Thursday 29 April 2010

Bigot gaffe won't make that much difference!

Just when you thought this election would be free of any major gaffes from the political leaders, Gordon Brown finally obliged with his 'Bigot' comments about Mrs Gillian Duffy who he met in Rochdale yesterday.

I don't think it's going to make any difference to the election outcome. Most people have made their minds up about Brown. He can't change his public image now, but it was both painful and amusing to watch in equal measures!

What I did think was interesting is that it showed how out of touch some of our politicians are when it comes to immigration.

Mrs Duffy didn't say anything that was really bigotry, but Brown still referred to her as a bigot because she raised the issue of the number of Eastern Europeans that have come to this country in recent years.

We're never going to be able to talk about immigration properly if you start labelling people as racists or bigots who voice concerns over levels of immigration.

As for Brown you'd have to be pretty heartless not to feel just a little bit of sympathy for him. I Immediately thought that's the final nail in the coffin for Labour, but according to some polls it hasn't made any difference.

This whole episode has only highlighted some of the personality traits many people in politics and the media have been saying about Brown for years, but which have been largely hidden from the public.

Brown is a complex and flawed character. If this is the beginning of the end for Brown, I'm not sure we'll ever see a Prime Minister like him again.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Election 2010 - This week's thoughts

Another fascinating week in this year's election campaign. I originally thought I'd talk exclusively about the second election debate, but there's so much more to discuss. We've had the inevitable media backlash against Nick Clegg from the Tory supporting press, and the issue of electoral reform is dominating the political agenda in way that's not been seen before.

At the start of the campaign I said this election reminded me of 1992. I take that back. This is totally different and has a unique feel to it, as for the first time in most people's lives we have a genuine three horse race! How exciting!

Looking back over the last week, I watched the second election debate on Sky. I don't think we learnt anything really new from this second debate. Clearly Nick Clegg is very good on TV and he gave another self assured performance.

David Cameron was stronger this time round than last week. As for Gordon Brown, despite the polling figures I don't think he's doing too badly. He got off to a strong start last Thursday, but he shouldn't bother trying to be funny. Humour doesn't work with him.

Brown's problem is that I don't think people are interested anymore in what he has to say. He's the old face and it's always hard to present yourself as being the person who represents real change.

Overall I don't think there's really that much between the three leaders in terms of their TV debate performances, and this seems to bear out in opinion polls as the three parties are all pretty close to each other in terms of support.

This leads me onto my second point, about the media coverage and support, this is mainly in terms of the press.

I haven't been reading to much of the press to be honest. Depending on the paper there's too much of a biased and unbalanced view of what's going on.

Most of the press are generally in support of the Conservatives this includes the Sun, The Times, The Mail, Telegraph (Obviously)the Express all to varying degrees. The Mirror is the tabloid cheerleader for Labour, and the Guardian is the main broadsheet that remains anti Tori.

I've found it both fascinating and amusing how the rise of the Lib Dems has suddenly shaken up this election particularly the way the press have responded to them.

Having previously been ignored, the Tory supporting press have now begun their attacks on Nick Clegg and started scrutinising the Lib Dems policies in more detail. Some of the scrutiny was justified, other reports (I'm thinking of the Mail) were uncalled for.

I'm sure the Lib Dems are secretly loving it. It shows they're finally being taken seriously, but I'm fed up of the press and also leading figures in the City constantly warning against the threat of a hung parliament.

At the moment a hung parliament seems to accurately reflect the feelings of the electorate. People aren't overly enthusiastic about the two main parties and are seriously looking at the third. In this situation what's wrong with a hung parliament?

The real issue is that in this country unlike some European countries, we don't have a tradition or history of coalition governments. If we end up with a hung parliament we're entering into the political unknown.

Of course we hear more scare stories about the last hung parliament in 1974 which then led onto a Lib/Lab coalition government in the late 1970's, but the country was very different then to how it is now, and it's a mistake to say that a coalition will be some sort of political failure.

If we end up with a hung parliament then politicians, City bankers and everyone else will just have to get on with things and make the best out of the situation. I have to say a coalition government would bother me in the slightest.

There are a number of reasons why we're heading for a hung parliament, some of which I've already mentioned, but the biggest one for me begins with the Conservatives and the amount of seats they currently have in parliament. I'll explain.

This is the Tories election to win, and I still believe they'll gain the most votes and become the largest party in parliament. Their biggest problem is that they currently only have 193 seats. They need 326 to win an overall majority.

To put things into context, they have less seats today than what Labour had in the 1983 General election. It took Labour another three elections, 1987, 1992, and 1997 to finally achieve a majority. It's asking a lot for the Tories to do this in one election.

If they had something like 250 seats in parliament, I'm sure they'd comfortably win a majority and we wouldn't have all this coalition talk even with the Lib Dems doing so well. Nobody seems to highlight this point, they forget that despite leading in the polls they have an electoral mountain to climb.

My final thoughts over the last week centre on electoral reform. I can't think of a time when electoral reform has ever been so high on the political agenda. and this is one of the most fascinating things about this election.

Depending on next week's results, election reform may be unavoidable in this country. For example what happens if Labour come third in the popular vote, yet still end up with the most seats? The whole system will be an embarrassment!

I've got a lot of thoughts on this subject, so instead of carrying on now, I'm going to stop and write a new separate post on electoral reform in a few days time.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Record Store Day

Today is national Record Store Day. You probably haven't heard about it. It's an event that's now in its third year, with the aim of raising awareness and encouraging more people to visit their local independent record shop.

Records shops in this country are now an endangered species, struggling to survive in a musical landscape of downloads and declining physical record sales.

When I hear stories like this, it reminds me how much of my life I've spent in independent record shops buying vinyl and CDs. I hardly do it anymore and I really miss it. I can't say that downloading music has ever given me as much pleasure as buying records from independents.

The majority of my record collection is actaully still on vinyl. When I first started buying music in the early 90's, I split my record collection into two. CD's were for albums, and my vinyl collection for House music, which then progressed to include other stuff like Drum and Bass, Disco, Latin and Acid Jazz.

It's hard to believe now, but at the time I had to visit loads of independent stores and buy vinyl because I couldn't buy those types of music on any other format.

According to statistics, there are now fewer than 300 independent records shops left in the UK. Since 2004 an estimated 540 record shops have gone out of business.

I love my vinyl record collection because I have a deep emotional attachment to those records. I could go through all my records and tell you a little story about each one. Where I bought the record, where I first heard it, the club I was in, the radio show I was listening to.

I have records on vinyl that took my years to track down! St Etienne 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' The Masters at Work remix. It took my 8 years to track that record down on 12" and even today when I play it, I remember that fact. It means something to me.

There are no stories to tell with downloading, no emotional attachment, no thrill about stumbling across that elusive record you always hoped you'd find.

Of course, downloading is convenient and straight forward. A few clicks of the mouse and you've got an album or single. But there's no effort involved, there's no emotional investment.

I'm sure there are many people, particularly those under the age of 25 who won't understand what I'm talking about. That's fair enough. But for me, being a music fan has always been defined by my record shopping on those Saturday afternoons, just browsing through records, not really knowing what you're looking for or what you might find.

Clearly we're not going to see an increase in the numbers of independent record shops, we can't turn back the tide. But hopefully those records shops that do still exist can be given as much support and help to continue to survive, and hopefully encourage more people to check them out again.

As for myself, I need to start making more of an effort. Get myself down to places like Soho and Camden on a Saturday afternoon for some serious record shopping.

Here's a list of some of the independent records shops that have shaped and influenced my record collection over the last 20 years.

Swordfish record shop - A Brummie institution, a little something for everyone regardless of what you're into.

Tempest Records - Another great record shop in Birmingham, sadly no longer with us.

Selectadisc: Nottingham & London - Still occasionally pop into Selectadisc in Soho, but spent many a Saturday afternoon in the Nottingham store buying everything from House, Hip Hop, Acid Jazz and Drum and Bass.

Funky Monkey - Nottingham: Along with Selectadisc another reason why I made so many afternoon shopping trips to Nottingham. Another favourite that's no longer here.

Blackmarket Records - London: One of the legendary dance music shops in the country. Felt slightly intimidated going in there as a 19 year old new to London, but I eventually gained my confidence and managed to hold my own in there.

Reckless Records - London: Now under a different name but I still pop in when I'm down Soho's Berwick St.

Eastern Bloc Records - Manchester: The first time I ever went to Manchester, this was one place I was definitely paying a visit to.

Amoeba Records – San Francisico: Ok, so it's in San Fransisco and not the UK, but it's still one of the greatest records shops I've ever been to.

Friday 16 April 2010

The first election debate

So, after this week's first Election debate between the three main political leaders, it's Nick Clegg who's emerged as the unanimous winner!

His performance was the most impressive, and the key to his success was making the most of the position that he and the Lib Dems currently hold in this election campaign.

Will it transfer into votes though? Quite possibly. I've been predicting a hung parliament since the beginning of the year and I'm now even more convinced following this week's debate.

Overall I enjoyed the first leadership debate in this country. At first I thought 90 minutes might be too long and people would get bored, but I was surprised at how quickly the time went.

What I would liked to have seen was more audience participation, with audience members being able to directly ask questions in response to the answers given by the leaders, just like they do on the BBC's Question Time. There's more spontaneity in that way, things are less predictable, and there's more direct interaction between the leaders and the public.

The viewing figures of almost 10 million were also really impressive. These debates represent for me the further Americanisation of British politics, something I'm not overly keen on (do we really need to know everything about the wives of the three leaders?)

But with this debate and the two further ones planned, it's really given the media and the public a focal point for the elections, showing that politics can be of interest if presented in the right way.

As for the performance of the leaders, I actually thought that all three performed quite well overall. Gordon Brown was better than I expected, and although opinion polls showed he was third, I think that's more to do with his general unpopularity.

David Cameron did ok, but if there was a loser on Thursday night then it was him. He's the favourite, and for the Conservatives this really should be their election. Last week, I spoke about 'gut feelings' in relation to politics and elections, and with Cameron my gut feeling is that he still isn't quite convincing enough people.

As for Nick Clegg the most impressive thing for me is that he and the Lib Dems are taking advantaging of the timing of this election.

There's an apathy about the two main parties. Not necessarily towards politics and voting but about Labour and Conservatives. I have to admit I feel it myself.

I've always been really into politics, I've voted in every election I've been able to since 97, but there's even a part of me that thinks that it won't make a difference who wins on May 6. It's a strange feeling as I'm not used to it.

Nick Clegg exploited the Lib Dems role of not being the other two main parties, They're something different and new. Suddenly a vote for the Lib Dems represents real 'change' a term which is quickly becoming a political cliche after Obama's presidential win.

The debate showed that Nick Clegg has emerged as a political leader on the national stage. A year ago I thought he was being totally overshadowed by Vince Cable, but he's performing well and making the most out the current political situation.

The Lib Dems are in a unique position at the moment with people tired and not convinced with the two main parties. They still have to take advantage of this position, and this is what Clegg has successfully done so far.

With another two of these debates, it's going to be interesting to see how the Lib Dems approach next week's debate. I think they'll stick to the same strategy.

The pressure is on the main two, in particular David Cameron. Labour are already making signals about how much they have in common with the Lib Dems, how will Cameron and the Tories react to this?

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Brilliant Messi!

After watching Barcelona beat Arsenal last night in the Champions League, I reckon I could watch Barca and Lionel Messi play all day long.

Messi's performance last night was incredible. If he carries on like this there's no doubt he'll become one of football's true greats, but he's not quite there yet.

There's no argument that Messi is the best player in the world at the moment, and he's already won countless titles with Barcelona and individual player of the year awards, but before he can be considered one of the true greats he has to leave his mark on a World Cup. He's only 22 so he's got plenty of time to do so.

In all my 25 years of watching football he's the best dribbler of the ball I've seen since Diego Maradona. I love Maradona, despite his 'hand of god' goal against England but I still think Messi has a lot to do before matching Maradona's achievements.

Maradona, single handidly won a World Cup by himself for Argentina, as well as leading his club side Napoli to two Italian League titles, a level of success the club had never seen before, and probably will never achieve again.

Messi is lucky to play in a truly brilliant Barcelona side. Their performance against Arsenal in the first half of the first leg was breathtaking. What stood out for me was the confidence on the ball that every player had.

No matter what position on the field their players receive the ball, they all have confidence in themselves and their team mates that they won't lose possession. Not only is it a supremely confident way of playing but it's also quite brave as well.

On the other side of the coin, Barca's work rate off the ball was amazing, the way that when they lost possession they harried and pressured the Arsenal players and quickly won the ball back. It shows they're not afraid to do the unglamourous stuff was well.

After Messi's performances for Barcelona this season, I'm definitely going to put some money down on Argentina winning the World Cup this summer.

They had a terrible World Cup campaign, and to be fair Maradona hasn't really found the right formation to get the best out of Messi, but Argentina still have some outstanding players, and with Messi as the jewel in the crown they can't be discounted, despite Maradona's eccentric managerial style.

You probably won't get great odds on Barcelona winning the Champions League, they must be every neutral fans favourite, but get your money on Argentina for the World Cup. They must be strong contenders after Brazil and Spain when you have Messi playing so well.

Monday 5 April 2010

Finally - the General Election is on!

At last we have the date for the General Election! 6th May as everyone predicted. It feels as if the election campaign has been running for last 18 months, so it's good to know the end is in sight!

Even though I'm really interested in politics, I'm now tired of all debate and arguments that seem to have been going on for ever, (ok we still have another 4 weeks or so of it) but at least there's now an election in which we can all make our feelings known at the ballot box.

Gordon Brown calls the election

On a personal note this will be a really interesting election for me. I have my first bit of freelance journalism work. I'll be working for as a 'citizen journalist' covering the election campaign in my local constituency of West Ham, East London. It means I'm going to have to get out into my local community, find out what the big issues are on a local level. All pretty exciting stuff!

Everyday you've got various opinion polls. Some claim the Tories will win a working majority, next day one says there's going to be a hung parliament, the day after that Labour are going to cling onto power. You never know what to believe.

I think it's going to be like this right up until polling day, with nobody being able to predict with 100% certainty what the final outcome will be.

Clearly with this election, Labour are presenting themselves as the party that people should stick with, despite the terrible state of the economy, their argument is that the recovery will be better under their leadership.

The great advantage the Tories have is that they can present themselves as the party of 'change' something Cameron was emphasising today.

He's obviously taken inspiration from Obama's victory campaign in the US elections of 2008, but when any party has been in power for 13 years there is a natural tendency for people to get tired of the same old faces and policies. I'm sure for many people there's the feeling of 'time to give the other lot a chance'.

Cameron states the case for the Conservatives

Personally, I don't see this election as one where the electorate are making a choice on two totally different paths on how the country will be run over the next 5 years.

This isn't a 'crossroads moment' in British politics. It's more like we're entering into a period of the unknown. This is especially true if there's a hung parliament. If there is one the Lib Dems will occupy a position they must have dreamt about for decades.

There are times when politics is about gut feeling and instinct. This election doesn't feel like 1997 when you could see that New Labour were offering something very different to what had gone on before. I get the impression that 1979 may have been similar, but I was only 3 years old at the time so I can't remember!

This election reminds me more of 1992. Everyone thought Labour would win that election, but the Tories surprised everyone. I still think the Tories will win next month, but you can't discount Labour despite all their problems. It's just too close to call.

I shall leave it at that for now. I'll have many more comments to make over the next month.

Dates for your diary

April 12th: Parliament expected to be dissolved.

April 15th: The first leaders' TV debate, on domestic affairs, will be shown on ITV.

April 22nd: The second leaders' TV debate, on foreign affairs, will be shown on Sky.

April 29th: The final leaders' TV debate, on the economy, will be shown on the BBC.

May 6th: The General Election