To vote tactically, or not?

It is the eve of polling for the 2017 general election and decision time is almost upon us. Many people will have decided where their vote will go before the election was called, but a large minority will have been reading the media and listening to the views of the party leaders and candidates before making their choice. But for some, it isn’t as simple as that. Probably more than in other election in recent years, the Tactical Vote has become a big issue in a lot of areas.

Almost from the kick-off, there has been a co-ordinated campaign by the “progressive” parties to persuade voters in key marginal seats to vote, not with their conscience or political allegiances, but instead to put their support behind the candidate in the best position to defeat the Conservatives. This is not a new phenomena and has been practised in my own town for many years now, first by the Liberal Party and now by the LibDems.

But why should people have to vote for a party or candidate they don’t support? After all, this is a democracy and we can vote for who we like can’t we? Certainly we can. It is everybody’s right to put their X next to the candidate of their choice. And if we had an electoral system that ensured that each vote counted equally then yes, go for it. Vote for your chosen candidate in the comfort of knowing your vote will do some good.

Unfortunately, we have an electoral system that doesn’t work that way. The first-past-the-post system we use for electing our MPs, and consequently the government, wastes thousands of votes and allows governments to be formed by parties that can barely manage to get the support of a third of the electorate, if that! In its heartlands, Labour MPs are regularly elected with huge majorities, often taken taking up to 80% of the vote. Whilst this is impressive, they still only count towards the election of one MP. In other constituencies, MPs are routinely elected with just 30%. To me this has never seemed right. I would want to see people elected with a majority. What we really need is a new system, one that encourages electors to vote with their heart and feel their vote counts. It is telling that we have not adopted the first-past-the-post system for the recent mayoral elections or for MEPs.

But that is not going to change any time soon. The Conservatives, and to some degree Labour as well, have a vested interest in maintaining the staus quo. They argue that a more proportional system will make it much more likely that parties will have to work together to form coalitions. Personally I don’t have a problem with that, despite what people say about the Con/LibDem government of 2010-15. This arrangement allowed the LibDems to get some of their policies through and also to veto some of the Conservative’s more damaging ideas. In addition, proposed boundary changes will benefit the Tories, making it extremely difficult for any opposition to gain a working majority.

We have a far from perfect system. It has gone on well beyond it’s sell by date and needs some radical reform. But in the meantime voters have to work with what we’ve got. And yes, in some areas, that may mean having to decide between voting for the candidate of your choice, or voting against the one you really don’t want to see elected. I am lucky in that for me, they are the same thing – I would vote for my chosen candidate anyway, regardless of the tactical element. But I can understand the frustration of those who have to make a very difficult choice when they come to cast their vote tomorrow, to vote with their head, or with their heart.

In the end, the important thing is that people go out and vote. Nothing will change if people stay away. Change can only be made if we all stand up and add our voice to the crowd.


Lies, madness and terrorism

As I start to reflect on the week that has passed, I can’t help feeling more despair than optimism. Not only was this the week that Donald Trump outdid himself by withdrawing the USA from the Paris agreement, Saturday night brought yet another senseless terrorist attack in London. All of this on the back of even more lies and personal attacks that have become the hallmark of the current General Election campaign.

I must admit that as far as the election is concerned, I have become increasingly impressed by Jeremy Corbyn. Despite everything he has faced since becoming the Labour leader, he remains calm and collected and true to his values. It is obvious he has also learned the need to compromise and the importance of gaining trust and a consensus. Yes, there are till those in the Labour Party who do not agree with him, and many I suspect who oppose him, but to me his leadership style is refreshingly open and honest. Whether or not he would make a good Prime Minister I couldn’t say, but his style and policies may just be what we need to bring us back from the brink. After all, the alternative is Theresa May who has proved herself to be uncaring, shifty and blinkered to the needs of the country.

Throughout the campaign so far, Theresa May and her team have been continually put onto the back foot, struggling to defend policies aimed at dismantling the welfare system and removing almost all protection the less affluent and those less able to defend themselves. The “Dementia Tax” debacle was probably one of the most damaging policy changes of any outgoing government. And to claim they have not been forced to make a U-turn on the proposal is nothing more than lies.

But lies are at the heart of this campaign. Personal attacks on Corbyn and blatant lies about Labour’s policies have formed the thrust of the Tory election campaign. It is easier to twist the words of your opponents to make out they are saying something they are not than to come up with anything original of your own.

And the constant harping on about a strong Brexit is just a smoke screen. When negotiating Britain’s departure from the EU, what we want is a team prepared to negotiate and if necessary make some compromises to get the best deal we can. Anyone who believes that by shouting, throwing tantrums and making unrealistic demands we can get the best deal for the UK is living in cloud cuckoo land! As we negotiate to leave the European club, the remaining members have no interest in making it easy, and everything to gain from making the divorce painful and costly. If we were on the other side with, say, France wanting out, who are we kidding if we think our government would try to make it easy? On the contrary, we would be doing everything we could to ensure that they retain none of the rights of membership without paying a hefty price. So, who can blame the French, Germans and the rest of the community doing the same.

May’s autocratic approach is very similar to Donald Trump’s, but without the added paranoia. This week saw Mr Trump follow through on another of his election pledges, to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change. He has consistently maintained that he believes the climate change issue to be a fake, a hoax conjured up by the Chines. He sees it as an attack on the American economy. It’s as if he honestly believes that the rest of the word have conspired against them, as if the whole agreement is targeted at damaging American businesses and interests. But what is most frightening is just how many people in the US agree with him!

Having said that, I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised. Whilst America has for several generations been at the heart of technological and social change, it is also one of the most conservative nations in the world one of the last to abandon slavery and recognise equal rights. It is also the country where they still ban the teaching of evolution, because it goes against the teachings of the bible!

But bad as all of this is, Saturday night’s terror attack in London reminds us that we face more problems than the strictly political. Another seven innocent deaths at the hands of extremist cowards reminds us of the fragile state of the world as a whole. The UK is far from unique in having to face an increase in acts of terror. This weeks has also seen the bombing of a funeral in Kabul and the massacre of innocent men, women and children in Mosul. The need for a strong and united front to face these growing threats to our freedom and liberty has never been more apparent, but selfish and arrogant leadership of the likes of Donald Trump actually make it more difficult.

Knee jerk reactions and calls for radical action against immigrants make good headlines, but are poor policies. Whilst we must do all we can to prevent such atrocities happening again in our streets, we must not resort to the kind of draconian measures and illiberal policies that many seem to be advocating. It is easy to point the figure and find a scapegoat for the ills of the world.

But there signs of hope with the election of Emmanuel Macron as French President and Leo Varadkar as the new leader of Ireland’s  Fine Gael party. Both elections fly in the face of the more extreme and conservative views being expressed in some quarters. I for one would hope that when it comes to deciding this country’s future at the polls this week, we don’t turn our back on the opportunity to turn away from the current right-wing path and instead take the more socially responsible and considered approach being put forward by Jeremy Corbyn. In an ideal world, I would prefer to see a LibDem government or coalition but I am not naive enough to consider this to be a possibility in the current climate. But never say never…

More fun and games on the campaign trail

Well, the general election is well and truly underway and, as you would expect, the accusations, incrimination and general mud slinging is almost at it’s hight. Now, I enjoy a good election campaign as much as the next sad loser, but this one is really beginning to get my hackles up. I think that the problem is that the two main party leaders – May and Corbyn – are are such extreme ends of the political spectrum that there is very little common ground, if any.

On the right hand you have Theresa May, a stuck-in-the-mud Tory who not only has no idea what “ordinary” people are having to put up with and the importance of state services to our very existence, she is someone who would be very happy to see us return to the social and economic divide of the Victorian era. From a privileged background, and married into the kind of wealth that makes earning a living almost irrelevant, she no real concept of the effects her party’s policies are having on people at the bottom of the social pecking order. Theresa May’s leadership style is rather reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher – domineering and condescending.

On the left hand we have Jeremy Corbyn, an old fashioned socialist who is as passionate about social justice and supporting the less well off in society. He is very much a man of principles and one who was reluctantly thrust into the role of leader. I don’t think he really wanted the role, but now he has it he determined to fight for change. However, he has learned that even as party leader, he can’t have it all his own way and he has had to compromise some of his personal policies for the good of the party. Not a bad lesson to learn if you are going to lead successfully.

Of course, other parties are wading into the campaign with their own unique views and policies, but in this country it has always been about the two main parties. Since the 1940s that has been Conservative and Labour. Our electoral system can’t cope with any more.

Like previous elections it has been reduced to a personality contest. To focus on the individual leaders would be OK if it were a presidential election, but it isn’t. As we have seen many times before, the party leaders can change, so campaigning on the merits of individuals is actually rather foolish. In reality, the electorate has no say in who the Prime Minister is. We each have a vote for our own MP; in most cases that is also a two hose race, but often with one or another of the two main parties not actually in the running. In my own constituency for instance, the fight is between LibDem and Conservative. Any Labour voter going to the poll to support Jeremy Corby may very well actually be putting more power in the hands of Theresa May due to our inadequate and out dated voting.

But, getting back to where this all started, we have seen an increase in personal attacks, most noticeably on Jeremy Corby as Labour begins to close the gap with the Conservatives in the polls. At the end of the week we saw Tories lining up to take shots at Mr Corbyn for daring to link Terrorism with Foreign Policy. Several leading Conservatives attacked him for supposedly making excuses for terrorist attacks like Monday’s Manchester bombing. But that has been counter productive as they face criticism from the media for their double standards. Not only has their beloved Boris Johnson made the same link, briefings from security services also warned the same. Previous governments were warned of the possibility of an increase in such activity where we to become involved in conflicts such as Iraq and Libya.

Also Corbyn did was to bring the question out into the open. And you really would have to be blinkered to not see that there has to be a link. By invading these countries we set in motion a series of events that will inevitably result in increased terrorist activity. That is how these people work. They cannot hope to face our military, so they hide behind their own civilians whilst sending brain-washed extremists out to commit the most vile and cowardly acts against our own civilian population.

To admit this is not to make excuses; it is an opportunity to put actions and reactions into perspective. This is not to say we shouldn’t have taken the actions we did. That is a different debate. But to ignore the consequences of our actions not only puts lives at risk, it also means we fail to learn. The increased terrorist threat may have been anticipated, but a blinkered government has left the police, the military and security services underfunded, under staffed and under resourced to act on it.

And while we are on the subject, the increased calls for clamping down on immigration are just more ammunition for the extremists. The more intolerant the right becomes, the more isolated and vulnerable  these “immigrants” are made to feel. And it is this isolation that helps groups like Isis recruit from our own young people. Monday’s bomber wasn’t an immigrant. He was of Libyan descent, but he was born here, like so many others. And to criticise the Security Services for letting him do what he did when he was known to them assumes that they have the resources to track everyone on their lists of potentially dangerous individuals. They don’t and some will inevitably fall through the net. That is also the price we pay for a free society. We could always submit to tighter controls over our every day lives such as monitoring of  all emails, internet and phone activity and much greater use of CCTV. But I don’t believe that anyone really wants that. Nobody wants the government to have access to everything. That is where totalitarianism starts, and we all know where that one ends!  And that is the subject I will have to come back to another time.

Well as Sunday afternoon rants go, this has been a long one!  It often surprises me how discussing one issue can open doors to other things. There are so many things wrong with the world that there is never a shortage of things to talk about. The problem is often how to maintain focus without wandering off, like I have done today. So, before I get sidetracked again, the end!

Opening shots

It’s almost wall-to-wall elections at the moment, but at least the French did the right thing for once and rejected their far-right looney in favour of a more liberal, centrist candidate. Let us hope that this puts an end to Le Pen’s ambition to drag France to the right. I only hope that UK voters can do the same on 8th June.

A lot is riding on the outcome of this election. Whilst May’s government have committed us to leaving the EU, it is vital that they are not allowed to mess up our future by pressing for their so-called “hard Brexit”.

And it’s not just over Europe that the we need to watch the Conservatives. Their total disregard for the environment and the welfare of “ordinary” folk is well known, but under May, their traditional stance in favour of the rich and powerful looks set to become even more pronounced. But what about the opposition? Well, what are we to make of Jeremy Corbyn? So far he has hardly set the campaign trail alight. His stance on Brexit is somewhat ambiguous, and so far I haven’t heard anything that makes me think he is about to overturn May’s sitting majority.

Of course, as the last General Election showed us, you can’t really predict how things will go, especially when you have the kind of outdated and inefficient electoral system that is rigged to almost guarantee a Tory majority. If Labour are going to turn the tide against May and her cronies, they need to get their act together pretty sharpish and focus on the seats they can win. There is little point amassing majorities of 70-80% in the industrial heartlands or pouring resources into unwinnable seats when they should be targeting the tactical vote in marginal constituencies, and the sooner they realise this the better.

With Labour seemingly unable to get its act together you would think that now would be the moment for the LibDems to come through and take the mantle of opposition. But that isn’t going to happen. Their support virtually collapsed at the last General Election, and although they have recovered a lot locally, the County Council results show they are still not quite there yet. Of course, you can’t assume that the way people voted at the Counties will be reflected in the General, but it would be foolish to pin any hopes on the great LibDem revival. I only with we could.

But going back to Brexit, what worries me at the moment is how many people are still bleating on about how immigrants have ruined our country and how “getting control back” will make Britain better and stronger. I don’t doubt that over time we will build new relationships, but in the short term we will have to pay a heck of a price, both economically and internationally.

We need to be honest with ourselves about our position in the world order. We are no longer the heart of a great empire and our influence is not what it was. We are seen by many as the lapdog of the US which may have been OK the past, but considering the way America is going and the policies of the Trump administration, getting too close is bound to work against us.

It is likely that we are going to lose a lot of jobs as business relocate to other EU countries. Obviously, we won’t know how much an impact this will have until the terms of the divorce have been agreed, but I suspect that with the likes of May at the negotiating table, there won’t be too many concessions. So it is vital for our future that whatever the colours of our next government (I don’t rule out some form of power sharing, even if the LibDems have said they won’t work in a coalition again), we need to be sure we get a deal that serves not only ourselves but also the rest of Europe. Whatever the outcome, the EU will remain our biggest and closest trading partner and the last thing we need is to antagonise them with empty threats or grand posturing.

I look forward to seeing what the next few days will bring.

Back to the booths we go

Whilst I am convinced that no one has visited this site, or is remotely interested in anything I have to say, I have set it up so I feel obliged to carry it on. To be fair I have been writing recently, just not online.

At the moment, the big story is the impending General Election. Going to the country early in a snap election is a very risky tactic that can, and often has, backfire on an outgoing government. Theresa May says she wants a mandate to go forward with Brexit, which is probably true. My main concern is that she just might get it! As far as I’m concerned, the best move would be to forget the whole thing and instead work closer with our European neighbours not divorce ourselves and pull of the proverbial drawbridge.

Last week’s County Council and Mayoral elections showed a large shift in the Tories’ favour. Turnout was very low, so we can only hope that these results are not an indication of the way things will go next month. Local elections are often seen as a barometer of the public’s feelings about the government, but this is not always the case. Local elections are often fought on local issues, which is how it should be, and turn out is notoriously low, so using them to predict the public’s voting intentions in a national election is often a dangerous thing to do. Looking back, the last general election is a prime of example of why you shouldn’t pay too much attention to the polls. Not that the media have learned their lesson from it.

As always with these things, the focus is on the party leaders, but there has already been much talk of tactical voting, with an indication that some parties are already talking about standing down ion some seats to help others gain votes, noticeably the LibDems and Greens. Whilst this is commendable, it also goes to show just how bad our electoral system is.

One of the highlights of the local elections was the near wipe out of UKIP. I would have liked to see the LibDems pick up more votes, but to see UKIP’s support collapse so drastically was something to smile about. Politic al pundits seem to agree that the beneficiary of the falling UKIP support is the Conservatives, which is not surprise. They are very much the same with their anti-Europe stance and lack of social conscience or morality.

As for the general election itself, hopefully I will have somethings to say as the campaigns get under way. Watch this space…

Goodbye 2016

So here we are at the cusp of a new year. A time to reflect on the year that has passed and to look forward to the year ahead. It is no exaggeration to say that 2016 has been an eventful year, with far too many celebrity deaths and some unexpected political upheavals.

In many ways, the year has been dominated by death. Not only have we lost a great many well-known faces from every walk of life, but also the many thousands who have lost their lives through acts of war or terrorism (or are they one in the same?). We have also seen a near fatal blow to liberal values with the EU referendum and US Presidential elections. Both results were seen as a rejection of the “establishment” view and a victory for public opinion, but how true that is remains to be seen.

On a personal level 2016 has been a very good year for me and my family. It is a year in which we could put ourselves first and do the things we wanted to do. That is not to say things are perfect. They are not. But we are happier and more secure than we have been for some time, and the future is looking good.

In August I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to visit Cornwall. I have wanted to visit this beautiful county for as long as I can remember, and I wasn’t disappointed. The breath-taking splendour of the Minack Theatre, the historical significance of Tintagel and the unparalleled beauty of the land itself are memories I will cherish for a lifetime. I can’t wait to get an opportunity to return as there is so much more I want to see and do.

This summer I also decided to take up photography again, but seriuously this time. I have invested time and money in this new venture and am determined to get to grips with the f-values and shutter speeds this time around. One thing I have discovered already is that I prefer taking photographs of the world around me than of people. I am formulating plans for a couple of projects for the new year which should help me become more confident and hopefully snap some interesting images.

At this point last year I told myself that I was going to do more writing in 2016. Well, that never happened! I did get everything in place, but for several reasons I just never got around to putting pen to paper as I had hoped to do. I still have plans which may or may not see the light of day this year instead. Actually, this ramble is probably the longest single piece of work I have managed to do all year!

We are seeing out the old year with the expectation of further changes. My father-in-law may be moving permanently into a home and our daughter will (hopefully) have her own house by early January which leaves my wife and I very much on our own and gives us the opportunity to do the things we want to do.


So, for anyone taking the trouble to read this, I wish everyone a happy new year.

Who is to blame?

Last night I caught part of a documentary item in which members of the public talked about their reasons for voting OUT in the EU referendum. Once again, the focus of most people’s arguments was immigration. It seems that in most parts of the country you can’t get a job, a doctor’s appointment or a school place for your child because of EU migrants taking everything.

And this must be true because we were told, or at least encouraged to believe this, by those paragons of virtue Johnson, Gove and Farage.

But let’s think about this. I live in a town with a reasonably sizable number of EU immigrants, mainly Polish, but with a fair sprinkling of other nationalities. And yes, I have trouble getting an appointment at my surgery, but from what I can see, it is the lack of doctors that is to blame, not the patients. Whenever I do get there, what I generally see is a lot of elderly British people. So actually, the problem lies with our aging population and a lack of funding and support for GPs over recent years. From my experience, if it weren’t for the migrant staff working in the NHS, the problem would be much worse.

But, by the Brexit argument, these European doctors, nurses and ancillary staff are actually taking our jobs from under our noses! I mean, if they weren’t here more Brit’s would have a job. Err, wrong! They are here because we have a shortage of people trained and willing to do the work. If you can’t get the job you want, maybe you are either under qualified, unsuitable or expecting too much.

Another problem being blamed on migrants as the lack of places in local schools. Yes, in some areas large increases in population have led to a shortage of places. After all, local authorities plan for future demand based on birth rate, and if a large enough number of families move into an area, this will inevitably lead to problems. But this can happen anywhere and not necessarily be caused by EU migrants. It can also be brought on by premature school closures and by a funding regime that does not allow for any slack in the way of extra places. Schools are encouraged to be full as this is the only way to secure funding. Consequently intake numbers are artificially reduced and staffing and resources cut to suit.

Cutbacks forced by the government have left many local authorities struggling to find even the minimum they need to provide health, social and education services in their areas. Whether there were migrants or not, these draconian cutbacks have devastated services all over the country. If you can’t get the health care you need, blame the government whose budget cuts have forced the closure of hundreds of centres and outreach services and drastically reduced training facilities. It is their policies that have led to disillusioned and underappreciated staff leaving the NHS and our schools in greater numbers than we can replace them. It is successive UK governments who have laid waste to many of the services we have some to rely on, not immigrants, and certainly not the EU.

Cameron and his allies were unable to retaliate against the Brexit claims about the effects immigration is having on our services and economy, because they knew, as did Outers, that Cameron himself was to blame for most of it. He was hardly going to stand up and say, “Actually folks, it’s my fault, not theirs!”

And what is all this about sovereignty? Yes, the EU is not perfect and it does occasionally pass some seemingly ridiculous laws, but nothing like what is claimed by the Eurosceptics. Most are aimed at levelling the playing field across member states, ensuring that free trade and movement can work effectively. It is the UK government’s policies that have resulted in a lack of housing (thanks to the sale of housing stock), under staffing and funding of emergency services, and cutbacks in health care and social welfare.

But the biggest threat to the Eurosceptics of the right is the EU’s on-going agenda regarding our rights. The likes of Gove and Farage want to return to a system that protects the elite at the expense of the workers. They don’t want any of this human rights or worker rights nonsense getting in the way of securing their fortunes and their life styles.

Does anyone actually think that Gove and Johnson give a monkeys about you and me? Of course not. From where I’m standing they look like self-serving elitists seeking power and influence. But now that all their lies and deceptions have been brought to light, I hope that any chance of leadership are now well and truly quashed. And as for Farage, hopefully this time around he will stay resigned! The less I have to see or hear of that egotistical maniac the better.