Month: September 2009

Labour losing the support of The Sun is not a blow, it’s worse

The decision of The Sun to switch from endorsing Labour to the Conservatives doesn’t really come as a huge surprise – although I had expected them to wait until closer to the election.  But far from damaging Labour’s chances at the next General Election, it is even worse for them.  It means that The Sun has already decided that Labour will lose the next election.

OK, so looking at the polls that shouldn’t be any great political insight, but there had always been that faint possibility that Labour might pull something out of the bag. After all, we shouldn’t forget that Brown was initially popular when he became Prime Minister, and after the Ealing Southall and Sedgefield by-elections people were genuinely questioning Cameron’s leadership. But the time for any comeback has gone.  I still don’t believe there is any great love for Cameron, unlike the enthusiasm for Blair in 1997. But at least in 1997, Major had the advantage of being personally liked,  even if the Tories weren’t. That isn’t an advantage that Brown has.

Whilst any centre right party will start at an advantage in trying to win the support of The Sun, the paper also reads the runes. If its readers are swinging behind a party they will back it. If they are divided between who to support, they will try and shove them in a particular direction like in 1992.  I don’t believe that the Sun on its own decides the election result although its support helps.  Instead it reaffirms who is on the ascendency.

Liberal Democrat Conference 2009 – the story so far

I feel slightly sad at this conference.  Not because of anything unhappy that’s happened here, but for one simple reason.  It’s our last Federal Conference in Bournemouth for some years.  Bournemouth is by a long way my favourite conference venue for many reasons – it’s easy to find affordable accommodation just round the corner from the venue, it’s a large town but small enough to be friendly, the conference bar is substantially more organised than many others (although last night did make me think twice about that), it always seems to be sunny, and most of all the views across the sea from the Marriott Highcliff Hotel towards the Isle of Wight, along the coast from Boscombe, past Bournemouth, Poole Harbour and Studland are amazing, especially when you can sit outside on their terrace late at night on a really clear evening watching boats go past.  I am glad that the Lib Dems are doing an Autumn conference in Liverpool next year, but I will miss Bournemouth.

My new job has meant that I’ve been rushed off my feet and absolutely exhausted and so not had a chance to blog anything earlier, (I should twitter properly, but I haven’t quite grasped that yet), but I do tend to prefer busy conferences rather than quiet ones.  So, here’s just a few random things from conference so far:

  • The mood of conference is neither upbeat nor downbeat, but best described as businesslike.  People just seem determined and professional in a far greater way than I have ever seen before, and that’s great.  It makes you think that if we keep this up then we stand a chance of doing very very well at the next General Election.
  • It has struck me at a number of events that Nick Clegg is looking pretty relaxed and confident.  That’s a good sign that he is perhaps becoming more sure footed as leader, and certainly he has improved massively since taking on the job.
  • Bournemouth seems to be full of stag dos, which is not something that I noticed this time last year.
  • There was a man in the toilets at the Bournemouth International Centre today who was stood absolutely still staring at the hand dryers.  It was as if he had never seen one before.
  • I’ve not seen anyone mop the walls of a hotel before, until I went in to the Royal Bath Hotel yesterday.  Very strange.
  • A clever turn of phrase I’ve noticed in some speeches at this conference is to try and get people on your side who are going to disagree with you, by mentioning that what you could believe is even worse even though you never would believe it.  Something like, “what I’m not going to do, as some people suggest, is to kill the first born, instead I’m going to just injure them slightly.”  Of course, the “some people” are unlikely to really exist.
  • I can highly recommend the Topaz Hotel on St. Michael’s Road.  It’s clean, comfortable, does decent breakfasts and the beds are very comfortable.  It’s a shame my bathroom is so tiny that the bathmat is bigger than the floor space, but I suppose you can’t have everything.  It is also substantially better than where I stayed last year – the Manchester Hotel – which is one of the worst places I’ve ever stayed.
  • I am now officially fed up of the phrase “tough choices”.  Everything appears to be a tough choice these days, and often they aren’t.
  • I was asked by a man today if the free pencils on our stand were real pencils.  When I confirmed that they were he asked me “you mean you can sharpen them too?”  Well yes, they’re pencils!
  • A quick response to the comment about Hilary Stephenson in today’s Daily Telegraph: Hilary will succeed even without Chris Rennard as she is an incredible campaigner who, whilst not denying Chris’ amazing talents, doesn’t need him holding her hand for her to do well.
  • Liberal Youth have clearly turned a corner after some difficult years.  They look so much more organised and professional than they have done recently.  I also gather they are having brilliant success at this year’s university freshers’ fayres, which is good news.
  • Everywhere I go I see Greg Stone.  Very odd, but it’s true and someone else has told me the same thing has happened to them.
  • I went to a very good fringe last night by The Chard Group about whether railways should be renationalised or not.  I made myself unpopular by saying they shouldn’t.  It made a change, most people think I’m a lefty.  I must set out my thoughts on here in writing though, as it is pretty complex to explain how some aspects of the railways work in words like I did last night.  To quote Lembit “my head hurts now” after I tried to explain why ticketing is a complex nightmare.
  • Speaking of railways, it was nice to see someone I used to work with in an old job at a fringe meeting last night.  Heidi Mottram, the Managing Director of Northern Rail, was a director when I worked at Midland Mainline.  We haven’t seen each other for five years, but talking to her it felt far less time and a sign of how I’ve changed I didn’t feel intimidated talking to her like I used to when I worked for the same company.
  • Finally, everything ALDC has done at this conference seems to have gone well, which is a relief for my first conference working for them.  All our meetings have been packed out and much bigger than previously.

Blogging: the insatiable time-eating monster

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about blogging.  That might seem quite surprising given my failure to blog much at all over the last few months. But it’s the very lack of blogging that has made me question the whole thing.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy it.  I do.  I suppose it’s the mix of the wannabe writer in me and the politician.  It gives me a chance to vent my opinions, come up with a cogent argument, (which I might occasionally succeed at), and whilst no one may care what I think, it feels as though you have got something off your chest.  But it’s not just that, it’s also that feeling of putting something out there that some people think is worth reading – a thought you’ve had, something you have done, somewhere you’ve been, something you’ve read, and you can share that with others and see what they think.  Sometimes the comments are abusive from those who have an axe to grind against the Lib Dems or just critical of anyone who dares to disagree with them, but usually it’s an interesting contribution and the best ones are those who say that what I’ve written is just what they were thinking.  It’s quite reassuring.

What also focused my attention on my lack of blogging was me coming in at number 53 in the Total Politics Top Lib Dem Blogs list.  OK, so I don’t write a blog for the fame, glory or prestige, (who does, except perhaps Irfan Ahmed), but realising that I even got a placing, (albeit 16 places below last year), despite having been so bad at writing anything recently, showed that some people must value what I am doing.  Either that or it is just friends trying to be nice.  But it’s still good as appearing in a list like that is like those rare times when someone comes up to you and says how much they agreed with something you wrote on your blog or put in a leaflet.  It doesn’t happen a lot, and you don’t write leaflets for that reason, but it’s nice when someone does acknowledge what you do in that way.

What’s is frustrating me the most perhaps about my lack of blogging, is that I actually think my writing has got a lot better recently, and I reckon it is all a result of reading for most of the three hours a day I spend on a train.  I just find it a lot easier now to find the word that I need to to put together the right sentence.  I still ramble a bit, but it’s better than it was.  People say that reading is the best way to improve your writing skills, but I never expected it to make such an immediate different.  I looked back at some of my first ever blog posts the other week, (I printed off some of them when I scrapped my first blog), and when I compare what I wrote then, I can see how much my writing style as improved.  It’s odd to think now, that when I started my first blog way back in October 2003, hardly anyone talked about blogging and now it’s become really popular.  I’m not really an ‘early-adopter’ type of person, but I was in blogging, all thanks to James Graham inspiring me at the time with his first blog.

But when it comes down to it, there is one very simply reason I don’t blog as much these days – time.  Once you start a blog you find that it ends up taking up more and more of your time, and you eventually reach a point when you just can’t keep up.  Because it’s not only my own blog, I also enjoy reading political websites such as UK Polling Report, Liberal Democrat Voice, Conservative Home, Iain Dale, Political Betting etc etc, and yet when you read them you find things you want to comment on or write your own post about.  The next thing you know you are adding comments all over the place.  Then people post comments on your comments and if you aren’t careful you end up in a continual dialogue with other people and have to keep coming back until one of you blinks first and stops posting.

What’s worse is that I now also find myself with a second website that I am also trying to keep updated.  This is the website I have set up now that I am a candidate for Sheffield City Council next May.  But when I wrote something on it the other day, I then realised that on that website too I hadn’t written anything since the 3rd of August.  You see I know all the rules about how you should make sure you post regularly, otherwise people stop coming back.  And it’s not as if there hasn’t been anything to write about, as there’s been loads.  But I simply haven’t got around to it.  The downside is that it now looks as though I haven’t done anything in the ward, which isn’t the impression you want to give when you are standing for election.

Having two websites adds to the time pressures even more, but the reason I have both is because what I am trying to do with them is very different.  I want this blog to be the place for me to write about anything and everything, including the stuff that it seems most people who read it find dull – what I am reading or what music I listen to – but the reason for the other website is because I also want to write about what I am doing as a council candidate without people having to trawl through stuff that is irrelevant to that.  It’s not because  am trying to hide anything from the electorate.  If I do have anything I’ve said that is an embarassment I am probably already screwed if someone simply googles my name.  But standing for election, also makes you conscious that you have to take care on things such as posts that look badly written with grammatical and spelling errors.  That all takes more of your time.

Being a potentially keen blogger should make me ideal for this time when people are saying that politicians should be engaging with people directly and debating with them.  After all, the internet is an ideal forum for engaging in this way as you can talk to people who are clearly interested in the same subject.  But again if you aren’t careful you end up spending all of your time reading a multitude of different websites belonging to, amongst others, the local press, local residents, community groups and chatrooms and you never have time to do anything else – like talking to people directly on their doorstep.  An example of this, is one website that is essential reading for all Sheffielders, not just those in politics – Sheffield Forum.  It’s a good site, and as someone once posted there, all Sheffield’s politicians should be on the site taking note of what people have to say.  They are no doubt right, but you can’t be there all day monitoring what people are saying.  When you do go on the site though you end up adding your own comments all over the place, but often with no time to reply to anyone who responds because you have to be out doing other things.  This lack of a response then becomes an even worse crime, than having ignored the whole website in the first place.

I love all the things that you can do with the internet.  I enjoy blogging.  I enjoy being able to read what other people write on other websites.  I enjoy being able to keep in touch with my friends through things like Facebook when before I might have just drifted apart from those I don’t have time to see very often.  I love some of the other things that I could put on my websites if only I had the time, such as YouTube videos.  But at the end of the day these things just end up taking up more and more of my time.  Time that I already don’t have a lot of.  I recently got in to Twitter, which does have the advantage of being quick and easy to do and I can do it from my new phone.  However, most of what I write ends up then being about my commute to work – something that can be amusing, but all too often comes out as one long whinge.

I don’t want to abandon blogging.  But as well as finding the time to do it, I also have the issue that the time I think of writing things is either on a train when I can’t or when I am sat reading a newspaper in a cafe.  So basically I think the lesson is learning how to use my time with the internet more efficiently and putting some time and effort in to something I really enjoy.  After all, my blog is also not just about politics.  It’s also a way of making contact with people who are also researching the same family history as I am.  It’s a way of me published my photographs – another hobby that I don’t spend enough time on.

Having said that my writing has improved, I find myself at the end of this post not knowing why I have written it.  But that’s the beauty of blogging.  You can say what you like, and if it’s worthwhile people read it.  If it isn’t, then it just disappears in to the archive.