Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Too Dull

So far, the pre-election campaign has been rather dull. I hope that, now the campaign is officially under way, it will liven up and becoming more likely to grab the electorate's attention.

Although all parties (well, most of them anyway) have some value and validity, realistically it is only the two parties who have any realistic possibility of forming or (in coalition) leading the next national government are Labour and the Conservatives.

Labour have at least got an actor to participate in this evening's election broadcast – something they've tried before, as have others. Getting a celebrity's endorsement of – and, even better, participation in – a party's campaign is often thought by party campaign managers and other senior members of a party as welcome and helpful.

It probably is, but is it justified? Only if the end can somehow be said to justify the means – but not for an honest party, for the reasons that Daniel Hannan warned about four years ago, among others I could mention, and indeed have touched on two or three times in recent years. For today, though, Dan's piece will more than suffice.

Apart from that, Labour has so far shown little really aspirational stuff, just anti-Conservatism and anti-Coalition stances as usual. Boring and tedious! There is also little appearance of their party leader – who, most notably, has been conspicuously left off many of their candidate's materials completely. That in itself is very telling indeed...

As for the Conservatives, their workmanlike approach is adequate, if not exactly innovative, and mostly looking back at past successes. The trouble with that is that it is repetitive with no new material coming through (unless some news suddenly appears, so is reactive), and gives no real look to the future apart from a nebulous 'we shall do such-and-such in the next five years' and no more.

Now, looking to past success is a good, solid foundation, and reinforcement through repetition is the second biggest reason we have political soundbite slogans' (the first is for headlines in the media). Nevertheless, one doesn't make a house by merely laying the foundation. It needs more – something more 'concrete' for the future than mere, well, concrete!

If I were the Conservative strategist, I'd be preparing two very specific election broadcasts. One would be a carefully-crafted, non-exaggerated and as factual as possible, year-by-year account of how a typical family would be faring under a majority Conservative government, from now, so six brief episodes in all.

The other would feature (a) another, somewhat similar but clearly different family; (b) a pensioner; and (c) a University student living away from home. The story (again portrayed as accurately as possibly and without hyperbole) would be a 'fork in the road', and would show each of these players five years hence under a Labour or Labour-led government, and then under a Conservative government (that way around, to end on a high note).

For all I know, perhaps such works are being prepared right now – but indications so far, including attitudes and near-robotic sharing/re-tweeting the party's national output out in the country (including in my broad area of west and north Kent), suggest that they are content to keep to the old, traditional ways, with momentary flashes of innovation that will make (at most) small differences in safe seats and excite no-one 'floating' in any of the marginals.

I could of course be wrong – and of course I realise that all the donkey work still has to be done come what may, and rightly so, so no complaint or otherwise on that score – but the way the party is 'selling' itself, its candidates and its plans for all our futures, deserves to be re-thought and raised several notches.

It also needs to be geared more to drawing people in, rather than just spouting lines and statistics at them like some kind of lecturer. That approach no longer really works in today's society. David Cameron's occasional brief summary at Prime Minister's Questions does that with much greater impact in just a few seconds: "Growth up, employment up, unemployment down, the deficit halved" – that kind of approach, but make it secondary and brief like that!

UPDATE @ 1700 hrs: This by Peter Bingle at Total Politics today not only fits well with what I have written here, it goes further with some additional ideas and is also well worth reading.

Just for information: I am not attempting to get myself recruited as a party strategist, just trying to be helpful!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Not The Same This Time

I have had to give the odd kick or three to specific local political party associations (encompassing just two parties so far) who have been giving the outward appearance of not treating the forthcoming elections with the significance they hold, and thus the treatment they warrant. This applies to both national and (here in Medway, Kent) local council elections.

We have never, in our history, had elections like these – particularly (and directly) at the national level. Coalition governments have been rare, especially in peacetime and away from wars on our soil. Combine that with the considerable changes that multiple television channels (including news sources) in recent years, and even more the impact of on-line access and the resultant instant dissemination of information including photographs and video, and it is easy to see that we have never been in anything all that closely resembling what exists here in Britain today.

Other changes include widespread postal voting – so Polling Day itself is less crucial than it once was – and a broader choice of mainstream political parties, with the Greens and UKIP faring a lot better now than either did at the last General Election just five years ago.

Thus it has become vitally important for all serious parties not to let any of the other steal a march and leave them behind in any way that the voting public could perceive as being less competent or with 'something to hide', rather than the haughty opinion of those within the party bubble. No doubt their opposition could seize upon these seeming deficiencies and make more out of them than might rationally be thought appropriate – but that is part of the nature of politics, and on this occasion it carries more 'political mass' than it might seem on paper. All parties need to be sharp on this!

One seemingly trivial (at least to some) point is the public announcement of selected candidates, particularly in the Medway Council elections which involve 55 elected positions in 22 wards. Only the Labour party has publicly declared all 55 of its candidates, and those have been out on the streets, getting themselves known and their party's views entrenched, for a little while now, and with the authority of being able to state that they are 'the Labour candidate[s]'.

I am aware of the limitations of spending amounts allowed per candidate, but there are ways to handle that while still putting themselves about as the ones who could act for the people if elected, or similar wording.

This is (according to some of my 'eyes and ears' around the borough) tipping the balance in places, and it is of concern to me – and rightly so – that this disservice to the selected candidates of other parties means that they are being disadvantaged on the doorstep in particular. Anyone who has been a serious candidate and has trodden the campaign trail will know what impact such things can make, even if not by all that much ordinarily – but, as I said, this is no ordinary election, especially with the 'locals' (council).

As I cannot perceive any reason for withholding this information – indeed, one of the Conservative Associations has declared its 22 candidates whereas the other two Associations have not disclosed theirs – this does seem strange, and is perhaps indicative of a malaise I have perceived within a couple of the local parties, which is a tendency to think in a somewhat introverted, 'we know best' way.

Even with the occasional (welcome) innovation, they still seem to be stuck in the ways of the past, and don't react positively when another party does something they ought to know that they too should have done. The example I have touched on here is merely an indication of the attitude problem that I suspect is more broadly thought to be one of several major issues for each of those parties of whom I am thinking here.

The excuse will be that there are other, bigger issues each party has to face. Yes; but how much effort would it have been for someone in a constituency office to make a minor one-off effort to send the list of selected candidates to their media mailing list via email?

For myself, this particular example doesn't really matter (which is why I am using it: no personal vested interest) as I have long known the broad outcome of the council elections here, and as always will firm-up my predictions only once the official Statements of Persons Nominated have been published, a few weeks from now.

I am hesitant to make those predictions public on this critical occasion, by the way, for fear of causing unintentional harm by letting the opposition know too much – but there are a select few individuals to whom I have already told something of my 'broad sweep' predictions, so they know...

Friday, 20 March 2015

Hole In The Ground

Having just received a leaflet from my area's local (Labour) councillors, I was immediately reminded of that classic Bernard Cribbins song 'Hole in the Ground', as they are making a bit of a song-and-dance about (pot)-holes in the roads – again...

As usual, rather than tackling the issues directly (as I have long been doing, for example, including in this and other Labour-represented wards in Medway) they are more interested in making party political capital out of the issue and say that they have submitted 'several petitions'. I wonder how long that took?

Of course, it is done that way so that they get 'seen to be doing something', with the expectation of electoral reward as a consequence. Meanwhile, the roads remain unrepaired, unless a resident has reported them to the council using any of the several methods readily available.

For years now, I have been having issues such as these, broken kerbstones and other such 'street scene' matters fixed without fuss and without trying to draw attention to myself. Thus, over (say) the past five years, I have had a fair number of things fixed, usually promptly, mainly in Labour wards. That's not just here in Chatham Central, but also in Rochester East (with a couple of my recently-reported ones currently pending) and Twydall.

These have been, in the main, instances of obvious long-term neglect – and I checked Google aerial and street view imagery from years before to ascertain that they clearly hadn't been bothered with by the local councillors or others. I also checked whether they were simply in a queue and already programmed to be fixed: none of them ever was.

The real joy came after I had been doing this for a while, for with my record-keeping and 'before and after' photographs I was to demonstrate very clearly who had been active and interested, and who merely made a lot of noise. As the old saying puts it: empty vessels make the most noise.

Another saying that needs a little tweaking could now be written: If you want something talked about and politicised, ask a Labour person. If you want something *done*, ask a Conservative. With me, you don't usually even need to ask...

Serving The Right Master

When I was (eventually!) persuaded to stand for election to our local Council, I went in with a mixture of political naiveté and worldly experience in other respects. It was a valuable perspective as it allowed me to be genuinely principled yet still with much to learn – so I did not get above myself. Those who were there with me, particularly during my early years on the the Council, will remember how I was, and might even have predicted how I'd develop over the years.

This post, though, isn't about me, though that illustration of a real-world example is valuable regarding what follows...

The point I am making in this post is one I have looked at previously, and which warrants revisiting in the run-up to the elections. Although in broad it applies to the national elections as well, this is particularly pertinent to local elections, especially those that I personally witness in this area.

The bottom line of any candidate's agenda (if indeed it is grand enough to be considered an 'agenda' as such) is whom one serves. Is it a political party, is it that party's local agenda, does one have a personal agenda, is it an ideology – or is it serving the community?

The easy answer is, on this occasion, the right answer: it is serving the community that one represents when elected by that community. Political parties universally expect their selected candidate to more-or-less slavishly follow the 'party line' on just about everything. To some extent that is understandable; and factions with local party Associations will have their own 'top coat' that sits over the party-wide basics.

All of that is actually quite understandable, if one puts oneself in the position of one of those party members involved in the candidate selection process. This applies to all parties, by the way, including those who like to pretend that they are somehow 'different'. They are not.

Therefore how is the selected candidate to behave? As I have indicated previously, it is to serve both masters as best one can, but never sacrificing the underpinning principle of being there first and foremost for the community whose crosses on ballot papers put the winning candidate into office.

That was how I always worked, for example, though not all appreciated it and one of my ward colleagues abused it to further his own ambitions at my expense. I was never fooled by this, by the way, and merely accepted it while keeping very good records! We all stood on a published platform, but that didn't mean we were limited to that necessarily narrow outlook.

A few dozen individuals might have selected the candidate (often far fewer than that), but at least several hundreds or possibly thousands of people actually elected their representative via the actual democratic process. There is no point whatsoever in our system of governance if it does not operate in precisely that manner.

This is not only in law, because the actual election is the 'real deal' and with lots of legal provisions and safeguards, but because parties are known for devising arcane 'points' and other systems for their own candidate selection. Moreover, packing selection meetings with friends, family and/or other effectively 'bought' votes is rife in candidate selections, as Andrew Gilligan and others have reported on many times.

It has even been done to me, so I could give chapter and verse on this. Not today, though...

I have in the recent past covered a little of what happens when elected representatives are more interested in their own agenda than in doing the job they were put into office to perform. This tends, on the whole, to be characteristic of one or more specific political parties, but applies to everyone in the business: be certain of whom you truly serve, and why!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Cuts, Savings or What?

With yesterday's Budget Statement and the response and debate that followed, it was inevitable that the subject of 'cuts' is once more buzzing around the various media.

There are significant misconceptions about this whole topic. The political left always increase the size of the public sector hugely, largely to be able to surreptitiously blackmail more of the electorate – by then employed by the State – into voting for them 'otherwise you'll lose your jobs, or be transferred to the private sector on worse conditions.' Unemployment also goes up markedly during our country's periods of Labour governance.

Thus we end up with fewer people bringing wealth into Britain's economy, and more people taking it out by being paid from the public purse. Now, there is a genuine need for public employees, and probably always will be – but not at the ridiculous levels we find under a Labour government. That party even resorted to inventing fake positions (non-jobs) in pursuance of their warped – and expensive, to all of us via taxes – ideology.

Thus the reductions in the public sector, both in expenditure in general and the number of employees, isn't really a question of 'cuts': it is merely trying to restore the correct size of the public sector to where it should have been all along. Even Labour admit that they too will need to make cuts (and have done for several years, though inconsistently and largely incoherently) though this hasn't sat well with the more-left side of their party or with other Lefty parties, of which there are quite a few in this country.

This is why Labour don't usually talk about their own cutting plans unless strongly pressed to do so: watch any interview where this is put to a Labour person and you'll see what I mean. They just don't want the topic associated with them, and try to pretend that it's a 'Tory thing' alone.

Thus 'cuts' has been adopted as an emotive word by Labour and the rest of the Left, as part of their lexicon of misleading, inaccurate or downright dishonest nomenclature, of which 'bedroom tax' is probably the most dishonest of all in current use (it's not a tax at all, but another restoration of what should always have been the ruling).

The Lefties have plenty of sales lines about what is, in their view, appropriate for a 'modern' and 'enlightened' society – one of their current favourites is 'the civilised state', whatever that means – but when it boils down to it, in every case it is in pursuance of their own agenda, and near-enough always at everyone else's expense.

Always self-interested at core, but expert in dressing it up to come across as 'compassionate' or similar, is an accurate thumbnail image of every single Lefty on the planet – and those who claim otherwise can easily be shown to be lying (sometimes even to themselves!) by any decent questioner.

The bottom line is not to be taken in by any of those oh-so-convenient Lefty lines, many of which are repeated ad nauseum, in a Goebbels-like Big Lie manner – and, notably, those that don't work for them being dropped after a while, showing they were not real in the first place, or certainly not of real interest to the party beyond self-benefit.

Thus one can easily understand the Left. A simple three-word mnemonic is: never trust them!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Debating the Debates

How idiotic is this? When there are real issues to be debated and discussed, what's the biggest, hottest topic in the public arena this week? The economy? Employment? Living standards? Terrorism?

No, it's the much-hyped television debates ahead of this coming May's General Election. The broadcasters have again been devising their preferred choices, formats and participants for these, and the political parties who will be involved have been having their own say.

Now, the complex story of who has said what, agreed to what or vetoed whatever is not sensible to go over here, but now narcissistic is all this in reality? Although I am in favour of these debates, and have been consistently from when they were mooted five years ago, it has to be said that they are in constant danger of becoming a sideshow if not handled intelligently and what I'd call 'cleanly'.

Sadly, Labour are trying to make a political football out of the debates issue (sad or what?) and there are some others who are doing the same (sadder still!) Now, I have to say that David Cameron hasn't handled this the best way he could – though I do realise that we was, at heart, trying to be helpful and constructive, but has in the end left himself open to easy criticism from the other parties and, perhaps, from broadcasters themselves.

Incidentally, the Cameron/Miliband 'head to head' would almost certainly be challenged legally by parties who consider themselves to be 'the third party', and at least a few legal experts seem to think this would be taken seriously within the legal system and would no doubt take months to resolve, thus scuppering such an event completely. This isn't the time to be proposing such a contentious idea!

In the end, whatever is decided, David Cameron really must attend whatever of these debates in which he is ultimately invited to participate, regardless of any earlier stance. Any other approach will be used against him and his party.

After all, it isn't (as some opponents are claiming) that he is 'afraid' of debating issues with anyone. He has shown consistently over the years that he is far and away the best at the job in British politics – once one sees through the bluster of Farage and past the nastiness of Galloway, both of whom are significantly inferior debaters despite their superficial ability to apparently dominate whenever they are given free rein (which Cameron usually isn't given, by the way).

It is interesting to see that, although people are generally in favour of the televised debates – and, as I indicated above, I am one of those – they don't seem to have any measurable impact on actual voting intention, as this article shows. After all, we never needed them before the previous election, Tony Blair refused to participate before that, and it's all much of a muchness as far as the country at large is concerned, as polls have shown no strong leanings n favour of them.

Perhaps we all ought to get back to concentrating on real issues!