Tag Archives: Birmingham

“1.6 Million Children in the UK Live in Severe Poverty”. Erm. Really?

Today there has been an alarming headline that 1.6 million children in the UK live in ‘severe poverty’.   Examples of the reportage can be seen at the BBC and Guardian.  Every now and again a news stat sets off a little alarm bell in my head.  This was one of those times – according to the Office of National Statistics there are somewhere around 12.1 million children in the UK (2000 census, I suspect little variation since then).   So according to today’s reports approximately 13% of children in the UK must live in ‘severe poverty’.   That little alarm in my mind was making a coughing noise which only thinly disguised the words ‘bull-shit’.   I usually go off on one when pointing out the rotten state the UK was left in after 13 years of Labour but even with blue-tinted specs on I would never claim that they left us with 13% of all kids living in ‘severe poverty’.    This figure needed some sniffing.

The original report is from Save the Children.  It can be downloaded here.  It’s pretty hard to find how they technically defined ‘severe poverty’ for their ‘research’. After a bit of digging it turns out they define it as those living in households with incomes of less than 50% of the UK median income (disregarding housing costs).   A median single income in the UK is circa. £20k. I have no idea how they then use their methodology to ‘disregard’ housing costs – but the top and bottom is that a couple with two kids who, after housing costs are paid, have an income of £12.5k a year are classed as in ‘severe poverty’.

When you look at the methodology the metric they use is not about poverty – it’s a about income distribution.  Without wishing to belittle the quest for more equitable income distribution- I can’t help but think that such loose use of language cheapens the words ‘severe poverty’ and so insults those millions in the world (including in the UK) who, very literally, do not know where their next meal is coming from.    We could have a very important national debate about income disparity and this data could be used to support the case of those who believe the gap is too wide – however to hijack the language ‘severe poverty’ is a distraction from all that is valid in that debate.

Now don’t get me wrong: that couple with those two kids on that income are going to have a horrible time.  The report does do a good job of highlighting the very real issues they face.   I am also under no illusion that genuine severe poverty exists in this country – the kind were parents go and beg on the street to feed their children – I see some of this here in Birmingham.   Some stories that happen right now in my City would make you weep – but to say ‘severe poverty’ is anything other than at the very margins of our society is a fantasy.  To suggest, as the words they have chosen do, that 13% of all children live in squalid, desperate circumstances is ludicrous.  By overstating it, all Save the Children have done is muddle two debates and distract some focus from tackling those very real cases that do blight our society.

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Filed under Center right, Centre Right, Economy, Politics, UK, UK Politics, Uncategorized

Conservative Policy Forum Launch

The last time I heard Baroness Warsi speak her big thing was to make sure the Conservative party was “a political party, not a dining club”.   The sentiment was spot on.   New members (like myself), will have realised the party is good at getting money out of you, good at getting you to post leaflets, good at organising social events – but not so good at giving you any sense of voice or influence.   It’s not unreasonable to suppose that many people who might feel motivated to join a political party may have as much or more of  an interest in policy as they do in giving money, stuffing leaflets or attending BBQs.


Today Warsi took a step to address this by re-launching the Conservative Policy Forum.  100+ activists from across the UK gathered at the old Custard Factory in Birmingham.  The event got off to a bit of a stilted start, the morning session was a succession of speakers (Warsi, Jeremey Middleton, Fiona Hodgson and Natalie Elphick) who were individually good, but unfortunately had very repetitive content.   The gist was:

  • they were encouraging local associations to set up groups to discuss policy (all under the framework of ‘The Conservative Policy Forum’. )
  • This is intended to mirror the history of member involvement in the old CPC/CPF.  It is recognised the forerunner got broken somewhere over the last couple of decades and this initiative is about putting that right.
  • To  help facilitate these new groups they would share discussion papers each month
  • they had agreed clear channels to receive feedback on the discussion papers from the local groups .
  • They then have a process to consolidate all feedback and get it to the relevant Ministers
  • They’re also looking at launching a website to solicit similar input for those who cannot attend the meetings..

It needn’t have taken more than 10 minutes to tell us all that:  It took an hour and half.  The irony in launching something  to enable members to talk, rather than be talked to, by  lecturing the same message four times wasn’t lost.  It contributed to a little frustration in the audience which bubbled over into the first question and answer session.  I actually quite felt for Baroness Warsi – here she was launching a sincerely positive initiative yet was getting criticised for the ‘lack of democratic involvement’  – as a flavour she was asked:  “who elected the regional co-ordinators?  Who elected the forum council?  Who elected you Madam Chairman?  Why is this kick-off the first I’ve heard about it?”.    Leadership in a voluntary organisation is an exercise in herding cats and I don’t envy anyone who has to perform that role.  Warsi handled the more direct comments with self-deprecating aplomb and just about managed to stop the moaning minnies from sapping the energy out of the room.

Oliver Letwin came after lunch and did a sterling job in properly positioning the intended focus of the CPF.  He was crystal clear that the CPF must not become a forum to critique current policy implementation – that’s the opposition’s job.   Current policy is current policy and it is the Government’s job to properly implement it.  The CPF is there to inform the 2015 manifesto and respond to the needs of Britain as it will be then.   Letwin comes across as a bit of a policy wonk on TV and his manner on the box is not everyone’s cup of tea.  In the flesh he was very convincing in his narrative.  He talked about the eyes-wide-open choices the current government has made, the strategic reasoning for doing the more ambitious stuff early in the Parliament and why there will be no respite in this current pace of policy implementation until mid 2012 (“After 13 years preparation, I don’t know why people find it surprising that we actually had a well prepared plan we’re putting into play”).    For me, the gold of the day came when he put up a straw-man of the possible priorities for the 2015 government – the CPF is expected input to a manifesto that will help:

  • Rise to the challenge of an ageing population and other demographic changes,
  • Keep our nation and citizens safe amidst the new security challenges at home and overseas,
  • Make the most of changes in technology and innovation, and support enterprise
  • Ensure we have an adequate skills base to meet the future demands of the market
  • >Respond to increasing pressures on our natural resources and changes to our global climate
  • Meet the economic challenges and opportunities of emerging economies
  • Ensure policy takes account of geographical differences in our nation
  • Strengthen the family, help the vulnerable and poor in our society, and tackle the causes of poverty; and,
  • Support ‘big citizens’ and the ‘big society’

I found it reassuring in the age of the 24-hour-news cycle that at least some politicians still do some forward thinking.  It’s not a bad first stab at what challenges we will face in 2015– he was also at pains to express this list was not exhaustive, and the CPF could well add to it.

Launching something is not the same as delivering on it – but I have high hopes for the CPF.  It is absolutely a step in the right direction for letting ‘membership’ of the party mean more than the right to be mugged for more cash.   The instinct that solutions and great ideas need not come from smoke-filled rooms in Whitehall, but can come from the collective wisdom of the huge pool of motivated, bright people outside the Westminster bubble is something that could really differentiate Conservatives from the heavily centralised Labour Party.  We’ve always claimed to be different in that way – if we can make this work – then we can make that claim demonstrable.

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Whatever You Think of Him, Why We Should All Stand Up For Gareth Compton

It is the stuff of nightmares.  You’re listening to a radio interview.  The interviewee  winds you up by saying that you have no moral authority to take a view on human rights.  You react immediately by putting on Twitter an ironic response to that specific point.  You don’t think hard.  You just hit send.   Just another moment in the day, just  another narky tweet.   Then things get out-of-hand.   Within 24 hours this tweet makes worldwide news headlines.  Next there are statements made in Parliament.  Next the police come and arrest you.  For Gareth Compton this nightmare is a terrifying reality.

Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really,

Any reasonable person given just those words to judge would conclude that the author is a bigot, an idiot and nasty.  I know Gareth Compton.  He is none of those things.  But you only have that one tweet to judge him on.  So I don’t expect you to believe me.

Context matters.  He was listening to Alibhai-Brown on a Radio 5 Interview (which you can hear in full here – fast-forward to 53 minutes).   Alibhai-Brown made her point that British politicians do not have any moral right to protest human rights abuses including the stoning of women in other countries.  She claimed only human rights groups or Nelson Mandela should engage in that debate.  I can imagine Gareth’s jaw dropping with outrage at the assertion he should shut-up on human rights.  He is, and I don’t expect you to believe this either, a believer in human rights and a fighter of bigotry.

If you knew Gareth, were listening to the radio and clocked the tweet when the interview was playing you would probably have ‘got it’.  You may not have found it funny, you may still have taken offence but you would have ‘got it’.  The world doesn’t know Gareth and wasn’t listening to the radio when the tweet went up.  So, the world didn’t ‘get’ it.  Truth be told, even with full context it is neither funny nor clever and has an unpleasant snarl to it.  Nevertheless, it isn’t incitement to murder. It is simply what the kids would call ‘an epic fail’ in joke telling.  Since when was that a crime?

Gareth Compton is a grown man and a partisan politician.  He takes and gives heaps in the virtual political bun-fights that litter the internet.  He has apologised unreservedly but in the rough and tumble of politics he would now expect the opposition vultures to circle and tear shreds.  If the boot was on the other foot he would do the same.  He would expect calls for ‘resignation’.  He would expect the Conservative Party to suspend him given the furore.  All of that is fair game in the playground of local politics.  But the Police? Arrest? Criminal charges?  Come on.

Voltaire famously nearly said:  “Sir, I do not agree that your jokes are funny, but I will defend unto death your right to tell them”.   I would appeal to anyone who has ever said anything knee-jerk in a pub, who ever momentarily wished harm to George Bush and said so, who has ever said anything they regretted, or ever had anything they said taken out of context (which must be all of us, right?) to stand up for Gareth in the event of any prosecution.

Even if you still think he is an idiot, a bigot, and nasty (he isn’t).  Even if his politics are Mars to your Venus.  Stand up against this thought police nonsense.

This whole sorry affair has left me terrified to type.   I have a real sadness that the hysteria that these storms whip up will deter our politicians from engaging in new social media.   It brings to mind the telling scene in “The Social Network” where the main character is confronted by an ex-girlfriend he berated on his blog.   His apology falls hollow, she looks him in the eye and says with all the power of a great metaphor –  “The internet is not written in pencil.  It is written in ink.”   It is a lesson for us all.

Nevertheless, no matter how staggeringly misjudged Gareth was, the chain of consequences has been out of all proportion.  I honestly wish Gareth well.  I believe his apology and I hope that Alibhai-Brown can find the grace within herself to accept it.  I trust the Conservative Party will be fair in their investigation and measured in subsequent action.  Our democracy needs us to have the right to say daft and wrong things without criminalising us.  We already saw yesterday with the mad judgement in the Robin Hood Airport case that this right is vanishing.  So most of all –  I pray that all thinking people – whatever their political hue or view of Gareth – demand the CPS drop this case.

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Gove’s Nightmare Week – A Lesson For The Coming Months

Michael Gove had, to put it mildly, an uncomfortable week.  I can understand the frustration and rage that schools in Sandwell must have felt thinking  their new build project had a green light to find out the next day they did not.  Over the past three years I have grown used to such emotions as either the Government or the LEA decide they are going to do one thing for the future of the School where I am Chair of Governors, announce it to the press, and then change their minds.  It’s not fair on staff, teachers, parents or pupils.   I had hoped that such cock-ups would end with the new Government, but the week’s events show they have not.  This was an open goal for Gove’s many naysayers and so in school report terms he ‘must do better’.

Gove did at least give an object lesson in Ministerial accountability. He will not personally have drawn up the detailed list that was released – that will have been delegated to junior officials.  Nevertheless, they report to him and the list was being released in his name.  After thirteen years of a ‘never apologise, never explain’ attitude from Labour Ministers it was refreshing to see someone stand up in the Chamber and say that ‘the buck stops with me – my mistake – I take accountability – I am sorry’.   Good though it is to see genuine contrition when something goes wrong I would still rather be able to say that this Government are better administrators not just better apologisers than the last one.  This is Gove’s first strike.  But he must not allow it to deter him from pressing on.

The worst thing Gove can do now is to retreat with a bloody nose.  He has to learn from the experience and stick with his reform agenda.  One of the first things he has got to do to quieten the ‘noise’ is make it clear what mechanisms for capital spending in schools are going to replace the BSF Program.  Nothing quite encapsulates the mismatch between’s Labour’s laudable ambition and its lack of capacity, capability and means to deliver than the bloated way ‘Building Schools for the Future’ was muddling along.  The program needed killing and doing so was always going to cause upset to those whose hopes had been cynically played with.  That said there will still be demands for capital expenditure on Schools in the coming years – and in certain cases this will mean rebuilds – not because they would be ‘nice-to-have’ but because they are ‘must-have’.  Gove needs to be clear the level of funding – however low – available for this and a streamlined process to fairly prioritise the release of funds.

With a wider perspective my fear now is that Ministers will have watched what happened to Gove and fear what will happen when they make what knowing fans of ‘Yes Minister’ call ‘Bold’ moves.  To get the country out of the mess ‘Bold’ moves are exactly what is needed.  There are so many unhelpful dynamics at play:

  • Quangos and Civil Servants that the administration has inherited, like it or not, are crucial to Ministers ability to deliver.   Their reason for being, their way of life and their empires are under threat as we try to draw back-in the State machine.  There are unlikely to be many supportive stakeholders in these organisations.  As Gove has seen a Minister can find himself at their mercy; either they chose not to play with a straight bat and wittingly causing mischief or they unwittingly display incompetence.  Either way the minister is harmed and their ability to implement their agenda is diminished.
  • Every tough decision the Coalition has yet made has revealed real twitchiness from the left of the Lib Dems.   This will get much worse when the implications of the spending review begin to hit home.  Clegg has a monumental battle ahead to keep his own team onside long enough for us to see the job through.
  • The advantage of opposition – you only have to talk rather than ‘do’ – necessary difficult choices sadly make open goals in the sound bite news cycle. Labour will understandably exploit this – and it will put more pressure on the Government.

The lesson for Gove and every other new Minister is that they need good supporters around them at the moment to help them hold their nerve.  They know what needs doing.   They must act for the good of the country rather than the good of their careers.  The right thing to do is not always the popular thing to do and the essence of leadership is driving on with that in mind.  They need to look around them and figure out quickly who within their extended teams are really working against them or not up to the job?  Then they need to be brutal and replace them.  This is no time to go wobbly.

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Filed under Education, Politics, UK, UK Politics

Does Birmingham Need to Call in Independent Election Observers?

An account of day touring Birmingham’s polling booths – uncovering widespread irregularities – including rescuing a hapless Lib Dem – finding campaign literature inside polling booths – voters locked out of stations – people being ‘helped’ to vote – Do we need independent election monitors?

Back in 2004 the integrity of Birmingham’s democracy was famously questioned by a Judge who found electoral conduct which would, in his exact words, “disgrace a banana republic.”* Fast forward to the 2010 General Election and I found myself as the Agent for the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Ladywood.  This is the same area that worried the judge six years earlier.  So, have things improved?  Well, – yes and no… they’ve started to solve the problem with postal votes, but things are getting worse at the polling stations.

So, let’s start with the polling stations.   I went to a sample of a dozen or so.  I was left wide-eyed with disbelief.  At every station which had ‘tellers’ (party activists) present there was a total disregard for the rules.  There is not supposed to be any campaign material within 100 meters of the entrance to a polling station.  This allows people to enter without fear or pressure.  In all the polling stations I saw there were activists aggressively handing out leaflets at the gates.  There was also campaign material (banners etc.) tied to the railings of the gates as people entered.  At the first polling station I went to there was a van with a full Labour logo on parked directly opposite the station entrance with a loud-speaker system on its roof.  It was literally broadcasting campaign messages into the polling station.  Any voter who wanted to get to the station could not enter without having literature hoist on them and verbal encouragement for particular candidates.  The leaflets were ‘helpful’ guides on how to vote – semi-official looking instructions to place an x in a particular box (with worked examples showing the candidates name and party logo).  Shockingly in two polling stations I found these leaflets had been left on the writing surface of the polling booths.  I’ll say that again – there was party campaign literature actually on display in the polling booths themselves.

I did speak with the Station Presiding Officers and they had all spoken with the activists at the entrances but had been ignored.  The police had been notified and attended but the activists had simply gone away when the police arrived and returned when they went.  In an earlier pre-election briefing the council had told me that the Police would have a dedicated single-point-of-contact to deal with any issues.  I decided ring them since the activists had such contempt for the Presiding Officer and I.   Not being a 999 matter I rang the police station directly.  I was on hold for over fifteen minutes without answer before I hung up.  I then tried the elections office at the council to report it – again I spent ten minutes on hold before I gave up waiting.  The activist army outside the polling station stayed put harassing arriving voters.

At the next station we found another gaggle of Labour activists handing out their material at the gates – cars were again parked opposite the entrance all with large Labour placards covering their windscreens on prominent display.  We went inside and found a Lib Dem activist actually handing out leaflets within the premises!  When challenged she broke down in tears.   According to her she had tried to position herself at the gates but had suffered such verbal abuse from the Labour activists that ‘she only felt safe inside the station’.  We offered her a lift to a ‘safe’ polling station.  ‘Rescuing’ an activist from another party was certainly the most surreal moment of the day.

Whilst driving the Lib Dem to ‘safety’ we finally found a Police Officer.  The PC had pulled over campaigners for an independent local council candidate who the Lib Dem referred to as ‘The Somalian’.  They were in a car with a tannoy set-up and had been broadcasting ‘Please-Vote’ messages at volume whilst driving around the area.  The crazy thing here is that having finally found the police they were tackling the only activists who I had seen campaigning legally!  To be fair to the constable the driver didn’t have insurance – but the irony still shouldn’t be lost.   After a quick chat with the officer she contacted her control room to find out who the police single-point-of-contact for the election was. Nobody in the control room knew.  She agreed she would pop round to the polling station herself, but didn’t seem to have had any briefing whatever about what is or is not acceptable (or legal) by activists so I’m unsure what good she would be able to do.

Now, in case you think “so long as activists are outside the gates then anything goes” you need to know that there are defined rules about what people are allowed to do in the vicinity of a polling station.  A ‘teller’ is allowed to stand near to the entrance and ask voters their polling card number only.  This allows the more organised parties who have canvassed to check if the people that said they would support them have actually voted.  Towards the end of the day a Party with a decent teller operation can then chase up all its supporters who haven’t yet voted and if necessary offer them lifts to the polling booths.  The Electoral Commission has brought all the rules about tellers together in Appendix E of this document here.   It is several thousand words, so to pull out just the salient bits:

“3.3 Tellers should not display or distribute election material (e.g. billboards, posters, placards or pamphlets) on walls or around the polling place.  […]

[…]

3.5 Tellers must not attempt to induce, influence or persuade an elector how or whether to vote. Tellers cannot promote particular candidates or political parties. Their conduct must not give rise to allegations of undue influence, e.g. discussing voting intentions, party affiliations, a candidate’s history or party campaigns, or undertaking any other activity particularly associated with one particular party or candidate.”

Every time I showed activists these rules on May 6th they looked at me like I was from another planet.

My afternoon tour brought more of the same across the constituency.  The day’s most serious incident was when I left a polling station in north Ladywood.  I’d had a chat with the activists at the gate and politely made them aware of the rules – prompting the charade of a temporary withdrawal until I was out of sight.  As I got back into my car a young women tapped on my window.  “Are you something to do with the election?”  She explained she had seen me having a word with the others, and assumed I was someone ‘official’.  She wanted me to know that the polling agents in the station had insisted that when her mother, who spoke only little English, went into the polling station they escorted her to the booth and filled the mothers ballot paper for her. I’ll not name the party accused as this is anecdotal.  She was livid; “It’s just not right.  Some of them are my family, man – but they stole my mother’s vote and it aint right.”   When I retold that tale to people who lived in the area they were unsurprised and told me the practice was widespread.   If true, one has to wonder the level of training given to Station Presiding Officers to allow this –  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised  – on the evidence of everything I had seen with my own eyes that day it is clear that very few of the people running our polling stations have even basic knowledge of what is and isn’t allowed.

The  answer to all the polling station issues  is to stop trying to police our elections on the cheap.  If our democracy matters – and I hope it does – then we should properly train the station presiding officers to run tighter ships within the station and have the Police available at the polling stations to quickly clamp down on any unacceptable behaviour outside.  I hope that the specific problems I saw were down to over-enthusiasm and ignorance by party activists rather than centrally co-ordinated misintent.  Regardless of whether it is cock-up or conspiracy being unable to guarantee our electorate can reach the ballot box without interference or pressure begins to chip away at the notion that our elections are ‘free and fair’.  The disregard for the rules must stop and only the Police have the clout to enforce them.  Even if putting a copper at every single polling station is unrealistic, we could still go a long way by prioritising the stations that have a history of issues – yes that means Ladywood would get far more Police attention – but if that is where the problem is, then this is where the solution is needed.

Let’s get onto postal votes.  This was where it went so wrong in 2004.  The good news here is that giant strides in the right direction have been made.  I was present at the electoral office when I saw a chap come in and try to register himself as a proxy for 16 postal votes – I’m pleased to report that he was politely but firmly told he could be proxy for no more than two unless they were immediate family.

At the postal count in Birmingham (which gets underway a week before polling day) there’s spawned a whole temporary industry checking every single ballot paper received to ensure that the envelope numbers and ballot paper numbers match –  all envelopes are passed through a scanner to check individual signatures and dates-of-birth against those held in the database.  Any which the computer software says may be suspect are removed for human adjudication.  I watched the adjudication and agreed with the call the official made every time.   This is a step forward – the old fraud where cheats would get themselves a copy of the ‘marked electoral register’ from the council to see who never votes and then send in false postal ballot papers from these apathetic voters is stopped by this system.  What the system will not stop is people from bullying or intimidating their family members or friends by demanding to inspect their postal ballot before they send it to ensure that “they have filled it in correctly”.   That is the downside of the postal voting – it needs to be balanced with the large number of people who work away from home in the week and for whom the availability of a postal vote stops them being disenfranchised.  The system isn’t perfect, but it now requires much greater effort and more willing co-conspirators if you wanted to pull off a major fraud.   I await the council to publish official figures but I would estimate from what I saw that about 10% of the postal votes received were rejected for various reasons.  It is sad to see how many people who went to the trouble of filling in the ballot paper then forget to sign the envelope and so waste their vote.

Back to the polling booths – One thing I did not observe myself, but is suggested to be widespread in the constituency is ‘personation’.  This is where someone simply claims to be someone else and votes on their behalf.  There is very, very little we can do about this as under current rules there is no power for the polling officials to demand any form of identification.   Obviously, an individual would be foolish to try and vote at the same station twice – but with scores of polling stations in each constituency, anyone who has seen the marked electoral register will know the names of people who usually do not vote.  It would not require great wit to do a tour of polling booths and vote scores of times.   An organised team could quickly wrack up hundreds of votes this way.  I make no claim that this happened in Ladywood in this election – I simply say that the lack of any system to prevent it allows rumours that it occurs to persist.

There is the well known saying that “opportunity creates the thief”.  So much of our electoral procedures are based on a very quaint British notion of trust.  British MPs showed in last year’s expenses debacle that even the supposedly honourable can be quick to take advantage of trust based systems.  Should we assume that there are no elements of the population who would take the opportunity to cheat if they could in the elections?  Of course not.  It is naive to assume it doesn’t go on.  Individual ballot boxes from certain stations in Ladywood apparently had turnout 20-30% higher than would have been expected.  This may be because a party had been incredibly successful in mustering the vote and a credit to them – or it may be that after the vote had closed an insider simply ticked off the remaining names on the register, filled in a whole load of ballot papers and stuffed the box.  We hope the former but we have too much trust and too few checks and balances to be certain.  Fraud could happen.

If all that wasn’t enough we also had one polling station at St Pauls Square which was so understaffed that around 100 people were denied the chance to vote at all despite having arrived in what should have been ample time, before the station closed at 10pm.  This was particularly irritating for our Party as it is one of the stations where we do well.  At least this incident has already attracted national media attention which prompted this report by the electoral commission here.

When you put everything together you do begin to imagine how an outside observer would view the proceedings.  As it happens there were some Observers present from Commonwealth countries across the UK.  The Kenyans were shocked that they see our ballot security as a lower standard than their own.  Well, they were looking at the orderly parts of the country – one wonders how much stronger their words would have been had they been in Ladywood.  Perhaps that is what is needed to raise our game?  It would be embarrassing to be lectured by Afghans or Iraqi’s on running a free and fair ballot – but if they observed what I observed they couldn’t objectively report faith in the result.

One thing I would stress is that for all the irregularities and potential for irregularities that I saw Shabana Mahmood’s majority is such that there is no doubt whatever in my mind that she was the rightful winner.  I’m confident she knew nothing of, and had no direct part in any dodgy activities by her activists.  Likewise her Lib Dem opponent.  I would also make no claim that there is any particular party worse than another in polling fraud or conduct.  Indeed I note that just up the road from me in Walsall three Tories have been charged with regards this election.

I would also not want to cast blame on Birmingham Council’s elections office.  They were courteous, professional and helpful throughout – they are constrained in scope by their minimal statutory powers and their available budget.

I have to say though that because of what I saw on May 6th if the result had been anywhere near close I would not feel confident it could be trusted. That can’t be right.  This is the United Kingdom in 2010.  If we value our democracy we have to tighten up procedures and we have to better police our polling booths and the security of the ballot boxes from end-to-end of the process – I understand that there would be a cost involved – but when you think of those who have died for our democracy then protecting their legacy has to be worth it.

* You can read the background to the ‘banana republic quote from this report in the Times Newspaper here.

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Hung Parliament Leaves All Parties Hungover

An extraordinary election.  No supporter of the mainstream parties will wake this morning with anything other than disapointment about the national picture:

  • The Lib Dems must be crest-fallen.  The supposed surge was illusionary.  The expected shift to second place proved a fantasy.
  • Labour had their worst electoral night for decades. Unless Clegg pulls a spectacular U-turn it is clear that they cannot form a Government and have lost this election.
  • Despite this being the Conservatives ‘best gains in an election for 80 years’ with an even higher percentage of the vote than Labour got at the last election –  I’d be a liar if I said I was anything other than very disappointed with last nights results.   Yes, Labour ‘lost’ but the Conservatives can’t say we had the clear ‘win’ we all worked so hard for.

Nobody wakes up feeling great this morning.

Locally for me, there was an extra blow.   Despite great progress in the West Midlands in general,  in Birmingham itself we didn’t get a break-through in the City.  Deidre Alden in Edgbaston is very much in my thoughts today.  I can only begin to imagine the emotional investment she has put into her fight for this seat over more than half a decade.  I wish her well.  It was a remarkable result for Gisela Stuart and it would be churlish of me to say otherwise.  In Birmingham Ladywood where I was the Candidate’s Agent I took genuine comfort that we increased our share of the vote from 8% to 12% in a seat that we were told we  had gone into oblivion – but obviously this local advance in a third place seat is meaningless for the overall national picture.

I’m tired – it was an all-nighter for me at the National Indoor Arena count.  I’m deeply depressed by the whole hung-parliament scenario.  Even if we can form a Government through coalition or a minority administration I cannot see us being able to push through the ‘big ideas’ and more radical policies that drew me to fight for the Conservatives in this election.   An election campaign takes a real toll on candidates, agents and activists – it is physically and emotionally exhausting and work and family inevitably suffer.  I doubt any of us in any party have any appetite to go through it all again in short order.  The onus is now on the party leaders to find something that can work that will avoid that.  But unless that ‘something’ allows us to implement our agenda then a return to the polls will be necessary.  Power for powers sake isn’t why people should be in politics – if you can’t  implement your agenda and are crippled by the politics of compromise then it isn’t worth it.  I will sleep now.  Let the dust settle and see if the metaphoric hangover shifts.

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Filed under Election

Why I Voted Conservative

So, that is that. After weeks of campaigning we are down to one mammoth push today. The polls are inconclusive – at the moment my reading of them suggests we may not quite get the 310 seats realistically required to form a majority government. It is close and much will come down to the operation today. Will the Conservative tactic of concentrating resources in key target marginals be the difference? It is cold and calculated, but you win Parliament by winning most seats, not be winning most votes. Can the Conservatives get out all their core supporters to the ballot box? Will the huge numbers of ‘undecideds’ actually go to the polling booths? – if they do the polls may prove miles out and it is anyone’s game. All this vapid speculation will sort itself out from 10pm this evening. I’ll be at the Count at the National Indoor Arena – wishing good luck to all Conservative candidates but particularly Nusrat Ghani in Ladywood and Mother and Son Deidre and Bobby Alden in Edgbaston and Erdington respectively.

I voted by post a few days ago (for Nigel Dawkins here in Selly Oak). For me it isn’t a tribal allegience – I am a newish member and convert to the Tories. There are a couple of big themes which have led me to believe in the Cameron agenda – it is these that have convinced me:

  • The ‘Big Society’ Agenda. OK – I admit this doesn’t land on the doorstep at all. But for me this is the core of the new brand of Cameron Conservatism. Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as society” – Cameron, disagree’s wholeheartedly: “There is such a thing as society – it is just not the same thing as the state”.  Somehow over time the left have claimed words like “social justice” and “progressive politics” as if that language is exclusive to them. What nonsense.   The “Big Society” idea is ‘progressive politics’ in the literal sense and when implemented will lead to greater social justice.  Cameron’s message encapsulates my own personal centre right philosophy.
  • Avoiding our own Greek Tragedy.  We all pity the feckless individuals who get credit card bills showing them overdrawn and who have interest payments they can’t afford but who keep on spending regardless.  Yet a vote for Labour would be endorsing this behaviour at the nation state level.  It is heartbreaking that many cuts will need to be made whoever wins the election – the caricature of the Tories somehow taking glee from wielding an axe is wide of the mark.  If we don’t want to end up cap-in-hand to the IMF/Euro partners with the even more brutal austerity measures they would demand then we have to make very tough choices ourselves now.  It is fantasy to pretend otherwise.  The Conservatives want to avoid the bailiffs, Labour wish to wait for them.
  • Michael Gove’s policies on education.
  • Creating a new age in Government transparency by pushing out all government data into the public domain.  It is a geeky thing and another one that doesn’t land on the doorstep – but the effect will be revolutionary in driving better government.
  • David Cameron, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, William Hague , Ken Clarke
  • Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Bob Ainsworth, Peter Mandleson, Charlie Wheelan

Not everyone will agree with the above.  Different people will pick different reasons to support the Party – many people will be unconvinced and stick with what they know.   That’s democracy.  Here’s hoping for a decent turnout and enough people deciding that 13 years is time enough to get over their anti-Tory reservations, recognise the party has changed, and put an x in the box that will get us over that 310 seat line so we can do what is necessary to get our Society back on track.

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Filed under Centre Right, Election, Indulgent