Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Mandate ? what mandate ?

I write this still in the strange spaced out daze that comes from doing two ‘stay-up-all-night’ sessions in one week. So I apologise in advance for typing errors, and make no apologies for not cross linking and evidencing everything I write.

David Cameron tells us that Gordon Brown & the Labour party have lost their mandate to Govern, and seems to believe he is now ordained as the next prime minister.

Leaving aside the fact that when he made his comments there were barely a handful of results in, and most of them had fallen to Labour, he is of course right. The mandate to govern – in the normal run of things – comes from having an overall majority – enough seats to outvote all of the other parties put together. Gordon Brown does not have that.

David Cameron’s Conservatives have more votes, and more seats – so can claim a certain amount of legitimacy in saying that they have a moral right to form the next Government. Problem is though that they don’t have a mandate either. In fact its clear that there are more people who voted against the Tories than for them, and more members of parliament who are not Tories than are.

So it becomes time to do a deal. Well to all left leaning political thinkers, the obvious deal is between Labour & the Lib-Dems – they share many ideals – and in particular there is a clear advantage in that for many in both parties it would be an opportunity to once and for all change the way in which Governments are elected, and ensure that a scenario such as today’s does not happen again. So Lib-Lab it is then.

Except David Cameron and the Murdoch empire think that would just be that nasty old Gordon Brown hanging on to power by any means they can – and it would just be so wrong. So instead of Lib-Lab, instead we get Con-Dem – and it already has been condemned by many, who can not imagine that the Lib-Dems and Conservatives have anything much at all in common. Except that this is really as things stand the only combination of parties that will deliver sufficient numbers for a majority – always assuming that none of the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats jump ship to another party.

But one way or another it would seem that one of these two options is likely to become reality.

I think both of these solutions are utter stupidity.

If our politicians wanted to transform British politics they would agree to form a government along these lines :

  • not a two party coalition, but a three party Government of National Unity.
  • Gordon Brown to step down – We love you Gordo, but your time has come – it’s clear that the public have not embraced your leadership – resign !
  • David Cameron, well in the eyes of the public he has credibility, having gained the most number of seats, but in his own party’s eyes – you’ve failed Mr C. you’ve blown an ‘unassailable’ lead – Stand down and move on.
  • Nick Clegg – well it could be argued that he’d messed up big style as well – certainly his party must be the most disappointed at their results, but actually I’d say no – Make Mr Clegg Prime Minister
  • Next form an interim cabinet to select the longer term cabinet – each party to select 3 members who will have one week to thrash out the key posts – and to share the key posts between the parties.
  • The Government then takes office – running a programme of legislation and Government agreed by the new Cabinet – with the whip removed from all members – they are always allowed a free vote.
  • The Parliament will sit for a fixed term of 18 months. In the Autumn the parties will select their leaders if necessary, at party conference
  • At Christmas or thereabouts we hold a referendum on different modes of electoral system
  • An election is called at the end of the fixed term, and is held according to the new rules.

So we get stability, decisiveness, power sharing, a mandate to Govern, and an end to the disillusionment with political parties, and a brand new system of electing our parliaments.

A bit far fetched ? Naive even ?

Well maybe it is – but I’d prefer to use words like “radical” or “progressive” – because if British politicians are ever going to win back the trust and confidence of the electorate then they need to do something radical and progressive now – and stop sulking and doing deals to try and prop up the old political systems.

First past the post is designed for a two party system – as is our parliamentary system – yet in most constituencies yesterday we had 4, 5, or more candidates – First past the post doesn’t work – it distorts the picture of the vote, effectively disenfranchises voters for non-incumbent parties in safe seats, favours established parties, and throws up ridiculously stupid hung parliaments where the smallest group of members, effectively holds the other two to ransom. It has to go

I think it’s fair to say that I don’t think my proposal will be implemented

May 7, 2010 Posted by | Election 2010, politics | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Labour funded by trades unions ? I wonder why ?

There’ve been a lot of slurs thrown about in the Tory blogosphere & press regarding the union “Unite”, and its funding of the Labour Party election campaign.

Who would have thought a trades union would give money to the Labour Party ?

Well anyone who’d studied the history of the Labour movement I guess.

The Labour Party was founded in the late 19th Century at the behest of …    that’s right – the Trades Union Congress – which was responding to calls from member unions, to provide a means to unite the efforts of all broadly socialist groups into a single entity to challenge more effectively as a force in parliamentary elections.

The Labour movement is an amalgam of many organisations and groups – of a fairly diverse range of political opinion, influenced for instance by the Temperance movement, Non-Conformist Christian groups, but all united by their dedication to democratic socialism. Many groups – for instance the Fabian Society are very clearly part of this movement – although it is not necessary to be part of the Labour Party to be part of the Fabians.

The Labour Party itself can clearly be seen to be a child of the trades union movement – and not the other way round. Not that it really matters – they arose out of the same schools of thought.

It follows that it’s only natural that a trades union should raise funds to elect a Labour Government. It’s not secret, it’s perfectly transparent, and it’s exactly what one would expect.

Personally I’m quite proud that the contributions of workers, working collectively, are used to fund the Labour Party.

I think it’s much more fitting than having a sugar daddy.

There’s more on this here Luke’s Blog: Shock, horror! Labour linked to unions! ; and here Bob Piper : An amazing discovery

March 16, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , | 3 Comments

Yes, Dave IS losing it !

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s so called ‘withering’ attack (perhaps withered might be more apt) on Gordon Brown over MPs’ expenses (see my post yesterday : Cameron is losing it ) today the top Tory launches a poster campaign (OK these days poster campaigns tend to just get wheeled round on the side of a lorry for a while – but they get a lot of press coverage).

Just feast your eyes on this :

tory death tax poster

The Tories latest election poster

It’s difficult to count all the ways in which this so spectacularly fails to hit home. Let me try though :

1. Health Secretary Andy Burnham has categorically denied any plan to introduce such a tax :

“The Guardian’s story suggests a £20,000 flat levy and I am not currently considering that as a lead option for reform,” he said.

“That figure was used in the green paper last year, but I do not believe a flat levy of that kind would be the right way to go. So I can say to you very categorically today that is not what we are considering.”

(Source : Brown’s ‘death tax’ denied )

2. He denied it after the Guardian article which he refers to (Inheritance levy to fund social care being considered by ministers) but before the poster was unveiled – The Tories knew it was a lie before it even hit the streets –  so they’ll be accused of lying, and also not knowing what the Government’s plans are.

3. The Conservatives are in no position to draw attention to plans on inheritance tax. My post in November Just who would benefit from Cameron’s Tax cuts ? drew attention to Labour’s position re. the Conservatives’ plans pointing out that only those with estates of more than £700,000 would benefit from those plans.

4. Not only does drawing attention to Inheritance Tax reveal the unfairness of their own plans, it also reminds the public of one of David Cameron’s more spectacular trashings in PMQ’s by Gordon Brown – when GB came out with the taunt that

‘Cameron and Osborne “will know by name” almost all of the people who will benefit from these measures – and adding  “Is this what the Conservatives mean when they say ‘we’re all in this together?’

5. The poster comes on the back of the Tories’ previous disastrous own goal poster which showed an airbrushed David Cameron, and launched a whole cottage industry of edited versions of the poster – it’s hardly likely to suffer a better fate – replacing as it does, the smooth forehead of David Cameron with the smooth stone slab of a grave stone. Will it be a good swap we wonder ? – I’d imagine there’ll be alternative versions of this on the net before midnight – perhaps here : . Expect Zombies !

6. The phrase “death tax” is lifted straight out of the vocabulary of right wing American politicians – and specifically conjures up the ‘Death Panels’ talked of by right wing American politician  Sarah Palin – a figure of ridicule in the UK. The expression was used in attacks on President Barack Obama’s plans to introduce universal health care in the USA, and alongside criticism of the UK’s National Health Service  – this serves to remind the UK public, not just of the opposition by some Tories to the very idea of the NHS – but specifically of the maverick extremist Daniel Hannan, who claimed that the NHS was a “60 Year Mistake” on American TV , who stands by his pronouncements, and who has not been reprimanded in any way by David Cameron, despite his claims to support the NHS. ( See my post Daniel Hannan’s outpourings on the NHS – Will Cameron slap him down ? ) – raising fears of both the Tories’ lack of commitment to the NHS, and David Cameron’s inability to control the lunatic fringe (or is it the mainstream ?) of his party.

The whole Daniel Hannan episode of course sparked the massive #WeLoveTheNHS Twitter campaign, massively embarassing for the Conservatives, and which perhaps can be seen as a turning point in the fortunes of Gordon Brown’s government.

7. And finally … It’s just not all that funny. Surely they can do better than this.

So once again I say that David Cameron is losing it – losing the plot, losing the argument – and increasingly he’s losing the election campaign.

February 9, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

All to fight for in the General Election

I read this piece on the Tory Radio blog last night : Labour giving up on being able to form a majority , produced in response to what editor Jonathon Sheppard (I’m assuming it’s him) called a “Labour reaction of glee” to the news that the newly published ComRes Poll in the Sunday Mirror : POLL EXCLUSIVE: David Cameron’s down again , was predicted to lead to a hung parliament, with the Conservatives 5 seats shy of a majority, in the next general election (Predictions from polls are hit & miss affairs by the way – but lots of fun – try Electoral Calculus to have a play around with some figures).

Well although I found the tone of the article to be childish and sneering, one does have to ask – why get so excited about the prospect of scraping a near draw ?

I feel that there are two reasons – and I look to the example of Tory ex-Prime Minister John Major for both.

John fought two general elections as Prime Minister. Let’s take the later one – the one where he was defeated – first. Major’s position before and as a result of that election, represents the doomsday scenario for any political party. Unpopular as his government had become, as the election loomed it became more and more difficult to salvage anything for his party. Like an aeroplane in free-fall, there came a point where it was impossible to pull out of the dive, and all that he could do was wait for the crash. When it came it provided Labour with possibly their most staggering victory ever – winning seats in places which had hitherto been considered untouchable.

Back last year at the time of the European elections, that was a scenario being painted by many for Labour – in third place in many areas, losing ground to fringe parties as well as established ones with cabinet ministers bickering in the wings trying to unseat the leader.

There’s another lesson from John Major though – from the 1992 election – which he won.

John Major’s Government was also unpopular then, and he was facing a slick election campaign from Labour’s Prime Minister in waiting Neil Kinnock. Neil Kinnock you may remember even managed to have the celebration before he’d won the election so sure was he of the forthcoming victory

There’s so many things in that short clip that provide echos of today’s situation – the Opposition cheered by the opinion polls, sure that the Government can’t win, but not yet sure that they can – according to the polls – but brimming with confidence, and sure that the Prime Minister is a “Box Office Disaster” to use John Smith’s words.

We know what happened – Kinnock blew the election – or was it the other way round ? I actually felt that John Major won it – he did his homework, he worked hard, and although even most of the Conservative Party didn’t really believe him until the votes were counted, he successfully delivered the goods – much to my own disappointment ( “At least he’s not Margaret Thatcher !” was my dejected thought the morning after ).

So which will it be for Labour ? Major’s 1997 Meltdown, or Major’s 1992 Rope-a-Dope ?

Back last Spring, the harbingers of doom were fairly sure of the Meltdown – but since then things have changed. In council by elections for instance there’s been no big evaporation of the Labour position. Gordon Brown, has become more vociferous and successful in his spoken comments – making Cameron look a charlie in many of the recent PMQ’s for instance.

There’ve also been a few embarrassments for the Tories as well – Cameron’s handling (or lack of handling) of anti-nhs extreme right wingers in his party such as Daniel Hannan has not gone down well publicly.

The traditional Tory press for some reason, also seem to take a delight in having a side-swipe at David Cameron, even whilst trying to rally the troops : see this in the Telegraph earlier this week  David Cameron’s Tories are a one-man band that’s playing out of tune

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that there aren’t still big, big difficiculties for Labour – just that the crash landing is not inevitable – we seem to have pulled out of the dive.

Admittedly Labour could have done without Hoon & Hewitt’s shennanigins regarding leadership challenges – but the episode does seem to have galvanised unity within the party  – for the time being at any rate.

So this opinion poll shows that yes there could be a hung parliament. Margins of error taken into account it probably also shows that the Tories could have a very small majority, or that their simple majority might be even smaller. When all’s said and done it’s just another poll – and they can be misleading as we know.

It does though, suggest that the total meltdown isn’t happening. Which suggests to me that Gordon Brown’s election may well be more similar to John Major’s more successful campaign in 1992 than to his disaster in 1997.

I think it’s this that the Labour faithful are taking heart with – because the poll hints at lessons from history which show that there is all to fight for in this election and that a Labour majority is by no means out of the question.

When you look at those airbrushed posters of David Cameron smugly looking out at you – who does it remind you of ? Tony Blair ? Margaret Thatcher ? No – for me it’s Neil Kinnock – having his party early – just as Cameron is.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over , and I’m Voting Labour !

January 24, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Who loves the NHS ? Is it true ?

[ UPDATE : This article now re-posted at House of Twits : Front Bench Blogs Many thanks ! ]

Sorry but I just can not resist posting this about David Cameron’s reported meeting with the radical nursing group Nurses for Reform

It is reported in the Telegraph : David Cameron meets NHS privatisation campaigners , with the by line :  “ David Cameron has met a health care pressure group that advocates full privatisation of the National Health Service – a meeting that could infuriate doctors and nurses.” ; that he met with the group two weeks ago.

Certainly the group themselves are full of this – the article  David Cameron seeks policy ideas from NFR appears on their website, and neither do they make any bones about their support for dismantling the National Health Service, in this article on the Adam Smith Institute website The micro-politics of hospital privatisation .

It’s on their own site though that I spot the most flabbergasting statements About Nurses for Reform

“NFR rejects bland egalitarianism in favour of competition. And it believes in people – not politics.”

All of which leads me to believe that Mr Cameron has once again been upstaged by the right wing of his party – and this time it’s not recognised fringe mavericks like Daniel Hannan doing the NHS down – no this time it’s cuddly Dave himself, in what I would guess will prove to be a huge embarrassment to the Conservative party.

Of course I’m not alone in thinking that, the Telegraph article itself does point out similar concerns :

“His decision to meet the radical group, which calls the NHS a “dystopian, Soviet-style calamity”, will be seen as foolhardy after the painstaking efforts he has made to reassure voters that the NHS is safe in Tory hands. The meeting risks reigniting the row which exploded four months ago when Mr Cameron was forced to distance himself from a leading Tory MEP who suggested that the NHS was a “mistake”. “

The Telegraph remember, is rather more well disposed towards the Conservative party than I am. The article also says …

“the meeting is bound to be exploited by Labour ministers in the run-up to the election. Nurses For Reform, by its own admission, is the most extreme pressure group calling for NHS privatisation in Britain. On its website it denounces the NHS as a “Soviet” organisation which must be dismantled.”

Is it just me or does David Cameron look exceptionally embarassed ?

(This image is contained on the Nurses for Reform website – it may not embed correctly – please visit the site at×225.jpg  to see the original in context )

December 30, 2009 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I tell them “I’m voting Labour”

I tell them “I’m voting Labour”

There was some celebration amongst the Labour Twitterati last Saturday evening / Sunday morning after the latest poll showed a narrowing of the Conservative lead.

Whilst Tories and the more sensible Labour people will point out that sometimes you get a rogue poll, and that one poll certainly is certainly no reliable indicator of election outcomes, it was at least encouraging to have even a rogue poll going more in Labour’s direction – and I’d have to say that this one felt more in tune with what I’ve encountered talking to non-political friends and colleagues at home and at work.

Some time ago I blogged about the way that the polls didn’t seem to be reflecting the mood which I was encountering (The bitterest Poll ?) – and I’m prompted once again to comment on opinions encountered in day to day life – but perhaps a bit more positively this time :

I’ve noticed in many conversations over the past months people throwing into conversations things like “Well when the Conservatives get in this will all change” or “Of course there’s no telling what a Tory government will do” – this from people who aren’t especially politically minded – but lead you to believe that much as they don’t particularly want it – the Consevative victory at the General Election is inevitable.  My response, sadly was to shrug and sigh.

But since that last blog I’ve noticed a subtle difference. People haven’t been saying  “When the Conservatives get in” they’re now saying “Of course we’ll probably have a Conservative government by then” – Probably – not definitely.

Which has prompted me to make a different response. Now if I hear something like that I challenge it – I say “Not if I have anything to do with it !” or “They’ll only be elected if we vote for them” and most of all I say “I’m voting Labour !”

The effect of this is quite dramatic. I find it gives the outsiders in the conversation the courage to speak up. Instead of just nodding and accepting the received wisdom, instead they express how they’re not sure about the conservatives, they discuss their worries about the election, and quite a lot of them – certainly more than you’d imagine from looking at opinion polls or reading the Sun –  say “I’m voting Labour too !”.

So my thought for the day. If you get caught in a conversation with friends, or work colleagues, or even total strangers about politics and people make comments that suggests that the election is a foregone conclusion, – don’t accept it !

Challenge it – tell them it’s not a foregone conclusion. Tell them anyone can win the election.

Tell them that the election will only be a foregone conclusion if people don’t think about who they’re voting for.

Tell them every vote counts.

And tell them “I’m voting  Labour  !”

Because if you don’t tell them, who will ?

November 28, 2009 Posted by | politics | , , , | 8 Comments

Just who would benefit from Cameron’s Tax cuts ?

The tragedy of a a person being hit by a train in the Harrow & Wealdstone area, thus suspending all trains in and out of Euston Station gives the unexpected silver lining of me being able to resurrect my much neglected blog.

I’m interested today by the Cameron Gift Calculator on the front page of the Labour Party website (the content will doubtless change in coming days). The little gadget there allows you to type in the value of your estate and find out how much you will benefit from the cuts in inheritance tax that David Cameron’s Conservative party are proposing.

Well my house, in South Bedfordshire is worth around £225,000 – I have a mortgage of around £100,000 but this would be more or less paid off with life insurance should I or my wife die.

So how much would – benefit ?  – Well I wouldn’t – nothing, zero – I’m not wealthy enough to get a present from Dave.

No surprise perhaps. After all according to the same Labour website neither would 96% of the population. It’s what I should expect no doubt.

But here’s the rub – I’m a Headteacher – a London Headteacher and I earn well above median earnings. In fact my salary of around £78,000 is (according to this July 2009 BBC article : Just what is a big salary? ) not just above average, but puts me in the top 5% of earners – comfortably in fact, with the cut off figure for the 95th centile being £58,917. Yet despite probably being in the top 4% of earners, I’m no where near the 4% of people who’d benefit from these Tory tax proposals.

So in case there’s anyone out there thinking the Tories’ tax cuts would benefit the high earners out there – forget it. It’s old money we’re talking out – people who had the money from the day they were born – or at least the promise of it when Mummy or Daddy popped their clogs.

Lest anyone’s in any doubt – the inheritance tax cuts would not affect anyone with estates of less than £700,000 – and then not massively. But if for example you had an estate worth £5, 000, 000 then you’d stand to benefit by £520,000  (or your heirs would). As if you’d need it !

As Gordon Brown observed in Parliament today, Cameron and Osborne “will know by name” almost all of the people who will benefit from these measures – and adding  “Is this what the Conservatives mean when they say ‘we’re all in this together?’

So before you go off and vote Conservative in the general election – ‘just for a change’ – remember what kind of people they are : They are really greedy people who just look out for themselves and their own kind !


November 18, 2009 Posted by | blogs, news, politics | , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Cuts for Schools ?

I was suprised this morning to read of Ed Balls interview with the Sunday Times  Labour’s £2bn cuts for schools in which he apparently calls for around £2bn worth of cuts to the education system, arrived at by – amongst other things, reducing the senior leadership teams of schools, and also making savings by bringing schools together in “Federations” where they would have one head overseeing many schools.

He doesn’t seem to be saying quite the same thing on his web site where he publishes a transcript of a later interview televised on the BBC’s The Politics Show Transcript of interview on The Politics Show . It’s interesting that the BBC in it’s version of the two interviews seems to rely rather more on the edited account of the Time’s interview, than it does on the interview it carried out itself :  ‘Labour ‘could save schools £2bn’ . Perhaps because Ed Balls did say in the BBC interview “I think it’s really important to have a head in every school, that’s my view”, and also (in relation to federation of schools) “I’m not saying  … I’m going to impose from the top down you must do this” – which sort of takes the sting out of it.

He did more than hint though at making savings through a reduction in Senior Managers, and that this could be partly achieved by encouraging Federations of schools.

So what it’s it all about ?

Well I may be a headteacher, but I don’t really know. Ed Balls is not a foolish man, and must have been aware that this would be reported, pretty much in the way it has been – a way in which at first glance few people working in the field of education would immediately clap their hands with glee.

I do know a few things though. I know that forming federations at the moment is a matter which is done at the discretion purely of the Governing Bodies of the schools involved. So it would involve either primary legislation, or an unprecedented co-ordination of Local Authority arm-bending to make sure federations happen in any large numbers.

Not that they don’t happen. In fact one of the reasons why federations do crop up is that many schools find it difficult to recruit suitable headteachers, and quite often end up seconding a head from a nearby school to oversee another one – this has in some cases led to “executive heads” being appointed across several schools. I couldn’t comment on whether it saves money – you’d need to do the sums in a real situation. However,I can’t imagine it would save much. Having an executive head often means having individual heads as well – or at least having ‘super deputies’ paid a similar salary to a head. Once you lose the sitting candidates (who are often the first post holders for “super deputy” jobs) these can be difficult posts to fill. In many ways all the responsibilities of a head (some of them legal responsibilities) – but without autonomy and individual influence on the school that a true headship brings. No head who has enjoyed being a head would ever want to go back to “running someone elses show”.

What I seem to be sensing from Ed Ball’s comments is a hint towards further Government commitment to ways of ‘radicalising’ schools – in current parlance this of course means academies, trust schools, specialist school and federations of schools – all of which have met to some extent with criticism from teachers unions.

I’m not particularly opposed to them though. Here’s why –

Since the Conservatives took power in 1979, and particularly since the Education Reform Act of 1989 there’s been a move towards schools having greater and greater independence in managing their own affairs. The role of a Headteacher has changed dramatically – and is now a multi-faceted business leadership role – but one which requires experience and expertise in education first and foremost as a qualification for the post. There are things that crop up in Headteachers woking lives then that are way outside their realm of experience – and many is the time when I would dearly love to employ – (for example) – an accountant, a computer engineer, an architect, a builder, a fund raiser, another 4 secretaries – I could go on. Why – because they would help me to do the things that I either don’t have time for, or am simply not particularly good at.

Of course I am at liberty to employ those people if I wish – so what stops me ? Two things ! –  first of all it’s very difficult to move from the structure of schools which is well established – it’s hard to think radical, because everything’s set up to keep things the same. Secondly – I’m too small. I can’t afford to do those things.

Now – supposing I was part of a group of 5 schools. Then we might be able to appoint some people who could help us to be more efficient. Suppose that we had more freedom to employ people in roles other than the traditional ones – dare I say it – as an Academy ? Then we could think radical – we could stop trying to do all the same old things better, and start doing new things better. We could forge partnerships with Universities, we could place our teachers on research programmes, sponsored by the people who sponsor university research. We could …  well we could do all sorts really.

This is what I think Ed Balls is after, and I’m not especially disagreeing (I could pick a few holes though). There are plenty who would though – the NUT for one union (and I’m a member) would throw a real wobbly for sure. So I think the Secretary of State is measuring his words, knowing that anything in the press that smacks of a slap in the face for the relatively highly paid will go down well in at least some circles, and knowing that there’ll be time enough to present a radical agenda at some time in the future.

Well that’s my guess anyway.

September 20, 2009 Posted by | education, politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cut public spending, say voters – or do they ?


How do people think of what to blog about ? Sometimes I can’t think of a thing, and even if I try to write something, nothing comes out. Other times something just gets my goat – and off I go.

Tonight it was a series of tweets from @theredbox which generally is Times OnLine’s political link service, which riled me into action.

One of the things they like to do is wind Labour supporters up on a Saturday night, with early releases of tomorrows Sunday sensations. This Saturday was no different.

I could pick any from about half dozen articles to get irate over – however I’ll stick to this one : Cut public spending, say voters

According to a times/yougov poll published “today” ( the date of the article is the 13th of September, but it’s quite clearly still only the 12th )  “Voters are overwhelmingly in favour of cutting public spending rather than tax rises to close the budget black hole”

“The survey finds that just 21% would prefer the government to raise taxes to close the growing gap between what the Treasury spends and what it receives in revenue. Sixty per cent want to shrink the size of the state to curb the £175 billion deficit amid mounting government disarray over the public finances.

Of course they don’t actually show you the full survey results or what questions were asked so it’s impossible to evaluate  the findings critically – doubtless they’ll be drip fed to us in the morning.

I just wonder what the questions were though – because in all honesty I’m not sure that 62% of the electorate actually understand what “shrinking the state” means (I’m not really sure that I do). So let’s just examine this for a few moments :

“Overhwelmingly in favour of cutting spending rather than tax rises” – hmm, so not necessarily in favour per se – just preferring it to tax rises.

“62% want to shrink the size of the state” – right, so how many % was it in favour of spending cuts ? Oh, actually they don’t say. Maybe shrinking the size of the state is the same thing – who knows ?

“mounting government disarray over public finances” – and there’s me thinking that there’d been quite a rash of news articles this week saying that the recession was on its way out ( this one for example Recession is officially over, according to leading thinktank )

“Just 21% would prefer to raise taxes” – just 21% – a bit more than 1 in 5. That’s compared to the approximately 3 in 5 they say support cutting spending. So there are presumably another 1 in 5 who are undecided. So around 3 to 2 overall in favour of . That’s a clear majority. Clear. Not overwhelming.

So all this is a becoming  a bit less convincing. Let’s not forget though that this isn’t just The Times doing an unscientific survey – no they’re using YouGov to do this, which according to its website, is the “authoritative measure of public opinon and consumer behaviour” who’ve got lots of experience in mounting objective survey’s of public opinion.

Which makes the Times’ poll even more astonishing, because there’s clearly been a seismic shift in opinion in just a few short days.

According to YouGov’s Peter Kellner’s blog Cameron ditches the negatives, but has not yet nailed the positives a poll published last Monday, not for the Times, but for the Telegraph, shows some radically different results :

7% think that taxes paid as a share of   income would be lower under the Conservatives.  Or should that be “Just 7%”

more people think David Cameron would govern in the interests of better-off people (45%) than think he would govern in the interests of the country as a whole (38%)

And here’s the beauty – 69% of the general public, and 63% of Tories, think one of the top priorities for the Government should be to raise the taxes of those earning more than £150,000 a year.

It doesn’t actually say how many want to “shrink the size of the state”

It does conclude though : “the Conservatives appear to be on course for a modest overall majority. If they can enhance the positives, they could win big. But there remain enough weaknesses in their image for the party to be vulnerable to an effective fightback by Labour”.

I think I can believe that. So don’t forget – sometime in the next year you’ll have a chance to vote in a real poll. Don’t miss the chance – vote Labour !

September 12, 2009 Posted by | politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughts on primaries and electoral reform

I’ve read a lot of articles recently about “primaries” to select candidates for political parties – most from Labour Party sources – but not all – a surprisingly convincing argument is made by current bête noire Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph article A primary objective: make MPs answer to the people . There’s also a far more comprehensive list of web resources to be found on the Progress website, where supporters are also invited to sign up in support of Primaries.

So have I been converted ?

Well what I have recognised is the need for a change.

It can of course be argued that parties are for members, and that they alone should choose the candidates. Yet in many seats they aren’t just selecting the candidate they are “de facto” selecting the MP. I’m not sure how many people do this but a look at tonight’s results from the St Alban’s Conservatives’ reselection of MP Anne Main MP shows the problem – 144 votes to 20.

A grand total of 164 people potentially deciding the next MP – although the sheer absurdity of that may well ultimately decide that they do not.

It’s also clear that there are other things that may need to change. If we accept Hannan’s figure that 70% of seats are effectively “safe” – then that means that approximately 35% of the electorate – those who vote against the “safe” candidate – have no say whatsoever in the make up of parliament.

Ironically the voters for the safe candidate are also likely to have less say than other constituencies in who represents them – since they are more likely to have candidates from outside the area “parachuted” (why do they always use that word ?) in order to ensure that those likely to hold ministerial office are more likely to be elected.

So in theory primaries seem like a good idea – open up the contest, and make the selection of candidates more responsive to local electorates. I can see that – it makes sense, and I can see also that there are ways of limiting the expense – holding the polls on the same day – limiting the publicity that candidates are allowed to present, and there needn’t really be any need for pre-registering. It would seem that if all parties have their primaries on the same day, then you turn up on the day, give your number, and are given 3 ballot papers (maybe more) – of which you must return only one – you choose which to return.

I can see how this can work. There are however, so many imponderables :

If you did a primary like this and published the results you’d have a dry run for the election – an opinion poll to end all opinion polls because it would have the support of the returning officer. This WILL affect the real election.

The issue of when to have primaries will also affect the issue of when to have elections – because you will have to have primaries in good time before an election. This effectively means an end to the incumbent party deciding when to have an election – it means fixed term parliaments. Which presumably also means shorter terms – perhaps three years.

All of which is achievable if the will is there.

I’m not certain that the will really is there though, because for primaries to really deliver it will take a radical reshaping of the mode of Government we have. There won’t be the possibility of placing top candidates in safe seats anymore. So how will you decide cabinet posts ?– how will you ensure that the party leader gets a seat ?, or the deputy ?

Well these are things that I don’t know – but I’d suggest that it will need a transformation of the electoral system – Local MP’s being selected by primaries, but also MP’s selected proportionally to a list  – by ballot of party members. This would allow for key candidates – the leader & potential cabinet members to be allocated top places in the list, and for lower places to go to candidates who preferred to go for selection to a list rather than locally – giving members in seats that are safe for opposing parties a chance at running for parliament, and voters in those constituencies a chance to elect someone in the party they vote for.

All in all quite a set of changes – and these are the ones just off the top of MY head – I’m sure that some of the political theory wonks have got all this stuff just waiting to trot out. I’ll be reading with interest.

But for now – my opinion is : Primaries – Yes ! – but only with accompanying radical electoral reform, and only with a dramatic shift in the collective will of the governing parties.

With the state of politics as it is now though this could be the only time to push through something as radical and new as this – and if Gordon Brown is to lead Labour to election victory, then embracing electoral reform, and making a real difference to the way politicians represent the people may just be the only way he will achieve that.

August 14, 2009 Posted by | politics, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

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