Monthly Archives: January 2015

What choice for the UK’s floating voter?

One hundred days to go and counting.
It’s unlikely that, when election day dawns and the real counting begins, there’ll be a hundred names on your ballot paper. But the way things are going, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were.
And how then will the floating voter vote? Faced with so much choice, with the old political certainties sundering and political dissent gaining traction, what can he or she do to prevent his or her vote sinking without trace?
The negative vote
Yesterday morning I heard a man telling the world (or at least Radio 4 listeners) that, after voting for one or another of the major parties since the day he could vote at all, he’s planning to make his mark for UKIP.
He’s doing so because, he says, the major parties are now all the same as each other. When they get into power, they spend two or three years undoing what their predecessors have done and then promise things they ultimately can’t deliver.
So this time round he’s going to vote UKIP; to cast what even he admits is a protest vote.
Why must he be left with such a negative choice?
Probably because the only alternatives are to reject the election altogether and not vote at all, or to spoil his ballot paper. Which means that his ‘vote’, along with thousands of others, would simply drown in an ocean of spoiled papers.
What a waste. Especially when there could be an intelligent alternative.
The No Confidence vote
If there was a space on the ballot paper where voters could make a mark against No Confidence, our man would have a clear way of expressing his current dissatisfaction.
What’s more, at a time when a great deal has been said about the accountability of politicians, his vote would have clear and identifiable count-ability.
It could be totted up with those of likeminded folk and declared as an accurate percentage of the nation’s preference.
As a result, the politicians would know beyond all reasonable doubt that, let’s say, 56% of the population had no confidence in any of their parties, their policies or their candidates.
And that might wake them up; get them to engage with the people. Thumbs Up 2a
My hope is that, by giving people a sensible positive choice, they would be encouraged to take part in what will be a very important election.
For me, the choice should be either vote with confidence for whoever you have confidence in, or vote No Confidence.
Whatever the outcome, we would at least know who’d voted for what. And the politicians would know where the people’s confidence lay.

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Making democracy work

It’s been Democracy Day today and, quite properly, we’ve heard a lot about the way we vote and what we vote for.
All the discussions and debates I’ve heard have made sense.
I have to say, it would have been a shame if they hadn’t. We are, after all, a civilised society and democracy is a civilised way of choosing our governments.
Major points
There are two major points that have stuck with me throughout the day.
The first is that politicians of all parties should offer us clearly defined, coherent policies that they then adhere to.
The second is that the increasing professionalisation and splintering of politics means it’s inevitable we’ll be offered a plethora of parties to choose from – many of them with no experience of government – when we get to the polling booth. Ballot Paper Cross 1
Like children in a sweet shop, we’ll be faced with a bewildering array of tempting goodies, all of them enticing but none of them guaranteed to do us any good.
Indeed, some of them may even do us serous harm.
Sharper cures
Faced with such a wide choice, and increasingly dubious about the worth of anything we’re offered, it’s little wonder people are turning away from mainstream politics.
Rather than suffer a never-ending diet of sugar-coated placebos prescribed by smart-suited spin doctors, some of us are turning to sharper cures for our current ills.
Protest has become rife. Revolution is on the rise. The clamour to be heard is mounting.
For some of us, the question now is where to turn for the kind of government we crave; fair, open, honest, honourable and humane policies that provide a solid foundation for a sound society.
True, most of the parties offer a version of this.
The disappointment for many of us is that few, if any, deliver on their promises, which leaves us disillusioned.
The sour choice
As a result, fewer and fewer of us even bother to vote.
We don’t go to the sweet shop because what’s on offer makes us sick.
Even if we did go, we’re not really able adopt a suck-it-and-see approach because, instead of giving us a second choice immediately, the current parliamentary system saddles us with a government we can’t change for five years.
So, if we are feeling sour-faced and militant enough, we trot along to the polling station and spoil our ballot papers by writing something rude across them, which makes us feel better.
The savoury alternative
The tragedy of this approach is that our votes are disregarded completely; written off as “spoiled papers” and never properly accounted for.
It’s my belief there could be an alternative for those of us who want to vote responsibly. Ballot Paper Cross 2
We should be given a box on the ballot paper where we can put a cross, not against a name or a party, but against No Confidence.
In this way, we would be able to voice our disappointment – even our disillusionment – without running the risk of our vote being, quite literally, consigned to the dustbin of history.
Moreover, all our No Confidence votes could be counted, thus sending a clear message to the politicians that – if they want to win our votes – they must give us something we can have confidence in and therefore vote for.
It’s not rocket science. It’s just democracy at work.

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Living with legends

The tall, black hoardings have gone up. The great displays boasting of “creating legends since 1937” are shrouded. The few lights left on look like candles that someone forgot to blow out.

It is the beginning of the end. Earls Court has closed for good. The deconstruction process has begun.

A shedload of memories

For over three-quarters of a century this vast shed and its more recent sister building, Earls Court 2, have played host to the great, the good, the sometimes bad and the occasionally nonsensical acts and activities that have been part of our lives over that span of time. Earls Court

For many of us who’ve lived with this venue as our neighbour, Earls Court was always the home of the Motor Show, the Boat Show and the Ideal Home Exhibition.

We were used to seeing the annual procession of expensive limousines on low loaders, the incongruous sight of luxury yachts being towed through our streets and whole houses being shoehorned into the cavernous interior of a building which, on many occasions, became a kind of three-ring circus full of raucous folk hawking their wares and hoping we’d buy their sometimes outrageous offerings.

There was, too, the Royal Tournament, an event marked for locals by the early morning sight of the Household Cavalry exercising their horses along Lillie Road, past the Brompton Cemetery and up Warwick Road.

And then, of course, there were the bands.

Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, George Michael, David Bowie and a host of other big names; they all played Earls Court. It was, after all, the only venue in town big enough to hold their vast, adoring audiences.

And there was the trade.

For many local businesses – particularly those in Earl’s Court’s lively hotel and restaurant trade – the exhibition centre was a hugely important source of income. The manager of the long-since-closed L’Artiste Affamé once told me that visitors to the Boat Show brought in almost enough revenue to keep him going for eight or nine months.

A new community

Now we are faced with a different prospect; the creation of new “villages” featuring high-end residential properties whose doubtful value to the community is to be offset by new doctors’ surgeries and – it’s said – a new school.

The proof of this particular pudding will, of course, be in the eating.

In the meantime, life goes on and – thankfully – some things haven’t changed. Bob Dylan

The Troubadour, for example, is now a double-fronted establishment with an associated wine shop. Yet – in the basement where a young Bob Dylan and Paul Simon both performed – there is still live music several nights a week.

Response, the community project founded in the late 1970s by Neil Barnett and James Evans, still functions, albeit with a changed role reflecting Earl’s Court’s fluctuating population and fluid character.

The pubs are still busy. One – until recently a branch of O’Neil’s – has been refurbished and reverted to its original name: The Bolton.

Lost opportunities

While we may legitimately mourn London’s loss of an internationally recognised entertainment venue within an Olympian stone’s throw of Harrods, we can at least hope that this cosmopolitan part of the capital will not lose its identity along with its memories.

Who knows but that another legend may be born in the basement of the Troubadour. Or that a busker will appear at the entrance to the station and, catching the eye of a passing stranger, once more turn Earl’s Court into a place where small dreams become big realities.

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Defiance and deaf ears

Watching the news last night and hearing again this morning that upwards of one-and-a-half million people were on the streets of Paris yesterday reminds me that, in 2003, a similar number of outraged folk marched through London to protest their rejection of the war on Iraq.
Back then we carried placards declaring “Not in my name”, yet no one listened and the perpetrators of that invasion, who remained in office for some time yet still didn’t listen, have since been branded war criminals.
Yesterday, in a similar expression of solidarity, the placards declared “Je suis Charlie”.
Now I wonder if those who have already been described as criminals, and those they’re associated with, will listen.
My hope is they will. My expectation is they won’t.
Does this mean I despair of ever seeing peace and tolerance being accepted as two of the basic planks in the structure of any civilised society?
No, it doesn’t.
What I fervently hope for is a world in which open minds – and wide-open ears – are generally accepted as virtues and signs of strength rather than vacillation and signs of weakness.
Until then, like millions of other, I remain defiant and wholly on the side of liberty, freedom of expression and the truth.

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The hard choice in May

A week is a long time in politics, so they say.
Well, if a week is a long time, the four months between now and the next UK general election already seems like an age.
And, at my age, I wonder if I can bear it.
Argument and counter-argument
With Christmas over and the New Year well underway, the various political leaders have already started sharing their thoughts with us.
The state of the economy and the National Health Service, our membership of the European Union, the changes needed in our education system, the condition of the country’s roads and general infrastructure; all these and many more weighty matters will be the subject of endless debate. There’s no doubting that some issues will be the subject of fierce argument.
Now, what troubles me is this.
Have any of us got the stomach for a continuous diet of bilious rhetoric, half-baked ideas and sour grapes?
And will four months of that be enough to satisfy our appetite for certainty in an uncertain world?
Of course, it’s too early to be worrying about who to vote for.
None of the contenders – and there are many more than usual vying for our vote – have so far laid out their policies in a clear and unambiguous way.
So choice is hard to determine.
The alternative vote
I’ve talked about this before (see my blog of October 16 2014) and I make no bones about mentioning it again now.
The sheer breadth of choice likely to be on offer at this election cries out for a space on the ballot paper where we can vote “No Confidence”.
I believe that, with so many parties to choose from, and so little prospect of any of them offering clear-cut policies that look as if they will bring certainty to our future, we deserve the right to register our dismay in an accountable way.
If I had this option, the next four months would be bearable.
Even the daily diet might be palatable.
Because I could choose to listen to the debates – or not – to get sick of them – or not – knowing that, come election day, I could register my true feelings in a responsible way.
Compromised choice
As it is, the system will probably force me to make a compromised choice, either voting to thumb my nose at the incumbent MP or to keep some other unsavoury candidate from winning the seat.
Of course, I hope to be offered something positive to vote for.
But, while I still doubt that I will, I would like the chance to register my dismay in a meaningful way.
The alternative is unappetising to the point of being totally indigestible.

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