General

London Olympics 2012

How amazing was that?

I always thought it would go well (despite the cynicism) and I never thought we shouldn’t have bid for it (despite the expense).  But what I didn’t know was quite how amazing the London 2012 Olympics would be.

I have always been rubbish at sport and I don’t usually watch sport much on TV.  But I’ve been hooked.  I’ve watched so many sports that I would never watch and been spellbound.  As one radio presenter (I can’t remember who) said “I never thought I’d find watching a horse moving sideways to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory a good way to spend an evening.”  I’ve spent evenings watching water polo, archery, athletics, wrestling and rowing to name just a few.  When would I normally do that?  What I regret is not having seen any part of the Olympics in person, unless you include seeing them film the helicopter supposedly carrying James Bond and the Queen fly through Tower Bridge.

I think the thing that finally got everyone interested after the initial scepticism, despite it being seen as hugely London-centric, was the torch relay.  It just excited people as it brought the Olympics to every part of the country.  A beautiful torch.  Some amazing torch-bearers.  Covering all of the UK.  And I also think it was good to add in some famous local person too.

I loved the Opening Ceremony.  Yes there were parts that were a bit lefty in parts, but it was an absolutely amazing event that showcased our history and Britain today.  Britain is all of the things in that opening ceremony, despite what Aidan Burley and the Mail Online might say.  We’re a traditional and also modern country and that Opening Ceremony showed it.  It was the Britain that I love and why I think we’re a great country.  And I think Danny Boyle deserves huge praise for distilling what Britain is, when most of us sort of know it in our soul but perhaps can’t express it.  Anyone who wants to know what being British is about should just watch the Opening Ceremony (and the Closing Ceremony for that matter too).  Oh, and the Olympic cauldron was amazing and despite it not much was said about our country’s amazing designers (except for those in fashion).

I even found myself excited wondering where Sheffield’s golden postbox would be once Jessica Ennis won her Gold Medal.  Despite my initial reservations about the idea of them.  I was even more excited when I stumbled on it whilst it was being painted.  Yes, as a proud Sheffielder I am also chuffed that someone local won a gold medal (Jessica Ennis).  Someone local and from my school organised it (Sebastian Coe).  Some locals performed in the opening ceremony (Arctic Monkeys).

Everyday at work we wondered what our Gold medals were going to be that day and we realised that we had champions that we had never even heard of because there were so many of them.   A couple of us also were proud at how well Yorkshire did.  We told everyone when we had won something and it was considered fine not a distraction from work as this is a once in a lifetime event.

There’s plenty of events I can say I’ve enjoyed watching on TV, but there’s nothing that has ever been as good as these Olympics.  Britain at it’s best.  I’ve never been much of a nationalist and my nationality has just been a fact rather than something I feel fanatical about (although by being born in Sweden it makes it someway more complicated).  But I think these Olympics have made me use the word “proud” for the first time.  I’m proud we can put on an event this good.  I’m proud that we can be this successful in sport.  I’m proud that we show the world what an amazing country we are.  I’m proud that we’ve all got behind it.  I’m proud that I’m British.  I was even a little tearful when the flag was handed over to Brazil.

What a show.  What a spectacle.  What an achievement.  Let’s hope we keep up the positivity and use the pride in our nation for positive good.  Oh, and lets not forget we do still have the Paralympic Games coming up.

Sorry for all the hyperbole but I have genuinely loved all of this.

Photo credit: Shimelle (Opening Ceremony) and LondonAnnie (Mo Farah)

The Secret History of our Streets

One of the benefits of the Olympics has been a series of fascinating programmes about London.  One of the best has been the BBC2 series ‘The Secret History of our Streets‘ which has taken a road somewhere in London and shown how it has changed over the years.

The series takes as its start Charles Booth’s Poverty Maps showing the income and social status of roads in London, and then goes through the years showing how the roads have changed.  Some have stayed as working class areas, whereas moved either upmarket or downmarket.  It doesn’t matter whether you know the roads or not – so far only Caledonian Road has been familiar to me and even there it’s only the bottom end of it that I know – but it remains fascinating and you can probably build similar stories in cities across the country.  This isn’t just some dry social history, although personally I love social history, as it not only describes the history of the street but also talks to its residents current and past.  If you haven’t watched this series I really recommend that you do whilst it’s still available on iPlayer.

Whilst I’m recommending programmes, another great one has been ‘The Bridges that Built London‘ with Dan Cruickshank.  Dan Cruickshank has always been one of my favourite TV presenters as he makes history come to life in a way that I’ve always found fascinating.  I first discovered Dan Cruickshank when he was on the series ‘One Foot in the Past‘ back in the 1990s which I really miss and which has never really been replaced.  Since then he has been a constant feature on TV and I don’t think he has ever done a programme or series that hasn’t been worth watching.

Pecha Kucha Sheffield #9

It’s ages since I blogged, but after such an enjoyable night out I just had to tell people about it.

Pecha Kucha is the Japanese for ‘chit chat’ and essentially that is what it is.  People come in and talk about something they are interested in or on which they have a particular knowledge (see the Pecha Kucha website or Wikipedia for more).  The 20×20 format is how it’s run and it’s very simple.  A series of people have 20 slides that are shown on a big screen and they talk to them with each slide shown for no more than 20 seconds.  It was invented by architects with the intention that it would limit how long they can talk for and is particularly popular with design and arty types, but I think I’d sum it up by saying if you’re just interested in stuff, stuff that happens around where you live and the people who do this stuff then it’s for you.

There were a number of speakers but a few particularly stick in my mind.  The one that everyone who attended is bound to remember for some time was the very emotional talk by Julia O’Dwyer whose son Richard O’Dwyer is currently up for extradition to the USA for running a website which provided links to websites which allowed you to do illegal downloading.  I can’t do justice to what she said and so I’ll just provide a link to her website if you want to know more.

Another great speaker was Erica Packington on Roller Derbys.  A subject in which I would have never expected to have any interest but it was actually informative and thought provoking.

I also particularly enjoyed the two urban explorers as it covered two things I find fascinating –  photography and interesting derelict buildings around Sheffield.  Urban exploration isn’t something I’d have the guts to do, although I do occasionally stick my camera through broken windows in derelict buildings just to see what’s inside.

Other speakers included Rob Lee on perspective art (I knew I recognised him couldn’t place him and then found he works at the Showroom, which explains it), Dave Carlson on the Burton Street Foundation where the event was hosted and a building that I was probably last in about about 20 years ago when it was the Langsett Music Centre (for those who don’t know Sheffield it was where the job centre scene was filmed in The Full Monty and the outside was used as the school which is what it was originally anyway), Jonny Douglas on Sheffield specially to celebrate the Pecha Kucha Global Cities Week (since becoming a councillor I keep seeing these presentations both amateur and professional on the city and I keep thinking how great it would be to collect them all together in one place as they are all different), and Nynke Wierda on photography of the dead (strangely fascinating)!

I must also give a mention to The Mother Folkers who played music in the break halfway through.  Very good musicians to the point where I bought their CD and I’ll definitely make the effort to see them perform again.  Another mid-event event was showing two amusing and interesting videos from YouTube, including this one that whilst getting across a message is also interesting to any Sheffielder who is a fan of Tinsley Cooling Towers.

I thoroughly enjoyed the night.  I found about things that I knew nothing about before, (or would have expected I’d want to know about), I met people I’d never met before and I just wish I’d heard about it before.  I’ll definitely be back.  This is exactly the sort of thing I find fascinating and I just wish I’d found  out about it before.

Keep an eye on the Pecha Kucha Sheffield website for details of the next event in April.

Song of the Week 5 – Edge of Darkness by Eric Clapton

A slightly random choice for my Song of the Week this week, or should I say this month as I’m not very good at writing this regularly.

The reason for this choice is that this song suddenly came to mind on my way home from work tonight.  I was listening to Radio One when a song came on that had some elements that reminded me of Edge of Darkness.  Given I was driving through the icy darkness high up on a hill on the edge of the Colne and Calder Valleys near Huddersfield  it felt like an appropriately dramatic soundtrack for my drive, and I couldn’t shake it out of my mind afterwards.

Edge of Darkness was a song I first discovered when I was a child and had one of these cassettes of TV theme tunes.  I remember Edge of Darkness came after the Howard’s Way theme (another great) and before Tomorrow’s World.  That shows how many times I listened to the cassette even though I don’t even own it anymore.  I’d never seen the TV series Edge of Darkness that was first shown on the BBC in 1985.  I was ten at the time and so probably still a bit young.  And I’ve still never seen it, but looking it up on Wikipedia I see it did have Yorkshire connections and so it seems even more appropriate that it came to mind when I was driving through the Yorkshire countryside.

It’s astonishing that a great like Eric Clapton did a TV theme tune, but he did.  I just love the drama and mystery of the tune that fits with a dark story that involves conspiracy and intrigue.  A brilliant bit of guitar playing and I know how much of an understatement that sounds.

Why we must stand candidates for Police and Crime Commissioners

The debate within the Liberal Democrats on whether we should stand candidates for the Police and Crime Commissioners has been an interesting one.  Not just because the principle of standing candidates is not something that usually provokes debate (although obviously some areas struggle to find enough council candidates) but because the two sides of the argument are not easy to characterise.  There are people I would have thought were a dead cert in believing we should stand who are firmly against, and vice versa.  This topic has been debated informally internally for several weeks, but tonight it will be discussed by the party’s Federal Executive and so I decided it was time to put in my two penn’uth worth on why I believe we have to stand.

A DISTINCTIVE STANCE ON CRIME

For years the Liberal Democrats have been arguing a completely different approach to law and order from the other two major parties.  We’ve long campaigned for restorative justice (and been the people who’ve proved to the doubters that it can work in many of the councils we’ve run).  We’ve talked for years about how prison doesn’t work and is a very expensive and inefficient way of not really dealing with the problem of crime.  Whilst the Police and Crime Commissioners won’t have the powers to make some of the changes we would like to see in the criminal justice system these elections will see a much broader discussion on crime than just the things it can influence.  If we don’t stand candidates, who will argue that point of view?  Yes, Ken Clarke may be supporting many of the initiatives that we have long argued for, but do we really believe that the Conservatives who have long backed sending more and more people to prison and Labour who have an illiberal record of cutting civil liberties when in office, are going to create a wide debate on where policing goes in this country?  We need to stand to give people the opportunity to vote for the things that we believe in.  No one else will do that.  And if we don’t stand we’re saying that we have no opinion on this crucial debate.

IF WE DON’T STAND FOR ELECTION, THEN WHAT’S THE POINT IN US EXISTING?

Political parties are a likeminded group of people who stand for election to change the world.  OK, that’s a simplification, but Article One of the Liberal Democrat constitution says:

the objectives of the party shall be… to secure the election of Liberal Democrats as Members of Parliament, UK Members of the European Parliament and members of local and other elected public authorities.

Apart from the slightly nerdy constitutional point that the party would be breaching its own constitution by not standing for this ‘elected public authority’, it shows that standing for election is a fundamental part of what we do.  If we don’t stand for election we’re just a pressure group and not a political party.  We might not agree with Police and Crime Commissioners, but then we also don’t agree with directly-elected mayors yet we still stand.  Similarly, we stand under First Past The Post elections whilst supporting proportional representation.  The political structures may not be the ones we want, but they’re the ones that exist and if we don’t stand for election we can’t change them or make what they do as Liberal Democrat as possible.

DAMAGE TO THE PARTY’S IMAGE

Now I’m sure our opponents would say that our image has already been damaged since we went in to government, but would our image be improved any further by us not standing?  At the General Election we stood candidates everywhere because it gave us credibility as a national party, and so we can hardly argue the opposite now.  You only had to look at the press obsession with us having fewer council candidates in May (despite the fact that it was only marginally lower and in places where we’d always struggled) to see how obessesed they will get if we don’t stand.  The press line will be that we clearly are struggling, because we can’t even find candidates.  Instead, by standing everywhere and winning some of the contests it will, in the way that by-elections often have done, show that are still a thriving party.  Our opinion poll ratings have improved from “being disastrous, to just very worrying,” (as someone recently described it), and we are finally performing well in council by-elections and gaining our first seat from Labour.  This feeling of improvement and growing credibility will be destroyed if we fail to stand candidates, whether that is a blanket failure to stand or picking and choosing.

NOT STANDING WILL HINDER OUR LONG-TERM CAMPAIGNING

One of the mantras of the party’s campaigning over the years has not only been to always stand a candidate, but that doing so helps people get in to the habit of voting Liberal Democrat and it helps develop local campaigning over time.  However, if in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections our supporters have to go off and find someone else to vote for, it breaks that habit and makes it harder for us to win those people back in the future.  Many of us who were fighting hard at the General Election to help the party win key parliamentary target seats know how difficult it can be to persuade people to break their loyalty to a party they’ve always supported.  This weekend I was helping do some party training in Bradford, and one of the things we talked about was how getting people to vote for you involves both breaking their allegiance to another party and then persuading them that you’re the party they should now switch to.  If we don’t stand candidates we’ve already done the first half of that job for our opponents.

BACKING INDEPENDENTS IS NEVER THE SOLUTION

A third option for the party is to back independent candidates in certain areas, but my fear with this is who makes that decision.  Do we run an all-member ballot or is that decision just left to the Liberal Democrat great and the good of that police authority area?  I’ve written before about why I don’t believe Liberal Democrats should ever endorse Independent candidates.  But on Police and Crime Commissioners I don’t see how we can ever be entirely sure that someone is genuinely a Liberal Democrat in their views without going through the party approval and selection process, which of course would mean that they were then not really independent.  If there was to be no Liberal Democrat in my area I would still vote, as I believe you always should, but I wouldn’t necessarily back the party’s preferred candidate.  And whilst I may do the research to decide which one is the more Lib Dem candidate in their views, would most of our voters really do that and can I be entirely confident in that research?

The view of party members on whether we should stand in Police and Crime Commissioner elections was made very clear in a recent poll by Liberal Democrat Voice where 57% of members were in favour.  This view of the grassroots is also endorsed by ALDC whose Management Committee recently voted unanimously that we should stand candidates.  But at the same time many of ‘the powers that be’ in the party are known to be against and the English party’s executive has expressed its desire to not stand candidates (despite already starting the selection process).  The decision who stands will finally come down to local areas, but the views of the party’s committees are essential in making sure they endorse the process and that the candidates we have are ‘official’ and backed by the party’s upper echelons.  I hope that tonight, the Federal Executive will do the right thing and back the decision to run candidates everywhere.

Although I work for ALDC this post is written in a personal capacity.