englandjigsawIn this interview with the Guardian, George Osborne does make some good points about the importance of devolution, and does seem to be genuinely committed to giving more powers away from Whitehall, even to the extent of giving some local authorities more control over the purse strings. Sure, it’s not full devolution or a commitment to proper federalism, but when it’s compared to Eric Pickles’ vision of localism – where you’re locally free to decide how much you agree with him – it’s a refreshing change.

However, all that’s tempered by his devotion to a single model of devolution – combined authorities (usually as ‘city regions’) with elected mayors. I’ve written before about the problems caused by combined authorities in that they’re just adding another level of bureaucracy to an already confusing system of local governance and not making things any easier or more democratic.

However, in the light of some of the rhetoric from the election campaign, I’m still confused by the way Osborne – and so much of Whitehall – is continuing to push elected mayors, despite the fact that people have consistently rejected them. We hear howls of protest whenever it’s suggested that the SNP might consider having another independence referendum in Scotland in the next few years, on the grounds that last September settled the issue for a generation. Apparently, though, the people of English cities aren’t allowed to have the same decisive say over how they want to run their affairs. People want more power locally, and to insist that they can only have that power if they agree to Whitehall’s way of running things – a directly elected model of sole power that doesn’t apply nationally – is to get devolution wrong from the start. It shouldn’t be about regions conforming to what the centre wants to get power, it should be about them claiming the powers they need to use in the way they decide is best.

Insisting on a single way of doing things is the Treasury’s way of asserting and remaining in control through any devolution process. Insisting on something the people have already rejected because Whitehall knows best is anti-democratic and undermines the whole purpose of devolution from the start.

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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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People who were born after this poster was used are eligible to vote in this election

People who were born after this poster was used are eligible to vote in this election

When Margaret Thatcher went back on to the campaign trail in 2001, they managed to link it to The Mummy Returns, which was in cinemas at the time. Unfortunately for Tony Blair – but fortunately for us – no one’s yet come out with a series of Daddy movies, and none of the movies currently in cinemas really work for him. I very much doubt he’d want to be linked with a film called Insurgent, for a start.

His intervention may be something that affects the campaign, but I’m starting to get the feeling that we’re in a campaign where most people would like something to happen that would excite people. It’s all feeling a bit like 2001, where despite all the bluster from all sides (‘thirty days to save the pound!’), very little changed at the end of it. It’s the sort of campaign that feels of vital importance to everyone inside it, but it’s not reaching anyone outside. Then again, maybe someone’s taken one of my earlier Twitter ideas to heart and hacked the computers of the various polling companies to show no real change in the results when in reality they’re churning up and down. I think you could call it a psychological experiment to see what happens to academics and pundits over an extended period with no real change in their data. (The first symptom appears to be starting #constituencysongs on Twitter)

Of course, a lot of the campaign time at the moment is going to be taken up with people getting nomination papers filled in and returned. This can take up a lot of candidate and campaigner time, especially if there’s a council election going on and you’re having to chase round to get papers filled in, find out where your candidates have taken them off to , or just try and decipher the names they’ve got and work out if they’re on the electoral roll. Those are all things I’ve done in the past in an attempt to make sure everything’s done in time for the deadline. (And if you’re suddenly possessed by the desire to stand, you have until 10am 4pm (apologies for the earlier error) on Thursday to get a nomination form filled in and returned)

David Cameron visited the Game of Thrones set today, and claimed he’s a big fan, but I can’t see what attraction there’d be for him in a series about a bunch of feuding aristocrats whose feuds lead to terrible times for the (barely noticed) ordinary people. After all, a Lannistory always gets someone else to pay his debts.

I’ve noticed something about the Tories’ ‘coalition of chaos’ leaflet (which is going out a lot earlier in the campaign than the ‘Danger! Hung Parliament!’ ones did last time). Obviously, there’s the fact they use Salmond instead of Sturgeon to represent the SNP, which both dates it and reveals their sexism, but they also stick Farage alongside Miliband, Clegg and Salmond on the ‘chaos’ side. The problem with that is that all those parties have ruled out the possibility of a coalition with UKIP, while the one leader who hasn’t is David Cameron…

No odd candidates to feature today, but when the nomination lists come out, I’m sure we’ll find some good examples. However, the contest for ‘silliest line written in an ostensible serious article’ has a frontrunner who may not be caught for the rest of the campaign: “Ed Miliband, surely as left-wing a leader as you’ll find outside Central America”. That comes from this article, which seems to stem from a bizarre idea of right-wing commentators that it’s surprising that contemporary Scots don’t share the same beliefs as the 18th century Scottish intellectual elite. Maybe they’ll suddenly swing to that belief in the campaign, but articles saying they’ve all gone mad are unlikely to be a catalyst for that happening.

Just a month to go until election day. We can survive this if we support each other, I’m sure of it…

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Worth Reading 165: Taxing gamblers

Scotland’s colour revolution? – “It’s belatedly struck me that many features of the Yes campaign, and its post-referendum continuation in the SNP surge, come sharply into focus if you see what’s going on as a colour revolution against Labour Scotland.” Ken MacLeod offers an interesting take on Scottish politics.
The Tories want to give away houses to make sure we have enough houses – Jonn ‘build more bloody houses’ Elledge on the idiocy of the Tory plans to extend Right To Buy to housing associations.
Revealed: how British voters’ political mood swings – John Bartle of the University of Essex’s latest research on how the ‘policy mood’ of the voting public swings in an opposite direction to the Government.
The Unbearable Angst of being Britain – We need to decide what we want Britain to be in the world before we get obsessed with the minutiae of defence spending, says Tim Oliver, otherwise we’re having a meaningless debate.
Why did Brussels become the capital of Europe? Because Belgium starts with letter B! – Brussels’ role as the capital of Europe came about as an accident, inheriting the role when no one could agree on an alternative.

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Worth Reading 161: A stoic in purple

Doorsteps, Dogs and Doughnuts – A Dozen Worst and Best Election Moments – I think many of us will have sone election memories similar to the ones Alex Wilcock recounts here.
Could a ‘citizen’s income’ work? – A long and detailed report looking into the issue from the Joseph Rowntree foundation.
Global warming and the death of a magical sports tradition – How a change in the climate has made an epic Dutch ice skating challenge very unlikely to ever happen again.
Wherefore art thou, Honest Abe? – It’ll take more than a few words from a Great Man of history to keep the United Kingdom together, according to Lallands Peat Worrier.
Why UK politicians could learn a lot from the Pirate party – I personally think the Pirate bubble has burst (not that it ever inflated much in Britain) but the wider points Paul Mason makes here about the people having vision while the politicians are obsessed with minutiae are good.

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Worth Reading 158: The memory of Regional Railways

The Time Everyone “Corrected” the World’s Smartest Woman – Marilyn Vos Savant solved the Monty Hall Problem, even if a lot of people wanted to tell her that she hadn’t.
Is Work Good? – “the problem that comes with this one-eyed focus on paid work is that there is a grave danger it reinforces the value of paid work only at the cost of reducing the value of other human activities and social roles. Paid work is only one kind of work; and doing paid work is only one way of being human.”
Are You Man Enough for the Men’s Rights Movement? – GQ meets some of the MRAs, and it’s not an edifying spectacle. (Warning: article contains discussion of rape and abuse, as well as the usual MRA bullshit)
Why Natalie Bennett should shrug off this ‘humiliation’ – “Therefore, nobody in opposition – not Bennett, not Ed Miliband, not Nigel Farage – should ever get into a conversation about how they will fund something without first underlining that the way things exist at the moment is completely wrecked. The status quo is broken; it’s not even static, it’s constantly worsening.”
Democratising the Scottish NHS: A recent experiment in electing Health Board Directors did not prove successful – Relevant to my last post: just making a position elected doesn’t magically create more democracy.

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Worth Reading 140: Character limit

For those in peril on the sea – “This is where British politics is right now. It’s not a departure from the EU that should be worrying, but their trajectory out of humanity.”
The nuclear attack on the UK that never happened – The 1982 war game exercise that was the basis for Threads.
Brands of Nonsense – Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin on the history of branding, and the current trend for turning universities into brands.
The fall and rise of the TV critic – The history of TV criticism in the mainstream press (FT, may require registration)
“Oor Broken Politics” – Flying Rodent wonders if this is the moment at which Scottish politics turns from the mundane into the partisan.

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