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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The start of something or flattering to deceive...early thoughts on Bristol1st.

Following the success of the #yestomayor campaign the electors of Bristol bucked the UK trend and voted in favour of an elected mayor (In the final results 41,032 voted Yes, 35,880 voted No to a mayor)

Whilst much mileage has been run up between the bloggers and the campaigners over the pros and cons of the plan now begins the long crawl to the election of Bristol’s first elected mayor in mid November.

In earnest and out of interest I travelled down to see the first candidate make a play for the votes of the common and not so common Bristolian. George Ferguson Bristols red-trousered pro-business entrepreneur offered his early vision for Bristol.

Below begins an extract (poorly extracted and edited from memory, the yadas signify no positive or negative valence to the missing content) from George Fergusons speech to the masses (approx. 130-150) on the 14th December at the Tobacco Factory in Southville.
yada yada yada ‘involved since 1965’ yada yada yada ‘hated some things that have happened since’ yada yada yada ‘could be more brilliant’ yada yada yada ‘put Bristol before all else, before our political parties and our business’ yada yada yada ‘Put Bristol First’ yada yada yadaAll parties and none allowed to rally round this banner’ yada yada yada ‘Local governance polluted by obsession with party politics’ yada yada yada ‘As such people have been elected because of what has gone on nationally’ yada yada yada ‘Power’ yada ‘Will grab more and redistribute it to where it belongs to communities and neighbourhoods’ yada yada yada ‘Take responsibility for services they rely on’ yada yada yada ‘what can people offer’ yada yada yada ‘brave step standing as an independent’ yada yada yada ‘Needs red hot campaign agent’ yada yada yadafundraising, crowd funding, ground up fivers more valuable than four figure sums’ yada yada yada ‘City can be changed by a moment like this, in order to do that we need to look deeply at the issues’ yada yada yada ‘We need people’ yada ‘who know what needs doing for Bristol’ yada ‘from business who know how to run things’ yada yada yada ‘use entrepreneurship talent in this city to achieve things’ yada yada yada ‘both social and business entrepreneurship’ yada yada yada ‘We can build pride in this city’ yada yada yada ‘We have a cynical city, I won’t be knocking other candidates’ yada yada yadaI just believe I have something to offer that hopefully is better if it isn’t may they win!’ yada yada yada ‘I want an ethical campaign that unites us all’ yada yada yada ‘standing to unite Bristol’ yada yada yada ‘Worst thing you can do is creating divisions’ yada yada yada ‘Lets respect our opponents’ yada yada yada ‘Techinical point’ yada yada yada ‘Bristol1st may have to be defined as a party’ yada yada yadaThe last thing I want to do is great another party, it’s a way to mark us out from any other that may stand’ yada yada yada ‘I can assure you that I am as independent as they come, I have allowed my Lib Dem membership to lapse’ yada yada yada ‘looking to set up project/policy groups’ yada yada yada ‘Encompass more than the urban area’ yada yada yada ‘officers taken control’ yada yada yada ‘just let them try and institutionalise me*

*George Ferguson was asked if there was a way you can prevent yourself becoming institutionalised by the council itself.

At first look it is a strong statement from George Ferguson, hinting at a stronger role for both entrepreneurs and citizens and a blatantly strong independent stance against ‘party politics’. But as a campaign is it anything new? I’m yet to be convinced. The anti party politics sentiment could be the strongest and most coherant element for campaigners to unite around. The challenge however seems to be that many bloggers are already strongly pushing the fact that he was a party member and campaigner within a political party. George was keen not to make policy proclamations and used the event as a listening rather than a sounding board. He came across positively particularly regarding openness and positive campaigning. It will be interesting to see how he gets on with both crowdsourcing ideas and funding and the appetite of Bristol for a ground up campaign of this nature. I think at present there is much behind the idea and little about the man, if George Ferguson is going to convince the electors or Bristol he’ll have to convince them about the man as well as the ideal.

George is recruiting for ideas, helpers and campaigners to join his effort to become Mayor of Bristol

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The politics of... being a representative (Five questions about me)

As some of you know, I have put myself up for election to the Council of the Electoral Reform Society, a political pressure group which promotes giving votes equal value, effective representation, an end to tactical votes and improved accountability of representatives to their electorates. Despite the disappointing loss in the recent referendum on the Alternative Vote the society has a great chance to build upon the work done by the volunteers and numerous passionate groups and voices which emerged during the campaign. I want to be part of a movement to ensure that the case for Electoral Reform continues to be pushed consistently and coherently at all levels of government.

I'm going to use this weeks blog to briefly talk about me, my experience and why I am standing, I also invite questions via the comments function on this form as well as to my email here. I am also on facebook and twitter if you want to continue the conversation there.

1. Why do you believe in Electoral Reform?

Well I grew up in the safe seat of Yeovil, as a Liberal Democrat this should be good news, as the infamous graphs will tell you 'only the Liberal Democrats can win here' and 'Labour cannot win here'. This annoyed me somewhat, even when I was young I questioned actually who listens to those who voted for the losing candidates. Thinking further, I questioned what happened if the election was a close call, or if turnout was small, were we really electing someone representative of the constituency or just a critically significant minority. Its a story that I am sure many people will understand, Now I live in Coventry and the boot is on the other foot and its just as hard walking to the ballot box to make your mark and exercise your right knowing that it will be counted but won't count.

2. Why are you standing?

Having seen the relative success of the #yestoav campaign in terms of mobilising support for reform and the emergence of a number of regional and local groups I want to help make sure the Society grasps this opportunity to build on these resources (the ideas, commitment and experience of its members). I don't want to witness a missed opportunity. The loss of the Alternative Vote referendum has to be the starting point, a well funded campaign of mis-information from the No campaign should not leave members down heartened but instead driven to push the fairness agenda further.

3. What experience do you have?

As a party political activist I have the experience of knocking on doors, and making the case for reform. In terms of work experience and education I recently completed a doctorate in Political Science exploring the concept of political representation. From both research and employment I have experience of lobbying, engaging and working with elected members. Ive organised campaigns and conferences and have experience of working with and training volunteers. I feel my knowledge and experience can  help the ERS harness and build upon what we already have.

4. What do you feel are the priorities for the Electoral Reform Society.

The three areas I feel the society should focus on...

a) Joining Up: I recently attended an ERS event at the LGA Conference and it made me acutely aware of the potential benefit that could be gained from improved engagement with academia, think tanks and elected members. Beyond this the society needs to maximise its potential by joining up and connecting its members in a more coherent way.

b) Equitable Representation: I feel the ERS needs to work with other groups to work towards an equitable representation of women and minority groups at all levels of government. There may be many methods to ensure this, the strongest of which has to be through support, scaffolding and encouragement. The crucial question to be addressed is why are individuals not standing.
c) Electoral Reform for English Local Government: The ERS must push the case for Electoral Reform within English local government. Whereas the Politics of Westminster tends to be focused on leaders, rosettes and the big three parties the representative relationship between councillor and locality is crucially different. The Town Hall is the arena through which there is an opportunity for extensive representative engagement and choice and plurality are the key to this representation. For communities to be heard political representation needs to be re founded in local politics. A broader more pluralistic representative basis is needed for communities to feel they have a voice, the case for electoral reform at the Local Government level needs to be made.

5.Whats your favourite electoral system?

I favour Single Transferable Vote, the best system for combining both a proportional and preferential element.


You can find full list of candidates standing this year with links to their candidate statements here, the big question is why are only 6 of the 53 candidates women, that's an issue that needs to be addressed.

I always have a spotify song on my blog and today is no exception, You Can't Always Get What You Want.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Politics of… declaring war on Murdoch

When I was a younger man selling cheese on a delicatessen for beer money, a colleague and I used to chat politics in between dishing out 113g of crumbed ham here and 230g of y-fenni there. Often we would get round to who we thought could be considered the most power hungry person in the world. It was not long at all before we reached the semi-default position that Rupert Murdoch was short only of a hairless cat and a fricking laser to complete the quintessential bond villain shtick.

The tax-evading, phone tapping, Political Glory Hunting, Fox News creating lie dispenser is quite simply a very powerful man.

Now Murdoch is over in the UK to supervise the shredding crisis at News International, the News of the World is a dead paper mired in the toxicity that comes with hampering missing person searches, encroaching upon on civil liberties, matters of national security and down right unethical behaviour.

It’s a free for all, anyone with a (rightful) grievance is having a pop, Hugh Grant leading from the front with an inspired performance on #bbcqt, Steve Coogan annihilating a NI journalist on #newsnight and every politician seemingly freeing themselves from history and former toadying to have a swipe.

But who should the war be on and who should declare it. As I write this blog it has literally just been announced that the Government will support the motion proposed by Labour calling for Murdoch to withdraw his bid for BSkyB. (Note to self check the voting record to see if anyone votes the other way!)

The press seem to do bad and good in equal measure, the Telegraph did sterling work with its expenses exposes if at times they either over-egged the pudding or gilded the Lilly. However their underhand stings on various Liberal Democrat cabinet members were seemingly politically not democratically motivated.

Neither Cam or EdMil are clean on this, each has (or had) a former NI journalist as Chief Spin Doctor in Tom Baldwin and Andy (We did warn you) Coulson too close for comfort. Each has courted News International like youngsters becoming the lackey of the Big Bully at school, Cameron in the creation of a new Oxfordshire set, and Ed Miliband just trying to get close at Murdoch’s summer party.

The Liberal Democrats sit well on this, Clegg didn’t beg for the scraps from Murdoch’s table, Vince Cable wasn’t afraid to stick it to Murdoch. But I wonder why the quietness from Clegg on this now. Hopefully not for fear of repercussions from the other papers from the News International stable.

The mantle has been brilliantly stolen by Ed Miliband in his strong calls for judge-led public enquiries and an end to the toothless Press Complaints Commission. There is room here for some joint work and possible bridge building between the Liberal Democrats and Labour. Ed Miliband is not tarnished by the Blairite News International Love Ins of the past; Clegg has never courted or supported News International. To get distance from Murdoch, from Coulson and from the phone tapping scandals Clegg should lead from the front and there are a plethora of opportunities to lead on including the issues of phone tapping, paying police, the substandard original enquiry, the BSkyB bid and even a stronger assertion of the ill-advised appointment of Coulson.

So who can declare war on Murdoch?
Well the solution is that it must be done as a joint effort. There is no scope to rush in without a resolution and common agreement as was so sadly the case with the Iraq war. Taking the case to News International needs to be done coherently, consistently and on a pluralistic basis (involving the media standards trust and Hacked off etc etc).

And to be honest I think Vince can, and to be honest Ed, perhaps you owe Vince and apology for so quickly calling for him to be sacked.

This weeks spotify track Rupert Murdoch Needs A Friend by Gabriel Zacchai

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Politunnel backs Ed Miliband and picks apart Caroline Flint

Just wanted to commend Ed Miliband on backing Yes to AV, a principled reformist stance believing in more power for people and against seats for life. He clearly believes in democracy, in better representation and a fairer distribution of seats and a system where the winning candidate has majority support

Caroline Flint of Labour No to AV campaign needs to come up with better arguments for her cause. Here's the interview from the BBC link

To quote Caroline Flint
"I think there are very strong views in the Labour party about supporting First Past The Post,

1. Its a very strong link to constituencies...
?? Does AV weaken the link to constituencies, No, nothing changes??

2. I think its a vote for something, rather than a vote against something, which is what I think you get with the alternative vote.
??Because tactical voting isn't required in the FPTP system and never occurs??

3. And I think its also about not allowing the fringe parties to have more of a say in our elections, and you know I think that's very important and I know throughout the Labour party, at all levels, people feel very strongly about that."
??But fringe parties won't benefit from AV, indeed it may be harder for them to get an MP, however, the second preferences of the smaller parties will be divided up. FPTP disenfranchises every voter who doesnt back a winner, The difference is that AV gives you a vote that really counts and more of a say on who your local MP is. If your first choice gets knocked out your vote is transferred to your second preference. Whether you just vote 1 for your favourite candidate or list a preference for every candidate on the ballot ONLY ONE VOTE WILL BE COUNTED!??

Spotify tune for this one Fatboy Slims 'Weapon of Choice'

Apologies for lack of blogs, in world of thesis at the moment

Friday, 21 January 2011

Political Vernacular 11 for 2011

Wordle of words from the Coalition Agreement (create your own wordles here)

Whereas last year we had Cleggmania, Bigotgate, Ginger Rodents and Toxic debts this year has started a little slower but with new words freshly briefed and older ones reemerging its time for a quick run down of whats what.
  1. Tory-led: Scrub coalition its a Tory led government. Ed Miliband thinks he's doing himself and the Liberal Democrats a favour by making sure that the world knows that the Tories have majority control and lead the coalition Government. Indeed Ed the maths don't lie, but come on even your EX-shadow councillor could have worked that one out without his abacus.
  2. TwoEds: The old adage that two heads are better than one might stand up, but with one Ed being a leader picked by the Unions and a second Ed who should really be his wife. Perhaps this is the Edception to the rule.
  3. Deficit Denier: This one is re-emerging and resurrecting itself like Peter Mandelson in his prime. With Balls at the helm one thinks this will be the strongest (if constantly repeated) weapon for the coalition Tory led Government.
  4. Nudge: See last weeks blog!
  5. Alarm Clock Britain: it's the new political label for hard-working ordinary people, the kind of people who find such labels patronising. NEXT
  6. Blank sheet of paper: Shrewd political document at the heart of Labours political reform drive and catalyst for change. Will be written on when Ed shifts over.
  7. Progressive: Many proclaim it, others claim others aren't it, neither of the blighters define it. An empty signifier if ever I heard one. Economically you can have a progressive tax e.g. Those on high incomes pay a higher percentage of their income than those on lower incomes, beyond that its non interpretable chaff!
  8. Dissent entrepreneur: Actually delivered in 2010 but deserves another outing blog from Left Foot Forward (here). Those who develop activism from within the movement.
  9. SpAD: Government is essentially SpAD heavy, they are the so called 'temporary civil servants'/Special Advisors. Being a SpAD can lead to great things just ask Shadow Chancellor Balls a former SpAD himself who 'apparently' used his own SpAD to brief against Alan Johnson (Not SpAD) to gain his new position. Ed Mil was also a former SpAD as was James Purnell. Even Sue Nye who was a BadSpAD when she stuck Gordon Brown (not SpAD, Had SpADs) with that bigoted woman is now Baroness Nye. However rumours that Mike Hancock had employed VladSpAD were greatly exaggerated. (ill stop there but I also had Cad, ipad and Riyadh).
  10. Misery Index: What with all the talk of happiness measurement I was most amused to see Guido Fawkes misery index. The perfect measure to what bites when things bite. Basically the maths goes ... Retail Prices Index + Unemployment rate + ( Public Sector Net Cash Requirement / GDP ) = Misery Index.
  11. Bankerbashing: Still being blamed for everything in some circles, however a line has to be drawn somewhere. They were a part of the reason for the economic crisis and they will be part of the solution. 
Any other words you think are chic, a la mode and hip for 2010, or alternatively have a go at defining progressive. Get commenting below, then at least I know your reading!

This weeks spotify track is Word Forward from the Foo Fighters.


Monday, 3 January 2011

The politics of nudging (our top five nudges)

For all my mealy mouthed moaning about the worst excesses of 'nanny state' command and control from the Brown government I am becoming more and more interested in nudging. I recently heard a short interview with Richard Thaler (Faculty page at University of Chicago) a co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (amazon link) which increased my interest further. I've not read it yet, but will shortly order my copy and will probably post a review of it when I am done.

Nudge theory (if we call it that) is drawn from behavioural economics, a furrow  more recently ploughed by Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point) and Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics). The discipline which combated the assumption that individuals will act rationally to price incentives to promote their self interest. Within a political context it is a mechanism which could be used as an alternative or supplementary way to nudge people toward jobs or particular health outcomes instead of using the more traditional levers of taxes or benefits. The government recently unveiled a 'nudge unit' with an annual budget of around £500,000 per annum. Whether it is something novel or whether it is a rehash of something else one thing is for sure that 'nudging' is on the political spectrum and agenda in 2011.

The whole idea of cattle herding in any kind of authoritarian manner evokes thoughts of a hardened Orwellian conception of the big brother state, but from most of the contemporary examples Ive heard it cant be so bad can it?

Here's my top five contemporary nudges to help avail that Big Brother scaremongering!

  1. White Lines: (thanks to Francis Maude via Guardian CiF). In 1921 in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands following a spate of road accidents rather than banning cars or adding barriers some smart nudger decided to paint a white line down the middle of the road to nudge people away from accidents (full link).
  2. Opt Out Pensions: By making company pension schemes opt out rather than opt in take up can be boosted without making anything compulsory. The responsibility is on the individual to opt out if they so wish.
  3. The Amsterdam Airport Urinal: This seems the copy book example in the press. Concerned by spillages at the foot of urinals at Schipol airport in Amsterdam a nudger decided that by etching an image of a black house fly onto the bowl of the airport urinal (just to the left of the drain) they could reduce spillage. And they did by 80%!
  4. Calorie Posting: The labelling and listing by companies such as Starbucks and McDonalds of the calorie levels in their products had improved take up of healthier options particularly on products for children.
  5. Musical Stairs: To stop people using the escalators and improve their health how about nudging them towards the stairs by making them more fun. Example from Sweden (see video below)

Maybe due to past readings of Foucault, Orwell and Pierson and explorations of path dependency have done this but the logic's of 'Choice Architecture' both frighten and excite me in equal measure. Fantastic paper (free download here).

A significant nod and hat tip to the Nudge blog (read more here)

This weeks spotify link is unsurprisingly that infamous Python sketch, well 'a nudge is as good as a wink to a blind bat'.

The Politunnel in 2011

Well its a new year, the coalition hasn't collapsed and Liberal Democrats are still uncomfortable if still predominantly hopeful about the prospects for the coalition. The Telegraph took one ministerial scalp but missed another. The blog reached high numbers of hits with a humorous piece on name calling and the posts dried up as work took its toll on free time. This year the blog will endeavour to produce more fruits, which are riper and more juicy if perhaps a little smaller in size.

Hopes for 2011
  • Ed Miliband finally gets to grips with the fact he is Labour party leader and decides what he wants to do about it. That blank piece of paper needs some writing on it asap. Nice Guardian CiF piece from Douglas Alexander here.
  • The coalition remains unfrightened by U-Turns, in 2010 some policy has been hastily unveiled without pre-legislative scrutiny, schools sports the best example.
  • Cameron continues to defy his back bench no-hopers.
  • Clegg remembers that he has backbenchers.
  • Caroline Lucas to stop being solely a green 'media voice' and uses time in parliament to leave a 'green' legacy on British Politics.
  • The Politunnel gets more guest bloggers from different political hues (get in touch here).
Sad news reaches me that Rachel Smith (@rachelolgeirsso) a twitter friend has lost her battle with Leukaemia. Through reading her posts and our sporadic twitter exchanges I learnt that she was a brave, kind and wonderful person. My thoughts go out to her family at this time.
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