The Communion of Saints

The Communion of Saints
I hope there's room for me.

Welcome all - especially Mancunians.

Hello anybody lost in the blogosphere. Welcome to the ruminations of a politically left of centre, Man United supporting, blues loving, history-fixated, Catholic wanderer. Be warned, I am a bit of a curmudgeon.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

My favourite Tory, off his pedestal.

When the Conservatives returned to power, albeit in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, I had a certain amount of despair, even though I was tired of the rudderless leadership Labour was giving the country.
My hopes were raised by the appointment of that old Tory warhouse, Kenneth Clarke, as the Lord Chancellor and Minister for Justice. At last, a minister who did not buy into the simplistic maxim of 'lock-em up and throw away the key'.
The early days were hopeful with an emphasis being placed on non-custodial, but enforceable, community sentencing. Added to this was the recognition that Indeterminate Public Protection Orders (IPPOs) were antithetical to rehabilitation and lead to the possibility of a minor infringement leading to, in effect, a life sentence. Also, Ken Clarke's long-standing unhappiness with the expansion of mandatory sentencing filled many of those who work in the Prison Service with some hope that they could get back to the job of managing a prisoner's movement through sentences, dealing with drug abuse, educating and, hopefully, providing a possibilty of rehabilitation, rather than the present nightmare of simply corralling often sick people in inadequately funded establishments.
I know the cuts in the Ministry of Justice are deep, but Mr Clarke's proposals would have saved a lot of money and allowed Prisons to finally do their job properly.
Now, I am in despair again, as the government has backed down in the face of press and public pressure (a public often fuelled by the misreporting of the media).
I actually disagreed with Mr Clarke's proposal to halve the sentences for those found guilty of rape and sexual abuse - although I fully recognise the reasoning. I simply believe that there are some crimes which are too heinous to consider rewarding an early guilty plea.
Having said that, it made sense for other crimes to be offered a halved sentence if an early guilty plea is made. It seems all that has now been lost.
On top of this, the government is introducing another mandatory sentence for possession of a knife, not allowing for any discretion by the court. It seems as if no lesson has been learnt from the heavy-handed approach of the last government.
Hopefully, the IPPO reform will still stick - believe me, there are people in prison because a magistrate thought that there might be a 'medium risk' of a person committing an offence. Think about it - not an actual offence, but the possibility. That can't be right.
So Ken, please don't give in totally, fight back. I am willing to put you back on a pedestal, it just won't be as high this time.

P.S. Where are those great prison reformers, the Lib Dems, in all this?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Another Stockport Liberal Democrat jumps ship. Lets hope this one drowns.

Interesting news that Chris Walker, the Liberal Democrat councillor for Brinnington and Central, has quit the party and is sitting as an Independent. Apparently no reasons were given. I would suggest the result of the recent local elections are as good an explanation as one is likely to find, with the Liberal Democrat candidate getting less than 12% of the vote and the Labour candidate receiving just under 70%.
Councillor Walker has previously been suspended from the Lib Dem group due to his conviction for a drunken racist rant towards a police officer in 2008, although this did not stop them from welcoming him back into the fold quite soon afterwards.
I assume he has no hope of being accepted into the Labour Party so are we looking at an attempt to run as an Independent? Whatever happens, Brinnington and Central is my Labour odds-on gain for 2012 and one hopes that Councillor Walker's brief sojourn in the political corridors of the Town Hall will soon be a memory.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Even if you are wedded to First past the Post, is this really representative democracy?

I will put on record that I am not a natural supporter of Proportional Representation - I believe that some of its more 'pure' forms allow for the growth of extremes and can give too much power to those in a minority position. Added to this, I do believe in the importance of the link of the legislator to his/her constituents. So, I was quite in favour of the recently defeated AV proposition.
On the whole, I am not an enemy of FPTP as such though I feel there is a need for Electoral Reform.
On the night of the Local Elections, the rather untidy figure of Mick Hancock (Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South) appeared on the television from the Portsmouth count urging the Lib Dem leadership to listen to the voices of their members and supporters, who were going to give the party a bit of a battering. The surprise was ,despite the looks of concern on the faces of Mr Hancock and his fellows, the Lib Dems did remarkably well in Portsmouth, taking 9 of the seats on offer, with the Conservatives on 4 seats and Labour on only 1 (technically a loss of 1 as their former leader, Leo Madden, was re-elected as a Lib Dem in his seat having been elected as Labour in 2007). Having paid attention to the running commentary from the local press online, it had seemed for a while as if the Lib Dems could have been in for a tough night as the votes piled up on the tables, but the jump in the Labour vote (for instance) seemed to make no difference to the result.
As it happens, there was a big swing away from the Liberal Democrats and towards Labour in terms of votes cast, with a big increase in turnout between 2007 and 2011 (from over 43,000 votes to over 51,000 votes). Obviously, 2010 turnout was high due to the General Election falling on the same day, but even the interest (such as it was) with the AV Referendum can't explain away such a rise in votes cast since 2007. I suppose one could say that the Labour vote was more motivated to turnout with an unpopular Labour government having been replaced by the Conservative/Lib Dem national coalition, but it would be just as true to say that a more competitive series of battles led to a better ground operation from the parties and much more voter interest.
It has to be said that the Portsmouth Lib Dem 'get out the vote 'operation appears to have been what saved the day for many of the sitting councillors.
The astonishing fact is that with less than a third of the votes cast, the Liberal Democrats won 9 seats, whilst the Conservatives, with over 37% of the vote managed only 4 and Labour, with nearly 26% of the vote, managed to hold only Paulsgrove ward. It almost puts you in mind of the old gerrymandered wards of Northern Ireland, but that isn't true because this effect is simply to do with the way the vote was spread in the Portsmouth wards.
You have to admire the success of the Liberal Democrats over the past few years in taking over from the Labour Party as one of the two major parties in the city. Labour presently only hold 2 council seats out of 42, which is stunning when you consider that until the last general election they held one of the two parliamentary seats (Portsmouth North) and they ran the council until the year 2000, the Lib Dems only finally gaining control in 2010. For Labour, when a party falls so far, it takes a long time to climb back. The party can at least congratulate itself with the knowledge that it increased its vote from 2007 by nearly 10%, whilst the Conservative vote fell from 40.61% to 37.33% in the same period. The Liberal Democrat vote held up pretty well, dropping by just 1%.
It is the 'Others' where the big drop occurred this year, with the English Democrats' surprisingly strong showing in 2007 being much reduced from 5.91% to 1.93% (they stood in only 4 seats this time, instead of 10 in 2007), the Greens from 2.47% to 0.95%. In all the 'Others vote fell from a 'protest vote' level of  9.55% to a more usual level of 3.97%. Where the vote went is an interesting question and one would guess that there has been a fair amount of between the party movement.
The question is, I suppose, do I feel comfortable with a system which allows a party which comes second in terms of the vote, to win so substantially in terms of seats. Fair enough, parties often win with less than another party when one has a FPTP system, but to win regularly, whilst second, seems to begin to put into question the validity of the system. I am put in mind of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of Queensland in the Australia, who managed to hold power by winning the most seats whilst being clearly behind in the number of votes cast in the 1983 elections. To be fair, the Liberal Democrats had, unlike Sir Joh in Queensland, no unequal say in the boundaries of the wards of Portsmouth.
So, I suppose one has to say that there is always next year when the Lib Dem vote may, as in the North, other parts of the South and much of the Midlands, begin to collapse, in which case there are several wards which are ripe to be taken : Labour could take Nelson and Paulsgrove from the Conservatives, and Charles Dickens from the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives could take Eastney and Cranewater , St Jude and St Thomas from the Lib Dems. Also, the rise in the Labour vote makes things interesting in Central Southsea, Copnor, Cosham and Hilsea.
The fluctuations of the political system create anomolies, I suspect this one will begin to right itself at the Local Elections of 2012. Also, to be honest, it is no worse than the fact that in some areas, parties with less than 50% of the vote can take all of the seats up for election.
Still, is this really representative democracy?

Blood and sand - where did that blog post go?

I spent a big chunk of time yesterday preparing a post when, for reasons unexplained, a large chunk of it just disappeared. I cannot find it and the part of the draft that was saved is the uncorrected version. What a crock!!!
I have to spend a load of time trying to repost or just give up all together. How is it possible, short of preparing all posts on a word processor first (which is what I am having to do) to avoid this happening again?
Or should I just begin a complete rant against the technology which is supposed to have saved us from the accidental loss of work that could have been caused by one's sleeve wiping off the chalk marks from the piece of slate that used to be the main mode of recording one's thoughts?
As much as I enjoy a rant - it'd probably just disappear two hours into my typing.
So - any ideas folks?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Stockport - from Conservative fasthold, through Liberal Democrat hegemony and on to Labour hope?

I have paid a lot of attention to the political situation in Stockport over the last couple of years. I used to be involved with the Labour Party in Stockport back in the 1980's when it was a Tory stronghold just beginning to be undermined by the nascent Liberal/SDP Alliance which would become the all-conquering (in Stockport) Liberal Democrats. Labour were the perennial also-rans, safe enough in a few wards but under threat in others. I can remember canvassing in Edgeley (now safely Labour) and, with other canvassers from North Reddish, confidently predicting that the Liberals would take it with around 45% of the vote. We got it right. Things were not so great for Labour back then. Over the past years though, it has been the Conservatives suffering as well, falling to a low third place in seats on the Council and failing to hold any of the Westminster constituencies.
It was easy for the Liberals/Liberal Democrats - they could be all things to all people: a centre-left alternative to Labour in wards like Cale Green and a centre-right alternative to Conservatives in the Cheadle and Bramhall seats. You have to admire their chutzpah; mopping up the Labour votes in Bredbury, Cheadle Hulme, etc. to 'keep the Tories out', whilst simultaneously appealing to Conservatives in other wards to 'stop Labour'.
As with all such tactics, there comes a payback time and that appears to be the beginning of the case in the Stockport Council elections of May 2011.
This has been brewing for sometime. In 2009, a by-election in North Reddish, where the Liberal Democrats had surprisingly lured the popular long-term Labour councillor Ann Graham to defect to them, was a disaster for the Liberal Democrats with them coming fourth behind UKIP. At the 2008 election, the Liberal Democrats had reached a peak at the height of the Labour Government's unpopularity and gained the once seemingly unconquerable Labour bastion of Brinnington and Central, with 46.9% of the vote, after running Labour fairly close in 2007. So shocking was this that Councillor Colin McAllister, long-time Labour councillor for Brinnington, eventually defected to the Liberal Democrats in early 2010 (as he was to discover, in the words of Julia Robert's character in the film 'Pretty Woman', this was a big mistake - Huge!). Councillor McAllister's defection was pretty much the last of the good news for the Liberal Democrats as the General Election of 2010 arrived.
The Council elections held on the same day produced apparently good results for the Liberal Democrats, with them only losing out by the luck of the draw to the Conservatives in Bramhall North after the first dead-heat in living memory. They gained Bredbury and Romiley from the Conservatives and held everywhere else - except the recently acquired seat of Councillor McAllister in Brinnington and Central, where Labour retook the seat with the return of long-term Councillor, Maureen Rowles.
If you looked more closely at the figures though you began to see an interesting renaissance in the Labour vote in some wards - the General Election boosting the turnout among Labour voters. Labour came fairly close to retaking the seats of Davenport and Cale Green and Manor from the Liberal Democrats, just missed out on taking Heatons North from the Tories and polled fairly well in Offerton, Bredbury and Woodley, Bredbury Green and Romiley, Cheadle Hulme North and Stepping Hill. These results were an indicator for what was to come in the Local Elections of 2011.
First came the discomfiture of the Liberal Democrats at Westminster entering a coalition with the Conservatives, then the harsher than campaigned for cuts, which followed quickly on from the Tuition Fees debacle. Councillors Ann Graham (North Reddish), David White and Roy Driver (both Davenport and Cale Green) quit the Liberal Democrat group in protest at central government policies. They originally sat as Independent Left councillors but had applied for membership of the Labour party (actually, they were all former Labour members).
The 2011 elections were not as bad for the Liberal Democrats as they could have been if Labour had realised quite how well they were going to do in some wards, but they lost overall control of the council, losing 2 seats to Labour (Manor and Davenport and Cale Green) and Bramhall North, Bredbury Green and Romiley and Hazel Grove to the Conservatives. The last two of these results are stunning as Hazel Grove had long been a fairly safe seat for the Liberal Democrats and Bredbury Green and Romiley was safe for the Liberals even back in the 80s when I was a Labour worker.
What made the difference? It was the rise of the Labour vote and the apparent refusal of many Labour voters, who had tactically backed the Lib Dems to keep the Tories out, to vote for a party that was not just implementing cuts at local level, but being responsible for many unpopular decisions in the Coalition at national level.
In Bredbury Green and Romiley, the Labour vote rose from 8.6% in 2007 to 22.3%, whilst the Lib Dem vote fell from 46.8% to 30% in the same period; this represents a swing of over 15% from Lib Dem to Labour. All the Conservative candidate had to do was hold on to win (actually, a small rise of 3.5% in the same period).
In Hazel Grove, there is a similar picture with Labour rising from 8.6 (2007) to 18.15%(2011), the Lib Dems falling from 46.8% to 36.15% and the Conservative vote falling (due to the intervention of UKIP) from 44.6% to 38.76%. A swing of over 10% from Lib Dem to Labour. The Conservatives managed to take the seat with their smallest share of the votes cast in years.
Even this isn't the end of the story as the Labour vote rose so dramatically in several seats that they are now in contention at the 2012 local elections. In Offerton (which this author always thought was in play) there was a swing to Labour of nearly 15.7% with the vote rising from 11.4% (and 4th place behind the BNP in 2007) to 31.57%, the Liberal Democrat vote falling from 48% to 36.84% in the same period, while the Conservative vote rose by 4.4% to 21.1%. In Cheadle Hulme North the long latent Labour vote shot up from 7.8% (2007) to 28.2% whilst the Liberal Democrat vote for the long serving Councillor Porgess fell from a staggering 58.8% (2007) to 41.61%, a swing from Lib Dem to Labour of 18.8%. The Conservatives share of the vote fell from 28.5% to 23.36%.
A similar process happened in Bredbury and Woodley (I remember when Bredbury returned a Labour Councillor, I am getting old)where the Labour vote shot up from 8.6% (2007) to 29.5% (2011), the Lib Dem share fell from a stratospheric 65.8% (2007) to 48.9% (2011); a swing here of just under 19% to Labour. The Conservative vote stayed almost static at 21.6%, a drop of just 1.1% in the same period.
In all three of the above cases, the Labour candidate took second place behind the Liberal Democrats which, I believe, will make it very interesting at the 2012 local elections as it will be hard for the Liberal Democrats to hold on to those remaining Labour-leaning tactical voters who will feel that their preferred candidate may now have a chance. There is of course a sizeable Conservative vote in all three constituencies which the Liberal Democrats will target, but who knows how successful that will be when the Liberal Democrat council is unpopular with Conservatives as well.
I think that Labour will take Offerton next year and put up a serious fight in both Cheadle Hulme North and Bredbury and Woodley, as well as, I further predict, taking Heatons North from the Conservatives, Manor and Brinnington and Central, along with Davenport and Cale Green from the Liberal Democrats. I also predict that the Labour vote will rise significantly in Stepping Hill, Cheadle Hulme South, Hazel Grove, Bredbury and Romiley, Cheadle and Gatley. Who knows what even a small rise in the Labour vote will do to the Liberal Democrats in both Marple seats?
These are interesting times for politics in Stockport and will pose questions for the Conservatives as well as they consider how they can take advantage of the problems facing their national partners but local rivals in the Liberal Democrat-led council. Of course, the Conservative vote has begun to fall as well and, if it falls more heavily next year, we could see some interesting results.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A brief moment of smugness.

I forgot to mention - 19 League titles!! Are you watching Liverpool?

Ordinariates - a good thing?

I have been absolutely fascinated by the creation of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and the preparations for the Ordinariates in other countries. Historically, I find the idea attractive in that the Church has created a space for Anglicans to be united with the See of Peter whilst retaining something of their traditions and culture, which have grown up over the past five centuries.
This in itself is not without precedent as it has its roots in the creation of Anglican Use parishes in the United States back in the 1980s - these are parishes where former members of the (Anglican) Episcopal Church were received into the Roman Catholic Church and allowed to retain much of their 'patrimony' (a fascinating word which seems to excite much debate between different Anglo Catholic groups), in terms of liturgy and practise. From very small communities, parishes have flourished - I encourage people to visit the website of two of the Anglican Use parishes in Texas, and
In our own country, by the end of this month, somewhere over 60 men will have been ordained to the priesthood, a couple to the 'transient' diaconate and one as a permanent deacon. With the 900+ lay members we see the beginning of something that could be very exciting in terms of the future of the Catholic Church in the UK and be a trailblazer for much that is to come in the years ahead around the world.
I have only a couple of niggles - one comes from the fact that I have recently been following discussions on some of the blogsites favoured by Anglo-Catholics (or Anglican Catholics) and am frankly depressed by the poisonous atmosphere between those who wish to take up a place in the Ordinariate and those who wish to continue swimming in the ever decreasing circle which are the 'continuing' Anglican groups around the world. I have to make clear that I am not referring to any of those in the UK here, but those who are mostly in North America. I say to those who are on their way into the Ordinariate - shake the dust off your feet when you arrive and let these arguments go - it is in the joy that you will feel that will give the best answer to the naysayers. To those who aren't coming - don't.
My other niggle is to do with people who are holding back from entering just now; please do not misunderstand me, I don't refer to those who are truly on a journey which may eventually bring them into the Ordinariate (or even into the Church without the Ordinariate). I refer to those who are 'waiting to see what is on offer' before making a choice. Be it those who are waiting to see whether or not the General Synod of the Church Of England will give them another compromise to allow them to remain 'Catholic and Anglican' or those who want to be sure that joining the Ordinariate will not require any real change on their part, allowing them to keep their positions and authority (here, I admit, I am throwing a stone in the direction of the USA and its continuing communities). If you have truly prayed for unity, it is on offer; you cannot use the threat of joining the Ordinariate as a bargaining chip with the General Synod nor can you expect that this journey makes no demands of the individual making it.
So, best of luck to all of you who have already joined the Ordinariate in the UK or those eagerly awaiting the erection of the same in other countries. You are all in my prayers.