Election 2015 – A Thought Process

The 2015 UK General Election is going to to be the tightest contest in this country in many years. This post shows my thought process as we reach Polling Day tomorrow, Thursday 7th May 2015. I am not telling anyone else how to vote, just explaining and documenting my thoughts for posterity and for the sake of my own poor memory!

The 2015 UK General Election is going to to be the tightest contest in this country in many years. This post shows my thought process as we reach Polling Day tomorrow, Thursday 7th May 2015. I am not telling anyone else how to vote, just explaining and documenting my thoughts for posterity and for the sake of my own poor memory!

Overview

Frankly I think the nature of this year’s election proves once again, because it has been proven before, the current electoral system is broken. We need some proportional system even if that does let in the likes of UKIP when they become popular – I suppose one argument in favour of FPTP is it smoothes out such trends although the SNP in Scotland may be about to blow that argument out of the water.

But we’re stuck with ‘first past the post’ which means many constituencies are reduced to a two-horse race between two candidates and if you don’t like either of them, tough, your vote is effectively wasted*. Or if, like me, you’re a floating voter who makes a decision in the run up to Polling Day, it makes the decision quite difficult.

This is where tactical voting comes in. Floating voters (“undecideds”) and supporters of other parties voting for the 2nd most popular candidate, regardless of their affiliation, to try to beat the incumbent.

* It actually may not be wasted this year. If there’s a hung parliament as seems certain, could the total number of votes for each party be an influencing factor? If it is – well that’s a damn good reason for people even in ‘safe seats’ to go out and vote anyway. In this situation do you vote tactically or not? Do you go for national picture or local?

South West

South West England is almost entirely a contest between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Check out this map of the 2010 results and you’ll see a sea of blue and yellow which is widely predicted to turn more blue this year.

Dorset

When I lived in West Dorset I voted Lib Dem every time in the hope of trying to oust Oliver Letwin. He may well be a good constituency MP and a lot of locals rave about him, but on a national level he seems to want to privatise everything, including the NHS. If I still lived there I would happily vote the same way again, especially as this time the LD’s have their best candidate for that seat in years in Ros Kayes who is a very good local councillor with a lot of local support – though it has to be said the national slump of the party is probably going to cost her any chance of winning this time.

– West Dorset (Democratic Dashboard) [new window]
– West Dorset (Wiki) [new window]

Devon

In July I moved about 12 miles East which meant I crossed the border into East Devon. I now live in the constituency of Tiverton And Honiton, which was only created in 2010 and if you look at a map is a bit of a weird one, not following any cultural or administrative boundaries that I know about. Where I am it replaced a constituency running along the south coast from Exmouth to the Devon side of Lyme Regis, which to me makes much more sense.

I know little about the candidates here other than that the incumbent Conservative is a farmer and he has a bigger majority than Letwin does in West Dorset, yet I’d never heard of him. He appeared on BBC1’s ‘Sunday Politics’ in the South West region a few weeks ago and seemed reasonable enough, but then I looked up his voting record.

There are five candidates. I’ve received three leaflets, one each from the dominant parties from the last several elections, Tory and LibDem, plus the Greens. I’m not really any the wiser – they all support the town hospital (a contentious local issue) and they all like posing for photos with local people.

– Tiverton & Honiton (Democratic Dashboard) [new window]
– Tiverton & Honiton (wiki) [new window]

Considering each party in my constituency in turn. Again, not knowing much of anything about any candidate I’m going to stick to national issues.

Conservatives – Incumbent. I was at school in the 90s during John Major’s ‘Back To Basics’ era (read: no education funding whatsoever), and similar for health, I made a vow a long time ago never to vote Tory.
Yet.. they’ve actually done a better job than I expected back in 2010. They’ve reduced the deficit – okay, the total debt has skyrocketed but there seems to be some movement toward sorting it out and I doubt the others would’ve done any better. Perhaps my 5-6 years of having an accountancy-wired brain means I’m more sympathetic to their argument, and I am, I just don’t like how they’re doing it. Vast inequalities, crackdowns on benefits instead of mass tax evasion, etc. But the country hasn’t crashed and burned and the money hasn’t completely dried up. And I did get a house out of it.. or so I thought until I read up and discovered ‘shared ownership’ was around slightly before they came in.
I like that they’re tackling the EU from within, reducing the budget and offering a different take to France’s and Germany’s ‘ever-closer’ way. But I don’t want a referendum.

Cameron should be credited for shifting the party back to the centre than they would’ve been under a Michael Howard or similar. The fact this right-of-centre party legalised gay marriage is quite something and signifies this is culturally a different party to the one of the 90s.. but one that feels like it could regress at any moment. The food banks and the bedroom tax and the zero-hour contracts and the massive corporate tax evasion prove they haven’t changed that much.

Labour – Although they are nowhere locally I’m really considering voting for them this time because of the national poll. What if the total number of votes has a bearing in the event of a hung parliament? I am sure it comes down to seats but what if it is on total votes? Every vote could matter.

They seemed a bit lost for a while after Blair & Brown. Miliband seems to be finding his feet now, finding some fight, and he’s successfully moved away from New Labour without becoming radically socialist. This means they are electable – or nearly. I’m not fully convinced they are ready yet. Thankfully they want to end a lot of unfair policies, not just Tory policies but some from the previous Labour administration too. I like the striving for a fairer country. I am less convinced about their spending plans, we really can’t keep borrowing and borrowing and borrowing.

Liberal Democrats – Generally I agree with the Liberal Democrats on most issues. I gravitate to them in most instances. I like their current ‘moderation’ message because that’s exactly what they did in Government. I have every reason to believe the Tories would’ve made far more swingeing cuts had Clegg & Co not been there. And yet.. And yet.. Somehow they feel less trustworthy and more ‘Tory Lite’ than before. A few crucial broken promises here, a power-grab there.. They aren’t so different to the other big parties after all. And they’ve shifted from the ground they occupied in the Ashdown days – they just seem less positive for what was a positive, attractive party.

Clegg is the only major party leader in England who admits there will be a coalition / agreement after the election. There is no way the Tories or Labour will have a majority unless the polls of the last 6 months are completely wrong and those two parties are deluding themselves if they think it’ll happen. Therefore it makes perfect logical sense to be open, declare willingness to work with either major party and admit as much up front before the election. The trouble with that? It looks like a desperate attempt to cling to power at any price.

UKIP – Bigoted fruitcakes who’ll blame everything on immigration and will say anything populist on other issues because they know they’ll never get elected and won’t have to properly budget for their promises. Ain’t happening. Thankfully they have no traction whatsoever in the SW apart from a few big signs in hedgerows.

Green – At least they mean well.. Bit of a shame we can’t have slightly more sensible Greens like the Germans do. Ours are much more realistic than they used to be and Natalie Bennett as leader is a breath of fresh air but it’s all still a bit pie-in-the-sky at the moment. Their voice should be heard and I hope they keep growing.. but it won’t be happening here just yet.

The Decision

We’ve had 5 years of a Tory / Lib Dem coalition. I’d quite like the next 5 years to be a Labour / Lib Dem coalition with roughly the same split of MPs. That’d be quite interesting. Alas it won’t happen because the Lib Dems will have fewer MPs this time. This means either Labour will need to bring in others to bump up the numbers, in which case the coalition gets too broad and unworkable (too many voices), or we’re back to Tory + Lib Dem but a version in which the Lib Dems have less clout than before.

I’ve decided to vote Lib Dem again. They may have drifted a bit and may have gone a bit power-mad, but although they’ve not got it right all the time I do think they’ve been a worthwhile moderating voice over the last few years.

District and Town Council

Axminster will also hold elections for East Devon District Council and for Axminster Town Council. I’ve had a few leaflets about this but I’m largely ignorant of the politics here at this level.

I’ve had a few leaflets through. Looking dispassionately..

As well as the main parties there are candidates from ‘East Devon Alliance’, a coalition of Independents running on a ticket of restoring a voice to the local council which is dominated by one party right now, and removing national parties from the local system (I agree with that). My worry is the wording about ‘protecting from over-development’ which suggests they don’t like the new houses in town… one of which is mine. I agree they shouldn’t go too far, but over-protectionism is a bit too ‘head-in-the-sand’ for me, the same problem afflicts Bridport and is a reason I moved away from there. Their other aims are laudable though.
The Lib Dem candidates (two) also seem like hard workers aiming at positive change.
The Tory candidates sent out an interesting Q&A ‘debunking’ some of EDA’s accusations. I don’t know how much of it is true. Again they seem to be hard workers with a plan.

I get two votes in the District election, so 1x LD and 1x EDA seems fair. I am sure the Conservative voice will also remain represented in this very Tory area.

As for the town council I have no idea, no literature at all, though I expect some candidates are standing in both as happens elsewhere.

Future

The democratic geek in me wants to see a hung parliament to witness what happens afterwards. The anti-Tory in me wants a Lab/Lib pact. Whatever happens, the next 48 hours and the next 14 days should be fascinating!

I won’t tell you who to vote for. Just VOTE!

2014: A Busy Year!

And… relax!

I have never before been as busy I was in 2014. It was the perfect storm of several things happening at the same time. A year of ups and downs and changes. Eventually it turned out for the better but only after a lot of stress, worry and hard work.

This is why I haven’t been blogging very much on either of my sites for the last year or more, why I cut down in other areas both offline and online – and why online I effectively limited myself to Twitter!

Without going into too much detail…

Work

Part of the company’s business closed in June 2013. I stayed on but had to endure a long several months waiting to November for my review. Lots of negativity among a group of people worried about their future. From December there were tough contract negotiations, followed by a lot of upheaval into the Spring as the changes were put into place, then from March there were 6 months of being really very busy indeed. I’d never before done so much work or so much overtime! An extended period of uncertainty, negativity, disruption, tension, stress.. 15 months of living on edge. I’m very glad to say all of that is in the past!

After restructuring, my office was to be smaller and quieter but I would have more responsibilities and more interesting work than I’d had before. So, David Brent-like, I managed to get a positive out of a negative. Because of all the changes, and a lot of other things we as a company were doing – including starting a new product line! – it is only in the last month or so that I feel the really positive progress has been made. I’m more involved, active rather than passive. It finally feels like we’re moving beyond fighting the metaphorical fires.

Perhaps for the first time in any job I’ve ever had, I feel I’m being listened to and taken seriously rather than looked down upon. I’m busy, but in a good way.

I felt like David Brent:
‘You’ve all been made redundant but, silver lining, I’ve been promoted.’

Home

I bought a house!

Yes, in the middle of all the above at work I entered into what people say is one of the most stressful processes there are.

I had been renting poky little flats for years. It was confining. In January 2014 I started plotting how to buy a house and planned to do it about a year later. Except it wasn’t a year later it was a month later! An opportunity came up that I couldn’t refuse.

Downside? I couldn’t afford to stay in the same town. Upside? Changing towns gives you a different perspective on things and it had been 8 years since I’d last done so.

I bought 50% of the property with a mortgage and I pay rent on the other 50%. The rental fee is much lower than the mortgage fee. I could not afford to take out a mortgage for the whole of this property. The two fees combined, in a more affordable town, is only a bit above what I was paying in rent for a flat in a more expensive town ten miles away.

I couldn’t have done it without support from my family, which was fantastic of them, so a huge thanks is due to them.

I meant to do blog posts all through the process but I got a bit too busy, and having too much fun enjoying living in it!

When I said it is new, it is actually brand new – I’m the first person to live in it – here it is!

New House!
New House!

Health

I have a belly problem. I don’t know what it is. All I know is when I eat spicy food or fatty food or things like Weetabix I get a bad reaction, it hurts and I need the loo right away. I get headaches and I get really, really tired. When I get home from work I just want to crash out and do nothing. This started mid-2013, the same time as all the work problems, so I wondered if was brought on by stress. The doctor said it might’ve been but it was hard to say, you can never be sure. But there are various belly issues in the family.

I’ve been on tablets for over a year which have helped.

In October I had a gastroscopy, a type of endoscopy where they numb your throat and a fibreoptic tube is sent down your throat with a camera at one end so they can see inside you. I assure you. this is not a pleasant experience. It only lasts 2 minutes but it is absolutely horrible. I’ve had two of them now and I think if I have to have another one I’ll take the chicken option and be sedated.

The good news? In the first one they found a little lump, in the second one they found it was totally harmless and is nothing to worry about. So it is nothing bad and we are slowly ruling out suspects.

I really miss curry! I can just about eat one if I have a lot of rice. Sometimes I have one anyway and deal with the pain later.

2015!

2013 was the shock.

2014 was the transition and the hard work.

That must mean 2015 is the year to reap the benefits! It should be a good year and I’m looking forward to it.

A Positive Union

On Thursday 18th September 2014, just a day away, over 300 years of union could be brought to an end as Scotland votes on whether to leave the United Kingdom.

I can scarcely believe I wrote that sentence. The whole concept still feels unthinkable. And yet it is very real.

British, or Not?

I once lived in Scotland, if you can call staying less than a year ‘living’ there. I spent nine months living in Broughty Ferry, a little place on the edge of – but definitely not in – Dundee. As privileged as I am to hail from (and once again live now) the West Dorset and East Devon area let me tell you there’s not anything wrong with the views over the Tay.

Did I feel it was British? Well, it was different. It wasn’t quite like home and in many ways you felt it was a different country – and that’s because it is a different country. Not another region, another country within the bigger country. (The semantics of a union of four nations is difficult). The people there have different ways, different accents and dialects, even a different way of structuring sentences. The architecture was very different, much more sturdy and solid – it has to be, the winds up there are as strong as anything you’d find in Cornwall. But yes it did feel British to me, a different expression of Britishness perhaps, but a part of it all the same. Those same people had the same outlook on life, the same problems, the same interests, the same attitudes.

That’s because Britishness is shared among all four of the nations of the union and is not dictated by Westminster.

The worry I have is some of the ‘undecideds’ who might be persuaded to vote yes actually quite like being British. I wonder if they realise although they’ll still be British, their descendants may not be. Scots will be considered as Irish are now. I am sure in the transition years after Irish independence many were considered Brits still. But not now. Even though Ireland is in an archipelago called the British Isles nobody from the Republic is considered British. 50 years from now, Scotland will still be on an island called Britain but will its citizens be called British? I doubt it. I doubt the concept will exist outside the history e-books.

In the ‘young persons’ debate on Channel 4 last week a surprising number saw themselves as Scottish only and not British. Things like this always confused me. The idea of asking if you’re one or the other. It makes no sense to me.

I have always been British and English and European and from the Westcountry, the historic old Wessex, and from Dorset. All at the same time, with not a conflict between any of them. It is a multi-layered identity and everyone has their own combination. Right now most Scots are both Scottish and British (even if they’d rather not be) and European and I cannot get my head around why you’d want anything else. Why choose one or two of them? Why can’t someone be all of them at once? It isn’t a contradiction, quite the opposite we should celebrate it.

Westminster

Speaking of Westminster, the Yes campaign seems to be trying to portray this as a decision purely about politicians and MPs and little else. Just moving the centre of governance for Scotland into Scotland. And that’s a fine idea at first thought.

There are practical difficulties like Scotland not presently having a second chamber through which bills should pass before being made law. Needing to build up the civil service rather than share it with the rest of the UK in Whitehall or wherever. I’m sure this would be overcome though I’m not sure the electorate is fully aware of them. But put those to one side as things to work out later.

A No vote isn’t a vote for the status quo. The status quo is dead and buried. Westminster MPs haven’t been listening forever but that isn’t a problem unique to Scotland. They don’t listen to any of us.
But that poll the other day showing a Yes lead? That woke them up. It really woke them up. Now they’re listening. And they’re making changes.

Okay I agree with what you’re thinking – under normal circumstances there’d be a No vote and after the passage of time the change would slow or stop and we’d be back to business as usual.
These are not normal circumstances.

There is a UK-wide General Election in May. The parties reveal their manifestos, the tickets they’ll run on at that next election, at the annual Party Conferences. Well, the conference season is about to begin. The Labour Party conference is next week. The Conservative Party conference is the week after.

They aren’t going to forget this referendum after a week. Expect next week and the week after to be all about what more powers they want to offer Scotland, and potentially some changes for the rest of us.

The tight polls have already sent the message. And it isn’t just Scotland that thinks this way. The population of the rest of the UK does as well. You think this referendum won’t be the biggest topic in the conferences? Make no mistake, they will never want to repeat this referendum again and they’ll be willing to talk.

So yes, vote No and then Scotland can lead the change within the UK for a fairer UK. Let’s talk about more powers for Holyrood – and Cardiff and Stormont if you like, why not? Let’s talk about an elected House of Lords, no, a House of Senators sounds better!

Change for good is entirely possible within the UK without walking away from it. The Scots have often led the change and are doing so again. Reform is the answer. Ironically it could be the harder road to travel.

Of course we have problems. Independence isn’t going to solve austerity. And, hard as we’re feeling the pinch, the UK is recovering faster than any other country in G7. There’s a lot still to fix and a long way to go but everybody across Europe is feeling pain, that won’t go away if you get rid of Westminster. I think it’ll make it last longer. I believe working together in a bigger nation helps us all recover faster.

The feeling in England now?

With such a vocal voice for Yes and a very real chance of it happening there’s a quiet resignation where I am in England. A feeling of inevitability. Sadness. Regret. Confusion.. Blaming the media.. Why didn’t we know this before September? Why didn’t we do something more? Was it us, did we throw it away, not the politicians but actually us?

A little anger but as much directed at ‘Yes’ as the official ‘No’ campaign which has not been run well. But this isn’t a vote on who had the best advertising campaign. There’s a hope the promises of Yes will be seen as false promises, as they mostly are.

There’s hope that a No might squeak through.. and more than that, that it sparks change all over these islands. Change that we all need.

Hopes

I hope Scotland votes No. There is a lot of disquiet throughout the UK and this referendum has provoked unprecedented debate and discussion. Let’s harness that and drive the change forward.

You want a positive case for the Union? Gordon Brown – wait, yes really, I’m just as surprised as you – makes the passionate, positive case.

London 2012: Part 5 – Paralympics at ExCel

So far in this series I had only been around the margins of London 2012’s Olympic Games. Things were about to be different. When September’s Paralympics came around, when almost the whole of Britain wanted to this great summer to roll on and on forever, I finally got into the midst of the action with real, actual tickets!

Over two days I would see live sport at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in the afternoon, the Olympic Stadium in the evening, and the second day would be spent at Brands Hatch. A busy two days!

September 6th, 2012 – Afternoon

As with the visit in the summer the morning was spent taking the train from Dorset to London Waterloo and making my way to the venue. I’d wanted to try the brand new cable car across the Thames but hadn’t yet found a reason to go all that way over there – I mean who would put it there and expect it to be used? Yet as luck would have it, it turns out the fastest way from Waterloo to the ExCel is to take the tube to the Millennium Dome (the ‘O2 Arena’ as I suppose we have to call it) and use the cable car, which plonks you down about half a mile from the ExCel.

 

This part of London is a mix of the exhibition hall, conference centres, restaurants and so forth. It used to be the famous sprawling docks of the city and some tributes remain as a legacy.

The first thing to do was negotiate the notoriously thorough London 2012 securit, which was as restrictive as airport security: can’t take in more than 100ml of fluid, can’t bring your own drinks, can only bring a small rucksack bag which needed to be emptied in front of them. Not particularly helpful to those who didn’t have time to check into their hotel beforehand (i.e. me) so I had to travel light. The staff, whether G4S or Armed Forces personnel (a lot of RAF) were immensely friendly though and everyone was passing through easily.

ExCel London

I had a day pass so I could go wherever I liked. The ExCel was hosting several sports although several coincided so I had to plot my moves. It was quite difficult as you never knew when something might end, and there were quite a lot of people around especially when there was a break between sessions. The worst part was when all sessions ended at once and everyone was queuing to get in to the next one.

Nearest the door: table tennis. Let’s do that first.

Table Tennis

Table tennis arena. 5 games in progress at the same time!

Within a few minutes I realised four things:

One, wow lots of games at once this is a bargain!

Two, watching from a distance the tables are quite small and so is the ball.

Three, I don’t know anything about any form of tennis except some basics. In fact this whole Paralympic experience was the first time I’d attended a sporting event without knowing anything about the sports or their competitors.

Four, as a motorsport fan when I’m trackside I am accustomed to having a radio in my ear with commentary provided by the circuit or the championship. At the Paralympics there was no commentary, although I’d not brought my radio anyway!

I was confused for a while especially as the crowd on one side of the arena was getting really animated and were cheering one of the games near to them, which made me think I’d missed something in the game I was watching! I hadn’t, they were just watching a different thing.

I’d perhaps naively expected several screens perhaps with one for each table, and very clear modern scoreboard. What we had were a few fairly small screens all focussed on the same match and an old-fashioned single-colour scoreboard right outta the 70s with everything abbreviated so you didn’t know what it meant (unless you did). For the year 2012 at an event sponsored by a giant electronics company I was not impressed.

British competitor on the left hidden behind the marshal

It was fun though. Just because they are in wheelchairs doesn’t mean the game is any slower. I’d say it is a lot more impressive playing in a chair rather than leaping around trying to hit the ball, your reactions have to be very fast to hit the ball before it goes out of your more limited reach and that in turn makes for a very rapid game… or a lot of misses.

I was on the verge of moving but I started to get really into the game happening in front of me, what I think was Turkey vs Russia. It was a team event and these weren’t in chairs so I guess they were partially-sighted or something. There was a singles, then another singles between the other two, then they finished off playing doubles. I’ve been to Turkey and liked it so I was pulling for them.

Turkey vs Russia
Turkey vs Russia doubles

I could see the scores just next to the umpire there and on the screen at the back (just!). It was a close contest, which is why I didn’t move over to the other stand to watch the British athletes! My memory faded now but I think Turkey just about won. It was close all the way through.

Britain vs China (I saw more through the camera than through the eye)

And there was good support for the British team. When the game in front of me finished I decided not to stay, instead I went back out into the atrium and head to the fencing which was on at the same time.

The atrium.

Wheelchair Fencing

I really liked the idea of wheelchair fencing. I just couldn’t see how it would work, from what I’ve seen of fencing one of the key components of it is the ability to move back and forth to attack or defend, yet these guys were sat in chairs which were strapped to the ground and couldn’t move. How could they have a swordfight?

Wheelchair Fencing

As it turned out it was fantastic. Such a fun sport! Such a fast sport as well.

HIT HIM!!

I didn’t have an optimum position so it was hard to see, and again lots of contests to follow which again I found difficult. The nearest me happened to be two Frenchman which I didn’t think was fair on the French team!

I missed a lot though. I thought I was being clever in doing tennis first and fencing second but when I stayed longer at the tennis I’d forgotten that would mean less time at the fencing (even though there should’ve been a clear 1hr15min of fencing after the tennis ended which wasn’t the case). Just inexperience with the sports – had I known beforehand that I’d end up liking fencing I’d have allowed more time for it! The second session wasn’t to start until 5pm and I couldn’t stay that long.

After lunch and a lot of waiting around for the next set of sessions I gave up on Sitting Volleyball thanks to the sheer mass of people. It would’ve taken ages to get in. I wanted to watch that but so did everybody else! So I went to see boccia instead.

Boccia

Boccia turned out to be quite boring. It was basically a form of bowls with a shorter field of play and about as interesting as bowls, which is to say ‘not very’. If it had been a variant of skittles or ten pin bowling I’d have been more interested but I suppose they’re a bit harder to throw from a wheelchair.

Boccia

But again, some Brits were in there doing well with a lot of home support and the home crowds were cheering in the right places so they clearly knew their sport so good on ’em. Probably says a lot that I was happier watching the synchronised sweepers.

Time To Go

And that was pretty much it. I was there for five hours and saw three sports, queued for lots of things, and after not knowing what to expect I actually came away wishing I’d got there earlier and had more time. I really did enjoy it. Not at all bad for what I’d previously thought was just a £10 ‘filler’ to waste the afternoon before the trip to Stratford!

I couldn’t stay any later though, I was off somewhere exciting: The Olympic Stadium!

Goodbye ExCel.

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This is part five of my series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. There are two later parts.

Other parts:

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