Stazjia’s Commentary

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.

White Pekingese Puppy
Originally uploaded by patisotagami

There have been further developments in the scandal of pedigree dogs and the way faults causing pain, deformity and early death are deliberately bred into dogs so they meet the Kennel Club’s criteria to win at its shows. If you missed my early posts on the subject you can catch up on The Scandal of Pedigree Dogs and More about the Pedigree Dog Scandal.

At the beginning of October the Kennel Club addressed the issue of inbreeding faults into pedigree dogs. In a statement, it said:

“The groundswell of public attention on the very important matters surrounding dog breeding is a welcomed momentum that will enable us to drive through, with added urgency, new and extended initiatives that will help to safeguard the health of our pedigree dogs.

“We have been listening and agree with the general public’s view that more needs to be done. We have also been encouraging people to use the health schemes available for dogs.”

The Kennel Club also wants the British Government to pass legislation making its Accredited Breeder Scheme compulsory so that it would be illegal to sell puppies unless the seller is a member. Of course, this would require inspectors to police it otherwise it would be relying on members of the public to complain.

The Kennel Club is also issuing new breed standards, the first of which will apply to pekingese whose flat faces cause severe breathing problems. Additionally, breeders will have to sign up to the club’s code of ethics forbidding the culling of healthy puppies. Again, how will this be policed? If a breeder kills the puppies, who is to know its been done?

In spite of the Kennel Club’s statement, at the end of October the major petfood manufacturer, Pedigree which has sponsored the Crufts Dog Show for 44 years, has announced they are withdrawing their sponsorship. The company issued a statement:

“After careful consideration, Pedigree has decided to withdraw its sponsorship of Crufts,” the company said. “The Pedigree brand has evolved and we are prioritizing initiatives that support the broadest possible community of dog owners such as our successful program the Pedigree Adoption Drive, and our online service for breeders, pedigreedirect.co.uk.”

Meanwhile the Dogs’ Trust issued a statement on 28th October:

Two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, about 5 weeks old.

Two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, about 5 weeks old.

“With the announcement that Pedigree is no longer sponsoring Crufts, many newspapers and online forums reported the news this weekend. You may have incorrectly read that the Kennel Club is working with Dogs Trust to review breeding standards for 209 species of pedigree dogs. Dogs Trust has no involvement with the review of breed standards which is currently underway; this is something the Kennel Club is conducting independently.

Although Dogs Trust has withdrawn from Crufts and Discover Dogs, we are firmly committed to ensuring that changes are now made to safeguard the health and wellbeing of dogs. This is why we have been in regular dialogue with the Kennel Club and have jointly called for Government support for a review into the breeding, registration and showing of all dogs. Timings and full details for this review have not yet been confirmed. We will be able to update our supporters about this review shortly.”

Perhaps the BBC documentary will be instrumental in forcing breeders to change thereby improving the health and welfare of dogs. Let’s hope so. There are many of us who will be watching this with interest.

Lewis Hamilton at brands.
Originally uploaded by Patrick Mayon

Lewis Hamilton, the Formula One racing driver, is immensely popular here in Britain. Even people who have no interest at all in F1 have heard of him and want him to continue to be successful. Yesterday he delighted his many fans by finally winning the Formula One Championship.

It was a close run thing. He needed to finish in the top five yesterday in the last race of the season – Interlagos, Brazil. Conditions were difficult with periods of heavy rain. Hamilton was driving carefully, he just couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. Coming into the final lap he was sixth. At this point Brazilian Felipe Massa had finished first and looked a sure thing to win the championship. In fact, he and his team started celebrating but their triumph was short lived as Hamilton overtook Timo Glock. Hamilton won the Championship by only one point but one point was all he needed.

Paula Radcliffe NYC Marathon 2007
Originally uploaded by Loren Kahle

Paula Radcliffemeanwhile, was back to winning ways in the New York City Marathon after her disappointment in this year’s Olympics. She’s always been a firm favourite with the British public and won Sports Personality of the Year in 2002. This was the year she moved up from running 5000 and 10,000 metres to the maraton. Her first was the London Marathon where she finished just outside the world record time. Six months later, in October 2002, she ran the Chicago Marathon and broke the World Record by one and a half minutes. She was awarded an honour by the Queen, the MBE (Member of the British Empire – OK, we don’t have an empire anymore but it still sounds good!) followed by Sports Personality of the Year.

Her marathon running career has been very successful except when it comes to the Olympics – maybe the event she would most like to win. In spite of these disappointments, she has bounced back and yesterday she won the New York City Marathon. She led the race from the start and finished 1 minute and 47 seconds ahead of Russian Ludmila Petrova.


Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher GC - Picture Crown Copyright

Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher GC - Picture Crown Copyright

Yesterday, Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher of the Royal Marines was awarded the George Cross by HM the Queen at Buckingham Palace in London. The George Cross is the highest award given to civilians and military who performed “acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger” but, in the case of the military, not in the presence of an enemy.

Lance Corporal Croucher was serving in Afghanistan in February 2008 when he felt a wire against his leg. He immediately realised that he had come into contact with booby trapped grenade. His three comrades were behind him and he knew that they all would be either killed or terribly injured. He threw himself on the ground with his back, on which he had a large backpack, towards the grenade, curled into a fetal position with his legs tucked up and his head down. He said:

A grenade’s usually got a 5m killing circumference. So I thought, I’m going to get seriously injured whatever I do so I might as well jump in front of the grenade and at least try and save the rest of the lads from getting seriously injured or killed themselves. So I lay in front of the grenade.

The grenade exploded but, amazingly, he received no significant injuries, just a nosebleed and bad bruising. His comrades were unscathed apart from a small face wound to one from a fragment of shrapnel. His backpack had saved his life and a large lithium battery in the pack took the brunt of the explosion. Unsurprisingly, the backpack was in tatters. When he was interviewed this morning he said he would never part with it.

His bravery didn’t end there. Experience has taught the military in Afghanistan that an explosion will draw in Taliban fighters to finish off any survivors of their booby traps. The patrol hid in a ditch and waited then engaged the Taliban in a fire fight.

He is modest too. He said:

Being awarded the George Cross is a huge honour, for me and for 40 Commando. But there are so many acts of bravery by the lads that don’t make it into the press. It’s all part of the job – they would have done the same. You just do it.

Whether you agree or not with the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, such outstanding courage deserved to be recognised.

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

In my last post I suggested we had some moderately good news with falls in prices of food and petrol (gas). Well, while all that remains true, there is a suggestion we are already in recession according the Ernst & Young’s Item Club.

The housing market is collapsing, unemployment is rising, Ernst & Young predict a rise to 2.2 million, and the budget deficit is increasing, again according to Ernst & Young, it is likely to hit £92 billion (British pounds).

According to Chancellor, Alistair Darling, the British Government plan to fight the worst effects of the recession by reflating the economy with public spending so signalling a return to Keynsian economics (John Maynard Keynes).

Alistair Darling, British Chancellor of the Exchequer

Alistair Darling, British Chancellor of the Exchequer

Darling said, “Much of what Keynes wrote still makes sense. You will see us switching our spending priorities to areas that make a difference – housing and energy are classic examples where people are feeling squeezed. What I want to avoid is getting ourselves in a position governments have done in the past, where you face an immediate problem and cut back on the things the country will need in the future … we can allow borrowing to rise.”

It seems like a good idea to get money moving around the economy but, in the end, taxpayers will  pick up the bill. The alternative could cost those same taxpayers even more – maybe their jobs, their houses, or, if they are lucky and lose neither, increased taxes to pay. More unemployment means the tax burden is carried by fewer people but with higher benefit payments added to the burden.

It look like we are living in interesting times, unfortunately.