Month: August 2011

Reforming the reformers: the battle to run the Electoral Reform Society

I have a confession to make.  I might be a Liberal Democrat, but electoral reform is not an issue that gets me really excited.  It’s not that I don’t believe in it.  Far from it.  I think electoral or more precisely political reform, is hugely important and I have strong opinions on it.  It’s just that other political issues are the ones I get the most animated about.  Like pretty much all Lib Dems though, it is just one of the issues that makes me a party supporter, and contrary to what some people assume about Lib Dem members it’s one of the reasons I am a Lib Dem and it’s not because I’m a Lib Dem that I believe in it.  I suppose that lack of excitement about it is one of the reasons why I hadn’t thought about joining the Electoral Reform Society before.  But the Alternative Vote referendum result was one of the reasons why I decided to join fairly recently.

There’s no point me going over here all the reasons why I think the Yes campaign failed as there’s been some pretty illuminating articles about this already, including this damning report from Andy May who worked on the campaign.  But from my personal point of view as someone who wasn’t closely involved but tried to do his bit to support it, a few things stand out as worth saying:

  • There was almost no on the ground campaign that touched voters in their homes and the little there was only existed because of Lib Dem grassroots activists demanding leaflets and artwork.  I delivered a lot of Yes leaflets during the campaign (whether the content was effective is a different issue), but that was all I saw except for the Yes ‘freepost’ which arrived three days after the No freepost and three days after my postal vote had arrived.
  • The failure to actually get all people on the Yes side to campaign actively in support.  Some Lib Dems weren’t enthused that much because it wasn’t proportional representation but campaigned anyway as it was the best reform we were likely to get anytime soon.  However, Yes supporters in both Labour and the Conservatives were conspicuous by their absence and preferred party political advantage over winning a referendum on something they believed in.  For  example, my local Labour MP Paul Blomfield was actually a supporter of the Yes campaign and yet he had a very low profile on the issue within the constituency.  He did write an article in support and help at a stall, but the help was limited which was a shame when he could have carried a certain amount of local support with him for the campaign.  I understand this was a national Labour Party decision.  But far worse than not giving much help was that leaflets went out from the Labour party in his constituency telling people that the Lib Dems are now so bad that they want to rig the electoral system to help them stay in power.  If he disagreed with his local party on the Alternative Vote I would have thought he should at least have got the party’s leaflets to be neutral on the issue.
  • From what I’d heard about the media campaign I expected quite a few endorsements of the Yes campaign in the national press, including some newspapers that weren’t obvious Yes supporters.  In the end most of these never materialised.  Whether that was because the newspapers changed their minds or we were misled I don’t know, which could show either naivety or incompetence.
  • On a more positive note, I thought the Yes campaign did do a few good high profile stunts, such as a flash mob event at Sheffield Station and the polling day was very effective with attempts at getting people to vote and having little Yes ‘flags’ stuck in to the grass verges of roundabouts.  These may have helped damage the Lib Dem council election vote, by bringing out Yes voters who then voted against the Lib Dems, but they probably helped do the job they were intended to do which is bring out some extra Yes supporters too.  Sheffield actually had the highest percentage voting Yes in Yorkshire and so maybe it was a localised success.

So to the Electoral Reform Society (ERS).  It is right that the mistakes made in the referendum cannot all be blamed on ERS, far from it.  But they were the lead organisation in the campaign and seconded all their staff and so they do bear some responsibility.  But far more important to me now is that given the failure of the referendum campaign we need an active campaigning organisation gathering together all those people enthused about electoral reform to keep campaigning.  It’s very tempting to assume that now the referendum has failed to just say that’s it and forget all about the issue because we don’t expect another referendum within the next 20 years at least.  But those people who do support electoral reform have to keep the issue in the public eye and keep explaining why it’s important, and perhaps more importantly bring together people who support electoral reform to work together to build an enthusiastic and interesting campaigning organisation that people want to be part of. The biggest reason I haven’t joined ERS in the past was because it came across as a staid organisation that was more interested in abstract discussion about the merits of electoral reform rather than an organisation that was creating exciting campaigns to actually campaign for it.

The closing date for voting in the ERS council elections is on Friday this week and my votes have gone in.  It’s well known now that there is a slate that is seeking to get elected with the express purpose of reforming the way ERS works to create the very thing that I’ve been wanting – an active campaigning organisation. What’s good about this slate is that it includes people from all parties and none as well as people who are new to campaigning but enthused by the referendum campaign and people with years of campaigning know how but left thoroughly depressed by the way the referendum campaign operated. The person who sums it up for me is John Ault who wrote on his blog the reasons why the slate exists and why he is standing. I admit to being personal friends with John, but I also know that he has the professional expertise that an organisation like ERS could do with. But he isn’t the only person standing for ERS council with these skills and so if you have a vote please use it wisely to create a campaign for electoral reform that we can all be proud of.

Still time (just) to vote in the 2011 Total Politics Blog Awards

I’ve pretty much given up any hope of ever appearing in the rankings of the Total Politics Blog Awards again, unless I really get my act together and start blogging regularly again.   However, for the others who do manage it then there’s just time to vote in the 2011 Blog Awards.  I know some people don’t like this beauty contest, but I think political blogging, in fact any sort of blogging, is a really good thing to encourage and appearing in these lists does give a bit of encouragement and a boost.  I know when I first started I was pretty chuffed when people responded positively to something I’d written, and hopefully this will give the participants a similar boost.  Those at the top of the blogging lists are usually well established confident people, but what’s great about these awards is that those who appear further down the list are fairly new people who have only just got in to politics, never mind blogging.  Everyone is pretty much starting off on a level playing field and it doesn’t take long for you to become known in the ‘blogosphere’.

The closing date is today and so there isn’t much time – click on the logo to vote.

I found the Total Politics blog directory and the list of bloggers on Lib Dem Blogs as a useful reminder of who there is.  There are plenty of non-Lib Dem blogs that I read, although most aren’t political.  As it’s against the rules to encourage people to vote a particular way I won’t say here who I voted for, but what I am thinking of doing in the future is writing an occasional post on this blog of those blogs and websites (political and non-political) that I enjoy reading.

London riots

It seems slightly wrong to be writing about the riots in London.  After all, this is such a huge incident it seems that anything I write is trivial, but after reading much of what others have said I wanted to write my reaction.

Oddly, I wasn’t aware of any of the run-up to the rioting as I spent the weekend in Buckden in the Yorkshire Dales where there was no mobile phone reception.  When I did become aware it seemed like a localised problem.  What’s astonishing and unprecedented (in recent years at least) is for something like this to spread at such speed to so many unconnected areas.

This is thuggery and unthinking violence that has no political or worthy cause behind it.  Yes, there are of course people angry at the moment.  People in Tottenham are angry at the death of Mark Duggan, but we don’t yet know of exactly what happened there.  There are people around the country angry with the government because of the cuts, but there is no evidence that made any difference here.  I’m disappointed that some people have tried to make those connections, in particular the opportunism of Ken Livingstone.  After all, do we really think that looters angry with political decisions by the government would decide that the response is to specifically target mobile phone stores and sports shops?  No, surely if they were angry with political decisions they’d have targeted either indiscriminately or they’d have gone for currently unpopular institutions such as banks or government.  There will of course be some political causes but I suspect it’s a lot more long-term than the last twelve months.  I don’t know Tottenham, but attacking and burning down a building that seems to be one of the symbols of the area shows a complete lack of respect for the community and really caring for other people, and it makes you suspicious of any political motive.

The person who I have been most impressed by so far is David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham.  He’s been measured and calm, and avoided jumping to conclusions about the riots.  But what I think is most striking is the way he has truly stood up for his community by showing how the majority are against what has happened.  In today’s Sunday Telegraph, (I hasten to add it isn’t a paper I normally read but it happened to be in the coffee shop I was in earlier today), Andrew Gilligan praised David Lammy for his approach and his article I believe sums up why I like what he had to say.

So far, none of this has touched a part of London I know.  I’ve been to Wood Green and although I spent quite a bit of time in Croydon as a child as my aunt, uncle and cousins lived there, I don’t remember it well.  But just reading the messages on Twitter and Facebook from friends who are close to the scenes of some of these riots, it is pretty scary.  It seems that no matter where you live in London, there is no guarantee you are immune from what is going on.  It’s a scary time and appalling that it is happening as it is affecting ordinary people with no connection to anything that has happened.  But whilst social media has been vilified a little bit for helping the riots spread, it has also helped those of us who have friends in the areas affected feel reassured that they are OK.

Finally, if you haven’t seen this video from an angry Hackney resident telling the rioters where to go, it should be viewed.  It just shows the real face of the community and why dismissing the whole community as all the same is wrong:


Image credit: I’m not sure who to credit the photograph at the top of this photo to, as it has appeared on several website.  Happy to credit the correct person or to remove it if necessary.

Song of the Week 3 – The Juvenile by Ace of Base

This week’s choice is an odd one as I only discovered it today, which given that I didn’t get home until about half six was quite an achievement but since I listened to it, it has stuck in my head.

I’m a bit of a fan of James Bond.  Not just of the films, but also the theme tunes and also find it interesting which songs were considered as Bond themes but weren’t used.  There are various well known examples such as Saint Etienne and Pulp’s songs written for Tomorrow Never Dies.  But I was surprised to find that Ace of Base had also written one for Goldeneye, and that’s what The Juvenile is.  Ace of Base never got anywhere close to matching their early songs, and so I wouldn’t claim The Juvenile is anywhere near being one of their best songs.  What I found intriguing though was that someone on YouTube had set the music to the actual opening titles of the film to give you an idea of how it could have been and I think it fits quite well.  The original version had the words ‘the goldeneye’ instead of ‘the juvenile’ and there’s even a video online of this version being performed as well, although either way the words are still fairly nonsensical.