Thursday, November 13, 2008

American elections - not over yet!

A friend asked me last night why the US President does not take up office for 2.5 months, when a British PM takes over within about 12 hours of the election result. The historical answer seems to be down to the size of the country - it used to take weeks if not months to be clear about the result, (and they use an electoral college not direct counting of votes).

Even today some results can take a long time coming. I've just noticed that three seats in the Senate are still not declared. The website 538 has all the details, with links to a website of electoral maps including this amusing Australian one. There's also Electoral Vote.

The relevance to us of the Senate elections is that the Senate has a big role in foreign policy, including ratifying Treaties with other countries. We (that is, the rest of the world!) need their backing to do something about climate change. Let's hope Obama does make a difference on this front.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembering millions of soldiers who have died - a week ago and 90 years ago

The Soldier - Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Copied from Poetry Online

Pictures from Chelmsford's Remembrance service on Sunday.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Do students care about their finances? Or just despair?

Students these days - they just don't care. Where are the massed crowds and the protests of outrage for today's student fees protest? That was my first reaction this morning; and I wondered if that proves I must be getting older! I was also shocked about the almost total lack of publicity around the Students' Union building. But as I left Chelmsford's Anglia Ruskin campus, I also realised that the current state of the political process is to blame for students not taking an interest.

The Anglia Student website has told people for a few weeks that a bus would leave the Chelmsford campus today at 10am, to join a student protest in Cambridge - "Students in the Red". So I thought I would pop along to wish them well (and perhaps remind them that only the Liberal Democrats have opposed tuition fees and top up fees from the start see the Scrap Fees website).

I turned up at 9.45 (with one of the local members of Liberal Youth, Anglia Student Edward Massey) at the SU building on the Chelmsford campus. As the picture taken at 10.00 shows, no sign of a bus! After some searching inside, tucked away on a first floor corner behind a glass door, I found a sorry-looking noticeboard carrying two, small A4 posters needing a magnifying glass to read the message. Edward and I asked about the minibus and were told that it had been cancelled due to lack of interest.

As I left, I felt that electronic publicity had probably been relied upon too much to promote the event. I would have expected posters, leaflets and banners around the union building. That's a lesson for all us internet enthusiasts, I guess.

However, as I pondered further, I realised that the SU is operating in an unhelpful climate. Many people - not just students - care about the issues; they just despair of the political process. They do not see public protest as a viable way of achieving change. [Did it ever? Sometimes, such as the poll tax - in 1990 and 350 years earlier(!!) but not often.] But they discount the party political process too.

The number of protest groups on sites like Facebook suggests that people do still care about issues (big issues like knife crime and road deaths, and local issues such as the Army & Navy roundabout in Chelmsford). But the Facebook generation seems to think that creating and joining a protest group on Facebook is enough!

We often see the call to "join this group now to show people you care". But you have to do more than that for goodness sake!! You have to get out there and campaign amongst the wider population.

Politicians also have to show they are acting (not just "listening and consulting" - which is such a big, new growth industry especially in local government). Political parties have to engage better and I have a key part to play in making sure they do, at least in Chelmsford.

BUT it's a two way street. [President elect] Barack Obama (hooray!) has spent months echoing President Kennedy in 1961 - "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country".

Never has it been more true that you get the politicians you deserve. If you don't engage with the political process, don't be surprised if it does not look much like you. But politicians need to meet you at least half way!