IMPORTANT NOTICE

Friday, 6 May 2011

Election Reflection

Like most political junkies, I stayed up too late last watching the results begin to come in. Reflecting this morning after some sleep, and seeing further results, I think Labour has some thing to consider.

Projections show that Labour will probably end up as the largest party, at around 37%, with the Conservatives a few points behind. Andy Burnham on Today this morning compared this result to the Conservative one of 1998, which puts last night firmly in the box marked 'a good start'.

However, some things lay deeper that Labour must reflect on, and improve on.
Firstly, Labour's gains, especially in the North of England and Wales, are based on a catastrophic collapse of support for the Liberal Democrats, and the transference of much of that vote to Labour. Can Labour really rely on this nadir of Liberal support from hereon? I suspect not. The Conservative share of the vote is broadly in line with last years GE, despite lots of bad news. If this is the low point of the Conservatives, David Cameron will be a happy man.

Secondly, the SNP gains in Scotland are a serious threat to Labour, which normally requires a good Scottish contingent to win a GE. Since devolution, Scotland has developed a strong and distinctive voice and is growing a real self-confidence. Alex Salmond personifies these values. Scottish Labour has struggled to reflect this change in Scotland. Clearly many Scots did not feel Iain Gray could lead a confident, distinctive Scottish Parliament.

Thirdly, the Conservatives had maintained their strength in the South East. If Labour is to ever form a Government again, while their Scottish MPs are under pressure, they cannot rely on northern urban areas and Wales to provide enough MPs, Labour must wins many more seats much further south.

Last night wasn't a disaster for Labour, with some positive signs. However, there remains much work to be done.



Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Why Green is Good for Red


Labour's old Constituency of the urban industrial working class has ceased to be. As the social groupings that were solid during the post war consensus have disappeared, both Labour and the Conservative party have suffered declining support.

The way to electoral success, as shown by Tony Blair and David Cameron, has been to appeal to a soft middle and hoping that the smaller hard core vote stays with you, as it has nowhere else to go.

This approach has resulted in an over emphasis on chasing the swing voter. Grumbles are abound both left and right that the heartlands are being ignored. Our Prime Ministers are now more managerial than ideological.

Without an idealogical base, our politics have become soulless. The interesting stuff in recent years has been coming from smaller parties with clear, distinct ideologies - The Greens, UKIP and the BNP.

13 years of New Labour ended on May 2010. Tony Blair took Labour, and moulded a party more friendly to business leaders than workers. Labour used view Unions as it's friends and the City with suspicion. That was turned around 180 degrees. Labour 1997 victory followed the direction set back in 1979.

Labour is now looking for it's soul once more. Looking broadly, although born in a different place, the Green agenda resonates greatly with it's modern critique of capitalism. I believe that a Labour Party based on sustainable development would not only be true to the founding principles of the labour movement, it would also appeal more broadly than it does now. This article advocates adopting some principles into the Labour Party not a merger with The Green Party.

Derek Wall (a Green Activist and Socialist) advocated some Central features of this philosophy:

  1. Ecological Wisdom
  2. Grassroots Democracy
  3. Non Violence
  4. Social Justice
The world we live in is fragile. We have growing populations struggling to feed themselves, our economies rely on oil, get scarcer and more expensive by the year and through pollution we are damaging the planet and creating global warming, a threat to us all.  Ecological wisdom must be part of our future if we are to have one.

People feel increasing powerless, their lives being run from Westminster that doesn't listen to them, The EU even less and Corporations that run rings around whole Governments. Part of the renewal people seek is real grassroots democracy.

Non violence has gained momentum following difficult conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. The only answer long term is put the guns down and talk, and arrive at a political solution. Peace at the end of a gun is no peace.

If one pillar is key for Labour, it is social justice. Labour was built on it, but from 1997 to 2010 social mobility shrank and the wealth gap grew. This is Labour's biggest failure. Societies that experience such wealth and power inequalities will always be disjointed and weak. The most happy and stable countries tend to have less inequality.

I am not trying to promote Green Labour. Labour is Labour. However, if Labour's core values could encompass these four pillars, it could just be a revolution.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Where's the Next Radical Big Idea?


Observing politics since May 2010, one thing has become clear to me: no mainstream political party has a credible radical big idea.

Let me explain from the view of the English big three:


The Conservatives


The only real game in town for the Conservatives is reducing the deficit. This goal looms over everything. A number of strategies are being employed:

  1. Increasing taxes
  2. Reducing spending
  3. Reforming public services
There is no big idea about 1 and 2. These tools have been used by all previous Governments.

Health, education and the welfare state have been subject to major reform.

Andrew Lansley's proposals to change the way health care is delivered does appear to be radical. However, on closer inspection, the increasing involvement of the private sector and devolvement of power is really an extension of the reforms begun by Labour. The scale is somewhat larger, but the idea isn't new. A common theme with the more radical proposals from the Government is a failure to convince the public and poor implementation on the ground.  The health proposals have been halted short of clearing the commons for 'further consultation'. In other words, no matter how much they have tried, they cannot convince health professionals that the proposals will work. So, even if the reforms are a radical big idea, they look far from credible.

On education, once again, the Conservative policy of increasing tuition fees is just extending the fees introduced by Tony Blair. The implementation has been terrible, as the envisaged average fee has been exceeded by even the poorest Universities. This will cost the Government an extra £1 billion as they pay the fees upfront. Where will the money come from for this black hole, a few months into the plan? This level of fees was entirely predictable - demand outstrips supply for University places, so the even the worst Universities have a captive market. Basic supply and demand economics.

Free schools just extend the principles that created academies, another Tony Blair policy. Michael Gove's handling of the details and the delivery on the ground has been very poor.

On welfare reform, IDS over many years had really worked hard to develop an understanding on the failure of the welfare state. In Government, these plans required serious upfront investment to make the changes, supported across the political spectrum. In truth the investment hasn't been there to deliver the policy as originally conceived. What we are left with is cuts to the help required by the most needy.

In summary, the Conservatives are largely following the path begun by Tony Blair, but with very poor delivery and implementation. Barely big ideas, hardly credible.

One final note about 'The Big Society' - it is clear that most of the public don't have a clue what it means, and the work of the third sector in our communities has been totally hamstrung with the cuts to local government. Potentially, the most radical and biggest idea of the Conservatives, appears to be rather ethereal, to say the least.

Labour


Ed Miliband has said in a number of speeches after winning the leadership that New Labour is over.

However, it is clear that his blank page actually still bears the traces of New Labour. His leadership of the Labour Party is currently based on opposition to the Government's ideas, without indicating the direction of travel  he wishes to take. A long term policy review is under way, but some in party like myself, feel a drift. Ed drifts along the current, seeing what will turn up.

Ed has made his Shadow Chancellor accept the orthodoxy of deficit reduction without much criticism. He has also used language around choice, which tells me he while he hasn't used the terms third way and New Labour, his breath smells of them.

Labour is stood staring at the headlights of the 2015  Conservative General Election truck, as it races towards it. Ed shows no sign of making the radical reform of the Labour Party that it needs, breaking entirely into a new direction with big, radical ideas. If he carries on the 'will I' 'won't I' indecision on party direction, I'm afraid he will soon see George Osborne holding the truck's steering wheel with glee as it mows Labour down.

Liberal Democrats


Nick Clegg's party is clutching onto the Coalition at one level, in a hideous death lock.

At the grass roots it is traumatised that the leadership is leading the party to electoral oblivion.

Before the Liberal Democrats can develop some serious and radical big ideas, they must face the voter's wrath. Only when it has picked up what is left of it after this battering can it move forward.

Conclusion


The Electorate of this country are desperate of an alternative to the Conservative/New Labour ideology. What our democracy needs is a well constructed approach that is different. New ideas that will help the underclass move from the trap that the free market has left them in, and promote real social mobility.

These ideas will be need to be big, radical and carefully crafted.

Sadly, no mainstream party is offering this.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Religious Freedom and Tolerance



Despite being a lifelong Atheist, I have always been interested in religious matters. Questions about the right to agree, or just as importantly to disagree, with someone else's beliefs yet retaining respect and tolerance, goes to the heart of freedom in a democracy. I have misquoted Voltaire as much as anyone on this matter. Some recent events have brought these issues to the forefront of my mind.

In France a law has been passed to make the wearing of a full Islamic head-covering illegal. France has a 'muscular' secularism, and because the law makers in France have decreed this type of clothing is 'illegal', the tiny minority who have chosen to follow this Islamic dress code face arrest.

Today, I heard Damien Green, Conservative Immigration Minister, talk about an issue with immigration as being the lack of a shared experience within the whole community creating tension.

The nature of the debate around the UK's Religious Freedoms has often been framed around fundamentalism in recent years, and in particular fundamental Islam. Since 9/11 the West has struggled to reconcile the freedom we enjoy with a sense that some within our society would wish to bring death and destruction to us.

I believe that the strength of a society's freedom can be measured by how well we tolerate minority views that we personally might not approve of. I am a vegetarian of 24 years, and personally think that killing animals for foods is unethical and distasteful. However, it is a view shared by a minority within society. I will gladly argue with anyone about the merits or otherwise of being a vegetarian or being a carnivore. Such disagreements must take place where both sides have a basic respect for each other and be tolerant of those who do not see the world in quite the same way as ourselves.

Muslim women in France live in a democracy, where the law should protect their right to choose. If a small number choose to follow a religious code that means they wear a head scarf, it is for them and not the State to judge that.

Back in Britain, we also have a choice. We should allow all people to practice a religion without the fear of discrimination.  Those forces that declare that because someone has a strong faith in Islam, it means they don't respect British values are wrong. British values are broad, reflecting the myriad of influences that have shaped our Nation, culture and language.

I have travelled across the world and one thing really strikes home – most people, whatever Country they live in, whatever religion they follow, want the same things. A safe home, a happy life and a healthy family.

Extremists are very small in number and are not representative. We must not let them change our core values, because if we do they have won.

So to anyone concerned about 'integration', just ask them to go out there and talk to their fellow citizens of other faiths, skin colour and ethnicity. They just might be surprised to discover they are no different to themselves underneath their skin or Burqa.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Grand National - When Will the Cruelty End?



Another Aintree meeting has finished, and yet again the nation was glued to the most famous horse race in the world, The Grand National. No other horse race has the power to get Grandmothers, Uncles, Mums and Dads to enter a betting shop quite like this race. It is estimated that £300 million is bet on the outcome.

So what makes this race so special? Firstly, it is over a mammoth four and a half miles - a real endurance test. Secondly, some of the fences are huge, so represent a real challenge for both horse and rider. Thirdly, winning the race relies on skilful jumping, physical endurance and more importantly, a bucket load of luck. The usual method of predicting a winner based on form is often no better than picking out a name you like or the the colour of the rider's silks. Fourthly, it has a record of producing 'emotive' winners, like Bob Champion recovering from cancer. 

Ballabriggs came in first, and the race reports concentrate on the winner. Sadly, barely earning a small paragraph at the bottom of these reports, Ornais and Dooneys Gate fell and were destroyed. The Daily Mirror report did not even name them.

Since the year 2000, 20 horses have died trying to complete the Aintree course. Over the longer period it claims the lives of around 3 horses every year.

This is totally unacceptable in animal welfare terms. We are told that the horses like racing and jumping, and wouldn't do it if they didn't want to. This entirely misses the point, in my opinion.

Race horses, like all animals, are not our objects to use for pleasure or our purposes as we see fit. We have a moral duty to protect all living creatures in our care, to protect them from harm. Would it be acceptable to allow your dog to enter a competition, where 5% of the animals taking part will get killed in the process? 

No.

The metaphorical pile of dead horses piling up at Beeches Brook and The Chair surely tells us it time to stop the Grand National in it's current form, and if it can't be changed to radically reduce the risk of to the horses then it should come to an end entirely.

Animal Aid and other groups have been campaigning to this for some time. Please lobby your MP to do the right thing and end this barbarity.








Saturday, 9 April 2011

Political Renewal - A Philosophical Approach - Socrates

I have been thinking a great deal about political philosophy in recent times.

Following May's Election defeat, Labour is searching for renewal. The philosophical basis on what this will be based on is currently unclear.

Traditionally political parties have based their philosophy on writers such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman and others. A thought occurred to me - What would Socrates make of current politics? How would Nietzsche view things?

I have looked at the position Labour finds itself in, and how the great thinkers might just have seen it. I will begin with Socrates


The Socratic Method


Socrates believed in the application of logic. Every policy would be examined to see what hypothetically it was intended to achieve. He would then ask questions about the assumptions present, and see if those assumptions are actually correct. Socrates was clear that many ideas that are considered to be common sense by the majority are based on incorrect assumptions that are taken for granted without a rigorous analysis. Contradictions would be eliminated - if the stated aim  was improve the incomes of those at the lowest levels, reducing income tax at the same time as increasing VAT would fail the test.

A practical upshot of this is that the well considered view of an expert, even if a minority view, should carry more weight than the unconsidered view of the majority. He would strongly support Quangos that are expert bodies advising the Government.

For instance, with regards to the Health Service, he would consult widely amongst Doctors and Nurses and others who directly deliver the service. He would no doubt have very little time for Civil Servants and Treasury Officials.

He would also give short shrift to Dogma. Any policy aimed at delivering an ideal that not evidentially provable as beneficial would soon be seen off.

Self Development not Material Wealth


He believed that we should aspire to self development, and working entirely for material wealth alone was not good for the individual or the community. Possessing wealth is not virtuous in itself.

Financial gain would need to lead to improvements in the person and the community for it to virtuous. I think that he would be keen to see the earnings of the very wealthy being directed to improvements for everyone, via better funding for education, housing and health care. Whether this would be achieved via philanthropy or taxation would probably be less important.

Policies that redistributed wealth from the rich to the poor would surely be Socratic. The value society places on education would also be enhanced. For instance, policies that broadened education, such as tertiary education for all regardless of background, would in his manifesto.

Overview


A Socratic approach to politics would be a technocratic meritocracy in my view. The view of the mass media would not hold much sway. The views of 1 million tabloid readers on a technical subject would probably be discarded for the small committee of experts. One could conclude that a Socratic Government would care less for listening to the electorate and more  for doing something well.

Whether such an approach would meet the modern democratic ideal is doubtful.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

It's no to AV for me

Here is a letter that I had published in the Batley News on the 24th February 2011:


Regarding the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum, May 2011, I would recommend that everyone looks closely at both systems, as I believe AV is being sold as something it isn’t.
First Past the Post (FPTP) is criticised for not being proportionate, but AV can be much worse. Using AV, in 1997 and 2005 Labour would have got even bigger majorities than under FPTP. In 1997 the majority would have been 245, not 179, 68 per cent of the seats with 43.2 per cent of the vote. In 2005 the majority would have been 108, not 66, 59 per cent of the seats with 35.2 per cent of the vote.
AV does not help small parties. The parties with fewest first preferences are eliminated first, so they have no more chance of winning seats than under FPTP. In addition, if for example, the Conservatives lose a seat because 2000 people voted UKIP, that is the sharpest political lesson. Under AV, the UKIP vote would probably go to the Conservatives as a later preference. Therefore, the effect of the UKIP first preference would be entirely wasted.
I support electoral reform - genuinely proportionate systems such as STV, AV plus or AMS could be really be transformative. However, we are not being offered a proportionate system.
AV does not solve any of the issues encountered with FPTP, but loses its key benefit - a clear simplicity. My tag line would be ‘AV - What is the point?’

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Improving the Grassroots Labour Party

The document 'Refounding Labour'  was launched a few days, beginning a period of consultation by The Labour Party to look at the the issue of party renewal. All submission ends in Friday 24th June.

I will be submitting my own ideas on renewing the grassroots. They are the heart, the soul and the foot soldiers key to electoral success.

Here is my submission:

"The basic units of the Labour Party are Branches and Constituencies. They are, in my view, currently unfit for purpose. Members should be the campaigners, the community activists and the foot soldiers. People join the Labour Party because they believe that by working together, we can achieve more. They join  Labour because they believe in Social Justice and fighting inequality. They join Labour because they share the belief that Labour best represents the interests of ordinary people.

In my experience Branch and Constituency meetings are too often dull, bureaucratic and do not engage with members. Members should be talking about how the recent rise in Tuition fees will be stopping children from ordinary homes from getting the education the privileged take for granted, and how Labour could do it better and differently. While the Coalition is uprooting the basics of our society that we value - the NHS, education and care for the needy, branch meetings are taken over by 20 minutes of debate over when the local Co-Operative pay their affiliation fee, and who the cheque should be sent to. Councillors reports can take over the meeting for too long. After such a long reports, the vital debates over critical, national issues are given little if any time.

This makes ordinary members lose interest in the party, as their main motivation for joining is unsatisfied. How many meetings have the same people attending, working to the same bureaucratic agenda for years, wondering why the new members do not come?

I propose the following changes:

Constituency Parties


1. The part of Constituency business such as payments from Affiliate Organisations, and other minor managerial matters should be handled by a small executive on an ad hoc basis, away from the main meetings. Such matters should perhaps be summarised in document offered to meetings every quarter at the most.
2. The Constituency meetings every other month should be dedicated to debate and policy discussions. These should be broad reaching and involve independent expert speakers from outside the party, who can offer a full, rounded picture. The meeting should conclude with an agreed submission to offer up to the policy-making process.
3. The social aspect is very important. Alternating with policy meetings guest speakers, such as Cabinet Ministers and other MPs and Community Leaders, should be invited to address the party. These events should be social, with good quality refreshments available. These meetings would ideal opportunities for fund-raising and bringing people together.

Branches

1. The key function for the branches should be local campaigning.
2. Every branch should be able to identify local issues on which to focus: school field closures, dangerous junctions and so forth. The branch should lobby on behalf of the local community visibly to improve matters all year round. This will wed the party firmly to the local community and create a strong bond between Labour and other local community organisations.

These changes would revive Labour, build strong local communities and be a platform on which to win a General Election."


Tuesday, 29 March 2011

For Sam

Reading the recent update from Amnesty International on The Green Benches took my mind back the memory of a dear friend, Sam.


Some years back I was involved with Human Writes, an organisation that befriends people on Death Row in the US. As active campaigning against the death penalty is an obstacle to getting good access to Death Row, they entirely focus on providing friendship and support for prisoners.


I was put in contact with Sam,sentenced in 2001. We exchanged letters and soon became friends. He was always very polite and very keen see the world through my eyes. He often said I was his window to the world. We became genuine friends, and I learned more and more about his life.


The Early Years


Sam was born to a family ruled by absolute terror, where no trace of love or care was present. Family rules were enforced with a rod of iron, and minor infringements were brutally dealt with. Sam recalled being locked in a dark cupboard for hours at a time as a punishment. Violence was used against him and his brothers, including beatings with bare-wired cables, deliberate burns and even electrocutions. Further, Sam was subject to sexual abuse by his father over many years.


Sam, did try to get help, but all the Authority figures he dealt with ignored or disbelieved him for years and years. Eventually, the horror of this family home was discovered and Sam and his brothers were put into foster care.


A Trouble Youth


As Sam had fallen through every safety net and suffered serious trauma of every kind, he struggled to cope with adult world. He loved the outdoors and found occasional work in the oil fields of Texas. This was never stable, and Sam found himself getting involved in crime. He served prison sentences for forgery, burglary and for possession of a prohibited firearm.


Sam's Capital Crime


On the 18th January 1998 Sam was collected from home by his brothers in pick up truck. They were heading out to the Texas border to pick up illegal immigrants from Mexico. A 27 year old Hispanic male was picked up, and in the ensuing struggle received 10 stab wounds. The victim escaped from the truck, but died later.


Sam and his brothers were quickly picked up by the police. Sam was subsequently charged with second degree murder while committing a Felony.


Sam always admitted to stabbing the victim, but always denied robbery was the motive. He said that he snapped, as the victim reminded him of his father.


The victim was in full possession of his valuables when found dead.


Sam's Trial


Sam was essentially penniless, so his legal representation was State appointed. In the US, lawyers doing this work get less time and money to defend clients, compared to the rich pickings of defending the wealthy. Therefore, Sam's attorney did a very poor job with Sam's case. Aspects of his defence that should have investigated correctly were not, something that was to have terrible consequences later.


The case against Sam was that the victim was killed when being robbed. As the victim had no valuables taken, the evidence was weak. However, while deliberating, the jury came across and considered a statement made by Sam's brother, stating that Sam had intended to go out and rob someone that evening.


This evidence was not put forward by the prosecution, so how the jury got it remains a mystery. The Judge, instead of declaring a mistrial with the current jury, simply asked them to ignore this evidence and carry on. They came back and found Sam guilty, and the Death Sentence was passed on the 16th March 2001.


The Appeal


Sam appealed the sentence on the grounds that his attorney made fundamental mistakes with his defence. However, the law basically said that any evidence known at the time of the original trial, but not submitted, cannot be considered later. In this way Sam was condemned by the actions of his lawyer.


Another angle, that the statement of his brother should not have been given to the jury, and by the jury seeing what was an unproven, unchallenged piece of evidence they were fundamentally compromised, was rejected.


Eventually, Sam's appeals ran out of road.


Death by Lethal Injection


On Tuesday 29th April 2010 Sam was killed by lethal injection.


First, Sodium thiopental is given. It is a very strong ultra-short action barbiturate, an anaesthetic agent capable of rendering the prisoner unconscious in a few seconds.


Next, Pancuronium is injected. This is a non-depolarizing muscle relaxant, which causes complete, fast and sustained paralysis of the skeletal striated muscles, including the diaphragm and the rest of the respiratory muscles; this would eventually cause death by asphyxiation.


Finally, Potassium chloride is injected that stops the heart.


The Aftermath


Sam was not perfect, he did many things wrong and he killed a man.


However, Sam was brutalised and abused by all those in his life who should have nurtured him. People are not born killers or monsters, they are the product of how they are brought up, and the values this upbringing instils in them. Sam's start in life meant he was damaged from the beginning.


The flaws in the justice system are clear. The quality of justice received is too often dependent on the size of your bank account.


Death Row is full of people like Sam – like in the UK, a dysfunctional upbringing, poor education and poverty are strongly correlated to crime.


Please don't let Sam's death be in vain, or the death of his victim either. The way to prevent such tragedies is makes sure that no child grows up in the poverty and suffer the abuse that Sam suffered, and that everyone is given the chance to contribute to society in a positive way, without inequality or barriers.


The true face of the Death Penalty is an ugly one.







Monday, 21 March 2011

Reasons for Labour to be Cheerful

In recent weeks Ed Miliband's Labour has been in the unusual situation of being ahead in the polls, despite doing rather little, being kind.

Some Labour supporters (myself included) have been rather critical of Ed's light touch Leadership. One of the sharpest pieces I've read comes from  Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home - How-deep-is-Labours-support? An excellent analysis.

When researching the votes Labour has won and lost, by social class, I found some very interesting data from Ipsos MORI. A summary of UK voting by Social Class in General Elections 1979 - 2010 is below. I have also included the percentage of the UK Electorate by social class

(Please Click on the Image to Enlarge it)

Up to and including 1992 the ABC1 category was very strongly Conservative over Labour by 32%+. In 1997 Labour smashed this dominance. Tony Blair consciously  re-aligned the party, successfully attracting this Electorate. Labour also improved the C2 and DE classes substantially.

Forward to 2010. While Labour lost some of the support from the ABC1 classification, the Conservatives were substantially below the levels of 1992 and earlier. This must concern them.

In the C2 group Labour were below the levels of support from any GE from 1979 to 2005, as is the DE class.

So what does this mean?

Due to the size of the ABC1 class, they cannot be ignored. Labour cannot win without keeping these voters happy and taking some back from the Conservatives. However, Labour must be delighted this group has stayed quite loyal.

The C2 and DE classes are critical for Labour to start winning General Elections again. Both swung alarmingly from Labour in 2010. However, the austerity measures the UK faces will hurt this group very hard, so should be easy to targets to get back.

The Labour Leader is therefore facing a dilemma that he must solve - how does he make Labour attractive to the working classes while keeping the middle class on board.

Answers on postcard (but don't mention Tony Blair or New Labour. He says he doesn't like that.)

Update - 22nd March 2011

I have put a calculator at the bottom of the page that predicts the overall result of a General Election based on the support for each party from each social class. It is based on the social class size that Polling companies weight to today. 

Have fun! 

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

Last weekend I took my two year old Daughter to the Jungle Experience at Manor Heath in Halifax.

It's an amazing place, where you can see tropical plants, butterflies and Quails running around your feet. It is entirely funded by what people choose to put in the donation boxes.

It was a quiet, rainy day and we found ourselves the only visitors. The place was being looked after by a lovely Senior Gentlemen who was tending to the Quail chicks. He let my Daughter go to look at the tiny birds. 

After passing a few moments in casual chat I asked him about the future of the place. He informed me that it was under threat. It has over 80,000 visitors per year, but I was informed that despite having over 300 visitors the previous Sunday only £4 was donated.

The plan is introduce a mandatory charge for year, and if it isn't financial viable after that then closure beckons.

What was moving was the fact that he loved the place, and tended the animals and flora with love and care. He knew the different Quail, despite their number, by plumage alone. He explained that what really made him sad was that so many poor families living locally were known to him. He knew them from being babes in arm to eight year old children. He knew the difference such a lovely, peaceful oasis made to some very disadvantaged families.

While this was conveyed to me, he didn't even mention the fact if it closed it would almost certainly mean he wouldn't work again. That wasn't his concern.

No one would argue that butterflies should trump care for the elderly. However, are we to leave local services to entirely utilitarian functions? What about the aspects of life that add quality and open our eyes to the rich planet we share?

It would be a tragic loss to lose a wonderful place that brightens up the lives of people whose access to such environments would otherwise be non existent.

More importantly, it would even more tragic for Calderdale Council to lose such wonderful, inspirational people such as the lovely gentleman who is so devoted to his service to the community.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Why Labour Needs an Economic Plan

So, here we are 8 months after a General Election defeat. Things don't look too shabby - Labour has a new Leader, and under his Leadership the party are polling at around 13-14 points above the General Election result. Labour's lead is probably around 5% at the moment. The Coalition already has an embattled hue about it, and serious tensions are present. The economy is looking patchy, and the green shoots of recovery from  2010 are clinging on to life. So things are good for Labour, right?

On closer inspection, Labour are doing okay, but any thought of winning the next election looks fanciful indeed, as things stand. Labour has one major weakness - it has no decent economic plan.

In the commons the Coalition provides Labour with what appears to be open goals - tuition fees, the VAT rise and cuts to public services. The trouble, when challenged, all Labour can currently do is look embarrassed, stare at their feet and mumble something about halving the deficit in four years.

The truth is out there - 'The Darling Plan' from 2010 - Labour would probably have done something similar.

There is also another truth - The acceleration public spending from 2007 was counter to what should have happened, according to Keynesian principles. Look at Germany, for example, increasing taxes when the economy was doing well gave them room for manoeuvre in the downturn. The German Economy is expected to grow at 2.3% in 2011, much better than the UK will manage. Labour acted as if the economic cycle didn't exist and that the economy would continually grow. Sorry Gordon, you can't end boom and bust.

Of course, the bank bailout was costly, as was the subsequent loss of tax receipts over the whole economy that Labour's spending plans relied upon. Labour's reaction to the crisis was excellent. However, pretending that it was all the bank's fault is taking it too far.

Why does this matter? It is very clear that the party regarded as the best for the economy will win the election.

In the 29/03/2005 YouGov released a poll. It placed the Conservatives on 34%, Labour on 35%. Labour's approval rating was -22%, similar to the Coalition's now. Crucially, the public thought Labour was best to handle the economy over the Conservatives by 38% against 25%. On other economic questions, Labour led the Conservatives by at least 11%, except taxation.

Labour went on to win a third consecutive GE weeks later.

Another poll was released on the 27/01/11. It asked people who they thought would run the economy well - the Conservative polled 38%, Labour 28%.

Other evidence shows that people do apportion a large part of the blame for the Deficit on Labour. In essence, the Coalition cuts are seen as tough, but also part of the necessary medicine. It is also clear that Labour hasn't offered what is seen as a remotely credible alternative.

Unless Labour can really demonstrate an understanding of the Deficit that people find credible and offer an alternative, any hope of a victory at the next General Election looks bleak.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Who's Got the Best Policy?

Part of a YouGov survey, fieldwork dated 16th -17th January, generated some interesting data regarding the Public view on which party has the best policy for handling various key issues.

Another YouGov survey, field work 17th-18th,  generated some additional data, that when cross referenced with the information from the previous survey, leads to some implications for all the parties.

People to were offered a list of issues and asked
"Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time? Please tick up to three."

Also:
"Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing you and your family at this time? Please tick up to three.
Here are the results:



What is most notable is that when asked about their own lives, Immigration, Crime and The Economy fall back significantly. Immigration and Crime are often subject to a high level media coverage, but this coverage probably overstates the impact they have on most people's day to day existence.

The Economy can be quite abstract: inflation up by 0.5% and Q4 GDP down 0.3% doesn't directly impact most people in an obvious fashion. People notice unemployment if it affects them and increases in key prices such as petrol.

The issues which affect people daily - the tax they pay, access to the doctor and transport (bus times and traffic jams) are much more significant.


The problem this data raises for policy makers is that the headlines in the tabloids are a poor guide to what really irks the public.

So which party has the best policies for to tackle the big issues?

Here is the data:



Historical evidence shows that the party who most trusted with the economy, all things being equal, performs well during a General Election. Therefore, when Ed Balls and George Osborne do battle over the next few years, the prize is huge. Whoever is correct on the Economy will probably put one of their Leader's feet into 10 Downing Street at the next General Election.

Further analysis of this data regarding how the Liberal Democrats answered the question gave the following results:


What is interesting is broadly they have far less confidence in the policies of their own party (Con and Lab mostly rated their own party at 75%+).

Between Conservative and Labour as a second choice, on the big issues the Liberal Democrats remaining after the post Election loss of support seem to much more disposed to the Conservatives. This suggests that Labour has probably extracted the maximum benefit from tempting over left-leaning Liberal Democrats.

It must be noted the sample sizes were not huge, but the data is still interesting, and may offer a few pointers.