Month: January 2010

Tories rate defence, Europe and cutting welfare, more highly than the environment, housing, transport & schools

ConservativeHome have conducted an survey that interviewed 250 candidates from the Conservative party’s most winnable seats, on what they felt should be the priorities of any new government.  The results are interesting.  Whilst Liberal Democrats might not disagree that “reducing the budget deficit” should be a top priority, it is the items that were placed at the bottom of the list that are the most telling.

In bottom position with just eight candidates saying it is a top priority is reducing Britain’s carbon footprint – something that would no doubt be near the very top for any Liberal Democrat candidate, and doesn’t say much for Cameron’s greenwash of the Conservative party.  Also languishing near the bottom is affordable housing, better road and rail services and establishing new schools.  Again, all areas which the Liberal Democrats would be likely to prioritise.  Whilst many of the top priorities may be popular with both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, and supporters of other parties too, I suspect areas such as winning powers back from Europe, cutting red tape and strengthening Britain’s military would be much lower down the list for Liberal Democrats.  This survey perhaps shows most starkly the difference between the two parties when Cameron is trying to claim how much common cause there is between us.  It’s the gut instinct political priorities that usually show what makes a party what it is.

The headline figures are below and the full story is available on Conservative Home, although I suspect this is a story that will be blogged about by others too.

How delaying the General Election count to Fridays, could screw up decisions on council control

This year’s general election, (it’s nice to be able to say that at last, rather than speculating on the year), will be the first in a long time when a large proportion of the votes will be counted on the day after polling day, rather than on the night of the election.  Current estimates show this could be around 25% of seats.

The result of this means that the traditional election night when politicos sit in front of the television watching the results come in, or those at counts try and find out from crappy radios what’s going on in the world outside of the sports hall, will largely disappear.  I’m against this for tradition reasons and because I believe it is important for democracy that we know the result as soon as possible, but there are plenty of posts from other people arguing against this for other reasons.  The best posts includes the one that kicked off the “Save General Election Night” campaign from Jonathan Isaby on Conservative Home as well as Mark Pack writing on Liberal Democrat Voice.  Mark has also written an excellent post on his own blog debunking the myth that it will make the count more accurate.

Much has been written elsewhere said about how councils are justifying this decision on the grounds that it saves them money –  a view that will no doubt go down well with their cash strapped residents.  The financial argument is understandable in that leaving the results until the day after means that the election can be counted during normal working hours and so they don’t to pay anyone overtime.  Well, that’s fine if you only have one election to count, but what happens to those places who also have council elections on the same day – i.e. all the metropolitan boroughs, all of London and a reasonable number of unitaries and districts?

If you don’t start your General Election count until 10am (the usual council count start time) this would mean that the quick counts are unlikely to be over until lunchtime, and the marginal seats that decide the election won’t be finished until late Friday afternoon.  The expectation is that the council election count would then take place after the parliamentary count was finished.  If councils don’t want to employ staff outside of office hours, would this mean that council counts get left until Monday when the staff are back at work?

Some people may feel this doesn’t matter but it could leave many areas in limbo.  This will be a particular problem where there has been a significant change in the balance of the council.  Many of the decisions on what will happen following the council election results take place over the weekend immediately following the election.  If the result isn’t known until the following Monday, it takes out a crucial weekend and less time to sort out control, committee memberships and cabinet positions, before the annual meeting that could be just two weeks later.  More importantly, that weekend is also used by senior council officers to look at what they need to change in how the council is run following a change in control.  Doubtless, the post-election group meetings would take place on a weekday instead, but for new councillors this will also provide problems in negotiating time off work, for what could be a vital meeting, when they were unaware of whether they were going to be elected.

Thankfully, my council is counting on polling day, but if it were to take place the day after it could cause a complete mess.  I have to declare a personal interest as I am standing for a council seat within a Labour/Liberal Democrat marginal constituency.  The Lib Dem parliamentary candidate is Leader of the Council, and so if he were to win we would know we have to pick a new leader, but still not know the make-up of our council group until four days later.  The situation is repeated in other places and for other parties, such as the Conservative Leader of Bradford City Council standing for election in a seat that is currently classed as “undecided” on the timing of the count.  My understanding is that many of the “undecideds” are councils who have decided to count the day after, but don’t want to declare until they know what other people are doing.

Despite what I’ve said, perhaps we should be grateful to not be in the situation they find themselves in Watford.  Watford has council elections, a mayoral election and is also a marginal parliamentary seat. Apparently they will start with counting the parliamentary election and then just keep going until every election has been completed.  One big marathon count.

Review of 2009

It’s perhaps already little late for a review of the previous year, but given that I failed to publish this at all last year (where my draft which I remember writing went I have no idea), and that my 2007 and 2006 reviews were written even later in January than this one, I’m not doing so bad.  I enjoy doing this though as it gets me thinking about the best of the last year, and so I’ll use most of the same categories as in the past but add in an extra one.

BEST FICTION READ IN 2009

In 2009 I read more books than I had in the whole of the previous three years.  When I was younger I was an avid reader, but this changed when I started doing lots of other things with my time and so the only time read was in bed and so one book would take months as I’d fall asleep after one page.  My longer commute to work since April has changed all of that, but it also means I have so many books to choose from as the best of the year.  So I’m going to pick out two, but recommend a few others in passing.

The first was mainly read in 2008, but I finished it at the start of 2009 and would probably have been last year’s choice if I’d written a review.  That book is The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger.  A modern classic, this book is either loved or hated.  But I loved it.  It’s an odd book in that very little happens in it and it never really comes to a conclusion.  Instead it goes through the thoughts and emotions of someone who seems to have a lot of teenage angst, although his thoughts are a lot more complicated than that.  Although I wouldn’t say that Holden Caulfield is like me, there were many points in the book where I could really relate to the character and I understood where he was coming from.  It’s rare that happens in a book.  This isn’t the sort of book I would normally choose to read, but given that it is so often referred to by other writers and that it has legendary status through its connection to the murder of John Lennon, I was intrigued.  I am now very glad I read it.

The other book I’m going to pick out is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  There probably isn’t much more I can say about this book that I didn’t say in my own review or the thousands of articles that have been written about the book and its author in the last year.  But it’s just a very good story with an unpredictable ending, and is both very Swedish yet with broader appeal.

The other books I should mention are: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (funny, not what I’d normally read, but enjoyable), The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (well written, beautiful book – as described in my review), and Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (the book that got me in to the briliant Rebus books – how could I have left it so long?).

BEST POLITICAL READ IN 2009

Without a doubt, it’s The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe.  If you’re interested in political campaigning and/or American politics, then this is a book for you, as this is the story of how Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, by the person who ran the campaign.  For me, this book was far more interesting than Barack Obama’s own books and shows how they built the campaign from no infrastructure but an idea that Obama would be good, to an improbably but decisive victory.  I had intended to do a proper review of this excellent book, but I didn’t get around to it.  But it’s something I will still do.

BEST SINGLE IN 2009

I’ve already been asked on Facebook to list my 15 best singles of 2009, but I struggled to list that many.  Put simply – I just don’t listen to the radio like I used to and so my knowledge of new music comes largely from free tracks on iTunes (not usually that great) or Later with Jools Holland (a lot better). My choice though is actually two very different singles – Remedy by Little Boots and All the King’s Men by Wild Beasts.  In passing I must also mention Daniel by Bat for Lashes as well.

Little Boots is pure pop and Remedy is quite a camp song, but it’s great.  I reviewed it back in June, but what really sealed it was seeing her perform at Sheffield Music City, which was Sheffield’s free music festival held in the city centre last July.  It is now coming back again in 2010, which is great as it created a real buzz for the whole weekend.  Little Boots’ energetic performance on Devonshire Green as the sun started to set was terrific, and I still associate the song with that day.  It’s unbelievably catchy.

All the King’s Men by Wild Beasts is completely different, except in one respect.  It is also a song that sticks in your head, and I suppose that is what unites most of the music I like even though it is usually all different genres.  Again I reviewed this earlier in the year after hearing it performed on Jools Holland.  It’s a very different sound from a lot of songs that come out, and that’s the main reason I love it.

BEST POLITICAL MOMENT IN 2009

Politically, 2009 has been less eventful than most recent years as there hasn’t been a normal run of elections that I’ve been involved with.  So rather than just picking a personal one, I’m going to go for two radically different moments – one local and one international.

The local one was the East Ecclesfield by-election for Sheffield City Council.  This was the first test that the Lib Dems had had since taking control of the council, with both Labour and the Conservatives running quite strong campaigns and the BNP also delivering leaflets.  So Colin Taylor’s comfortable victory was both a relief and an achievement, plus he is a thoroughly nice guy too.

The international one was the swearing in of Barack Obama as the President of the United States.  Not as good as the election itself for excitement, but still a great moment for obvious reasons.

BEST PLACE I’VE VISITED IN 2009

I’ve not been to many places this year outside Sheffield and London, except Stamford for a wedding and Weem near Aberfeldy for a stag do.  Stamford is a lovely town and I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Weem, but I am going to have to pick Hebden Bridge as it probably won’t qualify anymore as I’m there every day now.  I might work there, but until I changed jobs I’d only been to the town once before.  It’s a beautiful town, full of independent shops and with a unusual feel that is both very Yorkshire but also slightly hippy.  I feel very lucky to be based there, even if it can be drag to travel up there some days.

THE MOST SURPRISING THING I’VE DONE IN 2009

This isn’t an easy one actually.  I suppose the most surprising thing is to change jobs.  I really enjoyed working in Liberal Democrat campaigns and in particular for Nick Clegg and Sheffield Hallam.  However, sometimes you need a change and my new job was an opportunity that might not have come along again.

A big surprise though, and an odd choice to pick, is that I’ve developed a love of spending days at my parents’ house.  I’ve always got on with my Mum and Dad, but until recently I didn’t necessarily see spending a day with them in their home as a highlight of my week.  It’s not that I actively didn’t look forward to it, it’s just that it wasn’t something special.  I think it’s partly come out because I’ve had a year of trying to save money and so it’s about the only change of scenery I get (even though it’s only 3 miles from home), but also because there’s something comforting and stable about it, and perhaps also because I get a decent meal out of it.  It’s the house I grew up in and it’s just a bit of a safe haven from the stresses of the rest of the world and my new job no longer means that I’m always getting phone calls from people while I’m there.  An odd choice perhaps, but probably the best one to pick.

THE BEST THING I’VE DONE IN 2009

This is a dull answer, but a realistic one.  I got on top of my finances.  I’ve had some expensive years, ever since I moved from Derby.  Now finally my financial picture is better as I’ve managed to pay off some debts and I’ve had a more stable income for year.  The decision to pay off debts has nothing to do with the recession, it was just something I needed to do and this happened to be the year when it finally became more achievable.  This should hopefully make 2010 a better year.

THINGS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO OR HOPING I WILL ACHIEVE IN 2010

Some that spring immediately to mind, whether achievable or not are:

  • Hopefully being elected as the Liberal Democrat councillor for Nether Edge ward in Sheffield.
  • Seeing Liberal Democrat gains in the General Election.
  • I doubt this will happen, but I must do more photography as it’s something I’ve really got interested in over the last couple of years.  It’s just a shame that I don’t have a decent camera.
  • Like the last point, I would love to make a start on the book I’ve been wanting to write for years, but I doubt I will.
  • New albums from Delays, Amy MacDonald, Hard-Fi and Amy Winehouse.
  • Visiting my friends more often.

Lib Dems won’t be bought

Following on from my last post about hung parliaments, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats probably had one of their best mornings on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme for some time.  One of the benefits of the heavy snowfall is that I could work from home and so listen to more of the programme, and I was pretty impressed.

Apart from Nick Clegg making it clear that we aren’t involved in any backroom deals with any party before the election, and holding firm on that despite persistent questioning by Justin Webb.  But even better than that was that each news bulletin through the programme actually repeated the party’s four main priorities at the election – reforming politics, a commitment to expanding the economy through green jobs, giving all children a good start in life through the pupil premium and fair taxation by removing income tax from the first £10,000.  We couldn’t have sold it better ourselves.  From a personal point of view it was actually nice to hear it described as “centre left” as that is where I tend to sit in politics, and isn’t (somewhat unfairly) something that Nick Clegg is usually described.

This all makes a big change from being ignored by the media, but is perhaps one of the benefits of what is going to become a long drawn out election campaign.  Good for the Lib Dems, and hopefully its poll ratings, but less good perhaps for those people who aren’t interested in politics.  The only thing I would perhaps have added in, (just to prove the point that Paddy Ashdown once said about the Lib Dems “as curmudgeonly about success as one of those football supprters who regards his team’s promotion to the premier league as insufficient because they haven’t also won the FA cup!”), is on the questioning about how we could work with the Conservatives when our policies are so different.  My retort would probably be – rather than just asking us, have you tried asking David Cameron if he feels he could work with us on these policies, after all he’s the one who says how similar we are these days?

Nick Clegg was clear and succinct this morning.  Lets hope this is the start of a good run for the party in to the General Election.

More on this from The Times

If you like the Lib Dems, you’ll just love Labour/Conservatives (delete as applicable)

Following years of Labour and Conservative politicians treating the Liberal Democrats with complete contempt, suddenly it’s love. In fact if you watch This Week, (a programme which I admit is one I love, despite what I’m about to say), the attitude of the other two main parties is that the Liberal Democrats are just there to be mocked. So it’s odd then that both parties, (Labour here and the Conservatives here), should have spent the last few days saying how similar we all are and praising the Lib Dems. It’s almost an amalgamation of the two sayings “immitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and “First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win.”

I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the most recent polls show the Liberal Democrats doing better than they were a year ago. Council by-elections show the Lib Dems doing better than they have for years. But perhaps more importantly the polls of marginal seats shows the Lib Dem vote holding up against the Conservatives and Labour.  I also have a suspicion that the inclusion of Nick Clegg in the leaders’ debates at the General Election, (assuming he doesn’t stuff it up which, after a wobbly start to his leadership, recent performances at PMQs and on TV suggest he won’t), will also add even more profile and credibility to the party.

The big question exercising the media though is who the Lib Dems would support in a coalition. It’s a silly question as until you know the maths there is no way of answering it. Journalists should also be asking the other two parties who they would work with, and no one does. I’ve also said before that the talk of coalition is probably good for the Liberal Democrats as long as they don’t get tempted to commit to one particular party.  But I think today’s article by Jackie Ashley sums up the dilemma pretty well too as well as showing what difficulties the Lib Dems would have with both parties.

The real message though has to be: if you want a genuinely different sort of government and like what the Lib Dems say nationally and locally then you have to vote Lib Dem. Regardless of whether there’s a majority or a hung parliament, you need a strong Liberal Democrat party to guarantee what the party stands for as years of the other two parties shows they can’t be trusted, and electing lots of Lib Dems now moves the country nearer to a day when there’s a Lib Dem government. OK, so it should be snappier but that’s the gist, and I just hope that becomes clearer as we get nearer the election.