Thursday, 28 May 2009

Voters sceptical about Cameron's talk of reform

In his speech at the Open University this week, salesman Cameron called for "Progressive goals through Conservative means" as he merely rearranged the contents of his political shop window.

Analysis by PoliticsHome shows that voters aren't buying David Cameron's rhetoric about "massive, sweeping, radical distribution of power."

"Do you think that if David Cameron became Prime Minister, he would carry through such a radical redistribution of power, or would he be more cautious than this?"

This was the question put to non-aligned voters as well as supporters of the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour.

"Overall, a strong seventy per cent majority felt that Cameron’s actions in office would be more cautious than his recent speech suggests.

"Under a quarter (twenty three per cent) reckoned that he would carry through with such a radical redistribution of power.

"The only group who felt that Cameron would live up to his words on gaining power were Conservative supporters, and even these only by the slender margin of fifty four to forty four.

"Non-aligned voters - often looked to for underlying attitudes free of partisan bias - were strongly sceptical. Seventy two per cent felt that Cameron would not be so radical as Prime Minister.

"Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters showed an even stronger conviction that Cameron would show greater caution than his speech suggests. Almost ninety per cent of these groups were sceptical about Cameron’s calls for reform."

Today Nick Clegg has announced detailed plans to cancel all leave and change politics for good.

Join the campaign at

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Mike Gapes snubs anti-knife crime petition

Mike Gapes, Labour MP for Ilford South, recently refused to sign a petition organised by the Miles Not Knives Campaign.

Campaign organiser Danny O'Brien who was running a stall in Ilford town centre said,

"During the afternoon I saw Mr Gapes walking past my stall and I asked if he would back our knife campaign by signing the petition. But he told me "No" as he never signs petitions and just carried on walking not even showing any interest in the campaign.

"I was very suprised that somebody who works for my town could just walk past. I will admit that I did shout out to him that I bet he was quick to sign for his expenses."

You can read the full story at Knife Crime Blog.

Seems like a strange policy for an MP -

Does this mean that Gapes didn't sign the petition that he presented, for King George Hospital?

Friday, 22 May 2009

Redbridge Conservatives have lost their grip

Conservative Councillor Keith Prince last night lost the vote to become Leader of Redbridge Council, throwing the Tory group into disarray.

Three Conservative councillors resigned from their group, reducing the total number of official Conservative councillors to 31 out of 63. This means that the Conservatives no longer control Redbridge Council.

From the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian:

BITTER infighting among Redbridge's Conservative group has spilled over into a full-blown political crisis, effectively leaving no-one in charge of the council.

At a dramatic meeting at Ilford Town Hall (Thursday), Tory leader Cllr Keith Prince lost a vote to become the new council leader, minutes after his Conservative colleague Cllr Alan Weinberg left the post.

Cllr Prince lost the election by just two votes after fellow Conservative councillors Mark Aaron and Geoffrey Hinds defected from the party to become independents, while a third, absent Cllr Robert Whitehall, resigned.

Two more Tories, Cllr Brian Waite and Cllr Glenn Corfield, did not show up to the vote because they were "ill".

In the final tally, 28 councillors voted for Cllr Prince and 30 against.

Liberal Democrat group leader Hugh Cleaver said,

"Undoubtedly this affects the Conservative group's ability to govern."

Cllr Robin Turbefield, acting as Conservative Party spokesman, had some especially revealing comments on last night's events:

"We had a very democratic election within our group but it didn't go the way everyone wanted, and there are some people who have been disaffected by the change of leadership.

"It's very upsetting for us. It makes politicians look bad. We've already got the MPs expenses and now this. It looks like we can't organise our own place."

Thank you, Councillor Turbefield, for summing it up so well.

Lynne Featherstone asks: who should be the next Speaker?

Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, is asking readers of her blog for their views on who the next Commons Speaker should be:

I just don't want it to be the traditional kind of same old same old that went before. If there was ever an opportunity for change and reform - this is the start of it.

Read more at Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Ordinary voters have lost touch with Conservative MPs

Two startled Conservative MPs have been speaking out against the reporting of MPs' expenses:

Conservative MP Anthony Steen has expressed his dismay at the public's interest in his lavish expense claims for his country house.

The MP for Totnes in Devon has claimed £87,000 over four years for his second home. ("Some people say it looks like Balmoral," he offered in his defence.)

On yesterday's World at One programme on Radio Four he was indignant:

Do you know what it's about? Jealousy. I've got a very very large house.

In a breathtaking display of narcissism, he kept on digging:

We have a wretched Government here which has completely mucked up the system and caused resignations of me and many others. It was this Government that inroduced the Freedom of Information Act and it's this Government that has insisted for the things which has actually caught me on the wrong foot - which, if I'd been cleverer, it wouldn't have done... What right does the public have to interfere with my private life?

Enjoy the audio clip from the BBC.

This morning's show on Radio Five Live heard Conservative MP Nadine Dorries say that cornered MPs are "terrified" since the Telegraph exposed details of their expense claims, in an act of "journalistic fascism."

Today in her blog, Dorries calls the media interest in MPs' expenses "McCarthyite witch hunts."

Just brilliant. Political satirists: you are out of a job, when Steen and Dorries do it so much better.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Speaker Michael Martin to resign

Sky News reports that Commons Speaker Michael Martin will resign this afternoon, over the MPs' expenses scandal.

Martin is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons at 2:30pm today.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Three "saintly" Liberal Democrat MPs

The Telegraph has canonised three Liberal Democrat MPs (for what that's worth) because they have not made claims for second homes:

Sarah Teather's balance sheet has a column of zeroes, as does fellow London MP Lynne Featherstone's, here.

David Howarth, whose Cambridge constituency is a significant commuting distance from London, is also listed.

It's worth noting that none of the Liberal Democrat MPs from London constituencies claim an allowance for a second home, but it's still good to see the Telegraph including Lib Dems in their praise.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

European Parliament uses social networks to promote elections

The Eurovision Song Contest was last night but, Eurovoting and Eurovisual fans, you can still get your entertainment fix. (You'll have to bring your own music though):

From The Register:

The European Parliament is treading bravely into the world of social networking in order to get the kids involved in the exciting world of European politics.

Bureaucrats have created profiles on popular social sites including Facebook, MySpace and photo sharing site Flickr. There will also be ad-word campaigns and banner ads on MySpace.

Elections run from 4 to 7 June, and the primary purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness of those dates as well as improving young people's understanding of the European Parliament and the work of MEPs.

A YouTube channel has also been created.

The YouTube channel includes a short series of videos called "At the polling station" - these major on the speed and ease of voting, rather than the purpose or politics of the European Parliament. Short and almost non-verbal, they seem to be aiming for viral appeal. The "screaming" one is a bit much, though.

On the other hand, anything featuring both pedals and polling stations gets my vote:

For parties and policies, you'll need to look elsewhere. The European Parliament's 2009 elections page has links to the different political groups (including ALDE - Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe).

The same page features an ongoing poll: "So far what is your favourite EP online tool?" No doubt as robust as any online poll of this type (D'Hondt, anyone?), Europarl's MySpace and Flickr pages are currently trailing behind the 2009 elections page itself (though this could be self-fulfilling):
The European Parliament's Twitter feed is not being promoted so far and it's not clear whether this is an official account. At the time of writing, it only has 8 followers and 15 updates.

You can, however, follow the MEPs who are on Twitter, via Europatweets. It's like the UK's Tweetminster, but with added je ne sais quoi.

All entertaining stuff, but in the last European elections just 18% of people aged between 18-25 voted. Will the use of social networks have a significant effect on voter turnout, especially among young people?

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Big Brother star to stand for Lib Dems in Totteridge

There are two by-elections in the London Borough of Barnet on June 4th, in Totteridge and Edgware wards. The Liberal Democrat candidate for Totteridge is former Big Brother contestant Jonty Stern.

From the Barnet and Potters Bar Times:

SELF-CONFESSED teddy bear and hand-puppet obsessive Jonty Stern, from 2007’s Big Brother, has been chosen as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Totteridge in the upcoming by-elections.

Jonty, 38, is a passionate vegetarian who shares his flat with his collection of 50 stuffed toys.

He is also a keen history and Dr Who fan, speaks seven languages, and collects old coins and money.

But he claims few of the hobbies and interests for which he is known will feature in his election hustings.

Instead he will focus on road safety, sheltered housing warden services and connecting to young people.

"The main thing that drew me into this was keeping Barnet's roads as safe as possible," he said.

"I was very glad when I found out the Lib Dems shared my view. This borough is one of the worst when it comes to road accidents and deaths and the policy on road bumps needs revising."

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

UK's electronic police state ranks world's 5th

The UK (England and Wales) has been ranked the world's 5th electronic police state, by US internet privacy firm Cryptohippie.

Their report, "The Electronic Police State" lists 52 states, with England and Wales only out-snooped by China, North Korea, Belarus and Russia:

"The usual image of a “police state” includes secret police dragging people out of their homes at night, with scenes out of Nazi Germany or Stalin’s
USSR. The problem with these images is that they are horribly outdated.
That’s how things worked during your grandfather’s war – that is not how
things work now.

An electronic police state is quiet, even unseen. All of its legal actions are supported by abundant evidence. It looks pristine.

An electronic police state is characterized by this:

State use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.

The two crucial facts about the information gathered under an electronic
police state are these:

1. It is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial.

2. It is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized for use in prosecutions.

In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email you send, every Internet site you surf, every post you make, every check you write, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping… are all criminal evidence, and they are held in searchable databases, for a long,long time. Whoever holds this evidence can make you look very, very bad whenever they care enough to do so. You can be prosecuted whenever they feel like it – the evidence is already in their database."

For the full report, see here.

Hat-tip: Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

When swine flu met Twitter. Or, the long (curly) tail.

It's been an interesting week for anyone with a message to spread. For me, it's summed up by this headline:

"Swine Flu Name Debated by Industry Groups"

It caught my eye (not only for all the shouty caps - that's just the way Americans present their headlines) but because Industry Groups, sorry, industry groups, were even debating the name at all. Hang on, is it even up to them?

From US site Marketing Daily:

"Swine flu may not yet be a pandemic, but can the same be said of marketer and media reaction to it?

"Indeed, the avalanche of news stories and Web chatter referencing "swine flu" has rankled the image-conscious National Pork Board. Several days after assuring consumers that they could not contract "swine influenza" from eating pork, the industry group... declared that the outbreak should now be called by its scientific name, "Flu H1N1." "

Other organisations have tried to defend the reputation of pigs by naming the virus "North American Flu" and "Mexican Flu". The European Commission, with a cosmopolitan shrug, calls it "novel flu virus."

Naturally, individuals have their own ideas for naming and discussing the virus-

Neilsen wire found on 28 April that "swine flu" was referenced in nearly 2% of all tweets. The following day it reported that nearly 6% of "blogs, micro-blogs such as Twitter, web news and forums" were related to "swine flu."

If you want your info neatly on a plate, it won't happen on Twitter. Twitter, if you like, offers a virtual running buffet of news, opinions and randomalia. There's misinformation and gallows humour mixed among the rational reassurance and useful advice.

For example, "H1N1" may be the official name for the virus, but "parmageddon" will outlast it. (Closely followed by aporkalypse, snoutbreak and armagammon)

Yes, reader, the sifting's up to you. The implication for news consumers is that it's not enough to go to one or two "newspapers of record" to get the definitive line. In fact, those very outlets are now being accused of making matters worse, by sensationalising or scaremongering. And industry groups might be caught on the back foot when it comes to defining a problem or solution.

With some initiative and know-how, you can map and track anything from swine flu to #uksnow. Why not your own local issues? You will know them just as well as anyone else, if not even better.

The implication for anyone with a political message is that you should add your voice to all the others - don't complain that the media are biased. You are one of those media.

It's a big, noisy fray. You will and should be challenged. But never underestimate the power of the long (curly) tail.

"People fix society, if you let them"

Please read this. Weep at its simplicity and common sense. Then join me in carrying its writer Becky Hogge aloft down Whitehall.

From the New Statesman:

You cannot fix society with computers. People fix society, if you let them. That means freeing nurses, teachers, social workers – and their clients – from the relentless tyranny of Whitehall’s cravings for ever more information. A benevolent state must have a human face, not an unblinking screen. Technology can help, but only if it is despatched by those at the front line. It is a perverse truth that in an age where the bottom-up, decentralised, so-called “network of ends” that is the internet has demonstrated its primacy, the state continues to deploy digital technology from the top down.

The Liberal Democrats, in setting up their Commission on Privacy and in speaking out about police action during the recent G20 protests, have become the go-to party for action on the continued erosion of civil liberties of which the database state is one part. The Tories, with their promise to scrap the ID card and the controversial children’s database, ContactPoint, will attract many younger voters in the metropolitan liberal belts come the next general election. Labour must shed its fear that the personal data issue is toxic, must wrest control of the debate from Whitehall and must act now. Social justice must not be cast aside in our flight from the tyranny of the machine state.

You can read the whole article here.

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.

Labour peer claims £100,000 for unoccupied flat

Labour peer Baroness Uddin has named a flat in Maidstone, Kent as her main residence and claimed around £100,000 in Parliamentary expenses for it. This is despite the flat being empty and Baroness Uddin living in Wapping, East London - just four miles from the House of Lords.

From the Sunday Times:

Residents from the five other flats in the same block as Uddin’s property all say they have never seen her there. They could see through the windows that the bedrooms were unfurnished.

Yvonne Adams, who has lived next to the flat for three years, said: “I can’t emphasise enough how no one has lived there. They just haven’t. I know that for a fact.”

Adams said she went on to her rear balcony every day and had never seen anyone on the balcony next door. Until recently, there were piles of leaves on the balcony and sheets over the bedroom windows had fallen down. “There has never been a stick of furniture in there,” she said.

Last weekend, hours after The Sunday Times had challenged Uddin about her “main residence”, the baroness’s BMW 4x4 car was spotted at the Maidstone flat and members of her family arrived.

A plumber who went into the flat to help the family with a broken boiler said: “It looked like they were just moving in. They told me they were just moving in.” By Sunday night, curtains covered the windows, a light was on in the hall and a mat was placed outside the front door.

...Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrat frontbencher, said: “An empty property can’t be a peer’s main residence. The Lords authorities must check the facts of this case and investigate.”

Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.