Douglas Nicol was a man who greeted with back slaps, booming smiles and sparking eyes but it was the way he gifted the most subtle of kindness that I will remember him by.
I first met him when working for Don Foster MP in Bath and Douglas was a newly elected councillor. He was as hard working a councillor as he was insistent that I join him in the pub after a day’s work. It is a memory of one of these such occasions that resonates as my main memory of him and what I wanted to share now after hearing of his death.
We were walking through the centre of Bath towards the sort of pub you have to duck through the doorway to get into – all low ceilings and eccentric locals. We were going to meet some of Doug’s friends to watch the rugby and enjoy a few beers, perhaps two of the things he enjoyed the most.
Douglas knew me reasonably well by this point and he also knew that at this time I had less than little money. As we walked Doug stopped to get money from a cash machine and handed me a £20 note. I looked quizzically at the note and then him. With sparkling eyes he said it was so I could buy his mates the first round of beers. The only way he insisted, to introduce yourself to his friends.
Everyone, myself included, would have thought Douglas a top guy if he had gone to the bar and paid for a round for me. But this small act which was more about enabling friendships than anything else optimised his endless thoughtful and unassuming kindness.
This anecdote could have been pulled from hundreds of different examples of his kindness. Someone who didn’t spend enough time with Douglas (or someone who had spent too much time with him) might have missed these small acts, but they were littered into his day to day life, into his actions as a councillor and into the very way in which he approached people.
Anyone with any connection to the Green Party will have probably seen the below image over the last few days. Produced by the polling company YouGov it shows the Green Party neck and neck with the Liberal Democrats on 6% of the intended vote share.
Having an external and highly respected polling company like YouGov produce such an image is extremely useful to the Green Party as they continue to try and convince voters that they are a credible option and not a ‘wasted vote’.
What I am about to write does not contradict that.
That said, any assertion that the Green Party are currently neck and neck with the Lib Dems in the polls (plural) as some Greens are claiming is flagrantly not true.
An accurate description of what has occurred would read more like, “One poll, which stands as an exception, shows the Green Party neck and neck in the polls”.
Indeed, YouGov’s latest polling which directly followed the above quoted polling has the Lib Dems on 7% (+1) and the Green Party on 4% (-2).
In addition, the previous Lord Ashcroft and Populus polling both had the Lib Dems on 9% – significantly higher than YouGov has had them for months now. YouGov represents the worst predictions for the Lib Dems.
Equally, the 6% vote share for the Green Party represents a (fairly consistent) high for The Green Party. They are currently averaging 5% (according to the UK polling report average).
In short, there are, on average, a clear 3 percentage points between the two parties. And there is no reason to think that this will change anytime soon. It appears that the Lib Dems have reduced their support down to its committed core and the Green Party have impressively expanded their support beyond most people’s expectations.
In 5 years the Green Party have gone from not being counted or receiving 1-3% of the vote to consistently polling 4-7%. The Lib Dems have gone from being ‘the next big thing’ polling 16-30% to being stripped down their bare bones of voter support (6-9%).
So, where does this leave us in terms of expected vote share for May 2015? Well, I predict the Lib Dems will still be the third largest party in the Commons (with around 30 seats) and I strongly suspect the Greens will return no more than their one current MP (the case for electoral reform is as strong as ever).
Equally in terms of vote share, I expect to see the Lib Dem 2015 vote share a bit higher than the current polling (for common sense reasons such as embarrassment in admitting you plan to vote Lib Dem and support to good local MPs) and I also expect to see the Green Party vote share marginally drop as both Lib Dems and Labour put out ‘squeeze messages’ (if you vote Green you will let the Tories in).
The Greens are growing and working hard to offer a progressive alternative to the established establishment parties but any assertion that they are polling neck and neck with the Lib Dems is, currently, simply not true.
Today, Derek Wall from the Green Party tweeted this graph showing the growth in Green Party Membership from 2002 – 2014.
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.
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).
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:
This 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?
The Lib Dems have dropped to their worst ever YouGov poll rating today with just 6% of those polled saying they would vote for them at the General Election. This is the worst result for the Lib Dems in a YouGov poll since the company started in 2001.
Significantly, the Green Party are just 1% behind them on 5% and UKIP have more than doubled them on 14%.
A closer look at the statistics also spell out some worrying findings for the Lib Dems.
Firstly, a look at those who said they voted Lib Dem in 2010. 32% of them now say they plan to vote Labour, 18% Conservative, 13% UKIP, 11% Greens and just 24% said they will stay with the Lib Dems.
Compare this in contrast to Conservative or Labour who are holding onto the 76% and 84% respectively of their 2010 voters.
It is clear that the Lib Dems are struggling to keep hold of their own voters and importantly, they are also failing to pick up soft Conservative votes (only 1% of those who voted Tory in 2010 plan to vote Lib Dem in 2015).
Secondly, on the 5% of young voters (18-24) said they plan to vote Lib Dem in 2015. It is worth highlighting that this is considerably less than the 11% of 18-24 year olds that are planning on voting Green.
This could spell bad news for the Lib Dems for two reasons. One it doesn’t bode well for the long-term growth of the party (political parties, like banks and car manufactures target you when you are young hoping brand loyalty will keep you with them the rest of your life). And secondly, it could spell disaster for Lib Dems in some key seats that have large university populations (the one that jumps to mind is Clegg’s home of Sheffield).
It is important not to read too much into this. The 5% headline figure is pretty similar to what they have been polling over the last few weeks. It does though just mark a new, unwelcome, milestone for the Lib Dems in their desperate fight to regain some popularity in the polls.
So a hat tip to the Liberal Democrats for this latest campaigns video as they continue to (not very successfully) pitch themselves as the only party that can stand up to UKIP.
I always maintain that there is a place and time for negative campaigning and this anti-UKIP rhetoric is one of them. Although, to clarify, I don’t think it is enough by itself.
Anyway – have a watch:
Let me know what you think of the video and whether or not it is more or less likely to make you vote Lib Dem!
Also, I am slightly aware that I have been rubbishing quite a lot of what The Green Party has been putting out lately so I thought it only right that I also highlight this rather good animated video from them regarding the privatization of the NHS. Again, well worth a watch.
Chris Davies MEP describes alleged sexual assault as “the equivalent of a few years ago, an Italian man pinching a woman’s bottom”
I have blogged before about the up-coming European elections and how the North West promises to be an interesting political battle ground in the lead up to the elections.
In that blog I concluded that the Lib Dems are going to have to fight pretty hard to keep their one MEP in the region.
There current MEP and lead-candidate for up-coming European parliament elections, Chris Davies MEP, has done himself and his party no favours by commenting on the Lord Rennard sexual assault scandal saying:
“This is the equivalent of a few years ago, an Italian man pinching a woman’s bottom. How much more must this man be made to suffer …”
If this wasn’t amazing enough he then went onto pledge financial support to Rennard:
I have pledged a sum of money towards the costs of any High Court action that Chris Rennard may take against the Lib Dems.
This doesn’t surprise me (as highlighted by Open Democracy, Lib Dems have a certain attachment to Rennard) but this does sadden me on a number of levels.
Firstly, it disappoints me to see a representative of a party set up around the principle of respect for others exhibit such overt sexism in response to alleged sexual assaults.
Secondly, the Liberal Democrats internationalism and general approach to the EU probably sits closet to my own view. I think more Lib Dems in the European Parliament is generally a good things. I think this might be the final nail in their coffin in the North West for these elections.
And of course other parties have not missed this. Peter Cranie, the lead candidate for The Green Party, has today blogged calling for all those (L)liberals to consider an alternative Green vote. In his words:
“Liberal Democrat activists in the North West who have been deeply disappointed by their MEP’s response to this issue are left with a very difficult choice. Vote for their party but re-elect a politician who will earn a Euro salary for five years and contribute towards the legal fees of Lord Rennard, not vote or vote for an alternative.”
Even if Lib Dems don’t chose this Green alternative the numbers turning to Labour or simply not turning up to the ballot box in disgust might well be enough to lose the Lib Dems there one MEP for the region.
For readers living outside of the UK I need to start this blog with an explanation. Winding up well meaning left of centre Lib Dems has become something of national sport since they went into coalition with the Conservatives.
Normally I try to resist this. In fact I’m often the one listing Lib Dem achievements in government as a backlash to those crass lefties who have no real concept of how Westminster politics work. I honestly believe we are better off with the Lib Dems in government but I am also, like so many on the left, pissed off with so much regressive rubbish they have let happen on their watch.
I say I normally resist taking part in this new national sport because the other day a wonderfully nice Lib Dem friend tweeted in response to me posting a link to the Lib Dem 2010 manifesto:
@steve4319 I lament at the number of people who say the LDs broke lots of promises and, having named fees, can't name any significant others
In this post, he suggests none of my suggestions constituted a broken promise. As such I thought I would use a few words to explain why, for all pretense and purposes, they are. I am sure more well informed readers can add to my following reasoning (a particular appeal to my lawyer friend Tom who I mention later on!).
So to go through my original list:
Trident. Sam makes the point that Trident has not been replaced. True…sort of. The decision on actually replacing Trident has heroically been pushed back to 2016, although the “Initial Gate” phase, consisting of £3bn in procurement, has already been approved. I think this is what Sam refers to as “bit of money” being spent. That, to clarify, is £3bn spent (without a value for money test like the sorts the Lib Dems have always said is needed).
Ever heard the phrase, ‘a project is too expensive to fail’?
Electoral reform. Sam lists the things the Lib Dems have done, and perhaps more importantly, things Lib Dems have tried and failed to do (the longer of the two lists). On electoral reform in general the Lib Dems can hold their heads up high – they have heroically lost their fight for proportional representation – but this wasn’t through lack of trying.
Apart from that is, with Lords Reform. With this they just sort of gave up after their coalition partners reiterated that they didn’t really like that idea. Not quite so heroic.
So, they certainly haven’t delivered on many of their promises – but this is not quite the same as breaking them and it isn’t through a lack of trying. But on Lords Reform, I would argue they have as good as given up on a promise.
Benefits Reform. When I wrote this one I was thinking of their promise to set the minimum wage at the same level for every adult over the age of 16 (at the moment a 16 year old only has a legal right to be paid 3.72 – compared to a 21 year old who can claim 6.31). This has not happened and I haven’t even really heard it being discussed. A small promise broken.
Sam, in his post, uses the income tax threshold rise as an example of a promise kept. True, but not exactly benefits. If we are talking tax, we might want to mention the broken promise to not raise VAT (the “Tory tax bombshell”).
Drugs Reform. Again a non-starter for a Lib Dem policy. You see, the Lib Dems believe in all sort of crazy hippy ideas like science and evidence based policy making. The Conservatives don’t as they worry it might offend middle-Britain. The result? A non-starter. No reform of drugs policy to refocus on treatment rather than punishment. A promise ignored.
Asylum policy. I mainly put this in because I had just come back from a holiday with a refugee lawyer who specialises in dealing with undocumented children. I walked with him for hours as he explained to me how generally shit our system is and I am sorry to say, how children are still being detained. He did say the move to end child detention was a good thing and that things have got a bit better. But let’s not kid ourselves. Innocent children are still being held in horrific conditions whilst being put through a brutal and inhuman system.
A move with good intentions by the Lib Dems but ultimately, until the system gets a proper shake up, this remains a promise broken!
Then there was the promise of ‘End deportations of refugees to countries where they face persecution, imprisonment, torture or execution’. Well, that err…hasn’t happened.
The list could go on. Sorry Sam, but it could – think, police (less not more on the street), more midwives, banning banker bonuses over 2,500 pounds….and this isn’t just a turn of phrase, the list really could on!
Now of course, promises have been broken by political parties of all colour. I guess the Lib Dems deserve just a little extra kicking because they had the audacity to produce this video.
The minimum starting salary for a NHS nurse is £21,176 (as of April 2012). Multiply this by 10 (‘a decade of employment’) and you get £211,176. Then multiply this by 60,000 (the number of nurses) and you get £12,705,600,000. That’s £705 million over budget.
Of course, this is worked out assuming all nurses just earn a starting salary. In the same pay band, a nurse could earn up £27,625. Equally, in the London area there is an additional 5-20% pay increase for nurses. Also, this calculation does not cover nurses with any sort of specialism who sit in higher pay brackets.
I don’t know what the average staff salary is in the NHS. If it was around £25,000 (to make my maths easy) then this would leave the Lib Dem claim £3billion over budget.
For £12 billion we could employ 48,000 nurses on an average of £25,000 over 10 years. 12,000 nurses less than they claimed.
Being kind, we will assume they ment to say “entry level nurses” – but even then they seem to have rounded down by £705 million.
Aaron Porter, the NUS President has consistently failed to answer one question. This one question remains the elephant in the room for the NUS, and will continue to leave them open to accusations of politicising tuition fees until it is answered. The question…”Is the proposed package of student tuition fees fairer than the current system?”
I suspect, the reason that Aaron will not (or cannot) answer this question is because the answer is simply yes. The system being proposed is fairer than what we currently have. How can this be I hear you cry, when the newspapers are filled with accusations of £9,000 a year tuition fees. Lets run through some of the positives in the package that Aaron seems so unwilling to talk about (when despite them having such a massive impact on student’s lives).
1) No part-time student will pay up front to go to university. For the first time in decades, up-front charges for part-time students will be scrapped. Part-time students currently make up about 40% of the student population and are essentially discriminated against. This will end under the new package.
2) The repayment on Student loans will be shifted away from the current system towards a weighted system that takes into account you’re to pay. At the moment, everyone earning £15,000 starts paying back the same, regardless of their income. The new proposal will lift the figure where you start to pay back your loan from £15,000 to £21,000. This means, if you earn less than 21,000 and stay there you pay back nothing! It also means that if you lose your job or take a sabbatical, your repayments are frozen. Equally, if after 30 years you still have out standing debt, it gets written off. This means that if you do not benefit financially from university, you do not lose out financially.
Graduates who DO earn over 21,000 will start to repay their loans at a rate of 9% of their earnings above 21,000. This means, that repayment, per month will be lower for all students than the current scheme. As your income increases, so the interest rate on the loan increases (in a similar fashion to staggered income tax levels). In balance, this means the lowest earning 25% of graduates will pay back LESS than they currently do, and the top 30% of earners will pay back more than they borrow.
3) Support for living costs will increase for families earning up to 45,000. Extra money is being put into grants for living costs and an extra loan will be made available to these students. It is an improvement again on the current system.
4) The headline £9,000 a year will be in a minority of cases. If a university wants to charge more than £6,000 they will have to meet targets to ensure they attract a more diverse range of students, specifically students from poorer backgrounds. In the UK, our university education system still excludes the poor. This is something that we should be ashamed about. Less than a fifth of the poorest quarter of our society make it to university. This package will create a National Scholarship Programme for students on low incomes – offering the first years tuition free. There will be a greater emphasis put on the university to work with poorer schools to appeal to their students.
Do I think this system that is being proposed is fair? No! Do I think it is fairer than the current system? Yes! Why can’t Aaron Porter say this? Sadly, I suspect that Aaron Porter’s membership to the Labour Party might well be clouding his judgement on this issue. He seems incapable of criticising New Labour (who had an election pledge to scrap tuition fees and then went back on it despite having a massive majority).
His union has started a campaign to target some of the most progressive MP’s in Parliament. An example is Sarah Teather (The one who established the all party group on Guantanamo Bay, was found to be spotlessly clean in the expenses scandal and was one of the fiercest opponents to the war in Iraq). How can Aaron Porter honestly believe “decapitating” (his word not mine) an MP like Sarah is a good thing for students? It again, makes a mockery of student politics presenting students as incapable of thinking about anything other than this one issue. It undermines students and does NOT represent them.
It is, in my opinion, time Aaron Porter started playing grown up politics and working with the Lib-Dems who are a junior partner in a coalition government and are committed to working for a fairer system. The Lib-Dems in government have made it fairer but we are still left in a hugely unfair system. It is about time the NUS slipped a little subtlety into their arguments.
Hold your candidates to account and learn from the Paxman!
Have you been watching the TV leaders debates, been to local hustings or tried to contact your local parliamentary candidate? Are you, like me, a little fed up with the unbelievably low standard of questioning that these individuals face? Too often I have heard questions like “What do you think about immigration?” or “I’m worried about schools, what are you going to do about it”? These sorts of questions just gives these trained politicians a chance to fill up the 5 minuets response with well-practiced spin. If you want to get to the heart of what your MP will be doing, try following these golden rules and ask some of these questions:
Quote something that their party leadership has said or done (or even better, something they have done…for example voting records – see theyworkforyou.com).
Make it local…take a national issue and relate it to whats happening locally (eg is there a new nuclear power plant planned for near where you live?)
Keep hold of the microphone…let them finish and then point out they have not answered your question (which they probably will not have)…re-ask it in a simplified form and if necessary “do a Paxman” on them.
For a Tory ask:
Do you think its acceptable for your party to be in coalition with “anti-Semitic, xenophobic homophobes” (in the words of MacMillan Scott) in the European Parliament? If you do, because they share your belief that Europe should not be a “federal Europe”, can you explain why you will not sit with Nick Griffin MEP who also shares this view?
Does you or your party still consider it acceptable for people to be discriminated against on the grounds of their sexuality? If you do not, will you champion a move to get your party to apologies for Chris Graylings insensitive remarks and ask for his removal from his current post?
Can you guarantee your party will adopt policies to reach a 90% reduction in Green Houses Gases by 2050? If you can, could you outline how you plan to make such massive savings?
For a Labour candidate ask:
In light of the new generation of nuclear power plants planning to be built by your government, can you explain to me what will happen to the issue of waste? Assuming you have an answer to that, could you explain to me why it has not been made public?
Why are you pushing ahead with a biometric database using fingerprints, when fingerprinting is widely recognised as being inferior and less reliable to eye scans? Is your party putting money ahead of public safety?
Will you apologise to the families and friends of the hundreds of thousands of service men and civilians who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq?
For a Lib-Dem candidate ask:
In light of the economic melt down in Greece, would you still advocate Britain joining the Euro?
Do you support the EU’s drive to further its energy relationship with countries such as Iran, Turkmenistan and Nigeria, some of the worst human rights violators in the world? Should the EU put principles above its energy security?
What are the economic conditions that are needed for you to implement your previous commitment to scrap tuition fees? Do we face a danger that this might be placed on a back burner?
These are just a few questions plucked out of the dark…research your candidates and hold them to account.