No time for complacency

As many University of Kent students no doubt know, the university has moved forward with plans for compulsory redundancies amongst staff in the university’s Biosciences department. The University and Colleges Union (UCU) branch at the university voted to take action to stop the twelve members of staff losing their jobs and livelihoods.

 Biosciences course representatives were quick to establish a Facebook group to protest against the proposed redundancies in the department however, this group has since been taken over by the official Kent Union bureaucracy and much of the original fervour and angst has been diluted, turning the group into a talking shop and information site, rather than a group dedicated to taking robust, determined and forthright action against any job losses.

The group now looks complacent, only willing to discuss the situation, rather than lead with proposals to fight back against the university’s ill-advised and, frankly, crass decision, to force hard-working, committed members of staff, out of their jobs and onto the scrap heap.

Fortunately, a new group has been created to address the complacency of Kent Union official bureaucrats, ‘Student Activism against the Biosciences cuts’. The group will endeavour to put forward a plan of action against cuts and redundancies in any department at the University of Kent. It will look to other campuses, such as  the University of Sussex’s ‘Stop the Cuts- Defend Sussex’ campaign, which enjoys the healthy support of University of Sussex Student Union (USSU) officers, including Josh Jones, USSU’s  Education Officer, who has recently called on Sussex University management to take a 10% pay cut!

Students at the University of Kent need full-time officers like Josh Jones and the other USSU sabbs. Students need officers who will support and encourage grassroots, student-led activism, that won’t rule out any tools at the disposal of students to challenge unfair decisions from the university management. The student movement’s greatest strength is its sheer size in numbers, as well as the close proximity students have with one another, particularly on collegiate campuses such as Kent.

A vibrant and robust anti-cuts, anti-redundancies, pro-learning campaign is needed at the University of Kent. Students need officers who are familiar with grassroots campaigning, aware of the need to promote a culture of activism on campus and in the community, and ready to utilise the student body behind any action.

Mobilising students is no easy task; it takes time, effort and good organising skills to do so. However, what is needed, more than anything else, is engagement. It should not be a matter of students’ going to the union, but of the union going to students. There should be regular, weekly campaigns from union officers. Union officers need to be quick at recognising issues, and even quicker in responding to them.  

In short, students need activism, not complacency.

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Aaron Kiely for VP Welfare

This year I’m backing Aaron Kiely for the position of Vice-President (VP) Welfare in the Kent Union elections. You can view a copy of Aaron’s manifesto here.

Aaron already has the backing a number of societies including Amnesty International, People and Planet, Conservation Society, ISOC (Islamic Society), the Critical Lawyers Group and the LGBT Society, as well as four others.

Aaron also has the backing of Daf Adley, NUS LGBT (Open Place) officer and candidate for NUS VP Development. And, of course, Britain’s Got Talent winners, Diversity.

Check out Aaron’s video manifesto where he discusses housing and accommodation issues, the redundancies in the Biosciences department and greening the UKC campus.

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Britain’s Got Talent winners back Aaron Kiely for VP Welfare

My mate, and all round brilliant person, Aaron Kiely, has received the backing of Britain’s Got Talent winners, Diversity, in this year’s Kent Union elections.

Aaron is running for the position of Vice-President (VP) Welfare. He’s running on a clear, progressive platform addressing the student housing crisis, of improving safety and well-being on campus and in the community, as well as promoting liberation campaigns, combating discrimination and inequality, and fighting for a greener campus.

If students are looking for a seasoned campaigner with passion, enthusiasm and vigour, then Aaron is the guy for the job.

I recommend to all Kent Union students to give Aaron their vote in the upcoming elections and to make him your #1 for VP Welfare.

Check out the video from Perri and Ashley.

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Snubbed by Kevin Maguire?

Last weekend, Labour’s candidate in Brighton Kemptown, Simon Burgess, was given some extra support from Daily Mirror columnist and political hack, Kevin Maguire. However, what is noticable from Kevin Maguire’s visit to Brighton is the lack of any engagement with Labour’s candidate in Pavilion, Nancy Platts.

It is one of the worst kept secrets in Brighton politics that Simon and Nancy just don’t get on well at all. Whilst both come across as incredibly nice people, they just don’t like each other. I’m sure they’ll both deny this, but any hack will tell you otherwise.

Both Simon and Nancy are fighting over volunteers (as to is Celia Barlow in the super-marginal Hove constituency), as well as funds, resources and media coverage. The one thing you would have thought they’d both share would be endorsements from fellow travellers but, in the case of Kevin Maguire, it would appear not. In other words, it looks as though Kevin snubbed Nancy.

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Brighton and Hove council tries to ban Twitter

According to the Brighton Argus, Brighton and Hove council is seeking to ban councilors from using Twitter during council meetings.

Apparently the constitution prohibits members from using “mobile telephoney (is this an Argus spelling mistake?)while inside the council chamber” whilst Mary Mears, the leader of the council, considered it “rude” that members were ‘tweeting’ as others were speaking.

The move to ban the use of Twitter in council chambers is becoming a growing trend (y’geddit?) across councils in England and Wales. It is some how deemed that councilors using Twitter during meetings are behaving out of the ordinary and aren’t paying full attention to those speaking, particularly members of the opposition. This view, whilst patronising at best, greatly underestimates the role of Twitter in opening up council proceedings to a newer generation of politicos, such as yours truly.

I considered Jason Kitcat’s ‘tweets’ from said meeting to be enlightening and engaging. Yes, it gives just one opinion of the proceedings, but I think we’re all intelligent enough to realise that. At no point did Jason personally attack another individual, such as the Argus article had suggested, instead he gave an honest and frank (you can’t be more than frank on Twitter) opinion on the proposed budget (which by the looks of it, seems pretty “dire” to me).

Council bans on Twitter are becoming a bit silly and highlight how out of touch some councilors are. If a councilor has either 200 or 300 or so followers on Twitter, that is an extra 300 or so people engaging with local politics and the democratic process on their doorstep, which can only be a good thing.

Let’s put it another way, how would Mary Mears feel if councilors were mandated to ‘tweet’ from council meetings? Probably not best pleased, I would imagine. So why would she, or anyone else for that matter, want to try and stop other councilors from ‘tweeting’ at council meetings? It makes no sense when you think about it. It’s not harming anyone. We all find something offensive or rude. Heck, I thought Mary’s proposed budget was offensive to the people of Brighton and Hove, it doesn’t mean we should ban her from speaking on it.

Whilst I accept that Twitter is not to everyone’s taste (neither is Conservatism), it still has its place in the council chamber and should be a matter of choice as to whether or not councilors wish to ‘tweet’ during proceedings. A ban on using Twitter is immature and sends out the wrong message entirely.  

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Did David Cameron actually speak to the Argus?

It was meant to be a huge coup for the Brighton Argus, they were supposed to have landed an interview with David Cameron whilst he was down in Brighton at the Conservative ‘Spring Forum’, rumour has it they were even supposed to get a video of the love-in. But, it has emerged that perhaps he didn’t actually speak to the Argus, not personally any way.

Whilst there is no sign of the interview on the Argus website, Charlotte Vere has kindly posted it onto her blog, which you can view here. Seems rather elementary, doesn’t it? Seems like you can replace ‘Brighton and Hove’ with just about any other city or town, does it not? But, what do I know? I don’t work in political communications, but I think we better consult with someone who does.

Local twitter bod, Nils Bord, aka @BrightonGossip, has suggested that the interview was not face-to-face but was instead handled by his press team. In a tweet at 10.27am on Monday 1st March, Nils said:

@jasonkitcat That’s a Q&A from his pr team, not a face-to-face i/view. I’ve worked in political comms and can spot that a mile off @lmwater

In a later tweet she asked Andy Chiles, (now former) reporter with the Argus:

@AndyArgus Thanks 4 follow. Do u no if Cam gave Argus a face-to-face interview? Tory friend tells me Cam threw his toys and ignored u guys?

I’ve tried to find an answer to this one but nothing has been forthcoming.

So, it begs this simple question, did David Cameron actually sit down with any one from the Argus and conduct an interview? If not, was this interview done by telephone with David Cameron?

I look forward to hearing from someone at the Argus…or a member of David Cameron’s press team. Thanks.

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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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