class former public schoolboy. Which I fear is what he actually is.
I could scarcely believe what I was hearing, the ill mannered smugness and contempt with which he delivered this put down came across very unpleasantly indeed. He realised straight away what he’d said, and tried to pretend he’d been talking to Ed Balls – on the radio it seemed is if he could well have been – but on television it’s clear that he was not : David Cameron tells MP Angela Eagle: ‘Calm down, dear’ .
To me the remark was evidence of his deluded sense of superiority to the opposition members, and to female members in particular, and to women and people who do not share his priveleged upper class male background. It casts him in the role of the all knowing father speaking down to a naughty child. It’s a rude and obnoxious way to respond to an opponent, and if you’re asking whether it’s sexist, my answer is – of course it is !
Another reason why I don’t like PMQ’s
There are more reasons though – the follow up to this incident was all too predictable – the inevitable phone-ins on the radio – Was he being sexist ?, or can’t the Labour MPs take a joke ? The predictable comments – it’s PC gone mad ! etc etc ad nauseam.
On the BBC’s own website, comments seemed to give the impression that Ms Eagle got what she deserved since she had had the temerity to interrupt the PM : ‘Calm down dear’ Conservatives accused of sexism
and then today in the Guardian we have the former MP, and current GP Howard Stoate, who Mr Cameron was discussing at the time, weighing in with his claim that he was misrepresented Calm down, David Cameron – and get your facts right at PMQs and that “The prime minister distorted my views. He should stop using the health service as a political football” – An article which has quickly been linked around the twittersphere to allow we Labour types to thumb our noses at the Tories.
In true PMQ fashion though we get scant dissection of the meat of the issues involved.
Mr Cameron chose to highlight Mr Stoate by referring to comments he had made earlier which he claimed supported the Tory plans to involve GP’s more in the commissioning and running of NHS provision. In his statement he said that Mr Stoate had ceased to be an MP because he had been defeated by a Tory candidate. Angela Eagle’s interjection was simply to state that this was blatantly untrue. He was NOT defeated in any election – he stood down as an MP – which in the context of the Prime Minister’s statement, was highly misleading. The Prime Minister knew why she was interjecting, he knew that she was telling the truth – but refused to correct the “error” – if that’s what it was, instead telling her to “Calm down dear”.
Mr Stoate for his part, seems unperturbed by the assertion that he was defeated – but more so by his feeling that the Prime Minister said that he had become a GP after he stood down. It’s very debatable whether the PM said this – certainly it’s not what I took from his statement, I think most people assumed that he’d been a GP all along. Which is the case.
Mr Stoate also is annoyed that he’s been misrepresented by the Prime Minister. Well that would fit the tabloid cycle of claim and counter-claim very well. Tit for Tat as it were. Except, read the article ! :
As far as I can see Howard Stoate is saying precisely what the Prime Minister said, and it does make exactly the point that the Prime Minister wished to highlight.
Of course if Howard Stoate had been defeated in the election as David Cameron said, than Labour could claim that this was in part due to his maverick ideas. He wasn’t though – which you’d think would work in David Cameron’s favour.
All in all, a fairly unsavoury and ultimately pointless crock of the proverbial.
So what is the point of PMQs ?
I’d like to see a political procedure which gives our politicians the chance to prove that they’re NOT pompous, ill mannered and sexist, rather than a routine event to reinforce the idea that they are
I had the rare pleasure today of seeing Prime Minister’s Questions live on BBC Parliament, and more by luck than judgement I chanced on Ed Miliband’s first outing as Leader of the Opposition at PMQ’s.
People (as ever) will argue about who had the upper hand in this clash – I felt it was game set and match to Ed, but I heard others on the radio later saying exactly the opposite. Well that’s politics I guess – a matter of opinion,
What really hit me though is Ed’s style of delivery.
David Cameron bellows his answers, and makes theatrical wails and exclamations of mock hilarity, backed up with hearty guffaws and “hear hears” from his own benches. In recent history it would have been pretty much the same on the Labour side as well – in fact the pantomime nature of PMQs has been like this for as long as I can remember.
Ed’s different though. He delivers calmly, quietly, assuredly and without hesitation. You get the feeling that he’s not got any particular dislike for his opponents – just that he disagrees with them. You feel that he’s not so much interested in a theatrical show stopper, as showing up the Government’s theatrics; that he’s not worried about sound bites, but about making sure that his bites are soundly delivered at the ankles of the premier.
I found it very refreshing and enjoyable – see what you think :
- Live: Ed Miliband’s First PMQs (news.sky.com)
- How will Ed Miliband prepare for first PMQs (bbc.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband uses PMQ debut to attack child benefit reform (independent.co.uk)
- Miliband uses PMQs debut to attack Cameron over child benefit reforms (guardian.co.uk)
- PMQs: A good start for Ed Miliband| Michael White (guardian.co.uk)
- PMQs: Ed Miliband plays safe (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband faces David Cameron for first time at prime minister’s questions (guardian.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband gets the better of Cameron in first PMQs (newstatesman.com)
- PMQs – just like an Oxbridge freshers’ week | John Harris (guardian.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband to face David Cameron at PMQ’s for first time (newstatesman.com)
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 !
- Labour’s voting system: the case for reform (newstatesman.com)
- How Ed can counter the Tories’ attack lines (newstatesman.com)
- Ed Miliband victory is ‘a great leap backwards’, say Tories (guardian.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband elected new leader of the Labour Party at Manchester conference (menmedia.co.uk)
Interesting to see how the Government & the media have been getting in a tiz about public sector pay : BBC News – 9,000 in public sector get more pay than prime minister with “research” for a Panorama documentary BBC Panorama to air programme on public sector ‘rich list’ (newstatesman.com) suggesting that 9,000 people working in the public sector are now paid more than the Prime Minister.
I’ve worked in the public sector for most of my career – in education – and so too has my wife – in the health service.
We’ve noticed over several cycles, that pretty much the same happens to our pay relative to the private sector.
In times of economic boom, our pay has lagged well behind private sector salaries – when friends working for retail and financial companies have received whacking great pay rises, we’ve received a “cost of living rise” – usually at less than the rate suggested by inflation rates. Where they’ve received bonuses, we’ve received a memo, or a Christmas card.
It’s not all been bad though because in the lean times we’ve still usually received a cost of living allowance, where they’ve taken a pay cut, and reduced hours; and where we’ve had a memo or a Christmas card, they’ve had their ‘cards’ as well – and their P. 45’s.
So it seems fairly evident that public sector pay rises less quickly in times of plenty, and falls more slowly in times of lean. In the words of Talking Heads “Same as it ever was” (and the video’s at the bottom of the page – any excuse for a bonus Talking Heads video !)
So please forgive me if I’m unimpressed by the suggestion that public sector employees are somehow “fat cats”. There’s only one market for staff remember – and the difficulties that public sector organisations have in attracting top staff away from highly paid private sector jobs, during the boom times, are what drives up the salaries – they stay there during the downtimes because the staff are generally treated a little more fairly by their employees. Come the next boom, they’ll lag behind again.
So let’s wait and see what the public sector fat cats look like after the next set of bankers’ bonuses.
There is of course also the question of why the PM’s salary should be some kind of yard stick. I’m not sure this article’s the best place to debate it.
Do remember though that David Cameron‘s much publicised 5% pay cut is a somewhat easy gesture to make for a man whose personal wealth has been estimated at around £30, 000, 000 Claims that David Cameron has a £30m fortune sit uneasily with taxpayers. So what is the truth about his money? | Mail Online . While this may be somewhat exaggerated it is certainly true that both David Cameron and his wife are of families with a long tradition of extreme wealth. Which once again begs the question – Austerity for who, Mr Cameron ?
- 9,000 In Public Sector Paid More Than PM (news.sky.com)
- BBC Panorama to air programme on public sector ‘rich list’ (newstatesman.com)
This headline from the Telegraph was quite widely trailed on Twitter today : Pound falls after Nick Clegg’s election debate success
Now admit it – looking at that, I’ll bet you thought that the currency markets had gone into free-fall, worried at the prospect of a Lib-Dem dominated hung parliament.
There might be the odd one of you that thought, hey Nick’s a nice guy, but if it’s going to send the City into turmoil, then I’ll stick with the Tories.
Well that’s just what the Telegraph wanted you to think.
Have a scout around and you’ll find that Nick Clegg’s apparent triumph (and actually I did think he came off best), and any fall in the value of the pound are in fact totally unrelated incidents.
How can I be so sure ?
Well mainly because the pound hasn’t nose-dived through the floor. Hasn’t lost all that much ground. In fact it’s been on an upward trend against the dollar since approximately the 25th March. Today’s fall of around 0.6% (representing less than 1 cent against the dollar, doesn’t really affect that trend. BBC NEWS | Business | Market Data | Currencies | Sterling GBP v US Dollar USD and in fact, at the time the Telegraph report was being read on-line by millions this afternoon, the pound was actually increasing in value against the Euro – although it finished the day slightly lower.
So all in all it’s been a relatively uneventful day for the pound – and whether it had gone up or down, it would have been nothing to do with Nick Clegg, Gordon Brown, or David Cameron.
Remember that the world doesn’t really revolve around financial traders, and never forget that democracy will always be far more important than a good day’s profit in the City.
So to the general public I say – Ignore the Telegraph’s silly scare stories – and vote for the candidate you think will do the best job.
And to the Telegraph, could I suggest you change your headline to “Millwall Crash against Huddersfield, after Cameron fails in Leaders debate” – it has after all got exactly the same cause and effect relationship as your original article, and a little bit more truth about it.
Regular readers of my blog might have spotted a vaguely familiar statement from David Cameron in last night’s Leaders Debate on ITV television.
In my post Things that bug me – Part 2 on April 2nd, I moaned about the misleading reporting in the Daily Mail England’s poor cancer detection and bad diet mean Slovenian women live longer of the Government report ‘Health Profile of England 2009′ DoH Health Profile of England
I complained amongst other thing’s of the Mail’s tendency to pick an Eastern European country at random for us to be “worse than” – in what appeared to be an attempt to capitalise on racism against Eastern Europeans for sensational effect.
It seems David Cameron must have appreciated it – last night he chose not Slovenia but Bulgaria to compare our “oh so terrible” health care with.
While there would seem to be some evidence from WHO that his statement was in essence correct – that there are more deaths from cancer in Bulgaria per head than in the UK at least according to the Sofia news agency Bulgaria Pops Up in UK Historic Debate – Sofia News Agency ; the Department of Health’s own published data (ie. the document linked to above) – which is produced in close consultation with other countries, would appear to suggest otherwise.
Check out the table 3.1 on page 61 – it quite clearly shows that UK & English cancer deaths have a lower incidence than in Bulgaria. That’s not to say that we’re ideal though – David Cameron could have said we were worse than Ireland or Italy – or better than Denmark or Spain. Whichever country he chose to compare us with would have been misleading though – because on page 49 we have a chart that tells us that “there has been a steady decline in the mortality rate [from cancer] between 2000 and 2008. It is evident that the mortality rate has decreased faster for males in recent years than for females”.
So irrespective of whether we are or are not “worse than” Bulgaria, the number of deaths from cancer, has been reducing steadily during the incumbency of the present Labour government.
So Labour’s record is unarguably better than the Conservatives’ in relation to deaths from Cancer.
If I might conjure up a phrase from the recent past : “Don’t you dare lecture us on Cancer Mr Cameron !”
Well I watched some of it (although missed start because I was collecting Labour leaflets to deliver) (and if you think I’ve ever done that before you are seriously mistaken)
I’m not going to do blow by blow, I found it hard enough to keep my attention throughout. Why ?
Well because I enjoy politics, I find it interesting – the nuances, the similarities, the differences, the tactics, the different means to the same ends, the same means to different ends – but a programme of this nature boils it down to a talent show – and as we all know in the UK talent shows throw up some bizarre results – witness the Jedward & Subo phenomena if you need any more evidence.
Actually it’s probably closer to the mark to compare it with a Harry Hill TV Burp style decider : “I like David Cameron, but I like Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg as well – but which is best ? There’s only one way to find out – FIIIGHHT !!”
There is no room for subtleties in a debate of this kind – and OK I freely admit that this makes it more attractive to people who aren’t as fired up by politics as I am (and never forget that however uninterested they are, all of their votes count just as much) – so it puts me off.
The first question I caught was about “Immigration”. Clearly they all thought that this is an issue that they’re likely to get a tough time on, so all three did their best to be “tough”. OK – but I’d have liked to have found out how it makes it any easier to recruit decent trained teachers in London – but I accept that there’s no way that could have been discussed tonight.
Similarly when we got to “Education” we didn’t get anything I was interested in – but promises of how Headteachers were going to be helped to be “tough” – David Cameron giving his anecdotes (which by the way, if we’re going with the X Factor theme, were about as deep and meaningful as dedicating his performance to his poor old Mum who died last year, and it was her life ambition to hear him sing Whitney Houston on telly) related the story of a pupil excluded from school then reinstated on appeal. The Tories will take away the right of appeal.
Well there could have been a fair old discussion about that – A person’s whole career possibly being decided without a right of appeal on the say so of one headteacher ? And what about the appeals of those parents with children with special educational needs, that all parties want to support in their battles with schools and local authorities – don’t they count either ? At what stage does a misbehaving pupil become a disabled one ? and wouldn’t it be convenient to treat them the same anyway – save a lot of hassle, and keep the results and attendance looking good. We don’t get any of that though, no questions about where excluded pupils go once they’ve been kicked out (because believe me it starts getting expense when they’ve been kicked out of few). No discussion either of how a headteacher could have such a poor relationship with his Governing body that she ends up in a situation like that.
To be fair to the party leaders, there’s no way they had the chance to reach that high level of debate.
So I’m disappointed, but I knew I would be. Sorry I can’t give you any more insight than that.
If I were to venture a few observations though :
- Gordon Brown looked relaxed, if fumbling his lighter notes a little – certainly far more convincing than just a few months back.
- Nick Clegg looked nervous – but I’d venture suitably nervous – he’d be stupid if he didn’t – came across strongly as I expected – but then he has so little chance of being elected that he can promise whatever he wants with no real fear of having to deliver
- David Cameron was weaker than I expected. I feel he is easily the strongest weapon in the Tory arsenal, and I was surprised at how he faltered, and how he fell back on arrogant repetition of things like “death tax”, and trying to convince people that the National Insurance rise would take money OUT of the treasury – I felt he’d been briefed too heavily by advisors – would be better to follow his instincts.
- I was disappointed neither Clegg or Brown homed in on Daniel Hannan’s comments about the NHS and questioned whether Cameron has the authority and bottle to properly slap him down – at present we have the official line being that the Tories will increase spending on NHS whilst other prominent Tories want to abolish it. Kick them out if you can Dave !
- Surprised at the ITV poll showing David Cameron so far behind – although I expected Nick Clegg to be ahead – not that it matters – the effect that it has on general polls (and ultimately the election) will be the telling statistic.
- Truly impressed by the traffic on Twitter during this – must have broken all records – not sure what election night will be like. I gained 8 followers during the show !
Any way I’m off to bed now to get ready to deliver Labour leaflets tomorrow. I’m still voting Labour
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.