The Rambles of Neil Monnery

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Archive for August, 2017

On the rabid inflation of tuition fees as a political issue…

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Tuition fees. No two words in the English language drive more fear into a Lib Dem heart. It has become not only a stick for other politicos and the media to beat the party with but the electorate themselves think a stick is far too tame and keep imploring the previously stated politicos and media to turn that stick into a baseball bat, then drive in some nails to said baseball bat, coat the baseball bat in cow pats and then and only then start swinging at the Lib Dems.

As has been written about here (and on many other fine websites – and some bad ones too no doubt) this has been a lot of the Lib Dems own doing. We can go around and around in circles about the nuance of the Lib Dems were a junior partner in a coalition and did actually put a lot of their 2010 manifesto into place but no-one cares about facts, facts are for losers, we live in a post-fact era and the only things that make sense are black and white, right and wrong, Will or Gareth (ok that last one is quite an old reference) but I think it is fair to say that the simpler the better when it comes to issues these days.

I do wonder though at times how we actually got to the position where we are. On Sunday Vince Cable penned a piece about Brexit and how it hurt the chances of young people not only now but potentially for generations to come. Most economists would agree that this is an accurate statement and that Brexit will not be beneficial in terms of either jobs, opportunities or salaries going forward. Yet instead of people going ‘right on Vince’ ‘You tell it like it is’ ‘fuck me that old geezer actually knows some shit’ or words to that effect, social media was full of one issue, yes, tuition fees.

Apparently tuition fees is an issue that won’t ever go away, it is radioactive and will still be used to bash the Lib Dems in 2197 when the aliens invade but allow humanity to have an election on whether they should be enslaved or not. The Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell will implore people to reject enslavement and embrace freedom but the hard left will go, ‘well you lied about tuition fees so I can’t trust you, now where do we sign up for a stint at the sulphur mines on Rigel IV?’

For you see tuition fees has very little to do with actual tuition fees. The policy is inconsequential to the emotion that people feel when talking about them. Families and young people want their children to have every opportunity going and therefore believe a free education for as long as they want it helps enhance those chances to find a path they’ll enjoy and will bring them a good life.

Fair point you would say but when the country is facing an obstacle that won’t just pinch financially but will actively shut down opportunities and jobs, the very same people who are desperate to keep education free are far more blasé. It is like they can’t see the big picture and that put side by side, tuition fees is a grain of sand whereas Brexit is the entire beach.

This doesn’t even take into consideration the actual cost to the tax payer of free education at higher institutes of learning. That is a debate that very few actually want to have but it is a legitimate one. Most people can understand and tolerate their taxes going towards health, defence, crime prevention, education up to adult years but why should someone who earns a low salary be part paying for someone they don’t know to study Philosophy at the University of Central Lancashire? I’m not saying I have that opinion but what I am saying is I can see that opinion and it is perfectly justified.

When Labour introduced tuition fees and then top-up fees when they were last in government, it was a story for a day or two and then life moved on. For the Lib Dems though it is something that everyone wants to throw at them mercilessly. Labour were able to win a fourth consecutive term in government even after an extremely unpopular war because the electorate took into account the whole picture. Now though people want to find a small issue and use it to supersede the bigger one.

Tuition fees was a dark day for the Lib Dems but Brexit will be an eclipse for the whole country for generations. Yet as Jeremy Corbyn leads Labour forward and quite possibly towards government, he does so still envisioning and supporting a departure of the EU that will leave his supporters poorer and with fewer life opportunities. They know this but they don’t care because they’ve grown to see that life (and politics) is simple. Good and bad, black and white and Jeremy Corbyn is good.

A lady called Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett wrote in the Guardian a piece entitled Brexit will be catastrophic. Yet I still support Jeremy Corbyn and it sums up everything I have said here. A devout Corbyn supporter who knows that he’s happy to screw her over but yet is still highly enthusiastic towards the man. ‘I felt politically homeless (because of tuition fees, I would never countenance voting Lib Dem)’ she writes as once again tuition fees is clearly a much bigger issue than Brexit and that my friends (and enemies and those who are indifferent towards me) is the where we are today.

Tuition Fees 1, Brexit 0. One day future generations will look back at ours and wonder why anyone ever felt that killing off the liberals was worth it just over an issue like whether adults should all be entitled to free education. It may be important but compared to what else is going on not only in the world but also in our back yard, it isn’t even in the top 25 issues yet for a great swathe of the electorate, being morally superior is vastly more important than making better lives for themselves, their loved ones and for those who come after them.

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Written by neilmonnery

August 8th, 2017 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Politics

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On putting Soccer AM out of its misery…

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I remember the days when I was much younger than I am now. Back in those teenage and early 20s years I would have a pretty steady Saturday morning ritual before either heading to Fratton or St. George’s Park to take in my live football. That ritual would involve enjoying Sky Sports’ Soccer AM. The show fronted by Tim Lovejoy and Helen Chamberlain wasn’t must-see TV but a nice relaxing route into the footballing day.

As I got older though I fell out of the habit, not just because of age (and maybe some maturity) but because when Tim Lovejoy left the show (taking a lot of the actual talent with him) it became a shell of what it once was. I know Fenners has returned and is now fronting the show but he was at his best when playing characters. Sheephead was first rate. Robbie Knox et al. They were what made the show funny.

Fans of the show will remember Hells Bells snogging Rocket for his birthday, Fixtures Man, Topless Weather is association with Gravy, ooo northern boys love gravy, Barry, Fenners punching Lovejoy, Lovejoy getting a ball to the knackers, Serge’s goal in the Wembley game, naked hikers, the Dance Off, the Save chip! campaign and the like. Those were the days…

The show is back is the news today as word comes out that having fronted the show since its inception, Helen Chamberlain won’t be on the famous red sofas this season. I have to admit I don’t think I’ve watched a whole episode in a decade or so. I have seen bits here and there but when Andy Goldstein came in, it lost a lot and Max Rushden wasn’t able to stem the tide (although I actually thought/think he’s a solid TV presenter).

Chamberlain though has been a permanent fixture on the show. Her departure would logically have been the catalyst for Sky to finally axe the show and move forward with something new on a Saturday morning. With the new Sky Sports channel line-up, this was the perfect opportunity to put Soccer AM to bed (albeit a decade after it should have been).

Sometimes TV shows evolve and move forward with the times. Soccer AM failed to do this and when it had to change things up once Lovejoy and the gang left, it instead just tried to replicate their success but with inferior presenters/crew.

What shouldn’t be overlooked is the culture of the sport itself changing. Maybe it is just because I have myself drifted away from it as a weekly staple (I’ve become one of those armchair fans mostly) but it does seem as though football has become more of a family outing than the blokey one it still was when I was younger. With that culture (from my PoV anyway) changing, the larks of the show don’t sit with what audiences want any more.

When the time is right for a complete overhaul or an ending, TV producers shouldn’t be afraid to get it done. Leave them wanting more. Fawlty Towers only ran for two season’s as did The Young Ones. Soccer AM had a great run but bringing in Jimmy Bullard to replace Helen Chamberlain along with comedian Lloyd Griffith won’t turn around the sinking ship that has lost around 80% of its audience in the past ten years.

So farewell Soccer AM. I had pretty much forgotten you existed (apart from the final two or three minutes when I see it as I’ve turned over to watch Jeff and the boys at midday and they are not getting stale). Without Tim Lovejoy and the gang you had lost your mojo but without Helen Chamberlain you’ll have lost your soul. The show will be a husk of what it once was and as I end and look outside of the window here in the south, I see that it is light drizzle…

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.

Written by neilmonnery

August 8th, 2017 at 9:56 am

Posted in Football

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On George Turner’s must-read excellent piece on the Lib Dem campaign in Vauxhall…

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Vauxhall was an opportunity for the Lib Dems in the 2017 General Election. Traditionally about as safe a Labour seat as you can get, it had a hard Brexiteer MP in an area that voted heavily to Remain. When Theresa May stepped out on to Downing Street that Monday morning to announce that she was going to the country, this was the type of seat that no doubt had a big ring around it at Lib Dem HQ. Labour would of course go on to win by over 20,000 votes but that doesn’t tell half the story.

George Turner was the candidate and he expressed some of his thoughts in an article entitled Losing in Vauxhall to Brexit Kate. It is a fairly open and honest piece that seems to have hit home for many.

The main parts that are worth noting are the slow reaction of Lib Dem HQ to the moving barometer of Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity. He started the campaign as an electoral liability but the moment people started to look at Theresa May with more laser like focus coupled with his populist policies, he became Nick Clegg in 2010 but unlike Clegg, he had the party with deep pockets and infrastructure in a great deal more in-play seats. This financial and infrastructure factor cannot be overlooked.

I’ll start copying and pasting bits of the article with some comments…

All our data at the beginning of the campaign showed that we were significantly ahead of Labour in Vauxhall, and yet on polling day we finished 30 points behind. The data was not wrong. There was a genuine, large and late swing towards Labour. In the relatively short period of the election campaign, tens of thousands of people in Vauxhall, and millions across the country, switched their vote from Liberal Democrat to Labour.

This adds up to what the rumours were. Essentially at the start of the campaign when it was being fought on a Brexit ticket and everything else relegated to the back pages, the Lib Dems had every right to think they were set to make sweeping gains, even overturning such long odds such as downing Kate Hoey in Vauxhall. The problem was the party nationally never really had a strong Brexit message. The whole ‘you know what, we’ll have a second referendum on the terms of the deal’ was weak, weak, weak. Most knew it then, everyone knows it now. When the accelerator should have been pressed, the party cruised along in neutral. A huge miss.

Into this mess entered Jeremy Corbyn with a leaked manifesto and public opinion started to shift dramatically. For the first time there was a major political party offering a clear and credible way out of the dismal spiral of tax cuts followed by more cuts to services.

As Labour’s poll rating increased people started to believe there could be a Labour government. Voters began to think that their decision was about much more than who was going to be their local MP, it was about what kind of government they wanted.

At that point Brexit dropped off the agenda.

Ding, ding, ding and we have a winner. You win elections by giving people hope or scaring them. Jeremy Corbyn gave them hope and as national polls shifted to the possibility of a hung parliament or even a Labour majority, people weren’t just thinking about who will represent them in parliament but who could actually form that government. The Lib Dems kept banging on about no coalition deals ever (no matter who with) so that told people that to get rid of the Tories and Theresa May, you had to vote Labour.

I know the party are still salty about coalitions but by telling the electorate that, it didn’t calm down those who were worried about them propping up the Tories again but scared the Anti-Tory voters that they only had one way to get rid of May…and it wasn’t by lending the Lib Dems a vote.

The moment Brexit dropped off the top line of the ticket it opened up opportunities for a handful of Lib Dems, the Norman Lamb’s of the world but it also opened up the door to Labour for their extremely appealing domestic policies. People didn’t care whether they could afford them or not, they were fed up of the deficit and less money for public services.

When people are fed up they just do something they shouldn’t anyway. If you are in a foul mood and it is still a few days until payday, do you look at the Chinese takeaway menu and say, ‘No, maybe when I’ve been paid…’ or do you say, ‘fuck it, can I please have Set Menu B?’ I know that is a pretty simplistic analogy but the electorate weren’t thinking about the small print, they only wanted the headlines and the Labour headlines were very enticing.

Part of the national campaign was to flood each target constituency in direct mail, produced by Lib Dem HQ on behalf of the national campaign. On day one we told Great George Street in no uncertain terms that the last thing we needed was anti-Corbyn literature going though the doors of voters in Vauxhall. In order to win Vauxhall we needed to convince tens of thousands of Labour voters to change their vote to us in a one-time deal to kick out Kate Hoey. That would just be made harder if we were perceived to be anti-Labour.

Our advice was almost completely ignored. Voters in Vauxhall received a stream of literature, sent out by Lib Dem HQ featuring Comrade Corbyn in a silly hat. As the polls swung towards Labour that message became more and more damaging. The vilification of the Labour leader cost us volunteers and voters. When we complained we were told there was nothing we could do about it.

This seems to have been a big problem that the party needs to address. This wasn’t a one-size fits all election, not for the Lib Dems and nor will it ever be for us. The party have to look closely at every seat and listen to what the people on the ground are saying. If you are in an office in London with focus groups, are what they tell you going to be the same that people are thinking in Leeds North West or Ceredigion for example? I highly doubt it.

Even if going into the campaign HQ thought they had put in place a smart tactic, they certainly were not flexible enough to adapt to the changing face of what was going on. As we went from an easy Tory landslide to an election where the keys to number ten downing street were genuinely up for grabs, the party didn’t seem to change course. The mind boggles. This is not an indictment at all on how hard people worked but sometimes you have to realise that working hard isn’t the only key to success, if it was the party would probably have won at least 50 seats on June 8.

If you are planning on an insurgency campaign then it has to be just that. In Vauxhall that seemed to be the plan and everyone was on board. This was about removing Kate Hoey, not for being in favour of Brexit but about how adamant she was about it and how how of step she was with her electorate. If that is the plan (and the seat was given target seat status) then you have to leave those who are in charge of the campaign locally to run the operation. By flooding the area with national literature, all it did was muddy the waters. This happened in several other seats too so I’ve been told, where the candidate’s views were overridden by HQ who wouldn’t listen.

What must be learned from this fiasco is two-fold. First of all, all plans must be adaptable. You must be able to change course to some degree during a campaign. If things outside of your control change then you shouldn’t stay on the same course. The world around us is very volatile and momentum can stall or change a campaign, even if you don’t have anything to do with it, another party’s rise or fall can and will affect how the electorate see you.

Secondly, more power should be given to campaign manager’s in target seats. If you have employed someone to run the campaign then let them do so at a local level. Candidates should be able to opt-in and opt-out of certain targeted mailings as they see fit. They have the people on the ground to see how the message is going across on their particular patch and why people don’t listen to these expertise and insight I’ll never know. The more data and knowledge you have, the more informed you are and you have a better chance of reaching the best decision. If you ignore that data and knowledge then you are setting yourself up to fail.

I have written on multiple occasions about the campaign. It was piss poor. I think most now know this and have taken it on the chin. I’ve heard on the grapevine that some at HQ prefer to point the finger at bad local campaigns than look inwards in the immediate aftermath. This now has surely evaporated to some degree. If it hasn’t then oh boy.

I know betting markets are just that but at the start of the campaign the spread on Lib Dem seats was around the 30 mark. Not all these local parties put together poor campaigns and fuck ups at local level. The sad truth is Tim Farron made little impact apart from having gay sex related issues and HQ’s plan was to target the soft Con vote only as they thought the majority Labour Remainers would come over without too much fuss. When all is said and done the party actually got fewer votes in 2017 than it did in 2015. That is just a damning statistic.

The Labour Remain vote stayed where it was because they fell for Corbyn’s magical charms on where he stood on the issue and whilst the party did see moderate success in LD/Con battles primarily in heavy Remain areas, the fact the party had Twickenham pretty much sown up weeks in advance and allowed Sarah Olney to lose Richmond Park by 45 votes to a man like Zac Goldsmith is a fitting epitaph to the 2017 Liberal Democrat General Election campaign.

I don’t know George Turner but he comes across as a highly intelligent and articulate individual. The party needs to nurture this type of candidate and listen to what they have to say. If they continue to stick fingers in their ears and say it wasn’t their fault, no progress will ever be made. Also where is the survey we were all promised on how the campaign went? I suspect quite a few activists have quite a fair bit to say…

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.

Written by neilmonnery

August 1st, 2017 at 3:53 pm