Wednesday, 23 January 2013

In or Out... of the franchise....

While the mainstream media (MSM) debates on whether Ed Miliband is being daft and what Farage will do next, I was struck by who will be able to vote in this potential referendum on In or Out of the EU?

If it's aligned with the local election register, than EU citizens will be able to vote.

However, if it's done on the Parliamentary election register, then only British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens will be able to vote. Expatriates presumably can't vote at all - though can they vote on EU elections, in their new countries.

If, as an EU citizen, you've come to live in Britain and want to vote to express your wish for Britain to remain part of the EU, that's surely something you should be able to do, as it affects you and your taxes are going to pay for it - no taxation without representation (an argument for why EU citizens should have a say in Parliamentary elections, but that's for another day). 

If, you've emigrated to another country and enjoy freedom of movement back to the UK, is your opinion not relevant to the debate? This is a more difficult argument to make, as the person concerned chooses to make their home abroad, but it's an interesting thought experiment none-the-less. 

Although this ignores bigger disenfranchisement problems, this will be an interesting, and potentially key point.

I await someone in the MSM asking the question...... 

Monday, 21 January 2013

Psychology of Politics...... and Graham Wallas.

I've been reading rather a lot by this man - Graham Wallas, recently. In a way it's why I haven't posted quite as often as before, as I've been reading his ideas, thinking how they relate to the modern world of politics and trying to understand how they might be updated to do so. The uppermost thought in my mind, however has been, what happened to his ideas?

He's really concerned, in Human Nature and Politics, written in 1908, with what lessons we can learn from the field of psychological study for the field of politics.  In my view the argument shouldn't really need to be made that this should be considered - I see politics as part of life, from the jockeying around the water cooler, to satisfying different generations and relations in a family, to the statesmanship between countries and continents, we're all human beings, and it's all politics.

Psychology, the study of the mind, and the mental characteristics of people, is to me, the inner life, of which politics is the outer manifestation.... the relationships we have with each other being related to the relationship we have with ourselves.

I'll probably post a bit more of his work, as it's having quite a profound effect on me. As is the thought, that over a century ago, there was a man thinking a number of similar things to myself - it's both inspiring and humbling at the same time.

But for now, I'll just leave you with some of his words:

 "Political impulses are not mere intellectual inferences from calculations of means and ends; but tendencies prior to, though modified by, the thought and experience of individual human beings."

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Who has the most influence - a Politician or a Journalist?

Someone said to me back in 2012 that I'd have to choose, either to be a politician or a journalist, this being one fence I couldn't sit on!

Along those lines,  I was struck today by how much longer a "half-life" a journalist has than a politician  - thinking of people like Polly Toynbee, Julie Burchill and Caitlin Moran that have been writing for decades - plus the careers of broadcasters like Nick Ross, Simon Mayo and Chris Evans span decades. Some media careers are only ended by death.... whereas comparatively few are (in the Commons at least) in politics.

It seems like a no-brainer that a politician would have more influence, but I find it interesting that some of the best-known broadcasters are well-liked and respected, I would surmise if they ever were to comment on politics (a lot of them carefully avoid it) their opinion would matter to a lot of people. I guess the difference is whether you think it's better to influence a lot of people a little bit, or a few people a lot.

But for the purposes of this blog, I'm more talking about political commentators, like John Rentoul / Paul Waugh or for a more "household name" - Quentin Letts - who recently caught my eye for praising a Lib Dem minister. When he did, I thought, "ooh, that's likely to bring us recognition in the eyes of the public". For all his faults, a number of people do listen to Letts.

I then went on to read Dan Hodges piece where he refuses to countenance standing for Parliament and thought more about why someone would choose journalism over politics - I suppose the freedom to say what you want, more or less, and not be hidebound by party policy, longevity and being paid to write, all very attractive qualities to me.

The key difference really has to be power at the end of the day. Opposition politicians have little power, but can serve on committees or authorities and influence important policy, which journalists don't get to do, or not directly anyway.

I suppose  I'd rather be a politician  but journalism seems attractive too. I guess this is why I can see a lot of similarity in the personalities attracted to both careers. And, I suppose, why they do get on a lot.

So what's that they say  "A politician complaining about the media is like a sailor complaining about the sea." 

Probably works both ways that, really.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Mike Beckett Interview - Candidate from Rotherham

Rotherham was a fascinating by-election for students of UK politics - a good example of a Labour safe seat that has been so for decades. Denis McShane had to resign over expenses, a national scandal. One might assume that people would vote against his party, the Labour party in protest. But this didn't happen, at least not enough to have the seat change hands. 

Mike Beckett - Lib Dem candidate in Rotherham, follower of this blog and in my opinion, a good egg, answers a few questions I put to him about being a candidate in this election

Mike married his wife Abigail in 2001, and they live plus dog & cat in Yorkshire. He's got a degree in  Politics and Economics from the University of London. 

Previously, Mike has worked in the NHS and in a variety of voluntary and community sector organisations, most recently he was doing Legal Aid casework, then worked as a Manager of a Citizens Advice Bureau. Having experience as a councillor (unremunerated), Mike also serves as a deacon at his church. 

From 2008 to 2011 was Director of a local Mind charity, he is passionate about making things better for all our community, and mentions he has a "strong track record of helping ensure people get a fairer deal"

He describes how he became interested in the Lib Dems because 

"I was first attracted to the party when they actually made a difference in our local area,  improving it.  For me Labour and Conservatives seem to be mirror images of each other putting party before people and being out of balance, where for me people come first and a fair balance is essential for society......  [and the] Liberal Democrats constitution  is I suppose what turned me from being a supporter to a member."

He goes on to detail the campaign in Rotherham:

"We delivered a good campaign plan. I even lost a little weight delivering, canvassing walking from door to door. We worked with the media as best as we could and directed resources on increasing voter contacts. With a team of about 100 volunteers we worked hard for every single vote we received. I remain thankful for all of those voters and supporters from Rotherham who offered us their support."

I also asked how he felt about the campaign and he details again how hard work was done  :

"We worked hard in the campaign for the fortnight Labour allowed us in this snap election. Having a local independent claiming campaigning as a liberal as well as a former LibDem candidate high on a wave from the PCC elections didn't help. Neither did UKIP having a free party political broadcast in every news bulletin and paper in the last week of the campaign due to the UKIP fostering story."

I'd say this was a fair analysis of how other factors impacted this campaign. I was interested to know how Mike himself actually felt about the campaign, in line with my thoughts on Emotions in Politics and how we suppress our own feelings for the benefit of the party or the political process.  I'm not sure if he didn't want to share that or didn't feel it appropriate so I left that question. 

I asked if there is anything politicans can do to improve the relationship with voters: 

"It is a shame that politics these days is too often just about the short soundbite and not thorough policy debate.  
If politicians are accountable then they should show it by paying more attention to the voters who live locally by being out and about in the community and not staying in the comfort zone of those who ideologically support them. I know this is what local communities often respect about Lib Dem Councillors / MPs who represent them. Too often politicians are too focused on their supporters rather than everyone they are supposed to represent."

This is potentially a good point and could do with further development - what, apart from voting reform which apparently the UK doesn't want, can politicians do to reach out beyond their natural supporters? 

I next asked if there was anything political parties can do to look after candidates and activists better.

Mike thought that "most people willing to be political candidates are adults and know what they are doing although I guess both courageousness and/or foolishness may be factors for some people."

And finally finishing on a core point  

" I think the heart of any party are it's candidates and activists. Investing time and care in your team is essential for a longer term success, I would suggest. "

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Cognitive Dissonance and Secret Courts

What is cognitive dissonance? To me it means either my values and beliefs are out of line with my actions and/or I’m holding two competing beliefs at once.

I’ve seen this twice recently, and also experienced it myself.  

To describe how it actually feels,  it feels like the scene in Fight Club where the Narrator is waking up to certain facts about Tyler Durden….. and the Tyler character kind of slips in and out of existence. You can feel the static. It’s like scraping your teeth against a metal implement by accident or scraping your fingernails down a blackboard.

When you’re attuned to it, it’s a physical reaction, oh *grates* there’s the cognitive dissonance…. It’s can be a good idea to start using it as a signal that you need to start either thinking about your position, or changing your actions and/or your beliefs. This is what I do. It may be you just need more arguments, or more information, but it could be that you’re wrong. It happens.

I observe this in others and watch bemused as they twist themselves in circles, ignore evidence, launch ad hominem attacks, or best, go into complete denial about the whole thing – it didn’t happen, it’s not a problem, I’m refusing to listen, I’m going to do something else instead and pretend it never happened……… "I'm not listening and you can't make me". 

So, say you’re a loyal party member and your leadership (of whatever stripe) suddenly does something you either disagree with or don’t understand. You can toe the party line, and agree with the new stance (even if it’s directly opposed to what you used to think), you can deny it’s existence and refuse to discuss it, ignoring or otherwise deflecting attention whenever asked about it. You can engage and ask why the leadership has made such a decision, perhaps they’ll convince you, perhaps they won’t. Maybe you’ll convince them, maybe you won’t. However, what about if they won’t even bother engaging back…… or even tell you why they won’t?

Therefore, who’s experiencing the cognitive dissonance?

I’m currently there with secret courts. I’m not sure why the leadership, Nick Clegg in this case, won’t meet with Jo Shaw (no relation) and the excellent campaign “Lib Dems against Secret Courts”  I’m not sure why no statement has been released. I’m not sure what’s happening here. However I have some faith that the leadership will do the right thing – mainly because I can’t see what the tenable position is for the Liberal Democrats otherwise…..

So I’m sat here with two competing beliefs. I think that we must do the right thing, I can’t believe any Liberal Democrat would believe otherwise. But I’m not sure we are……

The static is getting louder……