Tag Archives: voting

This week’s media selection: London advances on digital, retreats on financial; Budget politics; “clicktivism”

Evening Standard: Tech City boss: Britain can now follow London’s success

The new CEO of London’s Tech City, Gerard Grech, said that Britain can now cement its place as a global player in digital technology and entrepreneurial industries. Tech City has grown from 200 digital companies at launch in 2010, to 1,300 today. Grech will work on the “four Ps”; policy, partnerships, promotion and programmes, and will relay entrepreneurs’ concerns to government.

The Independent: New York replaces London as financial capital of the world

New York has over taken London as the world’s leading financial centre as the City’s reputation has been hurt by banking and market scandals, uncertainty over EU membership and the referendum on Scottish independence.

The Times: Osborne’s Budget gives the Tories new hope

Former Conservative Home editor, Tim Montgomerie, argues that while George Osborne may not have conquered Britain’s economic challenges he offers the best policies.

FT: Tories should not expect an election dividend

In contrast to Tim Montgomerie, University of Essex professor of government, Anthony King, argues that voters are more impressed by the squeeze on their real incomes than by Osborne’s triumphalist rhetoric. What makes matters worse, is the electoral system, which requires the Tories to be at least 11 points ahead in order to win a majority.

FT: Web activists tear down corporate walls

Large corporations are being forced into climbdowns by partly by social media and “clicktivism”. Twitter and Facebook are turbocharging critical messages as never before, making it harder than ever for companies to control the terms of public discourse. Companies are being dragged into a new world of “private politics”, which is led by activists, not government. This is forcing them into positions on issues that are only tangentially related to their businesses.

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Don’t disengage because of the election

With the general election almost certain to be held on 6 May, businesses and campaign groups could be forgiven for thinking that there is no point in responding or examining final reports from Government and Parliament, as they will die a natural death when the election is called.

But that would be a mistake, as most of the issues and policy proposals being discussed will be resurrected under the new Parliament/Government. Issues such as climate change, energy security, social care reform, high speed rail, infrastructure investment and planning reform will not disappear just because there has been an election. These are long-term problems for which policy makers will still be seeking solutions after 6 May, regardless of which party is in power.

Government departments currently have live consultations on issues such as a new planning policy statement, taxation of insurance companies, Social Fund reform, retailers’ compliance with the groceries supply code of practice, the Renewable Heat Incentive and regulation of local bus services.

At the same time, Select Committees will shortly be publishing reports on a range of subjects such as the major road networks, the future of local and regional media, low carbon technologies, bioengineering and the end of cheques.

A Conservative government would strive ostentatiously to portray itself as different from the current administration. And if Labour is re-elected against the odds, it will want to show that it is making a fresh start. It will be new Labour without using the word ‘new’. So there will be changes to headline policies, and different approaches to tackling the fiscal deficit will have differing effects on expenditure on current programmes.

But many of the same macro- and micro-policy issues will still be unresolved. Policy proposals being put forward today by businesses will still be relevant after 6 May. If anything, the new administration may be more receptive to policy solutions that require a longer term view. Even though ministers are presently switching increasingly into election mode, officials will still be developing policy proposals, even if only to prepare for an incoming Conservative Government. They will still be receptive to a well-argued and persuasive case that enables them to offer solutions to their new ministerial masters.

Select Committee reports published over the next few weeks risk being ignored during the increasingly frenzied pre-election period. But they will still help set the agenda in particular policy areas by offering authoritative recommendations for policy makers. And they can still, potentially, be used by businesses and policy campaigners as independent justification for their own proposals.

It is easy to be distracted by the hurly burly of the election campaign but anyone seriously interested in affecting future policy needs to keep their eye on policy development right up until the end of this Parliament.

And then start all over again in the new one.

Never mind the ballots? Count on it being the best bit!

Common sense – perhaps even a sense of fun – won through yesterday, as MPs protected the only guaranteed entertainment of general election. Facing proposals to keep ballot boxes shut overnight and to commence the counting of ballot papers the next morning (it would save money, apparently), our elected representatives opted to amend the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to ensure that the counting of votes will carry on through the night.

In doing so, they have perhaps recognised that at least some sections of a public often generally so apathetic towards politics, find election night quite a thrill. In an earlier blog (Watching the party leaders’ mass-debate), I criticised the idea of television debates. I stick by that but cannot deny that they will add some spice to the campaign. And the same applies to watching the results come in through the night and into the morning, and the forthcoming election could produce some dramatic moments to rival those of 1997.

Anyone devoted enough to stay up and watch the results come in deserves something for their efforts. Being able to say “I saw the Portillo moment” in 1997 was fine reward for those devoted enough to stay up for it. Where better to witness such a moment than at Labour’s official election night party at the Royal Festival Hall on huge screens, surrounded by triumphant young politicos who felt that they were part of a huge transformation of their country? And that’s exactly where I was…

Which compounds the regret and embarrassment I feel at having completely missed the most talked about moment of a historic night, having been taken ‘tired’ in that venue’s facilities. I was, in more ways than one, out for the count. This probably explains why I’m so excited to get the chance to make amends. MPs have given me another chance. No falling asleep this time – I know it sounds nerdy, but democracy can be fun!

A neverendum of referendum

Parliament will today debate Gordon Brown’s proposals to hold a referendum on voting reform. In 1975, Callaghan described the referendum on EEC membership as a “rubber life raft into which the whole party would have to climb”. Perhaps Gordon Brown thinks that he can craft his own lifeboat with electoral reform, reviving his chances at the polls.

But is it good use of parliamentary time? Other legislation currently going through Parliament may be sacrificed for it, yet ask the average voter about voting reform and he/she will probably conclude (unfairly) that it doesn’t matter how we elect them, they’ll all be on the make anyway.

Whenever a referendum is suggested, I am baffled. Election turnouts are depressingly low. Why demonstrate further the disengagement of the electorate by asking them to vote on something they either don’t understand to a level of detail that enables informed choices or, more likely, don’t care about?

In this case, I suppose it’s about demonstrating democracy. Giving the people the chance to vote on how they can vote. A democratic double whammy!

Faced with this democratic gambit, David Cameron has responded with… er, petitions. The Conservative leader has said that under a Tory government, any petition signed by more than 100,000 people would guarantee a debate in the House of Commons. One million or more signatures would win you the right to put a Bill before Parliament. UKIP must be licking their lips.

I fear that the idea may have been prompted by Facebook groups (“If 100,000 people join my group MPs must decide who is hotter: Kylie or Danni”*). Petitions will simply encourage further trivialisation of politics and waste even more parliamentary time.

We have a parliamentary system quite capable of delivering good government. What we lack is the public’s trust in that system or in politicians. Cheap imitations of democracy won’t change that and, worse still, is a waste of our time and of Parliament’s time.

* The answer is Kylie.

Watching party leaders’ mass-debate

We at Altitude Towers have been discussing the value of debate recently. Nothing beats a good debate. The ability to put across a reasoned, logically-constructed case, to win over an audience and to impose the strength of your reasoning to the point of persuasion, is a skill indeed. It is a competence that benefits an individual throughout his or her life, whether it is in the playground, in a work situation or just chatting footy down the pub. It’s a skill that should be cultivated and which is sadly not exercised widely enough in our schools and colleges.

So why am I so dreading the prospect of three televised debates between the party leaders prior to the general election?

Many respected media commentators (and Nicky Campbell) have labelled the coming general election as the most important for years. (It’s certainly the most important in the last four years). The implication is that our votes will be more momentous because they will return a Government tasked with delivering economic recovery. It’s also a barometer election for the minority parties, with the Green Party standing a real chance of returning their first MP and the BNP looking to woo disaffected voters from across the political spectrum.

So, when a normally disengaged voting public has every reason to focus properly on the policies of all parties, why give it an excuse to ignore policies and the wider campaign and to make their (apparently) most important electoral decision for years on the basis of a nicer tie, a sharper performance on the night or better-prepared sound bites. It is said that Kennedy “won” the first televised US debate against Nixon because the Republican looked drawn and ashen following recent hospitalisation and the wrong shade of suit. Do we really want this election to be decided on Gordon Brown’s uncomfortable smile, David Cameron’s shiny forehead or the fact that most of the public will now know what Nick Clegg looks like?

The televised sparring will simply give an apathetic public an easy get-out, rather than engage them in the more substantive debates that will take place outside the television studios.

The very essence of the art of debating is diminished when the chance to land an easy punch in front of a larger audience becomes more desirable than expounding your case and informing people along the way.

Debate – and politics – is once again losing out for the sake of supposedly “good telly”.