Some of you will have hopefully noticed that I’ve now installed a proper mobile version of this blog, which means it’s easier to read and navigate if you’re looking at it on your phone. Please let me know if there are any problems with it, so I can break more things under the hood as I try and fix it.

And just a reminder while you’re here that there are several ways to keep up with this blog. You can subscribe via email using the box on the right of the page (or at the bottom on the mobile version), you can like me on Facebook, subscribe via WordPress or just follow me on Twitter to get all sorts of other thoughts as well as blog updates.

However you come here, thanks for reading, and I hope I can keep amusing, informing, entertaining and educating you in the future – though there might be a short break from daily posts sometime after the election finishes.

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Only a few days left for me as a councillor – I’m not quite sure if my term ends when my replacement is announced on Friday, or if I’m technically still in office over the weekend – but I’ve been chatting with Jason from the Colchester Chronicle about my decision to step down, which he’s now published as a post.

And if you missed it, my original post explaining why it’s time to move on is here.

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2015 General Election Day 28: Who’s ahead in Wabznasm North?

Election Sundays are notable for two things – a slight scaling down of the activity carried out on the ground by the parties, coupled with a ratcheting up of the ridiculousness of the rhetoric by the Sunday papers. Today, of course, we had the spectacle of the Mail telling us that an arrangement between Labour and the SNP would be the biggest crisis in British politics since the Abdication in 1936. It’s an odd point to use, even if you’re looking for purely constitutional crises, as the Abdication was something that was seen as completely unthinkable before it happened but then when it came, it was all handled with a minimum of fuss and the country did quite well out of it. You’ll certainly find few people who’ll argue that several decades of King Edward VIII would have been better for the country than George VI and Elizabeth II.

It’s all feeling very much like The Day Today reporting on a constitutional crisis:

But don’t worry Britain, everything will be all right:

In future election news, there was an interesting development in the next Tory leadership election battle as Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband found themselves sitting next to each other on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning sofa. Unfortunately for Boris, his prospects of a coronation shrunk even more as Miliband showed he’s found the way to respond to Boris: stay calm, and don’t get drawn in. I suspect he might have been watching Eddie Mair’s interview with Johnson, where Mair’s refusal to get drawn into Johnson’s blustering tempo led to Boris getting progressively more flustered and open for a clever counterpunch.

Of course, Miliband impressing me on one hand had to be coupled with him annoying me on the other. During his solo interview with Andrew Marr, he casually announced that his government would find ‘back office savings’ in local government allowing him to make more cuts in its budget. There are two key points here: first, local government has been making cuts and finding savings for several years now, and if there were easy savings to be made without cuts to services, it’s be doing them already; second, it’s annoying that he’s taking the standard Westminster approach to local government of assuming it’s there to be commanded and bossed around, not free to find its own ways of doing things. He’s not being different from any government before him, but it’s just annoying when politicians of any party talk like that.

One point of interest that might explain that is that as far as I can tell there are only two Prime Ministers (and they’re the only two party leaders) of the last hundred years with any direct experience of local government. Attlee was Mayor of Stepney just after the First World War, and John Major was a Lambeth councillor in the 60s. It’s a pattern reflected across the senior leadership of all the parties – being a councillor might help in becoming an MP, but a hindrance to getting further than that.

Back to the list of minor parties in the election and we find that the Communities United Party is the next up. They’re not new for this election – though Mark Pack found them a bit of a mystery when they stood in the European Elections last year – and their website isn’t much of a help in deciphering their political stance, but it’s a bit worrying when the picture of the leader on the front has the caption ‘legend leader’ on it and a lot of the website is plastered with adverts for his legal services firm. Still, they have four other candidates standing across London as well as the ‘legend’ Kamran Malik in Brent Central, so it would be unfair to refer to them as solely a one-am band.

Today on Election Leaflets throws up a high-profile independent with a leaflet from Mike Hancock’s campaign to ensure he gets his full £30,000 resettlement allowance re-elected in Portsmouth South. His main call within the leaflet is for better pensions, which might reveal what he expects his situation to be after the election. Still, it makes for an interesting curio in this election, and the sort of thing it’s interesting for Eection Leaflets to have archived for the future.

And that’s how we leave it with eleven days to go. We’ve made it this far, surely we can do the rest?

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Sharing bug fixed

Looks like there was a bug that stopped the ‘share this’ buttons at the bottom of the posts from working – basically, two plugins were clashing – but it appears to be fixed now, so you can share my posts to your heart’s content. That was all that was stopping you from doing it, right?

(Thanks to Nissemus for alerting me to it)

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The Quarter Quell: January-March 2015

Being the record of the most popular posts on this blog in the first few months of this year, set down in accordance with both time-honoured ritual and whatever way I feel like showing them. This has been the busiest three months since I started blogging again which each month getting more visitors than the last, so I’m either getting the hang of it again or there’s some big news story coming up that means people want to read more political ramblings. You decide.

Anyway, here are the most read posts over those three months.

Not quite making it to the detailed list: Coalition clickbait, hope, the Liberal Democrat who’s against democracy and celebrity candidates. After those, the top six were:

6) “Shut up and deliver leaflets” – In which I react angrily to a commenter who tells me not to campaign rather than complain (and also seems to think I’m Mark Pack). This is where I set out why politics is about more than just delivering more and more leaflets.
5) Stepping down – I’m not standing for re-election to the Council in May, and here’s where I explain why not.
4) New poll: 36% of Britons support a basic income – I spotted something interesting in a poll about Green Party policy.
3) New polling evidence: Who is basic income most popular with in the UK? – As you’ll have noticed, basic income posts tend to be popular as there’s a big network of people out there who’ll share them and spread them around. This was some more detail on the poll of Green Party policies.
2) Review: The Man In The High Castle (Amazon TV) – One of my favourite books got a TV adaptation, and it was rather good. The good news here is that the pilot episode I reviewed here has now been picked up for a series after near-universal positive reviews, with a series likely by the end of the year.

Which means the number one post for the quarter, getting almost double the views of the page at number two is:

1) What if Nick Clegg loses his seat at the election? – No, I don’t know why that headline was popular with people who shared it a lot on Twitter… Here I looked at what the consequences might be for the Liberal Democrats if they find themselves without a leader and deputy leader (because Malcolm Bruce is retiring) the day after the election. It would be…interesting. Yes, that’s the word.

Once again, thanks to everyone who’s visited over the past three months, as you’ve done it in such numbers there’s a vague possibility that the revenue I get from the ads might just cover the hosting costs for the site for the first time ever this year. The next month looks set to feature a lot of activity in the run-up to the General Election, so I hope it helps to keep you entertained.

Remember if you want to get notified of my posts, you can subscribe by email by putting your address in the box at the top right, you can like my page on Facebook, or you can follow me on Twitter and get all sorts of extra nonsense as well as notification of new posts.

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After eight years, I still haven't memorised this list from the Council Chamber

After eight years, I still haven’t memorised this list from the Council Chamber

Those of you in Colchester likely already know this, but let’s make it official: I won’t be standing for re-election to Colchester Borough Council this year, so my eight years on the Council will be coming to an end in May.

It’s been an interesting and enjoyable time, but everything has to come to an end sometime, and it seems that this is the time for me and the Council Chamber to part ways. There have been various machinations going on behind the scenes and the stress from that, plus the pressure of just being a councillor (let alone the extra roles) has just been mounting over time to the point where the negatives now far outweigh the positives. It’s still enjoyable in parts, but the idea of going through the pressure of another election campaign, when I’m not sure I’d enjoy the reward – and then have to go through the whole thing again next year – isn’t appealing to me.

I can remember being told by certain people that there was no chance of me winning the first time around, because Castle ward was about to be subsumed beneath a Green wave, and then in 2011, there was no chance I’d get re-elected because of the coalition. So, just having had eight years on the Council has beaten a lot of people’s expectations, and having most of them where we’ve been leading the council and over half of them where I’ve been a member of the Cabinet wasn’t something I was expecting when I first agreed to stand.

Trust me, getting elected as a councillor right before the global economy goes into a tailspin, the country dives into a recession and austerity becomes the ruling dogma is a surefire recipe for living in interesting times. The last few years has been dominated by talking about cuts and savings and efficiencies, while laughing bitterly at anyone imagining local government is somehow profligate. There isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel, either. The party manifestos for the next Parliament all promise some mix of tax cuts, deficit eradication, further austerity and certain services protected from cuts, all of which mean local government is going to take another hammering over the next five years.

But what about localism, I hear you ask? Don’t you have all sorts of new powers to do things your way? Pause to hear a legion of councillors laughing sadly at that. Localism sounds good, especially when put through the party political spin machine, but in practice it just means we get to locally decide how much we agree with Eric Pickles on something – total or absolute. For instance, the old centrally imposed housing targets have been removed, which sounds good, but the evidence base on which councils have to decide their housing targets haven’t, so it’s a case of no longer being told from the centre that the answer is 10, but instead being give two fives and told to go away and add them up locally, and you’ll be entirely responsible for the result. After a while being caught between voters’ expectations of what the Council can do, what it can actually do, and Whitehall’s continued belief that we should just be local delivery arms for the Government can get pretty tiring.

I’m reminded of what Tony Benn said when he left the House of Commons, that now he’d have more time for politics. One of the problems of being involved in the day-to-day politics of being a councillor is that you get swamped by the process and forget the wider issues. There’s a tendency to let everything become a process story, and I think that goes some way to explaining why a lot of politicians are suckered by the cult of managerialism – you can feel that the important thing is the sheer action making of decisions, rather than what decisions actually are. One thing about doing my Masters degree has been that it’s given me the space, time and context to think about politics on a much wider scale: I like talking about big ideas and ideologies, and not being involved so much in the day-to-day of being a councillor will give me the opportunity to do that.

What this means, of course, is the coming election campaign will be the first one in about a decade that I’ve not had heavy involvement in, which gives me more time to work on my dissertation – and I’ll likely bore you with more details of that after May 7th – but also to blog about the election, and hopefully find something interesting to say. There’s still a lot to discuss politically, even if the campaign itself is likely to be little more than game playing and process stories.

I’ve still got a month left on the Council, so it’s probably a bit early for epitaphs, but it’s been fun and I’d still recommend it to people who want to have some impact on their community, even if the Council’s not quite the grand seat of power it used to be. To those who remain, and those who come after me, I can only echo the words of someone much older and wiser than me:

One day, I may come back. Yes, I may come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.

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Sitemeter removed

If you’ve visited here over the last couple of days you might have had a problem when visiting some outbound links and seeing them redirected through another site (vindicosuite). I noticed it today, and a bit of googling suggests the problem is being caused by the Sitemeter tracking button, so I’ve removed that and it should hopefully mean the problem won’t occur. From what I can see it was just a bit of redirection of links through another site and nothing involving viruses or malware, but if you do have any problems please let me know. Apologies for any trouble caused to anyone by it, and please let me know if this or anything similar recurs.