Tuesday, June 29, 2010

England - so it all went wrong again

Another campaign has come and gone. We looked forward to it, we sung the usual range of songs, we waved our flags, we booked our seats in the pub, and we watched as another England performance ended in despair.

The usual recriminations are coming out – ‘the players are not good enough, the manager has failed, the tactics are wrong, our season has too many games and the youth coaching is inadequate’. I copied that quote from when we failed to qualify for the 1994 world cup. I expect we’ll be saying the same in 2034.

Blaming the manager is an easy thing to do but let’s look at this. Fabio Capello is the most successful club manager England have ever employed. Steve McLaren has done well in Holland. Sven was also successful as a club manager. Maybe the players are simply unmanageable.

Wayne Rooney, Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard are outstanding players – wearing their club shirt. They are too good to be left out but for England they are not good enough to be left in.

Gerrard and Lampard can’t play together, we are told. OK, don’t pick them then. Wayne Rooney had a great Euro 2004 and two miserable world cups since.

In Emile Heskey we have a striker who specialises in not scoring goals – an interesting novelty which must have passed the experimental stage by now. Peter Crouch has scored over 20 goals for England but hardly played because his goals were ‘only against smaller teams’ – perhaps like, er, Algeria and Slovenia then.

In my view, the problem with England is the same as it is with France. Young players getting enormous salaries, a luxurious lifestyle, cars, mansions, girls etc and see an international career as a means, not to represent their country, but to boost their marketing rights.

We are told the players are ‘tired’. Yet with Brazil and Argentina, not only do many of their players play in Europe, they also have several flights each year to South America for qualifying games. Sounds quite tiring to me.

Are South American players fitter than their English counterparts? Of course not. The difference is that there is simply no pride, passion or commitment. Look at teams like Ghana and South Korea. They know they are not good enough to win the cup but they will have a go.

The players see themselves as more important than the manager – hence it is insignificant who is the boss, the players will just kick a ball about till they can go home, add to their portfolio, and point the finger at the manager for trying to make them work too hard.

The question is – do you pick the best players? Or do you pick the players that want to play?

I’d like to have a go with the latter. The next game is a friendly against Hungary on 11 August. Let’s give an entire new squad a chance and pick young players to make their debut or who only have a few caps at the most. They know that a good performance could cement their place in the squad and will hopefully have the pride and incentive to put in 100%. We may not win but that is the point of friendlies.

Of course we all have short memories anyway. By the end of September Rooney, John Terry et al will all be heroes again, we will wave the flag when Euro 2012 comes round and then all have the same arguments afterwards. But if we genuinely want to reach the latter stages of any summer tournament we have to accept that, no matter how good a player is, you can't force him to play if he doesn't want to - we have to make brave decisions and stick to them.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Kent Freedom Pass for the Over 60s

Support for the Kent Freedom Pass for the over 60s

Keith Nevols, the recent parliamentary candidate for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, has expressed support for Harry Farrow's campaign for a Kent Freedom Pass for the over 60s.

'Harry approached me with details of his campaign', he said, 'and I was very impressed by the support he has accumulated. Harry wants to see a Freedom Pass on the railways for the over 60s, similar to the London model, which would provide free off-peak train travel for visits to family, hospital or work. He has worked tirelessly for over a year, has got support from most of Kent's councils and will be presenting a petition to Downing Street with thousands of names.'

'We should encourage ways of getting people out of their cars and onto the railways as part of working towards a green economy. So I am happy to add my own support to his campaign and hope the coalition government and the railway companies will enable the scheme to be put in place.'

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My General Election - Epilogue - Where Now?

Throughout the election campaign I always had it in mind that we could be doing it all again very soon. The polls pointed to a hung parliament with the Conservatives taking the most seats and I thought, if that were the result, that David Cameron would form a minority government, write a Queens’ speech and then call another election for October.

It was my intention to run again in this second election – if selected by my local party. In a way I was looking forward to another campaign, mostly because we wouldn’t be burdened by the council elections taking place at the same time – and hence we would be free to campaign around other areas of the constituency that we didn’t get to – especially on the Isle of Sheppey.

I had all sorts of thoughts for things we could do differently – more canvassing, more telephone canvassing, an earlier Freepost leaflet (if possible), more on-line work, different high street stalls. The main drawback would be that, after fighting a general election, we don’t have any cash – a problem that the other two major parties would not have, of course.

To our surprise, though, we have a Con-Lib Dem coalition government which must have a good chance of surviving for a full five year term. So there are two questions. Where now for the Sittingbourne and Sheppey Liberal Democrats? And where now for Keith Nevols?

The answer to the first is that we have two aims – one to build the local party up, the other to work towards the 2011 Council elections.

I am getting back to people who contacted me during the campaign with the intention of enrolling more members and supporters. We lost two members who disagreed with the coalition but on the other hand have recruited many more and, as I type, continuing to do so. I am now the membership secretary so I can concentrate on this and involving our members and supporters – as well as organising drives to add to our numbers.

The 2011 Swale council elections are ‘all-outs.’ Instead of elected in ‘thirds’ as in previous years, every one of the Council’s 47 seats is up for election – and then there will be no more for four years.

Now of course we won’t be able to contest all 47 – we could only do 13 this year – so it will be a case of working out a strategy, selecting target wards, and finding good candidates. That is our immediate aim. Hopefully if the first objective of building up the party continues to be met, then so can the second objective of putting more Liberal Democrats into Swale’s council chamber.

Where now for me? It is clear that Sittingbourne and Sheppey are unlikely to have a Liberal Democrat MP for a while. The seat will be Conservative for some time. And there has been no Liberal MP in Kent since 1929. Even a strong campaign like Peter Carroll’s, of Gurkha fame, in Maidstone and the Weald still fell some way short.

So for parliamentary ambitions I will have to look elsewhere. And it will be a couple of years or so before local parties start looking for candidates so it will be a case of keeping an ear to the ground.

It is an end to the general election story of 2010 and back to the local story for the months ahead. In Sittingbourne and Sheppey, the fight for liberal democratic values goes on.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My General Election - Part Four - Election Day

As the final days of the campaign drifted on, there was further canvassing, leafleting, school visits, racing round to rally troops, up early to catch commuters and so on.

At this stage we noticed a disturbing trend – people who had considered voting for us were now drifting back to the two main parties. David Cameron had impressed in the last leaders’ debate and the continual media attacks on us were hitting home.

The big day arrived – and I got up at 4am for a 25 hour day. The defence of Murston remained our primary target. Roman was our secondary target, where we figured Labour might be weak (we were partly wrong here, Labour’s vote did fall but the Conservatives scooped the seat). We had leafleted and canvassed both areas and by 5am I was in Murston delivering the ‘Good Mornings’.

Anyone who has worked in an election campaign would know how busy the actual day is. Lots of good mornings leaflets, checking tellers are in place, collecting numbers, and knocking up supporters. I also had to remember to vote myself of course and give my neighbour a lift, and I was surprised to see a queue at the station. I had heard that Gordon, the Conservative candidate, was visiting all the polling stations. I would have loved to do the same but alas was too busy.

By 9.30pm I had knocked on my final door. If they were not going to vote now, they never will! It was time to go home for a shower and a change of suit. The election campaign was finally over.

Now sporting my great new large yellow rosette (specially purchased for the count) I drove to the Swallows Leisure Centre.

Parliamentary counts are exactly like you see on the telly. Rows of people, furiously counting papers, while everyone else wears a rosette and aimlessly wanders about. There are the media there however so I spoke to the local press, and BBC Kent asked me to go on a few times. In return, they kept me in touch with our target seats – that we had got Eastbourne but not Maidstone.

I stood next to one table while a box was being emptied and sorted and, as the papers were sifted through, could see that the Conservatives had about half while Labour had slightly more than we did. I estimated 50-25-20 which, on the basis of just a few dozen votes, was not a bad guess.

Mad Mike, the Loony candidate, kindly offered me a banana which, as there was no food about, was appreciated. With David Miliband in mind, I was wary of photographers but looked around to find everyone else was also munching on a banana so it would be all right.

As the night went on (and on) a table was set up in the centre of the hall and bundles of papers put in. When they had to get a second box for the Conservative vote we knew that it was quite clear. However there was further delay because the numbers would not match – they were 30 votes out. As it was obvious that the Conservatives had won by a mile, the popular view was to give the 30 votes to Gordon so we could all go home. But the law is the law.

As 4am came and went, I suggested calling for a recount – although no-one seemed to find that very funny.

Finally we were all called together, agreed the result, and then mounted the stage. Having seen this moment hundreds of times on election nights over the years it did feel strange to stand up there myself.

I later discovered the BBC covered the result by just a blue box appearing on-screen ‘Sittingbourne – Con Hold’ (Sorry, Sheppey). The long haul was over.

Coming soon: the epilogue – where do we go from here?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Labour's leadership conundrum

A break from my memoirs to discuss the Labour leadership contest. Now this is important to all of us for two reasons.

Firstly, it is possible that the winner will be our next Prime Minister so we must take it seriously. Secondly, it is important for any government to have an effective opposition to scrutinise it and keep it on its toes.

Labour party members must ask two questions – who will provide this effective opposition to the government and who is the most likely to win for Labour at the next general election?

Who do we have in the running? The first surprise is who is not running. I thought Alan Johnson had the gravitas and ability to help Labour recover from their defeat and provide tough opposition to David Cameron. And Harriet Harman struck me as someone quite ambitious. I don’t think she would have won, but it was a surprise not to see her have a go. Neither of them are likely to get another chance so presumably now have no ambitions to be Prime Minister.

The favourite is obviously David Miliband who seems to have been the leader in waiting almost as long as Gordon Brown was. He is the choice of Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, who, between them, have run the party for the last 25 years, and will both be powerful allies for him.

Some members may feel they need to move away from New Labour – hence his expression of Next Labour – whatever that means.

Ed Balls is quickly moving away from the Brown government – distancing himself on Iraq and immigration. It was a bit harsh though for the PM to compare him to Alf Garnett – as we discovered during the campaign that immigration was an issue causing a lot of concern. He would be an interesting choice, close to the Brown view, but like David M, he would suffer from being a central part of the last government when the election comes round.

Ed Miliband, although in the cabinet, was not a senior member so may not have this problem. I gather his bandwagon is gaining speed and the effect on his brother must be considered. Have you ever had a work colleague at a lower level suddenly promoted above you? That is how David will feel if the person who has always been his younger brother then becomes his boss.

Watching the hustings it was slightly uncomfortable seeing Ed have a go at his brother – rather like watching a married couple arguing.

Apologies to Andy Burnham but I don’t know enough about you to comment. He seems to be well liked by some Labour MPs.

Let’s face it, we all love Diane Abbott. I am pleased she was able to get in the contest as she is a real wild card and will bring something different to the table. I don’t think Diane has a chance of winning but may well have an effect on the result. She is the oldest candidate, has been an MP the longest, is very well known, is not associated with the last government, and will have a lot of grass roots support. Her inclusion will provoke a real debate about the future direction of the party which will make it interesting for us observers.

So who will win? The winner’s name will be Miliband, or Ed, or both! I would put my money on David Miliband but I don’t think he is someone we should be afraid of.

A problem for Labour is that the party has recently been so dominated by the Blair-Brown partnership that the candidates are struggling to come out of the shadows. Have you ever heard a ‘bring-the-house-down’ speech by David Miliband or won over by the character of Ed Balls? This may not be a problem – how many of us had heard of David Cameron in 2005? – and he (or she) would have five years to get themselves known.

But the first duty of the new leader will be to make a name for himself – and fast!

Friday, June 4, 2010

My General Election - Part Three - Cleggmania

Throughout February and March the pre-campaign campaign continued. I was out most evenings doorstep canvassing around Murston, telephone canvassing at the weekends, attended a couple of functions in London, a meeting at Fulston Manor school, some debates with the other candidates, much deliveries of leaflets, more media interviews, and various email correspondence. I also wrote a series of local policy documents.

On 6 April the election was called - we were under way. I booked my leave from work, we accelerated the pace, we completed our planned timetable up to the election date, and things were going along nicely.

All changed on Thursday 15 April.

I had told the local press that I thought Nick Clegg would do well in the first leader’s debate, that I thought he would put our case across well, and that it was a good opportunity for the party. Watching the debate I was pleased he did exactly that, and was surprised at David Cameron’s poor performance. But none of us saw the aftershock coming when Cleggmania erupted.

Our poll ratings climbed to our highest since the early days of the Alliance, Nick Clegg was being compared to Churchill, the media were horrified and desperate to find some smears, and the public interest dramatically increased.

How did this affect us? This affected us by the fact that the expectations on us had now gained enormously. I received dozens of emails from constituents criticising us. Why haven’t we seen you? Why haven’t you called? Why haven’t we received any leaflets? Why haven’t you got big posters up like the Tories? Why are you invisible? Why are you missing this opportunity? Etc etc.

My main thought was – where were all these people three months ago? We would certainly have appreciated the help.

The obvious answers to the questions were that we did not have the resources. When there are only three or four us out canvassing each night, we can only reach a small part of the constituency. And with leaflets, not only do you need the money to print them, you also need the people to deliver them.

With posters neither us nor Labour could compete with the huge Lord Ashcroft sponsored posters that we saw. And the Conservatives had, wisely, arranged for farmers to display their election boards along the main roads.

Many of these queries came from the Isle of Sheppey. I would have liked to have done more there but we had to give it a low priority – mainly because we could not compete with the island candidates of the other parties and also we were concentrating on the defence of our council seat. (We could not even find candidates for some of the council seats on the island).

I explained all this and attached some briefing notes in my responses. I am not sure everyone bought this. The impression given was that we were simply not doing enough to make the most of Cleggmania – despite the fact that I have never worked harder.

The delay of the Freepost leaflet annoyed me. Every candidate is allowed one leaflet delivered free by post (although you have to pay the printing costs). Labour’s leaflet went out in the first few days with the Conservatives closely behind. I would have liked ours to go out early as well to at least say hello, here I am, and yes we’ve started. Unfortunately, to save costs, the printing had to be co-ordinated with other local parties and so we had to wait for all of them to be ready. Hence most people never got anything from us until the third week of the campaign.

So we had to up the tempo further as Cleggmania hit. Fortunately we did get some helpers and volunteers and were able to get some leaflets printed and delivered on the Isle of Sheppey and other parts of the constituency, but we all now had to work even harder at breakneck pace. We even found some people pleased to find us knocking on their door.

And when we added up all the stats and feedback we realised that the Labour collapse had continued and our boost had put us in second place – which would have been an astonishing result. But alas it was not to be.

Final episode soon – when I’ll tell you about the hectic last week.