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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Mind the Gaffe…

28 04 2010

In two days there has been two stories about two of  the men who would be Prime Minister. Neither reflect particularly well on the candidates, but Cameron seems to have escaped the media barrage which has firmly, and perhaps finally, destroyed the Labour Party. Even though Brown put a lot into the repair work following the ‘bigot’ remark, one cannot help but feel that in one small moment, a seemingly private moment, Brown revealed his true self to the nation.

I have long been a sceptic of Brown’s public persona. I have heard rumours of a fearsome temper, one which can be particularly short. Of course ‘his people’ do their best to mask this trait, and whilst the attempts to dress him up as warm and likeable seem destined to struggle, the effort is there on their part. So it was meant to be demonstrated today, and, in large parts of the meeting it was. He had most of the answers to Mrs Duffy’s questioning. He was inquisitive and friendly, asking how her grandchildren were dong at school. He looked damned uncomfortable, but he was doing what his rivals seem to find easy. The wolf was tarting up well in its new sheepskin clothing.

And then he threw it all away. As the leader of the Labour Party he is meant to be both accountable for and representative of the party as a wider whole. If this is what his party thinks of Joe Public then heaven help all of us. I realise, of course, that it isn’t what the party think of Joe Public, but that is what the newspapers and media outlets will run with. And that is what people will care about. A PM who isn’t willing to listen to his public. A PM who is willing to cast slurs on widows. Not even the apology was convincing. He apparently ‘misunderstood’ what Mrs Duffy had said. Except that, of course, being the intelligent guy he is, he hadn’t. He knew and understood everything that occurred. The trouble was that the only way out was to cast himself down, making it seem like he was not worthy of having a conversation with her. Like she was operating on some sort of higher educational level to him. She wasn’t, of course. She was, seemingly, a typical voter with typical concerns. The Labour Party as a whole should be concerned that for a party so defined by its concern for Joe Public, its leader does not seem to share that concern. The public wooing of the electorate seems so forced by Brown. He wants to get on with things. It’s like a particularly snobbish person coming into the shop where I work and treating me like I’ve just climbed out of a bin. It seems as though there is an air of it being almost beneath him to talk to the public. Or maybe I’m just reading it wrong.

The trouble is for the Labour Party, there is no-one to replace him. All the candidates are limited, and, in the case of Ed Balls, pretty unlikeable. When the election is lost the Labour Party will collapse, firstly into two factions (those who support Brown, and those who don’t). Then this will sub-divide further as those vying for consideration throw their hats into the ring. The party has become stale. It is no longer the voice of the working people it once was. If any further evidence is needed of this fact, just look at how the Conservatives are campaigning, using many of the traditional Labour watchwords. I wrote many, many months ago that the Labour fightback had already begun. It has. However, for the party there is likely to be a long period of grey days before there are any sunny ones.

On a lighter note, if you haven’t seen Newsnight’s musical campaigns, then you’ve missed a trick. Check out the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem songs designed to promote politics and voting to a younger audience. Especially check out the croquet playing Tory rappers. I kid thee not.





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.





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.





Democracy Rules?

2 05 2008

So the post mortem is underway in the Labour party. Following the worst results in local elections for forty years, the result in London is looking increasingly like Boris is going to come up trumps. I think these elections reflect the first public critique of Gordon Brown more than they reflect the merits of either the Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidates in most areas. Whilst Brown has suffered at the hands of the media for various problems (the non-election last autumn and the recent 10p tax row are the two biggest), Cameron has, in all reality, failed to impress much more. An article in one of the Guardian supplements (left littered on our kitchen table) showed how the editor of the Evening Standard in London was encouraging people to not vote for Ken, which, he insisted is not the same as encouraging people to vote for Boris. Few remain convinced, this race has long been a two horse one, and whilst Paddick continues to talk the talk (I was impressed, to some extent, with him on QT last week) it really matters little.

Is this the problem then? Are the Conservatives and Lib Dems winning because of a backlash against Labour? I would certainly suggest so. Having had Brown now for roughly eight months, the relationship between him and the public has initially waned, and then broken down. He is not distrusted. More he is a figure of pity or of mockery. His indecisiveness has been seized upon by the ruthless media and impressions of him are getting worse. The 10p tax row did nothing to help this image (although I agree with the sentiment expressed on last weeks Have I Got News For You. Brown was very clearly in the middle of a rock and a hard place. He was damned for the initial problem, and criticised as weak following his backtracking), but the damage was quickly done. This came at just the wrong time for him and pretty much every other Labour candidate across the country.

An oft expressed sporting analogy is that one team did not win a match, but the other lost it. This notion can be applied to some extent here (this is not to say that the Tories or Lib Dems are completely incompetant, quite the contrary, they have done well to seize the initiative and run with it). The trouble is using the big picture of national politics to judge the regional level. Obviously the various candidates in the various regions have policies relevant to that area. But the big picture undoubtedly plays some part. Without, I feel, offering anything really substantial in terms of policy the Tories and the Lib Dems are capitalising well upon the failings of Labour, and this is reflected in the results.

I wish to leave British affairs, enough will be said on them (including numerous posts today on BULS), and instead look briefly at the other election that is rumbling on. In Zimbabwe the failure of either big party to gain the requisite 50% has meant that a second round of elections will take place. Which if you are Morgan Tsvangirai is bad news. The five week delay in annoucing the results has raised many eyebrows across the world, and the news that another round of elections will deepen fears that Mugabe will worm his way into power once more. Claims that there has been widespread intimidation and threatening actions undertaken by Mugabe’s militia are, whilst unproven, likely to founded in some degree of truth. The plight of Zimbabwe is one which is felt across the world I feel. Most people are sympathetic to the people of the country so ravaged by internal strife.

So it is I am trying to put this in perspective. I have heard the grumblings of many Labourites and non Labourites alike regarding Boris’ ability to run London in the build up to 2012. I am thankful. Despite his failings (of which he undoubtedly has some, but who doesn’t), the issues in Zimbabwe indicate that things could be a lot, lot, lot worse.