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.





One Vote…

6 05 2010

Over the past few weeks, I have been subjected to various facebook updates from people telling me who to vote for today. Most of these I have read, and subsequently ignored. However, that’s changed today. Not because I read an update which convinced me to vote one way or the other, but because I read an update which really got me worked up.

It was a negative update, meaning it wasn’t a ‘vote for them’, but instead was a ‘don’t vote for them’ update. Of which I must have seen about a million in recent times. However the message, paraphrased, was ‘think of the rest of society and don’t vote for them’. This angered me.

Voting should be a distinctly personal thing. You vote for the person who you think will do the best job for you. There should be little more to it than that. If the system works then the result is what society wants. You should not feel pressurised into voting for a party because it is for the good of a society, large (the entire population) or small (your local sports club). You should vote for the person who identifies with the issues that you have, who seems to have at least some of the solutions, and who appeals to you (bearing in mind, of course, you are not voting for the party leader – unless you live in their constituency – you are voting for an MP to represent you at parliament). This means, therefore, that all the talk of tactical voting which has been had in recent days has been, effectively, about removing power from the electorate, and letting the parties (in this case the Labour party) make the decision for you. I reiterate the point, if the system works then it should be a clear indication of what the significant percentage of the population want as a government. You cannot, and should not consider the rest of society when voting. You should vote for who you want to vote for, free from peer pressure, social pressure, or any other forms of pressure. There is a reason, after all, you are placed in an individual booth to vote. If we let society dictate how we should vote then the damage has already been done. You need not have individual voting booths, as show of hands at a town hall would suffice instead.

It really annoys me that people should feel pressured into voting a certain way. The vote, a decision you should reach based on what you have heard, read or seen, should be yours to do with what you wish. Of course there are electoral problems with the British system, the Independent has been fighting this reform battle for years, and the outcome of Brown getting in with the most MP’s, but the fewest votes would serve to further highlight the systems failures. I remain unconvinced that a proportional representation system would or could work, but it is clear that recent boundary changes made by the Labour government have worked towards making the outcome mentioned above a possibility. The solution is to better redefine the boundaries so there is a more even spread of votes per constituency. Of course, how you do this whilst simultaneously reducing the number of MP’s as suggested by Cameron will prove much harder.

Whatever the result, the key thing is that politics doesn’t win with tactical voting. The voters, so very disillusioned with MP’s in recent times, should be free to have their say, without the feeling of pressure from anywhere. They should, and I hope, will vote for whoever they want to vote for based upon the grounds that matter to them. There is, and should be, nothing more to it than that.





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.





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.





Remember Me?

10 03 2010

Aware as I am about my lack of blogging in recent months, I shall try (amidst work, and studying, and volunteering, and applying for better jobs, and sleeping) to blog more frequently from now on.

This time last year I was involved in the successful campaign to get one of my friends elected into one of the Sabb Officer positions within the University’s Guild (of which, I’m aware, I’ve been less than receptive in the past). The two weeks spent campaigning were brilliant and tiring. The result was close but a testament to both sides.

And now it is all happening again. Which has raised two questions in my mind. Firstly, where the hell has the time gone this past year? And secondly, why the hell do I know so very little about anybody running for any of the roles within the Guild? After all, I am still a student at the university, and as such do still have the right to a vote in such issues, especially for positions which may affect me. I will, at this point, hold my hands up and admit that this is my last year at the University, I will graduate in December, but will not be an official student there beyond July. However, this isn’t the point. The point is, I want to vote, but know nothing about anyone running.

My trouble seems to be two-fold. The first is that I’m a post-grad student, who, it seems, are more frequently ignored by the candidates than the people within the Guild would care to admit. It is acknowledged that us post-grads are a part of the uni, but make up a small percentage of students, so do not warrant any attention. The second part of my problem is that I’m a part-time student. Meaning I’m on campus roughly once a month. This means therefore that I am exposed to very little of the university life, the university politics, or the university’s students. These two things mean I know little about the candidates, who is running for which positions, and why I should consider voting for them. I accept these things are a problem.

However, the Guild, the candidates, or whoever could make my life easier. I have been sent no official email from the Guild to my university email address. I have received two facebook messages (both telling me to attend events I cannot possibly make) about the elections, but nothing more. I have not received any other messages, or emails to tell me about the elections. It is only because I know that they are on that I have checked out the Guild’s page on the candidates, although, admittedly, I haven’t really ‘read’ the information yet.

All of which means that those students, post-grad or otherwise, who do not know about the elections, will obviously not have a democratic voice. I know there are members of my course who are not on Facebook (mainly because they are the top side of 40). I also know that they all have a uni email address. It’s set up right at the start, and is for university related emails. So why has no-one from the Guild twigged that just by sending a simple reminder to all students via the university’s email system, they could maybe gather just a few more votes and make it so that the continually low voter turnout is maybe helped, albeit by just a few more votes.

I accept that I’m out of the loop a little here, but there are things that the Guild could, and should be doing to make it easier for me to know about and to vote in the elections.





To Coup With Too Few…

9 01 2010

I really don’t want to say anything about this weeks farcical Labour story, frankly it’s laughable and probably pretty embarrassing for most involved with the party. All I wish to do is to bring your attention to an editorial in the Indy on Thursday. It’s a pretty accurate summation of the situation the Labour party find themselves in, and, if I recall rightly, pretty close to something I wrote a while back. The article is here to read.