Anger at the Count

I’ve pondered whether to name and shame the individual this blog post relates to but, honestly, I’m not out to start some sort of battle. I just want to highlight something that struck me at the local count on Friday afternoon. There are a couple of hundred people who witnessed the event if anyone needs corroboration.

For the most part, the people I met on Thursday evening and Friday were generous and friendly. I found common ground with everyone I chatted to from all hues and, as I always say, there’s no cost to being polite. I hold doors, I smile when I pass people because why shouldn’t I? Anyway, this isn’t about that.

Acceptance speeches in the local elections were meant to be short. Generally, that was adhered to with winning candidates giving thanks to those who had helped them and the count staff. Then one winner went, for want of more appropriate language, off on one. Alone on the stage with just the Returning Officer he took the opportunity to condemn the ‘dirty tricks’ campaign against him in vitriolic terms. Now, frankly, I don’t know what went on in his ward, nor do I particularly care. It wasn’t the time or place for it. His ire rose and he went on and on and on. It wasn’t short and it certainly wasn’t sweet. It was particularly infuriating given that the other candidate wasn’t there to defend themselves. Though, if they had been, I suspect the police officers hovering around the count would finally have had something to do.

Perhaps what irritated me most of all was the applause afterwards, even up in the viewing gallery where I was. It was tribalism at its worse and soured what was quite a pleasant afternoon a little. I also think I got into trouble for plainly showing that I was unimpressed. Never mind that – I’m a polite person but I can’t always hide my feelings, nor should I try to really.

The fact is this candidate won. If there was a dirty campaign against him (and he didn’t convince me, I have to say) then it didn’t matter. He’s been elected for a four-year term. The count was the first chance he had of putting rivalries aside but no. In damning his opponent in such angry language he implicitly criticised those who voted for him. That’s hardly going to foster a harmonious community atmosphere in the next four years, is it?

The SNP’s Latest Command

I know I witter on a fair bit about democracy and accountability, call it a bug-bear. I don’t believe, for instance, that a coalition agreement should be implemented following the 2015 election without being put to the voters. You can sense, then, what my attitude on Nicola Sturgeon’s latest comments about the possibility of an SNP-Labour coalition might be.

Sturgeon has said that the SNP would be prepared to join forces with Labour, even if they didn’t have more MPs than the Tories following the election. It’s not a rule that the party with the highest number of MPs form the government, but it’s a standard that hasn’t been broken since the 1920s. Of course, this comes with a price – at the moment that’s a £180bn spending spree, though I expect that to increase the more desperate Labour look as the election nears. Whatever your view on austerity, it’s a pretty neat subversion of democracy on the part of the SNP.

The trouble with Labour at the moment is that they simply reek of desperation. That means the SNP can name their price (don’t be fooled, they’re aiming for independence either via another referendum or by the back door) and the Lib Dems too. The prospect of a Labour/SNP/Lib Dem coalition is terrifying, not least because it will have no legitimacy in the eyes of much of the country. We’ve had five years of back-room deals between the Tory-Lib Dem ‘quad’ and it’s left a sour taste. If anything, it’s served to distance the electorate further from their MPs – after all, does it matter who we all vote for if they decide what’s ‘best’ for us in the end? It stinks, and the stench is only going to get worse until May.

Politics Has a People Problem

The figure Harriet Harman draws attention to of 9.1 million women who didn’t vote in 2010 is alarming but not at all surprising. However, I don’t think political engagement has a ‘woman problem’ as much as a ‘people problem’. The public are disengaging – from the major parties at least – and, while I can understand the urge to drag them back kicking and screaming into the fold, I don’t think Labour’s ‘pink bus’ is going to do the trick on the women front.

The word being bandied about is ‘patronising’. I’d agree with that. I don’t think seeing a pink bus in my town centre would encourage me to vote Labour. In fact, I’d just be asking why they’re making so much effort to appear colourful when, really, the way to win votes is to create effective and economically literate policies. Those seem to be the things that women pay attention to. There was a lot written during the Scottish Referendum about how women were thinking with their heads while men were more focused on their emotional reaction to the prospect of independence. I don’t know how right that analysis is but, surely, the best way to achieve an election victory is to fight on both of those fronts?

For me, this pink bus is a gimmick, and one that’s been ridiculed pretty comprehensively already. This close to an election, is this really Labour’s strategy?

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.

Propaganda and Spin

I receive a weekly newsletter from my MP, Mary Creagh, which is sometimes fascinating and sometimes so crammed with propaganda and stupidity that it makes me cringe. Yesterday’s newsletter slid firmly into the latter category, mainly due to the section that covered the by-elections last week. Creagh – or whoever writes this thing – is falling into the trap of spreading lies about their enemies and not saying much about themselves, which seems to be Labour’s line at the moment. Here are the offending paragraphs:

Last Thursday we saw a Tory Party in retreat, losing in their own backyard in Clacton and losing ground on what used to be their frontline in the North West. David Cameron has seen the worst Tory defeat in a by-election ever, with a huge swing against them and a 28% fall in the Tory vote in a seat that was one of their safest.

This seems to me a regurgitation of Ed Miliband’s statements on the by-elections. Fair enough, I suppose, if you’re trying to spin a coherent party line. (I don’t believe in ‘coherent party lines’ but that’s another matter.)

UKIP are more Tory than the Tories. UKIP want to introduce charges to use key NHS services, including your GP. Tim Aker, UKIP Head of Policy has said he wants to abolish the top rate of tax – giving the wealthiest another tax break, while raising taxes for working people. UKIP want to abolish your rights as a worker, including parental leave, maternity pay, holiday pay, sick pay, and even redundancy pay.

Okay, now we get to it. The NHS charges lie that Labour keep throwing around here has been repeatedly refuted by UKIP. The quotes Labour use from personal views, not policy documents. And are Labour folk forgetting that it was one of their own advisers who said just a few months ago that GP visits should be charged at £20 a go? That’s not their policy, of course, and I’m not suggesting it is but that fine distinction between rhetoric and actual policy has bypassed some Labour supporters as they foam at the mouth about the UKIP threat to the NHS.

On the tax issue, Labour comes from as ideological a standpoint as they imply UKIP do – if tax receipts can be increased by having a more punitive top rate of tax then, by all means, go ahead, but the evidence has shown this isn’t the case. There’s a threshold where the people targeted believe it’s too punitive and actively look for ways to avoid it. Perhaps the answer here is cracking down on tax avoidance. Perhaps but let’s not forget that France’s ridiculous 75% top rate of tax led to an exodus of the rich. Oh, I know some people will say ‘good riddance’ but, for a start, those tax receipts will disappear too. Also, while we’re on the subject, Labour only raised the top rate to 50p prior to the 2010 election, knowing full well a Tory government would lower it and therefore give them a stick to beat the government with for five years.

I’ll give them the ‘rights’ line. My understanding is that UKIP want to cut red tape, though I don’t agree with the specific proposals on this one. However, I think Labour’s hypocrisy on employee rights is risible given the number of people their MPs and councils employ on zero-hours contracts. Barricade your own houses before throwing stones.

I understand people are worried that their hard work isn’t rewarded, they fear their kids will have a worse life than them and they see their public services under threat. But UKIP isn’t the answer. I support Ed Miliband’s new approach: change in our economy so that it works for working people, change for our party on immigration.

The fears here are real. I know they are. However, I’m seeing very little from Miliband and company to combat either the economy problem or the (rather tagged on) immigration issues. You can’t forget to mention the economy in a conference speech and still expect people to believe it’s top of your priority list. Equally, you can’t make appeasing noises on the one hand and condemn your ‘racist’ supporters on the other. That’s exactly the thing that’s driving Labour voters to UKIP.

You know, I personally like my MP. I met her when she came to deliver a leaflet a year ago and she comes across very well. I want to be able to vote for her but I can’t bring myself to vote for Labour. The latest edition of this newsletter just reiterated why.

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.