Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The triumph of the 'won't vote' party

In our canvassing we have noticed a disturbing new trend. There are more and more people who have made a positive decision not to vote in the general election.

Cynicism and apathy are understandable given the whole series of MP scandals recently. And being insulted and pre-judged by people you have never met comes with the territory when you are running for elected office. But if I was a wealthy crook or a corrupt charlatan, as I have been called, I wouldn’t be spending hours of my own time out in cold evenings, knocking on doors or delivering leaflets.

The implication seems to be that by the very fact that you are running for parliament or for council, therefore you must be corrupt. End of.

I would ask these people two questions. Firstly, if people don’t vote, how will things change? You could elect people who have promised to open up politics and then ensure you hold them to account afterwards.

Or question two. If you don’t like a system where we elect our MPs and councillors, what alternative would you like? A dictatorship? Military government? One-party rule?

If turnout is below 50% for this election, maybe we should have some sort of national consultation on how to choose our politicians – or even a referendum on whether we should elect them (and what would the turnout be for that?)

But, seriously, we should certainly address this issue and ask how can we get a higher turnout in elections.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

RSPCA - Debate Report

Our second debate this week on the topic of animal welfare and organised by Mike from the RSPCA. This was a subject I knew very little about and much homework was necessary – hence the main benefit of the debate is that I know a lot more about animal welfare than I did previously. And, as I said in the discussion, I receive more emails from people on this topic than on any other subject.

There were about 25 people in the audience in the Avenue Theatre, Sittingbourne but all participated well and the flow was better and longer than last week’s debate. Wisely, Gordon told his agent to stay at home.

The questions covered a whole range of topics. We talked about fish, greyhounds, horse racing, performing animals, birds, dangerous dogs, food labelling, live exports, hunting, Europe, wind farms(!) and Boris’s Thames airport among others. To my surprise, animal testing didn’t come up – so I slipped it in myself as I had a point to make there.

I felt I started badly but did better as we went on. I was rather quiet as this is not a strong topic of mine but got through unscathed. My main triumph was scoring a point when I pointed out to Gordon that David Cameron plans to hold a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act and not amending it as Gordon maintained.

Despite this, Gordon dominated the evening and I thought did well again despite the fact that I disagreed with most of what he said. He came across confident and used his knowledge of the agricultural field.

Angela performed much better than last week making good points in a quiet way. The Labour government has a reasonable record on this topic via the Hunting Act and the Animal Welfare Act so she was on safer ground.

UKIP had planted a couple of questions on fish and wind farms. Oddly Ian’s prepared answers didn’t come across well. On other questions he spoke more naturally and from the heart and thus was much more impressive. There’s a lesson for us all there.

I didn’t plant a question. This was demonstrated when a fellow Lib Dem asked a question on bird protection from development in Sheppey which I didn’t have a clue how to answer.

Overall, another enjoyable evening but much more hard work than last week. I guess these skills develop with practice.

Next debate is on 13 April on the environment but this time in Faversham next door so I will be up against some different faces.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Federation of Small Businesses - debate report

Friday saw the first of our candidates’ debates, hosted by the Federation of Small Businesses. It was also the first time I had met my main fellow candidates for the constituency.

I was slightly apprehensive about this debate, as I would have preferred a format where they asked each of us questions individually, but in the end I quite enjoyed it and was sorry to see it brought to a close when there was still so much to say.

I had prepared by examining our policies (and those of the others) on all matters relating to small business – and reading the FSB manifesto and budget statement – but other topics came into the discussion as well. Inevitably the meeting descended into an argument over Europe but we also discussed town centre car parks, public transport, red tape, the skills of young people and planning. The national insurance rise, business rates and encouraging local enterprise did not come up.

Ian Davidson (UKIP) was clearly passionate about his cause and I discovered afterwards, that he had won a couple of votes for this. He also stood up well to Gordon before the debate as Gordon was unhappy about a UKIP leaflet.

Gordon Henderson (Conservative) was in forthright and bullish form. Initially he did well but his agent annoyed a lot of the audience by taking over the meeting to give Angela a hard time. (I didn’t want to use a plant – in case the plant asked questions I couldn’t answer!)

Sitting next to Gordon, I had a bit of difficulty getting a word in at first, but eventually got in my stride and scored a few points on public transport and on how we could make Europe work for us. I don’t think I did too badly for my first effort although maybe I was concentrating too much on getting our own view across rather than attacking those of my opponents.

Angela Harrison (Labour) was surprisingly poor. In her opening statement she essentially said she had no interest in small businesses – then instead of defending the government’s record or pointing out Labour’s ideas, she blamed civil servants for everything. I later heard that unfortunately Angela was unwell so maybe she will be back to form at the next debate.

I chatted to the audience afterwards and got mixed views on the debate – some felt there was not enough about small business discussed, others said it was good to see and hear the views of all the candidates.

Anyway, on the next debate. This is hosted by the RSPCA on the topic of animal welfare and takes place next Friday 26th.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In the diary again

Let’s take another look in the diary. Unusually this week is dominated by my employment.

Saturday 13 March – meet colleague from Hampshire for useful exchange of ideas – afternoon of leafleting

Sunday 14 March – catch up on emails, telephone canvassing, prepare for Friday’s debate

Monday 15 March – more evening canvassing

Tuesday 16 March – all day workshop with colleagues at work

Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 March – off to a two day work conference in Stansted to enjoy myself

Friday 19 March – interviewed by Meridian TV (to be confirmed) – in the evening a debate with other candidates hosted by the Federation of Small Businesses

Saturday 20 March – back to canvassing and leafleting – meet campaign manager for progress and update

Sunday 21 March – more of the same plus prepare for Friday’s debate. Catch up on emails and various post.

Monday 22 March – back to work after four days out of the office – try to explain why everything is not my fault

Wednesday 24 March – Budget statement, prepare response

Friday 26 March – question time style debate with other candidates hosted by RSPCA

Debate with other candidates on the environment (13 April)
Debate with other candidates (we ought to be getting to know each other by then) on local education and transport (26 April)
Debate hosted by Churches Together (possibly 28 April)
Local elections (6 May)
Oh, and mustn't forget the general election (probably 6 May)

I also met a young lady wandering around my house who tells me she’s my wife – so I might have to be there a bit more often.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Now on the doorsteps

With two months to go (we think) we are now canvassing on the doorsteps. This is always quite an enjoyable task as you get to meet and talk to real people. It will be easier once the clocks change and the evenings get lighter (and warmer!).

Of course with canvassing you get a lot of 'don't know/not voting/f*** off' etc but despite this I have been pleased with the early results. Lots of Conservatives of course but we seem to be in second place - not many admitting to vote Labour - and hardly any for the others. I've met two Greens, two UKIPs and my first BNP voter ('all the foreigners should leave the country').

However we haven't touched the Isle of Sheppey yet where there is a lot of Labour support and is where UKIP have been concentrating - so it is still very much early days.

Meanwhile there are the other tasks - I am organising a fund-raising quiz night for tonight and have many leaflets to go out - as well as invitations to various debates and preparation of papers and leaflets for future events.

Alas, I am slightly wounded at present with a shoulder injury which is restricting the use of my left arm (ever tried typing with one hand?) as a result of some heavy lifting in an office move at work - but I will put on my brave, British, 'the cruel sea' expression and battle through regardless!