One thing that’s interested me this election is that the Tories appear to not be bothering in the local election in my ward. We haven’t received a single leaflet from them mentioning their local election candidate, but that’s not too much of a surprise when the large majority of Tory propaganda we’ve received hasn’t even bothered to name their Parliamentary candidate.

However, after spending the weekend arsing around with a cardboard cutout of Nick Clegg, I finally spotted our local Tory candidate for Castle Ward on my street last night, and he was actually delivering something. Unfortunately, it yet again failed to mention him or their Parliamentary candidate, and was instead a rather nasty smear leaflet trying to claim that Bob Russell is responsible for all crime in Colchester. Indeed, if you didn’t notice the rather blurry imprint in very small writing, you might think it was something independent and not actually a Tory campaign leaflet. I’m sure that wasn’t intentional on their part, as was the fact it omitted to mention that one of the leading local anti-knife crime campaigners backs Bob’s re-election.

I think it shows the contempt the Tories hold the electorate in by not running on their own record and policies, but instead spreading lies and fear amongst the electorate. Whether it’s fear of crime, or fear of the people of Scotland daring to vote how they want to, the Tory campaign has been a spectacularly unedifying spectacle, seeking to do nothing more than whip up divisions within the country.

Locally and nationally, Tory policies are dangerous, and coupled with a mentality that’s happy to divide society and whip up fear for short-term electoral gain, they don’t deserve to be in power. We all have the power to ensure that they’re not.

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picklesbiscuitsOver the past few years Eric Pickles and his strange contradictory definition of localism – where councils get to locally decide whether they agree with him totally or wholeheartedly – have provided many posts for this blog and I may feel momentarily sad on Friday if he’s no longer around to provide me with such easy pickings in the future.

However, being a generous man he’s given me one last thing to have a shot at it before he (hopefully) goes and it’s yet again him failing to understand anything about localism while showing that his time at DCLG has been about maintaining Whitehall’s central control over everything. Indeed, it’s worth noting that while city regions have their flaws, they are an attempt at some kind of devolution and Pickles and the DCLG have been kept well away from them in case they mess that up as badly as they’ve messed up localism.

But back to the subject at hand, and it seems that Pickles spent Thursday evening going on a bit of a Twitter rant at Nick Clegg talking about ideas for local government that he and the Conservatives had blocked. As ever, these were ideas about how Councils could take more control over their areas and widen their tax base so they didn’t have to rely solely on the blunt instrument of council tax or the rapidly shrinking grants from DCLG. Pickles, unsurprisingly, gloated about how he’d said no to all of these just as you’d expect from someone who sees his job as interfering with councils and keeping them from running services in the way they choose.

Pickles isn’t unique in this approach – though he has a boorish way of expressing it that makes him so much more annoying than previous holders of his job – and if there’s one thing I’d love to see from the next government, regardless of which party or parties make it up, it’s a commitment to real localism and devolution. That includes giving councils a wide range of tools – including a variety of tax raising powers – to choose from themselves and decide which works best for their areas.

The problem with Pickles through out his five years at DCLG has been that he doesn’t see local government as something that should be allowed to get on and do its job according to the wishes of local people. Instead for him it’s just another arm of the centralised state, there to carry out whatever diktats he sends down from Whitehall, the only power it needs being to choose just how much it agrees with him. Real localism needs central government to understand that it has to get out of the way and let local government do what it wants to do, and Pickles has demonstrated consistently over the last five years that he’s a roadblock to achieving that.

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Less than 100 hours until the polling stations open, and thoughts are naturally turning more and more to just what the result of this election will be. Like everyone else, I’ve been pondering the various post-election deals that are possible and it feels to me that the key number of MPs either Labour or the Conservatives need to win to have a chance at forming a stable Government is around 290.

My thinking’s based on the current numbers for MPs from the other parties being suggested by the various forecasts: an SNP total of 40-50+, Liberal Democrats winning somewhere between 25-30 seats, Northern Irish seats remaining roughly the same, UKIP winning around 3 or 4 and Greens holding their one seat. What I assume is that neither Labour nor the Tories would make a deal with the SNP, but either would make one with the Liberal Democrats. What we can also do is assume that even in the absence of a deal, the other parties are likely to vote in a certain way, especially on issues of confidence.

The reason 290 is key is that it’s the point at which either main party in agreement with the Lib Dems would have enough support to be able to expect to win votes in Parliament regularly. For example, a Labour-Lib Dem government would expect the regular support of the SDLP and (Northern Ireland independent) Sylvia Hermon, and could probably count on Plaid Cymru and the Green’s Caroline Lucas (as well as Alliance’s Naomi Long if she’s re-elected) giving support as well in exchange for some concessions. So, 290 Labour MPs, plus 25-30 Lib Dem MPs and 10-12 others gives a Parliamentary majority without needing any deals with the SNP. Indeed, such an agreement would create a headache for the SNP (and George Galloway): vote against it and they’re voting with the Tories, abstain and they’re doing nothing in Parliament.

On the other side, the same applies but with fewer parties involved. With the support of the DUP, 290 Tories allied with the Lib Dems would have enough seats for a majority in Parliament without the need for any formal deal with UKIP (who’d face the same ‘vote with Labour or do nothing’ dilemma as the SNP in the other scenario) though getting Lib Dems to agree to a deal that formally involved the DUP might be tricky. Indeed, assuming that getting Lib Dems to agree to any deal is a simple matter of getting Clegg on board with it fails to account for the role of the wider party in agreeing it, as Jennie explains here.

They key point here, though, is that for both Labour and the Tories, 290 looks like being the key number of seats to win on Thursday (though that can go up or down depending on how many Lib Dem seats there are – the key figure is having around 315-320 for the two parties combined). If one of them (and the maths suggest it will be only one of them, unless the Scottish polls are way off) can make it there then they will very likely form the core of the next Government, but if neither of them can, then we can expect a long period of coalition negotiation and deal-making before we get a new Government and the shape of it won’t be clear for much longer.

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As in the rest of the country, our local Tories are never averse to screaming ‘dirty Lib Dem negative campaigning’ when anyone says something that’s less-than-positive about them (and those sort of comments are frequent in Colchester when they propose silly ideas like this). Of course, what’s sauce for the goose is never allowed to be sauce for the gander, and the Tories are always keen to point out that their own campaigns are as pure as the driven snow, never negative or personal. Which makes this hard to describe.

lockerclegg(The original Tweet is here, that’s a screengrab in case wiser Tory heads have it removed) Ben Locker (the person on the left in the picture) is the Tory candidate for Mile End Ward in the local elections and also a friend and regular campaigner for Will Quince, the local Tory candidate. Judging from the pictures here and here, it appears that Castle Ward Tory candidate Darius Laws, another close associate of Quince, is also involved in this little stunt, which in absolutely no way surprises me.

This is what our local Tory campaign has been reduced to – wandering around with a carboard cutout of Nick Clegg, encouraging people to believe it’s all his fault. Whatever ‘it’ is and how ‘it’ can all be Nick Clegg’s fault is a question that Ben Locker refuses to answer. It does seem an odd message to be spreading, given that the Conservatives have been the larger party in the coalition, but maybe he’s just following the logic of their attacks on the SNP to their logical conclusion? If he genuinely believes his party’s idiotic propaganda that a Labour government would have to do whatever the SNP says, maybe he thinks that’s how the last Government was run too? It’s quite clear from their local proposals that Colchester Tories have no idea how local government works, so perhaps it’s fair to assume that understanding national government is a project that’s way too complicated for them.

If the Tories want to spend their time on silly personalised negative campaign, that’s entirely up to them, but they shouldn’t expect other people to forget it, and they certainly shouldn’t start complaining when people criticise them.

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Don't worry David, I've never gone back on my word.

Don’t worry David, I’ve never gone back on my word.

I think we might be in the election silly season, as today we’re getting swamped by odd stories and speculation. This includes the idea that if the Tories don’t get a majority, David Cameron will step down and allow Boris Johnson to be appointed Tory leader without an election so he can try and form a minority administration.

So far, so silly, but if they do try it, they might want to take heed of the words of a Daily Telegraph columnist writing at the time of Gordon Brown replacing Tony Blair:

The British public sucked its teeth, squinted at him closely, sighed and, with extreme reluctance, decided to elect him Prime Minister for another five years. Let me repeat that. They voted for Anthony Charles Lynton Blair to serve as their leader. They were at no stage invited to vote on whether Gordon Brown should be PM.
I must have knocked on hundreds of doors during that campaign, and heard all sorts of opinions of Mr Blair, not all of them favourable. But I do not recall a single member of the public saying that he or she was yearning for Gordon Brown to take over. Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t remember any Labour spokesman revealing that they planned to do a big switcheroo after only two years.
It is a sad but undeniable truth that there are huge numbers of voters (including many Tory types) who have rather liked the cut of Tony’s jib. They have tended to admire his easy manner, and his air of sincerity, and his glistering-toothed rhetoric. They may have had a sneaking feeling – in spite of Iraq – that he has not wholly disgraced Britain on the international stage; and though you or I may think they were wrong, they unquestionably existed.
In 2005, there was a large number who voted Labour on the strength of a dwindling but still significant respect for the Prime Minister. They voted for Tony, and yet they now get Gordon, and a transition about as democratically proper as the transition from Claudius to Nero. It is a scandal.

The same columnist was equally scathing about the idea of the new Prime Minister relying on other parties to support him:

in revelations that yesterday rocked Westminster, it emerged that Sir Menzies Campbell has been engaged in talks with Gordon, about a “government of all the talents”, which must be faintly mystifying to all those Labour candidates, activists and voters who have been engaged in fighting the Liberal Democrats. They thought they were campaigning for Tony Blair – and it now turns out there was a secret plan to bring in Gordon Brown and assorted Liberal Democrats, including good old Paddy Pantsdown.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t remember the electorate being asked their views of a Gord-Ming Lib-Lab coalition. It is fraud and double-fraud.

It was ‘a scandal’ and trying to build some form of coalition in that situation was ‘fraud and double fraud’.

I’m sure we all eagerly await the same columnist – one Boris Johnson – denouncing this proposed move in the same terms.

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Bringing American sports to Britain: another unfunded Tory pledge?

Here’s something interesting I noticed in the Tory manifesto over the weekend. In a section headlined ‘We will build on our Olympic and Paralympic legacy’ on page 42, tbere;s a commitment to support elite sports funding along with a list of big events happening in Britain over the next few years and then this:

We will support new sports in the UK, in particular through greater links with the US National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, with the ultimate ambition of new franchises being based here.

It’s curious that this turns up in a section headlined Olympic and Paralympic sport, as only one of those (basketball) is an Olympic sport. They’re also the only new sports mentioned in that section, with no mention of developing any of the other Olympic and Paralympic sports. It feels an odd priority to identify helping major American sports leagues into the UK when talking about ‘new sports’ – not least because there are already long established British leagues in American football, basketball and baseball.

There’s also a question of cost associated with bringing the NFL, NBA or MLB anywhere. While everyone likes to gasp about the huge amounts of money in American sports, a lot of that is supported by government spending, especially on stadiums. The NFL especially is infamous for demanding that cities contribute or pay entirely for new stadiums and new facilities, using the threat of moving teams to cities that are willing to pay to make them cough up. It’s a model where every team is encouraged to demand as much as it can get from its host city, or they’ll decamp and find someone willing to be fleeced, and London’s just the latest city to be waved at others in an effort to make them open their wallets.

Planning to bring an American franchise here is committing to take part in a bidding war with American cities seeking the same thing, with the one willing to give the sweetest deal the victor. It’s another unfunded pledge from the Tories, looking to throw hundreds of millions into attracting already wealthy sports to come here, when that same money could have a revolutionary effect on sports already in Britain. Imagine what it could do for developing women’s sport or para-sport instead of being sunk into enticing someone else?

And I thought Tories didn’t believe in Government picking winners…

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Prime Minister meets with controversial hate preacher

Prime Minister meets with controversial hate preacher

I’m not a Sun reader. You’re not shocked to discover that if you’ve ever had any dealings with me before, of course. Usually, I’m happy to let it carry on doing whatever it wants to do and let us coexist in our separate spheres, but sometimes it crosses a line. This time, though, it’s published something that even by its normal standards is absolutely horrific:


Katie Hopkins’ job is, like so many tabloid columnists, to be offensive and get people’s backs up so she and the paper can feed off their indignation. This, though, isn’t just the usual outrage-for-clicks that characterises a Sun column, this is pure hate speech: ‘spreading like norovirus’, ‘plague of feral humans’, ‘cockroaches’. It’s calling for the death of people she regards as somehow less than human, and then revelling in the prospect of death and suffering.

What’s important here, though, is that the reason we’re seeing these words isn’t just because of Hopkins. She’s been commissioned and paid for them by the Sun. At least one editor would have looked over that column and approved it for publishing, a sub would have checked it over, designers would have put that page together and printers would have produced the final version. This isn’t some random troll shouting on the internet, desperate for attention, this is the considered and published view of one of Britain’s best-selling newspapers.

In a couple of weeks time that same newspaper – and some of the same people who worked on the Hopkins column will be involved – will tell its readers how to vote in the election, and given what they’ve published recently about Ed Miliband, we can expect they’ll advise a vote for David Cameron and the Conservatives.

Norovirus. Feral. Cockroaches. A paper that used those words to describe human beings and wish for their death will endorse the Conservative Party, and the leader of the Conservative Party – the Prime Minister of this country – will welcome that endorsement. If David Cameron – if anyone in the Tory Party – had a shred of decency or dignity, he’d reject that endorsement and refuse to accept it. Do you think he will?

When The Sun makes its endorsement, other journalists – those who work for outlets that don’t brand other humans as norovirus, feral or cockroaches – should ask David Cameron if he’s happy to accept that. And not just him – there are hundreds of Tory candidates all over the country, standing for Parliament and in the local elections, who’ll benefit from that endorsement. They’ll happily accept the backing of a newspaper that regards some people as less than human and deserving to die, expecting that no one will challenge them on it. So let’s make sure they’re asked about it and let us know what their position is on being backed by a paper that’s fuelled by such hate.

(And if you want to do something constructive, go sign Save The Children’s Restart The Rescue petition)

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