Archive for the 'Guest posts' Category

08
Jun
12

Twitter is a tool: Use it wisely. – A guest post from Becky Walker

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Having spent a sizeable chunk of the last two years researching the relationships between social media and political organisations, activists and representatives, I am well trained in objective introductions. However, given a public forum, the temptation to evangelise is high, so I will keep it short. The internet is not going to go away, and neither is social media. There will be gaffes, there always are, but that is certainly not new, and it is not a reason to shy away. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube; these all allow for the maximum control over your own content, and it takes seconds to proof-read your output. Used well, social media is not only an image management tool, but has the ability to revitalise debate and build awareness, be it of a specific campaign or of the workings of our political system.

There are no rules, as such, but I thought I would share some of the guidelines and tips I’ve collected for activists, representatives and campaign groups on Twitter.

The closest to a golden rule for representatives, that I have heard, came from Adam Sharp, Twitter’s government liaison in the U.S. and leader of their government, news and social innovation team, at a teach-in event for parliamentarians in Westminster, “be yourself; Twitter users see through anything else.”

Secondly, interaction is key. Twitter is designed for communication and engagement, but if users see no likelihood of receiving a response from an account, they are less likely to engage with it. There is no harm in using Twitter in part as an events feed to keep people up to date, but only some of this will be of interest to followers and it can be very dry. In the Labour movement in particular, a lot of credit is given to the most personal campaign techniques. There is no substitute for conversing with people, and although it is difficult to achieve the same response as on the doorstep, online contact has the potential to be very effective.

On the other hand, don’t feed the trolls. One of the benefits of social media is that you can pick your battles and step out of a debate if it becomes clear you’re talking to someone who is just out for a fight. No one ever comes out of these arguments well, so let it go. If you are in a constructive debate, but are running up against the 140 character limit, services like TwitLonger and TMIme will let you make more lengthy and detailed comments and can be integrated into most Twitter apps.

Add pictures, links, video or audio to add interest to tweets, particularly relating to events.

Do not repeat yourself ad nauseam. If people didn’t pay attention to a tweet the first time, posting it again and again will not achieve anything. If the original was posted late at night, or in the middle of the working day, reposting when more are browsing is generally not frowned upon, but otherwise it gets tedious fast. The same goes for organisations seeking RTs from, usually, high profile users. Many have a general policy not to RT requests as it deters their own users, so constant hassle is unproductive and will leave your appearing feed repetitive, desperate and boring.

If you are an organisation or an activist, don’t be afraid to search for those talking about your area of interest and engage with them. If you are a representative, a search is only dangerous if you’re thin skinned, but engaging with those who have usually chosen not to @mention you tends to require a certain amount of gravitas and cool.

Use hashtags to help people find you., and saved searches for relevant issues are useful for you to find people, as are localised searches under the advanced search operators if you’re only interested in a particular area (eg; “Labour Party” near:Manchester within:20mi).

Lists can help to make your feed more usable. If you are a representative with time, patience or a willing volunteer, creating a list of constituents is a more precise equivalent of the localised search, and can allow you to keep your main feed tidy while not ignoring constituent followers. The same could be done for any number of groups, from journalists, to activists, to friends.

I could go on, but this is the most important advice I tend to dish out. Most of it will seem fairly obvious to regular users, and there is in no substitute for becoming an active user, learning through trial and error, but as with any new medium the fear of error often outweighs the willingness to try, and so hopefully this will help to redress the balance for the apprehensive and increase effectiveness for the struggling. All social media is made up of human interactions, so listen to your audience, don’t ignore them.

Becky is a soon-to-be Hull Politics graduate specialising in the Labour Party’s ideological history and the use of the internet in British politics, an Ex Parliamentary intern for a Labour MP and a Queer Labour member in West Lancashire.

10
May
12

A Word on Blair – Alex Hylan

A poll on the Guardian’s website found that only 33.7% of respondents would welcome Blair’s return to British Politics. I guess this is unsurprising, even though Blair remains one of our most charismatic leaders at a time when apathy towards politics is so populist.

Guardian comments such as “I would prefer to see him in the dock at the Hague”, thanks ‘Paddy01’ and “I’d welcome his return, if only to remind us how loathsome and disgusting our politicians can get”, keep up the dream, ‘LabourStoleMyCash’, seeming to be quite representative of general opinion on our former prime minister amongst my friends and other people I’ve spoken too.

Myself? I’ve always liked Blair. Look at him, look at that steely determination on his face, isn’t that just likeable?

I recently read Blair’s memoir, A Journey (available from all good Book shops, but get it from a library because it’s so much cheaper). I did this not because I’m a Blairite, but because I’m a Labour supporter and I always think it’s interesting to hear from people who have had such a massive influence on our party. I particularly wanted to hear about things from his perspective, because I feel as if Blair’s absence from British Politics has allowed others to define him instead of him defining himself.

A passage I particularly like comes early on, when he’s talking about his Dad (who you may remember, stood as a Conservative but had to back out because of illness):
“What Dad taught me above all else, and did so utterly unconsciously, was why people like him became Tories. He had been poor. He was working class. He aspired to be middle class. He worked hard, made it on his merits, and wanted his children to do even better than him. He thought – as did many others of his generation – that the logical outcome of this striving, born of this attitude, was to be a Tory. Indeed, it was part of the package. You made it; you were a Tory: two sides of the same coin. It became my political ambition to break that connection, and replace it with a different currency. You are compassionate; you care about those less fortunate than yourself; you believe in society as well as the individual. You can be Labour. You can be successful and care; ambitious and compassionate, a meritocrat and a progressive.  Moreover, these are not alien sentiments in uneasy coexistence. They are entirely compatible ways of making sure progress happens; and they answer the realistic, not utopian, claims of human nature.”

I’ve always believed passionately in the idea that, just as the demographics of our country has changed over time, so too should our Labour party. Our party is the party of the people, and while we should always remember that we strive to protect and shelter the poorest in our society, we should aim to govern for the country, not any one sect of it.

I’ve also always felt that Blair is the political figure that has most clearly articulated the notion that ambition and compassion are not diametrically opposed ideals, as Blair himself said: ‘You can be successful and care; ambitious and compassionate, a meritocrat and a progressive.’ The fact that we ever allowed the Tories to claim that they were the party of ambition is beyond me, what a fanciful lie that turned out to be.

Simply put, I think Blair has done a tremendous amount for the Labour party, in terms of making us a governable force again and bringing a lot of our polices in to government. Just as we praise the Nye Bevan’s and Clement Atlee’s of our history, we should also praise Blair; who, let’s not forget, won three elections in a row, two of them ecstatic landslides. We should be thankful for that.

A quick paragraph on Iraq, which I don’t want to go too much into, purely because I think it’s a whole different debate that has structural factors as well as personal ones:

In hindsight it’s very easy for us to criticise the decision to go to war in Iraq, sit here with our laptops and our social media and commenting from 9 years hence. Iraq has proved itself to be a war we should never have got involved with, I’m not disputing that, but Blair did not know that at the time. He was operating in a climate that was both paranoid and uncertain, and had to make a decision whether or not to take a risk and trust that there were no weapons of mass destruction. It was a risk he was not prepared to take that chance on. I don’t think we can name any other high level figure in British politics that, given the same circumstances, pressures and constraints, would have taken a radically different course of action. I don’t mean to gloss over the issue of Iraq and, rightly, it has become part of his legacy; that’s just my two cents and I’m no expert on the subject.

If you disagree with me, as I’m sure many people will, or just have an opinion on this issue, then please comment- I will endeavour to answer as many points as I can. I don’t acquiesce to Harry’s requests to write these blogs in order to be populist, and I’m always more interested in other people’s opinions that my own. The only thing I’d ask is that the comments aren’t completely Iraq centric, as important as that issue is. The reason I ask this is because, as I’ve said before, I’m no expert on the in’s and out’s of the subject, I was 10 at the time.

PS- Did you know that when you do a Google image search for ‘Blair’ three out of the first five images are of Blair Wardolf, a character from Gossip Girl? If that isn’t a sad indictment of our political times I don’t know what is.

Oh wait, that’s right, a Queen’s speech at a time when unemployment is set to rise to 9% that makes not one single mention of the word ‘jobs’. Now that, that is a shocking indictment of our political times.

Alex is a 19 year old Labour party activist and member of Sheffield Labour Students; studying Politics & Sociology at the University of Sheffield.

09
May
12

The Living Wage needs to be a central plank of Labour’s economic narrative- Darrell Goodliffe

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Labour needs a strong and coherent economic narrative which tells a story of a new economy, one built out of the ashes of austerity and the financial crash. Of course, it is not enough to string pretty words together, we must practically show how we will do this through eye-catching policies which encapsulate and embody the vision we want to put to the electorate. If you look at the French election, Francois Hollande did this well by pushing the 75% top-rate of tax on earnings over  1 million euros. This embodied his insistence that the rich shoulder the burden of rebuilding France’s shattered national economy.

Ed Miliband has already expressed the view that it is the toiling mass of people who are society’s real wealth creators and therefore they are the ones who should be most rewarded. Ed is correct in this point of view but he has yet to substantiate it with a policy that makes his point in a clear and unequivocal way. However, the living wage fits the bill perfectly, coupled with real controls on top incomes it would send a clear signal that Ed is prepared to back his fine words with equally as fine deeds.

We will be assailed with all the traditional arguments against, ‘it will lead to unemployment, it would be bad for business’, etc, etc. However, put lightly, these arguments are economic hokum. J K Galbraith deals with some of the arguments here in a US context:

Would prices go up? Some would. But rich people can afford it — and workers would have extra income to pay the higher prices, so most of them would come out ahead. Women in particular would benefit because they tend to work for lower wages. With more family income, some people would choose to retire, go back to school, or have children, making it easier for others who need jobs to find them. Working families would have more time for community life, including politics; Americans would start to reclaim the middle-class political organization that they once had. Because payroll- and income-tax revenues would rise, the federal deficit would come down. Social Security worries would fade.

Not only that, but households would be able to, slowly but surely be able to make headway into the personal debt mountain which blights our economy; here Ed will need to offer other support, like the extension of Debt Relief Orders and action against high prices (something he has already muted). However, a living wage would be a huge boost to struggling households and therefore to our flagging economy.

Up to this point, Ed has only mooted a ‘voluntary’ living wage (in return for which companies would receive tax incentives) however, this is pointless and misguided. If it is voluntary it would introduce two-tier wage system (with a clear division between companies that only offer minimum wage and those that offer a living wage)  which would run the risk of increasing rather than tackling social inequality. Also, the benefit to the state would be limited because it would be paying out money to the private sector in the form of tax breaks (as well as presumably footing the bill of increased public sector wages).

Simply raising the minimum wage to the level of the living wage, which is what Galbraith advocates, therefore is more economically sensible and beneficial all round as opposed to a half-baked voluntary scheme. Ed needs to be brave and not fight shy of the ideologically motivated but economically illiterate opponents of a living wage; he needs to take them head-on and make the living wage a central plank of Labour’s narrative which espouses a bold and radical vision of a new economy created out of the ashes of the old.

Darrell is an ex-intern and Labour activist and blogger and a candidate for NEC.

08
May
12

Time to enfranchise the great ignored. A guest post from Liam Young.

For over a year now I have been stating the case for a campaign that is close to my heart; lowering the voting age to 16. When I was a young boy, at roughly the age of 6, I told my family that one day, I wanted to be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Ten years on, I still hold that dream.

In ten years I have attended events ranging from local party meetings to national conferences, I have spoken at events that ranged from local council chambers to conference halls and I have spent hours of every day reviewing the latest political gossip and checking up on the political scene. If they were to mean test me and judge whether I was of a ‘sound mind’ to vote, then I’m pretty sure, and hopeful, that I would pass.

You may think that my story is unique and one that is not often unheard of; but you’re wrong. I think it is possible to accept that not many people want to be the Prime Minister, and I believe you’re probably right in thinking that no one would exclaim it at such a young age; but young people are interested in politics. At the age of 16 many people undergo tutorials in politics at sixth form, and from the age of 12, when compulsory citizenship education comes into effect, we begin to learn about government and our political surroundings. Young people become aware of what they believe in, but they cannot voice their feelings through the ballot.

The bulk of people involved in last years rioting belonged to that ‘youth’ category. Maybe one reason that they voiced their anger against society through brutality and destruction is because they had no other way to do so. Maybe if they were taught that they had the ability to make a difference, then they would have pursued different avenues.

If I can legally sleep with my MP, if I can legally marry my MP, if I can pay tax to my MP and if I can go to a distant land and fight for my MP, why shouldn’t I be able to vote for my MP?

David Cameron spoke about the ‘great ignored’ during his election campaign in 2010, when he promised to ‘engage and represent’ this group of people in society. By disenfranchising young people, he fails to keep this promise. He called this group of people, “the hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding majority.” Maybe he should think about the 1.7 million 16-17 year olds who work hard, often pay some form of tax and abide by the laws of the country, but are denied the vote simply because they are deemed too ‘immature’ to be given the right to vote.

In the local elections just passed, over 70% of adults who were eligible to vote decided against doing so. Let’s give young people the chance to show that they can accept the responsibility of voting and can build on the dismal turn out of the already so called ‘mature’ population. It’s time to enfranchise the great ignored, it’s time for votes at 16.

Thanks go to Harry Barham and the Red Blog for the publication of this post.

Liam is a 16 year old Labour activist and blogger. To follow his campaign or his political trails, follow him on twitter @liamyoung.

26
Apr
12

Stealing a March on the Green Agenda – Guest Post, Alex Hylan

A friend recently told me how, now that the local elections are fast approaching, the Green Party have suddenly reawaken from their slumber and started leafleting him again. Presumably the Greens, like the flower, only blossom when the bees come out to play.

I’ve always found the Green Party quite curious because, like the Labour party, they identify with the centre-left and it’s messages of sustainability, investment and fairness, but yet seem occupied with attacking Labour in the many leaflets that, wastefully, tumble through letterboxes up and down Britain every election time.

But despite this I’ve always had a lot of sympathy with the party. I think they’ve got a really good message and I do worry that the politics of the 21st Century are becoming the politics of maintenance; an accusation that is frequently levelled at the three main parties. Whatever you think of the Green Party, you can’t say that they lack a compelling vision for the future.

The fact is that sooner or later our existing sources of energy are going to run out, and when this starts looming on the horizon it’s going to become increasingly economically viable to pursue green sources of energy. But these changes don’t just happen; their needs to be strong political leadership to make the brave decision to invest in these new technologies.

This is where the Labour party comes in, a party with a track record of striving towards a sustainable economy for the future, not just for now. With today’s figures showing our economy tumbling back in to recession it is clear that we are crying out for investment; to get people back in to work, to readdress the way we harness our energy and to build for the future. This could be the first step in building a new, high-tech green economy that will help to secure our future. It’s just a dream, but maybe one day soon we can stop burying our heads in the sands of Saudi Arabia and work to secure our own energy security. Sure it would cost money, but don’t tell me there’s no money when you’re able to give a tax cut to millionaires.

There has always been an ethical argument for the green agenda, but increasingly there’s an economic argument too. Why can’t Labour be the party that brings that change to the mainstream?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alex is a 19 year old Labour party activist and member of Sheffield Labour Students; studying Politics & Sociology at the University of Sheffield.

10
Apr
12

“What’s your policy?”: Max Bell-The nationalisation of the Utilities

I can hear the ghost of Michael Foot’s donkey jacket screaming in delight in the background….

In all seriousness – with half of Britons anticipated to be in fuel poverty by 2022, it is absolutely scandalous to envision an expansion of the current situation whereby pensioners, young mothers and the just plain working poor are forced to select between eating & heating.

Only with the re-nationalisation of all those who pump the simple elements into our homes – heat, water, light, power, electricity, gas – can we truly decide once and for all that people are more important than profit.

British Gas & the other “Big 6”, (*expletive deleted*), pushing another billion or so here and there on to their profit accounts make me sheet-white with anger considering the pain they force literally millions and millions of Britons into.

The idea that this magically restricts growth is an illusion: and the model of nationalisations provided by the post-WWII Clement Attlee Labour governments is the perfect model, irrespective of economic libertarianism bleating. Nationalisation occurred along side, and was a key player in, the longest period of growth that Britain has ever seen. The Victorians can eat their heart out.

Post the traumatic event of the Second World War, society came together and universally decided that “Never Again” would the ravages of the market be directed at the weakest, as the political class turned its nose in disgust. See parallels on how we must react to the financial crisis perhaps then?

This clichéd choice agenda being pushed by the bastardised hostages that is neo-liberal fortune, is completely and utterly flawed. This is not the phone market, or indeed: the airlines – no wide scale infrastructure investment ever occurs without the government deciding once and for all that the electorate are too important to throw under a capitalist bus.

There is no low-cost, low-carbon agenda from any big energy supplier. Re-nationalisation would be the perfect catalyst for that.

Thus, only when the Government takes control of the industries – which web together poisonously as a plague on all our houses and our governing class’ consciousness. We can set the price structure depending on who & where you are. Enforce energy efficiency standards nation-wide, and improve infrastructure: all without the need for a profit.

And as we place money back into the pockets of our nation – just think of the growth.

We owe re-nationalisation to our children, and their children – and history will judge us all the poorer if we chicken out now.

Max Bell is a Proud working class socialist and Northern political nerd. Currently reading Law at University of Sheffield whilst being an active member of Sheffield Labour Students. He is also, probably, Scunthorpe United’s most obsessive fan.

If you could choose one policy to implement now if you could, what would it be? get in touch and we will post your ideas!

06
Mar
12

Super Tuesday, Why this time it’s actually going to be super! – a guest post from yael shafritz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Super Tuesday, and this year that is an extremely exciting day for anyone following the US Republican presidential primary. This year Super Tuesday is actually going to be super as for the first time in any recent elections it may well decide exactly which Republican is going to face Obama in the autumn.

To really understand why this Super Tuesday is so special we first must understand exactly what Super Tuesday is. In the US for parties to nominate a presidential candidate, the candidates must go through a series of primaries and caucuses throughout the 50 states. Some of these are purely for members of the party to vote in, whereas others are open and any registered voter can cast a ballot for their chosen candidate. Famously the first contest is always the ‘Iowa Caucus’, quickly followed by the ‘New Hampshire Primary’ which both take place almost a year before the general election. After that there is an informal order for which the states hold their caucuses and primaries. Super Tuesday is called so as there are the most states holding primary elections on the same day. These states range in size, geographical location and importance. The order of the primaries for later states and Super Tuesday are often seen as less important in the presidenti

al primary system as by then a frontrunner has often been established and the majority of other candidates have already dropped out. And what is the aim of these primaries and caucuses? It is to gain to delegates so that when the convention for their party is held, one candidate will have enough delegates from various states to be voted in as his or her party’s nominee.

This Super Tuesday is really exciting because the guy everyone expected to be the Republican party’s frontrunner by this point is, not! So far Mitt Romney has 180 delegates, Rick Santorum has 90 delegates, Newt Gingrich has 29 delegates and Ron Paul has 23 delegates. Although it may seem like Mitt Romney has a large lead over the other candidates, when the goal is 1,144 delegates needed to be nominated, it’s easy to understand why Mr Romney is still a way off. This is why Super Tuesday is so important. With 10 states holding their primaries today there are a lot of delegates up for grabs and in the case of Mitt Romney, he needs all the delegates he can get so as to establish his position as frontrunner before going into the remainder of the primaries. For Rick Santorum this day is also key as a win for him will either blow the whole contest wide open, disproving the notion that Romney was ever the established frontrunner, or in a best case scenario (and I mean that for him and the rest of the world) puts him in the lead and establishes him as the frontrunner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So which states are important, well Ohio is seen as the key state today as it has a lot of delegates and is also a big swing state in the general election. Whoever carries Ohio today will be given a delegate advantage but also show themselves as a viable candidate to beat Obama in the general. Georgia is also a key state with the largest amounts of delegates, however Gingrich is likely to win here as it’s his home state, but Romney and Santorum will surely be in a fight for a close second. Ultimately the states in the south and Midwest will decide this Super Tuesday as any Republican presidential candidate needs to be able to sweep these states in the general election. Santorum’s chances to do will in some states is severely limited due to the fact that he wasn’t able to get on the ballot in several key constituencies and states, something that Romney’s campaign has blamed on incompetence. This means that in a state like Virginia where Santorum had a real chance for a key win he will not even be on the ballot.

Not since the Democratic primary season in 1972 has there been such a contested primary so this Super Tuesday could provide several outcomes. By tomorrow we will know a lot more as to the political landscape for the rest of the year in the states. Either Romney will sew up the nomination. However, this seems unlikely. More likely is the notion that the process will once again be kept open and 2 of the 4 remaining candidates will be left fighting for delegates. Hopefully, for our entertainment, this battle continues all the way to the convention where we will be able to witness a gridlocked convention and a party rip itself apart trying to find one viable candidate.

Yael Shafritz is a dual UK and US citizen studying at Sheffield University and is a Labour and Democrat activist.