Archive for February, 2010

Channel 4 Political Slot: The Green Party

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Tory candidate in “hard working families” gaffe

Charlotte Vere, the Tory PPC for Brighton Pavilion, wrote a recent post for Conservative Home, which she has cross-posted on her website. Whilst the post is mostly nonsense, it also shows how dangerously out of touch Ms. Vere is. In the post she said:

The constituency is very diverse. It ranges from bohemian and fairly liberal areas in the centre to hard working families on the outskirts of the city.

“Hard working families on the outskirts”!? Are there no hard-working families in St. Peters and North Laine, Hanover and Elm Grove, Regency or Preston Park? Has Charlotte ever actually visited these parts of the constituency? If she did, I’m pretty sure she would see that Preston Park has one of the highest concentrations of young families in the constituency. She would also have seen that Hanover and Elm Grove has plenty of young, hard-working families, whose lifestyle is far from “bohemian.”

Charlotte’s lack of knowledge about the demographics of the constituency, and her clear disregard to constituents living in the centre of Brighton, has revealed a Tory strategy of playing to the core vote. Charlotte Vere isn’t interested in reaching out to voters in Preston Park or Hanover and Elm Grove, if she was, she certainly would know more about the people living in those wards, and would know there are plenty of “hard working families” living in the centre of Brighton. This is one of many gaffes coming from Charlotte Vere.

At a recent meeting with students from the University of Sussex, Ms. Vere failed to answer many of the questions, simply brushing them off and saying, “I’ll get back to you.” She also dismissed the student vote as “socialist” in a recent interview with The Daily Politics – further reinforcing the image of an out of touch Tory candidate who knows very little about the constituency they’re fighting in.

Charlotte’s continued gaffes are further undermining her credibility as a candidate, as well as losing respect amongst those who initially welcomed her candidacy as a break with the past – it seems as though she has reverted to the norm, and is chasing the core Tory vote in the ‘outskirts’ of the constituency.

If Charlotte continues along her present trajectory she may find herself stalling, failing to advance, and confined to the ‘outskirts’ of, not only the constituency but, Conservative politics nationally.

In short, she’s doing herself no favours.

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Why the Tories have stalled

The polls are narrowing, the Tories seem unable to land a knock-out blow on the Labour spin machine, the main parties are become increasingly desperate. To borrow a phrase from Kevin Maguire, ‘Cameron’s mask is slipping’, and you know what, that’s not rhetoric, it’s true.

David Cameron’s personal popularity has fallen 9 points since 2008 and the latest Ipsos-Mori poll shows the Tory lead standing at 5% – the ‘magic’ number that keeps the Tories from becoming the largest party in Parliament after a General Election.

This week was meant to be a bruising one for Gordon Brown, he was meant to have been a broken figure, but the Rawnsley ‘revelations’ turned to dust. Then came Alistair Darling’s “forces of hell” moment, once again, this crumbled away. So, what has gone wrong in the Tory machine? Why have they stalled?

I think the answer is a simple one, very simple in fact, the answer lies in policy, or the lack of any robust policy. I know of only three things to expect from a Cameron Government: 1. a cut in corporation tax; 2. de-regulation for large parts of the economy; and, 3. a ‘free’ vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act (2004). This is all I can remember, I can’t recite anything else. Nothing sticks except for a big image of  Cameron telling us ‘I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS’ – which is actually an homage to Tony Blair’s 1997 poster, ‘new Labour: because Britain deserves better’ (which I’m unable to find a link to).

Until we start hearing more from David Cameron and the Tories, the more they will stall. They will fail to land that decisive punch, they will fail to connect with voters on the doorstep and they will be more vulnerable to, what is arguably, a more confident Labour machine. The worry is, that the more policy the Tories reveal, the more likely it is that voters will be unsettled. Voters don’t want to hear about cuts, they don’t want to hear that big business and the City are getting off lightly and they don’t want to see any more haunting posters of David Cameron glaring into their souls.

Instead, what we will see, is a party becoming more desperate and more ugly in their attacks. The Tories will revert back to the old Conservatism that’s more eager to play to our fears,  rather than encouraging our hopes and desires.

Labour are still vulnerable and must admit that they’ve been incredibly lucky this week (the whole “take a second look at us and take a long, hard look at them” line is getting a bit thin). Unless Cameron commits to an agenda, one which he actually sticks to, then the Tories will continue to stall.

Their silence is their undoing.

(FYI  The Tories have their “Spring Forum” in Brighton this weekend)

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Where having a Green MP can make a difference

Yesterday 27 Labour MPs defied the Government and supported a measure to introduce a new green standard for power stations. In effect, if passed, this measure would have ruled out the possibility of building new power stations, such as Kingsnorth.

Joss Garman, blogging at Left Foot Forward, has blamed poor Lib Dem turnout for the defeat of this measure. Apparently Clegg, Cable and Huhne were absent from the proceedings. There was also the absence of key Labour rebels such as Dianne Abbott and Austin Mitchell, who had promised to support the Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) for new power stations. In a vote, which was won by the Government on the tightest of margins (252 MPs voted against the EPS whilst 244 voted in favour), a Green MP could have made all the difference.

The reason why is because a vote such as this is natural Green territory. It is of the utmost importance for the Green party to ensure that no new coal-fired power stations are built. A break with the old technologies and an embrace of new, environmentally sustainable technology, is a cornerstone of Green party policy. Whilst one vote from a Green MP would not have made a difference, a Green MP speaking at the debate, working behind the scenes, encouraging those key rebels to come out and vote, could have made all the difference. Because the Commons has no, singular MP that ranks the environment as a top priority issue, the laziness of other MPs saw the defeat of the measure.

This is why we need Green MPs, a vote such as this should not be lost again. Having just one Green MP could make all the difference.

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New media in Brighton Pavilion

It is now established that if you’re a candidate standing for election you need a campaign website. For a lot of candidates this is the first thing they think of. Why? Because it is a cheap, resourceful tool in communicating your message to potential voters. It is also important for candidates to have the most attractive website they can get. Visitors to a site need to be taken on a journey, they need to find small pockets of interest that keep them coming back for more.

Nearly all candidates standing for election either maintain a blog or a news content page. This is true for all three main candidates in Brighton Pavilion, Caroline, Nancy, and Charlotte. Out of all of them it is Caroline who updates hers the most, either through her blog or through her campaign news. Both of these are similar but, at the same time, rather different. Caroline’s blog section discusses mainly the campaign trail, her meetings with local associations and the finer points of her agenda for the constituency. Her campaign news, which is updated less often than her blog, provides the press with details of Caroline’s positions and statements, as you would expect from a news section.

It should be noted that Charlotte and Nancy don’t separate the two. For Charlotte, her blog is also her news content page (she does have a ‘media’ page but that hasn’t been updated since January 16th- remember those snowy days?) Nancy, on the other hand, only has her news content, and this is updated a couple of times a week.

Nancy prefers to use twitter to keep her followers up to date with where she is and what she’s doing, using this to great effect. Charlotte, whilst using twitter in a similar vein to Nancy, is also much more personal, perhaps far too personal in her correspondence with her followers, particularly with her Green ones. Whilst Charlotte has a tendency to always ‘@’ Caroline (I think she may have given up by now), many of her tweets meet with immediate response from Greens, partly due to Charlotte’s antagonistic style. Yes, we know that twitter is a world mostly populated by people averse to the Conservatives, but there is something dogged in her chase for Caroline to reply to her tweets.

I think, and most certainly hope, that Charlotte has backed away from this style, especially for her own sake. We have not seen her update nearly as often, neither are her tweets focussed purely on Caroline. Whilst it is too early to say whether this is a tactical change in Charlotte’s social media strategy- perhaps someone has had a quiet word with her- it would be a welcome move if she would tone down on the ‘reply’s and ‘@’s to people who are clearly not going to agree with her.

Brighton Politics Blog, BPB for short, posted a similar article on Brighton Pavilion and new media back in January, go check it out.

By the way, does anybody know if CCHQ is still vetting PPC tweets?

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Statement of support for Biosciences staff from VP Welfare candidate

Aaron Kiely, a committed student activist and community campaigner, as well as candidate for the position of Vice President (Welfare) in the upcoming Kent Union elections, has come out with a statement of support in favour of the UCU and those opposing cuts in higher education. Aaron said:

I am absolutely behind our lecturers and their union in this. I attended the meeting where they voted unanimously to campaign against these redundancies and defend their members, OUR lecturers. To make someone redundant at a time like this where no one is employing is outrageous and these people have families and themselves to support.

The whole process that staff have been made to go through is degrading, with them being graded against an arbritary scale. Female staff are also being disproportionately hit and all four female staff are threatened with redundancies. Science is male-dominated enough, we should be employing and supporting more women in the sciences, not laying them off.

I am heartened to see a lot of student support and look forward to working with the UCU, and other Unions in opposing these redundancies and the mistreatment of staff.

You can join the Facebook group opposing the redundancies here.

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UCU votes to take action at the University of Kent

The University and College Union (UCU) branch at the University of Kent has unanimously voted in favour of taking industrial action if negotiations over compulsory redundancies break down.

The meeting took place last night and was attended by some 124 UCU members at Kent, as well as 5 at Medway and 16 from the Law School.

At the heart of this matter is compulsory redundancies in the Biosciences department, which incidentally is top in Teaching Quality Assessments and top in the National Student Survey.

It has been reported that ten out of the twenty-seven staff members in the Biosciences department have been given letters of notice that they’re scheduled to lose their jobs. It was also highlighted that this is not a financial issue given that the Biosciences department has not run a deficit, instead, it seems to be about re-structuring the department and placing an emphasis on creating jobs which are designed to attract big business investment, rather than placing an emphasis on the quality of teaching students receive.

Keith Mander, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University, has presided over the implementation group which has threatened the staff with redundancies.

The UCU branch chair predicted that a “storm is coming”, as well as saying it’s “never been as bad as this before.”

More from Dave Semple at Though Cowards Flinch.

UPDATE: It is now suggested that 12 members of staff from the Biosciences department face the threat of compulsory redundancy.

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Metro event with Nick Clegg

I have to say that I enjoyed last night’s event with Nick Clegg at the Associated Newspapers head office in High Street Kensington.

I found Nick Clegg likeable and personable, even if some of his mannerisms were a bit animated. It was certainly clear that he was at home speaking in front of 70 odd people in a small lecture-type room (he did have a previous life as a university lecturer). It’s hard to imagine Nick Clegg thumping away at a rally in Trafalgar Square, nor does he feel particularly comfortable with the formalities and traditions of Westminster politics, as he told the audience last night (he’s a call me “Nick” or “Mr. Clegg” kind of bloke).

I managed to squeeze in two questions. One, very early on, asking Nick Clegg to comment on the irony that the Lib Dems receive far less popular support in PR elections than at elections fought under FPTP. Nick dodged this by focussing specifically on the European Elections, to which he blamed the distance and lack of affinity voters have with Europe. This was of course a very reasonable answer but unsatisfactory.

My other question, which came later in the evening, was actually the last question Nick Clegg answered. We naturally came to the issue of a hung parliament and which way the Lib Dems would swing. Nick answered this as he always does: “We will go with the mandate of the people.” (Apparently voters have to tell Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems what they want before the Lib Dems will ever do anything). As things were about to come to an end, I spoke up, I asked Nick Clegg to clarify on what he means by “mandate of the people.” I quizzed him on what the mandate will look like, will it be that party which wins the most number of seats (potentially Labour), or the party that wins the greatest share of the popular vote (probably the Tories). Nick gave a very roundabout answer and didn’t really address my point, he brushed this off as an unlikely and once again made reference to the “mandate of the people.” I was left unsatisfied by Nick Clegg’s response.

But, even if Nick Clegg thought my point was a very unlikely situation, it will be a disaster for the Lib Dems. No wonder Nick Clegg didn’t want to answer it, what will they actually do? For a party that holds proportional representation so dear to their hearts, a situation that sees Labour win the most seats, but the Tories take the popular vote, will be a conundrum of epic proportions. The truth is that the Lib Dems will be far more likely to see much of their agenda implemented by a sympathetic Labour Government, of which many Lib Dems were once fellow travellers in the same party, however, because of the Lib Dems faith in PR, can they really go through with this?

The period after the General Election, if resulting in the situation I’ve described, could be the most delicate time in the Liberal Democrats political lives, if they swing the wrong way, they could see themselves annihilated at the polls, thus setting the party back a whole generation. This, I believe, is Nick Clegg’s greatest fear. It is no wonder that he will be trying to tell voters to vote for one of the main two parties, to ensure that the Lib Dems don’t end up in the kind of situation that I’ve described.

What Nick Clegg is after is a clear mandate from voters about the Government they want, be it Labour or, regretfully, the Conservatives. A hung parliament is Nick Clegg’s worse nightmare.

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A Minority Pastime

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The Best of Malcolm Tucker Part I

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