Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Life in a marginal: still uncanvassed

If the election result was decided solely on how many times people have knocked on my door, there would be no doubt about the winner: the Jehovah's Witnesses. Oxfam and "Hello Fresh" would also retain their deposits. No political party has bothered yet, and there's barely a week left for them to get their acts together. Honestly, what is the point of living in a marginal if you're not going to be given the opportunity to rant on your own doorstep? Plus I'm a stay-at-home Dad so I'm in all day and can even offer a traditional baby-kissing opportunity. Roll up!

"But her face is covered in porridge!"
"Do you want my vote or not?"

The leaflets keep on coming of course. Mrs Tomsk has received a personal letter addressed personally to her from John Leech. It's all but identical to the one I was sent except that the controversial opening paragraph has been replaced with something much more anodyne. Either this blog is much more widely read than I imagined, or Mrs Tomsk is considered to be a more sophisticated voter who is put off by mudslinging (by virtue of being a woman?), or maybe it's just a sign of the randomness that underlies all of nature. The Lib Dems do move in mysterious ways.

Aside from that, another Focus. The print quality continues to decline at the Focus presses, now resembling the monthly newsletter of an impecunious bridge club.

As ever with Focus it's all about local action, not least the campaign to save Chorlton Baths, which is being closed because the Labour council is evil and not because of anything to do with the massive cuts the coalition have forced on local government.

Meanwhile Jeff counterpunches with a neat little cheat sheet of Lib Dem betrayals:

That's 5 ticks for Smith versus 5 crosses for the Lib Dems. A walkover!

In window poster news, a Green Party poster has joined the two Labour ones on our (very long) street. That's the first Green activity I've seen besides the hustings. Will their budget stretch to a leaflet? Watch this space...

Thursday, 23 April 2015

At the hustings

I was kindly allowed off fatherly duties for an evening to attend the election hustings at St Clements Church in Chorlton. A few things I learnt about the candidates:

  • John Leech (unsurprisingly) and Jeff Smith (reassuringly) are both good at this game. Rob Manning (Conservative) and Mark Davies (UKIP) also put up a good front against a mainly hostile audience. Lucy Bannister (Green) was the youngest and least assured candidate but to her credit was the most willing to take on the UKIP arguments directly. Mysterious independent candidate Marcus Farmer was not on the panel. Perhaps he was gazing down malevolently from the bell tower.
  • Jeff Smith was happy to go on record saying that he would vote against his own party in order to ban fracking and cancel a Trident replacement. I don't actually agree with him on either of those issues but still I'm impressed with his independence of thought and it has addressed some of my previous doubts. Of course it was also a canny pitch that pre-neutralised John Leech's closing statement claim to be the one true rebel of the panel.
  • The Tory guy had a good command of government policy and an endless supply of facts and figures. He wisely drew our attention to policies that we might actually approve of, e.g. HS2 and Devo Manc.
  • The UKIP candidate, by contrast, was never going to get anywhere with the room and his anti-politics schtick didn't sell. When he did make pertinent points - such as that the EU single market enables the likes of Amazon to minimise their tax exposure in relation to a question about corporate tax dodging - they were ignored. I'd rather they were challenged properly as only the Green candidate really attempted (on immigration).
  • The audience were more than a touch self-righteous en masse, loudly applauding the question about corporate tax then taking offence when John Leech rather bravely (in the Sir Humphrey sense) pointed out that individual action was important and we were essentially hypocrites for continuing to shop at Amazon and drinking coffee at Starbucks, unlike him. I'm tempted to vote for him solely for that bit of crowd-baiting.
  • On the other hand the best zinger came from the audience when Davies asserted that we needed to raise defence spending to deal with Putin, and when his aircraft were buzzing the North Sea we were reduced to relying on French and Dutch radar to detect them at all. "Just as well we're in the EU then," someone shouted.
  • Having more or less convinced me to vote Labour, Smith went down in my estimation at the final question by declaring his support for the first past the post voting system. Dammit, why can't you reserve your principled stands for the nerdier issues of the day? Leech went on the attack over Manchester's one party state - now where have I heard that line before - which does certainly illustrate how undemocratic FPTP is.
  • Overall Leech played a straight bat on a sticky wicket, but if the hustings crowd is in any way representative of the electorate, he's unlikely to #makeit15.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Life in a marginal: when communications backfire

It's always good to receive a personal letter addressed personally to me from candidate John Leech. Not least when it comes on rather nice parchment-like paper. It's the Ferrero Rocher of personal letters.

However, this particular letter seems almost purposely-crafted to drive me towards voting Labour.

The first two paragraphs contain so much piffle that they actually broke my piffleometer. I understand the need to trash talk Labour in their leaflets, but "Britain nearly bankrupted"? I expect that kind of mendacity from Clegg, but I thought Leech would have more scruples.

If you're going to make up recent history for your own benefit, at least be creative:

"In 2010, the tyrant Brown ruled the Kingdom with a great clunking fist, and all the peasants did whimper as their first borns were sacrificed to appease the mighty Banker Barons. And yet there was still hope, in a fresh faced young hero named Nick Clegge from the South Riding of York-Shire. And lo, the populace did Agree With Nick and ushered in were five years of joy and harmony..."

Monday, 13 April 2015

Undecided of Manchester Withington

A confession: I haven't made up my mind how to vote yet.

If it were simply a matter of choosing a party I would have settled long ago on Labour. I've never voted for them before at a general election but picking Ed Miliband as leader showed they were ready to stand for something again and I'm pleased with the direction he has taken the party. While some of the policies they have already proposed may be a bit gimmicky (stupid NHS targets), and some I'll believe when they happen (200,000 new homes a year), others look both doable and will tangibly improve the country: doubling paid paternity leave, reducing tuition fees, giving 16 year olds the vote, abolishing non-dom status, giving football fans a voice in the boardroom, reinstating the 50p top rate of tax, scrapping the bedroom tax, and giving renters more rights to name just a few. Small policies that will make a big difference without breaking the bank.

I could hardly be less persuaded by the endless attacks on Miliband from the Tories and Tory press, all too often promulgated by leftier papers that should know better. The bottom line is he has both the opportunity and, it seems, the desire to be a transformative prime minister in the mode of Attlee or Thatcher. No doubt I will be disillusioned should he get into Number 10. But better to hope and be disillusioned than never to be illusioned at all.

The Lib Dems, conversely, have been on their own ideological journey, one that has taken them a long way from my own views. I didn't and still don't object to them forming a coalition in the first place; the electoral maths made it inevitable. What worried me then, and even more now, is that the current leadership prefers to be in government with the Tories than with Labour. That's why they tripled tuition fees, screwed up the NHS and waved through excessive austerity - not as a result of necessary compromise, but because they actually believe in these policies. And every time Clegg claims that Labour caused the global financial crisis by borrowing too much, I wish that bit more strongly for a Portillo moment in Sheffield Hallam.

And yet ... the Lib Dem candidate here, John Leech, is not of the same mould as Clegg, Laws, or Alexander. He's clearly a bit of a leftie, rebelling against tuition fees, the NHS reorganisation and the bedroom tax. He's clearly an MP who works hard for his local community. In my view his record in Westminster is pretty good and I would have no problem with him continuing to represent me for another five years.

If only he wasn't a Lib Dem!

From what little I know of Jeff Smith gleaned from his campaign literature, he would make a perfectly good MP too. He has Real Life Experience and is just as locally-focused as Leech. But can I count on him to vote with his conscience when it matters? And does his conscience even resemble mine? No idea. If it was simply a matter of choosing an individual representative, I would choose Leech.

So there's the dilemma. Go with an experienced, independently-minded MP who undoubtedly shares my values but will nevertheless be counted as one in the column for Tory-loving Clegg when the coalitions are negotiated? Or the unknown quantity who will unquestionably help Labour into power?

Party or person?

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Life in a marginal: a tale of two Jeffs

After the blizzard of Lib Dem leaflets, Labour strikes back. It's all about Jeff this time, both in boring old A4 format:

And in a personal communication adressed personally to Mrs Tomsk in person, an intriguing origami-like construction yielding much the same information:

His handwriting looks a bit childish. Should have stuck to the typewriter. Plus he's blown the personal effect by addressing himself to "Dear Resident". Still, it's an impressive roster of ordinary definitely-not-Labour-activists backing Jeff there.

Believe it or not the leaflet folds open again to reveal yet more Jeff knowledge, like a more boring version of those folded paper number choosing thingummies you made at school.

In response Leech has sent us his own innovation: a square leaflet.

Could do better, frankly. But I have learnt something new: Manchester is a one-party state...