Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The State of Education

A guest post from Helen Critchell over at the Jury Team site.

I have little time for our state education system in this country and possibly was one of the first casualties back in the early 70s when the grammar schools were scythed to the ground to make way for the monstrous comprehensive system. But I still look back at my Year 1 work and think "crikey, did I do that when I was 11?"

I now look at work done by children older than that - children who are quite intelligent - and I see the level of learning to be equivalent to what I would expect of a primary school aged child. I removed my son from school to home educate him when he was 12 years old, after six years of bullying (to him) and frustration (to me) and I could never get over the low level of work that was expected of him and the quality that was acceptable to teachers. I could also never get over the low level of English and Maths that was displayed by those supposed to be teaching him these subjects. Regularly would my mathematical husband have to correct poor maths and regularly would I get incensed with appalling spelling and grammar when our son showed us his set homework.

This won't be a rant about the one in five teachers who fail to pass a basic adult literacy and numeracy test before they start teaching (some taking up to 27 times to pass the test) and yet are still allowed to teach our children; this won't be a rant about the fact that in 2007 38.1% of our children were deemed to have Special Educational Needs (why? Has this come about from low quality teaching/discipline/care of our children?) and yet all but 1.1% were integrated into the state education system along with children who were able to learn; this won't be a reminder that one in ten of our children come out of school with no GCSEs and less than 50% of then have five good GCSEs under their belt including maths and English, many of whom still not possessing good, sound literacy and numeracy levels; this won't be a rant that 16% of young people are not employable for one reason or another; and I'll try not to mention the appalling level of media-driven mediocrity that pervades our children's lives.

What this is about is the quality and quantity of what our children are being taught. In America, extensive studies have been carried out on the amount of quality teaching/learning time that children experience in school. I'm sure that there is little difference in schools in this country. What they discovered was that of the 6 hours spent at school, only one hour was good, constructive and valuable teaching/learning time. The other hours were spent administering children's needs, correcting bad behaviour, setting homework, answering questions, break times and paperwork etc. To help balance this, it appears that more and more homework is being given out to children of all ages but that homework is rarely marked, or even looked at. I have yet to meet a child who can tell me that his/her homework is marked and handed back on a regular basis. What possible value is this?

Virtually none of the 14 year olds I meet have read a book from cover to cover. For English, these days, children are only required to read certain passages in a book that will be relevant to their exams/tests. They will then watch a video adaptation of the whole book to get the idea of the story!

The Telegraph quoted 1 in 4 GCSE students (and A levels) were needing to get additional tuition outside of the classroom to help them pass their exams. I know, for a fact, that everyone who cared about their GCSEs this year in one local school was getting help with their Maths and English outside school. Parents are paying in the region of £20 an hour for this extra help. Why are teachers unable to do this in class time?

In a drama group I was running I was selling crisps and chocolate during break at 26p a time. Only one child of 13+ was able to calculate in their head multiples (and we're only talking 2 or 3 times) of 26p.

14 year old pupils in one school don't write essays in English and are told they can write in cartoons. Is this sinking towards the lowest common denominator or simply appealing to children for the sake of it?

A class of 13/14 year olds were being 'taught' how to draw portraits in their art class last week. The teacher told them to draw the customary oval shape and horizontal and vertical lines and then he got his marker pen out and drew a cartoon face! OK, I'm a portrait artist so this was anathema to me!

These are simply examples I come across every single week of how I believe our education has taken on the guise of a cartoon and a caricature of our society. How much lower can standards fall and when do we start demanding a higher and more consistent education for our children? We know that countless children come out of school disillusioned, inarticulate, illiterate and innumerate. They are encouraged to believe that to work in vocational or manual employment is beneath them and yet they aren't given the education to cope with anything else.

It is a cliché that gets spouted so often and yet has become almost worthless: 'our children are our future' and yet every year that passes and I see what is happening to our youngsters I fear more and more for the future of our country.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Smug, Arrogant And Doesn't Care

That's Eric Joyce - Labour MP for Falkirk. Supposedly "my" MP. Never mind £180 for oil paintings because they "look nice", he shows exactly why this whole affair is so damaging for Britain. He doesn't care. He tries to turn the interview against the interviewer. He grins and smirks his way through the whole thing making a point of not answering questions. He thinks he's safe because he's in a constituency with a huge Labour majority and none of the other parties can touch him because they're just as mired in sleaze as Labour. He figures that, no matter what, plenty of "core" Labour voters will duly turn out on polling day and keep him in the style to which he has become accustomed.

This is Britain's most expensive MP for two out of the last three years. He claimed £187,334 in allowances and expenses in 2007-8. In 2006 he claimed £174,811 but promised to cut back in future. Well, we can see for ourselves exactly what Mr Joyce's promises are worth.

Since 2002, Mr Joyce has claimed £1,097,533 in expenses and allowances alone. On top of at least a third of a million in wages.

In Falkirk, there are seventeen people chasing every job vacancy. Maybe they'd be better chasing this benefit junkie.

But they'd better get behind me in the queue. I'm going to stand against him in the General Election and my campaign starts now. This won't be like the Euro Elections where I was chasing my tail all over Scotland whilst the parties sent minions to attend hustings and spent a fortune on glossy mailshots. I'm going to knock on every door in Falkirk and put a leaflet through every letterbox. I'll give every resident a receipt for Mr Joyce and ask if they think he's value for money. I'll ask them what they think of a guy who voted for the Iraq War and against an inquiry. Who voted against a transparent Parliament while voting for ID cards.

This guy flies around the world to the Congo, to Tokyo, to Baghdad, to Brazil, to Israel, to Palestine, to Switzerland, to Rwanda, to Kuwait, to the USA, to Turkey, to Gabon, to Buenos Aires, to Detroit and to Shanghai. What the hell has any of that got to do with Falkirk? You know, the constituency he was hired to represent?

So I'm going to stand against him. This time I know what I'm up against. The Tories & Labour will be spending £35 million on this General Election campaign. The SNP & Lib Dems will be spending horrendous sums as well. All of them have armies of eager minions all trying to impress & get onto the greasy pole. So I need help. If you want to get involved with leafletting or putting up posters or anything like that, get in touch here or make a donation using Paypal using the button at the top of the page. I need to pay for leaflets, posters, ads and all the rest. The wife's resigned to not going on holiday this year or next because all I've got will be going into this. Make a donation and I'll maybe be able to afford to buy her the occasional bunch of flowers to make up for it.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The state of independents: alternative politics

Here are the main questions and challenges the nay-sayers to the growth and utility of independent politics raise, and some reflections on their in/adequacy:

1. Independents are often mavericks and inexperienced do-gooders.

Some would respond that many people involved in local political parties are also mavericks and inexperienced do-gooders! There will always be some like this but the facts make it clear that there are also some excellent independents. The idea of “primaries” introduced by the Jury Team [31], also means that communities can select which independent it thinks should stand. Therefore those whom a community or neighbourhood considers to be unreliable would be less likely to stand in elections. Individuals can and should, remain free to test themselves at the bar of voter opinion. Political parties, however, are more concerned about loyalty to their own interests and often define as ‘mavericks’ purposeful, angular, skilful people who might ‘rock the boat’. The ‘group think’ [32] mentality and a culture of tribalism is designed to smooth the edges off any politics which might disturb the consensus (or, beneath the surface conformity, the lack of it) and it is therefore in danger of producing what has been called ‘institutional truth’ [33].

2. Independents are not properly accountable.

Independents may turn out to be, in some respects, more publicly accountable than party politicians. Election after election has seen a few hundred people (and sometimes fewer) in a local political party select the candidates to stand in the General Election. These candidates are often in safe seats where there is little accountability. Independents, however, depend upon their local reputations and cannot rely mainly on party votes or national swings. This creates a different and countervailing set of pressures and possibilities. The idea of ‘community forums’, developed from civic associations, begins a move towards practical mechanisms for giving rise to, and holding non-party candidates accountable to, a wider good. [34]

3. Independents are ineffective within parliamentary and council settings because they have no power base.

Party MPs rarely rebel against their parties' programmes, which many would say makes them compliant and ineffective. Those without a party are much freer to represent their constituents’ concerns – or like Richard Taylor MP, to take up wide public concerns about something like the health service. They may also be better placed to form or participate in cross-party coalitions, which can be the key to getting things done in Parliament and at the local council level.

4. Independents tend to be single-issue focused.

Some may be elected due in large part to a local issue on which they have campaigned. But often this will have been a concern of local constituents which party politicians have neglected. Once in Parliament, however, independents will deal with a range of issues just like any other MP. They may also be appointed to Select Committees which relate to the issue on which they have expertise and so their focus may bring something extremely valuable (and additional) to Parliament. This is in marked contrast to some Select Committee appointments of party political MPs who may find themselves on committees due to party loyalty rather than any specialist knowledge. [35]

5. Independents are ‘all over the shop’ politically

The narrow party agendas into which candidates are squeezed can be artificial and have little bearing on a politics that has, in certain respects, left the ideological struggles of the 1970s and 1980s behind. Why should every member of a political party have exactly the same position on drugs, transport, climate change, Europe and immigration? Independents are far freer to be honest and make realistic decisions, rather than be pushed in many votes by a party whip. [36]

6. Voting for independents or moving to PR may upset the main parties and let in extreme groups like the BNP

The British National Party, which trades on racism and xenophobia, feeds upon the corruption and inadequacy of the current political system. It is also is fed by the hostile environment towards ‘foreigners’ engendered by the so-called mainstream parties’ perpetuation (for instance) of an agenda on migration constructed around tabloid-style fear and prejudice. [37] Voting to support such a system and its principal defenders is not a good way of combating such extremism in the long run. Viable alternatives are needed. The BNP get in, or get a sizeable (but fortunately still small) share of the vote because people vote for them. Voting tactically to keep racists out may be an important short-term measure, combined with re-orienting politics to deal with the exclusions and disaffections upon which they try to capitalise. But allowing the far right or other extreme groups to deny genuine political choice is to allow them to win in a different way. Under a proportional voting system, only dissuading people from voting BNP will work. All this emphasises that racist and extreme parties can only be countered by political persuasion and healthy politics. Simply maintaining an unfair status quo because you think any ‘cracks’ might let them in is a counter-productive approach. [38] It is also worth noting that the success of the BNP in the 2009 Euro-poll North-West England could have been thwarted by just 5,000 more votes for the Green Party.

7. The last thing we need is more attention grabbing celebrities in politics.

Independents are, in the main, not celebrities. On the contrary, there are those like the former anti-apartheid activist from South Africa who is standing for election in Dublin in order to challenge the ‘mainstream’ parties to take action against growing waves of racism, following the sectarianism that has marked divisions over the North. Or people from public life like Terry Waite (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9578) who wish to argue a serious case for change in the face of political decay. This is a way of getting people to take seriously what ‘politics as usual’ wishes to push under the carpet. [39]

8. The thirst for independents is a protest with little substance or future.

It may be a protest, or start out as one, but at the same time be a sign of hope that people care about their political system and want to be engaged. Protest has been the crucible for most of the important political and social changes of the last century and a half, going back to the landmark Representation of the People Act 1832. [40] Independent and alternative politics is about much more than engaging in the kind of ‘direct democracy’ used and abused in the USA as ‘propositions’ attached to ballot papers.

9. Independent politics is really anti-politics. It is demoralising people.

Independent, civic and associational politics is about making politics accessible to ordinary people. It is about enhancing participation and representation. Ironically, it is the mainstream parties who have increasingly abandoned politics for business management. The idea that ‘real politics’ is what is done for or to us rather than by us is patronising and partial. It is also what alienates people from politics! Politics is not exclusively or primarily about parties, though no-one is arguing that they do not play a significant role. It is about how power is used and made accountable. People are politically de-motivated and demoralised by a system and parties which are resistant to their needs, concerns and input. The evidence (in terms of local action as well as polling) is that people are re-engaged when this changes. The advocates of the interests of the party machines are desperate to convince those who might defect from them that disillusion equals a dangerous rejection of politics. But it is not (and does not have to be) this way.

10. Many independents are really conservatives (with a small or large ‘c’) in disguise, as they were during their local government heyday.

This is clearly not the case with Margot MacDonald in Scotland or with Richard Taylor in England. It is possible and desirable for non-party candidates and activists from different political ‘spaces’ to participate. Another contrary example is Clare Short MP in Birmingham Ladywood. She was a Labour minister but is now an independent, having fallen out with the party and the government over the Iraq war. Greater political diversity is needed to reflect the true diversity of the populace. Also, people can and do change their minds. It may have been the case that at certain junctures in the past, independents came largely from the conservative wing of politics but there is no law that says this has to be the case. The left has tended to have a very strong attachment to the party form, partly as an outworking of some of its ideology but this again is not set in stone. And there are numerous examples of people from the left and the centre of politics who have rebelled in independent ways.

11. Only the relatively prosperous and educated can afford to run as independents – the whole thing is biased toward the middle class and the already enfranchised.

There seems little evidence for this. Are those who make these claims willing to invest in something different, or are they actually wanting to keep politics as a middle class preserve? The long history of working-class involvement in politics, both through the labour movement and through civic association as well as through parties, suggests that something different is possible. Rather than funding parties, what about a small fund for supporting independents in restricted circumstances? There is clear evidence that significant proportions of existing MPs are public school and Oxbridge educated, or otherwise privileged.

12. A whole parliament of independents would make Britain ungovernable

Independents cannot form a government. This is true. A similar charge has been levelled at the Liberal Democrats and minority parties but this does not mean either that they cannot be elected or that they cannot be good MPs who enrich the democratic process. There is a model in the cross-benchers in the House of Lords, where non-party members are allocated parliamentary time as a group. They have a convener rather than a whip, support one another where they agree and divide up parliamentary time between them. The idea behind this accusation seems to be either that supporting more independents means wanting to do away with parties (it does not; we do not have to indulge a zero-sum game), or that it is somehow likely that independents would quickly become a majority. This is unlikely at the moment but if the public started to elect different kinds of people, then the system would need to adapt. Democratic institutions are there to facilitate democratic participation and representation, not to keep those who currently hold the reins of power in position whatever people say or want.

13. We don’t need ‘do-gooders’ getting elected to parliament.

The idea that only those motivated by money, status or position can be really trusted (because “at least you know what they’re in it for”), whereas those who want to pursue a notion of public good, non-corruption or the needs of particular groups of people (such as those reliant on the health service, carers, older people, etc.) are virtually automatically “self-righteous” and “irritating” – as some critics have suggested – moves cynicism beyond a rightful suspicion of power interests (which is what it used to mean) to a generally corrosive disdain for anyone we fear may expose our own comparative failings. The issue of how to discern what is ‘good’ in persons and in public life has become more and more difficult with the breakdown of a broader consensus about beliefs and values. Those who want to reinstate a discussion about this by putting their principles on the line are surely to be welcomed, even if we then question what it is they offer and propose.

14. Parties and political ideologies have their faults but we cannot do without them.

Political blocs and political non-blocs offer diversity but not when a monopoly or duopoly goes unchallenged. Likewise, principles are important but ideology often hardens them into dogma. Besides, the party system has now largely abandoned the principles that once defined it and the ruling parties have almost become modified versions of a dominant neo-liberal economic ideology. Breaks in the dominant order are necessary for the re-introduction of genuine choice. It is true that alliances will always be made but the question is, what kind of alliances? It is unrealistic to have a system (which we have at the moment)in which hundreds of candidates contest an election on the same manifesto with which they all agree. The reality is that these candidates disagree with one another beneath the veneer. The present system is monolithic because it is biased towards maintaining what is in effect a two-party system in the UK parliament. Beyond Westminster, politics and parties are becoming more flexible and diverse. That ought to be strength, not a weakness.

15. Independents feed a cynicism about professional politicians which further widens the gaps between governors and governed.

Actually, they seem to provide many with a source of hope in the face of decay and despair, as Ekklesia’s ComRes opinion poll indicated. Disillusionment is fed by ‘business as usual’ or by a lack of genuine opportunities for involvement. Alternative politics can help to rectify these problems. A large number of people do not have a party affiliation or strong association and feel disconnected from 'party politics'. If they are to be re-engaged in public life, it may take people from outside 'the system' to do so.

From Ekklesia

Saturday, 13 June 2009


It's a family affair

Six State Pensions
£8m in pay & allowances
2 Housing Allowances for one house.
Employing a daughter as an "Executive Assistant"
Son employed by British Council in Europe
Attendance Allowance claimed despite not attending.


This entire family is a disgrace and the epitome of all that is wrong with British politics. Nepotistic, lying, money-grubbing leeches. They're in it for themselves, having spent their lifetimes living off the taxpayer and now ensuring that the family tradition continues with their offspring.

Socialist? In what way exactly? The only redistribution of wealth I can see is straight into their pockets.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Quite possibly the funniest edit ever

Go on, watch it. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Sugaring The Pill

"Just a month ago, Viglen won a £30 million contract to supply Government departments, such as the NHS, with 70,000 computers."


Absolutely no connection with his elevation to the Lords, of course not.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Why I Despise Party Politics

A few people have asked me why I seem to have such a deep rooted distrust of political parties. Seeing as how we're in the hiatus between the election campaign and the results, I've got time to explain.

Back in 1986, a Church of Scotland Minister in Buckhaven, Fife hit upon the idea of converting a disused church into a theatre. Rev Dane Sherrard was a keen Gilbert and Sullivan fan and helped run the local G&S Society. Raising a few pounds here and there, he encouraged local youths to start doing up the old church. He applied for local grants to buy paint and materials. Progress was painfully slow until someone told him that, instead of asking for £50 every couple of months, he should put together a proposal to use local unemployed people and ask for £2 million. So he did and was stunned when it was accepted.

Buckhaven is and was a particular unemployment blackspot in a pretty deprived area. Badly affected by closures of local coal mines, the whole atmosphere was grim. Undoubtedly, the actions of the Thatcher Government exacerbated the situation, but there were a number of Govt re-training schemes running at the time - TOPS, YTS, CP and later, ET (Employment Training).

With the backing he now had, Dane was able to expand his horizons. Doing up the church now became a total refurbishment. Training programmes included carpentry, bricklaying, plastering, painting & decorating as well as more exotic stuff like stonemasonry, stained glass making, carving and upholstery. All these training departments needed space to work in, so Dane (through the new Buckhaven Parish Church Agency) began buying derelict buildings in the small town. Each of these also needed re-furbished and so the whole thing grew.

When I came along in 1988, the theatre was up and running. I walked in and asked for a job as a writer and was promptly persuaded to train as a stage manager instead. It was that kind of place. Everything was fluid and bustling and people just got drawn in. It had now grown to include a motor pool and garage, training car mechanics, a screen printers, IT departments, leatherworking, candlemaking as well as all the theatre-related stuff.

I think at that point it was employing or training about 1000 people and was one of the biggest schemes of it's type in Britain. The Govt held it up as an example and I actually found myself the subject of a Yorkshire TV documentary and flown down to London for an appearance on GMTV.

What I didn't know was the local Labour MP, Henry McLeish, was working against the whole thing. The idea of a Tory Govt initiative actually working obviously didn't sit well with him.

I finished my training and got a job at Perth Rep as an ASM (Assistant Stage Manager), from where I went on to work in theatres throughout Britain.

Meanwhile, the BPCA went from strength to strength. Working with the community as well as in it, they opened a dinner club for OAPs and ran mini-buses taking them to and from the drop in centre. The painters and decorators had redecorated every building twice and so began decorating local pensioner's homes for free as part of their training.

And this was what gave Henry McLeish his opening.

He had been continually making allegations about financial mishandling and misconduct going on, all unfounded. But he found out that one of the pensioners who had her house redecorated for free was actually Dane's mother. This was the proof positive he needed. He managed to get all funding frozen before having the whole Agency closed down.

Around 1500 staff and trainees were thrown on the dole again. Buckhaven has never recovered and is today a soulless, derelict place with shocking levels of unemployment.

There is no doubt in my mind that Henry McLeish pursued a personal political vendetta against the Agency. He didn't care that hundreds of people were gaining valuable skills that led to them gaining real employment and careers, all he saw was a Tory success story in a Labour heartland.

This is what party politics is about. It's all about scoring points off the other side and ordinary people don't matter. If McLeish was truly a Labour man and a socialist, he would have done anything & everything in his power to see this initiative to help the disadvantaged succeed. He didn't. He put the party before people.

And I am under no illusion that, if the situation had been reversed, a Tory would have done the same to a Labour success story.

That is why I despise party politics and party politicians.

UPDATE - I've just been contacted by the Minister behind BPCA. It turns out the house-painting story was just another piece of mud thrown by McLeish in his campaign to close the place down. It has no basis in truth and never actually happened.

Happy to set the record straight Rev.

Labour offers no route out of recession.

“I have noted with disgust the comments of a certain Mr Gordon Brown who has accused me of doing well out of the recession….I do not know who Mr Gordon Brown is. Excuse my ignorance, but I don’t. Whoever he is, he has not done is homework properly. The man doesn’t know what he is talking about….Labour offers no route out of recession.”

Well, Sugar was always an opportunist.

Hat Tip Dizzy Thinks

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Why You Have To Vote

This is probably the last blog I'll have time for before the polls open and it strikes me as odd that people still don't seem to "get" what Jury Team are about. They can't get their heads around the idea of a party that's not a party, so entrenched has the propaganda become over the years.

Jury Team is a movement, formed solely and expressly to put an end to the sleaze, the corruption and the anti-democratic practices we have allowed our politicians to slip into. There are too few people today involved in politics with real experience of the world. People like Balls & Milliband predominate - straight from uni to the front bench, with only a few years scheming and conniving behind the scenes in between. These people owe the Party everything and the Party demands their absolute obedience.

If David Cameron stood up tomorrow and announced a plan that would solve the financial crisis, end world poverty, guarantee wealth & health for everybody .... 300 or so Labour MPs would vote against it automatically because it came from the Tory Party. And the same would be true in reverse if Gordon Brown came up with such a plan. This can't go on. We can't continue to allow Party bigotry to literally kill us.

Jury Team lets ordinary people stand against the politicians. This includes you. Instead of reading & writing blogs or whinging on message boards, you can stand and have your view heard. If & when Jury Team candidates get elected, it doesn't matter if they're right wing, left wing, liberal or green, it really doesn't. The only thing that matters is they are legally committed to acting honestly and openly. They may well go off and form alliances or loose groupings but again, they're legally obliged not to follow the orders of such groups.

We'll probably end up with the same mix of political views, perhaps a bit more representative of society's views, but not a lot different. The most important thing is we'll end up with politicians who will first and foremost act in the interests of the people and will do so openly, honestly and with integrity.

The first step in cleaning up politics is to get people in whose first principle is to do as we tell them. Unless we start out with honest people, the system will never change. If we let those tainted by all that's gone before just re-write rule books, we'll see the same kind of scandals a few years down the line. It's not the expenses per se that we mind, it's the type of people who have shown themselves to have such poor judgement in the first place being in a position to damage our society so greatly.

I'm not against UKIP, the socialists or the main parties because of their policies. Many are quite good, sensible policies actually - from all sides of the fence. I'm against them because they won't change the broken system of politics we have.

Voting for any of them won't change a thing.
Not voting won't change a thing.
Spoiling the ballot won't change a thing.

Voting Jury Team begins the change.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The level of the BNP

Say NO to bone idle UKIP MEPs


Jury Team to Prosecute Crooked MPs

I knew I'd backed a winning team when I met Sir Paul Judge. It may not come across on the telly, but the guy really is the real deal. Today he proves it.

Businessman Sir Paul Judge, who recently launched the Jury Team - an umbrella organisation for independent candidates - said he would take steps to mount a private prosecution if no charges had been brought by 19 June.

In a letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, Sir Paul said he was lodging complaints against MPs David Chaytor - who announced today that he would be standing down at the General Election - Elliot Morley, Shahid Malik and Andrew MacKay.

"I hereby request that you initiate a full and urgent investigation of at least these four MPs and that you inform me as to the outcome of your investigations," he said.

"I would also ask you to press charges against these four individuals as test cases of the law relating to MPs' expenses.

"In the event that you have not decided to bring charges by June 19, one month after you announced your review, then I plan to take steps to begin a private prosecution."

Why stop there Sir Paul? Why not go for Farage after his open admission that he misappropriated £2million?

Can Someone Explain This?

The DVLA translates application forms for driving tests into 40 languages, including Braille.

The DVLA spokeswoman acknowledged blind drivers were unlikely to pass. She said: “Part of the driving test requires people to show they can read a car number plate from a distance.
This is insane and emphasises why we have to get ordinary people into all levels of Government, people who have actual experience of the real world and can use plain common sense to put a stop to all this PC nonsense.

Monday, 1 June 2009

What Really Goes On On The Campaign Trail

As previous readers will know, I've never been involved in politics before. I shout at the radio, I rant online, I bore the wife senseless, but I've never got up off my backside and done anything. I haven't even voted for years and had to quickly register to vote for this. I took the view that it doesn't matter who you vote for, some lying, conniving politician gets in. I've never had the option of voting for an Independent or even a candidate with character. I remember one election in Fife when the "choices" were - Labour, Scottish Labour, Independent Labour, Socialist, Revolutionary Socialist and Communist (or something like that). I spoiled my ballot and walked out in disgust.

So it was quite a big thing for me to do this. It's one thing writing on Message Boards as SWL, (or Smartarse or Occam), quite another to be myself, to be Alan Wallace. I've had to move from being a caricature to opening up my real views, my real beliefs - not the one-dimensional pseudonym who likes to wind up the self-righteous.

So I went into this process not knowing what to expect. The initial application to Jury Team was little different from joining a new Message Board, but then the voting began in the open primaries. Now it became a bit of a game, trying to beat the other guys. But you quickly run out of friends and relatives to vote for you and you have to do a bit more. I printed up some leaflets and started knocking on doors, canvassing. I thought I knew what to expect, but I was wrong. Yes, there were a few who were basically intensely irritated at some idiot disturbing their evening to talk politics. But they were outnumbered easily ten to one by people who were interested. Some were just being polite, but many were really, really angry about the state of politics, (remember this was before the Telegraph broke the big stories). It turns out I'm not the only one who shouts at the telly. Every night I'd get in from work, grab a coffee, then hit the streets until about 9pm. I know I knocked on over 1500 doors, cos that's how many leaflets I printed and I spoke to hundreds of people. I lost count of the people who congratulated me for standing up. Older people were the most supportive, perhaps because they've had longer to be disillusioned by politicians.

Anyway, I won the Primary and it all became very real. I now had 4 weeks to plan a campaign, find & organise volunteers, print leaflets, design posters and raise money. Raising money was the hardest part. The parties have rigged the system in their favour to squeeze everyone else out and it's incredibly difficult. To date I've raised over £10,000 and every penny was warmly welcomed.

Trying to campaign for the European Elections is a real challenge. For Westminster or Holyrood you have a fairly small constituency that you could easily walk across in a day, so it's not too hard to really focus your efforts. But for prospective MEPs, your constituency is the whole of Scotland - a huge area to cover. Again, for the big parties this isn't a problem as they have members, societies and groups all over, but for one guy in Falkirk, it's difficult. Over the last few weeks I've been to Aberdeen, Inverness, Fort William, Skye, Harris & Lewis, Arran, Dumfries, Lochgelly and Hawick as well as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth & Dundee. I've done radio interviews with Radio Orkney, Radio Shetland, BBC Scotland, Radio Forth and I've got one with Sunny Govan Radio on Wednesday. I've been printed in the Times, the Guardian, the Scotsman and the Stornoway Gazette. I've done three filmed interviews for the BBC too. In between all this, I've tried to blog regularly here, keep up on message boards, run a Facebook page and tweat on Twitter. I've sent dozens of Press Releases to hundreds of media outlets. I've had teams of people putting out 150,000 leaflets and I'm in the process of putting 2000 lamppost posters up.

And the most common phrase I hear is "Jury Team? Never heard of them"

I've been to a few hustings and "Meet the Candidate" events too and they're an eye-opener. The difference between the main parties and the others is stark. The main parties don't give a damn. They rarely send anyone from anywhere near the top of the lists. The main SNP candidates, Mr & Mrs Hudgton and Alyn Smith are conspicuous by their absence. In fact, the SNP tend to send local councillors if they send anyone at all. But all the main parties act the same at the event - long-winded speeches saying nothing. Close your eyes and you wouldn't be able to tell who's speaking. UKIP rant on with their tin-foil hats firmly in place with the most ridiculous scare stories. The Socialists are the funniest though. If the audience asks for £1, they compete amongst themselves to offer £2, £3, £4, £500 back. Anything you want and the Socialists will promise it. Farm subsidies? Double them. Working Time Directive of 48hrs? They'll give you a working week of 30hrs. Pension rise with inflation? They'll give you £24,000 a year. Maternity leave? Two years for both mother and father on full pay. The Greens? I never heard them say one single word about the environment. They were too busy in the bidding war with the Socialists.

There's a complacency in the big parties and a desperation in the smaller ones. The big parties know that they'll get in no matter what so they're not trying. PR guarantees them at least one if not two seats. The wee parties know that this, of all times, is their big chance and they're almost frantic in their efforts to promise the world to get a vote.

So where does that leave me? I've got three days of campaigning left. My money's gone, my savings are gone, the pile of leaflets and posters are going down. My supporters are putting in unbelievable efforts that amaze me every day. I'm getting e-mails and letters of support in large numbers and my right hand is two sizes smaller than my left, having been vigorously shaken by so many people saying "Good for you". I get phone calls from bus drivers in Fife and Knights in Edinburgh all wishing me well.

I get the abusive stuff as well of course. Amongst other things I'm a "race traitor" and a "class enemy". I'm a "stooge of the Lib/Lab/Con axis", in the pay of "the EU-Nazis" and a "lackey of the WTO". Then there's all the stuff that's not fit to type.

There's three days left and I'm going to give it all I've got. Jury Team have got it spot on with their analysis of all that's wrong in British politics. Putting Independents into every Parliament will totally transform politics. I'm not saying it's the end of the parties - they have an important role and they'll always have support, but if we can open up the closed cess-pit with a fresh breeze and force the parties to abandon the anti-democratic practices they've slipped into - especially in the last thirty years, I really believe we can get what we all want: a better and fairer society where everyone can have a real say.

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