Activewiththeactivists’s Weblog

March 16, 2008

I’m not dead, honestly

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 6:21 pm

Sorry, this blog is still current, but there are so many doorbells and so little time. Also when the doorknocking stops I need gainful employment so am working on a number of applications. Normal service will resume shortly!


February 20, 2008

Doorstep round-up: old ladies are brilliant!

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 6:11 pm

Apologies for the lack of posts. I’m sure if you’ve been involved in elections for half your life, and are sad enough to look in Staples for a diary that runs May-May, you’ll know that this is the worst, and in some ways busiest part of the year. It’s building up, everyone knows they now need to do something, but they’re still ducking out of some of it under the guise of arguing about what to say. April you can sail through, people will be at a fighting weight then, but February is like pulling teeth. Also I feel mean for trying to get candidates to knock doors when their hands are like something out of a horror film from vibration white finger.

So in order to perk up the troops, and while away the days until I force people to work evenings, we have been making our way round the bungalows of South Yorkshire. If you’ve done this, you will know, and there is no politically correct way of saying this, that old ladies are lovely. At least the ones we have been talking to are. I’m sure old men are great too, but there are fewer and they seem less keen to answer the door.

It’s one of the great myths about canvassing that people are mean to you. I have never had a door slammed in my face. Nobody has ever complained about the fact that I am knocking. Some people basically hate us, some don’t care, and some have casework and issues that may not have been resolved. But nobody has ever objected to me knocking on their door. Even on a Sunday, whatever numerous candidates have protested.

I have lost count of the number of times, especially during the winter months, that I have been asked in for cups of tea. Sometimes people are just lonely, and want someone to talk to. But some are real enthusiasts for politics, who would never have thought of getting involved in it and realistically it’s too late to convert them now.

Mrs Jones, whose door I knocked on last week, was a great example. (It’s not her real name, but I’ll tell you where she lives if you e-mail me, before people cry Jennifer’s ear at me). She must have been in her mid-eighties. I met her husband first, who seemed unsure about how to answer any of my questions, but said that he would fetch ‘the mester’ (northern for the person in charge, similar to the gaffer if you don’t know). I was slightly apprehensive about this, as sometimes this has meant “I’m not that bothered but it would amuse me to fetch my partner to rant at you”. He was not one of those.

His wife came out and said how lovely it was to have us knock on her door and ask if there were any problems we could help with. Then she said that she would always vote Labour, for the simple reason that she compared her life with her mother’s life. When you look at it that way, you can see her point. Her comparison spanned the 20th century, and she was sure that the Labour party was the dominant progressive influence of those years. Sometimes we forget that. She then rolled off her reasons: the healthcare she had had. The houses she had lived in. The jobs she went through. The fact that she is still alive, and the fact that she is warm. If only I heard all these things brought up at my local Labour party meetings.

Now you can overstate her point. Not everything in her life was down to Labour. She worked hard, and must have been in the right place at the right time to feel the benefit of periods of prosperity. But she recognised politics as the agency which brought at least some of this to her life.

I was thinking about this in a seminar yesterday. One of the other students in my seminar made the point that sometimes people are excluded from politics because the choice they would like is not available to them. This reminds me of when I have more than once been told off on doorsteps for the fact that there was not a candidate from the party a voter would like to vote for. It constantly happens with people who’d like to vote Green, and I have had it before where people want to vote BNP. The view seems to be that the Labour party should make sure there are candidates from other parties.

What I don’t have an answer for is whether this is a new thing. Whether it’s only recently that people have imagined that political actors are provided, somehow, by providence. That it just happens. That politicians, good or bad, are born and not made. It’s also a worrying tendency within the party, where the less functional party units neglect to bring people in, and never consider the training and informing that is the duty of a political organisation. We can’t complain that people aren’t coming to us. Nor can we complain that any given politicians don’t have skills that as party activists we want. The party needs to be prouder of itself as an agent of change, and to recognise that it is everyone’s responsibility to develop the politicians we want.

And if anyone has the February political blues, come out with me and see Mrs Jones. Better still, make her our party election broadcast. I’ll make the tea.

February 1, 2008

Leave Britney alone

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 9:29 am

I was going to do a post about the horrible circus in which this young woman seems to be fair game, but why scrawl on it myself when Alastair Campbell has already written about it.

Just to add that as a woman of the same age as Britney, with friends of the same age, I know that if we were subject to the same degree of scrutiny from our early teens it would be nothing short of torture. The argument that she is a role model to younger girls simply does not stand up any more. The attempts to diagnose her not only set her back but do a great disservice to anyone else in a similar position. I wonder what she has to do to be left alone, and what possible mechanism can be used to restrain the speculation?

January 29, 2008

Wasting police time?

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 12:26 pm

Like most Tory-hating bloggers, I’ve been watching this Conway Twitty story with interest. It’s nice when they are shown up for what they are. The Tory MP and anyone in his party who knew what he was up to should be punished, made to hand back the money, and be prepared for a knock to their collective reputation. If there is more to come out of the story, then there should be enough there for his opponents at the next election to publicise so that his poorly served electors get rid of him.

But it seems the Liberal Democrats don’t want that to be the way it happens. They would rather waste police time. Now financial irregularities involving the public purse are a serious matter, as is the conduct in particular of MPs. If we didn’t know that before the 1990s then we do now. But as a result of what happened in the 1990s, facilities exist to pursue, investigate and punish bad behaviour. Only if these options are exhausted or a wider fraud seems to be underway should opposing parties call the police.

This is a story because it went to the Standards and Privileges Committee, who investigated and punished Mr Conway. If that had not been the case, there is still the Parliamentary Commissioner for standards. There is also an Electoral Commission, a free press and a ballot box.

All of these things combined can serve to prevent wrongdoing, stop it if it has started and offer appropriate punishment. Ultimately and rightly, this is provided by constituents of the politician. There is a necessary role for the press here in letting people know what is happening, and a necessary role for political parties to make the argument for what is wrong and right.

If it’s Watergate, call the police. If it’s not, investigate and alert the proper authorities and, above all, make your case to the electorate at the next election. But the Liberal Democrats seem to think themselves incapable of making this case, and instead are wasting police time in order to make their case to the rolling news channels.

This seems to be a pattern which could cause serious problems in the future and undermine the voters. Increasingly political events are portrayed with certain features. The culmination of any story is a resignation. To get there, letters to the police are just one item in an arsenal guaranteed to keep the bandwagon rolling. If Derek Conway loses his seat at the next election, and I hope that he does, then his opponents can consider it a job well done.

But it’s not a job well done to turn the ticker tape red/yellow depending on your choice of station for ten minutes in order to make it look like politics is corrupt and unregulated. Nor is it a good job to involve the Metropolitan police in matters that are already being dealt with by perfectly appropriate authorities.

If you’ve got a good case against a politician, you should make it, rather than looking for the next opportunity to call the police. They have better things to be doing.


*UPDATE* The Metropolitan police might have more time for sleaze if they weren’t having to arrest Tory MPs on assault charges.

January 20, 2008

Closing the gap?

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 10:26 am

Only if the gap is between David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Watching the latter on the Andrew Marr show this morning, I am a little bit bewildered. Was he floating a balloon or did he really say the health service (at all levels, it sounded like to me) was to be funded by a top-up to local income tax? If the latter is the case I can only think one of two things – either the Liberal Democrats have come up with one of the most divisive and least progressive policies of modern times, or he is using the trite language of localism to make what he thinks are meaningless statements. Either way he looked pretty cheap.

So, if cash for the NHS is to be raised locally, presumably on a local authority basis if it’s to be a top-up to local income tax, how is that possibly going to be a progressive policy? Of course funding of the health service has to reflect local need. But would it be fair if they were funded locally? Take the former coal mining areas. They are doing much better than they were ten years ago, with far higher employment rates than seemed possible then. But are they, while working hard rebuilding their local economies, also to find the money to deal with the health consequences of fuelling Britain through most of the last century?

This sounds like a fairly solid example of a Thatcherite era Tory policy. Even if there is a safety net for areas with lower incomes, the gap will only get bigger when areas with better health and more money can keep their resources to themselves. Clegg always makes sure that he mentions his Sheffield constituency when he talks about his plans, in order to let people know that he could not possibly be a Tory. But that won’t fool anyone if he really starts to articulate these ideas.

But the other option is that he is just trying the easy hit of the language of devolution, and he doesn’t actually mean to announce such a policy. This is a pretty dangerous move. We need local leadership, and it needs to cover all areas, including health, as health is likely to be the main cause of social exclusion this century. What we don’t need is politicians of any party who are too ashamed and afraid of the power of central government, (and the arguments we have to have about how we use it), to narrow the gap in the interests of everyone.

January 15, 2008

Are people stupid?

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 6:01 pm

I’m trying to work out why, when a good 60% of domestic political coverage over the last 3 months has been concerned with party funding/spending (see previous rant here); no member of the general public has raised the issue with me, despite doing a pretty constant routine of door-knocking. Nobody has said anything to suggest that they think any situations or people are right or wrong.

There must be a right and wrong, and people are not stupid. They recognise when something is corrupt or unfair, and they care very much about those things. But I wonder who, outside Westminster, cares about the in and outs of what is declared and how. They certainly don’t follow the role of the Electoral Commission or the various forms of enquiry that they hear about in each news cycle.

People notice if they’re hearing a lot from politicians or if they’re hearing nothing. Something in between will leave most people with the most positive impression. Money spent other than communicating with voters won’t have a clear impact, it’ll just leave an impression of the kind of people we in politics and the political parties are.

But the fact that people seem to think the details of the Hain/Osbourne sagas are irrelevant doesn’t mean they won’t influence people’s opinion of politics and in turn their voting behaviour. In both cases, people will think badly of the politicians who spend large sums on what are essentially internal party issues.

In the case of the Labour party, the problem is ostensibly quite old-fashioned. While we are not an exclusive or class-based party any more, we still have our people that we operate for. And they’re not the kind of people who understand how politicians don’t notice sums in the hundreds of thousands, whether it’s theirs personally or part of their campaigns.

That is why it’s so important that the rules are clear, and the authority of the Electoral Commission is clear. It either is the authority in charge or it isn’t. There should be heavy sanctions for corruption, and for outright dishonesty. The parties and the press should not be trying to make the Hain affair into either of those things, because there is no evidence or likelihood for it. There is nothing helpful in pursuing stories to what, if you watch rolling news, appears the natural conclusion – resignation without people ever really knowing why.

But politicians including Hain should be considerably more responsible because of the damage these stories do. If politicians get access to large sums, they should take responsibility for it being declared. But they should also make sure that they are sensible about the spending that goes on in their names, and make sure it’s to the benefit of the party. It’s not hard, they should just spend the money on communicating with the electorate.

January 7, 2008

Permission to speak

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 11:49 am

Much as I am loathe to admit to reading Guido Fawkes’ blog (feeling somewhat polluted as I do to read just how many people in the Tory blog world are obsessed with Gordon Brown’s supposed homosexuality, including those who cite Robert Mugabe to back their arguments. It’s also very clever of course of some of his readership to call him Braun instead. I think my sides may split), I was interested to read this document, also linked here, apparently from a BBC analysis of the so-called ‘Cameron project’. It sets out several timelines for the alleged transformation of the Tories away from being the ‘nasty party’, and into the party coming up with the ideas for government.

The main structure of such a strategy, as you’d probably expect, is based on spending a couple of years (now ended) securing the party ‘permission to speak’, i.e. to convince people they aren’t really Tories, and are in no way to blame for 15% inflation and record unemployment. This includes pushing environmental issues and rhetoric on families, before moving back to core issues such as immigration and tax cuts. The period in the middle focussing on the character of Gordon Brown seems to me to be the only one the Tories are currently pursuing with any fervour, suggesting that they are not that confident in getting to the phase of having to look like a party of government and come up with big ideas.

The only one they even heralded as a big idea seems to have come and gone with their return to tax obsession in George Osborne’s conference speech. But we in the Labour party seem to have slightly lost sight of the fact that since this they have done very little that is positive or practical. We however are today announcing a policy that is one of the most progressive things a government can do at the moment. By screening for the conditions that shorten lives across all groups in society, and allowing people to take more control over them, not only do we increase people’s standard of living and length of life, but if, as seems likely, health and lifestyle may become a primary force of social exclusion rather than a secondary one, this is a key way of tackling that.

So in a sense, we want the Tory party to have permission to speak. We want the political situation to be such that we have more of a fight than in 2005. Because ultimately, the Labour party is the force for change that people across Britain still need. And if world politics is becoming less afraid of progressive change, as seems to be happening in the US, we need a government that reflects that. We have one, and a fair fight allows us to make that point and lead better by having an opposition that represents the other side. The fact that they have misrepresented their priorities to get to a point of having that permission to speak only makes it clearer that our job is to make the case for change, because they are not going to.

The structure of public life and the media in Britain is such that we as a party of government get led away from making a political case for what we do, and into more technocratic arguments. We can’t do this when the Tory party is able to get more of a platform to make its case. Unfortunately the way public life if divided up means that making a political case makes change a Westminster story. Today’s NHS announcement is a case in point. While I’m sure that by the 6 o’clock news the BBC analysis will be focussed on what the announcements mean, albeit of course including arguments about funding and allocation, at the moment on News 24, bulletins featuring the story are going to analysis from James Landale, the Chief Westminster correspondent, to discuss what this means for the sparring between the parties. But that is not the only thing we mean by having a political discussion. Parliament is not the be all and end all of politics. We can have a discussion in hospitals and streets across the country, that doesn’t make it less political.

So we are winning by far the battle of ideas. But we need to be stronger in making the political case in a more relevant way. But we can’t fall into the trap that politics and Westminster are synonymous, and the Labour party could help itself by forcing public life in general away from this assumption. The way to lose would be to accept that Westminster politics is the only arena for the political argument, and now that the Tories do have a voice, we can’t let that happen.

December 30, 2007

The God of telly

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 6:55 pm

I’m just settling down now after a nice family Christmas, highlights being a nice fat goose and the family coming down from Scotland (not necessarily in that order). It was quiet, family orientated and secular, and it was great. Like a Dawkins Christmas, we had carols (as well as a particularly ‘good’ duet between me and my brother, in which I enjoyed calling him a faggot as he called me a slut, see below), lots of food and family games. If I mention this particular game, played on Boxing day, I tend to have my family abused and likened to Roald Dahl’s ‘The Twits’ so I’ll go into no detail, but friends may see the lists on my facebook page.

But a real feature of this, and most good Christmasses, has been the telly. It doesn’t feature in the sentimental descriptions of how families spend Christmas, and no doubt some would say we should have been going to Church, or eBaying our presents in a good cause depending on your school of thought. But we didn’t do either of those things. We watched the African Queen, and very good it was too. Like attending Church, there was a benefit in the repetition of this, and other Christmas telly, which makes the ritual special and collective. Like a good church service, families sat around and watched a mixture of repeated and comforting messages and new and current ones. It also in some sense includes the lonely and the isolated who aren’t spending Christmas with their families. Buying into the editorial of television, and watching the same as much of the country at the same time, is really a kind of political act, and I don’t think that makes it a bad thing.

However I have also just been looking at the new iPlayer on the BBC, which looks great. I think it’s a great example of the flexibility of the internet, which has been a topic of a lot of what I have been looking at in my Masters’ course. From reading a lot of commentators, you’d think the internet was killing off TV viewing as we know it, and no doubt to some extent it’s true. Perhaps this is unsubstantiated by anyone but me, but since I’ve had Wi-Fi and a laptop I’ve often ended up with the laptop on my knee while watching television, and I’m sure it has reduced my attention span while I try and concentrate on both. Maybe it’ll be a new year’s resolution not to do this.

But there is something about television that is worth preserving, and that I don’t think will die out even if there are more convenient ways of watching programmes. People like the communal act, of observing even if not of worship. Like in a religion, people need a degree of editorial sending them in the direction of items of interest to them. Much as I often scream at the BBC for some of its political coverage and comment (As, I’m sure, do people involved in politics on all sides), their editorial and mixture of new and old is a really important part of national life, and they do it very well. It was one of the things I missed the most living in the USA.

So I’m using the iPlayer – it’s great and I can’t afford Sky+. But I’m also making a New Years resolution to watch more television, and give it my full attention, not looking up everything on Wikipedia as I go. And I’ll still pester to watch The Snowman every Christmas Eve, however many times I’ve seen it, and even if the Irn-Bru version is better.

December 18, 2007

Happy Christmas your arse

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 11:27 pm

It’s not very often I find myself cheering for Jeremy Vine, but I did hear him this lunchtime on Radio 2 and was happy to hear Fairytale of New York, a song I could recite bar by bar even if I hadn’t heard it in ten years. I didn’t realise at that moment why he was doing it until I saw this. I have to write this as it was the only way to calm my gay housemate as he shouted swear words and abuse at Peter Tatchell on the television. Worse ones than ‘slut’ and ‘faggot’ if we are going to grade these things.

Now, I know that faggot is an offensive word, as is slut. I wouldn’t use them in the course of my daily discourse. But the point of the song, and the reason it is so appropriate for Christmas, is that it reflects people leading an imperfect life with imperfect and dysfunctional relationships. They may use imperfect language. It’s the perfect antidote to the parts of commercial Christmas culture which exclude everything but happy families. With perfect teeth. It’s an important part of Christmas cheer if it can amuse anyone lonely or sad at Christmas.

It’s not as if the late great Kirsty MacColl or the thankfully still with us Shane McGowan are exactly setting themselves up as role models for Radio 1 listeners here. They are, as Ms MacColl’s mother points out, a couple not in the first flush of youth. There are suggestions one or both may be somewhat compromised by their drug use. The song starts with Shane McGowan ‘in the drunk tank’ placing bets. You’d have to be very naïve to imagine that both singers are not drunk when having this row. So they’re hardly saying it’s right to call people faggots.

Despite this the song is genuinely romantic, albeit not in the sterile way that most Christmas songs are. Kissing on a street corner while the NYPD choir sing is just as authentic as being under some arranged mistletoe. There aren’t many better lines than ‘I could have been someone – well so could anyone’ to express a total lack of sympathy for someone being drunkenly maudlin. It’s a skill plenty of people may find themselves using at Christmas (along with sympathy of course, and holding people’s hair out of the way while they experience the later effects of festive drinking).

So I’d like to say well done to Radio 1, not just for sensibly caving but for getting still more airtime for a great song for everyone who might have an imperfect Christmas or imperfect relationships. I counted at least four groups on Facebook asking to get Fairytale of New York to be Christmas number one, and one of them had 2351 new members when I just looked. Maybe Radio 1 are not fools.

Maybe they know that picking the boring answer is not what we need at Christmas. They know that bans from Radio 1 inevitably lead to success, and thank god this time they may have used the power for something great. Maybe I’ll even retune from Radio 2. But not until Chris Evans goes on holiday.

December 16, 2007

The incredibles

Filed under: Uncategorized — activewiththeactivists @ 12:47 pm

Great example here of some fake Tory photos. Particularly the fact that more than one hand has faked the same scene with different results. Hardly the much vaunted Tory authenticity is it?

But it’s also a pretty awful photo. A bunch of politicians in their suits lining up against a blue background. No action. No interaction. No public. No recognisable background. No story. If these politicians are talking or listening it is only to each other. Why should anyone care? And yet it has been reproduced on the websites of several Tory candidates. To show that they’re still the candidates of another, less communicative age. Even if they can use photo shop (badly).

Surely it’s time for a moratorium on these formal candidate shots. We don’t want politicians who look like ‘Westminster Man’ or ‘Town Hall man’. We want politicians who do enough active things that we can get pictures of them doing active things in their areas. If they do these cheesy pictures, fake or real, you have to ask why.

Because getting people to identify with candidates and producing materials people will read is not just sensible for getting votes. It’s important for getting people to listen to what you have to say.

Maybe the Tories should stop ploughing money into their campaigns and photo shopping efforts and get some photos of themselves talking to voters.

Maybe people would listen. And they would look less like chumps.

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