Monthly Archives: April 2011

#oneaday 42: A wedding for ‘friends and followers’?

Friday 29th April 2011 and the big day is here. Up with the lark, this time though no trip to London for me, today it’s a family affair, like weddings should be. Mum, Dad and Mother in Law are all round our house to watch the royal wedding.  Nearly 30 years ago, I went to London with my mates to see Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. We partied all night, got absolutely wasted and soaking wet in the fountains at Trafalgar Square, the next day we stood on the Mall, bleary eyed and ‘watched’ the whole occasion play out. It doesn’t feel this generation have painted London red, white and blue like we did when we were boys. Maybe the kids today are either not interested or simply have too many occasions to get on it?

This is the first time that an major occasion of state has been covered not only by the BBC and ITV in Britain, but by social media. No longer will ‘viewers’ only get the official line. Now swapping between BBC TV, Facebook and Twitter depending on who your friends are or who you follow, the tone can lurch from BBC reverence to Twitter refusenik. For once I have put my natural scepticism aside and am just going to enjoy the day.  A royal wedding is just a very big version, some would say bloated, others simply dignified and laced with traditional pomp and circumstance.  For today only, Great Britain or the UK as we now refer to ourselves (I think that dates back to Jeux Sans Frontiers  or It’s a Knockout as we used to call it 30 years ago) will be the centre of the world’s attention. For today only, Great Britain will be the centre of fun and celebration. I have to admit, I am pretty proud of that fact. And the family are all in the lounge, wearing their hats and getting terribly excited.

After all weddings are for friends and  family and occasionally followers, if you are a royal. Having said that, the definition of ‘friends’ is a little different today, so maybe it is apt that this is the first royal wedding of the Facebook and Twitter age. I am enjoying the Ying of the BBC and the Yang of Twitter. Facebook is squeezed in between, almost like a drunken aunt.

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#oneaday 41: AV: Facts on the Fly(er)?

What a fantastic weekend we had. 4 days off and the most wonderful weather here in the UK. So fantastic that I decided to attend a wonderful Point to Point race meeting in the Cotswolds with friends. Glorious sunshine, happy faces, a few decent horses, some very game riders and plenty of advertising hoardings, flyers and even a  tent advertising No2AV with a big green X.  Mind you, there was no sign of Yes2AV which got me thinking why was there a ‘No’ and no ‘Yes’?

Maybe those who know about laser focus targetting felt that their target demographic would be at the meeting. From the literature I read, I am told that the only party campaigning for this Yes2AV are the Liberal Democrats, so I guess the crowd were deemed to be Conservative, Labour or simply ‘don’t care’. 

One of the leaflets carried a picture of the prime minister with a signed message:-

‘The ‘Alternative Vote’  is an unfair system that allows candidates who finish third to win elections. I urge you to vote ‘No’ to AV on 5 May, otherwise Britain could be stuck with an expensive and discredited voting systems for generations to come.

I wonder how many of those who finish third would really end up winning, although it is possible with AV and not possible under First Past the Post (or Furthest Past the Post as it could be called?  Also I would like to find out more about the ‘expensive’ nature of of the AV system, and just to round things off understand why the system is ‘discredited’ and more accurately by whom? Mr Cameron did not reference any of these facts, so I am on the hunt to find out more.

On the reverse of the flyer we are given ‘3 good reasons to vote NO’

1) ‘AV is unfair – some people’s votes would be counted more that others’ . Good to hear that fairness is a priority. I would simply ask both systems and their supporters is it fair to get a winner if they don’t receive 50% or more of the vote?

2) ‘AV is discredited – [aha, here we are, some evidence! ]- only three countries in the world use it: Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea‘.  I wonder if the people of these 3 countries know that they are discredited? Many other countries use Proportional Representation (PR) rather than AV or indeed FPTP.

3) ‘AV doesn’t work Under AV, the person who comes second or third can end up winning’  True this can happen in extremis, but statistical research in countries that use AV (those discreduited ones) shows that it is rare for the person coming second or third in the first round not to win overall.

I would like some ‘Yes2AV’ material to question, but sadly I have not received any printed flyers, either through my door (twice) or at the racing. Mind you I did rather like the sum up strap line on one of the ‘No2AV’ leaflets which made me smile

‘AV is a politicians fix: Vote No2AV on May 5th’ I think we can safely assume this piece is at least incontrovertible!

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#oneaday 40: When educated people simply can’t add up

Having decided that the Referendum on AV is not actually going to costs tax payers any extra, the next issue to consider is if we vote to bring in AV, how much will it cost to implement at the next general election? If you read or watch the #No2AV campaign materials, it will cost the UK £250 million. That is a lot of money in anyone’s book right?

Apparently though, the referendum itself is costing £91 million. That is according to the leaflet in favour of #No2AV that dropped through my door last week. I am not sure exactly where that number comes from – so would like to challenge it. Given we are being asked to vote at exactly the same time as the other elections planned for that day, which would happen anyway, where does £91 million come from?

That makes me suspcious of the next set of figures printed in the leaflet.

[Headline] THE COST OF AV IS

£250 million

The referendum alone is costing £91 million. And switching to AV would cost even more:-

£130 million on electtronic vote counting machines

£26 million on explaining the new system to voters

So that is a total of 91 + 130 + 26 = 247

I guess rounding up by the odd £3 million for dramatic effect works then? I smell all sorts of holes in this system, but without any debate it can be stated that the people who are advising us not to change our voting system themselves are simply unable to perform basic arithmetic. For me that is a fundamental problem. Whilst the English language allows poetic licence, mathematics simply does not. Stick to the numbers, however you have come up with them people.

Here’s an ad for the campaign. What would be really interesting to know is that of the ‘cross section of the UK’  in the video below, how many said Yes and how many were filmed outside the City of London? We only see those who say ‘YES’, statistcally how many said ‘NO’?  I am sure the #Yes2AV campaign are guilty of exactly the same tactics – I will look at those next.

So for me the second thing I can derive from this Referendum is a plea to both camps to try and stick to facts and also to back those facts up. Making up numbers has no place in reasoned debate, first past the post or otherwise.

#No2AV I accuse you of basic errors. Please correct them.

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#oneaday39: There but for the grace of God

They say life is full of ups and downs and you only really appreciate the ups when you have had plenty of downs, but sometimes things happen that give you a glimpse of what life could be like. When you see those things, if you have an ounce of humanity, you will be shaken to the core and will want to seek the warmth of your family and the comfort of your friends.

I have just experienced one such jolt, a massive wake up call. On Tuesday night, I along with another mate went to see another mate, both will remain nameless for the sake of this story, but the mate I travelled with is mate 1 and the mate we went to see is mate 2. I travelled down to the Docklands in London, not to the new ubiquitous swish developments that are a familiar sight to any London marathon runner who has run the race in the noughties, but to an old set of what we used to call ‘buildings’ – those 2 and 3 storey tenement blocks that were built in the 1920’s. This one was called Naval House and had ‘1927’ proudly chiselled into it’s brickwork. I rang the bell a few times and there was no answer. I called  mate 1 who was en route to see if there was anything unusual. My mate 1 had mentioned that we really did need to get to see our friend (mate 2)  rather soon as he had ‘got worse’. I had fudged around and broken the date twice, much to my chagrin.

My mate 1 phoned mate 2 and within a minute I hear his familiar dulcet tones from within an open window on the ground floor. Seconds later I was greeted by the man who I had not seen for about five years (mate 2). We subsequently agreed it must have been 5 years since we met up in a boozer on Fetter Lane, as I had taken a call that very night about travelling to Germany for the 2006 World Cup. 5 years, a long time and yet actually quite short as it turned out.

It was the three of us united again, 5 years on. Except this time it was very different. My friend let me in and was a very different man from the one I had last seen. We’ve all put a bit of weight on down the years, indeed I have led the way, but my friend was the finest figure of a man we knew. Fighting fit, literally at a moments notice, he was honed and hard. Years of semi pro fighting had made him almost indestructible, aside from the flattest nose this side of the Repton Boys Club. Fearless and distinguished, controlled and noble, this man was an exponent of the Chinese Martial Arts like few others. Yet the man who greeted me tonight had that same face, flattened nose and wolf like eyes, sharp as pins and almost glowing, but his body had become twisted and awkward. He was like a puppet who had got his strings terribly tangled mid dance. LikeAction Man with twisted internal rubber bands.

I was shocked. I had heard that he had been in a bad way and was getting worse, indeed that night 5 years back he had baled early citing that he had some illness which was effecting his energy levels, something he and we had laughed off. Little did we know that he would contract a rare and seemingly incurable muscle wasting disease that would render this once indestructible man, almost crippled.

He told us of his daily life of powerful painkilling drugs, endless DVDs, terminal tiredness and the debilitating realisation that he could no longer take a stroll down the shops, pop out for a drink or lead the high life that we used to lead such a short time back. The endless pain, the depression and the lack of contact with the outside world had taken a toll. Even typing on his laptop became exhausting and frustrating in equal measure.

This gave both of us a horrible and brutal window in what it must be like to get old, lose touch with the outside world and never be able to revisit the times when you were fitter and more able to enjoy the good things. The really shocking layer however, was that our mate is only a few years older than us, and has literally become an ageing man in a couple of years.

We discussed old times, the boxing scene, the fights we went to see, the football matches abroad, the capers, the good times and the bad. We laughed a lot and we listened. We both came away feeling helpless, a tad depressed and above all gutted that our very good friend was in this physical state. Indeed I am actually quite angry. The social services have been less than brilliant, the medical profession have let him down, his ex business partner has treated him like a mug and most of all his friends have gone missing. That includes us.

If you ever get down about your lot life, spare a thought for those who are worse off. There are millions and millions and yet it is only when you see someone you know really down on their luck do you actually wake up and realise how lucky we all are. Look out for your friends and family, they are the ones who need you most and we all need to support each other before it is too late. You can never roll back time. Never.

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#oneaday38: Alternative Votester

I am actually really gutted that I have not made the consistent effort to keep up with the #oneadayproject, there are loads of excuses but none of them really matter at all. It has been a really busy and rather interesting time between March 9th and today, April 19th. Forty one, yes forty one days of being lazy, however interesting things have been.

So here is my attempt at getting back on track, well sort of. I am attempting a daily blog about the Alternative Vote referendum that is set to take place on May 5th. Very much the battle of the  #Yes2AV or #No2AV camps. At this juncture, I will declare that I am instinctively supportive of the Yes2AV team, although that is based on my sometimes fanciful and romantic view of democracy.  But there are loads and loads of pros and cons for both arguments, not least that it seems that no one ACTUALLY really believes in the AV system! Even Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister who is a key figure in the #Yes2AV campaign referred to AV as ‘a miserable little compromise’ 2 weeks before last May’s General Election.

So, by way of the first short but sweet ‘things to consider about AV’  how about this one. If no one really believes in the AV system surely it is a shoe-in that the #No2AV campaign will walk the vote and few will actually turn up to vote in the first place?

So given that we should all use our vote, something that is our democratic right and our responsibility, it seems like we are turning up to vote on an issue and that is a waste of money, right?

Well wrong actually. The ConDem Coalition like to think that they know a thing or two about cost cutting and they cunningly agreed to run the Referendum on electoral reform which was a key cornerstone of the Coalition negotiations on the same day, May 5th,  as local elections will take place on in 279 English local authorities. Elections will also be held on the same day to the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and Northern Ireland Assembly. In Northern Ireland, elections to the existing 26 local councils are also due to be held the same day. So at least extra cash has not be spent allowing us to cast our vote.

Any money spent will be spent by the respective campaigns on advertising literature both on and off line and broadcasts that attempt to sway the undecided. I am reliably informed the Government will not be paying for any of this.

So conclusion number 1 is:-

The Referendum on AV will not cost the country any extra cash. This feels right to me. A tick in the box and we are off to a flyer.

That is not to say that either side will not use economic arguments to get their point across though. More on Baroness Warsi’s ‘Election Counting Machines’ next 😉

Until tomorrow. Hopefully.

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