Yorkshire First Results in Wakefield

There’s plenty to be digested on both a local and national level and I aim to do that gradually over the next few weeks. However, I thought readers might be interested in how Yorkshire First performed in Wakefield.

I stood in my home ward of Wakefield North which is a bit of a battleground for UKIP these days. The results over the years have shifted in favour of the UKIP candidate (who is a thoroughly nice chap), though obviously Wakefield is a Labour stronghold. 54 seats out of 63 are currently held by Labour with the Conservatives having 6, UKIP 2 and 1 Independent sitting on the council. The lack of opposition is something for a future post though. In the meantime, here are the results from my ward:

Green Party – 395 (6.3%)
Yorkshire First – 161 (2.6%)
Conservative Party – 1495 (23.9%)
Labour Party – 2666 (42.6%)
TUSC – 216 (3.5%)
UKIP – 1319 (21.1%)

For me, 2.6% is a great start. With it being something of a three-way battle, it’s heartening to know that over 150 people put a cross next to my name instead of the big three. It’s also a varied field with 12.4% of the vote going to the three smaller parties.

Next, my colleague Martin Roberts stood in parliamentary, district and parish elections. This is the result from his parliamentary seat, Hemsworth:

UKIP – 8565 (20.2%)
Liberal Democrats – 1357 (3.2%)
Conservative Party – 9694 (22.9%)
Yorkshire First – 1018 (2.4%)
Labour Party 21772 – (51.3%)

To get over 1000 votes is phenomenal and I’m really proud of Martin. He’s been a very active campaigner in the last few months and I think that dedication showed here. Labour were always going to win the seat but to take 2.4% of votes in a parliamentary election is brilliant. In the district council elections he stood for the ward of Ackworth, North Elmsall and Upton:

Labour Party – 3437 (45.7%)
Conservative Party – 2081 (27.7%)
Yorkshire First – 493 (6.6%)
UKIP – 1507 (20.0%)

Again, this is excellent and there are definitely lessons to be taken from that result. As for the parish ward of Ackworth – Moor Top, I won’t list the results of all 16 candidates (voters get up to eight choices per ballot paper) but here is Martin’s result:

Yorkshire First – 591 (5.2%)

There were 8 Labour candidates on the ballot paper, 6 of whom were elected and, indeed, many of the ballot papers I saw voted primarily for Labour candidates above all others. In parish council elections that’s certainly a consideration for the future. Nevertheless, that’s another good result for Martin.

Our final candidate in the Wakefield district was Arnie Craven who stood in the parliamentary seat of Morley and Outwood (this seat is half Leeds and half Wakefield). Now, if that seat wasn’t famous on Thursday morning it was by Friday afternoon. The incumbent Labour MP (and Shadow Chancellor) Ed Balls lost his seat and there’s something very interesting about this result:

Labour – 18354 (38.0%)
Yorkshire First – 479 (1.0%)
UKIP – 7951 (16.5%)
Green Party – 1264 (2.6%)
Conservative Party – 18776 (38.9%)
Liberal Democrats – 1426 (3.0%)

So Ed Balls lost by 422 votes and Arnie got 479. I’m not saying that people who voted for him may have otherwise voted for Labour but it’s a compelling figure nonetheless and it shows how smaller parties can chop into the vote share of the mainstream.

Those are the results for our district. Plenty to chew over and may I say a personal thank you to Martin and Arnie for standing alongside me as Yorkshire First candidates in this election.

Musings on the Debates

The furore over the televised debates rolls on like the distraction technique it quite obviously is. So much time is being spent wittering about who should be included that politicians are avoiding many of those difficult questions they should be facing a hundred days before a general election. It’s ingenuous really – and rather pathetic.

David Cameron initially said he wouldn’t take part without the Greens present. Blatant selfishness as facing Nigel Farage with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg sucking up to each other across the way would’ve been tricky for the PM. I can’t decide whether Cameron expected the broadcasters to roll over and include the Greens or cancel the debates altogether. In the event, they pulled a rabbit out of the hat and said, yes, they’d include the Greens along with the SNP and Plaid Cymru. After which, the DUP, quite rightly, become irritated that they, with eight MPs, are excluded. It’s all shaping up to be a right old mess but I have a few points.

1. On recent polls, if that’s what we’re using for this, the Lib Dems are trailing. Why should they be included?

2. Regional parties have a limited appeal. By all means, have separate debates for them to participate in but they’re a little surplus to requirements in a national debate.

3. However, if regional parties are included then the DUP should be too. It’s only fair.

4. The large, unruly debate that this is shaping up to be will be useful to nobody. Perhaps that’s how all major leaders would like it.

Musings on Elected Mayors for ‘Northern Powerhouses’

Ever get the feeling politicians aren’t listening? Sorry, sorry, stupid question. This post could last forever if I go into detail on every single thing. My main criticism today is this plan for an elected mayor of Greater Manchester which emerged yesterday.

Two years ago, Manchester and many other cities around the country (Wakefield included) said no to an elected mayor in referendums. Only Bristol wanted one and I’m not sure how that’s worked out for them. Nevertheless, yesterday George Osborne announced that Greater Manchester would have an elected mayor, probably from 2017 onwards. Admittedly, it’s a slightly different proposal than the one previously offered but it’s still an elected mayor and the people of the Manchester area seem to be getting no choice in the matter.

The fact that the leaders of the ten councils affected have agreed to the proposals is worrying in itself. In my experience, politicians only vote for something which is good for politicians (side note: all the council leaders in this area seem to be white men) and I hear dissent is already coming from areas like Trafford.

For me, I suppose, it’s about the concentration of power and the guzzling up of resources. If – as seems likely if Greater Manchester is deemed a success – the experiment was replicated in other areas of the North, there is no prize for guessing what would happen. Power concentrates into one single area. Wakefield already suffers from this with the number of West Yorkshire initiatives centred on Leeds. A ‘Greater Leeds’ area would inevitably take in Wakefield. Not only are we their closest neighbour but as far as transport links etc go, we are fundamental to any success in terms of joined-up policy. Now, personally, I’m sick of being lumped in with Leeds. Wakefield is on its way to thriving again (despite the best efforts of our council to hamper such progress) and I don’t want us to become an outpost of a ‘Northern powerhouse’. Every city and town in the North should be considered its own powerhouse.

So I dislike the prospect of linking areas together with little regard for their individuality. However, I do favour more regional devolution based on assemblies rather than the concentration of power in one person in one area. Only this way can cities like Wakefield get decent representation alongside their more statuesque neighbours (as an aside I DO NOT agree with Labour’s regional senate proposals but that’s an argument for another day).

On the one hand, I appreciate the government finally recognising that the North needs to be seen as something other than ‘not the South East’. On the other, these decisions are so important that I don’t want George Osborne agreeing to them with a bunch of white, mostly middle-aged men, who I suspect don’t have the best interests of their areas at heart.

Some Recent Political Thoughts

Yet again, events are occurring faster than I can write about them in any depth so I thought I’d do another round-up post briefly detailing my thoughts on recent issues. I may well go into more detail in future posts but I wanted to get these down.

  • The scuppering of the EU referendum bill – This irritates me, of course it does. However, it was always going to be scuppered one way or the other and, naturally, it wasn’t going to be voted down in a debate where voters could actually hold their MPs accountable. This is politics at its worst and I live in hope that the Westminster bubble will pay for it at some point. If they don’t think we can tell what they’re doing then they think even less of us than I supposed. Talk about being ruled by your inferiors! But the fact is, apathy will win. Apathy always wins.
  • Ideas for HS3 – Yes!! I’ve detailed my hatred for HS2 on numerous occasions, both here and elsewhere. I think it’s a colossal waste of money which will only benefit the south. I think the first stage will prove so calamitous that the second will never be built. I also believe that the cost benefits are vastly over-estimated and the money would be better spent on other aspects of the rail network. However, HS3 is designed to link northern cities together. In that respect, it steps away from the London-centric attitude which permeates planning in this country. Trimming time between Leeds and Manchester and freeing up capacity on other routes in the area could actually be useful. I could defend the differences between the two projects in detail if you want me to but my stance is this: No to HS2, Yes to HS3. Scrap the first. Or at least build the latter before it. If the government is really serious about these rail projects benefiting the north of England and not just sucking more oxygen down towards London.
  • UKIP’s voting in the EU Parliament – I’ve seen a lot of criticism floating around about the things UKIP have voted against in Brussels as a form of attack, mainly from the left. My understanding of the UKIP voting policy is that they vote against everything. Anyone who’s watched a voting session in that parliament knows how confused it is. Items are lumped together and it’s said that nobody knows what they’re voting for. UKIP’s decision to vote against stems from that and, also, a reluctance to engage with the bureaucracy they want to detach us from. I don’t see much wrong with that in all honesty.
  • PCCs – With a turnout of less than 15% for the recent PCC by-election in South Yorkshire, I don’t see how these pointless roles can continue to be justified. Fair play to the Lib Dems though – they think the roles should be scrapped and so didn’t field a candidate. Labour, on the other hand, think the roles should be scrapped and DID field a candidate. Do as I say, not as I do?
  • Recent EU rhetoric – Do they want rid of us? I can only hope. The language around the bill demand and the free movement issues has been strong and, really, I think those are areas of resonance with average voters. People are waking up to the fact that it’s not racist to worry about the impact of immigration on schools, the NHS and other services. Only a minority of people demand that all immigration be stopped – the majority want us to have control of our own borders. That means we can’t exist within the EU. When/if a referendum comes, the EU will throw the kitchen sink at us – they want us to stay on their terms or not at all. It could be an interesting few years.
  • Labour’s Scottish problems – Are they trying to self-destruct? Personally, I find the reach of the Westminster elite to be problematic in Yorkshire as our MPs are parachuted in at the behest of London-centric politicos. In Scotland, this seems to be have been taken to the extreme and I don’t blame Lamont for stepping away. It’s ironic, really, that Labour’s response to this is to back a Westminster MP who is arguably part of the problem as her replacement. There’s stupidity and then there’s Labour’s stupidity. On the plus side, they might as well scrap their opposition to ‘English votes for English laws’ since there won’t be enough Scottish Labour MPs for it to make a tangible difference to their prospects.
  • Fiona Woolf – This may be an unpopular one but I think the child abuse inquiry should’ve gone ahead under the leadership of Fiona Woolf. I honestly don’t think you’re going to find somebody with the expertise required who hasn’t got links somewhere along the line with someone who’s potentially involved. The process is going to be a transparent one – if things weren’t progressing as expected then the inquiry could’ve been halted. As it is, it’s not even getting started. I’ve seen no suggestions (others might have) of who Woolf’s critics would actually want to lead the investigation, there just seems to be incessant complaining. Without a compromise, this inquiry is going nowhere and that’s a travesty for the victims.

EU Issues

It was good to see on Friday that the EU Referendum Bill (to enshrine a 2017 referendum in law) jumped its latest hurdle in the House of Commons with no problems. Though Labour MPs spoke against it, it was pushed to a symbolic vote where nobody voted against the democratic principle of giving the public a say on our EU membership. Labour have realised that putting their names on the record as being anti-democratic cowards is a bit of a vote-loser, especially with UKIP on the rise, but it won’t last. There are three alternatives I see occurring next. First, Labour block the bill on its next reading, actively enshrining their distaste of democracy in Hansard for everyone to see. Secondly, that they ‘talk the bill out’. The reason I think this didn’t happen on Friday was that it was scheduled first and there were other bills, including one on circus animals, that Labour wanted to get to and they couldn’t justify jamming up in the system. Talking the bill out would still be active disdain of the electorate but it’s harder to prove and you can’t just say ‘your MP voted against you having a say’ on the doorstep. It’s a sneaky trick, of course, but that’s just what politicians excel at. The third option, though, is the sneakiest. Suppose Labour let this bill through? They don’t vote for but they don’t oppose it – they let it become law. And, then, once they win the 2015 election (or, more likely go into coalition with the lapdog Libs) they just repeal it. There’s nothing the public will be able to do about it at that point. Think about it. We have five year fixed-term parliaments with ridiculous thresholds for votes of no confidence. We don’t have a proper recall mechanism where MPs could be brought to account for repealing such a law. It would be acceptable for Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg (or his successor) to combine and repeal the legislation. Is that Labour’s plan? I do wonder.

The other EU-related occurrence over the weekend massively aided the Eurosceptic cause. In the wake of Downing Street rumblings about curbing freedom of movement, the outgoing President of the European Commission has been doing the rounds. Jose Manuel Barroso has poured cold water over David Cameron’s attempts to limit freedom of movement, calling it an ‘essential’ component of EU membership. Well, that’s us told, isn’t it? In addition, he’s brought out the big guns, saying we’ll have ‘zero influence’ in the world if we leave the EU. He cited the response to the Ebola crisis which made me wryly chuckle: while the EU has been having meetings about it (in my understanding), our little isolated island nation has been a little bit more proactive. Not only has a ship loaded with supplies just set off, we’ve had soldiers in Sierra Leone building treatment centres for several weeks now. I’d love to see a breakdown of what the EU has been doing. The only thing I recall is a meeting last week where they discussed the response to the crisis and basically tried telling us what we should be doing about it. We’re already acting, I’m afraid. Don’t like it? Kick us out.

Cameron is either being impressive putting himself out on this limb or extremely sneaky. He wants to appeal to those voters who have abandoned him to UKIP and recognises freedom of movement raises hackles all over. But does he just want to be seen as the underdog who tried? Since he doesn’t want us to leave the EU, I can only see that being a precursor to an acceptance of the status quo. I wonder if Downing Street has thought through all the permeations of this. There is, of course, the possibility that Cameron is making these noises with no expectation of a 2015 victory and so no need to renegotiate properly on the tough points.

Can it be that both David Cameron and Ed Miliband are hoping to knife voters in the back after the 2015 election? Surely not.

Those By-Elections

The dust has settled a bit over the weekend after those too very interesting by-election results on Friday. Douglas Carswell holding the seat as a UKIP candidate was quite predictable but the strength of his vote startled me. My hope in Clacton is that people voted for the man, which is what I believe politics should be all about. Carswell’s aim is to serve his constituents and, by most accounts, he’s very good at that. It will, of course, be interesting to see if this holds sway at the General Election or whether people will be content to become party political sheep again. One thing Clacton proved is that UKIP can win a seat outright – the odds were in their favour because of Carswell’s popularity but it’s a message to other areas that if they vote UKIP then they stand a chance of getting UKIP. That blows a cannon hole in David Cameron’s ‘vote UKIP, get Labour’ strategy. That’s not to say that the ‘vote Farage, get Miliband’ line is unreasonable – the two are different lines of attack. The first relates to particular constituencies where it’s plausible UKIP can win outright; the second relates to the possibility that electing UKIP MPs or splitting the Tory vote could let Ed Miliband into Downing Street.

Labour’s problems are different. While the Tories seem to at least understand why their voters are deserting them for UKIP, Labour are bemused. The disconnect between the elite in the party and the average person they expect to vote for them is astronomical. A lot of people are concerned about immigration. That doesn’t make them racist – one of the left’s most frequently used accusations – but these people encounter the front line of services and they’re not happy with what they see in terms of pressures and demands. Schools are struggling, as is the NHS. Case in point, I was in a queue in A&E last night and there was a (I think) Polish man at the front of the queue taking up a lot of time, asking questions in broken English and baffling the receptionist with what he was asking. The woman in front of me turned to her daughter and said ‘if it wasn’t for the f***ing foreigners’ things would be moving at a decent speed. Of course, I understand the irony of this given the dependence of the NHS on foreign workers but this woman was a typical working-class mum in a deprived area – the kind of voter Labour is supposed to represent. Dismissing her irritation as ‘racist’ would no doubt irritate her more. People who use services day in, day out are far more qualified to comment on the effects of immigration on them than the cosseted politicians who hire an adviser to do their thinking for them.

Labour can’t seem to see past the end of their nose on this. That’s why Miliband’s response to the close-run result in Heywood and Middleton was to say that the Tory vote had collapsed in the North West. Well, yes, it has but that’s not really the point, is it? He followed it up by saying that Labour wouldn’t be ‘complacent’ but that’s just what they are being. People have been predicting that UKIP could affect Labour’s vote for a long time, several by-elections have put the theory to the test and come out in UKIP’s favour. If Labour haven’t ‘got it’ by now then why should this latest shock make a difference?

The implications of UKIP’s surge are best left for another day. Because the prospect of Miliband getting into Downing Street scares me too much to contemplate right now.

Yes to Human Rights, No to ECHR

Do I have to preface this post by saying that I’m not trying to take away anybody’s human rights? Probably. Emotions are running very high on this issue and that’s mainly down to the usual partisan rubbish that insists on labelling things as black and white or, to put it bluntly, right wing=bad and left wing=good. I loathe that kind of narrow mindedness.

By wanting to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), I am not saying I don’t want the rights it covers to be enshrined in law. I’m saying I want them to be enshrined in our law, I’m asking for the sovereignty of British courts, parliamentarians and, yes, voters, to be accepted. It’s true that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) makes plenty of good decisions but it also makes decisions which many people find abhorrent. Invoking the ‘right to a family life’ should not allow terrorists and rapists to remain in our country but the cases have been well-documented. And, no, I’m not saying that some people aren’t entitled to this mythical ‘family life’ but I am saying that there needs to be a balance between the rights of that individual and the rights of their victims and potential victims. Too often, it seems, the ECtHR throws its weight behind the individual. Which, of course, is its job but, sometimes, there is a wider picture which it fails to accommodate, quite possibly because it is so distant from the average British taxpayer.

Most, if not all, of what the ECHR stands for is already written down in our legislation, if not in that specific form then in various acts which have been passed over the years. For example, I’ve seen tweets passing me this weekend suggesting that trans people only have rights because of the ECHR. Well, what about the Equalities Act? And if it doesn’t already cover it then the answer is simple – we update our laws to accommodate anything which has slipped through the net. What’s so difficult to understand about that concept?

There’s the notion that if it comes from somewhere beyond our shores then it’s automatically ‘better’. I don’t like that idea, and not because I’m a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ or whatever you want to call me, but because I recognise the disparate nations that institutions like the ECHR have to draw together. I’ve seen the argument that we have to be in the ECHR because otherwise we’re setting a bad example and putting ourselves with Belarus as the only country on the continent which isn’t a part of the convention. Well, firstly, if we have the rights enshrined in law anyway then why do we need to be? Secondly, since Russia are part of the Council of Europe and so the convention, any idea that the states inside the ECHR are setting a ‘good example’ to those outside is laughable to the point of hysterical.

The amount of Tory-bashing going on around this issue is ludicrous. ‘The Tories want to take your human rights away’ is fairly typical of what I’ve seen. And, yes, I’m sure that minorities within the party would like to get rid of certain aspects of legislation but I’m betting that factions of the other parties also have their pet grievances. Do not accuse me of agreeing with the way this government has attacked welfare claimants and don’t accuse me of being blind to ‘the truth’ about what right wingers want. The ‘truth’ is a hell of a lot more complicated than many on the left allow for. Things aren’t black and white, Labour are not the white knights barging in to protect of the black depths of Tory devilry. They’re just not.

I’m not trying to take anybody’s rights away but I do want British people to have control over their own lives. Sovereignty and human rights is a viable path. I wish we could stop the screeching and realise that.