The Challengers debate

A full evening of politics on the box tonight. If nothing else this self imposed engagement with the process is bringing home to me how hard it must be for the participants. I admire at the very least their energy and stamina.

The evening began with a passing glimpse of Jo Brand reprising her best “Thatcher Out” Eighties politics with a broadcast on behalf of Labour. I didn’t realise but apparently if we don’t vote Labour then the, sorry, our NHS will not exist in 3 years.


The next programme was an ITV special where some vacuous TV presenter spends time with a political leader getting to know the real person. Tonight it was Ed Miliband. Miliband showing how he is just like the rest of us, cooking scrambled eggs whilst ignoring a mithering kid. The major difference was that we don’t have a camera crew in either of our kitchens  and there is no need to second guess the questions. But all this took place in a North London house that I would bet is going to qualify for his own Mansion Tax. Then we had Ed playing pool ( “I have to have that double shot into the middle pocket on the programme” ), Ed drinking a pint of lager , Ed travelling second class on the railway , Ed not being allowed to eat his own scrambled eggs……… I am only going to watch another one of these profilesif I have run out of sleeping tablets.

Then we came to a two hour “Challengers Election Debate” later disowned by Dimbleby as  ” The Debate that was never called the Challengers debate”

Two Brighton Hairdressers watching Gogglebox

Two Brighton Hairdressers watching Gogglebox

Everyone wondered was it a good idea for Cameron and his puppy to stay away. Miliband ( Labour ), Natalie Bennett for the Greens, Nigel Farage ( UKIP ) and Mss Wood and Sturgeon ( Plaid Cymru and SNP respectively ) all participated. There were the obligatory one minute opening and closing statements, the expected trashing of Cameron for not being there and the perhaps surprising omission of anyone mentioning Nick Clegg.  There were some good shouting matches and dog fights in between. Farage walking a dangerous line in dissing the live audience. You have to admire his courage. In my view, the live audience was definitely too partisan. There was no applause for Farage and too much for Greens, this does not reflect in any way polls of voting intentions.But then, hey, it’s not cool to agree with anything Farage says.

In my opinion, the smaller parties are getting a disproportionate amount of exposure. Consider the Greens, Natalie Nutty was there because 750 people misguidedly voted Green in Brighton and delivered a single MP. They are finding out now in their progressive city that the Greens can’t even get the bins collected while as a consequence of their right-on political protest the rest of us have listen to her nonsense for hours.

Challengers debate? Plaid Cymru has 3 seats in remote parts of west Wales, there are 36 Welsh seats in parliament. Why weren’t the Northern Irish parties represented? Numerically they are more relevant than the Greens and Plaid put together.

Mwah, Love you, love you

Mwah, Love you, love you

Not sure what we learned tonight. All the candidates went home feeling they had had a good night, they also went home also feeling that the media was against them and favoured the other parties. May 8th will reveal all. Personally, I am starting to believe that the Lib Dems may be the biggest beneficiary of these dog fights. Nicola Sturgeon, and to a lesser extent, Leanne wood  seemed to be accusing Ed Miliband of being Tory-lite , whereas in reality they are coming over as heavy duty socialists . Another factor of concern was the way that Sturgeon browbeat Miliband which bodes badly for any future possible coalition. If that came to pass…..

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Tuesday, the Conservative manifesto

It may because the two main parties are so close in the polls but the manifestos of the two major parties are increasingly looking like lists of bribes. The headline Conservative manifesto consisted of the extension of the right to buy to tenants of housing associations. This was unexpected although, as ever, leaked earlier. Many of the other manifesto commitments were predictable, a re-statement of 2010 ambitions and obvious reactions to the UKIP threat with promises to deal with Immigration concerns, Defence and a re-labelling of foreign aid as International Development.

Britain's Prime Minsiter David Cameron launches the Conservative Party's election manifesto in Swindon, western England

The surprise was the right to buy statement, I must admit I am not sure about how it would work. Can the government force housing associations to sell? How is it funded ( a common theme in each parties manifesto promises) ? Is it a method of reducing the burden of housing benefit? How is it linked to building new starter homes? I think this is a gamble, there are many voters regardless of political affiliation to whom this will be unpalatable. There is a housing problem in this country but does this not make it worse?

There is an argument that had the Tories met their commitment to get immigration down to tens of thousands a year then there would not be such a housing shortage. At current levels , it’s like having a new Stockport or Peterborough landing in the country every year with undeniable consequences for Health, Education and Housing.

What is also interesting is how the political parties choose to leave the London/Westminster bubble and to decamp to their political heartlands to deliver these manifestos. Manchester for Labour and Swindon for the Conservatives rather than the chattering supper tables of Islington and the Cotswolds respectively.


The Greens launched their Magic Faraway Tree manifesto (or should that be personifesto?) in Dalston yesterday. Dalston is in London you know, an edgy hipster neighbourhood where asylum seekers from the Congo ride the bus with bearded onesie wearing digital managers. It’s also not too far from Stoke Newington, once parodied by Alexei Sayle as a place where the people knitted their own yoghurt. Somehow entirely appropriate.

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It’s Monday, Labour manifesto day

Day one of the working week saw the first of the major party manifesto launches. Labour kicked us off with their event from Granda studios in Manchester. Image is everything these days and there was almost an American flavour to this, with President Miliband holding forth from the lectern while his united shadow team, artfully arranged, followed the choreographers instructions flawlessly as they  stood synchronised to ovate at exactly the right moments.


His speech was well delivered but the content bore out my observation last week that manifestos are more about jockeying for position than anything else. With only three weeks or so to go, Labour’s emphasis has suddenly changed to stress the importance of the economy. In his last conference speech, Miliband did not mention the deficit. Now it’s : The first line of Labour’s first Budget will be: ‘This Budget cuts the deficit every year’.

The actual commitments to doing so were lightweight and nebulous. So far we have the ‘Mansion Tax’ ( Its got a lot to do! ), bank levies and the millionaires tax, all of which put together will not come close to closing the deficit gap never mind paying for NHS funding commitments and the many guarantees and promises of GP appointments etc. The bulk of the money is expected to come from an unmeasurable additional tax take from a sudden growth in high wage jobs and an expanding economy.

With the best will in the world, I cannot see how they can hope to get much more growth in the UK economy, we seem to be running at full throttle as it is. A further Labour assumption is that the country can suddenly develop more skilled and higher paid jobs. This in a country where some 40 or 50% of the workforce is in the public sector and large numbers in retail and the despised financial sector.

Some things are positive. A higher minimum wage would be a good thing if only to reduce the abuse of the working tax credit system by large companies employing lots of low paid staff. I also welcome the reduction in tuition fees but when is something going to be done about University Vice chancellors with their outrageous salaries? Read about this ex labour education minister now a vice chancellor here.

My overall impression of this Manifesto was it was  seasoned with a series of measures and pledges designed to catch the floating voter with populist soundbites and, as ever, telling the gullible electorate what they want to hear. And can Labour politicians please stop telling everyone to ” Look….”

This could not be seen as a decisive moment in the campaign. I don’t expect any different from the other parties but we will wait and see.


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The election gets personal

Yesterday, the Election 2015 contest continued to develop. The first of the two main news stories was the Labour pledge to abolish the Non-domicile tax status currently enjoyed by over 110,000 people in this country. We learned a lot about this little perk for a good number of the UK’s  movers and shakers. It is hereditary and can be used by people born in the UK. It only applies to earnings from overseas and any UK income is taxed as normal. So it is not surprising that Roman Abramovich has packed in working nights at a filling station in Fulham and Lakshmi Mittall, the Indian Steel Magnate, is no longer working as a welder in Plaistow.

the welder / pokaran, india

NonDom status has been around for over 200 years and so we can also wonder why more than 40 governments in power have failed to do anything about it. So why now? The cynical might say that it is just another vote catching headline especially as Labour admit that they do not know how much additional tax it would raise. To add to the confusion a television clip of Ed Balls ,the Labour shadow chancellor, was unearthed from three months ago saying that to get rid of Nondom was a bad idea as it would drive people away. As ever the reality probably lies between these two opinions.

The other story dominating the day was the nuclear attack by Michael Fallon, the Conservative defence secretary on David Miliband stating that Miliband would stab Britain in the back over the renewal of the Trident Nuclear deterrent as part of a deal with the SNP in order to get to power. Fallon went a step further, and probably too far in many peoples opinion, by stating that David Miliband had form in this area as he had already stabbed his brother Ed in the back in order to come to power. Cue outrage and indignation on all sides. On BBC’s Question Time last night, the issue was clarified by the impressive Daily Telegraph leader writer, Tim Stanley. He said that it was wrong because David had stabbed Ed in the front not the back!


Both of these stories developed as a consequence of the drip feeding of policies and pledges from each parties manifesto. We will need to wait until next week to see the actual manifestos. Why are they not ready to read as soon as the election is called? It is not as if they did not know when that would be. Again the cynical might consider that they are all simply jockeying for position and that the actual policies and content of those manifestos is subsidiary to the spin and counter spin.

Locally all the major candidates appear to be busy bees, hitting the streets and pressing the flesh with like minded supporters from other, safer areas, tweeting and facebooking away. William Wragg ( Con) and Lisa Smart ( LibDem) both featured on a BBC Northwest slot about Hazel Grove and the LibDem North West constituencies. Michael Taylor ( Lab ) had a few hours off to watch his team Blackburn Rovers lose heroically to Liverpool ( You had my vote on that one, Michael ! ) but found the time to get featured in two newspapers. His first was a article he wrote about devolution to the regions and specifically Manchester in the Guardian and the second was in an article about politicians as fans of T’Rovers, presumably from some more local publication than the Gazadian. Not sure which he was more pleased about.

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Hazel Grove goes green

Still laughing from yesterday’s Natalie Bennett ( Green party Chairperson ) media debacle. I  uncovered another late entrant for the Hazel Grove MP race. On April 2nd , The Stockport Green party announced the candidature of Graham Reid. From his picture he looks familiar, I wonder if he used to drink in The Olde Vic in Edgeley?

Graham Reid 220x300

The full announcement is here on the local party website.

There is as yet no sign of a twitter or facebook account for Graham. Perhaps I need to learn how to read smoke signals or refurbish my pigeon loft to stay in touch.

I was sad but unsurprised to note in his statement the usual blind dogmatic opposition to Fracking. Well, we wouldn’t want to get involved with anything that would lower the price of energy, create thousands of real jobs and provide the UK with energy independence from Medieval Middle Eastern despots or Russian warmongers who could turn the oil and gas tap off at will.

Good luck Graham! One last thing though, don’t you think that the £500 deposit you will be forfeiting on May 8th would have been better given to a childrens cancer charity or a food bank.

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Lies, damn lies and Yougov

Thirty days to go. Nick Clegg found his way to Romiley, thankfully this time in the right constituency. Is there some significance in a second visit from the Lib Dem’s leader in 4 days for the vulnerability of this seat? He was also pictured pulling the landlady of the Railway, or at least an eponymous real ale of the good lady.


Can we have less froth and more body in that, Nick ?

William Wragg (Con) and Michael Taylor (Lab) spent some of the day maintaining their digital profiles with a number of tweets. The Tweet of the day though went to Darran Palmer (UKIP) who retweeted some statistics that showed UKIP ahead of Lib dems and Tories in Hazel Grove.


This came apparently from Yougov, which despite its official sounding name is actually some marketing agency. Some very creative use of a graph here as the website of Yougov produces a NOWCAST  on each uk constituency which show highs and lows of each candidate. So Lib Dems are between 27 and 40% , Conservatives between 22 and 33% and UKIP 13 and 24%.  Furthermore they are based on a sample from subscribers to Yougov who are often completing surveys in return for the opportunity to enter a raffle. Think cyber zero hours contract.


I actually joined Yougov today to learn more and only have to complete another 344 surveys to win a soft toy. I was rewarded however by an explanation of how their political NOWCAST forecasts work though. See if you can follow this explanation:

How is the Nowcast calculated?

Our Nowcast is based on a sophisticated statistical model that combines the respondents we have in each seat with modelled observations from similar types of people across the country. In maths-speak, it is a hierarchichal Bayesian model using multilevel regression post-stratification.

OK , it’s not my fault if you don’t have a mathematics double first!

Also today, Tony Blair came back from his Transylvanian castle or wherever to endorse David Miliband’s campaign by casting aspersions on the Conservative pledge for an EU referendum. Not sure how wise that move was. TB is now better known as a Toxic Brand or a respiratory disease.

Finally Natalie Brainfade from Woolliebackagreen, New South Wales was eaten alive  by John Humphrys on the Today programme. He even managed to get her name wrong. See full story here in the Telegraph.

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All aboard for the Hazel Grove candidates

Thirty days to go and a quick drive around some of the main roads around Romiley, Marple, Marple Bridge and Mellor reveal  little visibility of the old methods of electioneering. Before twitter, facebook, endless TV coverage and cheap printing, the aim of every political party was surely to get as many boards and posters up as possible.


This no longer seems to be the case, driving around I noted a total of seven boards for the Liberal Democats (three in the same garden) and only one each for Labour and Conservative. The Labour board, not a million miles away from the Windsor Castle pub seemed to be displayed in a house that also had a flagpole proudly displaying a red flag with the classic image of Che Guevara. Probably not a floating voter then. #coloursfirmlynailed.

So can the local psephologists deduce from this entirely unscientific sample of early voting intentions? A landslide for the Liberals? Lost deposits for Labour and the Tories? ….

….or we can imagine that in the wee small hours of May 8th, Stockport Town Hall will resound to the following:

And that Gascoigne Halman, Estate Agent has been duly elected to the House of Commons for Hazel Grove

gascoigne halman

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