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The Other Side of Everything

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Written on May 2, 2010, and categorized as Politics.
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In the UK general election five years ago, I interviewed as many of my candidates as I could find using the brand new, still widely unknown technique of podcasting. It was as much for me as for my community, though I received emails from fellow constituents thanking me for the coverage as it had helped them make up their minds, which was heartening.

This year, I decided not to repeat exactly the same podcasting process, but instead to simply follow the election from the position of my own major concerns, which are human rights and public health, and to use the internet once again to engage politically.

In 2005, before I began this exercise in citizen journalism, I was a profoundly discontented loyal Labour voter. I didn’t like Blair, who took Britain illegally into Iraq citing “weapons of mass distraction” (yes, he really said that, twice, on TV – classic Freudian slip) and who remained under a cloud of suspicion regarding the infamous death of Dr. David Kelly, the details of which are still a state secret and will remain so for 70 years. I didn’t like the lack of progress on political reform. I didn’t like the arrogance. I didn’t like the authoritarian party Labour had become.

I live in a relatively poor inner-city borough, Islington, in north London. The right has an insubstantial percentage of the vote – poor people in general are not turkeys voting for Christmas. Back in 2005, the choice was even more obvious, the Conservatives then led by the appalling Michael “Something of the night” Howard, with David “Bullingdon Club” Cameron no more than a gleam in the Lord Ashcroft’s tax-avoiding eye.

2005 was the first time I considered switching my vote to the Liberal Democrats.

I missed Chris Smith, my local MP since I had moved to the borough in 1984, who had stepped down. Chris was held in great esteem by his constituents, not least for being the first openly gay MP, and a fine constituency worker, but also for standing with the Labour rebels against the Iraq war. Chris was a clear and obvious progressive choice, and his exit created ambiguity.

I interviewed candidates from all parties of interest to me (podcast feed), including Melanie McLean, Conservative, the Green Party’s James Humphreys, and the Monster Raving Loony Party’s Andy “The Hat” Gardner, but the main campaign in Islington South, then as now, was between Labour, represented by Emily Thornberry (2005 audio) and Liberal Democrat Bridget Fox (2005 audio) and so as I talked with these two women, I was seriously weighing up how I would cast my vote.

I had pretty much decided to vote Liberal Democrat, until Robin Cook visited the constituency and made an impassioned appeal (43mb video) in which he asked whether we thought an incoming Conservative government would cancel the debts of the developing world as Labour planned to do (and consequently did). It was an argument which, with a sinking heart, kept my vote Labour. In the event, the outcome was neck and neck – Emily Thornberry won by less than 500 votes.

2010 – things have changed.

I am a member of the Open Rights Group Advisory Council, and have been campaigning against the appallingly constructed Digital Economy Act which was rushed through in the dying days of parliament, and became an Act with an unprecedented lack of debate.

Re: DE Bill, I emailed and wrote to Emily Thornberry, and whilst she has previously responded to issues which I have brought to her attention, (WIPO, Gaza), on this occasion, I did not get a reply. In contrast to Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, who voted against the DE Bill, Emily Thornberry didn’t vote.

Bridget Fox was instrumental in forming LibDem policy against the DE Bill, and I have been in contact with her about this in the run up to the election. I interviewed Bridget Fox early on in the campaign, covering this issue as well as Palestine, and the lack of public conveniences.

Emily is likeable both personally and politically – anti-nuclear, and anti-Iraq war – but despite attending hustings and getting her agreement, I haven’t been able to get an interview with Emily this time. Contact with her office has been frustratingly non-productive. I’m wondering if she, like many Labour MPs with small majorities, is experiencing that “falling off a cliff” feeling that James Naughtie mentioned on Radio 4 yesterday. Panic is not a good way to keep your support.

This has affected my political choice, but it is not without regret that I change my vote. I am (if I must define myself) a green socialist, more radically left wing on many issues than most people. I think the government should have nationalised and reformed the entire banking system when they had the chance to do so, and I deeply resent the fact that we, the common people, will be expected to pay for their financial crisis for the next two decades, while bankers still take home huge bonuses.

In the past I have feared splitting the progressive vote, but Labour have ceased to be a truly progressive party. Backing Labour nationally in 2005 meant Howard v Blair, whereas this time, it’s a completely changed landscape with all three party leaders never having led a general election campaign and all vying for a first mandate.

My prediction is that Bridget Fox will win the seat this time. It will only take another 484 left-leaning people like me to back her for that to happen. I think Bridget will make a good constituency MP. She is on the left of her party and has shown that she can influence policy on issues which matter to me. Further, she has also shown that she listens to people’s concerns and translates that into action – I have every expectation she will continue to do this.

The Liberal surge in the national polls speaks volumes about the public desire for reform, and I intend to add my vote to that statement. Though we still have yet to take the temperature of the nation, I think the arrival of the LibDems is positive. So I am a convert, but I have not moved simply from one party to another. I agree with the LibDems about Trident and ID Cards, but I haven’t joined the party. I am a discerning independent. While I want to see fundamental reform of our political system, I think we should retain direct constituency links with our elected representatives.

We need more than our vote-and-hope-for-the-best system. My own hope is that if enough people vote for positive change, we may yet get it.

I'm Still a Socialist

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