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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Does Russell Brand face a £80 ‘fine’ for not registering to vote?

Russell Brand could be “fined” £80 for not registering to vote. That is if he has had one of those letters from his electoral registration officer inviting him to register.

The civil penalty – like a parking fine – for not registering, after being invited to do so, can be imposed by the local registration officer. So, I am wondering, if Brand has decided that is a price worth paying before announcing he had not registered..

Today attention is on his interview with Ed Miliband which is less a populist gimmick that it seems and for which the Labour leader has been attacked by Cameron.

The labour campaign managers have taken a political risk by exposing their leader to what must be an unpredictable interview. But taking that risk can only to him good when there has been so much criticism of team Cameron’s tight control of media exposure: refusing debates and even banning the Guardian from a list to a nursery school.

Neither will the Labour managers have failed to take into account the late surge in voter registration by younger people.  Nearly 50,000 people under 24 registered on April 19 alone (Independent).

Taking the risk and using a channel more likely to be watched by younger voters may pay dividends for Miliband.  As I writer (8am , April 29) more than 200,000 people have watched the YouTube trailer.

If hyperbole fails try meiosis. Cameron finds economic news ‘less exciting’

The economic news today — GDP growth in the UK falling to the slowest rate in three years (Daily Telegraph) — was so bad David Cameron must have realised that the hyperbole he has been using was inappropriate. So he gave meiosis (use of terms that gives impression that something is less important than it is) a go, describing the news (BBC) as “less exciting” than the previous quarter.

Throughout the campaign Cameron and Osborne have been talking up the Conservatives economic success. While economists have been casting doubt on their claims (Two thirds of economists say Coalition austerity harmed the economy) most people seem to have believed them. Labour has signally failed to alter this belief.

I wonder who dreamed up the idea of dismissing the very bad GDP figures as “less exciting” but the intent was clearly to dismiss the figure as less important than it really is.

The Literary Devices website defines meiosis as,  “a witty understatement that belittles or dismisses something or somebody, particularly by making use of terms that gives impression that something is less important than it is or it should be”.

Is this playing with words or simply political rhetoric?

Moors murder backs UKIP, the transgender lesbian candidate and more election news at Mail online

The Daily Mail online did not become the most visited English language news website in the world but failing to understand what its readers want. So I took a look this evening at its UK home page to see what it is saying about the election.

I needed to scroll down some way to find the first reference: Ian Brady, the Moors murder supports UKIP.

A lot further down there is a much bigger story (in space allocated) with the heading: At last, some election passion…love triangle of sex-change candidate and lesbian lovers. And who do they represent? The Liberal Democrats, of course.

Just under that there are six small links to election stories.

What more is there to say?

‘An election of closed doors and closed minds’

My headline is part of the introduction to yesterday’s Observer media column by Peter Preston, former editor of the Guardian. The closed doors hide politicians who are refusing to the meet the electorate and the closed minds are found if you, “wade through the digital comment at the bottom of so many election pieces and you stumble into web swamps heaving with hate”.

Preston points out that in 2010 national newspaper day sales were 10.9m: now they are 7.6. In the same period membership of political parties has shrunk from 1.3% of the electorate to 0.8%.

He writes:

And a combative Guardian piece on Tory NHS performance from a former deputy editor of the Indie (and Cameron speechwriter) prompts one reader to howl apocalypse: “I don’t like mendacious tracts in my newspaper of choice requiring me to weave through them like someone avoiding dog shit on the pavement.”

“Ian Birrell should be writing for the SunMailTimes,” snarls another, who actually takes the name “Hatetories”. Apparently today’s version of democratic freedom means avoiding reading something you don’t agree with.

This, he suggests, is a change. Once Conservatives represented 20% of the Guardian readership and when the Sun “won it” for John Major in 1992 fewer than half its readers voted Tory.

I have looked at the comments in the Guardian a few times recently and have been shocked that so many bigots apparently read the paper’s website. It would interesting to know how many of the commenters buy the paper or its digital edition and how many of them are not paying but contributing indirectly by boosting page hits and advertising revenue.

The Guardian, like the Daily Mail with its hugely successful website, had an interest in attracting everyone including bigots.



Time to break the political logjam and promise a federal UK and voting reform

Another weekend in this long election campaign and the waters are looking increasingly stagnant as the opinion pools show no significant change. It is going to take a very bold move to break the logjam.

With economics and spending options limited by the positions taken by all the parties having failed to give any clear advantage, immigration nastily tied up with proposals for an EU referendum and limited scope in foreign affairs, there is little left other than the constitution.

The prospect of the SNP taking almost all the seats in Scotland in this first-past-the-post election, means the time for a more proportionate coming system may have arrived. It would mean a loss of Westminster seats for the SNP, but they could hardly object to a system more akin to that used to select MSPs.

For Labour it would promise more Scottish representation at Westminster. The Conservatives are bound to suffer from the current single seat constituency boundaries which give a mathematical advantage to Labour, so there is an advantage for them too.

Both Ed and Dave should promise that their first Queen’s Speech should include a commission on a more equitable voting system.

Allied to this Labour should promise that whatever the outcome of this election, its Scottish wing would have a relationship with the England and Wales party more like that it has with Northern Ireland’s SDLP. The aim would be to detoxify the brand north of the border and allow it to provide stronger opposition to the SNP.

The biggest constitutional change would be to accept that the United Kingdom is on its way to becoming a federal state. Ed Miliband should promise that if he was Prime Minister he would include in his first Queen’s Speech a constitutional commission on federalisation. He has nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

For David Cameron this step would be harder as he has already promised English Votes for English Laws. But it is not too late to row back from this mad suggestion that Westminster should have two classes of MPs, a divisive message if there ever was one.

These proposals would probably be seen by many as kicking the issues into the long grass. Yet if the next fixed-term parliament could achieve a national consensus of governance it could yet go down in history as a great parliament.

Here are some links to thoughts on a federal UK. The topic has been missing from the election debate and only the first link is to an article published during the campaign:

Conservative Home: It’s a federal Britain or bust

Huffington Post: What’s the Problem With a Federal UK? England!

New Statesman: Union does not mean uniform

The Spectator: A federal UK? Home Rule all round? We have been here before.

The Atlantic: Should the United Kingdom Become a Federal State?

The Federal Trust: A federal way forward

Daily Telegraph: Keep Scotland in the UK – and give all the nations much more power

London School of Economics: A federal future for the UK: the options

Conservative Home by Peter Duncan: It’s a federal Britain or bust

EVEL is silly. Let’s have an English parliament in Tamworth

The idea of EVEL (English Votes for English Legislation) and the resulting chaos of two classes of MPs sitting in the same chamber is so ridiculous that it is hard to see why anyone would take it seriously.

Of the four countries of the union, three already have their own parliaments. Only England does not. Evel recognises the anomaly but dodges recognition of the fact that the United Kingdom has become a federal state.

That leads to the difficult question of where to site the English and UK parliaments: It would not be a good idea to have them in the same city, let alone the same building.

We could build a new federal capital which is not in the territory of any of the states as has happened with Washington DC, Brasilia and Canberra. That does not look practical for the United Kingdom but the City of Westminster could be declared a federal territory.

That would leave the political capital adjacent to the business capital in the City of London.

Then there is the question of where the English parliament should sit. My suggestion is Tamworth, the historic capital of Mercia, the largest kingdom of what was to become England.

It is also geographically central, has good communications with motorways and the proposed route of HS2 passes close-by. Birmingham international airport is only 18 miles away by the M42. It is already the sixth busies international airport and East Midlands airport is only a little further away.

The problem with Tamworth, as the English capital, is its association with the Conservative party. Sir Robert Peel was the town’s MP for good slice of the 19th century and his 1834 Tamworth Manifesto is regarded as the founding document of the modern Conservative party.

But that objection could be overcome: much of the legislation he saw through parliament in his two ministries would be accepted now by all shades as good.

His first stint at prime minister did not go well for reasons every politician today will recognise.  In 1834 he formed a minority Tory government but the Whigs made a compact with Irish Radicals that outvoted the government. Peel’s first ministry lasted 100 days. He did not return to power for six years.


Extraordinary election journalism from the Guardian

Today’s Guardian front page splash is an extraordinary piece of election journalism. It runs under a very long narrative headline:

From the Mail? In you go. From the Sun? Very welcome. From the Telegraph? That’s fine, have a seat at the front. From the Guardian? No way. Electioneering, Tory-style

Front page, April 23,

Front page, April 23,

The story is accompanied by a picture of Boris Johnson and David Cameron, at the nursery event from which the Guardian was excluded, holding up hands stained UKIP purple rather than Toy blue (but that might be printing fault). The nearest journalistic parallel I can think of is the stories which used to appear fairly regularly in regional papers, when they were banned from football matches because a team did not like their coverage.



The story, by feature writer Marina Hyde (licensed to comment), quickly broadens into an attack on Cameron’s campaign and his avoidance of meeting anyone not selected by his large team of minders. She writes (on the website the headline has become, ‘Lethal weapon’ Boris unveiled as giant voter defence shield for Cameron):

Of all the unedifying sights I’ve seen so far this campaign, the sorriest has to be Cameron’s entourage forming a protective huddle round him on a busy platform at Bedford station on Wednesday morning, while the prime minister’s eyes darted nervously about, wondering where his late-running train was. He wore the anxious air of a man who absolutely does not wish to be approached, and his fellow passengers could only have clocked it. He made eye contact with no one, and no one came up to him, until a lone woman asked for a picture. He didn’t seem to know quite what to say, essaying a half-arsed, “Fifteen days to go!” “I’m off to spend the day with Boris, which is always an entertainment …” he concluded, sounding like it was always a massive ballache.

Among the general election campaigns I have watched, 2015 is marked by the least contact between politicians and voters, other than those known to be supporters. How can it be, that politicians, who are asking to go to the House of Commons to heckle and be heckled at prime minister’s questions, are so afraid of queries from the electorate?

Marina Hyde does cast some light on how the electorate is being sidelined. she writes:

As for his [Cameron’s] vast road crew … students of political esoterica may care to know that the Tory operatives have a whole badge system going on this election. There are countless people whose job seems to be to busy themselves being busy (what was it Jaap Stam said about the Neville brothers?). Each has a small circular metal badge on their lapel. Some are yellow, some are green, some are red. There may be other colours.

Perhaps they’re medals – the purple hearts of stage management. I’d guess that they have their roots – like most desperately self-parodic elements of British life – in the petty, endlessly pointless hierarchies of a minor public school shortly after the end of empire.

The Guardian had yet to decide how, or if, it will advise readers to vote. My guess is it will be, anything to keep the Conservatives out unless the alternative is UKIP.

The average UK vote is worth 3.33 times mine. Time for PR

My vote is worth less than that of most people, The average UK voter has 3.33 times as much power as I do, according to Voter Power. a website using data from the New Economics Foundation.

In other words, I would have to vote more than three times to have the influence of the elusive average man or woman. To try to do that would be illegal so I will not try.

The disparity of power for voters in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich is because it is a very safe seat (for the Conservatives).

Data like these are used by the central campaign organisations of all the parties to help decide where they will put in the effort to get people to change their vote. Numbers of key voters are hotly disputed but the numbers of people who can change a general election result are often counted in the tens of thousands.

This is because small local swings make huge differences in the first-past-the-post system. If we want to make every vote count more equally we need to move to a system of proportional representation.

The existing system has suited the big parties well (Labour and Conservatives have been against change while the Lib Dems, who are under represented, have wanted it).

But now that we seem to be entering a time of less binary political power the pressure for proportional voting is likely to increase.

The Scottish parliament website says members “are chosen using a system called the Additional Member System (AMS). This system allows people to have a local constituency MSP and also adds other members to make the overall result more proportional. In this way more viewpoints are represented in Parliament.”

Currently the SNP has 64 of the 128 MSPs. In this general election with the first-past-the-post system the prediction they will almost sweep the board is worrying both the Conservatives and Labour.

This might just change English attitudes towards a more proportionate electoral system.

I have complained about the lack of attention from candidates and so has Mark Valladres, another Suffolk blogger, who last week wrote a post: Creeting St Peter: the candidate doesn’t even knock once… 

If he checks out the Voter Power website it will discover his vote, in Bury St Edmunds constituency, is worth more than mine – but not a lot.

The data at the Voter Power  site is also used by Democratic Dashboard, set up by people at the London School of Economics, which has a wealth of other information about the election in individual constituencies.



English newspapers and political parties are looking increasing like English nationalists

This morning a consensus among the London-based newspapers is emerging and it looks like English nationalism. It takes the form of presenting Nicola Sturgeon as a “demon” — not my word but that of a veteran media commentator, Roy Greenslade, in bis blog.

Splash headlines in both the Telegraph and The Times use the word “ransom”. Greendale writes:

Gone is the praise for her TV performances. Now she [Nicola Sturgeon] is the election’s demon figure as far as Fleet Street’s blue newspapers are concerned….

The sudden realisation that the Scottish nationalist tail could end up wagging the Westminster (Labour) dog is the major concern of most of today’s London-based national newspapers.

In a Telegraph column about the SNP today, Boris Johnson, asks:

You wouldn’t get Herod to run a baby farm, would you?

The Guardian, in which Greenslade writes, has a straightforward interview with Sturgeon in which she talks about the SNP being a “constructive participant” at Westminster. Matthew D’Ancona, one of the paper’s columnists concludes:

How can a prime minister who has to run everything past Holyrood be taken seriously? Such an outcome would, of course, be worse for Cameron than Miliband. But only just.

From the papers today and the words of both Cameron and Miliband, I get a sense that they have given up on the United Kingdom and are taking English nationalist positions. There is a reluctance to accept that an English majority is trumped by a UK-wide majority however a government is cobbled together.

Scotland has been effectively ruled by by whoever could muster a majority in England for a very long time. It is a some years ago, but few north of the border are likely to forget the way Margaret Thatcher used Scotland as a colonial guinea pig for her doomed poll tax.

Could it be that the centenary of the UK losing Ireland (except for the gerrymandered six counties) will be marked in 2022 by a majority in Scotland voting for independence?

David Torrance, a columnist in the Glasgow published Herald, get down the fundamentals of the campaigns::

For all its talk of promoting “the good life”, the Conservatives ultimately want a smaller state; for all its promises of fiscal rectitude Labour wants (one would hope) a more socially just society, while for all their non-constitutional policy agendas the SNP and UKIP want independence for Scotland and the UK respectively. Anything parties say and do during an election campaign is but a contrivance to further those central aims.

2½ weeks is a long time in an election – anything could happen

2½ weeks is a long time in an election campaign. Either the Conservatives or Labour could yet win an overall majority. Or, a little more likely, one of them could make a big error and lose.

That  has to be the basis on which the strategists are fighting the campaign. And that is what is behind all the posturing about danger of dysfunctional coalitions.

Ed Miliband simply can’t say he would do business with Nicola Sturgeon. If he said he was prepared to form a Government with Scottish Nationalist support he would also be telling his own party members in Scotland that there was no point in voting Labour.

And that is just the message Sturgeon wants to get across.

In much the same way David Cameron cannot say he would rule with the support of UKIP. The Lib Dems say they would not support Conservative welfare cuts, but their credibility is shot by their record on student fees.

No party is in a position to say what it would do in the event of it not having an overall majority and having to seek a coalition or some looser form of support. It would be electoral suicide.

That is why they try to get the other side to say what they would do and so make one of the mistakes that lose elections. We have reached the situation where no party’s policies look like winning the election. But it would still be easy to lose the election

It is only in the early hours of May 8 that we will start to see if there is a need for the wolf to dwell with the lamb and the leopard to lie down with the kid.

Then the realistic bargaining can begin and it could result in some strange bedfellows and take a long time. But not as long as the 16 months taken by the Belgians in 2010-11.

The Young Fabians say in a thoughtful blog post the foundations are already being laid:

In the new era of multi-party politics the manifestos produced by all the parties take on a fresh significance as coded love letters to would-be partners in government.

And after a bit of decoding it concludes:

The seedy game of footsie between the progressive parties will continue right up to, and beyond, May 7th. Yet Labour has been more forward towards its potential partners than many realise. A subtle, but aggressive, pitch to plurality could be all the difference when the votes are in.