Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Election Time Looms

Jeepers, it's two months since I posted on here! Whatever was I thinking taking such a lengthy sojourn?

I return to the blogosphere with the General Election looming. This time last year, it looked as though this election would be pretty much the same as the last one in 2005 in terms of outcome in Northern Ireland. However, a year is a long time in politics. Since then, we've had the rise of the TUV and their decent showing in the European elections, the demise of Iris Robinson's political career, and ex-TV stars Mike Nesbitt and Fearghal McKinney throwing their hats into the ring in Strangford and Fermanagh/ South Tyrone respectively.

So what will the outcome of the election be? Well, I'll hedge my bets in terms of the results in Northern Ireland. Whatever they turn out to be, this will be a fascinating election.

Across the UK generally, there could well be a hung parliament. David Cameron's Conservative have lost some ground to Gordon Brown's Labour in the polls. Given the massive swing that would be needed for the Tories to secure an outright majority, could it be that voters choose to stick with the devil they know rather than the devil they don't? In terms of the unprecedented TV leaders' debates which are scheduled, I think Cameron has more to lose than Brown insofar as he's the favourite so there's no other way for him to go than backwards if things don't work out on air.

If there is a hung parliament, could we see a Lib/Lab coalition? Such a pact is not completely unprecedented- the two parties are in coalition in the Welsh Assembly. However, in Westminster's First Past The Post system, it would be a major departure.

There has been disquiet in some quarters that if there is a hung parliament, a Lib/Lab coalition could form a government even if the Tories are the single biggest party. Personally I don't see this as a major problem- in countries more used to coalitions, it happens all the time. After all, Fine Gael hasn't been the biggest party in Ireland since it was overtaken by Fianna Fáil in the 1930s, but it has still formed coalition governments.

Ultimately voters choose the MP for their constituency. Whether that MP's party forms a coalition is up to his or her respective party. I think that people going to the ballot box in May will know that this is a possibility, so it's not as if such a post-election pact to form a government would be a bolt out of the blue.

Another option should there be a hung parliament would be for a party to form a minority government. However, this by its nature could breed instability given that it would require the support of smaller parties for important votes, which could leave the government open to accusations of pandering to those whom it needs to woo.

The Conservatives will be hoping that they can carry enough seats to see them across the line and avoid any such headaches. If the polls are right, it may not be as clear cut as everyone once thought.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The American Red Cross and Haiti: Fundraising 2010-style

Much was made of Barack Obama's ability to harness new technology to bankroll his election campaign in 2008.

Now, in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, a new example of excellent use of technology to fundraise has emerged with the American Red Cross' SMS text message campaign.

Mobile phone users in the US can text 'Haiti' to 90999, which results in $10 being debited from their phone account and handed to the Red Cross appeal. The project is a joint initiative between the US State Department and the Red Cross which was started late on Tuesday night.

The company managing the campaign, mGive, has confirmed on Twitter that $2 million has now been raised through the initiative.

This is an excellent example of how new technology can be used to simplify the process of charitable donation. By using a device the majority of us uses every day- a mobile phone- to enable people to donate to the Haiti campaign in the simplest of ways, they have been able to raise a vast amount of money is less than two days to help people affected by the earthquake.

This campaign will set a benchmark for future fundraising campaigns by charities and other groups, and shows just how new technology is changing dramatically many aspects of daily life.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt's E-mail Regarding Parliamentary Labour Party Leadership Ballot

Dear Colleague,

As we move towards a General Election it remains the case that the Parliamentary Labour Party is deeply divided over the question of the leadership. Many colleagues have expressed their frustration at the way in which this question is affecting our political performance. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this issue would be to allow every member to express their view in a secret ballot.

This could be done quickly and with minimum disruption to the work of MPs and the Government. Whatever the outcome the whole of the party could then go forward, knowing that this matter had been sorted out once and for all.

Strong supporters of the Prime Minister should have no difficulty in backing this approach. There is a risk otherwise that the persistent background briefing and grumbling could continue up to and possibly through the election campaign, affecting our ability to concentrate all of our energies on getting our real message across.

Equally those who want change, should they lose such a vote, would be expected by the majority of the PLP to devote all of their efforts to winning the election. The implications of such a vote would be clear – everyone would be bound to support the result.

This is a clear opportunity to finally lay this matter to rest. The continued speculation and uncertainty is allowing our opponents to portray us as dispirited and disunited. It is damaging our ability to set out our strong case to the electorate. It is giving our political opponents an easy target.

In what will inevitably be a difficult and demanding election campaign, we must have a determined and united parliamentary party. It is our job to lead the fight against our political opponents. We can only do that if we resolve these distractions. We hope that you will support this proposal.

Yours fraternally,

Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt