Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Why you should vote against AV

Here's a good video explaining the main reasons to vote against AV:

Monday, 28 March 2011

Idea for a new Lib Dem HQ

So, apparently the Lib Dems are going to be moving from their Cowley Street headquarters. Depending on who you ask this is either because Cowley Street is now too small or too expensive. Either way, the party is looking for new premises.

Pictured: A lovely old building
Now Cowley Street is a lovely old place and I think it'd be a shame for us to end up moving from a place like that to some monotonous office block like Millbank.

Pictured: A monotonous office block
So, I think I've found the perfect solution. The Old London Underground Company is planning to convert 26 disused tube stations into night clubs, art galleries, restaurants and the like. They're not going to be using any public money to do so and they're essentially getting thousands of square feet in central London for next to nothing.

So, here's the big idea. Are you ready for it? The Liberal Democrats leave Cowley Street, buy a disused tube station from the company and set up HQ there instead.

I know, it's awesome, right? Imagine, a headquarters located beneath central London's streets. After all, we're already portrayed as villains by the media and the NUS so why not have a supervillain's headquarters to match? The entrance could be a trapdoor guarded by a crack team of Liberal Youth activists. We could have top secret meetings in disused tunnels.

Pictured: A supervillain's headquarters
And where better than underground to keep Clegg until the AV referendum is over? Who knows - we might even be able to take Lembit Opik off down a tunnel and lose him there.

Pictured: Lembit Opik

Sunday, 27 March 2011

One person one vote?

Seems like the tories are getting confused about voting again. The director of the No2AV campaign has done a piece on Conservative Home saying that AV will mean an end to one person one vote. This is nonsense of course but the tories are lapping it up. But this has prompted Mark Thompson to ask when they'll switch to FPTP to elect their party leader:
In the 2005 Conservative leadership election there were two rounds of MP voting before the candidates were whittled down to two to go to the country. In the first round the results were: 
David Davis: 31.3%
David Cameron: 28.3%
Liam Fox: 21.2%
Ken Clarke: 19.2% 
So Ken Clarke was eliminated and the MPs got to vote all over again. 
But hang on a minute! That means that all the MPs who voted for Ken Clarke who was eliminated got "more than one vote". They were able to go on to vote for one of the candidates who still remained in the contest. That is precisely what the Conservatives are claiming is anti-democratic now and why we should keep First Past The Post.

The curious case of the Americans...

So, I've been looking at the statistics for the number of pageviews this blog has received and there's something puzzling me. For the past few days dozens of Americans have bee visiting my blog despite no new content being uploaded. I don't mind, in fact, I'm rather flattered that our cousins from across the Atlantic are reading my blog. It's just that I'm a bit puzzled as to how and why they got here.

So, if you're a visiting American, please could you leave a comment to tell me what brings you here? Are you lost? Did you come here for my quaint British charm? Do you actually like the drivel I spout? Do you support Palin 2012? Where's my hat gone?

(Actually, I'd only really like answers to the first question - though I imagine that the answers to some of the others might well be amusing.)

Saturday, 26 March 2011

No2AV running out of ideas?

At the top of the frontpage of the No2AV website they have what they describe as a "weekly reason to vote no". The only problem is that their weekly reason to vote no has been this for the past month:

Incidentally, the reason is nonsense as a) the Electoral Commission has confirmed that they won't need or be buying voting machines and b) though, one of the Yes campaign's donors (namely the Electoral Reform Society) is the owner of a spin off company supplying electoral services, this company doesn't manufacture or sell voting machines.

So, do you think they might be running out of ideas?

UPDATE: They've now changed the weekly reason to:

Admittedly, what they're saying still isn't accurate (AV still has one person, one vote) but it's nice to see them rediscovering the fact that they can change the pictures on their website. You don't think one of them might have read my blogpost do you?

Tories vote to ignore parking charges petition

Some of you may remember my post from last week about the petition against the tory-run county council's decision to drastically increase parking charges. Council policy meant that if the petition got 20,000 signatures then the council was required to debate it at the next meeting.

Well, the good news is that over 23,000 people signed it and about 19,000 paper petitions were presented at County Hall. Overall, about 40,000 people signed various different petitions asking the council to reconsider.

The thing is that the next normal council meeting isn't until June - after the elections and when it will be too late to do anything about the parking charge increases. So the Lib Dems on the county council proposed a motion asking the council to debate the issue before then. All 13 Lib Dem county councillors, as well as the Residents Association and Independent councillors, voted to debate the motion. The Tories voted against and, because tory councillors hold a majority at the moment, they stopped the debate from taking place. The sole Labour councillor didn't bother to attend the meeting.

Now, parking charges may sound like a small thing but what we're talking about here is charging people 70p for a maximum stay of 30 minutes. This will be immensely damaging to local businesses. For one thing, half an hour is not enough time to do any meaningful amount of shopping and, for another, 70p is outrageously high for just half an hour. All that will happen is that people will stop shopping in town centres and go to out of town shopping centres instead. Local business will close and town centre economies will go downhill. It's an old pattern that has been seen again and again across the country.

But that's not the worst bit. The most offensive bit of all of this is that the Conservatives think so little of local people that they think they can ignore 40,000 people. Well, all I can say is that I hope that the voters of Surrey remember the tories' contemptuous attitude to people's wishes when election time comes round.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Budget

So, yeah, today's Osbourne's budget. Woo.

I'll be trying to listen to the thing in full and I'll be writing my initial thoughts down for you to peruse. Mind you, the devil will, as always, be in the detail. I'm hoping for a few decent things in there though.

Incidentally, I can make one guarantee. The budget will be unpopular. This is because every budget is unpopular. Polls have found that, even among people who don't disagree with any part of a budget, the majority will still dislike it. Go figure.


So, I've just got in from a round of leafleting. My shoulders are aching and I've finished reading through the main points from the budget.

  • Fuel duty down by 1p per litre and no future increases - a good step though if prices keep rising it might be an idea to cut it further.
  • Personal tax allowance up to £8,105 - another step towards fulfilling the key Lib Dem manifesto pledge
  • Growth forecasts cuts - not good but at least the economy is still growing
  • Borrowing £2.5bn lower than expected and to be reduced to £29bn by 2015 - good, at least that means we won't be spending more money on interest rates on our debt
  • Council tax frozen - good
  • 10% of your inheritance tax bill will be knocked off if you give 10% to charity - a good idea and essentially means you get a choice of whether to give 10% of your estate to the taxman or a charity.
  • Private jets to pay passenger duty for the first time - take that. It's about time that they started to pay the same tax as the rest of us
  • Shared equity scheme to help 10,000 first time buyers by homes - a positive step, but the only long term solution is a programme of council house building
  • More money for science research and the creation of enterprise zones - very good, high tech industry is the best way to diversify our economy
  • 12 more University Technical Colleges to be created - brilliant news as I'm all in favour of UTCs
  • More apprenticeships and work experience placements - good as youth unemployment is very high
  • The eventual creation of a £140 a week state pension - about bloody time as too many pensioners struggle to survive on a pittance
  • Green Investment Bank to get an extra £2 billion and to be allowed to borrow - yes, yes, yes! This is a brilliant step forwards which will help reduce our emissions and create thousands of new jobs at the same time.
So, overall, I like the key points in the budget. The trick will be to see what emerges in the next few days as people look through the detail. I guarantee that there will be at least a few nasty surprises.

P.S. Lib Dem Voice has a good article on Lib Dem achievements in the budget.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Potholes and how the council wastes our money

At some point over the past few days the county council evidently sent someone round to fix one of the many potholes in my road. Here's a picture of the "repair":

The Potter Blogger finds this unacceptable
As you may have guessed from my tone, I'm not entirely pleased with this. And it's not just because there are about a dozen other potholes on the road in desperate need of repair. The problem is that this repair is as good as useless.

Look at it, it's not even sealed. All they've done is come along, squirt some tarmac into the hole, roll it flat and drive off. It won't last six months. For one thing, without being sealed around the edges, water will work it's way in, freeze, expand, and weaken it. And, because it's not a smooth edge, every car that drives over it will break it up just a little bit more. The whole thing will crumble and break up in no time at all and become another contributor to the grit and gravel littering our road.

But even if they had sealed it then it still wouldn't have lasted. See, unless you clean and dry the inside of the pothole first, the tarmac won't bind to the existing surface and moisture will be trapped underneath it. So come winter that trapped moisture will freeze and expand and start to break it up from within.

In short, all this repair does is spend several pounds worth of ratepayers money on a repair which won't last and will cost more money in the long run since they'll have to be back to redo it in six months.

If they'd done it properly then they'd have cut out a square containing the entire section, sealed the edges and then squirted down the tarmac before compacting it and rolling it flat with the surrounding surface before sealing it.

So far the tory-run council has paid out over a million pounds in compensation to people whose cars were damaged driving on Surrey's roads. Meanwhile, they're pleading poverty for being unable to repair the roads properly. So instead they make short sighted repairs like this which will cost them more in the long run. After all, all they're doing is making a temporary fix which will fail quickly. At that point the contractors will be called out to make another temporary fix. And all this does is save money in the short term but in the long term rack up lots more, expensive, short term fixes.

What the council should do is close the road of completely and have the whole thing resurface properly. If they do that then it should last for a good few years. But that doesn't just apply to my street, it applies to the whole county. Unless they have the guts to spend a bit more money upfront and fix the roads properly we can look forwards to them wasting our money on pointless repairs for years to come.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Lib Dem Caption Competition #1

Courtesy of Lib Dem Voice's caption competition series, here's my caption of the week:
“Alright, Tim, you can have a play, but be careful, that is the only thing which can land on our aircraft carriers now…”

Guildford wastes £21m whilst cutting services

As we all know, councils across the country are facing cuts at the moment and Guildford is no exception. That's why it's surprising that Guildford Borough Council has left £21 million unspent.

Now, to make this clear, this £21 million comes from section 106 agreements. Section 106 agreements are a system where developers pay the council a certain amount of money for local services and infrastructure as a condition of getting planning permission. So this money is meant to be spent on stuff like a new playground, or a bus stop, or tree planting.

Here's an extract from the Surrey Advertiser article about it:
Lib Dem environment and economy spokesman Will Forster said: “This is nothing short of Tory financial incompetence.
“Money from developers that is meant to be spent by the county council and Surrey’s local borough and district councils to pay for important improvements is being wasted. In the present tough financial climate, this is scandalous.” 
Figures show around £28m has been secured from developers: £6.7m received and spent on improvements, £11m received and sitting in the banks or balance sheets and £10.5m is outstanding. 
Unspent money could end up having to be paid back to developers.
So this is money that doesn't come out of the council's budget and which exists solely to pay for improvements in local communities. Yet it's being wasted.

To be fair to the council, they do say:
"Obtaining and spending the money is not always straightforward however. 
“Quite often the funding is a contribution to the costs of a scheme, so we can only use the money if we have the rest of the funding available. 
“Some money that has been secured through the planning process requires a trigger to release it. For example, with a housing development it may be triggered by a specified number of houses being completed.” 
“And some borough and district councils, which hold the money, want a spending plan in place before they will release it.”
So, there could, in theory, be a reason why all £11 million pounds received is currently unspent - though you'd think they'd want to spend a bit more of it at a time when they're cutting services.

And again, there is some explanation for the £10.5 million that they haven't yet collected from developers.

But I find it odd that, out of £28 million pounds they've secured, they've only spent £6.7 million. There's a reasonable amount of leeway that they could be given but £21 million pounds leeway seems pretty damn excessive. And, just to put this into perspective, here's a gratuitous pie chart:

As you can see, that's a pretty substantial amount left unspent or uncollected. I'd go so far as to say that this goes beyond the excuses they give and straight into wastefulness. Once again the tories prove themselves fiscally incompetent. Huzzah. Oh, no, wait a minute...

Friday, 18 March 2011

An excellent question

At PMQs yesterday, and according to Lib Dem Voice:
Jo Swinson (LibDem) asked an excellent question about Libya: “Can the Prime Minister tell me what message he thinks it will send to every tyrannical dictator if, against the urgent desire of the Libyan people, against the wishes of the Arab League and against the UN principle of the responsibility to protect, the international community fails to stop Gaddafi crushing the spirit, the hopes and the lives of the Libyan people?” I think that’s [one] of the best questions I have ever heard at PMQs. Cameron, more or less, agreed with the question.
I have to say, it does make me feel proud to be in the same party as people like Jo, even if it's also got people like Clegg in it.

And of course, the good news is that the UN has passed a No Fly Zone resolution on Libya. Hopefully it won't be too late.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A humbling experience

I challenge all of you to read this while listening to this:

And, if like me, you're a fast reader and need something to look out while the song ends, try this:

It's a humbling experience.

A Tale of Two Councils

I've been holding up the example of Lib Dem run Sheffield council vs Labour run Manchester council recently as an example of how councils aren't forced to cut public services - they choose to. I've been challenged on this comparison so this is an article where I'm going to compare as much as possible between the two councils to try and settle the issue once and for all. I'm going to try and create a fair and balanced comparison of the state of the two councils, their funding, the cuts to their funding and the cuts to services they are making. I don't know how this comparison will turn out so I may be rather red faced by the end of this piece.

For the record, all statistics used will come either from the council websites, local media or the BBC. Hopefully this will mean the data can be considered reliable. I've also used direct comparisons and the most up to date data whenever possible. For example, population will be using the 2009 estimate but details of the percentage of residents in each age group will be based on the 2001 census figures.

As you can see from this, both councils are relatively similar in terms of their residents. When it comes to employment and life expectancy, Manchester is significantly worse off but in most others it is only one or two points more worse off at most. Sheffield is also slightly larger and has a lower average weekly wage. Both have to provide a similar level of social housing and both have similar levels of unqualified residents. Manchester has a smaller elderly and non-adult population percentage-wise than Sheffield so presumably has to provide slightly less education and care home facilities.


Some people have been pointing out that I haven't mentioned what services the councils were providing for the cuts so here's a table to show you what they look like (when it comes to schools I've excluded academies and independent schools):

Now let's look at their financial situation:

Edit: this is an updated table to correct the figure for total cuts to Sheffield
Now, what this data shows is that Manchester receives more funding per head from the government than Sheffield and spends more per head. Manchester is actually spending more than Sheffield overall despite having a lower population. Compared to Sheffield, Manchester has a lower council tax rate, receives more funding from central government, will be spending more on capital projects, will receive more grants to spend on capital projects and will be borrowing less.

Despite this, Manchester is making far more substantial cuts, including closing all but one public toilet and making over nine times more people redundant than Sheffield is.

So what we can say overall is this. Manchester is in a slightly worse position than Sheffield economically and demographically and therefore the effect of cuts should be worse there than in Sheffield. After all, Sheffield is being forced to make smaller cuts to a larger population. However, the difference in circumstances between the two councils is not enough to explain the vast difference in the way in which the respective councils are making the cuts. Sheffield is making cuts with an emphasis on minimising redundancies and front-line service closures. Manchester is cutting both jobs and front-line services across the board. Frankly, I think the statistics speak for themselves. Almost no front-line services are being closed in Sheffield while Manchester is closing dozens of surestart centres and youth centres. Given the difference in situations, you would expect some front-line services to be shut and more redundancies in Manchester but nowhere near the scale that we are seeing. It also seems clear that Manchester council hasn't looked at many cost saving measures that Sheffield has - for example, Sheffield is going to start sharing back room services with other councils to cut costs.

Sheffield Lib Dems have shown that it is possible to handle large cuts without gutting crucial services. Manchester Labour seem almost to have taken delight in making such savage cuts and then blaming them on the Coalition. It is also deeply telling that Labour in Sheffield didn't propose their own alternative budget despite the fact that they could have gotten it voted through if they'd persuaded the three Green and Independent councillors to vote for it. This indicates to me that, not only did the Lib Dems in Sheffield protect their city from the cuts, they did it to such an extent that the opposition couldn't think of a better way to do it.

In conclusion, I think it is fair to say that the example of Sheffield vs. Manchester is a fair comparison and shows, as many have argued, that councils do not need to make substantial service cuts and redundancies just to balance the budget. Labour's cuts in Manchester seem deeply political on the back of all this.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Why we need to change the voting system

Here's a good video explaining why we need to switch from our current voting system. It's unfair and it leads to an inevitable two party system:

My personal favourite alternative is STV,but in the referendum on May the 5th we only get the choice of first past the post (FPTP) or alternative vote (AV).

Very simply, under AV, instead of putting an 'X' next to your preferred (or, more likely, least disliked) candidate, you rank the candidates in order of preference: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. You can rank as many or as few preferences as you wish. Here's an example of an AV ballot paper from the Labour leadership election:

When it comes to the counting of the votes a system is used to ensure that the winner is the one who is supported by over half the voters. This works by dividing the counting into rounds. In the first round, if anyone has got over half the first preferences then they win automatically. But if no one has a true majority in the first round then the candidate with the least number of first preferences is eliminated (let's call her the Orange candidate). But what happens to the votes of the people who voted for Orange now that she's been eliminated? Well, their votes get redistributed. So if their second preference was for Yellow then their vote is transferred to the Yellow candidate. If, after the votes have been redistributed, no candidate has won a majority of 50% of the votes then the candidate with the next least number of votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed using the same method as above. If, for example, it's Yellow who is eliminated in the the second round, then the Orange voters who'd put Yellow as their second preference have their vote redistributed according to their third preference.

So, if an Orange voter had voted Orange [1], Yellow [2] and Red [3], their vote would go to the Red candidate after Orange and Yellow is eliminated. This means that everyone gets one vote in each round.

The process is repeated until one candidate gets over 50% of the votes and is declared the winner. This means that the winning candidate has to be one that the majority of voters are happy with. It's like asking a friend to go down to the shop to get you a coke. You might say to them "if they don't have coke then I'll have a pepsi instead but please don't get me Dr Pepper because I hate that stuff". AV is the same principle applied to our electoral system. The candidate who becomes MP is one who most people can be happy with, even if some of them might have preferred a different MP in an ideal world. Above all, what it does is make sure that no one can be elected on 20% of the vote even though 80% of voters didn't want them.

So that's why, on May the 5th, I'll be voting Yes to AV. FPTP is broken and we need an improvement. AV might not be the best system in the world, but it is far better than what we've got. Please say 'Yes' to fairer votes.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Lib Dem Spring Conference 2011: Part 2

Apologies for the delay, conference ended on Sunday but it's only now that I've had the time to write things up.

Saturday 12th March

After a decent night's sleep the missus and I headed off to the conference pausing only for a quick breakfast of pastry, cheese, ham and orange juice. The supposedly ten minute walk from the hotel to the conference took double that time - but only because of my complete inability to use a map and the sat nav on my phone concurrently. That and what my girlfriend charitably described as "a complete lack of a sense of direction". Still, Sheffield is a very pretty city and walking through the city centre was a very enjoyable experience.

Arriving at the City Hall was an interesting experience as we had to pass through the 'Ring of Steel' (by the way, if anyone decides that would be a good name for a band - tough. I've bagsied it). The Ring of Steel, plus the dozens of policemen scattered about the place did seem like overkill given that there were no protesters there when we turned up. Mind you, there were some lovely local public health workers outside to hand us leaflets as we went in and to urge us to back Shirley William's amendments to the motion on NHS reform. Sadly I couldn't vote as I was a non-voting rep - but I supported the amendments all the way.

When we got in, after having our passes checked four times and our bags once, we decided to go downstairs to look at the stalls before the motion on NHS reform was due for debate. Both Natasha and I picked up loads of leaflets and I ended up buying the following:

  • Set of Lib Dem cuff-links x1
  • Lib Dem lapel pin x1
  • Lib Dem tie x1
  • Lib Dem badges x1
  • Lib Dem branded fleece, black x1
  • Lib Dem wooly hat (too small) x1
I also had just enough time to join the Liberal Democrat Disability Association before we went upstairs for the NHS motion. Quite simply, the motion originally was supportive of the proposed NHS reforms. Thankfully, two well crafter amendments torpedoed it and transformed it into a condemnation of the plans. We also has a motion against the government's proposals to withdraw the mobility component of the Disabled Living Allowance. Both of these motions passed overwhelmingly and made me proud to be a party member. More detail can be found here.

We then set off for the Mercure St Paul's Hotel where Vince Cable was due to have a debate with former MP Evan Harris over higher and further education. As we left the conference we got hassled by three protesters who chanted "shame on you" very half heartedly. We were very disappointed in their lack of conviction. If you're going to bother to stand outside and insult people you could at least have the decency to put some effort into it.

Unfortunately, after getting to the hotel and having a very expensive lunch, we found out that the venue had been moved back to the City Hall to avoid protesters. This meant that by the time we got back the event had already started and was completely packed. As a result I didn't get to meet Vince which made me very sad.

Incidentally, when we got back to the City Hall the protest had finally got underway. I still don't see where the five thousand figure came from though. I've been on protests and I reckon the most that could have fitted in such a small area was 1,000. A bit disappointing really given that Sheffield has 60,000 students.

Anyway, we decided to head off to a training session about being a parliamentary candidate (I got us lost on the way, again) and then we went back to the City Hall a third time for the diversity motion debate. Ways to improve the diversity of our MPs is a long standing argument within the party. In the 2001 conference there was blood on the floor (metaphorically) after the debate on whether to introduce all women or all BAME (black and minority ethnic) shortlists*. At the autumn conference last year there was a motion on whether to introduce mandatory places on shortlists which was halted by amendments. There was a lot of bad blood as a result of that as well.

Thankfully, this motion was much more measured. I'd opposed the motion last year but I supported this year's motion. Last year would have meant bringing discrimination on the basis of race into the selection process, something which, as a liberal, I am completely opposed to. This motion set out a method for improving diversity without resorting to such methods and so I supported it wholeheartedly. This was an issue that had divided the party for too long and we needed to finally do something. That said, I understand the position of those who oppose it, and those who don't think it goes far enough. Though, in fact, I think the fact that this was a compromise measure is probables a good thing. A balance between the two positions had been struck and the party will be the better for it. The motion was passed  by a large majority and essentially does the following:
The new provisions for the party will be to establish a Leadership Programme which will give them access to parliamentarians, a comprehensive training and support package, as well as mentoring and coaching. Those on the list will – if they apply – be guaranteed a place on shortlists before going ahead to be voted on by local parties who are selected. The list will have at least 30 people in it by the end of 2011, and will be made up of at 50% women, 20% from BAME backgrounds and 10% for those with disabilities.
There's an article over on Lib Dem Voice about it which is well worth a read.

Finally, after a long day, we went back to the hotel, dumped our stuff, went to an excellent all you could eat Chinese food buffet and then went to the Glee Club.

Now, a word on the Glee Club. The Glee Club is an ancient Liberal tradition and always takes place on the Saturday of conference. It combines Liberal humour with singing and our other great tradition of drinking. It took place in a large room with a bar at one end and seats at the other. I'd say about 200 of us crowded in there to sing songs from the Liberator songbook. The songs come from every era of the party and are very tongue-in-cheek. For example, we had "the Pink Flag", "Iraqi Cokey Cokey", "Losing Deposits", "Twelve Days of Coalition", "The Lib-Lab Lie" and "Commons People". It was great fun and, despite the fact that my beer tasted of piss and that I went to bed extremely late, I loved every second of it. I even composed by own song in honour of the protesters which I shall submit to the Liberator in due course.

Well, that pretty much covers Saturday so I'll say goodnight and finish my write up tomorrow. Night night.

* - Shortlists are the term given to the list of candidates approved by interview by a local party to be a candidate. The local party as a whole then votes on which candidate from the shortlist should be their candidate.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Lib Dem Spring Conference 2011

As being at Lib Dem spring conference will prevent me from having the time to blog about anything else, I’ve decided to write a general account of my experience of it instead. Don’t worry; I’ll try not to bore you with too much political minutiae. Internet access will be limited so I'll post when I can.

Friday 11th March

I’m writing this on the train to Sheffield where the conference is taking place. Today’s been a rather long one as I woke up at 7.30 and won’t be arriving in Sheffield till 9.20pm. However, today started very well as my girlfriend was interviewed on BBC Lincoln and it gave me something very pleasant to listen to in the morning while I packed my stuff and got ready for labs (if you’re interested, you can listen here - she’s 1 hour 17 minutes in).

After a six hour laboratory session at the university (we’re working on a project to build an FM radio receiver) I was able to dash down to the train station to begin the journey to that strange place which is known to southerners, such as myself, as The North.

Fortunately the journey started unalarmingly enough with a simple commute into London. Sadly, when I arrived it was rush hour. And, let me tell you, after a short while on the underground in rush hour I very much understand where genocidal maniacs get their motivation from. Thankfully, I managed to make it to King’s Cross without killing anyone and I even had time for a meal while waiting for a train.

As the time approached for my train to depart I began an experience which I can only describe as stressful. Firstly, in my rush, I mistook a sign which said “No access to platforms 6 to 11” as reading “access to platforms 6 to 11”. After explaining my mistake to a grumpy member of staff, I was released from platform 4 and went to platform 8. However, my suspicions were aroused when, getting onto the train, I noticed that the seat numbers in the carriage only went up to 36 whilst my reservation was for seat number 52. It was then it dawned on me that I should be at St Pancras rather than at King’s Cross. There then followed the fastest dash of my life which ended with me arriving at the wonderfully modern looking, recently refurbished interior of St Pancras. This was better, now I could see the platforms. Unfortunately, I was separated from the platforms by a great big glass wall. I then realised that I was at the wrong end of the station.

A few minutes of sprinting later I made it to the platform just as the ticket gates opened. After queuing for about five minutes I passed through the barriers, trekked down the platform to my carriage, boarded it, ejected the interloper who had the temerity to be sitting in my seat, discovered the luggage racks were too small to hold anything bigger than a paperback novel, stowed my luggage under my seat and sat down. Or, to put it another way, I caught the 1855 to Sheffield.

The journey itself was long but peaceful (though why they feel the need to have radiators on in a packed carriage I do not know). Despite the poor reception, I was able to pick up enough of a signal to download the latest version of the conference papers on my phone and I settled down to read it. I got about half way through the 137 pages before I gave up and decided to look at it again in the morning (I suspect this will prove to be a mistake). So here I am, sitting in a now mostly empty carriage, listening to Katy Perry (and no, despite my music tastes and political affiliation, I am not gay) and looking forward to arriving at Sheffield in about 25 minutes.

I’m booked into a nice bed and breakfast and my girlfriend should be meeting me at the station when I arrive so I’m actually in a fairly good mood. Purely coincidentally, today is our four month anniversary so I’m looking very much forwards to seeing her again (attending universities at opposite ends of the country can be rather frustrating). As a consequence, I doubt I’ll be writing anymore tonight and probably won’t go online at all other than to upload this to my blog. So, with that in mind, I wish you all a very good evening and I shall report back tomorrow on the first day of conference.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Help stop parking charge increases

The tory run county council are planning to increase on-street parking charges across Surrey. The Lib Dem opposition on the county council have proposed a motion to scrap the increases and the motion will be debated on the 22nd of March.

As Cllr Stephen Cooksey (who proposed the motion) says:
"The plan put forward by Surrey County Council's Conservative Cabinet is an unnecessary blow to market towns and villages in Surrey during a time of economic difficulty. It will hit many of Surrey's small businesses hard, discouraging short visits to local shops and result in even more pressure on already overcrowded residential streets."
This plan by the tories will inconvenience people and damage the local economy. You can help stop the parking charge increase by signing a petition to force the council to debate the issue at full council. If the tories see that this plan is unpopular and will damage the economy they may well rethink it. We need 20,000 signatures before the 23rd of March in order for the petition to be accepted so please sign and circulate it.

Monday, 7 March 2011

A (partial) apology to the people of Barnsley

The other day I made a post about an article written by Dominic Carman, the Lib Dem candidate for Barnsley in the recent by-election.

My post speaks rather rudely about the people of Barnsley.

However, I recently read this by Jon. Because of this, I've reassessed my opinion a bit. I don't think that Dominic lied in his article but I accept that it could be an unrepresentative portrait of Barnsley.

Because of this, I want to say sorry to the people of Barnsley as a whole. I'm sorry that I tarred you all with the same brush. However, I still refuse to believe that spitting on people, insulting them and being incredibly racist is excusable. Even if Nick Griffin knocked on my door I would still behave (relatively) civilly to him.

Dominic Carman posted what is simply an account of his experience as a candidate in Barnsley. Even if it is coloured or biased I still believe that the behaviour he experienced from some of the people in Barnsley is a stain  on that's town reputation and I stand by my opinion of the people who behaved like that.

However, it was wrong of me to write off everyone in Barnsley and tar them with the same brush. So, to all you decent people in Barnsley: I'm sorry.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Labour Lies

Because I felt like tarnishing my soul and hurting my eyes, I had a look at the Guildford Labour Party's website recently. Here's what I found:

Let's have a look at that in detail shall we?
Labour in government has already done much to help older citizens. The next step is to link the annual state pension increases with the increase in earnings. But with huge Tory - LibDem cuts promised, will it have to wait for the next Labour government for the link to be restored?
 The next step is to link the annual state pension increases with the increase in earnings. Well, that's funny, because linking annual state pension increases with earnings was a Lib Dem manifesto promise. And, would you believe it, the earnings link with pensions is to be restored from April this year.

So, far from having to wait for the next Labour government the earnings link is coming back right now. And it's disgusting for Labour to harp on about it given that they had the option to do it for 13 years and CHOSE NOT TO.

As a result, I'm rather surprised by the lies and scaremongering that the Guildford Labour Party are up to. They know full well that the earnings link has been restored in the first year of this government and is a prime example of Liberal Democrat policy in action and changing Britain for the better. Either that, or they somehow managed to miss the budget completely.

Incidentally, they also make the statement that:
Tories & Lib Dems will repeal the hunting act 
We know from the published details of the Tory-LibDem coalition that they intend to introduce a "great repeal bill" in which the Hunting Act and several other important measures will be removed from the statute books.
(No sign here of the Liberal Democrats being a moderating influence over the Tories!)
Really. I might be wrong, but I wasn't aware that repealing the hunting ban was high on the governments list of priorities.

The only decent Daily Mail article ever

I was shocked to be linked to what I can only describe as the only decent article ever to appear in the Daily Mail. It's by Dominic Carman, the Lib Dem candidate for Barnsley. All I can say is that he's my new hero. Also, the people of Barnsley (or the majority) are fucking stupid. Here's an extract from the article:
Local sentiment is summarised by one man who tells me: ‘No one is gay in Barnsley. If they are, they leave.’ 
A white man approaches me in panic on the street. He tells me he is from Luton, and has moved recently with his black partner:

‘Can you do something to change attitudes here if you are elected?’ he asks frantically.

‘Whenever we go into local pubs, people openly call my partner “n*****” and “w**”, and no one says a word.’ 
I promise to do my best. So what sort of campaign did I run? For 18 straight days, 12 hours a day, I worked the crowds in the local market and knocked on doors, canvassing votes from local residents. Normal by-election stuff.
Quite frankly, the people of Barnsley come across as disgustingly, tribal, insular and backward. Now, I know that as a politician it's unwise to make statements like that, but quite frankly I don't fucking care. I didn't mind about our election result in Barnsley - after all, people are free to vote for whom they wish and I understand that the majority of people don't agree with us. But the people of Barnsley... Well, to put it bluntly, they don't deserve a Lib Dem MP. A BNP MP would still be too good for them. Here's another example from the article:
Several people confide in me that Labour candidate Dan Jarvis, an Army major, born in Nottingham, is a ‘scab’. 
The reason? He’s from Nottingham, I’m told. It’s the place where miners went back to work and broke the strike, attracting the epithet ‘scabs’. 
The fact that Jarvis was 12 at the time and that none of his family were miners is deemed irrelevant by those who see Barnsley life through a narrow prism: a fixed view of the past.

‘You’re all bloody foreigners,’ says one woman, referring to the fact that neither Jarvis, myself nor the Conservative candidate, James Hockney, are from Barnsley. 
The fact that I was born and brought up in Manchester makes it worse. It’s no joke.
Openly disparaging the nearby cosmopolitan hubs of Leeds and Sheffield, some Barnsley people have never even visited either city.
Yeah. Utterly backwards and prejudiced. All of this has led me to one conclusion. Dominic Carman is my new hero. That and I'm never going to Barnsley if I can help it. Not for at least twenty years.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

No2AV no show

On Thursday there was a debate on AV at the University of Surrey which had been organised by the debating society.
We will be joined by Rebecca Palmer from the Yes2AV campaign and Cllr Chris Ward who will be arguing in favour of AV and James Fitzpatrick, Director of Groundwar for the No2AV campaign and Cllr Rowan Cole who will be arguing against a change in the electoral system.
However, the No side decided not to show up. Cllr Cole had to cancel at the last minute, which is understandable, and was replaced by Michael Vivona, President of the university Conservative society. Mr Fitzpatrick, however, simply didn't turn up. Not a word of explanation despite the debate having been planned and organised well in advance by a neutral party. Oliver Deed, who chaired the debate, informed me that there was no doubt of Mr Fitzpatrick not having been sent the right information. He had been sent all the details, including detailed instructions on how to get there. He just simply didn't show up.

As it happens the debate went well with the audience voting 18 to 2 in favour of AV so I'm not complaining. I do find it odd though that the No campaign is so disorganised that they couldn't even manage to get their 'Director of Groundwar' to a debate. Given that I myself might well be arguing for Yes in later debates, it is of some concern that the No campaign don't seem that interested in putting the arguments to the voters in a fair and balanced way. Instead, no doubt they prefer this kind of campaigning technique:

Incidentally, Michael Vivona kept on bringing up the £250 million pound myth and on each occasion it was debunked. To be fair to Michael though, he did do a very good job for someone who had had no time to prepare and was, from what I could tell, using Rowan's notes when he probably would have tried a different line of attack himself.

Guildford Conservatives - Achieving more for our elderly people. Not.

I recently got a lovely piece of literature through the letter box today from Michael Piper, one of the Tory council candidates for Onslow. Here's an extract which I find particularly amusing:

Pictured: complete and utter bollocks
So yes, the tories are making the wonderful claim that they're achieving more for our elderly. Thing is, our definitions of "achieving more" must differ slightly. See, when they go and force two centres for the elderly to close, or when they make cuts to free travel for the elderly, I'd say that that's achieving less.

I've already mentioned this briefly in a previous post but, for those of you who don't follow this blog regularly (and, frankly, I don't blame you), last year the the council forced the Riverside Age Concern Centre for the elderly to close. This was a service which many elderly people in the area relied upon. It was a social hub where, amongst other things, there were affordable hot meals for elderly people, a gardening service and a computer drop-in centre. The council could have saved it by scrapping the council newspaper About Guildford, which is nothing more than a propaganda device for whoever runs the council anyway, but instead they preferred forcing Riverside to close it's doors. Lovely. Another example of their callousness when it comes to the elderly is the closure of the North Place Day Centre at Christmas. Verily, Christmas is a time of peace and good will to all men - unless you happen to be elderly of course.

So, yes, I do find the claim made by the tories to be laughable. Or at least it would be were not the reality for many elderly people in Guildford so bleak.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Guildford Tories failing those in housing need

I'm going to start to do more local stories now and this is the first one. Please let me know what you think.

At the moment, there are three thousand, nine hundred and sixty-four people on Guildford's Housing Registers. That's almost 4,000 people in need of affordable, rented or low-cost shared-ownership homes. But don't worry, after all, we're the third richest town in the country so I'm sure we'll be able to sort the problem out...

Oh. Apparently, I assumed incorrectly.

See, it turns out that the tories running the council aren't that keen on solving the problem and only plan to provide 64 more affordable homes this year. This isn't a case of not having enough money though, as they've already 'borrowed' £10.4 million pounds from the Council's Housing Reserves and used it to help fund G-Live.

Now, I'm all in favour of Guildford having a world class live entertainment venue but, when you come down to it, I think I'd much rather see money spent on providing affordable homes for those in need or on maybe reopening the centres for the elderly which the tories have closed down.

But, you know, never mind. I'm sure they'll at least make the most of the land they've already bought for affordable housing development.
There is Council-owned land available, such as Bright Hill car park, which was purchased using housing money and could be used to build many affordable homes. Yet this Council plans to build only 21 affordable homes at Bright Hill, along with 39 private market houses!
Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Fiona White

So, rather than make full use of the land the council has already bought for the very purpose of building affordable housing the tories have decided to build more than twice as many private homes than affordable ones. Well isn't that just peachy. To put that into context, let's look at this gratuitous pie chart (because I like using excel but haven't had much chance to lately):

So, let's just quickly run over the facts again. 4,000 local people need affordable housing, the council has the money to provide affordable housing, the council has the land to build the affordable housing on, but has instead decided to provide 64 affordable homes this year and to spend over £10 million of housing money on a new entertainment venue instead. Great.

Don't worry though, I'm sure that now the Lib Dems have pointed this out the council will do something about it.
The Lib Dem proposal was defeated by the Conservative majority on the Borough Council, with one Conservative councillor commenting: "Spending all of the affordable housing money on entertainment has nothing to do with the lack of affordable housing in Guildford."
Lovely. Given that one of my main priorities as a council candidate is affordable homes for those in need, and that I tend to get quite passionate about such issues, I think it's probably be best to leave the last word to Cllr Fiona White before I start swearing.
"Such an insensitive remark is beyond belief. When it comes to housing need, the Conservatives just don't get it."
You said it.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Council by-election results so far

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
I recently joined the ALDC and so I was fortunate enough to get a nice, shiny new newspaper from them (well, nice, matt finish, new newspaper at any rate).

I won't divulge all the contents because they're top secret tips for members only - however, I will reproduce a table showing the net results of the 143 local by-elections between July 1st and December 31st.

As you can see, Labour are doing rather well, having made significant gains from the Conservatives (though this isn't that surprising given that they did exceptionally well in 2009 and are to be expected to suffer a fall back from the high water mark) and minor gains from the Lib Dems. The Conservatives are generally falling back, though their ability to make gains shows that voters aren't abandoning them in their droves, and so it is quite likely that these losses are the natural response to the unpopularity of being in government and also the result of anti-Brown voters in 2009 going back to their homes. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are doing rather well, given their national unpopularity, having made a net gain of 3 seats.

But if you look closer at the gains you can see a clear pattern. The Lib Dems have lost seats to both Labour and the Conservatives but have only been able to make gains against the Conservatives. This is probably the result of them gaining some centre right voters from the Tories but also losing some centre-left ones to Labour. Certainly, it's now going to be harder for them in traditionally anti-Tory northern England.

Two things to bear in mind though are this:

1) The Lib Dems have a long record of doing better in local elections than national ones and have proved very tough when it comes to defending hard won seats. This is because their essential principle that "all campaigns are local" stands them in good stead when it comes to local elections.

2) They look on course to make steady gains from the Conservatives, especially in the south east. In Guildford in particular, it offers hope that we'll be able to gain the four seats we need to take control of the borough council and to end the rule of the fiscally incompetent Conservative administration.