Sunday, January 16, 2005

A bit of election preparation

As you are no doubt aware, it is very likely that there wil be a General Election in the UK on May 5th. It hasn't been announced yet, because Blair wants his lot to have as much of a head start in campaigning as possible, but that's when it's likely to kick off.

As you are also no doubt aware, Labour are likely to win again by a large margin - largely due to the almost total lack of opposition they have faced in the House of Commons (a few valiant attempts from their own backbenches and the occasional jab from a Liberal Democrat hardly counts). Within the parliamentary Labour party, many are getting a bit miffed - their golden boy Blair has started to piss them off, and they all know that if there was any other option, the general public would vote for it. The Tories can't ALWAYS be rubbish, can they?

Then there's the Blair/Brown feud, superbly explained by the Honorable Fiend, and the increasing disillusionment felt by many ordinary Labour party members. Labour are beginning to collapse in on themselves just as did the Tories in the mid-90s. But it's not happening soon enough - they've got that "historic third term" firmly in their sights, and aren't going to risk jeopardising it through silly squabbles just yet.

Then there is the matter of what this election is going to be about, exactly. No one understands economics, and try as they might the Tories can't seem to find the various flaws in Gordon Brown's fiscal policies, so it looks like - bizarrely - the economy won't matter in this election. Will we, as that article suggests, find ourselves facing a "values" election - much like the "moral issue"-dominated US presidential elections back in November? And if so, what will the "values" be? Multilateralism and respect for the rule of law? Not if Labour has anything to do with it, and the Tories have backed the government on everything from the war to locking people up without trial. Can the Liberal Democrats shape the debate and remind us how opposed we were to the concept of invading Iraq all those many months ago?

Over at Bloggerheads, Manic is planning a few things along this values theme which could work nicely - quite what still has to be kept under wraps, but from the sneak previews I've had they're looking promising. Meanwhile, can you help out with any of the MP proxy blogs Bloggerheads helped set up? (If you want to set up one for your own MP, you may find TheyWorkForYou an invaluable resource). The following MPs are covered, those with asterisks need help, and any names you don't see feel free to start ones for:

Paddy Tipping MP, Paul Keetch MP*, Glenda Jackson MP* (which I have volunteered to assist with), Steve Pound MP, Michael Clapham MP*, Jeff Ennis MP*, Eric Illsley MP*, David Blunkett MP* and again, David Blunkett MP*, Keith Vaz MP, David Lepper MP*, Frank Dobson MP* (I may also try and help with this one), Nick Raynsford MP*, Lewis Moonie MP*, Alan Milburn MP, Sandra Gidley MP, Sarah Teather MP, Jim Cousins MP, John Pugh MP.

What can these blogs do? Well, thanks to the mechanics of search engines (something about which I know nothing), blogs get noticed very quickly. Do a search for "Europhobia" in Google, this site comes top. (For some reason if you do a search for "beetroots" it comes second, but that's another matter...) So, set up a blog devoted to your MP, it will soon be one of the first results when people search for them.

This can obviously be severely misused, but that is not the point here. The point is to create greater access to information about what MPs get up to, and what goes on in the House of Commons. It's about enabling people to make an informed choice about who to vote for, rather than simply going "I always vote Labour" or "I'm a Tory".

Lest we forget, at a General Election you are voting for a local representative, not a central government. You aren't voting for Tony Blair unless you live in his Sedgefield constituency - you're likely voting for one of his mindless lackeys. You're likewise not voting for Michael Howard unless you live in Folkestone & Hythe or Charles Kennedy unless you live in Ross, Skye & Inverness West. So why vote for one of their fellow party members without checking you agree with that individual first?

For example, there is no way I could bring myself to vote Labour if we had to vote for a party (as in the European elections). But my local MP is Glenda Jackson, who's Labour. With a bit of research and knowledge, I can quickly find out that she's not as Labour as all that (she is in fact the 27th most rebellious MP in the Commons), and that from her voting record we agree on most issues. That makes her someone worth voting for - not the fact that she belongs to a particular party. Of course, I don't know who the other candidates are yet - that is another important task of the proxy blogs - to find out about the local opposition groups and other people standing for election.

Whether it's actually worth voting is, of course, another matter. One for another time, perhaps... Either way, This blog may start to get slightly (but only slightly) more centred on the UK in the coming months - just as it got slightly more centred on the US in the run up to Bush's victory. Once I've got the template sorted, expect a few more links and the like - and again, any suggestions would be welcome.

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