Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Norwich North By-election - an attempt to make sense of the noise

The Norwich North by-election is tomorrow and the flyers have been flooding in. So, in the interest of making sense of this barrage of information I have decided to take a brief break from discussing books to try and condense these flyers into more manageable, bitesize chunks.

Here is my utterly pointless guide to the candidates and Party’s competing in this by-election.

Total number of Party Political fliers found in my bin as of Tuesday 21st July, 2009. Otherwise known as the 'most profligate paper wasting party of the past week' competition.
In reverse order:
None of the Above – 1
Libertarian – 1
UKIP – 2
BNP – 2
Greens – 2
Craig Murray-Put an Honest Man in Parliament – 2 (including a DVD)
Labour – 4
Conservatives – 5
Liberal Democrats – 7

Ah but the important question – what are they saying? Well, it seems to be a largely negative campaign again. But to help me make up my mind, and perhaps help you make up your mind too (Well, a blogger has to dream, doesn’t he?) here they are, simplified and presented in the above order.

None of the Above:
Style of communique: Accusatory of current democratic system. Proposal for reform
Central Message: Get ‘None of the Above’ included on each ballot paper.

The opportunity to vote for 'None of the Above' in an election should be a fundamental aspect of healthy democracy. It would separate apathy from antipathy in a quantifiable manner. Voters would decide the fate of political parties' choices instead of the parties themselves deciding the voters choices. All legitimate consent requires the ability to withhold consent 'None Of The Above' gives the voter the ballot option to withhold consent from an election to office.

Additional notes:
Leaflet includes a poem entitled 'The Honourable Shysters'. It is not very good, (apparently 'risk' rhymes with 'mick') but at least it is an attempt at creativity.

All in all:
I agree with the issue and would like to see None of the Above on the ballot paper. It turns negative apathy into a positive reflection of someone's political standpoint. However, that is no reason to vote for them at the polling booth.

Style of communique: Conversational.
Central Message: Inherited debt: no thanks

Policies: Reduction in government intrusion on individual lives through:
• Healthcare. Reducing bureaucracy in the NHS to give doctors, nurses etc more time caring for patients.
• Education. Create a system in which parents can decide which schools are desirable, rather than the Local Education Authority.
• Freedoms: Repeal the invasive legislation that undermines Common Law and the right to privacy.

Additional Notes:
The candidate, Thomas Burridge is eighteen years old and identifies himself as from the Debt Generation.

All in all:
While I agree that recent years have seen an increasingly worrying invasion of civil liberties, I do not believe that reducing government will do anything other than leave the most vulnerable members of society worse off.

Style of communique: The candidate, Glenn Tingle, is a good person - businessman, charity worker, former army medic.
Central Message: Vote Glenn Tingle for a Clean Start
Reverse the decline in society by:
• Controlling EU immigration. Anti-racist but believes that 1000 new arrivals every day is unacceptable.
• A fair deal for pensioners. UK should stop paying £40million a day to the EU and start helping our hard-hit pensioners with a non-means tested and non-taxable weekly Citizens' Pension.
• Help for working people. Tax cute for all low earners and no tax for those earning less than £10,000. Complicated forms and tax credits scrapped. British workers to have a fair crack at British job opportunities.
• Less EU control of our lives. Only UKIP will say no to allowing 75% of our laws to come from the EU.
• A clean start on MP's expenses. Glenn Tingle is a 'real person' rather than a 'career politician'. If elected he will NOT buy a second home and will donate 10% of his gross salary to local charities.

Additional notes:
The flyers are an eye catching, though garish bright purple and yellow colour.

All in all:
The large billboards just down the road have had 'anti-Nazi' graffiti scrawled across them. I do not like UKIP, and would never vote for them. But whether it is a gimmick or not, the offer to donate 10% of salary to charities is an honourable policy.

British National Party
Style of communique: Friendly nationalism.
Central Message: “Because it's not racist to oppose mass immigration and political correctness – it's common sense.”
• Housing local people first. Against the Gateway Protection Programme which sends asylum seekers granted refugee status to Norwich. Norwich already has “150 Africans”(!) housed in Norwich while local people are on housing waiting lists.
• More Police on the Street. Remove 'politically correct' and bureaucratic handcuffs from the police to let them spend more time 'on the beat'.
• No To Asylum Seekers. Asylum seekers come 'here' and get everything handed to them on a plate. 'Enough is Enough', it's time to put British people first.
• Reduce the Tax Burden. Those earning less than £15,000 a year to be exempt from income tax. Halt any future increase in Council Tax.
• Protect our countryside. Stop the destruction of our precious countryside and preserve the Greenbelt.
• Lets Build a Better NHS. Increase the pay for British nurses and cut the expensive layers of middle management.
• Clamp down on Anti-Social Yobs. Police action to make the streets safe.

Additional notes:
Reverend Robert West is a former Conservative district councillor, soldier, and lecturer on Religion and Society.

All in all:
The detestable face of the BNP, which seems not to understand (or thinks the population is too stupid to know) the difference between immigrants and asylum seekers. Inherently racist in the language it uses and the policies it promotes, divisive, and making use of meaningless catchphrases such as “political correctness” and “common sense”, this is a muddled and vile proposal for the future of Norwich.

Green Party
Style of communique: Serious, impassioned.
Central Message: Standing up for what’s right.
• Reforming Parliament. Expenses system that cannot be abused. Controls on lobbying of politicians by big business. MP’s who are focused on representing their constituents, not on perusing second careers.
• Creating jobs in green industries. Investment in green industries such as home insulation, renewable energy and public transport to create ‘green jobs’. A greener economy would “save people money, create new jobs and help prevent dangerous climate change.”
• Stopping privatisation of the NHS and schools. Stop more privatisation and ensure we have high quality services available in every local community.

Additional notes:
The most impressive and comprehensive list of cross party support of any candidate, including Vicky Hopkins, former Lib Dem Councillor for Mousehold, and Andy Panes, former Labour Councillor for Mile Cross.

All in all:
A pretty bland and uninspiring flyer, and one which makes a lot of the expenses scandal to score cheap points. But I did receive a more interesting flier earlier in the campaign which contained other promises, including I believe free insulation to all households. Rupert Read is an intelligent and thoughtful person and his performance on the televised debate was the most impressive of the lot. I will be voting Green, as I now often tend to. I have friends who are passionate abut the Green cause and I think Rupert would be a good MP.
That said, just because the Greens may be the most left-wing of the centre-left options in this election, they are by no means left wing. It would be nice to have a little more choice.

Craig Murray
Website: n/a
Style of communique: Big, brash, eye catching, and multimedia.
Central Message: Put an honest man into Parliament
• I will protect the environment. Opposing the Government’s shameful decision to abandon much of Norfolk’s coastline. Developing a green economy with potential in Norfolk for wind, wave, tidal, current, and solar power, all of which can generate jobs as well as energy.
• I will not vote for illegal wars. I resigned as a British Ambassador over the false intelligence which led to the war in Iraq. If I am elected I will never vote to invade another country that is not attacking us. It is such behaviour that leads to an increase in international hostility to the UK and thus makes us less safe.
• I will work for you, and only you. As a British Ambassador I was well known for helping individuals who were suffering problems and injustice. I am not a politician, I will be open and honest with you and intervene with the authorities to help you.
• I will support good public services. The private sector should be free to make money and the public sector should provide first class services. Gordon Brown’s crazy attempts to mix the two are disastrous. We need a streamlined and strengthened public sector delivering efficient public services, including a reintegrated Post Office and Royal Mail, and a re-unified rail system.
• I will support jobs and low tax. High taxes damage economic activity and destroy job opportunities. I would abolish company taxes for the first five years for all new companies employing more than five people and make the basic rate of income tax 20% on the first £20,000 of income. I would slash hundreds of billions of pounds from Government spending by cancelling Trident, the ID cards scheme, and the Private Finance Initiative.

Additional notes:
Craig Murray has had the most visible campaign and I applaud his commitment to debate by holding a series of public meetings over the past few weeks. Other Party’s may also have done this, but I haven’t heard of them.

All in all:
I thoroughly agree with some of his policies, particularly the cancelling of Trident and the ID cards scheme, his opposition to all aggressive wars, and his tax policies. His fliers provide the most comprehensive discussion of his beliefs and policies. However, I dislike his ‘honest man’ moniker which is tacky, reactionary, and appeals to the lowest common denominator.

Style of communique: Friendly, approachable
Central Message: Standing up for a better Norwich North
I honestly do not know. His flyers are all about what he has done in the past rather than what he will do in the future. They celebrate what Labour and Ian Gibson have done in power, and scare-monger against the Conservatives. So, in place of policies, here is a selection of things his fliers mention:
• Tackling anti-social behaviour. Chris brought Justice Secretary Jack Straw to visit a local bar which is doing its bit with a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and giving young people more to do.
• Supporting the NHS. Thanks to Labour, in the last year 64 GP practices in Norfolk have started to offer evening and weekend opening and the number of doctors has almost doubled since 1997.
• Helping the elderly. Labour has done a lot for pensioners, for example the £60 cash boost which has benefitted over 20,000 pensioners here in Norwich North but was opposed by the Tories.
• Sure Start. Labour has opened seven Sure Start Children’s Centres in Norwich which are under threat from a Conservative victory.
• Protecting jobs in Norwich in the global economic downturn.
• Protecting our environment. Chris brought Environment Secretary Hilary Benn to Norwich to meet with local people.

Additional notes:
Poor Chris seems to have contracted Swine Flu at just the wrong time. However, Labour’s publicity is entirely negative and doesn’t offer one iota of inspiration or any policy to get behind.

All in all:
So uninspiring there is not much else to say really. Labour want to appear the only serious opportunity to stop the Conservatives winning and as such do a good job of discrediting Chloe Smith. But politics should be about positive voting for what you believe rather than to prevent someone else winning, and this is the most uninspired campaign of them all.

Website: www.chloesmith,org,uk
Style of communique: Critical of Labour failures, friendly, willing to listen.
Central Message:
As with Labour I am not entirely sure. However, it is clear what they are NOT going to do. Contrary to popular claims they will not:
• Cut spending where Labour would not.
• Close Sure Start centres
• Cut pensions, pension credits, free TV licences, winter fuel allowances and free bus passes for the elderly
• Cut police numbers

One area they do have policies in is helping in the recession where they would:
• Create a simple National Loan Guarantee Scheme to help get credit flowing again and save jobs.
• Freeze council tax for two years, worth £233 for a typical family in Norwich.
• Offer tax breaks to companies which create new jobs, and cuts in National Insurance and corporation tax for all small companies.
• Offer up to £6500 worth of energy efficiency improvements for every household, saving energy and reducing bills.
• Abolish stamp duty for nine out of ten first-time home buyers

Additional notes:
I was very impressed that one flyer included a survey of issues and ideas. Whether this is a gimmick or not I don’t know, but it is the sort of positive canvassing of opinions which I value and which I wish other parties had done more of.

All in all:
The Conservatives have sought to argue that they alone are running a positive campaign in this election but that is not exactly true. While other party’s have certainly sought to attack Chloe Smith personally for her background and relationship to Norwich, she has hardly run a positive campaign herself. One flier is completely focused on Labour’s failings, whilst they are keen to present this as a straight battle with Labour. This belittling of the smaller parties chances is unhelpful and unwarranted.
The Conservatives have done a good job in presenting themselves as inclusive and friendly. They have managed to appear open to discussion in a way that the other main party’s have not. They are likely to win. But I wont be voting for them.

Liberal Democrats
Style of communique: Personality based. April Pond as an animal loving local women with Norwich’s interests at heart. The Greens can’t win. Only the Liberal Democrats can stop the Conservatives winning.
Central Message: From Norwich for Norwich – Only April Pond has the real experience to deliver real change.

I have 7 different flyers/letters/newspapers from the Liberal Democrats and none of them explain what they are standing for. Ah, that is not entirely true, hidden in the middle of a letter, they offer these few general policy ideas:
• A million new green jobs created to help us out of the recession
• Help for small shops on our high streets
• To make homes greener and improve public transport
• 100% of UK’s electricity sources come from renewable energy
• Tax cuts to help local families
• Dualling of the A11 and better transport links to rebuild our local economy.
However, most of these are vague hopes rather than actual policies. So in place of policies, I will share some of the reasons presented for why we should vote for the Liberal Democrats
• From Norwich for Norwich. April Pond grew up in Norwich and has raised her own family here. She has un many successful small businesses in the City.
• April has a record of campaigning for our local health services.
• April will work to clean up politics. She will help mend our broken political system and clean up politics.
• Strong local champion for local jobs and our environment.

Additional notes:
By far and a way the most persistent of all the party’s, the Liberal Democrats have been phoning local residents, dropping a seemingly never ending stream of flyers and newspapers and letters through letter boxes and generally campaigning hard for this seat.
Of the main Party’s, the Liberal Democrats have been most focused on the capabilities of their candidate, April Pond, more than others. There has been virtually nothing about wider Liberal Democrat policies as far as I can tell.

All in all:
Probably the most negative of all the campaigns, the Liberal Democrats hope to win with a mixture of anti-Conservative scare-mongering, playing down the Green challenge, and presenting April Pond as the only local candidate with a chance of winning. Although I like her love of animals, that is not nearly enough reason to vote for someone.

So there we have it. A load of posturing mumbo jumbo about MPs expenses and bickering about irrelevant negative issues such as where someone is from. This has been a largely negative campaign which suffers from a lack of left wing alternative. However, there are few places in the UK in which a fourth party could challenge the main Party’s as hard as the Green’s will in Norwich North. The there major Party’s are scared of this challenge, that is why they are so clearly putting them down.

However, having written all that, however, I am still uncertain about who I shall vote for. Craig Murray or the Green Party. I will decide tonight.

No comments: