Term-time…

14 05 2010

Backlash Over Election Vote Rules” ran the BBC’s headline. Thinking back to the farcical scenes a week ago where numerous voters were turned away from polling stations, I assumed this story would be about the implications of this problem. Of course, it wasn’t. It is, instead, about the newly formed coalition government trying to protect its own skin by changing the 50% plus 1 rule in votes of no-confidence against the government.

The government are playing here with the weakness of the numbers in their favour. 55%, is of course, a number which can only be reached by the coalition pulling together. Which, therefore means that the opposition parties cannot pull together a no-confidence vote without the support of dissenting Tories or Lib Dems. Add to this the idea of fixed terms (a five year period under the proposals), and it is clear that the Tories are doing everything in their power to protect the vulnerable coalition.

I don’t agree with it though. I’m not sure I like the idea of a fixed term parliament for two reasons. The first is that  it seems to be the next logical step on the road to making Britain more like America. The second reason is that it seems to remove the power from the people to the politicians. By which I mean that, if a government fails, and continues to fail, the clamour for the removal of the party in power grows, eventually to a point where it is too big to ignore any longer. MP’s then respond, and a vote of no-confidence is taken. The government falls, and another election is called. If the term is set to five years (about a year too long if you are going to set a limit), then this means that the vote of no-confidence is a pointless task, unless something drastic goes wrong. There is also part of me that says that the fixed term removes the fun from the politics, there would be no talk of snap-elections, or short campaigns. It would become very regimented. Which is a bad thing.

Of course the underlining problem with fixed terms is the problem of the no-confidence vote. If this gets changed so that 55% is needed to secure the vote, then this is a huge cop-out from the government. The point is that, as it stands, once you lose 50% plus 1 you’ve lost the majority of support in the house. You therefore are governing with half the Commons standing against you, which is not a particularly healthy position to be in. 55% is just further evidence that you have lost the house, and should listen to the vote against you. For the opposing party, whoever it may be, not to have any power over voting against the government seems to me to be very undemocratic.

So the situation could be simple in two or three years. The coalition has lost the majority of support in the house (say 52%), but gets to limp on until the end of its five year term, unopposed, potentially further exacerbating the problems which have caused them to lose the house in the first place. Right. Sounds like a great plan to me.

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The Choice…

7 04 2010

So I sit here having just submitted another job application. Whilst I do not fall into the “record youth unemployment” that Mr Brown has apparently created, I am, as most are, feeling the effects of the past few years. Finding work is difficult, yes, but there is something even more difficult approaching us. The question of who to vote for.

This will be the first general election that I am eligible to vote in. I missed the last one by a few months. So I feel that I should be feeling a sense of excitement. A sense of knowing that finally I am able to have a say in the country beyond local elections. A sense of arrival into the adult world of taxes and crime and pensions and housing.

But I’m not. I’m feeling disillusioned. I’m feeling like I don’t particularly want to vote on 6 May. I know I will vote, of course I will. But I don’t know who I will vote for. I know it will not be Labour, I’m frustrated by Brown and his ‘old guard’ who seem intent on red-taping everything that can physically be taped. That choice isn’t particularly hard.

The question is, should I vote Tory? I could, I mean, it seems to be the ‘easy’ thing to do. It’s probably the only rational choice if I’m keen on really having a say on who governs. But there’s something making me pause. Something holding me back from casting off my youth and throwing myself into the arms of Cameron et al. Something which looks like this. And I really don’t like it. Negative campaigning is as destructive to yourself as it is to the opposition. It reinforces the idea that the Tories don’t have all that much to say. It reinforces the idea that this election is not about ideas, but about personality. Most of all, it reinforces the idea that the Tories are desperate. They know they’ve lost significant ground in recent months, and are now trying to play with the suggestion that it’s pointless, and, by implication, dangerous to vote for the other guy.

But of course there’s more than one ‘other guy’. Ask Nick Clegg. There’s always that option too. Voting for the Lib Dems. Middle of the road politics with little hope of achieving much beyond a parliamentary footnote. That could be an ‘easy’ vote too. Except then of course, in the event of a hung parliament (one caused, of course by my own indecisiveness), the Lib Dems suddenly have all the cards. They probably would throw their weight behind Cameron, but the parliament would be weak, and probably even more of a threat to economic recovery. That might not happen if I stick with the Tories. If enough people like me realise that not voting Tory would hinder us in the mid/long term, then perhaps we could avoid a problematic hung-parliament situation.

Of course I could play my own moral card. I could vote for the Greens. I’d feel better in that I’d be lending my voice to a specific cause. However then there’s the issue of throwing my vote away, because, in all likelihood, the Greens are going to achieve nothing in the election. The sense of feeling ‘adult’ and concerning myself with taxes and crime and pensions and housing would be gone, stripped from me for the next five years. By that time, of course, there may be a clear path, someone who has said something which has made me sit up and listen. Something which has really made me think that they are the right person to support as they are the person who is engaging with the things I’m concerned with. Then again, there may not be that path, and my hope for feeling ‘adult’ may not happen for another ten years. Or fifteen. Suddenly I’m at the point where my mid-life crisis has hit and politically I’m still not feeling ‘adult’ as the things which the politicians should be speaking to me about are not being said.

And so the choice is a hard one. The options and implications are not good enough for me whatever path I choose. The Tories don’t fill me with confidence, and whilst I’m more optimistic about a government under Cameron than I am under Brown, this is only, for me, the lesser of the two evils. It’s like being optimistic that you’re only going to get burned by your toaster this month, as opposed to your toaster and your kettle last month.

There is of course, one final option. I could turn up, put a cross in all the boxes, leave my paper spoilt and feel that I’ve made my own political point. Ultimately meaningless, of course, but it would be my own message to the politicians. Except that this feeling of rebelliousness would fade very quickly, and the feeling of regret that my determination to pass into the land of the ‘adult’  has been ruined by a petulant act of teenage rebellion would stick around for all of the next five years.





Sporting Gimmick?

29 03 2010

I’m going to write two football related pieces today, simply because I can. Later I shall have a think about the Premier League’s issues and outcomes (winners, losers etc) but for now I want to pass some form of comment on this story, already dismissed by the Conservatives as an election gimmick.

Basically, Labour are suggesting that football clubs should be made more accountable to their fans and that these fans should be able to buy up to 25% of their club to prevent the levels of debt and financial ruin which are blighting numerous clubs up and down the country. The plans are, apparently, still under consideration, which seems to be short for “we know these are going to be practically impossible to implement, but we’ll say we’re looking at it anyway to see if that gives us a polling kick”.

Aside from the sheer impractical nature of forcing the shareholders to sell their stakes in individual clubs to a wide pool of ‘fans’, this proposal seems to ignore the fact that by creating thousands of new shareholders, the clubs would become harder to run in the long term. There seems to be little hope that this idea is a go-er. Instead, I find myself agreeing with the Tories that this is simply an election gimmick, one designed to win favour with the middle and lower class men who traditionally occupy the terraces up and down the land.

Which leads me onto the question of whether sport in general should be used to score political points? If Labour are going to harp on about making football more accountable for its money, should we not also look at the continually spiralling costs of the 2012 games? Should we not ask what Labour, or indeed, any political party are doing for the rugby world? Or the cricketing world? Should we not ask why the FA, UEFA, or FIFA are not publicly looking for solutions to the financial problems, yet politicians apparently are?

Of course football should work in the ‘real’ world, and not in it’s own isolated bubble of financial irresponsibility. However, the problems will not be solved by gimmicky plans such as the one suggested by Labour today. They will be solved by strict and stringent guidelines produced from within the sport, by the governing bodies, and not by enforcing regulations from the outside with the short-term hope of appearing to be receptive to the sport. Football must alter itself, it must look at what is happening from a financial point of view and it must change. It cannot do this by simply enforcing political guidelines on one nation.





Televise That…

5 09 2009

And so, it seems, I was wrong. In part. And it’s not often I say that. I wrote, back in July that Mandleson was considering a TV debate, and how it’s something I would like to see, but not something I thought would happen as I didn’t think Brown or the Labour party would fare well out of it. Nor did I think the Lib Dems would get a look in.

Then I saw an advert today whilst watching Sky Sports, it was on behalf of Sky News, and it encouraged me to sign a petition. Now I sit up a bit when I see such requests on TV in advert form, as it is obvious that some thought has gone into this advert, rather than a chain email being passed around. The petition, available here to sign, is for a live TV debate with the three main political leaders. Apparently, since it was set up at the start of this month, Clegg and Cameron have both agreed, in principle, to the idea. Brown, as I suppose we’ve come to expect, is dragging his heels.

I’ve just put my name to it, and it seems I was the 6861st person to sign the petition, which goes to show just how popular this thing is. Which returns me to my original humble thoughts. I was wrong, I didn’t think this thing would happen. However I’m delighted to say I was wrong as it means that there will be some form of political engagement on a national level where the credentials of the party leaders are examined and scrutinised. From here the nation as a whole can begin to judge who the next PM should be. This is an important step on the road towards public re-engagement, it should be the first step of many made by MP’s over the course of the next few months.





The Death Knell Tolls…

23 04 2009

As the dust settles on one of the most unpopular budgets for a long time, the battered red briefcase waved by Chancellor Alistair Darling seems indicative of the Labour party itself. Battered and increasingly unpopular, the budget, along with the party, has proven to be far from the reassuring comfort that is needed during a time of economic plight. Instead we are told of, in the best case, simple hikes in the price of fuel and alcohol offset by a variety of incentives, and in the worst, a class war.

Now I’m not sure of the strength of the latter case, although it is easy to see where the critics are coming from with such a point. The increase in taxes to offset the substantial, and increasing debt is painful reading for most who happen to drive, drink, smoke and earn. The BBC’s simplistic calculator works out that I will be roughly £80 worse off next year, if all else remains constant.

Reading various responses to Darling’s budget has been interesting, those left-wing writers, whilst stopping short of praising the whole thing, do at least champion the case for taking money from the rich. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian writes that “Taxation is the only easy way to restore a very small measure of sanity to the unjust rewards of the rich” and such a view is supported by Jonathan Freeland, who tells goes on to tell us that “Darling’s wasn’t a swashbuckling performance, but under almost impossible circumstances it was surely the best that could be done“. The general concurrance is that Darling has reignited the embers of a dying class fire. There seems to be an acceptance now of the impending fate of this government. The measures have been put in place. The legacy has been left, and the pieces are there to be picked up by a Conservative government. This may not have been inspiring stuff, but politically and tactically it was marvellous. In years to come historians will look at this budget as the beginning of the left-wing fightback, begun before they had even been removed from office.

Naturally the right-wing are up in arms about the budget. The right-wing focus lies away from the class issues though. For those on the right side of the fence there is a simple problem. The numbers don’t add up. For Jeff Randell of the Telegraph, melodramatism conveys the point: “A ball-and-chain of spirit-sapping debt has been clamped to the nation’s future“, and this is taken further by Camilla Cavendish in The Times (incidentally the only newspaper for which you need capitalise “The”) who wrote “we got growth forecasts that were fantasy even by forecast standards“. And the point is a good one. The figures, from the guy who is meant to be in charge of this sort of stuff do not seem right, and do not fall into line with any forecasts by other equally (if not better) qualified people. 2032 is the early estimate of when things might return to a ‘normal’ level. That’s if we haven’t destroyed ourselves in a nuclear rage induced by poor stock markets.

For the Tories, there is little they can do. The acceptance seems well spread. Labour are burning out. They seem to be resigned to losing the next election and this budget has done nothing but add to this feeling. The Tories just have to maintain their course. They do not need to over-react, nor, it seems, do they need substantial policy. They just need to be there for the country when Labour has proven itself not to be. This will come within the next year and the General Election. Then there is the trouble of picking up what has been left. The long term game is being played here, by both parties. Labour’s game has just begun, but for the Tories, plan A (which generally has involved letting Labour burn themselves completely) quickly needs replacing, otherwise the “oh crap, what the hell do we do now” sketch will write itself all too easily when David Cameron steps through the doors of Number 10 as the country’s leader.





News…

28 11 2008

I don’t know which bit of news has annoyed me more today, the sentencing of the seven members of the gang who killed Gerry Tobin, or the interrogation and arrest of Damian Green for revealing information about various immigration blunders by the Government. At this stage I wish to add that I am not in the best of moods, and so am unwilling to be sympathetic or indeed impartial.

Anyway.

My problem with the first story is this. All seven members of the biking gang were sentenced for killing Tobin. The judge admitted that he did not know exactly who pulled the trigger. In horse racing this is called “hedging your bets”. Obviously the murder was appaling, as is the back story to it. But at the end of the day, the judge has sentenced six people for killing someone when they didn’t do it. I would be willing to bet that in say, five years, at least two of them have appealed this sentence on the grounds that they didn’t shoot Tobin, thereby giving the name of the guilty man. I thought it was the job of the police/ detectives et al to work this stuff out? I know it might be hard, but surely that’s their job? As it is, they have come to court unsure of the real killer, and so the judge has had to “hedge his bets” and sentence them all.

This though trifles in comparison to the Damian Green story. Arrested by counter-terrorism officers, interrogated for nine hours, whilst having his home and office raided; it sounds like something more fitting in Stalinist Russia than 2008 Britain. And all because he brought some information which painted the government in a bad light into the public domain? Really? I agree with good ol’ Dave Cameron here, the public have a right to know this sort of information. It has been indicated that immigration policies were proving poorly handled, and Green merely brought this to our attention. Ok, it makes the government look bad, but that’s the oppositions role in this thing called democracy. They are there to seize upon mistakes of the party in power in order to bring about change. There has been something seriously flawed in governmental operations, but instead of worrying about that, arresting the guy who brought this to light was the choice made. Whilst the government, and now the police force too, are insisting that the Labour party had nothing to do with this there is likely to be an element of doubt (although conspiracy theorists are already relating it to the departure of Sir Ian Blair) as in my mind the whole incident paints both Labour and the Metropolitan Police Force in bad light.

Reading through some comments about this on Nick Robinson’s blog, there is one very interesting comment made. The writer DistantTraveller asks three questions:

I think we are entitled to ask if Sir Ian Blair and Jaquie Smith knew about this in advance?

If not, why not?

If so, how do they justify it?

Either way, this is not looking good for the two groups. It is interesting how this could maybe work positively for the Tories following, what, on the surface, looks like a bad revelation.