Stazjia’s Commentary

Posts Tagged ‘government

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.

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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.

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.

Of course we are very lucky here in the UK to have a National Health Service (NHS) that is “free at the point of need.”

The problems start as more advanced treatments come on the market for life threatening illnesses like cancer because many of them are extremely expensive. There is a limit to how much tax the government can impose to pay for the NHS and the budget still has to be found for all the existing treatments and other expenses.

Because the NHS is administered regionally, we have now entered an era of ‘postcode lottery’. People in some areas can get an expensive drug to treat their potentially fatal cancer while people in the area next door can’t. To complicate the situation, at present, patients can’t pay for the extra drug themselves and continue to get free NHS treatment and other drugs they need. If they pay for one drug, they have to pay for everything including doctor’s consultations, hospital stays, etc. It’s only the wealthiest people who can afford to do this or those with very good and expensive health insurance – quite rare in this country.

Some people can raise the money for the expensive drug denied them by their local health authority, maybe by remortgaging their homes, taking out a bank loan or some other means. Because of the rules, though, they can’t do it without sacrificing the rest of their treatment.

It’s come to the point that people die because they are denied life-saving treatment and they and their families have to live with that knowledge as the disease progresses.

There has been a big outcry in England about this and opinion now seems to be swinging in support of allowing people to pay for the extra drugs without losing the rest of their NHS treatment. The same debate is taking place in Scotland where the NHS is administered by the Scottish Parliament. There the debate seems to be going in the opposite direction. The argument against allowing paying for some treatment is that, first, “the NHS is free at the point of need” and second, it gives better off patients an advantage against poorer ones and so makes the NHS unfair. The whole point being that the health service is supposed to iron out inequities between people with money and those without.

I can see both points of view. Why should some people be allowed to die because they can’t afford to pay for extra drugs but why should everybody be allowed to die who could benefit from new drugs because they aren’t allowed to pay for just the ones the NHS can’t afford?

I suppose that, in the end, there is no advantage to letting everybody die when some could be saved – denying the more prosperous treatment won’t help the poorer patients. The terrible thing is that this is the kind of dilemma that the NHS was supposed to stop happening.

It’s raining again today – actually it’s bucketing down and there’s a severe weather warning. We’ve had so much rain over the last couple of weeks that the ground is sodden and can’t absorb any more. I took the dogs for a walk on the common at 7.45am today and it was like paddling because there was so much water lying on top of the grass. Just like Sunday, my top half was dry under my waterproof jacket and my jeans were so wet all the way up that I had to change them as soon as I got in.

Britain is just not a fun place right now. Apart from the rain, pundits are forecasting we are heading for a recession in just a few months. I wonder what gives them that idea. Could it be the bottom falling out of the property market, people not being able to get mortgages, nobody’s got any money to spend so businesses are having a hard time, rising oil prices, more people going bankrupt, etc, etc?

I think that the problem isn’t really in the Government’s power to fix. It all started with the home loans problems in the USA and the fact that British banks got hit because they had been underwriting some of those mortgages. That led to a shortage of mortgage funds here, people couldn’t get mortgages which led to home owners not able to sell their property at the expected price (or at all, in some cases), and then a lot of personal loans and borrowings have dried up. Most people are nervous now and just not prepared to spend money the way they have been doing with easy credit available. All of this against the background of rising fuel and food prices.


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