15 Minutes #GE2017: Who to vote for?

The general election is fast approaching, and I thought I’d write about it on my blog. However, to stop it just turning into a massive rant I’m keeping it simple and to a 15 minute timer. So here we go.

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Ever since Theresa May announced the snap election a few weeks back the British press has been working itself up. The parties have been scrutinised, they’ve made announcements and they’ve started pitching their manifestos.

Now, I think voting is something everyone should do but I can understand people’s hesitation and doubts over our current system. I’m living in a different constituency at the moment, one currently held by the Conservatives and it leaves me in an odd position of not knowing who to vote for.

Under a proportional representation system it would be simple enough, and I would just pick the party I agree with the most. However, the first past the post measure that we employ in the UK means that there has to be some tactical voting, which sucks as it means voting against someone instead of for.

I’m currently inclined to vote for Plaid Cymru, as I respect their leader, agree with their policies and as we blunder into Brexit talks, would like someone to speak up for Wales in a way that I don’t think the other parties will.

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However, Plaid aren’t much of a force in the Vale of Glamorgan and so it’s likely to come down to Labour vs the Tories.

The Tories are right out of course. Their austerity push has just caused people to suffer and there is a startling lack of empathy about them. Witness how the NHS is doing in England under Tory rule. I also don’t like the “no deal is better than a bad deal” argument and the bullishness approaching Brexit.

And frankly, I don’t trust the Tories to serve the public properly. And I don’t want to see the NHS slowly fall apart until they can justify scrapping it. Look at healthcare in the States, and you realise that for all it’s flaws, the NHS is a brilliant creation and something we should be proud of.

So, to stop them do I vote for Plaid and hope they have an upswing in support? Or do I vote for Labour, a party I don’t have much warmth for.

Here’s the thing, I regard Labour as better than the Tories, but that’s taken a beating in my lifetime. It was a Labour government that lied to the public and entered an illegal war which has caused far more problems than any it solved.

And the party hasn’t helped itself over the last year or so with some monumental gaffes, infighting and by failing to stage a meaningful opposition to the Tories. Theresa May isn’t a strong PM, but she’s never really had to look like one because Corbyn has been so ineffectual on the opposite side of the house.

He seems a decent bloke, and some of his ideas are sound, but I can’t see him as a leader and I think Labour are so fractured that they would struggle to hold it together. May might have pushed the “strong and stable” line to hard, but at least the Tories all seem capable of falling in line behind a leader. Labour seem to have split, and there’s a nastiness to both factions. They’ve made it alarmingly easy for the Tories, by looking massively incompetent and disorganised in opposition.

Worse yet, Corbyn has announced that he won’t make a coalition with other parties, which seems foolhardy. If both of the parties fail to secure a majority he’ll be in an impossible position, either holding to his position and allowing the Tories to form a coalition and retain power, or else go back on his word and catch hell for it.

No, I think as a party leader you have to acknowledge that if you don’t get a majority you’ll do your best for the public and form a coalition with like minded parties.

As for the other parties? Well, there’s not much there:

  • The Lib Dems- They have a few decent policies and have cleverly set themselves up as the anti-Brexit party after Labour put up very little resistence to May’s plans. But the sting of 2010 still lingers and they don’t seem to have much of a chance.
  • The Greens- I admire the Greens for their enthusiasm, and they have some decent policies, but they haven’t got a hope, have they?
  • UKIP- Never.
  • Independents- They may be well meaning but I can’t think of one who actually made it to Westminster, and once there they are a lone voice. That being said, with the right manifesto and the right candidate it’s a possibility.

I guess I still have some thinking to do on this before I go to the polls.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Interview: Elin Walker Jones, Plaid Cymru candidate for Cardiff North

Sipping coffee outside on a mild April afternoon talking to Elin Walker Jones is a bit like chatting to one of your mum’s friends. “Nice” isn’t a word that gets used a lot in politics but Walker Jones is nice, she talks in a soft, friendly manner in an accent that carries the influence of her Carmarthenshire childhood and the North of Wales, where she’s worked.

Perhaps “nice” isn’t used because it can seem condescending, it can hint at blandness or dimness, but neither of these can be applied to Walker Jones, who throughout our talk exhibits intelligence and passion.

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The major focus of this passion is inequality, a theme which crops up frequently. It’s in the books she’s read and her heroes (see below), and she sets out her stall early stating that “an unequal society is not good for anybody”. It would seem that this is her driving force in politics, to try and help restore some balance, and it explains why she’s chosen Plaid as her party

She talks with great emotion of how Welsh voices are unheard, and of how the country is not on the same footing as Scotland. There’s mention to the pledges made by the three main parties made “on bended knee” to the Scotts before the referendum, and while she supported the Yes campaign she confesses to being saddened by how Wales appears to be getting left behind.

Walker Jones is critical of the Barnett formula, and feels that Wales is being let down, stating that if Welsh funding was increased to match what Scotland gets per head that Wales would be £1.2bn better off.

But she doesn’t criticize Scotland, in fact, having visited Edinburgh during the build up she was delighted by the way it effected and invigorated public debate in politics;

There were people talking about politics everywhere…The interest in politics, when so people are disillusioned with what we have, the fact that so many people were engaged is miraculous.

There’s hope that the resurgence in Scottish nationalism will inspire the people of Wales to take steps to change it’s “poor relative” status.

Walker Jones acknowledges that Plaid Cymru have always faced an uphill struggle in the Cardiff North constituency, in 2010 they earned a mere 3% of the vote, and while polls suggest their following has improved, it’s still a tough fight, with 8 candidates in the running, but she still believes strongly in her party, and why it matters, arguing that Plaid “is the only party answerable to the people of Wales”.

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She seems aware of the party’s reputation and that the talk of independence can alienate some voters, and is keen to address that the party is not about separatism. “It’s not about separatism” she states, “it’s about having an equal voice, it doesn’t mean taking more than our share, it means having a share.”

Warming to her theme she continued, “It’s about being sister nations at the British table, rather than somebody down below, getting crumbs from the table. Sitting at the table, with everybody else and having an equal voice. We’re the forgotten nation at the moment, and that saddens me.”

The Plaid stance has always been about Wales deciding for Wales, and that’s something that Walker Jones agrees with wholeheartedly. She alludes to the recent calls for “English votes on English issues” and suggests with the majority of Westminster seats representing England this is what happens anyway, but she moves on quickly.

I’m impressed throughout by the lack of negativity she displays regarding the other parties, near the beginning of our chat she says in passing that “politics should be honourable, or what’s the point?”. The only time it really comes up is when she states that Plaid are “very happy to work alongside any party, except for the Tories, that benefits the people of Wales”.

Her only other criticism is reserved for the discussion of the NHS, and it’s clear she has some distaste for the way it’s used as a political football around election time, and believes the time for a rational and legitimate conversation is once everything is settled, and the electioneering can stop.

With her background in psychology Walker Jones is keen to preserve the NHS, although she acknowledges the challenges and expense it faces. She also hopes that it can be used to dispel some of the stigma surrounding mental health, “We need to get much better at talking about these things”.

This is an area that she regards as needing improvement, and that education is key, not only with regards mental health but with other issues, and Walker Jones believes in the importance of the Personal and Social Health curriculum.

“Academic subjects are really important, nobody would dispute that, but, as a psychologist, I think it’s absolutely crucial that we celebrate and highlight the importance of talking about all those things at a very early age, so that it becomes a natural part of conversation.”

She feels that schools need to improve in this area, that teachers require more specified training to deliver this curriculum and that it stops merely being assigned to whoever has a free lesson to cover it. But she worries that this is unlikely to happen, she identifies school counselling services as an area needing improvement and says this is why “cuts are so desperate” because it will be one of the first things to get cut, due to not being monitored in the way exam results or attendance is.

In keeping with her nice demeanor, Walker Jones is strongly opposed to war and the Trident programme (“That’s easy,” she replies when asked about it, “scrap it!”) and feels that the £100bn could be used elsewhere.

Where, for example?

Perhaps in the rehabilitation and support provided to ex-service personnel. An area where she feels a more statutory approach is required, as opposed to leaving charities to shoulder much of the burden.

Our conversation drew to a close and I found myself impressed by Walker Jones, by her passion, commitment and intelligence.

I only hope that in Cardiff North she doesn’t finish where nice guys tend to.

6 Questions

What would you chose as your entrance music?

“That’s a really tricky one, because I really like all kinds of stuff. I guess when you first started asking the question I was thinking, maybe, of stuff like the traditional Welshy stuff like Hogia’r Wyddfa with ‘Safwn yn y bwlch’.”

She reveals that at the birth of her first son she had “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” but confesses that probably isn’t fitting for a non-Royalist. With a variety of musical taste so many to chose from, Walker Jones arrives at a compromise “Maybe a medley?”

“Dafydd Iwan would be good. Bit of Maria Callas perhaps, as well. And definitely some of the Welsh folk songs, because they’re great to walk to, I probably wouldn’t dance in, though”

What book has most shaped your world view or effected you the most?

City of Joy (by Dominique Lapierre),” she begins, impressed by it’s depiction of the lives of the poor in Calcutta and “how they look after each other”

Although she confesses to not having much time to read fiction, and her other selections are non-fiction, the first The Spirit Level (by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett), she choses because of how it shows “how social inequality correlates with social difficulties. In societies where there isn’t so much social inequality, like Finland, there are fewer social differences” and Nudge (by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein) which is about “how you can change people’s behaviour in small ways”

Which important British figure would you chose to be on banknotes?

“It wouldn’t be British, they would be Welsh” she replies with a smile. “Either Byddug or Gwenllian…when I was a kid I used to live in Carmarthen and my grandmother lived in Trimsaran, and we used to pass Kidwelly…you’d pass a field called Maes Gwenllian, her head was cut off in battle with the English. She was a heroine, trying to protect her family and her country”

“Hywel Dda would be another one, his laws are amazing. He was really sensible about women as well, he believed women should have equal rights.”

Do you agree with an increased tax on the super rich?

“Yes.” Walker Jones’ response was immediate “I believe in trying to redistribute power and wealth, which is one of our party’s main principles, that an unequal society is not good for anybody.”

“The trickle down effect they keep talking about hasn’t worked. I haven’t seen any evidence of it” She continued. “The people at the top are getting richer, and the people at the bottom are getting poorer, and that’s just not on.”

Where do you stand on the legalization of cannabis?

“I would decriminalize cannabis, in particular,” Walker Jones began “and think about decriminalizing some of the other drugs. Because it’s not the drug users you need to be penalizing. You need to be providing rehabilitation and support for people to come off drugs.”

“There are medicinal uses, acknowledged medicinal uses, so why should you punish people for using stuff that helps them get through their day when they’re in so much pain?”

Why should people vote? In general, and for you, specifically?

“It’s really important that people use their vote. As a woman, you know, people have died, thrown themselves in front of horses so I could vote, so I absolutely think it’s important to use that vote.”

On the subject of disillusionment, Walker Jones encourages involvement- “If people feel that politics isn’t representative, get involved! Set up your own party!”

“There are 8 candidates in Cardiff North, one of them must reflect your views, to some extent or another”

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This wasn’t intended as a pro-Plaid piece, I’ve reached out to all of the candidates for interviews.

For more info on the Plaid policies click here.

Still undecided? Take this quiz to see who you’re most in line with.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Dodging Dave and the Debates

This one’s a bit political, and if that bores you I apologize, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot recently, what with the election looming. Anyway, if you’re still here, make yourself a cuppa because it’s a bit of a long one.

There’s been a bit of a brouhaha recently over the TV debates before the next general election. Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that he’ll only take place in one debate, after speculation and different conditions have been thrown around in recent weeks.

Cameron’s been accused of cowardice over this, and people have dug up articles where he lambasted ex-PM Gordon Brown for not wanting to take part last time around. This has been held up as terrible hypocrisy.

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Now, I’m no Cameron fan (I’m not sure who I’m gonna vote for, but it definitely won’t be the Tories), but this is kind of a daft reaction, I mean, of course his position has changed, he’s on the back foot and in politics it’s always easier to attack than defend.

If you’re not in power all you have to do is point to mistakes and what’s wrong and say “Look what they’ve done! Vote for me and I won’t do that, and I’ll try and fix their mess!” Cameron knows this, because that’s what he did last time around. Gordon Brown wasn’t responsible for the economic crash, and probably couldn’t have done much to stop it, but it didn’t matter, he was in the big chair at the time, so he took the flak, and Cameron revelled in having that in his arsenal.

This time around it’s Cameron who’ll be held responsible for all that’s wrong and can be kicked and attacked for all of Britain’s woes. Sure, he can claim some high points, but those are fading in the public consciousness, but the rubbish parts are still fresh.

That’s not the only reason Cameron won’t want a televised debate, of course, a large part is that his perception has changed. We’re dealing with David Cameron, PM, now, not Dave.

Gordon Brown was bound to struggle on TV, he looked old and rough, and even his staunchest allies wouldn’t argue that he’s the most charismatic fellow. Back in 2010, Dave looked young, full of energy and he knew this, he headed into the debates confident. “Gordon’s on the ropes, and I’m sure this Nick chap won’t be too much of a problem” he probably thought as he went to bed the night before the first debate.

Of course, this Nick chap played a blinder and from out of nowhere became a serious player. A hung parliament had looked likely anyway, but Clegg, largely anonymous before was briefly the star attraction. The Lib Dems, the UK’s third party suddenly looked stronger than they had for some time, and Clegg’s charismatic performance on the debates got him lots of fans.

The Tory supporting media was wrong-footed, they’d been focusing so much on kicking Brown while he was already down that despite their best efforts, Cleggmania was still running wild when the polls opened and he wound up as the deputy PM.

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Nick with some Cleggamaniacs, and a Labour supporter.

 

Of course, Nick Clegg is a lesser threat now, his reputation has been tarnished and many of his 2010 supporters are disillusioned and left him. I know I have.

Some Lib Dem supporters may argue that this is unfair, and they’ve done a lot during the coalition. My dad, a long-time LD supporter argues that the party has helped while in power, serving to curb the Tory’s excesses and stop some of their dodgier, harsher policies. They argue that without them Cameron’s Britain would have been a lot worse, asking us “What if David Cameron was in full power?”

Well, maybe, but while “What ifs” make for good, weird comics they don’t have much relevance in politics.

It would have been kickass is what!

It would have been kickass is what!

Sure, Cameron’s Britain might have been worse, but then again what if the Lib Dems had teamed up with Labour, we might be better off now. We’ll never really know, so why stop there with the “what ifs”? I mean, what if Screaming Lord Sutch had won back in the day? There’s no way to prove that with SLD at the head we wouldn’t now be living in a utopian Britain where Swansea are top of the Premiership and beer is still under a quid a pint.

Lord Sutch, the greatest leader we never had?

Lord Sutch, the greatest leader we never had?

So Clegg’s not a threat, and neither is Labour’s Ed Miliband. Miliband has been eliminated as a major threat largely due to the fact he’s a bit awkward, and sadly that matters a lot now. In the era of social media and image consultants all it takes is one mishap with a sandwich and you’re a laughing stock. Which seems unfair, give me a camera with a speed shutter and I’m fairly sure I could make anybody look bad while they eat, even someone like Scarlett Johansson.

I’m not arguing that Miliband’s a marvelous politician who’s just unfortunate in looking like an Aardman creation, but it is a bit unfair that his appearance is what many people are taking him on with. I mean, he’s no Brad Pitt, but he’s not exactly a hideous troll either, is he? Miliband’s standing very far, very quickly and unfortunately he’s not done anything to improve it.

Then the question is, who is Cameron afraid of?

Well, probably Nigel Farage, which is frankly a terrifying thought. We live in a time when our leader is worried about being shown up by a loud mouthed bigoted twerp like Farage.

Farage

Farage

Farage is trying to play “man of the people” despite being as rich, entitled and establishment as those he seeks to attack, and worse, some morons are falling for it. Farage is stealing those Tories who think that the Tories have gone soft, they miss good old nasty Tories, and feel that Dave is a bit soft on those pesky immigrants and won’t guarantee that they can hunt foxes again.

Personally I think the Tories are getting into a flap about nothing, let Farage go on live and I guaran-damn-tee he’ll cock it up and look a fool. Let him destroy his own image in one fell swoop, UKIP aren’t a serious threat anyway, regardless of scaremongering Channel 4 docu-dramas. But Cameron is still nervous, because what if Farage manages to slip through unscathed, then Cameron looks weaker.

Of greater concern is the other leaders, of the minority parties, at the back of their minds the Tories must be worried that someone is going to pull a Clegg and pull of a surprise win. They’ve focused the battle on Labour, what if someone else starts pinching votes?

It’s unlikely any of the other parties could be a genuine contender for PM, but they’ll split the vote and Cameron doesn’t want that. He wants people to stick to the traditional blue vs red battle, because he knows he’s got that in the bag, and the yellow vote won’t matter because a lot of them are fed up and no longer agree with Nick.

Cameron’s stalling tactic of insisting all 7 major parties (Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Greens) all take part seemed to me a stalling tactic, or a clever move, with seven leaders nobody can hog the limelight and emerge a convincing winner, and at least two of the parties are only fighting on a local level.

Of course, all this discussion and we’ve missed the major question. Do we even need televised debates?

Sure, they generate headlines, but for all the hype the 2010 election still had a dismal turnout, with only 65% of us bothering to go to the polls.

The debates are a sideshow, a chance for some extra sniping, another step towards the Americanisation of our political process and place even more emphasis on the superficial.

Who looks best? Who gets the best quip or soundbite?

It’s all trivial, and it doesn’t help anyone. It means that we get a bunch of Blairalikes- Cameron and Clegg, or exaggerated characters trying to appear just like us (Farage). And worst of all it means that instead of genuine political ability, knowledge or integrity what’s most prized is slickness, image and pandering to the crowd.

Blair talking about Deidre being arrested was the first step, now every politician has to wade in on the most trivial cultural issue- X Factor controversies, sweary comedians, sweets by the till. It’s hard to imagine Edward Heath commenting on the demise of the Beatles or Margaret Thatcher coming out to say she was Team Spandau Ballet.

They wouldn’t have pretended to like or even know the current bands, and frankly I’d prefer that. Barack Obama is the only leader I’ve seen who can juggle the trivial and the important and not look worse for it. When Gordon Brown said he liked the Arctic Monkeys I didn’t think “Wow, he’s so cool and down with the kids”, I just thought “Gordon, you don’t need to lie like this, personally I’d rather have a leader who was on the ball politically and couldn’t name a number one artist after the Spice Girls”.

I fear that the 2015 election is going to plumb new depths of nastiness and shallowness. Forget the debates and attack ads, every leader should only be allowed to talk about their policies, and how they’d action them.

I’m going to vote this year. Not voting doesn’t sound right to me, but I have no idea who I’m going to vote for. It’s slim pickings out there, and it’s easy to see why so many people are disillusioned with our broken system.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.