Decisions, decisions, decisions – green, red or yellow?

With the Euro elections approaching the dilemma of who to vote for is upon us. Now from a personal point of view this isn’t a dilemma I normally face as I have, until recently, always voted Labour, even though where I live in North Somerset that is pretty pointless and in the local elections there wasn’t even a Labour candidate to vote for! But this time, I’m just not sure. I detest the way Labour seem to be vying for the centre ground, tweaking Tory policies rather than dismantling them, using the same detestable terminology as the Tories and failing on so many policy areas that should be at the heart of the Labour Party I used to be a member of and believe in. How times have changed, a slow gradual change, which leaves too crowded a centre ground of politics, moving ever further to the right under the current regime – it seems to be working though doesn’t it, Cameron almost seems to be more right wing than Thatcher was, but in a more acceptable way? For me one of Blair’s biggest failings was that he didn’t use the massive majority government he had in 1997 to do anything radical and to move politics back to the centre-left, leaving us in this situation now where the left is all but a myth in party politics.

Anyway, apologies for the indulgence, but I decided to take a rational, logical approach to this dilemma, at least that was the idea – by reading the party literature and watching the political broadcasts to see what the priorities of each party are and to see which fit best with my own beliefs and values. Just a week before the election and I have only received 3 leaflets through the door – Tory, Labour and Green, nothing as yet from Lib Dems, UKIP (thank goodness) or anyone else. Now I’ll break from the logic briefly to say there is no chance in this world that I would ever vote Tory or UKIP, so they are discounted from the consideration from the start as are any of the other marginal/extreme organisations standing for election this time round. So that leaves me with Labour, Liberal Democrat, or Green to consider and a short, superficial ramble around their policies and my thoughts on them follows:

Labour – I truly hated their election broadcasts, the focus on hardworking people is just too Tory for me and the un-credible shrinking Clegg was just too crass for words. The election leaflet I got was a mix of Euro and local policy/politics – I don’t have a local election to vote in, so much of it was irrelevant. AND even worse, they used the term ‘hard-working families‘ in the leaflet – Labour are putting them first apparently – not sure where that leaves the rest of us!  Now for a Euro election leaflet there really was far too much focus on national policy and having a go at the Tories, most of which I may well agree with, but not really that relevant to whether or not they are the right party to get my European election vote. Overall it was pretty poor and a bit thin on policy and not at all convincing in terms of where they stand on key European issues like regulation, environmental policy, climate change, immigration, trade agreements, employment rights etc. There’s more in the Manifesto, obviously, which I did glance through, but for me the biggest omission was around environmental policy and climate change, this got the merest mention, it should be much higher up the agenda for all parties particularly in Europe. This is an area where the Labour Party constantly under perform and was one of the reason I quit my membership several years ago. Not a great start, and sadly they won’t be getting my vote this time. Here’s hoping the general election policies and manifesto are significantly better developed and thought out than current evidence suggests.

Liberal Democrat – don’t recall much about their party political broadcasts apart from the Incredible Silent man response to Labour’s attack on Clegg, I actually thought this was quite amusing and makes an important point, at least Clegg had the guts to debate with Farage, even if it did backfire slightly. Now at the time of writing I hadn’t received a Lib Dem leaflet but I have read through their European Manifesto which covered all the things you’d expect it to. Compared to Labour they do have more on climate change and the environment, which was good to see and overall there wasn’t a lot I would disagree with. From what I have seen of Graham Watson MEP he’s a good, decent MEP who does a good job for the South West in Europe – I hope he gets re-elected, but I’m not sure he’ll get my vote, mostly because I can’t get past the thought of the Lib Dems nationally and some of the policies they have voted for over the last few years as part of the Coalition government. So sorry Graham, you are being let down by your national party, but good luck and I hope you get back in.

Green – many of the foundations of Green Party policy are very close to my own values and beliefs, but in the past I wouldn’t have counted them as a credible party with a wide enough range of policies (not until the last 10 or so years anyway) so have never voted Green nationally or locally. I liked their leaflet and I have to say their party election broadcast was one of the best I have seen for some time now. They come across a lot more professional and credible now than when I first got to know them back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, soon after they formed. They certainly hit more of the right buttons for me in terms of prioritisation of policies on climate change, environment, jobs, public services and workers’ rights both nationally and at a European level. I can’t help but think they have taken advantage of Labour’s shift to the centre and grabbed some of the centre-left ground with their policies, but hey at least someone is! I also thought that Molly Scott Cato, as lead candidate, did an excellent job in the hustings meetings/interviews I have watched and/or listened to. So maybe this time I’ll vote Green, it’s certainly looking likely and it would be good to have a green MEP in the South West.

With European elections on the same day as the local elections in Bristol, it will also be interesting to see how this impacts on local voting patterns. One third of the seats are up for election, with the current Lib Dem leader, Tim Kent, a likely target along with Gary Hopkins. It does however all seem slightly pointless now we have an elected mayor in Bristol, who doesn’t belong to any political party. We will undoubtedly see Labour gain more seats and extend their majority, but so what, what difference does it actually make to how the council works or how decisions are taken? But I will no doubt watch with interest as the result pour in and will undoubtedly blog about the results.

Whatever your political beliefs and voting intentions, it is of course important to actually use your vote, so do remember to vote on 22nd May!

Britain – A Land of Opportunity or Despair?

As the Tory Party conference draws to a close and Party conference season ends, what will we remember about any of them in a few weeks time? Did we get memorable announcements or just the same old politics? Could we have predicted much of it? I’m left feeling slightly confused and irritated – the middle ground of politics is well and truly crowded, with all 3 main parties vying for control, trying to appeal to everyone and only minimal differences showing between them.

I was looking for Labour to be more socialist, the Tories to show their true colours and the Liberals to break away from the constraints of coalition politics and show us what they are made of. And to be fair we got some of that, Labour showed they are the only party with an interest in reducing inequalities and providing opportunity for all, but didn’t go far enough on some of the issues that really matter, such as the railways, environmental policy and the Living Wage. The Liberal Democrats were a bit of a let down, with little substance to show us what difference they would make if they were in government for longer (except ban carrier bags!). And as for the Tories, well I guess they did actually show what they are about – penalising people who are out of work and characterising them as lazy scroungers, supporting big business and sticking to Plan A on austerity because it is clearly working!

The Prime Minister talked about Britain as a Land of Opportunity but is that what we really have under the Coalition Government and is it what we would get with Labour in Government? I have my doubts, there are policies across all 3 main parties and those put forward by the Green Party that would get my support but sadly overall no single party goes far enough.

No one made real commitments to adopt a minimum wage that is a Living Wage – why is that? How are people expected to live on a minimum wage that doesn’t cover living costs?How do we achieve a decent standard of living for all if the basic concept of paying people properly for the work they do cannot be implemented and doesn’t have the backing of all the main parties?

I’m no clearer now on how we are going to tackle energy policy to ensure we have both environmentally sustainable and secure energy supply for years to come. There were Tory commitments to fracking and nuclear power, Labour promises on energy price freezes and some talk of renewables, but overall, no convincing energy policy from any of them.

Housing was a key area of policy discussion, which in itself was pleasing, but again not entirely convincing. Promises were made about building more homes and helping people to buy, but I didn’t come away with the view that politicians have actually really understood why we have a housing crisis and what is needed to solve it. The discussions were often single focused, which really doesn’t help. You can’t solve the housing problem by just talking about housing. You have to consider our Industrial Strategy, our business focus, regeneration, regional policy, infrastructure decisions etc. All will contribute to solving the problem that we are not building enough homes in the right place at the right price. The constant focus on either the development industry or the planning system is not the answer – yes these are part of the problem, but so is our regional policy and industrial strategy, so are Government decisions around infrastructure spend. Until all these matters, and more, are brought together in a proper housing strategy the crisis will only get worse.

A land of opportunity or just muddling through?