Just for amusement to start the campaign, here’s a link to the BBC’s little quiz about Broxtowe constituency:
I have to confess I only scored the “cunning constituent” level!
Just for amusement to start the campaign, here’s a link to the BBC’s little quiz about Broxtowe constituency:
I have to confess I only scored the “cunning constituent” level!
In previous instalments of my “personal manifesto”, I’ve talked about the economy, about linking training better to employment and about the NHS, in particular care services and mental health. I’d like to switch the focus this time to how I see the job of representing the constituency.
I’ve used the phrase for many years and it reflects temperament as much as anything else. What it basically means is that I’m really only interested in helping bring change about – for the constituency, for Britain, and sometimes for the wider world. I think the mud-slinging side of politics is not just sordid and immature, but also a waste of time – even if you were to prove beyond doubt that your opponents were fiends in human shape, it wouldn’t actually achieve anything worthwhile.
That doesn’t mean that I won’t sometimes disagree with opponents for their policies or their approach to politics. But it’s a side-issue: the main job is to do something useful. In concrete terms, that means that I see the job of championing Broxtowe as essentially non-partisan. I naturally have particularly good relations with Labour colleagues, and I hope Labour will win the local election, but I don’t have a problem with Tories and LIbDems or independents on the council either. We compete at elections, but in between we’re mostly on the same side, doing our best for the community. Otherwise, why bother?
In short, if I’m elected, I’m not going to waste your time grumbling ineffectively about councils and councillors. Let’s get on with the job.
There are four strategic challenges for the coming years.
All of these issues are likely to involve both central Government and local councils. It’s going to be crucial that the MP bridges the two, bringing investment to the area, ending the relentless squeeze on council funding and fending off further central demands to roll over our Green Belt. While it will be easier with a Labour Government not bent on cutting investment as part of deficit reduction, these issues are not primarily party-driven.
We are, in my opinion, approaching a turning point for Broxtowe, with real opportunities and real dangers. It is going to be crucial to work together, and I see positive, constructive politics as essential to our common future. We need a careful balance of employment opportunities, affordable housing, cultural interest and environmental protection. I hope you will allow me to play a part in making it happen.
Apologies for a few days’ delay in answering some emails – I’ve been on a quick flight to Korea, where we’ve had a breakthrough in my animal welfare day job
11 hours’ flight each way in 3 days means not much sleep, but lots of time to write emails. So with less than two months to go to the General Election and Broxtowe the 8th closest race in the whole country, I’d like to write a largely non-partisan practical note on what will happen and how you can get involved. I hope you’ll find it helpful.
First, it’s important that everyone is actually able to vote. There are two things to check:
With the introduction of individual voter registration, several million voters nationally have dropped off the register. This applies in particular to areas where people move house often and to students, who can no longer be registered collectively by their universities. If you’re not sure if you’re registered, you can check by ringing Broxtowe Electoral Services on (0115) 917 3276.
Registration is easy to do online, though you need to have your National Insurance number (which you can check on a wage slip, student loan form, pension statement or a host of other official documents). The website to register is here:
and it will take less than 5 minutes. Please pass this on to anyone who you think might not be registered.
A particularly important point is that If you divide your time fairly evenly between two places – e.g. you’re a student away during term time – you can register in both and vote in either, though you can’t vote twice in the same national election. It’s probably most worthwhile to vote here in Broxtowe rather than in the other seat, because it’s so close here that a handful of votes could well decide the outcome.
At every election, all parties find that around 10% of the people who planned to vote for them can’t do it on the day, because they’re unwell, or unexpectedly away, or just too busy with a family crisis or other issues. We therefore encourage people to sign up for postal votes. The way this works is that you receive the ballot paper a couple of weeks in advance of polling day, and can then send it back when it’s convenient for you. Again, this is particularly helpful to students, who can vote in Broxtowe even if they’re studying elsewhere, but it is also important for anyone doing shift work or in uncertain health.
You can order a postal vote by ringing the electoral services number above, or downloading the form at:
In rare cases, you may prefer to order a proxy vote, which means getting someone who you trust to vote for you. This applies mainly if you’re likely to be far away so that a postal vote might not reach you and get sent back in time. The form for that is here:
A common criticism of candidates is that they don’t go into enough detail about what they will do for the constituency. The problem is that there are about 40,000 homes in Broxtowe, and it takes about an hour to deliver 100 leaflets, so sending one leaflet to everyone takes about 400 hours, or say 4 hours each for 100 volunteers. Wealthy parties can pay for this to be done (by post or delivery service), but everyone else has to do it by volunteer effort. Whichever candidate you prefer would certainly welcome your help if you can spare a few hours. If you’d like to help me get my message out in the next few weeks, please let me know:
On election day – Thursday May 7 – itself there will be masses to do, and elections are fascinating exercises in democracy. If you’d like to see the process at close hand, do take the day off and help!
The election will formally be called around the end of this month. At that point, tighter spending limits kick in, creating a more level playing field, though it’s still possible for national parties to get around the limits e.g. by “national” poster campaigns which “accidentally” happen to be in marginal seats. It looks as though we will have fewer all-party hustings events than last time, when we had half a dozen. Ms Soubry has declined to take part in any before all the manifestos are published, and has also indicated that she’d rather not take part in debates on special subjects like education, though I’ve agreed to debate the other candidates on this and perhaps she will reconsider. There will be a BBC TV debate for Broxtowe in mid-April, and I’m aware that the churches and other groups are hoping to organise hustings as well.
Apart from Ms Soubry and me, there will be candidates for the LibDems (not yet selected a candidate at all), UKIP, Greens and the new Men and Boys Party. The BNP seems to have given up. UKIP actually won Broxtowe in the Euro elections, but it’s fair to say that it’s generally thought that the winner in the General Election will be either Ms Soubry or me (punters can get up to 100-1 odds against other candidates): The gap between us last time was just 0.7%, and the outcome probably hinges partly on whether voters who normally support one of the other parties decide to lend support to one of us to help decide the outcome. Last time, we got 39% each, while the LibDems got 17% and the Greens 0.8%, dividing the left-of-centre vote enough to produce a Conservative win.
There will be another election, for Broxtowe Borough Council, on the same day, so you’ll have two ballot papers. Depending on where you live, your borough council vote may go to two or three candidates, because each ward has 2-3 councillors. The count for the General Election will be on the night of May 7 and is likely to be televised, though I think the Borough Council will count next day.
Because it’s so hard to predict the outcome, the election here should be good fun as well as important. Whatever your preferences, please do take part and let’s make May 7 a day to remember!
Although Ms Soubry isn’t willing to debate me until every manifesto has been published and every other candidate is present, she’s taken to sending me slightly childish tweets. A sample:
“u served in Blairs Govt til 08 voted 4 invasion of Iraq (I was against) when not #sittingonthefence ur flip flopping!”
Ignoring the spelling, and refraining from wondering if she is so bored with being a Minister and MP that she has time for this, the substance (shown by earlier tweets) is (a) that I no longer support military interventions without a UN mandate and (b) I have reservations about HS2 and its impact on us.
It’s in my view honestly not sensible to discuss war and peace or a £40 billion project in a tweet. I invited her to a discussion in Toton, the most affected area for HS2, but she’s ignored that, so I assume the general reluctance to debate applies to this too.
So let’s have a discussion of both issues here.
Yes, I’ve changed my mind on this – sensible people learn from bad experiences rather than repeat them. The involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has in my view shown us that we do not have such a clear understanding of Middle Eastern political factions that we can sensibly kill people in one faction in order to propel to power a different faction which may be no better. There will be rare cases where there is global agreement that something is so terrible that joint intervention is necessary with a UN mandate, but usually we risk making things worse rather than better.
To take two examples, on both of which I disagree with Ms Soubry. In Libya, we intervened to help overthrow Gaddafi. As a direct result of the intervention, Libya is now divided into warring actions, none of which have a clear claim to the Government, and one of which is the type of militant Islamist group that we spend so much time fighting elsewhere. Ms Soubry enthusiastically supported her Government’s intervention. I would have opposed it.
The second case is even more drastic. The Government – again with Ms Soubry’s support – favoured Britain becoming embroiled in the Syrian civil war, supporting Assad’s opponents, who again range from liberal democrats to fanatical Islamists. These opponents include ISIS, who we are now busy helping to bomb, which in turn helps Assad retain power. Syria is a total mess, and so is our policy towards it. Do we have the right in that situation to wade in and start killing people on one side or the other? Ms Soubry can vote for it as a Defence Minister. I won’t.
The issue here is more finely-balanced. There isn’t any doubt that it makes sense to have good north-south rail connections in a country like Britain, and the figures are clear that existing capacity will be overloaded in the coming years without drastic action, which means more crowding and slower goods deliveries. Moreover, if HS2 has its East Midlands hub in Toton, there is no doubt that it will produce an explosion of interest in businesses, hotels and other services around the station, producing new job opportunities and new business rate income for the borough (reducing future pressure on our council tax). That’s why it’s favoured across party, both by Ms Soubry and by Conservative, Labour and LibDem councillors. Indeed, Toton’s councillors are particularly in favour.
But… first, it’s a £40 billion project. Is this the absolute top priority for £40 billion? More than deficit reduction? More than improving the NHS? More than improving schools?
And second, if we aren’t very careful, it will create a chaotic building project right across the constituency which will make the disruption caused by the tram look like mild by comparison. Toton will be dramatically changed; Trowell, Strelley village and Nuthall will all be impacted, and the tram will need to be extended to the station to make sense of the transport network. And if the station is in Breaston, we shall get much of the disruption without the benefits.
I don’t think the project will be decided in Broxtowe alone, but we need our MP to challenge the project critically. What are the building periods in each section? What facilities do the planners envisage? How many jobs will be created? How will communities be compensated for disruption? If there are delays, will the compensation increase? How will noise affect residents all along the route?
I submitted many of these points to the consultation. Ms Soubry may have done as well, though I don’t think she’s published them if she has and apparently she just thinks it’s a wonderful idea. But the fundamental point which we should derive from the tram experience is this: we need to avoid falling in love with building projects just because we like the general idea of better public transport. I do see the advantages, and I’m not fanatically opposed, but if I’m representing Broxtowe there will be tough questions to answer before I give my support.
And we should definitely debate this properly with full public consultation on the implications at every stage. Not, I suggest, by an exchange of tweets.
Another flurry of tweets from Ms Soubry and other opponents was over whether I’d accepted a donation of £1000 from Tony Blair. The short answer is that I haven’t been offered £1000 – Mr Blair has sent me good wishes and a cheque to pass to the national party, which he hopes they’ll use in marginal seats like this. The more general point is that I’m trying to be very clear about what I stand for, including the issues above where Tony Blair wouldn’t agree, and people can decide for themselves whether to support me or not, on that basis. If they want to contribute without any strings, that’s a matter for them.
Meanwhile, while pretending to worry about Tony Blair’s £1000, the Tories are cheerfully spending their way through a fortune of donations from central sources financed by hedge funds and oligarchs: if you haven’t had any glossy letters from Mr Cameron and Ms Soubry or seen giant Tory advertising hoardings, you soon will.
All this basically comes back to the fact that we are gradually drifting towards an American-style political climate where only the well-funded can make themselves heard. If I’m elected, I’ll argue the case for much stricter spending limits. Nowadays, with internet access nearly universal, we don’t actually need mega-posters and floods of leaflets to put our ideas across, and it’s unfair to the smaller parties too. Let’s put the genie back in the box!
I’d like to make some promises on consultation which many MPs and candidates would think unwise. The reason I’m making them is that I’m tired of people saying that politicians are unapproachable, indifferent and remote. Politics in Britain has become too much a trench war between rival bands of professionals who have never done anything else.
I’ve worked in the private sector for 18 years, for an NGO for five, and run my own business twice. Nobody would tolerate the sort of behaviour that has become the norm in politics: the reply a month later that doesn’t answer the question.
Let’s have some service standards.
One of the weird things about politics is that you’re effectively on a 5-year contract with very little supervision; at the end of the period, you’re either reappointed or fired. You send out a newsletter and broadcast your views from Westminster by email, but you don’t really have to get challenged locally.
Incumbent MPs like to profit from this – they can get coverage anyway merely by saying they support this or oppose that; challengers get less coverage. So traditionally, sitting MPs refuse debates. Ms Soubry has refused my renewed invitation to debate the NHS or HS2 or anything else before the election, and introduced a new condition for debating: not only must every candidate be selected first (the LibDems are still to announce) but she is now only willing to debate when the election manifestos for all candidates have been published.
Thus we have the odd position that the former Conservative Minister of Health is unwilling to debate health in her own constituency until UKIP, and the Greens, and the LibDems, and the Justice for Men and Boys Party have put forward their manifestos and are ready for a 6-cornered tangle. National manifestos are always interesting, but in the last resort we shouldn’t need the parties to tell us what to think. Just like Mr Cameron, she’s (successfully) sought the support of the Green candidate in evading an earlier debate. She’s also declined a proposal by the NUT to take part in an all-party discussion of education chaired by a local head teacher.
This is all silly. Politicians who aren’t willing to debate with opponents are like bake-off contestants who draw the line at cake. If we’re reduced to regurgitating national manifestos, why have local candidates at all?
Service standard 1: daily online debate
So I’d like to promise some innovations. One I’ve done already – opened my website www.nickpalmer.org.uk to discussion by anyone. It’s the only politician’s website in Broxtowe that allows the readers to argue back. You can post a reply to any message and it will appear on the site after a short delay. Agree or disagree, put alternative ideas – it’s a free country and you’re entitled to put your views. Just a couple of riders: I won’t publish spam, illegal content (porn links etc.) or commercial adverts, or attacks on other people (I don’t have time to get into the right of reply cycle). Within reason you can say what you like about me. The website is billed as “A home for intelligent political dialogue” and that’s what politics should be about, rather than just everyone broadcasting in one-way monologues. Why not try it now?
Service standard 2: annual report-back in every town
Next, if I’m elected, I will have at least one report-back public meeting every year in each of Beeston, Stapleford and Kimberley. These will be primarily formatted as Q&As, and will happen regardless of what controversies are raging nationally. Anyone will be free to take part, regardless of their views, and there won’t be any charge beyond a voluntary whip-round for the cost of the hall. The first one will be this July, so we can discuss the Government formed after the election and the first post-election Queen’s Speech.
Service standard 3: a personal response in reasonable time
Tired of form responses? If I’m elected and you need a response from me, I will normally send it within three days. Not a form letter or email saying “I’m very busy and I’ll get back to you”. A proper, personal reply.
MPs get two kinds of email or letter. One is a question or proposal about policy. Why is the Government doing X? Why isn’t it doing Y? I’ll think about the arguments that you make, and give you a personal reply, not a blah statement written a 25-year-old special adviser about why my party’s policies are wonderful. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll tell you frankly, and try to find out – and that may take longer, but I’ll keep you posted. If you persuade me that a policy needs to change, I’ll argue for it in Parliament. If you don’t persuade me, I’ll explain why I disagree. Sometimes we will fail to agree and I hope we will respect each other just the same.
Alternatively, if you have a practical question (when will my road be repaired? Why is my pension late?) then I’ll pass it to an assistant immediately. We’ll tell you at once – within three days, as noted above – what we’re doing to investigate. We’ll get back to you as soon as we find the answer.
There are exceptions. Now and then I’ll take a holiday. Sometimes MPs get enormous letters – 10 pages of handwritten argument raising 15 different issues. As soon as the MP replies, they may get a further 10 pages by return of post. So if you raise lots of issues at once, the replies will be proportionately slower. That’s not because I’m reluctant to respond, but I need to respond to other constituents too. Also, some problems are insoluble and I’ll have to say so (I was once asked if I could change someone’s postal address from “Nottingham” to “Nottinghamshire” – the answer is no, I can’t). And if a constituent writes again and again on the same issue with the same arguments, I’ll refer them back to earlier answers.
MPs typically get up to 100 queries a day. The thing is, if you don’t deal with them, next day you have 200. Hiding behind a standard form letter doesn’t solve the problem – the pile just builds up and you end up not answering substantively at all.
Please note that I’m not promising to agree with everything. I’m a long-standing left-of-centre politician: I am biased to public services, to fairness and tolerance and equal opportunity. But I also like to think I have a mind of my own – not every left-wing idea works, and not every other idea is bad. I won’t do whatever the whips tell me, and I won’t do whatever you tell me.
If you vote for me, you’re engaging me to put my mind and energy at your disposal, not to slavishly follow every twist in public opinion. But I recognise that there are lots of things that I don’t know from personal experience, and I won’t fob you off. I’ll listen; I’ll try to help.
An interesting new initiative: people aged 25-45 who live in Broxtowe and have not ruled out voting Conservative were invited to a two-hour discussion in Beeston last Tuesday, and offered £50 for attending. With the almost limitless funds provided by hedge funds, the Conservatives are able to afford this sort of thing, though if say 200 people turned up it’d cost a handsome £10,000.
Several people have asked me what I think of a Daily Mail report claiming that Anna Soubry used a particularly offensive word in the Commons. I think it’s unlikely she used that particular word – she has a history of four-letter outbursts, but I believe her rather than the Mail. In any case I’m not standing against Ms Soubry because of any difference of personality, but because of disagreement with her policies and her political approach. I hope we can both keep the campaign at that level.