When The Daily Mail asks to use a photograph you’ve taken this is how you respond

Very proud of my good friend and occasional Hynd’s Blog contributor, Mike Assenti, for this wonderful response to the Daily Mail when the paper approached him asking to use one of his photographs.

Mike

Follow Mike on twitter @ClipOnMike.

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Green Party membership 2002-2014 up three fold

Today, Derek Wall from the Green Party tweeted this graph showing the growth in Green Party Membership from 2002 – 2014.

Greens 2002-2013

Two interesting points to draw out from the graph:

  • How low the membership was 10 years ago (I joined when the party had just 6,280 other members).
  • How consistently the membership has grown over the last 12 years (with obvious spikes).

In contrast when we look at membership figures (source: House of Commons briefing Sept 2014) of the three largest political parties in the UK we can see the exact opposite occurring:

  • Membership that used to be quite big but…
  • Now the membership is consistently slipping away.

party members hip

For the sake of comparison, if we look at the Conservatives compared to the Greens we can see that the Tory membership fell by more than half between 2000 and 2013 while the Green Party grew by three fold.

It is worth highlighting though that other smaller parties are also seeing a growth (the BNP serving as the exception).

party members hip 2

Perhaps what is most interesting however is to look at the percentage increase or decrease over the last 10 years to examine where the momentum is in British politics:

party members hip 3This one crass measure doesn’t tell you much but it does suggest that both UKIP and Greens are currently riding high.

The pertinent question though is will this trend continue and will all these small parties become bigger players in British politics or will we see some of them drop off like we did the BNP?

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Why I will be running for the African Palliative Care Association

APCA_logo final_NEW STRAPIt is important to state from the start, I don’t like running and nor am I any good at it. You would be right then to comment that it seems just a smidgen odd to decide to run 21 kilometres, out of my own free will, however good a cause it is for.

Well let me assure you that it is for an exceptionally good cause. I am fundraising for the African Palliative Care Association (APCA). APCA has been my employer now for the last 18 months. I am not too proud to say though that when I started working for them I knew little about palliative care – let alone palliative care in Africa.

I guess I was a little naive but I never expected the raw reality that I was met with on day one of my job. Literally millions of people suffering the most debilitating of pain because they don’t even have access to basic elements of palliative care such as access to pain medication.

I started to grasp the magnitude of what this actually meant when I went with staff from Hospice Africa Uganda on home visits. I met patients and their family who benefited from having access to oral morphine and who had grappled back a sense of normality in their life.

I remember meeting Bruno on the outskirts of Kampala. I remember how he had said to me that “You cannot be happy to see your dad suffering”. But most of all, I remember how deeply sincere he was when he thanked the hospice staff for coming, for caring and for bringing his monthly does or oral morphine.

This realisation though of how important palliative care services are only truly sunk in when I met someone who, like most Ugandans, did not have access to this service.

That person asked me not to publish her name and I can understand why. She spent 6 months nursing her mother who died of cancer as the rest of the family refused to let her seek medical help because of the financial implications. She watched her mother everyday lie in bed unable to move because of the pain she was in. With tears in her eyes she said to me one of the most powerful sentences that I have ever heard: “When I die, I don’t want to go like that.”

This is what APCA campaigns for. To ensure that no-one in Africa dies without access to palliative care.

Over the last 18 months of working for APCA I have almost every day had a realisation of some sort. Sometimes it is still about how dire the situation is in many parts of Africa. Other times it is about these faceless numbers impact on people lives. But increasingly these realisations come through meeting the varied and wonderful volunteers and staff who working to change all this.

Because of a small band of committed people there are now policies, projects and pain killers popping up all over Africa. The staff and volunteers I have met have at times humbled me but more often than not, they have inspired me.

In South Africa the national association is supporting the training of traditional healers in palliative care. In Uganda they have been training journalists and editors. In Zambia they are engaging the HIV AIDS community. All people who used to see themselves as separate to palliative care all now working to ensure everyone has access to these services.

When the palliative care community reaches out – others cannot help but to respond seeking out what they can do, how they can contribute to helping to end this perfectly preventable humanitarian disaster of untreated pain.

It is a natural response that I too felt.

But what can I, as a non-medical professional, contribute? And that’s when it struck me that even if I was already over stretched professionally, I could always do something that anyone of us could do…run a half marathon to raise money and awareness for APCA’s work.

And so, not only do I want you, if you can afford to, donate to APCA through my ‘Just Giving’ page. I would also love you to help me raise awareness of palliative care in Africa. Can you share this article on facebook, visit APCA’s website, or share this video?

Together I know we can do this – there are already hundreds of talented wonderful people out there doing the most amazing work. It might not be obvious how you can help but believe me, just by reading this article you have taken your first step.

There is a long-way to go and my half-marathon is really just the first few steps but together we can make a real difference.

You don’t have to believe me, just go and listen to patients both with and without access to palliative care and you will soon see the difference it can make.

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The satire of Downing Street trying to fly the saltire

saltire
With the news that the ‘Yes to Independence’ campaign had overtaken the ‘Better Together No to Independence’ campaign in the polls, the Yes campaign went on the offensive trying to paint the No campaign as panicking.

To counter this at the time, unfounded accusation, the No campaign launched itself into full panic mode.

Firstly, they cancelled Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) so the three party leaders could take a completely unplanned and, let’s be honest, unwelcomed trip to Scotland to try and ‘love bomb’ the Scots.

I can’t see that going wrong…

While I feel little sympathy for Cameron, I do feel a bit bad for Clegg as once again he fights in a referendum where he does more harm than good. He is, whether he likes to admit it or not, now part of the three figureheads of conventional Westminster politics who are to the No campaign what the Liberal Democrats were to the AV campaign.

Alex Salmond must have been laughing at the news that all three of them were heading north.

As if trying to write a satirical sketch for the ‘Thick of it’, it got worse. Someone somewhere decided to try and fly the saltire over Downing Street and impressively manged to get it wrong. Truly a wonderful moment – the satire of the saltire.

Watch this video:


It has been a long time since I have seen a collective political flap as big as this. Will the Scots find this late attempt to love-bomb them lovable? Or, and perhaps more likely, will they see through these latest twists and turns of political posturing?

I suspect the latter but I guess we won’t find out until the 18th September when Scots go to the polls.

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Scottish Independence: Better Together ‘too negative’ as Yes campaign gains ground

Scottish+independence
Last week Charlie Langan wrote for Hynd’s Blog discussing, amongst other issues, the negative nature of the ‘Better Together’ campaign on the up-coming Scottish independence referendum.

Interestingly some new YouGov research shows that Charlie is not the only one who feels like this:

PKpullquote3

This negativity is part of what Charlie explains has pushed him from a neutral position towards supporting the ‘Yes to Independence’ campaign. Again, this latest YouGov analysis suggests that once again Charlie is representative of a much broader shift in public opinion.

YouGov research shows that support for the Better Together campaign has been vanishing in the last week leaving the two sides neck and neck leading up to the referendum on the 18th.

IndyRefSept

Now, only Conservative voters (who are small in numbers in Scotland) are consistently backing Better Together: 93% of them still plan to vote No. YouGov’s analysis shows that ‘all other sections of Scottish society are on the move, most notably among four key groups’:

  • Labour voters, up from 18% saying Yes four weeks ago, to 35% today
  • Voters under 40, up from 39% to 60%
  • Working class voters, up from 41% to 56%
  • Women, up from 33% to 47%

This all leaves it too close to call and reinforces the message from both camps that if you are eligible and care about the future of Scotland – either as part of the United Kingdom or as an independent country – you need to make sure you turn up to vote on the 18th September.

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Young voter support for The Green Party has doubled since May’s election

New analysis from YouGov shows that twice as many young people now say they plan to vote Green in May 2015’s General Election than they did before this year’s European elections.

An average of 10-11% of 18-24 year olds now say they are planning to vote Green in 2015 compared to just 3-5% in March-May 2014.

Young Greens

Despite this surge in youth support the party are still only polling 4% on average (according to the UK Polling Report Average).

polling average

The Greens are still being significantly outflanked by the electorally similar sized UKIP (although UKIP are of course much better financed) and consistently unpopular Liberal Democrats. Although, it is again worth noting that a 4% national vote share for the Greens would be a huge step up from their 2010 1% vote share.

In 2015 Greens have announced they will stand candidates in 75% of seats. However, considering this national polling, it is expected that Greens will focus their energy and [limited] resources on firstly retaining Caroline Lucas’s seat in Brighton before also looking to increase their vote share (or take depending on who you speak to) the seats of Norwich South and Bristol West. 

Looking further than 2015 though, this surge in youth support for the Greens is surely a good sign of the long-term prosperity of the party as they seek to establish themselves as a competitive force in British politics.

 

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Arsenal back campaign to kick homophobia out of football

rainbow
There are few things I like more than Arsenal FC and there few things I like less than discrimination.

Because of this, I rather appreciated Arsenal’s latest campaigns video in support of the #RainbowLaces campaign to ‘kick homophobia out of football’.


Stewart Selby, co-ordinator and founder of the GayGooners commented on the Arsenal press release that: “Arsenal’s participation in the advert and the campaign means so much to Arsenal’s LGBT fans and the community. The campaign sends the message that attitudes should and can change.”

A pair of rainbow laces will be distributed to professional players across the UK for them to where on the weekend of Saturday September 13th to create a visual display that homophobia is not accepted in the modern game.

Writing this from Uganda, one wonders though how the millions of devote Arsenal fans here will react to the campaign!

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How the Green Party in Stroud responded to the idea of a UKIP/Green pact

Stroud Greens
The Green Party Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) in Stroud, Chris Jockel, came out with this stirring statement in response to a UKIP suggestion of a Green/UKIP pact in Stroud.

From the local rag, the Stroud News and Journal:

“We believe UKIP promote a message of fear, division and potentially hatred, born of a superficial, lazy and ultimately dishonest analysis of the national and local situation,”

Talk about pulling no punches!

Just in case any local UKIPers were left in any doubt the Green Party’s MEP for South West of England (and formerly a Stroud District Cllr), Molly Scott Cato, added:

“UKIP’s candidate seems to subscribe to the adage that ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ but I have to tell her that the Greens choose their friends with more care than that.”

Well, glad we got that one sorted. No UKIP/Green pact in Stroud!

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Natalie Bennett re-elected leader of The Green Party

Green party Natalie Bennett
Natalie Bennett has been re-elected the leader of The Green Party of England and Wales after standing for re-election unopposed. She was elected with 2618 votes to 183 (RON).

Former Deputy leader Will Duckworth however narrowly missed re-election in the new system which saw the party electing one male and one female deputy party leader. Amelia Womack was elected with 1598, (to Will Duckworth’s 1108) and in the second round of voting Shahrar Ali was elected with 1314 (to Will Duckworth’s 1277).

Other internal election results include:

Gpex Chair: Richard Mallender was elected 2640 to RON 101

Campaigns Co-Ordinator: Howard Thorpe was elected 2546 to RON 181

Elections Co-Ordinator: Judy Maciejowska was elected 2631 to RON 161

External Communication Co-Ordinator: Penny Kemp/ Clare Phipps/ Matt Hawkinswere elected 2586 to RON 147

Management Co-Ordinator Mark Cridge was elected 2636 to RON 82

International Co-Ordinator: Derek Wall was elected 1416 to Anna Clarke’s 891

Trade Union Liaison Officer: Romayne Phoenix was elected 2639 to RON 94

Policy Co-Ordinator: Sam Riches and Caroline Bowes were elected 1786 to Rachel Featherstone and Anna Heyman’s 839

Publications Co-Ordinator: Martin Collins was elected 2468 to RON 249

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The Sun’s barefaced hypocrisy on baring boobs

The sun

Today, The Sun published the ‘shaming’ story, ‘New sex game shame for topless Brit birthday girl in Magaluf’.

Putting aside whether or not it is in any of anyone’s business what a girl does on her 18th birthday it is worth just taking a moment to highlight the paper’s barefaced moral hypocrisy when it comes to baring breasts.

The Sun goes to great length ‘to celebrate’ the ‘bare-breasted beauties’ (see this 40th anniversary ‘celebration’) that they have daily on their page 3, but don’t seem to hesitate to talk of the shame that this girl is supposed to have felt for choosing to get her boobs out for a drinking game.

So which one is it – is The Sun celebrating natural beauty, in which case I personally look forward to the page 2 cock close-up juxtaposed next to the boobs, or, are we shaming people for getting their naughty bits out?

Of course The Sun is not the only paper to sink into a moral hypocrisy as they try to appeal to both middle-England’s sense of perpetual outrage and to the dispiriting fact that half naked pictures sell papers.

The other example that springs to mind is The Daily Mail’s obsession with fighting the ‘sexualisation of childhood’ whilst at the same time running pictures of 14-year-old Kylie Jenner in a “tiny wetsuit” and “skimpy bikinis”.

For what it is worth I personally feel a lot of sympathy with the ‘celebrating natural beauty’ argument but just feel that is not, and indeed, cannot, be properly ‘celebrated’ in a society and newspaper industry that is so depressingly dripping in overt sexism.

Perhaps even more importantly though, I just feel that this sort of barefaced hypocrisy deserves to be highlighted.

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The Scottish vote for independence should be a celebration – change is happening.

This is a guest post from a good friend and current Phd student, Charlie Langan.

Edinburgh
A quick disclaimer to start: I will not be voting in the Scottish referendum. When there was the possibility of having a postal vote, I believed that neither side had provided any substance to vote for . Since then however, I believe that the Yes campaign has provided a story to believe in. Given the opportunity, I would vote Yes.

Yes for a chance to change both Scotland and the UK for the better.

The starting point of the debate though, which is often overlooked, is whether there is a problem with the state of the Union.

There is evidence that the system is not currently working. I am more and more ashamed of the news stories about the UK that make it to Uganda where I live. Despite not being patriotic, I find myself with, increasingly regularity, volunteering my Scottish status to separate myself from these stories. This is something I have never done before.

The turn to aggressive, confrontational and emotive attitudes and policies on immigration, the European Union, tax and social welfare among other issues coming from the UK, seems to me at odds with the progressive political agenda coming from Scotland.

As an environmental economist working on climate change, I recognise the strength of Scotland’s devolved policies based and founded upon science. However, I do believe that Scotland is running to the limit of its powers and is being constrained. Without being able to set taxes and create incentives, it is difficult to nudge people into making decisions that are better for the society we want to be.

Scotland has shown ability and aptitude to develop strong policies giving, at least me, assurances that Holyrood could probably handle sectors such as the economy (and by most measures better than the current UK government performances in health, education and environment sectors).

I think there is a lot of similarities between the current debate on independence and climate change.

Climate change is a problem, but it took a long time to really understand how it affects us all. Scottish and UK society, national priorities and policies aren’t in harmony, and the differences are perhaps becoming irreconcilable.

In this light, the debate boils down to do we need to change or not. It is a lazy argument that change is too risky just because it’s change. Those who refute change on the principle of change are often those have gained too much power under the status quo and don’t want the boat rocked (the equivalent big oil lobby against the green economy and taking action on climate change). The argument heard is often it’s too expensive to change, and closer examination such claims are generally unfounded.

If there is a consensus that a problem exists and there is a need for something to be done, the debate turns to what is the solution for a better Scotland and a better UK?

The problem here is evaluating any solution, as this requires making predictions of the future, or a new future or a new paradigm. Climate models using hundreds and thousands of years worth of data are made to look like child’s play compared to trying to model the complexity of economies. Those who claim certainty are un-honest, and there are many uncertainties making definitive answers difficult. But we are quite good and familiar at managing the risk of unknowns.

In many respects the Yes campaign has been taking a systematic approach to think through the key issues and logically trying to plot the best course that Scotland could follow if independence is chosen; i.e. identifying risks and proposing management. I don’t like Alex Salmond, nor do I attribute all the successes of the Scottish parliament to him, but I have become to believe that he and the Yes campaign continues to capture the progressive nature that exists within many Scottish policies. Drawing upon the scientific wisdom, it’s not the result that counts, but the method used that shows your success.

The Better together campaign have never unpacked themselves; is it “we are better together” or “we would be better together”? I have already dismissed for the former, but the latter – how – what could Scotland gain? What could the UK gain? What can both parties bring to the table that is not already there? What solutions is the no camp providing? Why have we never seen a better together vision for the future of Scotland? What will be on the table if a no vote is returned in the referendum and discussions turn to devolution max? How valuable would UK membership be to Scotland, if we all find ourselves outside the EU?

The nature of the independence and climate change debates has also been similar in that: the no campaign has been taking on the role of the climate sceptics, focusing on trivial or false corner stones of the debate (the hypothetical currency), distorting the wider picture of the debate (its all about the economy), and resorted in threats (you can’t depend on oil). I look forward to future comparisons with the UK debate and eventual referendum on the EU membership; will it also focus on these boring issues?

But here perhaps we are better together, working toward building commonality between Yes and No, then we can rationally and logically take the final step to spilt or not. I would like to see real discussions on pros and benefits of both camps visions’ for the future of Scotland.

Scotland should be giddy with the opportunities in front of it, not cowed into worrying about making the wrong choice. After all, the debate should be a celebration, change is already in motion and in this sense Scotland has already won!

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Video: ‘This is Uganda’

There are lots of reasons why I love living in Uganda. Equally, it never ceases to frustrate me the distorted and perpetually negative way Uganda is so often portrayed in my home country of the UK.

It is partly because of this I wanted to share this video I have stumbled across. Not because it encapsulates ‘Uganda’ like the title suggests but because it gives just the smallest of glimpses of some of the many wonders that Uganda holds.

If nothing else I hope that it will entice more people by to come and see for themselves everything this place has to offer.

This is Uganda – 2014 from Anne und Björn Fotografie on Vimeo.

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Book review: ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce

This is a copy of a book review I wrote for the UK edition of ehospice news.

Harold Fry
If ever a fictional book has illustrated the importance of ‘spiritual care’ as an integral part of palliative care, it is Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’.

Joyce’s heart-warming novel charts the unlikely story of Harold Fry. Harold is a retired Englishman who embarks on 600 mile walk from Devon to Berwick to visit an old friend who is dying of cancer. The walk, or pilgrimage, increasingly becomes interlinked with Harold’s own grief and spiritual pain as he becomes convinced that by undertaking such a walk he can not only keep his old friend alive, but also repent for the mistakes he has made in years gone by.

Although Harold’s friend Queenie is in a hospice with terminal cancer, the reader only gets brief glances at the physical, spiritual and social pain that she is experiencing. Joyce alludes to a lack of family or friends but this, it feels, is only mentioned to add impetus to the protagonist’s pilgrimage.

Indeed, it is Harold, and at times his wife Maureen, who the reader becomes best acquainted with. On a base level the reader begins to empathise with Harold’s tortured emotions towards Queenie and this only heightens throughout the walk.
From the beginning of the walk and the book the reader is aware of a pain lying just underneath the surface of Harold. Only as the walk, or as Joyce sometimes refers to it, ‘the journey’, develops do we begin to understand the nature and severity of Harold’s pain. Throughout the book one cannot help but draw parallels between Harold’s journey and other patient’s journey towards death.

What stands out in this novel though is the way Joyce cleverly explains to the reader how pain goes so much further than just the pain experienced by the patient. Friends, family and, of course, colleagues can be, and often are, effected by death and the process of dying.

Using this holistic understanding of pain, understanding it as more than just physical but also spiritual and social that can and does impact on friends and family as well the patient, Joyce takes the reader on a powerful emotional journey that is sadly too often out of reach in other novels that touch on issues related to death.

Using Harold’s well-being as an extended metaphor Joyce cleverly intertwines Harold’s hopes, emotions and fears with those of the readers and lets you experience the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Harold’s walk.

The context of which this journey is undertaken – the quintessential English landscape – is, I believe, mistaken by many as being the central theme to the book. Indeed in the reviews published on The Guardian or The New York Times, the life-affirming story and the societal implications of what it means to be ‘English’ or ‘Spiritual’ in the 21st century are drawn out as key themes.

For me, these were side-issues all playing in and relating to how we understand death and the role someone’s spiritual pain can play in that process. I took from the novel, and I believe this was intended as a key theme, the universality of spiritual concern and pain – something which palliative care practitioners have been advocating about for a number of years now.

This is illustrated in the fact that the issues around spiritual pain are shown from the perspective of an atheist (Harold). Regardless of religious beliefs we all have the potential to feel spiritual well-being and of course, pain.

Even when faced with the ultimate twist in the final chapters Joyce still refuses to deviate from what I felt to be the core theme of the book – Harold’s deeply personal anguish and how this not only impacts on those around him, but also on his own ability to be at one with himself.

‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ remains one of the few fictional books I have read that deals with spiritual pain around dying adequately. This is not to say it deals with these issue comprehensively, merely that it acknowledges it to be a central part of what it is that makes us human.

It is perhaps this unlikely source of shared humanity that makes this first novel such a triumph and pleasure to read despite the difficult subjects it addresses.

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Ice Bucket Challenge: Pour a bucket of water over my head? Not in Uganda I won’t

This is an article that I wrote for The Daily Telegraph about why I didn’t complete my ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ but did make a donation to Water Aid. 

telegraph 2

You can read the whole article in The Daily Telegraph by clicking here

You can watch the video below

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Stroud Green Party announce candidate for the 2015 General Election

Stroud Greens
On the back of polling putting the Green Party on 11% of the vote in Stroud the local party have announced their ‘party parliamentary candidate’ as Chris Jockel.

You can read more about the announcement here.

More information on #GE2015 in Stroud: 

  • UKIP’s PPC is Caroline Stephens. You can read what I think of her here (summary: she holds no grasp on basic science).
  • Labour’s PPC is former MP David Drew. You can read why I won’t be voting for him here (summary: I still have no answer if or why he thinks it’s OK to discriminate against LGBT people).
  • The Conservative’s PPC is standing MP Neil Carmichael. You can read everything that I’ve written on him here (highlights include him thinking its cool for the body who are meant to be looking after our health to invest in tobacco).

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General election 2015 polling analysis for Stroud

The Lord Ashcroft polling for Stroud gives us a unique insight into the constituency’s voting intentions ahead of the general election next year. As it is the constituency where I will cast my vote it is only natural that I have given it a little more scrutiny than other seats.

Firstly, in line with national predictions, and let’s be honest, common sense, the poll confirms that in all likelihood Stroud will, once again, return Labour’s David Drew.

The headline (weighted) figures show:

Labour 41%

Conservative 30%

UKIP 11%

Green 11%

Liberal Democrat 6%

This would be comparable to a 6.5% swing away from the Conservatives. For reference it is worth comparing this weighted polling to the 2010 constituency result:

Stroud

Labour jump 3% from 2010, Conservatives drop 11%, the Lib Dems drop 9%, Greens gain 8% and UKIP gain 9%.

As I will discuss later – the collapse of the Lib Dems may be key to the 2015 election result.

In line with the national picture we can see the coalition partners bleeding support with the junior partner faring the worst. It is interesting then to see where these votes are going.

According to the polling, 71% of 2010 Conservative voters are sticking with their party. Although lower than the national average this is still reasonable suggesting their key task is ensuring their voters turn up on election day. However 11% and 13% respectively of the 2010 Conservative vote stated they plan to vote for Labour and UKIP.

Only 3% of 2010 Conservative voters plan to vote Green or Liberal Democrat. This suggests that the Lib Dem hope of picking up ‘soft conservatives’ might well be unrealistic in the Stroud constituency. Equally, it suggests that the Green belief of being strong on environmental/rural issues will not return the votes they would hope for in the rural Conservative strongholds of the constituency.

In contrast to the Conservatives, only 23% of the 2010 Lib Dem vote plan to stick with their party. 30% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 plan to vote Labour, 20% Green and 17% Conservatives. Labour’s success in this constituency is heavily dependent with the national campaign of ensuring Lib Dems stay unpopular.

In Stroud however they have the danger that the Greens will sweep in and take a large number of these votes on the back of the well funded negative campaign Labour has launched against the Lib Dems. Locally in the coming months we can expect to see tough campaigning from both parties in the south of the constituency around Dursley – the traditional Lib Dem [no longer] stronghold.

Only 6% of 2010 Lib Dem voters stated that they plan to vote for UKIP.

Interestingly the Labour/Green battle is further highlighted in the important 18-24 year old demographic where both parties are securing a large vote share (52 and 21% respectively). From this we can once again expect to see visits to sixth form colleges as both parties aim to make the most of the Lib Dem unpopularity with young voters (just 7% in this poll).

Perhaps a key area for The Green party might well be tuition fees as they are the only party that still opposes them and of course, it is the flagship Lib Dem bashing policy.

The Conservatives on their part will continue to sing from the ‘economic recovery’ hymn sheet trying to paint Labour as irresponsible. We know this will appeal to their core vote but this polling suggests that this won’t be enough to win them the seat. They have to reach out of their comfort zones – something which they currently show no signs of doing.

The concluding point though has to be this: With near-by constituencies such as Chippenham (where the Lib Dems are expected to lose a very good MP in Duncan Hames) we can expect to see little from the ib Dem in the Stroud constituency which really means their 15% of 2010 votes is up for grabs!

Whether or not Labour secure enough of these votes might well be the difference between a Labour win and a Conservative hold. From a Green perspective, they too must be looking to make ground in the south of the constituency. This could be a double win for them if they look to reach out and secure new ground in the south of the constituency as this is the place where they can pick up the most new votes whilst also not being accused of campaigning on Labour’s doorstep.

The count down to May 2015 in Stroud begins…

*A total of 1,000 Stroud residents were surveyed in the poll, with prospective voters asked who they would support when thinking specifically about their own constituency and the candidates standing.
** The Green Party are the only main party who have yet to announce their candidate for Stroud.

 

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The difference between Suarez and Balotelli

This is an article I wrote for the newly re-launched new-look ‘Tattooed Football’ site.  

suarez
Others, far better qualified than myself, have written at length about the similarities between Suarez and Balotelli. The ‘issues’ around their behaviour patterns have been examined, re-examined, and talked about to death. All in just 24 hours of the news breaking that Balotelli will be joining Suarez’s former team for just (and I used the word just loosely) £16 million.

It seems only right then that I take a few moments to write in defence of Suarez by highlighting what sets him apart from Balotelli.

To start though I must first clarify, I am no cheerleader for Suarez. I think he is an egotist and a fool – albeit a talented one. I was vocal in condemning him for his racism, his weird biting habit (3 times now – that we know of), and stated clearly that I thought it would be a disaster for Arsenal if they signed him – like the striker had hoped.

What sets Suarez apart from Balotelli (who has a similar, if slightly more ludicrous, list of indiscretions) is that despite all his flaws you knew that he would work hard for whichever team he was playing for that day. At the heart of Suarez is a footballer and an exceptionally good one at that.

The same, fundamentally, cannot be said for Balotelli. The man seems to perform on his own agenda, his own timeframe and almost entirely removed from any managerial guidance.

In a CNN interview Jose Mourinho famously recalled a suitable anecdote from his time at Inter Milan to illustrate this point:

“I remember one time when we went to play Kazan in the Champions League. In that match I had all my strikers injured. No Diego Milito, no Samuel Eto’o, I was really in trouble and Mario was the only one. Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute, so when I got to the dressing room at half-time I spend about 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking only to Mario.

“I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball no reaction. If someone provokes you, no reaction, if the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’

“The 46th minute – red card!”

The game is, and always will be, about Balotelli. Suarez’s selfish moments could be, at times, crippling but overall Suarez looked to be a team player. With Balotelli it is almost like the opposite is true – that he is basically there for himself but at times he has flashes of brilliance that can redeem weeks, months or even years of bad attitude, stupidity and selfishness.

What Liverpool fans must come to terms with is that their team has just purchased Balotelli. All you’re getting is him, nothing more nothing less. You’re getting someone who has the talent to be one of the best players of a generation but none of the hard work, commitment and mental focus that is required to get there.

Liverpool’s gamble is that they think – for some unknown, or yet to be proven, reason – that they can install this in him.

So, if you’re wondering how Liverpool managed to pick him up for just £16 million, a fraction of what the player should surely be now worth, it is because there is only a fraction of a chance that he will slot into the Liverpool team, only a fraction of a chance that Brenden Rogers will be able to do what other great managers have failed to do and control him, and only a fraction of a chance that this signing will be about Liverpool rather than the on-going Balotelli show.

In light of this ‘just £16 million’ suddenly seems like little more than an expensive gamble taken in the turmoil aftermath of the unwanted departure of Suarez.

Only time will tell if this gamble will pay off.

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Video: Scottish independence debate highlights

Here are the highlights from the last leaders debate before Scotland votes n whether or not it wants independence:

Interestingly, in contrast to previous debates, early opinion polls are showing Salmond and the ‘Yes’ campaign coming out on top. 71% in the Guardian/ICM poll say Salmond won the debate. If reflective of the electorate in general this is huge late victory for the Yes campaign.

The Guardian further broke down their findings stating:

Guardian

This late victory for the Yes campaign comes as a crucial life-line for the Yes campaign who have been consistently trailing in the polls (latest You Gov survey found 51% to vote No and 38% to vote yes).

There are now just weeks left for voters to make up their mind before Scotland goes to the ballot box on September 18th to decide its future.

How do you plan to vote? Do you think Scotland can go it alone? 

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An averagely dressed male reflects on his [lack of] fashion sense

My socks... read into them what you will.

My socks… read into them what you will.

A friend of mine and an all-round nice guy, Mr Andrew Lansley, has just started a fashion blog called ‘Averagely Dressed Male’.

The blog is a simple idea:

Starting September 1st 2014 I will document what I wear every day for a year. The only problem is I have no concept of fashion and despise shopping for clothes.

It is, I thought, a nice concept and a counter balance to the media narrative that we must all worry and be judged by what we wear. Andrew will be showing us, day in day out, what he happens to be putting on that day whilst at the same time asking himself some pertinent questions around his clothing choices.

My initial reaction to the blog was one of immediate solidarity. I am someone with close to no fashion sense and who, quite frankly my dear, couldn’t give a damn what I look like. This feeling was confirmed when I saw him post a picture of a rather rancid pair of boxer shorts with rips in…. Boxer shorts with rips in that also just happened to look almost identical to a few pairs I own.

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Andrew’s boxers (pants) – not mine!

That said, his post made me reflect on my fashion/clothing choices. Whether I like to admit it to myself or not, I guess I do have a style of sorts and this style is one of pretty boring conformity.

This realisation alarmed me slightly. Anyone who knows me can testify, conformity is not something that sits easily with my personality. As such I started thinking. How did I end up wearing such utterly boring clothes?

Well after mulling this question over my lunch-break (dressed in black chinos, a FCUK shirts and M&S boxers – only my socks offering a glimmer of interest), this is what I came up with…

My rule to fashion and clothing in general is a simple one: clothing (and/or fashion) should be there to enhance your chosen life-style not limit it.

For some (certainly not me) this might mean taking joy out of following the latest fashions from around the world and being the first to bring that style to the high street. For others (a bit more me) this might mean buying the latest outdoors clothing to be able to perform at a particular sport better.

For me though my day to day clothing choice is more often a negative choice. Essentially my day to day clothes are whatever I can get my hands on for free or very cheap that enable me to function as part of everyday society. I don’t really care what I look like, but I don’t want what I look like to limit my interactions with people.

When people are looking at your t-shirt rather than listening to what you’re saying, the chances are your fashion choice has fallen foul of my basic rule – it is limiting your life not enhancing it.

In this sense, I wear a shirt to work because people would frown upon me if I didn’t. Outside of work though I tend to wear shorts, t-shirts (often free) and flip flops because most people I hang around with are friends and don’t judge me (too harshly) on what I wear.

This approach is in many ways an anti-subculture attitude to fashion. What I wear and what I look like really doesn’t define me. While I take pride in my actions and words, my clothes are there as a slightly unavoidable extra in my life. Others that I politically or socially identify with in contrast will go to great lengths to ensure their image defines them.

While many people that I call friends use their image to fit with their perspectives on life, I tend to let my life mould my image.

At a job interview/wedding/funeral you will normally find me in a suit. Up a mountain you will normally find me in outdoors gear. At a house party you will normally find me in the before mentioned t-shirt, shorts and flips flops.

I want to be comfy, I don’t want to be judged, but I’m not too bothered if I am slightly uncomfy or if you judge me a little bit. As long as we can still be friends, I’m easy!

At an initial glance the flip side to this is that my fashion sense (or lack of) is driven by conformity. But, after thinking about it I also think something slightly more subtle is going on.

To start with most of my clothes come from charity shops in the UK.

My clothes are purchased whilst supporting good causes (even if I am not passionate about animal welfare you can’t really begrudge giving a dogs home one quid in exchange for a t-shirt). It turns a de facto necessity (being clothed) from something that perpetuates a global system of inequality and materialism into one that supports circular product-systems and a form of charitable giving.

This is a double win in my mind.

It is, in this sense that my fashion clothing decisions are a sub-conscious (I never actively decided to reject high street shops and do still sometimes venture into them out of necessity) rejection of the mainstream conceptions of fashion.

In one sense I often look like an image of conformity, in another sense I reject the whole notion of materialism, fashion and consumerism. This combined with a slightly ‘don’t actually care that much’ attitude sometimes peeks through in my not always on the mark fashion decisions.

Very rarely though will you find me making a statement through my clothing (how do you explain your socks then Steve I hear you ask…no idea!)

I fully support Andrew’s ‘Averagely Dressed Male’ blog idea. I think there are lots of issues to be discussed – even by those, including myself, who initially reject the idea of fashion. We are all in one way or another products of our surroundings and trying to understand how those who fit outside the media driven narrative of fashion fit into those surroundings is an admirable one.

Roll on September when his fashion blog starts for proper.

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3 steps to improving Uganda’s education system

This is an edited cross-post from Anya Whiteside’s blog.  

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Education in Uganda is in crisis. This is not an exaggeration, it is a fact. Out of all the children who start school in Uganda, only 33% complete primary education. This is compared to 84% in Kenya, 78% in Tanzania and 81% in Rwanda. In addition, many of the children who do remain in school are not learning. In fact, less than half of children in P6 reach the defined proficiency levels in numeracy and literacy.

I could continue with the facts – 1 in 20 children of school going age have never enrolled in school at all, 84% of teachers want to leave their jobs and on average teachers are absent from the classroom an equivalent of 2 days a week – I could go on but you get the picture.

Uganda has the second youngest population in the world, with 49% if the population under the age of 15. This crisis in education is their crisis, and it is a crisis for Uganda. Given all of this, I have inevitably spent a lot of my time here trying to work out why education in Uganda is in such a crisis and what could be done to improve the situation.

There are many, many answers to this question. I could talk about the drop in education funding – the dilapidated classrooms and shortage of textbooks. I could talk about the plight of Uganda’s teachers – badly paid, de-motivated, poorly supported and badly trained. I could talk about the failure of Universal Primary Education – free education in name only as children have to pay for textbooks and uniforms and parents have disengaged from a process they have been told is now the state’s responsibility. I could talk about corruption, inefficiency and the politicization of education funding. I could talk about all these things and more and they would be true. They all contribute to the problem.

Yet the thing that is continually baffling the Ministry of Education, NGOs and big donors in Uganda is what to do about it. Because time after time after time ‘interventions’ , ‘solutions’ and ‘projects’ have been designed to improve education here, but things do not seem to be getting significantly better – in fact if anything they are getting worse. Books have been provided, teachers have been trained, all manner of stakeholders have been ‘sensitised’ over and over again. Vast amounts of money have been thrown at improving education in Uganda, yet the system keeps spiralling out of control with a will of its own.

Despite all this, I cannot feel completely hopeless about it. You can never feel completely hopeless in Uganda – the vivacity, friendliness and strength of the Ugandan people forbids it. But I do feel that Ugandan children – from my grinning, squirming neighbours’ kids to the children exploding with excitement at the Mzungu passing by their village – deserve better. This is why I continue to battle to try and understand what ways forward there can be in this bubbling bureaucratic melting pot that is education in Uganda.

One necessary step is to look beyond the dilapidated classrooms, lack of books and fed up teachers to try to unpick some of the systematic and underlying causes of Uganda’s broken system. There needs to be a public debate in Uganda as to what these are and some hard choices may need to be made on prioritisation of funding – both how much should be allocated to education, and which parts of the education sector the money should go to.

One underlying issue that hits me in the face wherever I look is the lack of accountability and incentive from top to bottom in the education system. In the government education system here there seems to be little benefit in doing your job well and little consequence to doing it badly.

Teachers face an incredibly difficult job in Uganda and teaching has become the last option that people choose when they can’t get a job anywhere else. Add to that the fact that neither promotion or pay are linked to performance and very few teachers are held to account for what they do, and it is easier to understand why so many education interventions are failing. In this context providing new books, building beautiful spangly classrooms or telling communities they ‘really should send their children to school’ will have a limited impact. After all it is not ideal to teach children under a tree, but it is possible if you have a teacher who really wants to teach, and a system that supports that teacher to do so.

Instead I would argue that money could be best spent improving some of the broken systems at the heart of the education crisis in Uganda. There are three I suggest should be particularly prioritised:

  • Creating a functioning scheme of service that links teacher (and all education officials’) promotion to performance.
  • Overhauling the entire teacher payroll system so that teachers are paid on time and so-called ‘ghost teachers’ (those teachers who don’t exist but are on the payroll, meaning the money being paid to them is going somewhere else) are removed.
  • Investing in inspection and ensuring that the follow up is rigorous – no head teacher should be allowed to rape children because he is mates with the right people. This also means working on how to ensure the Directorate of Education Standards at central level and school inspectors at the District level can work together to ensure proper follow up and accountability.

These are not the only issues that need to be addressed in the education sector in Uganda, but from my time here I feel they are some of the central ones. Mending Uganda’s education systems will not be easy, but it is the only way that education in Uganda will be improved. Without political will and funding to do so, we will continue to see sticking plasters trying to mend a gaping wound.

More information:

(Steve adds) If you are interested in education in Uganda you might also be interested to read:

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