Friday, October 18, 2002

When is a story not a story?

The far right almost wins an election for an office controlling millions of pounds of public money. A Far Right candidate is only 3% behind the winning candidate, a maverick independent, whose main policy is the creation of "Prostitutes Park". The Far Right candidate beats the candidate of the main opposition and the 3rd party, getting more votes than both combined, and is only a thousand votes behind the government party, a party that has all three parliamentary seats in the area. The Far Right candidate has sextupled his actual vote since last year despite turnout plummetting by more than half.

But it happened in Stoke, not France. it happened late at night, and no-one saw it coming, so it's not much of a story (Doesn't even make front page of BBC news, only little coverage in the papers, and only a few small items on the morning news shows.)

It doesn't even stop there. Labour has now lost elections in Middlesbrough, Stoke, Mansfield and Hartlepool. These are places that were safe Labour in 1983, for god's sake. The winners have not been the Tories or the Lib Dems but Independents and the British National Party.

If this isn't a major earthquake in grassroots politics, then I'm a duck.

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Labour also lose in Stoke.

The large BNP vote transferred to the independent candidate. So Labour's local MP lost the Mayoral election to yet another "fringe" candidate with the BNP coming a close third. That makes 4 independent mayors elected in Labour strongholds (Middlesbrough, Stoke, Hartlepool, Mansfield). The big story tonight will be the size of the BNP vote, but the rejection of Local Labour in their heartlands will be just as significant.

George Stevenson (Lab) 12,379
Mike Wolfe (Mayor 4) 12,693

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Thursday, October 17, 2002

More on Mayors

The BNP vote in stoke is more than six times the BNP vote in the 2001 general election. The BNP candidate, Steve Batkin, got 8,213 votes in the Mayoral election but only 1,358 votes in the Stoke South constituency in 2001. As far as I can tell, the BNP stood only one candidate in the three Stoke constituencies in the 2001 general election, which obviously should be taken into account when considering the scale of this. On the other hand, the turnout today was less than half that of the General election. So far the BBC (website and teletext) doesn't seem to have noticed.

In Mansfield, the independent candidate beat Labour's candidate in the second round of voting, turning a 600 vote first round deficit into a 600 vote winning margin. This would suggest Labour is likely to lose in Stoke also.

Mansfield final result

Ms Lorna Carter (Lab) 5,363
Tony Egginton (Ind) 5,951

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Blairs speech today

On Northern Ireland.

"The continuing existence of the IRA as an active paramilitary organisation is now the best card those whom republicans call 'rejectionist' unionists, have in their hand.

It totally justifies their refusal to share power; it embarrasses moderate unionism and pushes wavering unionists into the hands of those who would just return Northern Ireland to the past. And because it also embarrasses the British and Irish Governments, it makes it harder for us to respond to nationalist concerns."

Precisely so.

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BNP scores big in mayoral elections

The almost outlandish results from mayoral elections around the country continued tonight. In Stoke, the town's local Mp was forced into a second count with an independent, while the BNP scored over 8,000 votes, scoring 20% of the vote, only narrowly missing out on second place in the race and handily beating the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

This represents a huge vote for the BNP, and is a sign that the dangerous trend of increases in far right suport in the UK shows little sign of abating.

In Mansfield, meanwhile, Labour is in a neck and neck election with an independent, with an abysmal turnout of less than 20%

Stoke First Round results

(candidates in bold go to second round, where other candidates second preferences are counted. Better news for Labour in Hackney, where they won handily.

George Stevenson (Lab) 9,752 (22.17%)
Mike Wolfe (Mayor 4) 9,356 (21.27%)

Steven Batkin (BNP) 8,213 (18.67%)
Roger Ibbs (C) 4,417 (10.04%)
Geoffrey Snow (ND Snow) 3,975 (9.04%)
Fred Morrow (LD 2,408 (5.47%)
Paul Breeze (ND Breeze) 1,349 (3.07%)
Ms Patricia Whitehouse (Ind) 1,280 (2.91%)
Graham Wilkes (Ind Wilkes) 1,157 (2.63%)
David Chatton (Ind) 926 (2.10%)
Adrian Knapper (AKIP) 708 (1.61%)
Harry Chesters (ND C) 453 (1.03%)

Mansfield Mayoral First round result

Ms Lorna Carter (Lab) 4,773 (33.99%)
Tony Egginton (Ind) 4,150 (29.55%)

Mrs Kate Allsop (C) 3,351 (23.86%)
Phillip Smith (LD) 958 (6.82%)
Michael Comerford (Green) 811 (5.78%)

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Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Does anyone know any Blogs that focus on Devolved politics in Wales and Scotland?

Having become an admiring and frequent reader of Letter to Slugger O'Toole, Shamrockshire Eagle and Hawk Girl after being drawn to them by my ignorance and their knowledge I was wondering if there were blogs out there that covered Welsh or Scottish Politics in the same way.

I ask because, sad lonely man that I am, the McConnell, McLeish, German, Richards, Alexander, stories have been some of the most fascinating and occassionally hilarious stories in British politics and yet I've not seen any blog posts on them.

As an example of the pleasures of devolved politics without guns can offer, can you imagine a Senior Minister sending an e-mail to a political opponent and journalist claiming that her own party has not had a good idea since 1906? Meet Wendy Alexander, folks. Apparently, when the e-mail was leaked (to the same paper her correspondant writes for), she claimed it had been maliciously obtained. I feel the same way about my ISP, Wendy.

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More on Northern Ireland

For those of my compatriots who believe that the British State is blameless in Northern Ireland, then the statement today by Soldier 027 (anonymous, because his old comrades want to kill him) makes sobering reading. Of course, this is only one mans' testimony, but considering the horrors he has had to go through in order to put it forward, and that those who contradict him have obvious self interest in doing so, it will take some evidence to convince a reasonable person that he is lying.

Some may say, (I can feel it already) that accepting this testimony as likely to be correct contradicts my belief that essentially, the British Government never wanted to be at war. I don't think so. The fact that a horrific crime was (allegedly) committed by members of the British army and then covered up, points to collusion, stupidity, viciousness and blood lust. It does not mean that the policy of the British Government was to make war on Catholics, no more than the shooting at Kent State and the unpleasent reaction of the then administration was a sign that Richard Nixon wanted to kill anti-war protestors as a matter of policy.

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Well, at least Holland is focussed at what really matters.

You vote for a charismatic maverick with no party to bind him down and look what happens. First you find out that the Minister for emancipation and the family used to serve in a Militia (if a woman serves in a "bloodthirsty militia", surely that's emancipation?), then you discover that all the scoundrels who leapt on the bandwagon of the leader are in fact scoundrels and or incompetents and the government collapses.

And only a few weeks back this lot were the idols of certain American based bloggers. OK, perhaps they would have been kept in line if PF had lived, but still, they don't sound particularly impressive...

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All quiet on the blogging front

Having trouble finding inspiration today. I want to try and get back onto ephemera and trivia, since this is what the site was created for, not an opportunity for me to air my half or less baked baked opinions, but there are just too many serious issues to treat politics today as a delightful game for two or more consenting parties.

Don't worry, I'll feel better soon.

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Monday, October 14, 2002

George Bush

Is on Sky right now, doing his statement. My God, This has got to be one of the worst reactions to a terrorist outrage I have ever seen. Smirking, bad jokes, no clear information or position, barely articulate.

I'm sure he's not as bad as he's coming across right now. I know I should be more focussed on content than delivery, but still, this a dreadful performance.

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Damn Canadians

Leah McLaren, who is that Canadian journalists who caused such kerfuffle in the nations op-ed pages when she claimed that British men sucked, (or perhaps didn't suck enough?), is clearly on a one woman mission breathe new life into old stereotypes. First British men are not very good lovers, now Scandinavia is wealthy but dull.

What next? The French have great cuisine but are sullen and moody? The German like beer and feel guilty about the war?

Will someone give this journalist a copy of George Mikes ?

Anyway, What got me really surprised me about a really rather inoffensive In Flight magazine article was the fact that that a city I had always thought was somewhere near Leicester does not exist.

"While Norwegians continue to be taxed like the mythical citizens of Nottingham,"

Well, the denizens of the Queen of the east Midlands are many things, but Mythical?

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Lobby Hobby Horses

I've long been a fan of Gallery news, the e-mailed system that puts westminster insider stories (usually the lobby briefing summaries) into your mailbox with wit, brevity and humour. It's available to anyone, simplay send an e-mail here asking to subscribe. as a taster, I offer, in its entirety, todays gem on the new Lobby system, written by one Gerri Peev, whose moniker seems to be somewhat appropriate for the lobby hacks today. Invincible, all powerful Spin machine, anyone?

"The first of Downing Street's revamped 'open briefings' was unleashed today on journalists - bringing a barrage of criticism from the Lobby.

Although this morning's event was twice as long as the briefings traditionally held at Number 10, fewer questions were taken - partly thanks to a presentation by Home Secretary David Blunkett on the latest crime figures.

After the event, one political editor was overheard saying, " It wasn't a Lobby briefing, and it wasn't a Home Office briefing - it was a complete shambles. "

Fewer than a dozen journalists were called to ask their question during the new, more 'open' briefing.

Although it was no longer a closed shop for the Lobby and foreign journalists were encouraged to attend, just one - an Australian - was picked to ask a question.

The protracted length of the briefing was exacerbated by the 20 minute or so walk to the new venue at the Foreign Press Association headquarters near Pall Mall.

Shoe leather may have been a journalists' best tool in times past, but in the days of 24 hour media, a 40 minute return journey every day is a serious impediment to fast delivery.

One evening paper journalist remarked that she had missed three deadlines while attending the briefing.

For months, Downing Street were on the hunt for a larger venue than the Number 10 basement, as the world's press and local reporters were to join the Lobby for their daily briefings.

Finally they decided on the opulent surroundings of the Foreign Press Association in Carlton Terrace.

But aside from the distance from Westminster journalists noticed one other problem: it appears to be smaller than the briefing room at Number 10.

The cafe menu placed hopefully on each chair tempting weary hacks with grilled chicken breast with sauce au poivre or 'cappuchino' failed to detract from the stifling heat generated by the television lights.

Mr Blunkett was the target of many complaints about the new system, although journalists were careful to point out the criticism was not personal.

He suggested that the room was cramped because foreign press were interested in hearing about the terrorist attack in Bali and apologised for his presence, saying 'The Prime Minister felt I needed to raise my profile'.

Downing Street have said the new televised briefings are an attempt to be more 'open and transparent' and have promised to regularly field ministers.


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Sometimes it's just all so bloody depressing

I've always resisted talking about Northern Ireland. It's too complex, to tough, too mired in historical hatred.

It's also a topic an Englishman ought to avoid if possible. We're not neutral, and our comments must look like the idiotic commentary of an ill informed landlord. I've generally felt that unless you had special insight, or understanding or responsibility, restraint is the best way to approach the North of Ireland. However, I'm suspending my rule for a moment because I feel that the British media and political scene (not government in particular, just the tone of the debate), is giving Sinn Fein an easy ride.

I'm listening right now to Gerry Adams dissembling and wriggling. I keep reading about what a great communicator and politician he is. I don't get it. I find him an unctious, word parsing and mangling, transparently devious, blatantly lying politician. Perhaps the technical facility for talking crap is the mark of a good politician, but I loathe his style. He is trying to get away with as much as he can while portraying himself as a great compromiser who has made really painful steps to reach peace. Well, that's as maybe, but he's also a man who regarded murder and terror as an acceptable way of advancing political ends (and no matter what the IRA might say, Northern Ireland is no apartheid South Africa).

The two are not incompatible. I just refuse to forget the latter. Gerry Adams and his party are trying to push their luck. Fine. The IRA must realise one thing though. In the end they're going to have to choose peace and disarmament or a private army and war. No nation can accept an opposition party keeping an army as an extension of democracy by other means.

Don't get me wrong, I can see how the unionist community has been stupid, self defeating, discriminatory and violent. All this is undoubtedly true. It's irrelevant though to the choice Sinn Fein must make. Whatever the sins of Unionism, their leaders cannot be expected to tolerate their opponents having an army behind them, an army who cannot be prosecuted, cannot be attacked, cannot be subject to the rule of law.

On a related note, In the Guardian today, Danny Morrison, a former PR man for Sinn Fein, asks the British "Is your war over?" He lists all the persecution of Catholics as justification for asking the question.

Look, lets get this straight. How can anyone claim that the UK government is anti-catholic, or trying to repress Catholics? The Secretary of State is a Catholic, The Prime Minister's wife is a Catholic. The Leader of the opposition is a Catholic. The British political classes are almost embarrassingly disinterested in religion. It's not so much not wanting a window into men's souls, as not being sure whether we have souls to examine.

So, let me answer some of Mr Morrison's questions from the ignorant British perspective.

"The IRA continues to exist because nationalists still feel vulnerable. But it can only return to armed struggle if the institutions and forces of the state attack nationalists or deny them their rights, which thus begs the question of unionists and the British: is the war over? "

Actually, that's not true. The IRA can attack if it feels that an armed struggle would be useful to it's political project. It can attack because it sees an opportunity. It can attack because "hardliners" stage a coup and keep the arms.

"If it is over, why do you want the special branch?"

Why do the IRA want armed units, guns, intelligence on politicians, police and prison officers? You want the state to disarm while the IRA keeps weapons? If there were no IRA, just watch how quick we'd turn PSNI into a normal police service.

"Why do you not make the police service acceptable to nationalists?"

We've reformed the police service. The PSNI has to be a watchdog. We want to give you a hand on the leash. You want it to have no teeth. We can trust, be we need to verify and enforce.

"Why are the forces you support still bugging houses and cars, gathering intelligence, targeting republicans, recruiting informers? "

See answer to question 2) above.

"Can you guarantee that you will not go back to internment, censorship, the ill-treatment of prisoners, shoot-to-kill operations? "

Can you guarantee that not a single soldier, policeman, prison officer, civilian or child will ever be murdered by the IRA? If you can, we've got a deal.

"Can you assure us that you will cease your double-standards which give political cover and encouragement to loyalist paramilitaries?"

They're scum. We'd love to pile in and tear them apart. Nothing would please London more. However, It's hard for us to tear up one set of paramilitaries while leaving the other untouched. People might think we were playing into the IRA's hands by taking away their enemy on the streets. They might say we were Naive fools.

"Give us one good reason why we should share power with you."

Because the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to be British, and we respect the rights of majorities as well as minorities. Because as far as we were concerend, we never were at war. We just had to stop you killing people.

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