Did the student protesters vote last May?

Been having a discussion on Twitter about the student demonstration in London today (hash tag #demo2010). Having watched footage of the students smash up Millbank buildings, graffiti f*** on the walls and other acts of friendly vandalism, I can understand why public opinion wouldn’t be with students.

I’m fully in support of them – I think the proposals to raise fees by such a degree without a proportional improvement in tuition time and teaching standards are a recipe for disaster, and risk doing serious long-term damage to education in Britain.

 But I also think students like to jump on a bandwagon.

I tweeted: “I wonder if all the students out there for #demo2010 bothered to vote in 2010. With the youth vote as low as it is, bet they didn’t”.

 The numbers don’t lie – the British electoral turnout is poor anyway but voting is lowest among the 18 to 25 demographic. Yes, May 6 was exam season, yes, students are busy, yes, they probably didn’t get round to organising a postal vote, but the fact is, decisions are made by those who show up.

 As Alex Richman pointed, if they had voted, they might still be in the same boat. He tweeted back: “People who voted for the party opposing higher fees got them into power. and then saw them agree to raise fees.”

 Dina Rickman added: “Do you think voting would have helped? Tuition fees would still have gone up.”

 On this particular issue, perhaps not. If the Conservatives had got an outright majority, fees would almost certainly have risen, while if Labour had won, despite their current indignation, who knows what would have happened. But in any protest – the Iraq war comes to mind – I’d hazard that not everyone involved bothered to shuffle down to the ballot box.

 But that’s not the point. Political engagement shouldn’t be limited to Election Day, but it shouldn’t be limited to a Wednesday afternoon riot either.

 Democracy is, philosophically speaking, a contract between representative and represented. If you don’t make the effort to choose who represents you – and I’m sure some of those protesting did – you don’t then have the right to complain when you object to what is done.

Nice Balls and a dull campaign


The leadership hopefuls (photo: J Lipman)

It’s interesting, isn’t it, what a difference a campaign can make.

Reading Anne McElvoy’s interview with Ed Balls in today’s Evening Standard, I had to pinch myself to remember that her subject was the same man who spent years as Labour’s comedy bully.

Ed Balls was the unreconstructed Labour man, the union champion, Brown’s enthusiastic and angry number two.

But lo, here he is after a summer seeking the leadership, and he appears articulate, thoughtful and even rather human. Anecdotes about novelty cake and his marriage abound from this “Newly Nice Ed”.

Shame, because he’s not going to win. A metamorphosis for nothing, though he’d probably be happy enough in the chancellor’s seat – and he’s certainly got the best economic credentials out of the gang of five vying for the top spot.

But it’s funny isn’t it. I went to a debate at the beginning of it all, the day Diane Abbott joined in. None of what was said was particularly remarkable; what I took out of the event most of all was the animosity between the Ed’s – patronising replies, furious glances across the podium. This would be a campaign of tension, anger, drama. With Balls around, surely somebody would get into a fight.

But it hasn’t and they haven’t – and any Labour friction has been entirely New in its making, courtesy of Mandy and Blair.

It’s been the campaign that wasn’t.

Sure we’ve had some sniping between the brothers, but beyond a few manufactured media stories that’s been pretty minimal. Diane Abbott has restricted herself to some low-level grumbling from the sidelines, and Andy Burnham – well, he was always going to be nice, wasn’t he.

Can it be that the New Labour drama really is over? If you can’t even rely on an election with five high-profile contenders, including Ed Balls, for a fuss, then maybe so. The party seems to have grown up.

Which, one the one hand is great for Labour’s political rehabilitation.

But on the other, well, it doesn’t exactly make for a nailbiting contest, does it?

What a difference a date makes

As the Conservatives are well aware, 18 years have passed since the party won a general election.

Interestingly, it has also been 18 years since an election was fought in an even-numbered calendar year.

 And all three of new Labours victories occurred in odd ones.

 One of the beauties of our lack of fixed term parliaments is that elections can take place in any calendar year.

 Given that we are currently in the neatly numbered 2010, what does that spell for the polls next week?

 Well, of the 17 national votes since 1945 (including the 1974 double whammy) ten took place in odd years.

 The bad news for the Conservatives is that historically they have not done well in even years, triumphing only in 1970 and 1992. Thatcher won her hat trick in odd-year votes, following a similar three-election run in the (odd) votes of the 1950s and 1960s.

 Meanwhile, on balance Labour fare better in even numbered years, although it’s a close one at five even wins to four odd wins since 1945.

 But that’s only half the story. Labour may win more often in even years, but they don’t do so decisively.

 Only one even election – Harold Macmillan’s win in 1966 – saw Labour come out with a strong majority, compared with the sweeping victories of the Clement Atlee and Tony Blair odd year elections.

 Not that even years give the Conservatives a decisive victory either. Both Ted Heath in 1970 and John Major in 1992 just scraped in with the largest share of seats.

So do even balanced years favour balanced parliaments? Keen observers may already have noticed that the last time Britain elected a hung parliament was in 1974.

 Another even-numbered year.

The wife factor: why Sam and Sarah should keep silent

Ann Widdecombe agrees with me. 

At an event she spoke at tonight, I asked the veteran female MP what she thought of the Prime Minister and his opponents trotting out their respective wives on the campaign trail. Was it not demeaning, I asked, for Sam and Sarah, perhaps even Miriam, to be banded around like sparkling trophies testifying to their partners’ political prowess?            

 Widdecombe echoed my disgust, expressing her regret for the emergence of the ‘first lady’ of British politics.            

 Yet it seems unlikely her protestations, or my own, at the ‘wife factor’ will get anywhere. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen Sarah and Sam affirm to television audiences just how good their other halves are. Campaign strategists are beside themselves with glee about these so called secret weapons.            

 I’m not, and I suspect most female voters won’t be swayed by such a patronising play.            

 True, there is something intiguing about the woman behind the man in charge. We are fascinated by Jackie Kennedy and her latest incarnation in Michelle Obama. We want to know less about what Hillary’s aims were when she sought healthcare reform in the early 90s, and more about how she put up with that scoundrel Bill. Even Cherie had a perverse grip on the nation.            

 But just because I’m interested to hear the secrets behind Michelle’s wardrobe (J Crew all the way, apparently), doesn’t mean I take that as any reflection on her husbands political fortunes.            

Sarah Brown: campaign tool? (photo: Chris Greenberg)




We live in the age of celebrity. It’s the nature of our tabloid taste that we care whether Gordon is a bully, or whether Sarah is not. That’s fine; some may lament the personal and private becoming so political, but that ship has long since sailed.            

But an interest in the trivial doesn’t automatically discount one in the topical.    

Educated, intelligent and engaged women can read OK magazine and marvel over Carla’s fading beauty, but that doesn’t mean they’re not smart enough to appreciate the details of Nicholas’ economic policy.             

 Give us some credit. Politics might be tedious at times, but that’s true whether you have an x or y chromosome.    

If men can understand the difference between tax and spend, private or public sector, big or small government, so can women. These interviews with the wives, the campaign appearances, tell us little but insult a great deal.            

 We don’t need to know what Miriam Clegg says about Nick’s saucy past to figure these things out. And if women aren’t going to vote based on the issues, do handbags or hairstyles really make them more likely to have their say?            

 For the record, I met Sarah Brown once at a charity event and she was as pleasant as she appears; eloquent, well-presented and down to earth.            

 But she could have been a total horror, and could have made the whole lunch of middle-aged ladies splurt out their expensive soup.            

It wouldn’t make the slightest bit to difference to whether I vote for her husband though.        

Inspire Britain’s young people to vote? Yes we can

What did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe it was an actor or an astronaut, or perhaps a fireman or pop star? Chances are, it wasn’t an MP or even Prime Minister.

When it comes to political apathy, Britain’s young people lead the way. Generation Y may be inspired by issues like global warming or the price of an Oyster card, but you wouldn’t know it at election time. In 2005, only 39 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted in the general election, compared with three quarters of over 65s.

Teens and young adults may have been the first to rail against Labour’s decisions on the Iraq war or tuition fees, but they were curiously absent from the ballot box.

Of course, it’s not just Britain and its not just now. For years across the western democratic world, electoral turnout, and wider participation in campaigning or party activism, has been plummeting. Just as British youths were disillusioned with politics, so were American ones. Until 2008, that is.

Read the rest of this article over on The Periscope Post