Stazjia’s Commentary

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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The local South West England BBC TV news reported yesterday about protestors on the rooftop of a building in Bristol. They allege that the housing association, Places for People, should be renting it out at an affordable rent instead of putting it up for sale.

Housing associations in the UK are principally in the business of providing social housing. This was once the job of local councils but was put in the hands of housing associations some years ago. In this country house ownership is the norm whereas in many other countries in Europe, renting a home is more usual. There isn’t the same kudos there to be a home owner… Now read on

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Barack Obama - President Elect of the United State of America

Barack Obama - President Elect of the United States of America

To the joy of many people around the world, Barack Obama has been elected President of the USA. For those of us outside America, he seems like a beacon of hope in a frightening world. We await his inauguration and Presidency and pray he can live up to the hopes he carries.

We vote for our government quite differently here in the UK to the way it’s done in the USA.

For a start, we don’t vote for the Prime Minister. We vote for a member of Parliament (MP) from the people who are standing in the constituency where we live. We have a ‘first past the post’ system here meaning that each constituency counts the votes for all the candidates running for Parliament and the party that wins the largest number of seats (gets the largest number of MPs) forms the government. The leader of that party, like Tony Blair, is invited by the Queen to form a government and so becomes Prime Minister.

Election campaigns  are relatively short compared to the USA. Usually no longer than 6 weeks but they can be much shorter.

The other big difference is that, if the former party of government loses the election, the winning party immediately forms the government and its leader becomes Prime Minister. Usually, the ex-Prime Minister moves out of 10 Downing Street the day after the election and the new Prime Minister moves in. It’s quite brutal, really.

The way we actually cast our votes is different too – more primitive, I suppose. There are postal votes but these are a minority. Most people go along to a polling station in their constituence. This is usually a room in a school or town hall, or a village hall, even pubs are used in some places where there isn’t another suitable venue.


polling booths
Originally uploaded by knautia

When I vote, which I do in all elections, I go to the polling station, give my name and address to the polling officer who finds it on the electoral list for that constituency. I’m given a polling slip which has a list of all the candidates on it and the officer marks the register to show I’ve come in to vote. I take the slip to a flimsy little booth, knocked up from plywood but shielded on 3 sides so no one can see me vote with a horizontal, flat surface. There’s a pencil in the booth tied to the flat surface and I use that to put a cross in the box next to my choice. I fold it in half, take it out and put it in a big locked metal box. That’s it – my democratic right exercised!

Polling stations open at 7am and close at 10pm. During that time, no politicians or political party members may canvass for votes or try to influence voters. There are no discussions in the media of the issues or the chances of any of the parties. All the UK media is an election free zone – a blessed relief, usually. There will be party workers sitting outside the polling station but they are not allowed to talk to voters on the way in. On the way out they can ask who you voted for so they can compile an exit poll to see how it’s going for their parties.

No votes are ever counted before the polls closed. At 10pm, when the polling stations close, the boxes are taken, by high security transport, to a central place in the constituency. There bank tellers sit and physically sort and count the voting slips. The candidates are usually there trying to guess how they’ve done by the height of the piles of slips for each of them. There’s a race for which constituency counts the votes first. Of course it’s the smallest constituencies that win. When the poll is counted in a constituency, the returning officer gets all the candidates together behind him, on a platform, and announces the result. The winner makes a speech of thanks and the loser is magnanimous in defeat – that’s the British way.


Cambridge: Local elections
Originally uploaded by Michiel2005

The first results usually come in about an hour or so after polls close. After that, they continue to come in throughout the night. Some constituencies are bellwethers. I can always remember the May 1997 election when Tony Blair became Prime Minister and the Tories were defeated.  The first result came  through from one of these before midnight and it went to Labour. I was in bed watching TV and I bounced, punched the air and screamed “Yeeesssss!” I felt pretty silly a moment later. After that, it was like a massacre as prominent Conservative politicians lost their seats one after another. One was Michael Portillo who had been an important Cabinet Minister. For weeks afterwards people said, with a merry grin, “Did you see Portillo’s face?”

The next day, Tony Blair, with his wife, Cherie, were shown on TV going through the crowds in Downing Street to take up office. He did a speech in front of number 10 and I know that I wasn’t the only one watching who was in tears. We were so fed up with the Conservative government and the country were very happy to see the back of it. Who says the British have a stiff upper lip and don’t show emotion?

Of course, we didn’t know then he would take us to war in Iraq.

We vote for our government quite differently here in the UK to the way it’s done in the USA.

For a start, we don’t vote for the Prime Minister. We vote for a member of Parliament (MP) from the people who are standing in the constituency where we live. We have a ‘first past the post’ system here meaning that each constituency counts the votes for all the candidates running for Parliament and the party that wins the largest number of seats (gets the largest number of MPs) forms the government. The leader of that party, like Tony Blair, is invited by the Queen to form a government and so becomes Prime Minister.

Election campaigns are relatively short compared to the USA. Usually no longer than 6 weeks but they can be much shorter.

The other big difference is that, if the former party of government loses the election, the winning party immediately forms the government and its leader becomes Prime Minister. Usually, the ex-Prime Minister moves out of 10 Downing Street the day after the election and the new Prime Minister moves in. It’s quite brutal, really.

The way we actually cast our votes is different too – more primitive, I suppose. There are postal votes but these are a minority. Most people go along to a polling station in their constituence. This is usually a room in a school or town hall, or a village hall, even pubs are used in some places where there isn’t another suitable venue.

When I vote, which I do in all elections, I go to the polling station, give my name and address to the polling officer who finds it on the electoral list for that constituency. I’m given a polling slip which has a list of all the candidates on it and the officer marks the register to show I’ve come in to vote. I take the slip to a flimsy little booth, knocked up from plywood but shielded on 3 sides so no one can see me vote with a horizontal, flat surface. There’s a pencil in the booth tied to the flat surface and I use that to put a cross in the box next to my choice. I fold it in half, take it out and put it in a big locked metal box. That’s it – my democratic right exercised!

Polling stations open at 7am and close at 10pm. During that time, no politicians or political party members may canvass for votes or try to influence voters. There are no discussions in the media of the issues or the chances of any of the parties. All the UK media is an election free zone – a blessed relief, usually. There will be party workers sitting outside the polling station but they are not allowed to talk to voters on the way in. On the way out they can ask who you voted for so they can compile an exit poll to see how it’s going for their parties.

No votes are ever counted before the polls closed. At 10pm, when the polling stations close, the boxes are taken, by high security transport, to a central place in the constituency. There bank tellers sit and physically sort and count the voting slips. The candidates are usually there trying to guess how they’ve done by the height of the piles of slips for each of them. There’s a race for which constituency counts the votes first. Of course it’s the smallest constituencies that win. When the poll is counted in a constituency, the returning officer gets all the candidates together behind him, on a platform, and announces the result. The winner makes a speech of thanks and the loser is magnanimous in defeat – that’s the British way.


The first results usually come in about an hour or so after polls close. After that, they continue to come in throughout the night. Some constituencies are bellwethers. I can always remember the May 1997 election when Tony Blair became Prime Minister and the Tories were defeated. The first result came through from one of these before midnight and it went to Labour. I was in bed watching TV and I bounced, punched the air and screamed “Yeeesssss!” I felt pretty silly a moment later. After that, it was like a massacre as prominent Conservative politicians lost their seats one after another. One was Michael Portillo who had been an important Cabinet Minister. For weeks afterwards people said, with a merry grin, “Did you see Portillo’s face?”

The next day, Tony Blair, with his wife, Cherie, were shown on TV going through the crowds in Downing Street to take up office. He did a speech in front of number 10 and I know that I wasn’t the only one watching who was in tears. We were so fed up with the Conservative government and the country were very happy to see the back of it. Who says the British have a stiff upper lip and don’t show emotion?

Of course, we didn’t know then he would take us to war in Iraq.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2008, compared with a 0.0 per cent movement in the previous quarter.

UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.5 per cent in the 3rd quarter of 2008, compared with a 0.0 per cent movement in 2nd quarter. From National Statistics

It’s all doom and gloom now. The latest UK figures show we are heading for a recession. Sterling has plummeted against other currencies – not all bad news for webmasters who get affiliate commission paid in US dollars or companies exporting – but not great generally.

I thought I’d lighten the mood with a few political anecdotes which might provoke a smile.

Apart from the videos, these are anecdotes and almost all apocryphal so either not true at all or exaggerated.

Peter Mandelson is said to have asked Gordon Brown, at the height of their feud, for 10 pence to phone a friend. Gordon Brown said, “Here, have 20 pence, phone them all!”

In an interview with the Independent newspaper, Ben Davis, director of the London Design Festival and friend of Peter Mandelson says, “I remember once he made some sort of dark remark and I said, ‘Don’t play the Prince of Darkness with me,’ and he said ‘Play the Prince of Darkness? I AM the Prince of Darkness!'”

Margaret Thatcher in 1984 when she was Prime Minister of the UK.

Margaret Thatcher in 1984 when she was Prime Minister of the UK.

One of the best known political anecdotes concerns Margaret Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister and at the height of her powers. The story, which is definitely not true, is that she went to a restaurant for dinner with her Cabinet ministers. She ordered her meal and the waiters said “And the vegetables…?” She said, “They’ll have what I’m having.”

Leader of the Tory opposition, David Cameron, when first elected as leader of the Conservative party, was preaching a green, environmental message. He was exhorting people to use bicycles instead of driving to work. There was a photocall for journalists to see him practicing what he preached when he rode his bike to the House of Commons. Unfortunately for him, photographers and TV cameramen got great shots of him and the large car following him carrying his briefcase – whoops! This one is definitely true – I saw it with my own eyes.

Here’s a real-life visual one from You Tube, featuring Neil Kinnock, leader of the Labour Party in the 1980s. Here he’s on the campaign trail and it’s a photo opportunity in front of the country’s press. Another whoops!

Here’s another, this time featuring Conservative politician John Redwood. During the 1990s Conservative Government he was the Secrerary of State for Wales revealing he doesn’t know the words of the Welsh national anthem.

This one features another Conservative in Government in the 1990s, Michael Howard, Home Secretary. He is being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, often compared to a rottweiler for the ferocity of his questioning if he thinks an politician is being evasive.

The final video features Tony Blair while he was still Prime Minister. This is a clip from a BBC television telethon for charity called Red Nose Day. The schoolgirl is famous English comedian, Catherine Tate, and ‘I ain’t bovvered’ became her catchphrase. Tony Blair proves what a great actor he is.

It was Peter, now Lord, Mandelson’s birthday yesterday and it looks like either he personally got his revenge or somebody decided to give him a birthday present he’d really like – dropping George Osborne (see picture, standing) in deep trouble.

The story is this, for those who haven’t followed it: Conservative shadow Chancellor George Osborne, David Cameron’s great friend (sitting in picture) and fellow posh boy, leaked it to a journalist that, in August this year, Mandelson had stayed with Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, on his yacht moored by the Greek island of Corfu. Unfortunately, Mandelson was European Union (EU) trade commissioner. At the same time, George Osborne was staying first in a rented house nearby then with Nathan Rothschild in his villa close to the yacht’s mooring.

When Osborne leaked Mandelson’s holiday accommodation arrangement, the implication was clear – Mandelson was laying himself open to a charge of being influenced by the Russian billionaire to favour his companies in dealings with the EU. To make it worse, the report suggested Mandelson had “dripped pure poison” about Gordon Brown. The leaks occurred just after he’d joined Gordon Brown’s Cabinet – not great timing for his Lordship but the Tories (Conservatives) thought it was ideal on the principle of hitting two birds with one stone – Mandelson and Brown.

Yesterday, here in the UK, we woke up to news that Osborne had had several social meetings with the friendly Russian oligarch during their stay in Corfu. Not only that, but it had been discussed how the billionaire could make a significant contribution to Tory Party funds. The stumbling block is that it’s illegal for political parties here to accept donations from foreign residents or companies. As luck would have it, Oleg Deripaska owns a company registered here, Leyland Daf, and it is suggested that there was a discussion if this could be used to channel the gift to the Conservatives.

Apparently, Rothschild was outraged that Osborne leaked conversations from a private dinner to the press and so he has leaked against Osborne in revenge. Here is part of the letter Rothschild sent to The Times newspaper.

…I am surprised that you focus on the fact that one of my guests, Peter Mandelson, is a friend of another, Oleg Deripaska. Not once in the acres of coverage did you mention that George Osborne, who also accepted my hospitality, found the opportunity of meeting with Mr Deripaska so good that he invited the Conservatives’ fundraiser Andrew Feldman, who was staying nearby, to accompany him on to Mr Deripaska’s boat to solicit a donation. Since Mr Deripaska is not a British citizen, it was suggested by Mr Feldman, in a subsequent conversation at which Mr Deripaska was not present, that the donation was “channelled” through one of Mr Deripaska’s British companies. Mr Deripaska declined to make any donation. I mention this because it turns out that your obsession with Mr Mandelson is trivial in light of Mr Osborne’s actions. I also think it ill behoves all political parties to try and make capital at the expense of another in such circumstances. Perhaps in future it would be better if all involved accepted the age-old adage that private parties are just that.

The Conservatives issued a rebuttal but today, in the House of Commons, Gordon Brown went on the attack. He said, “This is a very serious matter and I hope it is investigated by the authorities.” Both posh boys, Osborne and his leader David Cameron, looked very uncomfortable. Of course, as nothing happened, no money changed hands, so nobody actually committed an illegal act therefore they don’t have much too worry about. It just looks very bad and maybe reminds us of the bad old days of Tory sleaze.

Photographs of Lord Mandelson taken yesterday show him smiling merrily obviously delighted that George Osborne was getting a taste of his own medicine. I bet he didn’t have a better birthday present than that.

Watch Lord Mandelson taking his Seat in the House of Lords