Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Title Track, Courtesy of Sandy Stoddart

One of the main reasons why this blog is called Dispatches From Paisley is because I stay in one of Paisley's sink estate's which have become infected like some sort of cancerous growth by the effects of too much drink & drugs. Whether they are a by-product of poverty is an argument for another post. Throw in the feral young adults which stalk our street's attacking innocent by-standers, and you will get the impression that it is not a nice place out there.

For the most part it's not, but Paisley and in particular it's sink estates have been served poorly by it's political leaders, for the most part Labour ones but in recent years the SNP have struggled with the poisoned chalice bequeathed to them by New Labour in 2007. It's a war out there, against the onslaught of ned culture, and the front line feels very close.

This brings us to the most recent recipient of the Freedom of Renfrewshire, the famous sculptor Sandy Stoddart. In an interview at the weekend Stoddart used his platform to criticise Gerard Butler and Paolo Nutini who had in turn criticised Paisley.
In turn Stoddart said "Telling the story of this town as a drug-infested hell-hole is an absolute lie… They do this because it is chic to appear to have come out of a battle zone. The modern culture valorises all these dysfunctionalities. These people could just as well have mentioned the friendliness of the people in Paisley or the architecture that is being brought back from ruin. We have a university with a crack physics department with time booked in CERN [the European Organisation for Nuclear Research]. The point is, why is it that what we hear is all the negative? It's because the negative is easy and glamorous."

Hmmm… not quite sure the negative is that easy and glamourous, as the pictures of a heavily vandalised close near to where I stay can testify. Round the corner from where I stay looked more like a war zone 5 years ago, before some enterprising ned's decided to set fire to the empty tenements. I could go on and mention the man killed because he tried to move some young adults away from his property, or the repeated spitting that goes on by people, alongside the vile language.

The thing is though, the factors mentioned above do happen in other places. Paisley's problem though is that it is no longer an attractive commuter town, and as a result there is a rise in the level of the uneducated, low earning/benefits dependent class of the population. Not all of these people create the problems for Paisley, but there are problems which need to be tackled that the council are not dealing with. Paisley is not a bad place, it's just that it's wrong to gloss over the bad bits and only talk up the good bits.

I'm now off to see what a "superannuated demagogue with no talent" looks like.

Friday, 23 October 2009

All You Fascists Bound To Lose

Though It was difficult to differentiate between the real Fascists and the Socialist Workers Against Racism mob or whatever they’re called, the leader of the BNP Nick Griffin did manage to get on to Question Time tonight. As someone looking to see Griffin hang himself with his twisted rhetoric, I was a tad disappointed.

There were a couple of reasons for this. As discussed at the time of the European Elections, the BNP are probably the best proponents of the “art” of spin in this country, this is an unmentioned factor in their “victory”. This seemed to extend to their Leader’s responses, which at times was evasive but seemed to get himself out of trouble at key moments. The other reason was that, apart from the dignified Bonnie Greer, the other panellists were way below par. Jack Straw in any debate is about as useful as a wet fish anyway, and the Tory wasn’t much better. Chris Huhne was the big looser here though as his ideas came very much second place behind attacking Griffin.

That really was the problem. The panellists were pre-occupied with attacking Griffin, and in a scattergun fashion. They didn’t focus on their own thoughts and answers. If they had, Griffin would have been left to destroy himself. The BBC were absolutely right to invite Griffin on to Question Time, I just wish the rest of the panellists had taken the opportunity on offer to expose Griffin properly.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

5 Thoughts About The Conference Season

With the main protagonists having now had their last main conference before the General Election, there are some thoughts which occurred during those conferences.

1) The Lib Dems have taken the first step to re-distribution of wealth re-appearing on the political agenda.
Roundly criticised by many at the time, there is still some bemusement at Vince Cable’s balls up, but his announcement of a tax on properties worth £1 million is the first stirrings of a return to the political charts of re-distribution of wealth. Oh and actually it is a good idea, even if it does look like a Blue Peter toiletry set of an idea. The idea of taxing those people with wealth disappeared when Thatch swept to power, and seems to be returning essentially because no one else has any money at the moment.

Cable’s idea seems to have been influenced by this and by not appearing to signal a possible re-assessment of Council Tax rates, which despite being favoured by every council up and down the country would be a massive vote loser. Thus an idea with solid principles ends up looking rather cobbled together.

This was a great pity as Cable could have taken the baton from the TUC, who were calling for tax loopholes to be closed and tax avoidance to be pursued with more rigour as an alternative to the massive cuts to our public services.

2) The gap between the political classes and everyone else in the UK is growing.
Nick Clegg started his conference talking about “Savage Cuts”, Brown talked about cuts, while the Tories struggled to hide their relish at the prospect of cuts (only the SNP talked of defending Scotland’s position, while talking up the hard choices they have made). Everywhere you looked politicians were talking about cuts to public services.

Missing from the conversation amongst themselves were the cuts people were really interested in, cuts to bonuses in The City, cuts to expenses for MP’s and cuts in MP’s only interested in themselves (there are a lot of them out there). Also missing from politician’s lips was any talk of prosecutions being brought against any of those bankers whose criminal negligence brought about the current recession. Not surprising when you realise that New Labour ennobled 3 of the four Horsemen of the Economic Apocalypse.

3) New Labour have still to acknowledge the problems they have caused to this country.
This might be a recession which came from America, but it is also a recession brewed and exacerbated by the UK’s approach, or lack of, approach to financial regulation. However listening to the various New Labour politicians, they honestly do not think that they have anything to apologise for, or for that matter do not think that there are any further actions to take regarding regulation. They are already trying to fudge tax avoidance laws which were agreed at the G20 conferences, and Brown seems to be intent in re-writing the past 13 years. Browns speech was classic I wasn’t there, it wasn’t really me, as he unveiled a set of policies which had they been properly thought out would have been ok, had Brown not been a key architect in New Labour since 1994.

4) The Conservatives have not “sealed the deal”
This conference was billed as the conference where the Conservatives would show that they are ready for government, and hopefully (for them) win the trust of the British public. That this has not happened is probably down to the talk of cuts emanating from the conference, and details of which cuts they would make while in government. I’m sure many of our senior citizens are looking forward to working to 66, and a 25% cut in the budget for the MOD is still a cut, whichever spin you want to put on it. The appointment of the former army chief Richard Danett also looked like the worst kind of political opportunism (Cameron should have appointed him when in government) that you only thought Mandelson/Campbell would have been responsible for. For whatever reason, the Tories poll rating seems to have dipped slightly, with an average lead down to 12 from 15 before the conference season.

One cut not discussed at the Conservative conference were plans to scrap the broadcasting regulator OFCOM. Strange really as I’m sure the Conservatives, being the upstanding honest politicians that they are would have gone to great pains to rebut any suggestion that this had anything to do with the change in the S*n’s political allegiance. What do you mean you didn’t know the Tories had a policy.

5) Salmond really has to reign in his ego, or it could all end in tears.
Fortune favours the brave, and if Alex Salmond is nothing else he is rather bold with his predictions and statements. His goal of 20 SNP seats is a bold target, but not necessarily an un-gettable one. The problem is that it would require a spectacular set of circumstances for this to come about, everything would have to go the SNP’s way. A more realistic target would be double figures or trying to beat the 11 seats won in the election of October 1974.

This example of Salmond’s mouth running away with itself pales into insignificance compared to his comparison of Kenny MacAskil to the principles of Mahatma Ghandi over the release of the Lockerbie Bomber Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi. Unlike many critic’s, it’s not the release of the convicted Lockerbie Bomber which sticks in my throat, but his continued, and frankly embarrassing, support of the Scottish legal system which, despite the evidence, convicted Megrahi. The trial was one of the biggest injustices the world has ever seen, according to the UN observer Dr Hans Kochler, a “disservice has been done to the important cause of international criminal justice”. Yet MacAskil thinks that Scottish justice did a good job.

These two quotes had overshadowed a conference which did not focus on cuts. Their poll figures in the coming weeks will be interesting.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Saving Election NIght

Gosh, 2 posts in the one day. Wonders will never cease, especialy as this is my 152nd post (i somehow missed my 150th post...)

OK I am late in coming to this topic, after all both Tom Harris & Iain Dale have both blogged on the prospect of the result of the next Westminster Elections not being known until late on the Friday. I have been kind of ambivalent on the subject, at least until the subject came up on today’s Daily Politics’ show.

The BBC got Katy Clarke, an MP for New Labour and the former king of the Swing-o-meters Peter Snow to make the case for having as many of the counts go ahead straight after the close of polls as possible, and Newcastle councillor Gerry Keating arguing for the counts going ahead on the Friday morning. The arguments for holding counts as soon as the polls close appeared to be based purely on preserving the coverage and drama of election night, which it was argued promotes politics and democracy in an apathetic age. While I agree about the drama of Election night, the example given was the “Portillo moment” – which while it was satisfying to see an up to that point arrogant politician felled by the electorate the reaction of Mellor to his defeat was much more of a memorable moment (unfortunaely, we got more of him on 606), I couldn’t help but be swung by Gerry Keating’s arguments.

Gerry’s arguments were based around having to arrange their count for the Friday for accuracy purposes. In the age of postal votes, he argued that it was not possible for an accurate count to be made on the Thursday night, unless either electronic voting or earlier closure of the polls (he advocated 8pm closure) were brought in. Therefore to ensure accuracy, Friday counting was a must for Newcastle council. I would have thought that this was an irresistible argument considering how much scorn we in the UK poured on the US 9 years ago for their inability to organise an election. Its scary enough that the problems still remain in the USA regarding Election reporting i.e. reporting exit polls as the actual result. More recently the 2007 Holyrood Elections were marred by counting machines, brought in to speed up the counting process, which couldn’t read the ballot papers (as it turns out a lot of the electorate couldn’t read the over complicated ballot-papers either).

Forgotten in the argument for an Election night is the fact that most people don’t stay up to all hours desperate to find out what happened in that key 3 way marginal in Norfolk. Most people go to bed when the polls point one way or another. In 1992, we went to bed when it was clear that Major was going to win, and that was about 1:30-2am. Major didn’t actually win until about Lunchtime on the Friday. Confirmation of Thatcher’s first election win came late afternoon on the Friday. The point is most people do not stay up all night as they have work the next day, they go to bed when they see which way the runes are reading.

Friday counts can be exciting, I remember listening to the results of the first Welsh Assembly come in while at work, and also a couple of years ago sneaking a peak at the BBC website when the regional top up votes were counted for Holyrood. I don’t think late Thursday counts should be kept at the sacrifice of accuracy.

What Are the SNP For?

With the “main players” in next years Westminster Elections having finished their conferences, all that remains are the minor parties. The one “minor” (in a UK sense) party who could seriously upset the applecart are the SNP, whose own autumn conference starts today.

The SNP have been in government at Holyrood and despite the twin circumstances of poor parliamentary arithmetic and worsening economic climate, they have been something of a success. Indeed, come the next Holyrood elections due in May 2011, the SNP could find themselves with more MSP’s and more clout in terms of coalition-building. Everything in the SNP garden looks rosy.

This however is not the case. The flagship policy of a referendum on Independence looks likely to fail to get through parliament & there have been mutterings from the opposition about broken promises (Promises broken for the above reasons). The next Westminster Election might also provide some discomfort for the SNP. Both of the “main” parties will be pushing the line that there are only two viable choices come the next Election, Tory or Labour. New Labour are already pushing the line that a vote for the SNP will let Cameron into power. Comedy Dave’s lot are pushing the line that only the Union is safe with them.

With the SNP likely to be squeezed, certainly in broadcasting airtime terms (before the normal campaign regulations kick in when the Election is called), this weekend will be crucial in formulating policy and strategy for the SNP. The question which needs to be answered thought is, in the post-devolution landscape, what do the SNP stand for at Westminster elections?

The really obvious answer to that question is independence. The post devolution landscape gives the SNP the ideal opportunity to develop two distinct strategies, with a more pro-independence streak reserved for Westminster Elections. I have previously put forward the argument that the SNP should turn the next election into a referendum on the Union. Turn the tables on Westminster’s gruesome twosome and ask them with national debt at record levels, with inequality rising, and both of them indulging in a game of my cut is bigger than your cut, why we should trust any of you.

The SNP have previously won seats with promising to fight for Scotland’s corner. With a convergence in views within the two big parties, only winning 4 (out of 59) Scottish seats is no longer good enough for Scotland’s party, and certainly will condemn the SNP to another 5 years (at most) of being sidelined at Westminster by the "big two". In order to reinforce the change in the Scottish political landscape, the SNP must change how they see the Westminster Election.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Blogging Service Can Now Resume.

Sorry for the break in blogging, having had problems with the internet connection in my home.

The problem appears to have been resolved, so normal service can now resume...

Monday, 5 October 2009

The "Seal The Deal" Conference

With the SNP’s party conference to come at the end of the month, this week sees the last of the contenders for government. It has been 2 years since the Conservatives took the lead in the polls, with a record lead of 20+ percent in mid 2008. That has fallen back and grown, but the current poll lead is 12/13%. This is projected to deliver a Conservative majority of between 42-45 seats (as opposed to 100+ seat majority as recently as August). Yet all is not as well with the Conservatives as it should be for a party striding towards power.

While the distinct lack of real policies do have an impact, and I suspect this will to a certain respect be rectified this week. The caginess to impart any policy information may have led people to speculate about what the Tories are trying to hide. New Labour have already tried this by painting the Tories as itching to cut public services, before their own figures were leaked. Whether they have anything to hide is anyone’s guess, and this perhaps is the subject of another blog closer to the election, but for a party trying to paint itself whiter than Blair-white their reticence does not give off good vibes.

There is though a forming consensus about Cameron’s Conservatives that they are ahead in the polls not because they are seen as the next government in waiting, but because they are the beneficiaries of an anti Brown vote. There is polling evidence that Cameron’s lead is not a solid lead, which a change in leader for New Labour would lead to reduced majorities or even a hung parliament. This is before polling from here in Scotland is considered, where the Conservatives are currently on 22-23%, not really the desired mandate for Cameron here. Even this weekend, there was a poll saying 49% of people questioned did not know what Cameron stood for.

The Irish have also put a rather large spanner in the works as well. On Saturday, the results of the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty were announced. The Irish backed the treaty, with 67.1% voting for the treaty and 32.9% voting against the treaty. This has rather exposed the Conservatives splits on Europe, with Cameron using rather more diplomatic language than he would have done a couple of years ago. This has not gone down well with certain Tories, who want more clarity regarding a possible referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

These are reasons why the Conservatives are rather more nervous than they should be, certainly reports suggest Cameron was uncertain when interviewed by Andrew Marr this morning. This conference has been described by various commentators & bloggers as Operation Seal the Deal, as they see Cameron as having to have a good conference and spell out key sections of their policy ideas, in order to “seal the deal” and ensure a Conservative victory at the polls next spring. I suspect that even if they do this, and policies are announced, I don’t think that they will win by very much. My long term prediction is a Conservative victory, but with a majority in single figures. Unless the New Labour vote collapses, this scenario is still a possibility.