Monday, 28 April 2008

Lessons to be learned after 1 May

The vitriol and the smears from the Standard have continued right up to the very bitter end, but I think Ken may just clinch this election. Today, their headlines claimed Boris had claimed an 11% surge over his rival, only a couple of days after the Guardian/ICM poll put Livingstone 6% ahead. Or, 4% if you count the people who've actually registered. So, as those who've interpreted this campaign have proved throughout, the truth is somewhere in between and not one candidate has really pushed that far past his rival.

I suspect we're in for a few surprises on Thursday - and not necessarily with the final outcome of the contest. If anything, this election will prove that pollsters' methods are outdated. Have they really taken into account the multiple combinations of first and second preference votes? There are some unholy alliances which will undoubtedly manifest themselves on polling day, and they won't be confined to the 'big four'.

So, to the big organisations who supposedly act as a weather vane for democracy - remember, not everyone in London has access to the Internet. Consider whether your sampling methods are fair and representative of the online and offline electorate. And, a caution to the candidates who judge their popularity by the number of people signed up to their respective Facebook groups. Perhaps I take democracy too seriously, but there's more to this than casually joining an online group when you don't necessarily intend to back it up at the ballot box.

I said in my previous post that I think this election could be won by the bloggers, but the issue is with the gulf of expectation between the number of people who say they'll vote, and those who've already scribbled down their choices by post or will plod down to the polling station on 1 May. More often than not, the results of these knife edge elections will have a number of factors influencing their result. Thursday could bring with it torrential storms and resulting in a huge swathe of less mobile and older people who decide against voting. On the other hand, we could be blessed with fine sunny spells - either way, it'll have an impact on the final result.

Whatever happens - the majority of voters will have made up their mind at this stage in the campaign (even if they weren't telling me so when when I went canvassing the other night!) and the final push of the Ken campaign will hopefully have made a positive impact. Ken's really made this job what it is by constantly pushing the limits and out-politicking everyone else. By doing so he has proved there's too much at stake to leave this fantastic city in the care of at best, a somewhat confused right-wing buffoon, and at the worst, a reactionary unreconstructed Thatcherite. London deserves a bit more confidence in its future than that.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Why this election might be won by the bloggers

Guardian blogger Dave Hill has been blogging about the various TV debates, including the most recent Question Time on BBC One.

The problem with the national TV debates has been that the producers have been desperately trying to make the Mayoral contest relevant to people all over the country. But, although the job of Mayor is a highly influential position, with potential hotlines to the Government and the many other perks of being a world-class city leader, it's genuinely not of any interest to the people of Aberystwyth or Aberdeen, Belfast or Bournemouth.

The same situation is apparent in the national press, although Joe Public arguably gets more opportunities to ignore the London coverage when flicking through their copy of the Daily Mail. Put the other way, it would be like people in London being forced to watch televised debates of the Kesgrave Parish Council by-elections every day for a month.

The two-way (at best three-way, if you count Brian Paddick) debates become inherently confrontational as the programmes have to simplify the issues, and broaden their appeal to justify their airtime. Both Johnson and Livingstone had to resort to getting a little nasty with each other on the ITV debate the other night, and even Paddick, often praised for his good nature, told Boris Johnson to "shut up" on Question Time. Not exactly the most Parliamentary of language, is it? Or perhaps a different set of rules applies for candidates who are not bound by the conventions of the House of Commons...

Perhaps that's why this election, more than any other, will be won by the bloggers and other media outlets where TV targets the wrong audiences, and does so in a way which patronises not only the electorate of London, but the poor souls in the provinces who have to be bored to death by our own local politics.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Three men and a dog - take two

The success of our little stunt outside the Stonewall hustings on Saturday convinced a group of us Labour activists to pull it off again. This time, it was the turn of ITV to hold their big Mayoral debate. A more raucous, less civilised affair than it's BBC counterpart, the 'Big Three' as they're becoming known all took part, taking questions from the audience sporadically. We decided to focus our protest by the queue waiting to go into the studio - this time we had to make do with a stuffed dog from the Disney store, but he more than served the purpose. In fact, we got rather attached to 'Lucky'...

Brian Paddick bounded up with his entourage, probably seeing the yellow banner and thinking we were Lib Dems. Ken arrived and nodded at us cheerfully on his way into the studio. He seemed to appreciate the effort we'd gone to, though I'm not sure he knew which party we were from.

Most telling was the fact that Boris' campaign visibly panicked when they noticed our presence, and their man was nowhere to be seen. Presumably because he didn't want to be photographed in front of our banners. Johnson claims half his campaign team are gay - really? I haven't met a single gay man or lesbian in London who's backing him - and when he was writing such ignorant bile about LGBT people as recently as 2000, is it surprising?

Sunday, 20 April 2008

I've been pierced!

My first ever bit of metalwork, which I had done today at Selfridges on Oxford Street.

It doesn't hurt as much as I thought it would, either!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Stonewall fosters healthy debate in Mayoral election

I went to the Stonewall Mayoral hustings this morning - an event I had been eagerly anticipating for weeks. It was refreshing to see a room full of gay and lesbian people who were actively interested in politics - and on all sides of the spectrum - in an age when apathy is rife and my apolitical friends tell me that no politician could do anything for them.

The candidates were true to form - with a few surprises thrown in. Each candidate spoke in the order in which they had accepted the invitation to the hustings.

Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrat) was first up, although touched on very little of what I would call 'policy'. He's actively exploiting his openly gay police officer status, and the accolade of having successfully sued both the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. Paddick comes across as remarkably dull and not a particularly coherent speaker. A bit like a date you can't wait to get rid of.

Boris Johnson (Conservative) speaks at breakneck speed. He had been carefully coiffured for the occasion, the scruffy blonde mop being conspicuously absent. Boris' main argument seemed to me to be that he was a man who wanted merely to tinker with the successes of Ken's eight years as Mayor - not someone with radical new ideas, and worse, someone who couldn't be trusted to manage a city of eight million people. As the Beano candidate, Boris amused the audience with his posh, clumsy way, but got angry at one point, thumping his fist on the table when one questioner took him to task over the discrepancies between his stated positions on civil partnerships (the infamous 'two men and a dog' quote) and the fact that he had voted for the repeal of Section 28. This was a debate Boris' campaign advisers couldn't save him from.

Ken Livingstone (Labour) was the only candidate who not only successfully hit all the right LGBT buttons, but also the wider issues facing London - transport, climate change, affordable housing, and so on. As the current incumbent he has an inbuilt advantage, but he clearly understands that gay and lesbian citizens not only care about how much City Hall gives for the Pride march each year, but astonishingly - they want decent homes and a reliable tube service as well! With a pedigree of serving London which goes all the way back to the early seventies, and long-standing support of the LGBT community, Ken is the candidate with the broadest appeal - at least on paper.

Sian Berry (Green) was well informed on LGBT issues - she understood the frustration of the LGBT community on issues such as the promised LGBT museum, which the GLA had mooted back in 2004. For various reasons, this hadn't happened - and it was a slightly obscure point anyway, as most gay Londoners will be more concerned about bread and butter issues like policing and transport than cultural niceties, which although important, shouldn't be the things on which elections are won and lost.

I didn't have a particularly high opinion of Lindsay German (Left List) before today (she's a long standing member of the Socialist Workers' Party/Respect), but she comes across as a passionate speaker, especially on issues such as child poverty in London. Lindsey advocated Left List supporters voting for Ken as their second choice, although why they can't all vote for Ken, who's quite possibly the most powerful socialist in the country, is beyond me. Still, that's third-camp Trotskyism for you...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

A response to the Time Out editorial, issue 1963 - 3 April

I wonder how the Time Out editorial team think that political parties are run in this country?
You quite rightly took the decision to stand down your candidate Michael Hodges from the London mayoral election. We agree that standing a candidate on the popular ideals of Time Out readers is the basis for a politically confused campaign (and don't get me started on Boris Johnson...).
But where on earth did you get the idea that political parties can pay their members to go out and campaign on their behalf? I've been a member of the Labour party for the last five years, and I can't remember a single occasion when a cheque dropped through the door for my Sunday morning efforts leafleting on a Lambeth council estate. Political parties are made up of people who care about politics and have a shared set of ideals about how they want to see a country or a city like London run. And, apart from a relatively small number of full-time staff, they certainly don't expect monetary renumeration for their efforts.
(Incidentally, political parties get access to the electoral rolls because they are democratically accountable to their members, unlike fringe loony magazine candidates who are accountable to whatever decisions you take over a cosy cup of tea in your editorial meeting!)
One more thing - what are the discriminatory barriers standing in the way of anyone wanting to run for election as Mayor? There is at least one genuinely independent candidate standing in the election this year - as well as representatives from every other major party. In democracies, people naturally join together to form common associations of like minded people. The 'people's manifesto' which you champion exists in every single one of the manifestos promoted by this year's candidates, no matter how much I disagree with the people in other parties. That's genuine democratic choice.
Yours sincerely
Paul Prentice

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