Labour annual conference 2014More of politics in action:

1) Say you want more young people to get more involved and interested in politics.
2) Young people get interested in politician and discuss him.
3) say ‘oh, not like that’.

As ever, people talking to the young have forgotten what it was like to be young. Imagine if Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and the rest had been around 20-30 years ago – what embarrassing sites created by journalists and politicians would now be in the archive for us to discover? How many current Tory MPs would have had Thatcher shrines, how many times would Neil Kinnock’s appearance in a Tracy Ullman video have been shared and how many arguments would there have been over what portmanteau name to give to the David Owen/David Steel fandom?

Sure, some future politicians act like they were born aged 50 and would never have done anything so embarrassing as squeeing over a speech, but why should politics be solely the realm of the serious? And aren’t teenagers in cheap suits just cosplaying as their favourite political characters, anyway?

Most political parties are just organised fandoms for a political ideology or slice of political history, it';s just that they’ve been around so long people treat them as something different and respectable. But just like science fiction fans, they gather in obscure places every year for conventions (sorry, ‘conferences’) where they can dress up like their heroes, hear them talk, discuss their favourite elements of the fandom at panel discussions, and occasionally get to meet and be photographed with their favourites.

You’re already in the politics fandom, you just like to pretend it’s not.


pg-14-hague-ride-paWe’ve had privatisations and the right to buy, but today the Tory campaign finally moved into the 90s with John Major warning us of the dangers of a Tory government with a small majority paralysed by its extremist backbenchers a Labour government working with the SNP. With any luck, the Tory nostalgia strategy will carry on moving forward through the years and the old Hague baseball caps will be pulled out of storage for one last moment in the spotlight.

Back in 2001, the Tory campaign was centred around ‘X Days To Save The Pound’, but I’m not quite sure what we’d be exhorted to save this time, aside from Cameron and Osborne’s political careers. ‘Save the Union’ would once have been a natural Tory rallying cry, but this time it seems that the Union be damned, a Tory victory is all that’s important no matter how much it might put the future of the country under threat. Here’s my question: let’s say you’re the Prime Minister and you’d actually quite like to get rid of Scotland, but you can’t say that in public or do anything that would too obviously give away your plan. What would you have done differently from what David Cameron has done since the morning of September 19th (the day after the referendum)?

Yet again, it seems that the democratic will of the British people is all-important, but only as long as they vote in the right way. I can remember the Major government, and the constant speculation over which MPs might rebel over what issue, and how the various concessions that were made to the right of the party slowly forced sensible and moderate Tories to jump ship and defect. But apparently that sort of pandering to nationalists who only cared about their pet issue was and would be perfectly all right, it’s only where they’re Scottish that they’re suddenly beyond the pale. I really don’t have much time for nationalism in any form outside sport but the absolute panic the SNP appear to be inciting in the British establishment is quite fun to watch.

Of course, if this election was being conducted using the sort of sane and sensible voting system you’d see elsewhere in Europe, we wouldn’t be having this problem. Yes, the SNP might be about to get a majority of the vote in Scotland, but that would only translate to a majority of seats, not a landslide that scours the ground clean of anything else. Also, we’d likely have two parties, neither of which looks like getting very far past having one-third of the electorate support it, accepting that neither of them had anything like the sort of mandate to govern alone. I have seen some discussion of just how silly our electoral system is becoming in an era that’s a long way from two-party politics, so there’s maybe a chance that common sense will dawn.

Anyway, if you need something to make you both smile and weep, here’s the latest tale of Grant Shapps being caught out by the internet. Smile as you read of his comedic exploits, then weep as you realise he’s considerably richer than you and MP for a safe seat, so this won’t affect his chances of re-election.

It has prompted one of the great press releases of the election, though:

Not likely to be creating any safe seats, today’s move down the list of parties standing in the election finds us at the National Health Action Party with twelve candidates standing around the country. Unlike most single issue parties, they probably won’t lose all their deposits as one of their candidates is Richard Taylor, formerly the independent MP for Wyre Forest, and one would expect that there’s some lingering support there for him given he got 16,170 votes there last time after two terms as MP. I don’t know if this will take him back to Parliament, but his 2001 win in Wyre Forest was pretty unexpected at the time as well – and one of the few interesting points in a very dull election night.

As you might expect, the party’s manifesto is very detailed on health issues with lots of plans for the NHS, and very general on others where they mainly call for everything to be fair. Aside from Taylor and his personal vote, I wouldn’t expect huge things from the party, as they only managed 1% of the vote in the one region they stood in for the European elections last year. European elections are ones where people tend to vote much more expressively than in others, and if only 1% of them then thought the NHAP were worth backing, I can’t see them making big breakthroughs this time.

Finally, today’s dive into Election Leaflets finds a non-party candidate who is very likely to be elected to the Commons – John Bercow, the Speaker. After the attempt to get him in the Commons failed, I did wonder if he might face some opposition from a suspiciously well-funded independent, but the Tories weren’t organised enough to arrange that so Buckingham is the only constituency in the country with just three candidates, and he’ll likely sail to victory over the Greens and UKIP.

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Question: what is the closest to a election that a party has released its manifesto? Because I’m pretty sure that outside of snap elections called at breakneck pace, the SNP choosing today to launch theirs must be one of the latest. Indeed, judging from some of the comments I’ve sen, it may be a real first in a party delivering its manifesto after votes had started being cast – some places had their postal ballots arrive at the weekend. That’s something that could raise an interesting discussion – what if you cast a postal vote for a party and then they surprised you by putting something in their manifesto that you fundamentally disagreed with? Is the answer that you should’ve waited, that they should’ve published earlier, or some combination of both?

With it being the SNP’s day in the spotlight, it’s a chance for London-based journalists to start revealing just how little they know, and Bill Turnbull got off to a fine start on BBC Breakfast this morning. Turnbull was interviewing a somewhat bemused Stewart Hosie (SNP Deputy Leader) about Trident, and seemed to be labouring under the impression that if there was a minority Labour government, the SNP would have some magical power of veto over them. It does sadly show how much Tory propaganda has sunk in that it didn’t occur to someone with years of journalistic experience that if Trident renewal was up for debate in the Commons, there’d have to be quite an odd situation going on for the SNP to be voting with the Tories to get rid of it.

It’s not just Turbull, though. All across the spectrum, political journalists and commentators – the elite experts who are meant to be explaining these things to us – are falling over themselves to tell us it’ll all be far too complex. Just as we saw in the run up to the last election, when the idea of a coalition and a hung Parliament was getting closer, it’s becoming clear just how hard it is for some of our media class to think outside the box. But then, this is a country where the comments of someone who may or may not be running for US President next year were ranked above any mention that Finland had an election yesterday, and even when Germany or France have elections, there’s no danger of Dimbleby being brought out to anchor all-night coverage of it, or armies of reporters travelling all over them to tell us what the race looks like from Dusseldorf or Lyons. Too much of our coverage is based on the idea that elections have to have winners and losers, and can’t be expressions of opinion. Maybe we’ll get a result this time that shakes that consensus a little more.

On a related note, I’ve noticed a similar consensus in reports looking ahead to the post-election period that seem to be assuming that Liberal Democrat MPs can be easily added to the Tory pile when considering the potential deals. Andrew George’s comments on this aren’t outside the party mainstream, and I know very few people – online or off – who’d be enthusiastic about a second coalition with the Tories. I’m sure there are some in the leadership who’d prefer it, but they’re going to have to convince the party to go along with it, which is going to be a significant issue at all the stages of agreement the leadership would need (Parliamentary party, Federal Executive and Conference). A lot depends on the final outcome of the election and how the coalition maths end up, but there are significant swathes of opinion in the party who’d prefer no coalition or one with Labour to carrying on with the Tories.

A very interesting discovery on Election Leaflets today, of a letter from Michael Fallon, flagging him up as Secretary of State for Defence to voters in Barrow and Furness playing up the threat of a Labour government ‘propped up by the SNP’ not renewing Trident. This is real ‘all politics is local’ territory as Barrow is where Vickers/BAE carry out the maintenance of Trident submarines (if you ever go to Barrow, that’s what the giant buildings looming over the town are for) and the only time it’s not been held by Labour since WW2 was in the 80s, when Labour were either either in favour of disarmament or seen as weak on keeping it. Labour have a decent majority there (over 5,000 in 2010), but worries about losing jobs at Vickers drove those losses in the 80s and could be just as strong today. Might be worth adding Barrow to the list of seats to keep an eye on for interesting results on election night.

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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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Judging from some of the things I’ve been seeing on social media, this appears to be the point where the stress of campaigning is getting a bit much for some people, and levels of tetchiness are reaching dangerously high points. This is accompanied by its traditional cry of ‘I’ll report this to the returning officer!’ when confronted by anything from their opponents that seems even slightly dodgy, as though they have any power to intervene.

Something most people don’t understand about British elections is that the powers of the Returning Officer are pretty much constrained to organising the running of the election itself, not regulating any behaviour of candidates. While election law is a distinct field, it’s not separate from the criminal law and breaches of it are dealt with by the police, not the returning officer. There is not, as far as I know, a separate electoral crimes division within any of Britain’s police forces so any investigations are handled by regular officers. In the quest for TV novelty, someone may one day hit on the idea of an officer specialising in the field of electoral crimes, but no one seems quite that desperate yet.

Two firsts for this election for me today. First I went out and did some deliveries for a friend, then then this afternoon had something that hasn’t happened for several years and actually had a canvasser knocking on my door. It was an interesting, but somewhat awkward experience as it turned out they didn’t quite know the area they were in and their canvass cards didn’t have basic information on them like ‘by the way, one of the people at this address is a local councillor’. Of course, if it happens again, I might not be so forward about my status, just to find out what they’re saying about me.

Question of the day: after planning to sell houses off at less than the market price, Tories now want to sell Lloyds shares off at a discount too. For the party that keeps telling us that they know business, it’s a bit weird that they keep selling things off for less than they’re worth, as that’s not what successful businesses do.

A couple of articles that may be of interest. May 2015 look at post-election coalition scenarios and how things seem to stack up a lot better for a Miliband government than a Cameron one. I think their scenarios tend to overplay how keen the Liberal Democrat membership would be to agree a second coalition – the leadership might be, but the decision’s not in their hands. Meanwhile, and fitting with my earlier talk of door-knocking, the Economist looks at campaigning on the ground, and how Labour’s better organisation is giving them a distinct edge there. In close races, having a better ground team – especially on election day – can make a big difference.

Moving down the party list, we find a regionalist party that’s probably not going to swing this election but could represent interesting trends in years to come: Yorkshire First. They’re not tied to many specific policies but rather to their ‘Yorkshire Pledge‘, calling for Yorkshire to have decision making powers of its own. It’s something that could be of interest in the next Parliament as devolution – particularly city regions – seem set to go ahead whoever is in power, and the debate over the geography of devolution, not just the powers, could be an interesting one to follow. Will Yorkshire be treated as a whole, or broken into city regions?

Nothing too interesting on the leaflet watch for today, but there is a UKIP candidate who seems to have misunderstood ‘sea change’ as ‘sea of change’ and run with that motif for his leaflets.. As he’s standing in Battersea, I’m not sure people there would welcome the prospect of the sea rushing in, as it would mean the Thames Barrier had failed.

Eighteen days to go, and if you want to do something positive before the election starts you can sign Save The Children’s Restart The Rescue petition to get EU action to save lives in the Mediterranean.

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For just £50, you too could sit on these benches.

For just £50, you too could sit on these benches.

So, the last time I wrote about the House of Lords, it didn’t spark a widespread movement to abolish it, and from the look of this year’s election manifestos, there’ll be no attempt to do so over the next few years.

Which means it’s time for me to come up with a new idea, and I think this is a good one because it provides us with a number of things:

  • A new way to appoint members of the Lords
  • A way to encourage more people to donate money to political parties
  • And, a way to make explicit what’s always been implicit in appointing Lords
  • My system is quite simple. Any donation over £50 would have to be made through a central bureau, which would record the donation and pass it on to the intended recipient. Donations could be made online, and arrangements could also be made for donations to be made through the post or at certain banks and post offices. Meanwhile, every year, a House of Lords Appointment Commission would determine how many vacancies there were for the Lords that year, given the number of members who had died, retired or been removed over the past twelve months. The Appointments Commission would also determine how many of the new peers needed to represent each party, based on its current strength in the Lords and the number of votes it had received at the last national election.

    Then, every person who had made an official donation to a party in that time would be given one entry into a Lords Lottery for every £50 they’d donated. Each party entitled to a number of appointees to the Lords would then have their nominees chosen at random from the people who had donated to it. Parties who did not make the threshold to be allocated direct seats in the draw would be placed into a draw for at least one peerage in each year, thus ensuring there was a motivation to donate to them.

    With this system we recognise the traditions of the House of Lords and ensure appointment is still linked to how much you can donate to a political party, but we add that element of chance to ensure that every donor has a chance of an appointment, and that even the smallest party could get someone appointed to Parliament to life to speak for them. Now you may say that a randomly chosendonor is not necessarily the best person to speak for a party in the Lords, because they might just have donated on a whim and may not understand that party’s ideology and beliefs. I say yes, that could be a problem, but it’s already a flaw with the current system, and why should only rich donors get a platform for their silly ideas?

    Just like the regular lottery, there could be Superdraws every few years, in which all donors are eligible and the winner gets a hereditary peerage. No longer do you need to have had the lucky break of being the descendent of a King’s mistrees to be the Earl or Countess of somewhere, now your family could get a title by pure blind chance.

    Just think how much money this could bring into politics, once everyone sees that their donation can not just only help the party they support, but it can help them too. Sure, we could have chosen the Lords by pure sortition but where’s the educational value in that? Let’s make it clear to everyone that yes, you do have a chance of getting to be in Parliament and having your views govern the nation, but it’s going to be an infinitesimally small one compared to the number of opportunities rich people get.

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    Midnight has passed, and we’re on the run in to election day, with more than half of the campaign done. There’s probably someone out there wishing the campaign was longer, but I suspect we’re all glad that the end is starting to come into sight, aren’t we? I’m beginning to understand that one of the appeals of the postal vote is being able to cast your vote early and see it all over and done with, and not feel the need to pay any more attention.

    But I’ve done this for twenty days now, and I’m going to see it through to the end, even if the last week becomes a death march.

    Saturdays are pretty much the day off for the national campaign in an election. All the big launches and speeches tend to take place in the week, because that’s when people are watching and paying attention to the news, and big stories get held over until later in the day so they can be front pages in the Sunday papers. Meanwhile, volunteers who have to work during the week are flooding into local election HQs, which makes it a good time for the VIPs to visit them rather than touring the TV studios. Others can just use it to get themselves ready for being lobbed a few softballs by Andrew Marr, or perhaps having a slightly more in depth appearance on one of the other shows.

    There’ll be polls coming out through the evening too, as the Sundays come out and announce their findings. The amusing thing with some of those will be giving us the up and down from their poll last Sunday, or a few weeks ago, as if all the other polls never happened. The sheer frequency of polling in this election is a new thing, thanks to the advent of internet polling making it a lot easier for companies to deliver multiple polls in a week. Even back when I started blogging, and during the 2005 campaign, polls were comparatively rare (especially outside an election period) and constituency-level polls unheard of. This time, of course, we have lots of polls telling us that not much is happening and if this election has a memorable phrase so far, it’s ‘variations within the margin of error (except for voters in Scotland).’

    Looking down the list of parties, the next minor one in line is the Christian People’s Alliance, but I talked about them all the way back on Day 2 on discovering they had a candidate in Colchester. So, next we find that most venerable and persistent of the fringe parties, losing deposits all over the country for decades: the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. They’re also firmly in the tradition of British humour and eccentrics, gleefully flogging the same old joke again and again regardless of how few people laugh along with.

    There’s not much point in probing the depths of their policy positions – though they have apparently released a manifesto that talks about unicorns – but one thing about their strategy this year is of interest. In previous years, the sight of a Loony at the declaration of the Prime Minister’s result was a fixture of election night, but this year then isn’t a Loony standing in Witney. There is one Nick The Flying Brick contesting Doncaster North with Ed Miliband, but the party’s leader – Howling Lord Hope – has chosen to stand in Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, perhaps to have a contest for ‘silliest looking person on the stage’ with him.

    jpfloruNo weird candidates on Election Leaflets today, but we do have an odd candidate picture. The picture on this leaflet for JP Floru, the Conservative candidate standing against Simon Hughes in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, doesn’t seem to have the same professional pose and poise one might see on other Tory election leaflets, but instead has an air of a candidate being told he needed to submit a photo within five minutes, regardless of where he was. This may well be the first election leaflet to be adorned with a selfie, but what I really want to know is who is the woman with her back to the camera, and does she know she’s being seen by thousands of voters in South London?

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