Lancashire Under Review

To much (ignorant and misunderstood) cries of “fix!” and “gerrymander!” and “How dare you launch so many constitutional reforms in one go, it makes us look bad!”, the Labour Party are opposing the plan to reduce the number of Members of Parliament to 600, from 650.

As part of the review, parliamentary seats have to be redrawn, one of my favourite activities, although the new legislation puts a lot of strain on me and the many “boundary anoraks” who have been trying out get things sorted in preparation. I point you to a couple of threads at VoteUK (“Equal Voting Size” and “AV Referendum set to be announced“), as well as this thread on USElectionAtlas (“Let the great boundary rejig commence“. These show just how difficult and drawn out the process may turn out to be. I am personally very set against splitting electoral wards between seats, something which may need to happen to make the numbers add up.

My proposals take a look at my home county of Lancashire. The numbers are quite clear; the county cannot lose a seat without being paired with a neighbouring county. I have added up and divided and subtracted as much as possible, for the County to go from 16 to 15 MPs, it must use wards from somewhere beyond Lancashire. To this end, I chose Greater Manchester. It allows for some flexibility, and avoids the problem of creating major knock-on effects elsewhere (as using Cumbria would, for example).

These are my proposed seats for Lancashire, so far. I now will move on to Greater Manchester. Some of these creations have been up and down and switched and changed, but ultimately these seem to be the best I can do with my knowledge of local geography, community links, and democratic validity. Labour supporters who oppose the reduction in MP numbers cry foul over the changes, without any understanding of the manner in which the changes take place. I did not set out with a plan to create constituencies which were anti-Labour, or pro-Tory, or likely-LibDem. It would be fruitless of me to try.

Anyway, here be what I have created so far…Lancashire down from 16 to 15…

1) Blackburn and Rishton. Takes the town of Blackburn and adds half of Hyndburn next door. This seat effectively merges the two existing seats together, although the extreme west of Blackburn, and east of Hyndburn, are moved elsewhere.

2) Blackpool North and Fleetwood. Not quite the pre-2010 seat, but close enough. Takes the eastern suburbs of Blackpool, so in essence the town is divided east/west rather than strictly north/south. This creation maintains the current divide of Thorton from Cleveleys, which wasn’t ideal but no alternative exists which doesn’t isolate Fleetwood from the rest of the county (no jokes about this already being the case, please….)

3) Blackpool South. Almost called “Squire’s Gate and The Golden Mile” for a bit of variety, this is the existing South with a “tail” extending along almost the whole coastal touristy bit.

4) Burnley and Accrington. Almost all the existing Burnley seat with the eastern bits of Hyndburn. I could not keep Burnley as a united authority because Pendle is undersized, but this I think neatly brings two near neighbours together in a credible combination.

5) Chorley and Wrightington. This caused me all sorts of headaches. Chorley is just the right size for a constituency, but no near neighbours are, so I had to add bits of Chorley to South Ribble to make up the numbers there. This seat takes Chorley into the south-west, with Parbold, Appleby Bridge, Lathom and Wrightington all joining in. I notice from Google Earth and Street View that there seems to be good road links between them all, so can’t see anything too unusual here. My first thought was “Chorley and Horwich”, but that would have been far too messy.

6) Darwen, Egerton and Pleasington. I know the name is a bit clumsy, but with the existing “Rossendale and Darwen” not having any actual direct road links between those two towns, something had to be done. I think this is a decent replacement, Darwen is connected to the parts of the authority it left Lancashire for, the northern bits of Bolton look north as much as they do south, and it replaces a constituency which had little democratic validity.

7) Fylde. The entire borough of Fylde coupled with the town of Poulton-le-Fylde. The seat is no longer coupled with Preston at all. This caused me a lot of headaches, as originally I envisaged Fylde being paired with Garstand and points east.

8) Lancaster and Morecambe. Exactly what it says on the tin. The city of Lancaster, and the towns of Morecambe and Heysham.

9) Pendle and Burnley North. With Pendle stuck in the top right corner of East Lancashire, it’s not easy to create a credible seat without splitting something into pieces. I have not been to silly here, I don’t think, moving Danehouse, Queensgate and Lanehead wards into Pendle.

10) Preston. The existing seat of Preston, minus Ingol ward, plus the ‘commute to work’ bits from over the Ribble. This is a slight return to the pre-2010 seat, although I have added Coupe Green and Gregson Lane as well, because it’s awkward positioning made adding to Chorley or Ribble Valley difficult without causing me headaches elsewhere. I did toy with calling this “Preston, Bamber Bridge and Samlesbury” but given the 1997-2010 seat was effectively this without a name change I don’t think one is needed here.

11) Rossendale and Ramsbottom. The whole of Rossendale borough is over 20,000 voters too small, so something had to be added. I tried north, I tried east where everything goes moorland and mountainy, I considered Darwen despite my misgivings. But this seems to be the best of a bad bunch. Takes three chunks out of Bury, going as far south as Tottington, but I don’t think a good MP will have any problem representing a seat of this size and shape.

12) South Ribble. No longer taking in any of the Lancashire Marsh Towns, this South Ribble includes the town of Euxton from Chorley. You only have to talk to people in my office for an hour or so to discover just how Euxton is considered a natual extension to Leyland, so a seat like this makes sense. The advantage of the larger constituency size plan is the reversal of the stupid decision to take Lostock Hall and Tardy Gate into Ribble Valley.

13) Valleys of Ribble and Lune. I know, it’s a great name, ain’t it? The whole of the Ribble Valley borough coupled with the rural bits from Lancaster, looping around to include Carnforth and Silverdale and other bits people assume are Cumbrian. This seat works because it keeps a lot of rural Lancashire together.

14) West Lancashire. The borough of West Lancs is too large, so bits have to be cut away. I think taking the southern bits into Chorley make sense, and anyway I haven’t considered adding Merseyside which would have opened the door to “Southport and Ormskirk” or some such mega creations. I think keeping a borough together as best as possible is preferable.

15) Wyre and Preston North. Originally ditched from the start, I could not fathom out an alternative which made sense. At one point I had “Fylde and Rural Preston”, but this painted me into a Garstang shaped corner. My WaPN is far larger than the current seat and of course does not include Poulton-le-Fylde.

Stephen James Buckley and the Feverdreamers

Look at that band name. Just look at it; six words. SIX. That’s the maximum permitted limit for Registered Political Parties in the UK, and by the Heavens you can imagine these Lancashire miserablists coming around at election time to direct undecided voters to the nearest pub to scape all the silliness.

Well, okay, “miserablists” is not entirely accurate, for SJB&TF have a sly wit undercutting their accented blues. With “Cover of the Rolling Stone”, the lightest of the tracks on new EP “…have left the building”, nevertheless runs along with a style which presumably must be accompanied by video footage of the band nodding their heads to the barman to order extra drinks during the set. The sleazy “Fabulous Club” has a storyteller’s charm, albeit the kind with a parental advisory sticker and its own sleek black carrier bag. “Behind The Moon” is something altogether different – it’s not ‘haunting’ in the sense All Saints’ “Pure Shores” was ‘haunting’, it genuinely does unsettle, a lament that is so honest it hurts. Real foot-on-a-plug-socket hurts.

To be absolutely honest – would you want things any other way? – the EP is one of the strongest little (even ‘ickle’ for those who prefer such linguistic throwaways) collections you are likely to hear, accompanied or not by swigging red wine straight from the bottle.

Stephen James Buckley and The Feverdreamers’ “…have left the building” can be found, listened to, and downloaded here

I agree with Diane

Labour’s leadership election has been – genuinely – fascinating. At a time when political philosophy and beliefs return as discussion points on the television news for the first time since ‘debate’ enraged over the extent of which Blair distrusted Brown, the Labour Party rage over who was more anti-Iraq than the others, who dislikes the Tories more. All the male contenders, one or two nuanced differences on public service reform aside, speak exactly the same; they are men who reached the highest level of public office possible under Blair/Brown and now talk with all the conviction of mid-level advertising executives at a lunchtime PowerPoint meetings.

I wish the male contenders could be taken seriously. Ed Balls is perhaps the worst of all, tripping up on Radio5Live yesterday with such gems as refusing to explain how he would grow the economy, (“I would grow the economy and make jobs”, he boasted, with a flourish of the Tommy Cooper ‘Just Like That!’). He waffled on about corporate hospitality at cricket grounds to the amusement of the audience, getting a knowing guffaw when he described his constituency of Morley and Outwood as “marginal”. It certainly wasn’t in the notional predictions, Ed, wonder why that was?

Andy “I’m not from London, you know” Burnham speaks with conviction, although his constant complaining about the New Labour way of doing things (he seems obsessed with talking about ‘dinner party ways of doing things’ like someone casually mentioning in their Facebook statuses how they don’t mind never being invited to friends’ events).

The two Millibands are perhaps the most emblematic of the defeated Labour regime. David looks and sounds and acts with Blairite ambition, even affecting the considered croak in the voice Blair used when saying one word while hastily calculating the next best word to use. David’s reputation has had, in once case literally, banana skin moments, the flawed genius unable to fulfil his promise at the right time, now he is struggling not to act like a “King uncrowned”.

Diane Abbott, helped to the shortlist by David Milliband, has been the candidate with the least to lose and the most to say. Sounding more genuinely Labour than any of her male opponents, on topics from privatising hospital cleaning contracts to renewing Trident, Diane is the sound of how the Labour Party used to be before, as she put it, the New Labour “marketing exercise” was introduced.

Blair’s reform of Labour was electorally successful, albeit at the expense of support from traditional Labour followers. The Party of 1997 was not that of 1979, and by following Thatcherite economic models and following George W Bush into the illegal invasion of Iraq, Blair did not break sweat in the aim of getting back those supporters. Labour now has an opportunity to set its course for the duration of this (fixed-term) Parliament; to continue as a centre-left “social democratic party”, or to return to its core values as a broadly left, socialist campaigning party. Diane will not win the leadership, she knows that, but her presence in the campaign highlights the state of Labour today – men of a certain age talking the same language, no difference dared spoken, no radical opinions dared suggested.

During the Liberal Democrat leadership campaign – I put Chris Huhne as my first preference over Nick Clegg, incidentally – what it meant to be liberal in the British political scene was debated right at the top of the contest. I am no closer understanding what it means to be a Labour supporter in 2010 having followed their leadership debates. David Milliband will win, there is no question, taking the Party back to Blairite positioning on welfare and NHS reform and Academy schools.

There could be another way, a genuine change from the Labour Party which alienated so many of its core supporters. To this end, I agree with Diane.

Reform agenda

If you have often been confused by the phrase “cutting off the nose to spite the face”, may I point you to the news that the parliamentary Labour Party are to vote against the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill not for reasons of principle but for misguided and misunderstood ignorance.

Labour are all for voting reform, we’ve heard many a Labour MP (including Gordon Brown during the leaders debates) say as much. Tony Blair wasn’t so much of a fan, kicking Roy Jenkins’ “AV+” model into the long grass without barely having enough time to dog-ear the report’s index page. Most MPs agree that the UK needs to replace First Past The Post, the “winner takes all” system whereby an MP can have 5 years on the Green Benches on the back of being LESS popular than all the other candidates on the ballot paper combined.

Labour fought the 2010 election on a manifesto pledge to support AV. To turn away, as they have announced they will do, gives the impression that they would rather oppose for the sake of opposition, a truly pathetic reaction.

Their reasoning draws from the fact that the Bill also puts into place boundary changes to lower the number of MPs in Parliament from 650 to 600. It goes without saying, surely, that the UK is too small a country to have 650 MPs? An ever greater reduction would be welcome in the long-term, not least because India (with over a BILLION PEOPLE) has 545 members in its Lower House. We know now, then, that Labour support spending millions more on maintaining the House of Commons as the most bloated Chamber in the democratic world. Good that we have that sorted.

One of the most amusing – down right laughable – parts of Labour’s opposition is their use of the word “gerrymander”. If only they could use their insults correctly! How can it be fair that Labour can “stack up” smaller, compact urban seats with fewer electors while all other parties – not just LibDem – are forced to fight larger, mostly rural constituencies, often for less votes?

Some critics on Facebook and Twitter seem to be ignorant to the existence of the Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales, three organisations who have been doing this sort of thing independent of Government since the Second World War. “Tories want to gerrymander the country!!” is the kind of ignorant headline grabbing whinging I’d expect from less well tendered Student Unions, not the Labour Party. They know, as most of us know, that the Boundary Commission process is at arm’s-reach from Government. Opposing these changes for the sake of being anti-Tory is utter dribble.

What this means, of course, is another flip-flop in the known facts of British politics. Labour are not only the party against police accountability and now against progressive political reform, too.

To be against the AV referendum because of some misguided understanding of the boundary review process, as if it is some newly invented system never before seen under the eyes of God, is the most cynical and child-like ploy in modern politics.

Just what exactly is the current Labour Party in favour of?

Da Police

Home Secretary Theresa May has confirmed plans for major police reform, although I am aware that “major police reform” is the kind of phrase often too often from the Home Office recently. It became quite common under the Labour Government, whose tabloid led reform was very much “top down” – more targets, more dictats, more demands. It was “reform by Daily Mail”, a concept so unsettling in its breadth I feel slightly dead inside thinking about the entire consequences.

May has proposed changing this around – the two headlines are the introduction of elected Police Commissioners by 2012, and the abolition of SOCA. Well, “building upon” SOCA, to form a new National Crime Agency from the amalgamation of numerous existing bodies.

On elected Police Commissioners, I support the plans as set out. It is right, if we are to have a police force which works for the safety of local communities, to have accountability at a local level. It remains the case that the police are largely without a single answerable higher force. I’m not great fan of the civil liberty hoovering-up which occurred under Labour, where the police became Moral Guardians, Drink Monitors and Attitude Surveyors. Theresa May must do what she can to focus the police on ACTUAL crime, not Thought Policing.

I hear a lot of “What about the BNP” straw-man arguments about elected Commissioners. Party membership is forbidden at the highest level of the existing police structure, I would hope this remains the case. However if the Commission candidates are able to be party political, then that’s fine by me. Ever since a member of the English Democrats was elected as Mayor of Doncaster, he has done more damage to the reputation of the far-right than anyone could have dreamed. His Party are no more a threat now than before his election; in 2010, despite his “ground breaking” election, the English Democrats continue to be nothing more than a vociferous bunch of nut-jobs. I have no fear about them, or the BNP, or any other extremists being elected; the far-right just are not able to secure electoral credibility.

In any case, using the BNP as a threat against allowing people to vote in elections, even changing the voting system, is incredibly patronising. It supposes that democracy is open to all, just not to all. The idea that increasing accountability or changing voting systems or opening up the House of Lords should be curtailed because of the ‘threat’ of the BNP is in itself anti-democratic and extreme.

One encouraging additional announcement from Theresa May is her pledge not to force police forces to merge. I remember campaigning against the planned merger of Lancashire and Cumbria forces into the laughably named “CaLPOL” some years ago. I was confronted in Lancaster by a self-proclaimed anarchist who wanted all police forces disbanded, these things tend to stick with you. As the Derrick Bird and Raoul Moat cases have proven, Constabularies need to know their local area intimately. It would have been far worse with Bird, for example, to expect a merged “CaLPOL” to follow a gunman through winding Cumbrian roads. Northumberland Police were able to get help from neighbouring forces, but it was their own knowledge of the rural outcrops of Rothbury which ultimately helped find Moat. A “Greater North East” police force would have focused its resources on Newcastle City Centre to the detriment of everywhere else.

A message board I visit began to discuss the full privatisation of the Police force, on the grounds that the State shouldn’t have its own “legislation enforcement team” in any case. Such a radical consideration falls down after some scrutiny, perhaps mercifully. As a realistic alternative, allowing members of the public to hold their local bobbies to greater account will do for me.

It is a sign of the times that it is Labour who want to deny devolution and accountability, while the Conservative-led coalition are taking power away from unelected bodies into the hand of ordinary people.

Five Alive

Ready for the new series of “Snog, Marry, Deport” ?

It is rumoured that Richard Desmond, he the big chief at the Daily Express and Daily Star, in addition to a collection of top-shelf magazines of the one-handed entertainment variety, is at the front of the queue outside the RTL offices with a big bid for British television channel Five. If this sale goes ahead, and the Guardian is suggesting OFCOM and the Competition Commission may be having words, British television may undergo one of its biggest character shifts in generations….and all at a time when the future of the BBC looks a bit cloudier than usual.

Desmond is no fly-by-night suit. His media empire is certainly impressive, albeit one built on both extreme prejudice and porn. Both the Express and Star have spent the last 6 months becoming increasingly less subtle with their language and tone, reaching a peak (or the depths) with the former’s use of the word “Ethnics” on the front page last week. It really does grate on the teeth, doesn’t it? The Star has used the sensationalist (and untrue) headline “They’ve taken all our jobs” this year, right out of the text book of the most knuckle-dragging of extreme types.

It is worth noting, too, that the Express is home to such a regular collection of pet hates and conspirliloon articles that, if read too quickly or flicked through at speed, would give a casual reader the impression that Diana died of House Price Cancer. Whatever voice the Express and Star claim to use these days, it’s neither one of the sound majority or reasoned few. And the threat now comes from a home-grown media tycoon making his way into national television in what could be a “pincer movement” with the increasingly hyperbolic SKY News.

Channel Five, as was, launched as the final jigsaw piece in the grand plan of what was the very analogue-obsessed Broadcasting Act. Launched on a promise of “football, films and fucking”, the rebranded Five sounds like the perfect place for Desmond…but we now better than that, don’t we? With broadcasting regulations tighter than before, and the likelihood of an overtly prejudice programme not high in the first few months, Five may improve from its import heavy output at first….

…I just dread for its future in the long-run. Now I appreciate that Five has never been the place to expect The World At War or subtitled films (well, of a certain kind, mayhaps, it’s just a man like Desmond with his back-catalogue comes to the table with a certain….well, prejudice. Neither the Express nor Star hide their colours – offensive and prejudiced beyond the reasonable tone of national, mainstream newspapers.

While I’m here, I have been somewhat baffled by the reaction – largely on-line – to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s hint that the BBC licence fee could be cut. Given that most complaints normally come from people who WANT it cut, I guess it is true that you really cannot please all people all of the time. In an age of austerity, why should the BBC not have a cut in its income stream? I love the BBC, have always stood up for it against the whingers and whiners, it’s just so typical to hear the “save the BBC” calls come up on the basis of “teh evil Tories” suggesting a cut in paying for Auntie.

Look at commercial television – mayhaps Sky Arts as a potentially exciting exception – and look at the output of the BBC. Wonder what Five could turn into under the watchful eye of the proprietor of the Express (“ETHNIC BABY BOOM CRISIS”). Don’t dismiss the maxim “be careful what you wish for”.

Complexity of Freedom

Historical author and my former Media Studies comrade Faye Booth sent me a hum-dinger of a question the other day. What differences could I find between the recent spate of Facebook groups created to applaud murderer Raoul Moat, and the Jan Moir article questioning the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gatley.

At first glance, the question seemed particularly easy to answer. Rough draft paragraphs were drawn up, Blogger booted up, and my typing fingers prepared to drift and dance across the keyboard. That is until the question and its consequential matters of interest drifted into my mind as I contemplated the issues from all sides. At the very core of the question is the concept of “freedom of speech”, which stumped me with its paradoxical characteristics. “Freedom of speech” is tangible and concrete, certain and abstract. To my slight personal horror, I could not speak up for the Raoul Moat “Legend” groups without doing the same for Jan Moir.

Moir wrote, in an article published in the Daily Mail one day before Gatley’s funeral, a piece littered with innuendo and inaccuracies. Her piece implied that his natural death was nothing of the sort, suggesting that his “lifestyle” (with trademark Daily Mail inverted commas) was responsible for him dying. “Otherwise” healthy young men, she wrote, doubtlessly enjoying using the word “otherwise”, do not walk up stairs to bed without coming back downstairs again.

The piece caused a furore on-line and eventually across the country. Record numbers of people wrote to the Press Complaints Commission, which ultimately vindicated Moir. Her opinions were almost universally panned; it was an article which jeered and sneered, presuming the coroner’s report and insulting the fans of a man who had not yet been buried. Although the Daily Mail allowed comments on the piece, the tone was generally negative. At the time of the PCC response, I blogged an article criticising the manner in which newspapers are governed.

During the search for gunman Raoul Moat, the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook filled with comments and opinions. Some were sarcastic and ironic, cheering the man who was successfully evading the Northumberland Constabulary after killing one man and seriously injuring his former girlfriend and a police officer. Inevitably, comments on-line were not always in the best of taste. His letter-writing and success at evading the police hunt created a number of jokes, with internet memes created placing Moat in a Halo-style game and a 1980s style text-based computer programme. .

Facebook users did their bit by creating the now infamous group “RIP Moat – You Legend”. Whether entirely serious or not, the group nevertheless attracted comments from people who either genuinely expressed condolences or wanted to attack the police. Comments such as “Fuck da police, gd on ya Moaty” and “No police ever gonna gun u down” were amongst the earliest postings. Former MP George Galloway on BBC Question Time suggested these comments were indicative of a constituency of white, working class Britons who had no respect of authorities. I agree to an extent; the “Legend” groups and others like it show there is a large gap between the commentariat’s assumption of ‘respect’ and reality in the country.

Faye’s question asked me to explain how the Moir article stood against the concept of ‘freedom of speech’ while the Moat groups were acceptable using the ‘freedom’ defence. Nobody on any side of the political spectrum stands on a platform promising restrictions on ‘freedom of speech’. It is one of the most important, vital elements of our democracy. Moir, a journalist of some repute, has every right to publish an opinion piece just as anyone can create a provocative or controversial Facebook group. But why did Moir’s article cause so much negative comment while the Legend group was defended as ‘right’ in a democracy?

Is it an internet thing? Whenever censorship of the ‘net is suggested, the on-line community flares up in protest. Any hint of a Facebook group being ordered closed gets the instant reaction of outrage and horror. If the “Legend” groups began as articles in a magazine, would the support have been any less vocal? Had the groups been called something else – just “The Raoul Moat Group” ? – would the media and politicians gone into such overdrive?

Moir’s article was almost universally derided, and in my opinion rightly so. However in the context of the Moat groups, the derision seems somehow different. Is hindsight reminding us that the Voltaire principle of ‘freedom of speech’ doesn’t always fit when really scrutinised? Is the difference merely content – Moir insulted homosexuals while the Moat groups are almost too preposterous to be taken seriously?

Walking around these past few days considering the question has resulted in no clear conclusions. I wanted to continue sticking up two fingers against Moir, only now to stand up for the Moat groups as an example of acceptable opinion giving forces me to do the same for Moir. She was wrong, and admitted as much in a guarded apology. The Moat groups are in bad-taste, I have no doubt about that. I just cannot feel comfortable agreeing with the suggestion that the Moat groups have to be taken down when we live in a country where expression of opinions is a birth-right.

As an open-minded soul on the centre-left of politics, I stand against prejudice and censorship. So where does that put me on this question? Faye…I don’t know.

Liam Rhodes

Liam Rhodes is a conservative blogger and social media communicator…During a recent spate of discussions and arguments on Twitter about his personal politics and definition of conservatism in the age of the Coalition.

I offered to ask Liam some questions following on from these discussions. This is what came from the questions…

You can find me on Twitter @doktorb, or Liam at @LiamRhodes.

So, Liam, thanks for this, for those who may not have seen you on Twitter before now, it may be best if we just find out a little about you…..

Well, I’m 21. I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party since 2005. I sought election in a difficult ward as a borough councillor in 2010. I’m also the blogger behind

…Good, right, on Twitter you have been taking part in a continuing discussion about whether you are a “capital C” Conservative. How would you describe yourself ?

I’m a liberal one nation Conservative. I have always been a liberal, one nation Conservative.

That is, I am a small ‘c’ Conservative. I believe in Government providing both a ladder and a safety net whilst the State is smaller than it was in the Labour years to make room for private sector, sustainable growth. I also believe that the State should leave people alone and let them get on with their lives. I am an advocate of equal rights – but also free speech.

One recent tweet from you said you had become more progressive over the years, how would you describe this process?

A very painful personal journey for me resulted in the anti-progressivism to begin with. It’s a difficult question for me to answer.

Did the Coalition agreement change your opinion specifically? Or was this a process already in motion before the election?

I support the coalition because it is first and foremost in the national interest, and I believe it is where the Conservative Party has an opportunity to further change.

Would defecting away from the Conservative Party ever be an option for you? What are your opinions of people who do defect parties?

Not unless the Conservative Party took a big turn to the right. My opinions of people who defect are not negative; I understand that in some circumstances, people’s hearts change.

In terms of specific policies, the Coalition are accused of slashing spending on public services at the least appropriate time. Are you concerned by the cuts to public services?

I put my faith in the Coalition to protect the front-line services and the most vulnerable.

To what degree is the current Council Tax scheme “fair” ?

I believe Council Tax system is fair because it is progressive in the sense that older people pay less and people who live alone get a discount.

At what level should, for example, Child Tax Credits or Child Benefits be cut? Are you afraid the Labour Government spent too much on such benefits, or is “too much” not a problem when dealing with child and family welfare?

I believe Child Tax Credits and benefits should be means-tested further, and I am disheartened by the fact that we didn’t act on this when we had the opportunity. I am very concerned that Labour created a means of Statism whereby people felt they were dependent on the State. They favour State dependence because it results in more votes for them – and they believe in a large State.

Instead of handing out these forms of benefits, it makes much more sense to me to cut tax.

Should there be an English Parliament?

No. I simply don’t believe we need one. It would cost a heck of a lot and there is no added value to balance that cost.

What is a “living wage” in your opinion?

I would support an increase in the minimum wage to £6 with inflation, but not during the current economic climate. I would never support a ‘living wage’ because it would result in economic failure. No business will employ some unskilled workers for £7 or more per hour. It’s simply unsustainable.

Which former British Prime Minister do you most admire?

Margaret Thatcher. Not because of her social Conservatism – far from it. Because she fought for what she believed in and she saved the British economy from turmoil.

And finally…..What is it about Twitter you like so much?

I like the fact that you can be in contact people who share common interests. I certainly don’t like it when things get personal. For example, I’ve just been called ‘arrogant’. Oh well!

((This interview was carried out by email. Questions and responses have been re-ordered and edited for space))

Fame Academy

Auntie Beeb has an awkward relationship with ‘event television’, the kind of big ticket items commercial broadcasters know massive outlay splooge can be spent because advertising revenue will recoup part of the costs. For the Beeb, chasing the ratings and yet being innotive with programming is the eternal struggle for its own existence; it’s why latest Saturday ratings hopeful “101 Ways to Leave a Gameshow” will be wrapped around the Licence Fee discussions like a tightly knotted neon turd.

Ahead of the game with “Strictly Come Dancing”, the Beeb was caught napping around the time of the “Pop Idol”/”Pop Star” frenzy, to such a degree it cobbled together buttoned-up talent show “Fame Academy”. Rather than replicate the ITV pace-setters entirely, the Beeb went for “education” and “learning”, with the positive elements of training the starlets to write their own material and only sing where they felt comfortable. Unlike “The X-Factor”, which looks beamed from another universe in compairson, the students of ‘the Academy’ were not made to sing from outside their comfort zone or be made to feel awkward about thier differences. While this should be applauded – it made for refreshing change to the sausage-factory approach to talent television – “Fame Academy” utilmately suffered by producing only one commercially viable contestent in two series…and he soon faded from sight.

A select few “Fame Academy” wannabes, to be fair, did anything after the credits rolled. Did the BBC fail them? Unlike “The X Factor”, or indeed “Pop Idol/Star”, there was a sense of realism about the business called show. The fact that each person was shown struggling to write and sing every week showed far more realism than the polished products which turn up on the “X Factor” stage every week. “We want to make you a star…if we can” probably did for the BBC in the end; nobody on reality television likes reality to be so, well, real.

Limahl, who didn’t win, made the best of his lot with well regarded RNB albums and strings of MOBO nominations and rewards. He is the only person from the show to have anything like that kind of success, such as it was. James Fox, who didn’t win, represented the UK at Eurovision, which at least guaranteed millions of viewers if not exactly sales. It must be particularly good for the spirit of a wannabe singer to know, perhaps halfway through the performance, that absolutely no good would come from singing. There are parallels to be made with my sex-life, but that should be for another blog…

Peter Brame, who had the kind of Doherty/Gallagher hybrid look that commercial broadcasters would avoid touching like the plague for being too difficult to explain to its viewers, went from the show to celebrity bed-hopping and tabloid tales. His attempt at a commercial career failed; I include the only single to get into the public domain here for reference.

David Sneddon had a woeful single release, one of the ear-worm chorus types with faux-humility running through the verses like so much off milk. Ainslie Henderson – kind of “Homebargains Roddy Woomble” – made my trips to the jukebox much easier with a belter of an one hit wonder, to be followed by absolutely nothing. This is one of the shames of the reality TV consequences, that a good singer/songwriter was left washed up before his career got going. Cruel, and not necessairly realistic.

Alex Parks, whose victory was the antidote to fame craze television, made the best of a badly handled career. The shy Cornish lesbian clown (four no-nos in a row for ITV, there) had her first album hastily released by a record company which didn’t really know what to do with her; the follow-up was years later and flopped. The girl who sounded like Tracy Thorn with hiccups (as a mate of mine put it once) could have been another Annie Lennox or Kate Bush….

Lessons learned from “Fame Academy” hang around the BBC “future” argument even today. Chasing ratings, trying to be distinctive, supporting new music….the elements of contemporary issues with the Beeb have some threads running back as far to the “Academy”, when the Beeb thought it could compete with the phone-in stardom craze so succesfully monopolised by commercial rivals. Today the Beeb can hear the clock ticking on its future; how it reacts to its place in multi-channel broadcasting now seems just as important as it did years ago.

Below, Peter Brame’s only attempt at the singles charts, and the Alex Parks single which blows out of the water most of the vocal gymnastics to come out of “X-Factor”.

Cross in the Box

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Labour MPs bopped up and down like hyperactive children during the announcement on constitutional reform. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had walked into the Chamber with the kind of reform for which the Labour Party was once known. Following 13 years of virtual inactivity from Labour on voting reform and constitutional renewal, the Party now seem to be going around cutting off their noses to spite their supporters.

Remember the Labour Party promise to change the voting system? It was first written in 1996, fought on in the 1997 election, and then dumped in the long grass for fear of handing the Conservatives a majority. Now they act like spoiled children, afraid of the improvements which are proposed as they sit still stunned by their election defeat. It’s like having an argument with a teenager; confident by their stance for a few stubborn months before changing their mind without notice a week or so later on.

Labour are afraid of change. Suddendly the Coalition government are talking their language; reform, renewal, progression, the Conservative Party speaking with a liberal accent. For 13 years, Labour barely touched constituentional reform, stuffing the House of Lords with more unelected members than ever before, and making changes to the postal vote rules which one election court judge described as “being akin to a banana republic”.

Labour are frightened of the Equal Constituency size plans because they sit pretty in undersized urban seats. They fear AV – after losing an election promising AV in their manifesto – because it may mean working in coalition with other parties after 2015. And they cannot stand the idea of fixed term Parliaments – another promise – because it takes control out of their hands.

Nick Clegg is holding another winning hand. Labour are sitting in the mud of their own contradictions and stubborn opposition for the sake of it. Renewal should be at the centre of our broken, tired, outdated constitution. Labour was once the Party which stood against the establishment, wanting equality for all, demanding the changes to renew the nation. Now Labour stick to the old routine, dumping their newest and freshest members into opposing these worthwhile changes like so many young men dumped into Occupied France.

Labour was the future, once. When it learns how to be an effective Opposition, maybe there will be some hope. For now, every Labour MP who stands against AV, fixed term Parliaments, and constituency shape reform, simply looks petulant and provocotive.