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.


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?).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Blogging 2009 – stats and analysis

I did a review of my year of blogging in 2008 and 2007 and so I thought I’d keep it up for 2009.  Having written it though, I’ve actually found it more interesting than I expected.


First the dull bit.  Despite a long period of blogging really inconsistently, I am amazed that I had 26,773 views.  This compares pretty well with the 28,978 in 2008 and the 13,767 in 2007.  It just goes to show that even if you don’t blog regularly, once you’ve been doing it for a bit then you still get people who read your blog regularly or perhaps always read a post when you do one, even if that’s not very often.  As I’ve said before, I don’t write this blog for popularity, but it does feel good when you find that people are interested enough to read it.

Yet again, the top posts on my blog have turned out to be apolitical.  Of the top 10 shown below, only three are specifically political.  This is consistent with previous years.  What appears to happen is that political posts tend to get the most hits by far on the day they are posted and for a day or two afterwards, but over a longer period of time such as year, it is the apolitical posts that have the longevity.  In fact some of the top 10 below (including the top post) weren’t even written in 2009.

  1. Roisin Murphy at Plug
  2. Will we ever forgive Andy Murray for his anyone but England comment
  3. The magical disappearance of Park Hill flats
  4. Wicker Riverside (or should that be 3 North Bank)
  5. 25 random things about me
  6. Barclays invent road name for their new Sheffield branch
  7. Forcing interns to be paid will just end their chance of being an intern
  8. Shock News: Russell Howard had become funny
  9. An open letter to Diane Park
  10. Vote Green… our policies are ‘moronic’

So to see if my theory stands up, the next logical thing to look at is search terms, as presumably that is how the non-political people find my blog, and here’s the results (I’ve grouped very similar search terms together):

  1. Roisin Murphy
  2. Stanley Spencer
  3. Pixie Lott
  4. Anders Hanson
  5. 25 random things about me
  6. Neil Trafford
  7. Patrick Caulfield
  8. Andy Murray England football
  9. Cody Keenan
  10. Park Hill flats

What I did like though was the search term that came in at number 11, which was “Agadoo 2009”.  This ranking of search terms does has some overlap with the most popular posts but it doesn’t fit exactly.  However, again it is still less political than the majority of my blog’s content.  What the ranking hides though, is that the number one search term – Roisin Murphy – achieves nearly twice the number of searches as all the rest of the top 10 put together.  I’ve mentioned before about how strange this, what I now refer to as the “Roisin Murphy Factor“, is.  Perhaps it is unsurprising that number 4 is my own name.  Whilst this gives me mixed feelings – are these people Googling me for good or bad reasons – the real reason is probably that it’s friends who regularly use my blog just Googling my name instead of bookmarking the site.

So how do people find my blog?  Well this doesn’t fit the apolitical thing as much, but includes an interesting selection of personal blogs:

  1. Liberal Democrat Blogs
  2. Liberal Democrat Voice
  3. Iain Dale
  4. Google (including all variations, e.g., or people using Google Reader)
  5. British Blogs
  6. Norfolk Blogger
  7. Facebook
  8. WordPress
  9. The Witanagemot Club
  10. West Ham ‘Till I Die (Iain Dale’s Hammers Diary)

I understand why the Norfolk Blogger gets in at number 6 as Nich Starling’s blog is one of the best read Lib Dem Blogs, but the last two are more odd as they both come down to one specific post each, (neither of which appear in my top 10 for the year).  Place number 9 comes from this post on my own blog on an English Parliament, (a post which despite being full of caveats, seems to have led some supporters of an English Parliament to recruit me to their cause), and place 10 comes purely from links from this post on Sheffield Wednesday doing the double over Sheffield United.  Those people who know me well will be astonished that anything to do with football has appeared on my blog, never mind being actually read by people.

Overall, it’s actually quite interesting.  I haven’t seen the statistics for other personal blogs and of course there are many different ways of working out blogging statistics.  But, I imagine my blog is well down the list in terms of readership amongst political blogs.  What I’d be interested to know though is how it rates compared to the personal blogs of people who aren’t involved in politics or who have any other specific interest that means they are essentially part of a network of similar blogs.  Whilst the most read posts come about through non-politicos using Google, if my understanding of how search engines work is correct, I imagine the only reason the posts appear high up on Google is because a lot of Lib Dems link to my blog from theirs.


I’ve already written a long post about blogging, and why my blogging has become so inconsistent these days.  Much of what I wrote then still applies now.  However, since then my blogging has picked up a bit.  This is largely thanks to encouragement, (although he may not realise it), by one of my friends – John Ault.  John started his blog late on this year, and has very quickly built up quite a wide following.  Perhaps this is partly due to his humorous anecdotes about working in politics, which have been read not only by other Lib Dems, but have been picked up by websites such as The Huffington Post and Danny Finkelstein, but also because he had an existing reputation within the Lib Dems for being a straight talker.

One big change in my life in 2009, which has perhaps accounted for my reduction in blogging is my decision to join Twitter.  I got on to Twitter back in July thanks to encouragement from others, one of whom was Charlotte Gore on my one excursion (so far) to Calderdale’s Liberal Drinks (whether Charlotte will still be attending these now she has quit the party I do not know).  Although my tweets have been mocked by a few for being a continuing saga of crap train journeys, others seem to have found it amusing – the best comment being one friend who said “I really enjoy your transport-related tweets, you’re a bit like Bill Bryson or Simon Calder” – thank you Jamie Matthews for being so kind, but as they are both people who I admire and whose jobs I would love to have, that’s very unlikely.  The result of being on Twitter though is that I have developed a tendency to make something that would have been turned in to a proper post a 140 character tweet instead.  I suppose this is a good thing, but it means that I don’t tend to follow or respond to things as much as I would on a blog, and the same applies the other way round.  One of the interest things with blogging is to see other people’s responses to what I’ve written – although that can also invoke panic too.  My tweets have also tended to be even less political and more light-hearted than my blog – although it is also open to the Twitter equivalent of drunken texting, which has already caught me out once.

Another big change in 2009 was my change in job.  Implausibly, my shorter working hours make me less likely to blog.  The reason for this though is simple.  If I’m planning to be in the office until 10pm at night or later, as I often was as a Constituency Organiser, I would have a bit of a break to blog on something that’s happened that day.  Now with me usually working regular office hours, albeit that I then have a longer journey home, I don’t tend to be sat in front of a computer again outside of work unless I have something specific to do.  Then once I’d done whatever casework or artworking I need to do, I don’t want to spend time writing a post on my blog as well.  I just want to watch TV, eat my tea or read instead.  My long-term solution is to buy a netbook, but that involves saving up, the short-term solution though is to use the app I have downloaded to my new phone more often – if anyone else has an Android phone and uses WordPress for their blog I recommend “wptogo” as a free app that allows you to post to your WordPress blog.


It’s perhaps ridiculous to make plans for blogging in 2010 when so often I don’t do what I’d originally planned the previous year anyway, but here’s a few thoughts.

  • Have another revamp of the look of my blog.  There are always new WordPress themes appearing and increasing numbers of widgets.  I want to use some of these to make this site look better, but only when I’ve decided what I want to do with it in terms of content.
  • Try and do some regular posts on things that particularly interest me.  There’s a whole host of topics that I would like to do more on – photography, history and architecture in Sheffield, the state of the railways, what it’s like as a council candidate/councillor, amusing anecdotes about campaigning… I intend putting time aside to write up some posts on each of these and then posting them on a regular basis.  This keeps the site regularly updated, and allow me to write some more considered posts on things that I am interested in, but that don’t need to be as timely.
  • Try and write less.  That sounds odd, but over the last year I have written a lot of posts that were never completed, saved as a draft and never posted.  That was largely because I had lots to say on a subject but not enough time to make sure my post was coherent and sensible.  So despite planning to go back and finish it off, I don’t.  The solution is to just write a short post on the most timely aspect, and then to keep other thoughts on hold until the issue crops up again and I can write some more.  To sum up – I need to write less, more often.
  • Finally, I hope to be elected as a councillor in 2010.  If I do get elected, I need to think about how I integrate my MyCouncillor website with this blog.  I don’t mean creating one blog, but about working out what to write on each site and how to make sure that my musing on things Sheffield don’t conflict with what the council is doing, whilst still being true to myself and writing a blog that is frank and without spin.  This final point is not one I have worked out yet.

Why “Geography is the new History” by The Economist

I’ve just spotted an article from The Economist’s “More Intelligent Life” website, which sticks up for geography as a subject for study.  I have an interest in that my degree is in geography.  Geography is no different from any other in that people tend to love it or hate it, but despite being quite a traditional subject and thereby supposedly making it one of the more acceptable and credible of subjects, it’s failure to lead directly in to a specific job means that it is sometimes treated with the same contempt as media studies.

This article in The Economist though points out how crucial the subject is with the environment such a major issue these days, and one that runs through all aspects of life not just in politics.  I’ve been surprised sometimes how many people involved in politics studied geography at university, or at least enjoyed it as a subject at school.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be, as being interested in geography, like politics, is being interested in the world around you and what makes it what it is.  I’m still fascinated by the traditional geography of maps and the historical and economic factors that makes cities and countries what they are.  But, the importance of the subject is probably much greater than it once was.  Hopefully it will help to give us geographers a bit more credibility with people who studied other subjects, and might make the subject more fashionable in a way that history has become.

Incidentally, it’s worth me crediting my love of geography not only to my family but also my geography teacher at Tapton School – David Jackson.  He also had a real love of the subject and rather than just teaching the subject straight from the syllabus, he also would make sure his classes got to see articles from magazines such as The Economist if he thought they were relevant to what we were studying or just if they were interesting.  For Mr Jackson it seemed to be as much about teaching the subject as  making people develop a passion for it.  Which brings me to another person who shares a love of geography, politics and more importantly also has David Jackson as his favourite teacher – Seb Coe.  This article from The Times explains why.