Saturday, 20 March 2010

BA strike could damage Labour

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The BA three day strike has kicked off with politicians scrambling to condemn it pre-election. Brown has called it, “unjustified and deplorable”, Cameron said the prime Minister’s efforts were “feeble” and Nick Clegg carped that Labour was “bankrolled” by the strikers, the Unite Union. To be fair, Norman Baker, Lib Dem Shadow Transport Minister did call on both sides to "sort this mess out"

BA has been boasting that it has made a “good start” with 1,000 cabin crew and 22 planes were available to fly with volunteer staff. It said that 65% of BA travellers could still fly. The omens are not good when both sides take strident views. However in this case Unite has offered to negotiate but BA have taken off the table an offer from last week. The sabre rattling in the war of words between the two sides will only prolong the suffering of passengers. They have to come to some sort of deal in the end.

The Unite Union has set out it’s stall why strike has been required. It’s website says:-

Described by Tony Woodley, Unite joint general secretary as setting Unite 'mission impossible', the main difficulties were:
·         BA's insistence that crew sign up to a four year pay deal which will, at best, freeze real pay until 2014 - but most likely will see a real pay cut year on year by BA. Crew had offered to cut pay for one year and give the company a three year deal, but that has been dismissed by BA as the airline looks to make a wider attack on wages.
·         The company's failure to commit to extending the validity of the industrial action ballot to allow for members to be balloted on any offer from BA. This failure could have led, in the event of a rejection of BA's proposals by cabin crew, to a third strike ballot in five months - and continued instability for the airline, its customers and the wider BA workforce.
·         BA's failure to address Unite's concerns about the impact on existing crew as the airline pushes forward with its new fleet plans, in particular how routes will be distributed between existing and new crew in the future.

The effects will mean that there will be thousands of travellers (voters) who will be infuriated by disrupted holidays, business trips and essential travelling ( for instance seeing sick loved ones).

There is even an updated Blog dedicated to the strike;

There are few votes to be won by anyone in this but Brown may be especially damaged just enough to nudge the election outcome away from him, unless there is a speedy resolution. When will ACAS be called upon by both sides to try and mediate?

If Lord Mandelson and/or the Prime Minister roll up their sleeves and can be seen sorting out the BA mess, then Labour may actually gain support. However, if the strike drags on into a second round of four more strike days, starting on 27th March, voters may take a long look at what is happening. They may see a worrying trend (together with other strikes such as on the railways) and fear regular industrial unrest in 2010 and 2011 as the post election budget cuts bite deep. 

The question is then, who is best placed to minimise the effects of strikes?

Some Conservative voters will want a Maggie-like leadership of ‘up and at ‘em’ with ‘no surrender’ written all over the newspapers. Cameron will be naturally drawn to this type of belligerent stance. But drawn out public sector strikes will be incredibly damaging on some of the most vulnerable in society if it spreads into universities and colleges and medical services, over the next two years.

It is time that a ‘New Deal’ for industrial relations is drawn up. Only the Labour Party has the clout with the unions to influence them and potentially secure a medium term deal that cuts across many industrial sectors. Without strong but fair leadership recognising the effects and fears of hard working people in the public sector, there will brutal and damaging strike consequences not just to travellers but students, patients and ordinary families. 

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Labour set for return to power?

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Astonishing as it would have seemed just a few months ago, Labour is set to return to power and Gordon Brown to remain as Prime Minister; for now.

With the polls heading towards Labour retaining around 33% of the national polls, on a uniform swing the final tally of seats could be:-

UK Polling
Liberal Democrats
Northern Ireland
Other inc Green

The magic figure to begin to form a majority Government is 326 but the politics of the UK Government are steeped in centuries of convention and rules, so nothing is straightforward. For instance, you need to discount the Speaker and his two deputies as part of the equation since they do not normally vote in the House.
There are various seat calculators including Sky, Electoral Calculas, and UK Polling Report to name but three.
The prediction models all use basic calculations so there will be both one offs that will throw the results (such as in Solihull in 2005 when the Lib Dems won against the odds) and the impact of boundary changes make predictions more difficult. However, without an army of political pollsters to calculate every seat using every nuanced local factor, these predictions give a reasonable expectation of the overall result.
If Labour succeeds in pushing around 33% of the vote, the way the UK general election ‘model’ works is that it will be likely to be the largest party. Unless the Conservatives can reclaim over 40% of the votes and around a 9% lead over Labour, they will fail to be the largest party. Furthermore, as the gap closes, so Labour overtakes the Conservatives in number of seats. The Lib Dems may fare better than the above prediction by perhaps another ten seats since they deliver more seats than the pollsters give them credit and usually go up over the course of an election campaign. However, they will probably gain at the expense of the Conservatives further compounding Cameron's problems.
The results above show Labour with their noses ahead of the Conservatives by a mere 9 to 17 seats but given the sitting Prime Minister is first asked if he/she can form a Government, Gordon Brown would be asked first. The question is then if he strikes a deal with the Lib Dems or attempts to go it alone with a minority Government?
Now over the next seven weeks, there will be many twists and turns with rogue polls throwing everyone out, gaffes, changes to policies being announced and ‘events, dear boy, events’. Those events could yet see a Conservative victory and David Cameron in Number 10 Downing Street. But the polls are now showing some consistencies and trends. The trend is the Conservatives slightly down on last year and Labour recovering steadily.
The countdown to the election will really start in earnest (although many would argue it has been going on for the past two years) when the budget is announced on 24th March. For a 6th May election day, Parliament would therefore be dissolved on 12th April with TV debates on 15th, 22nd and 29th April.
So my prediction (after expecting a Conservative Government based on last year’s polls), would be a deal brokered between Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg (as Kingmaker) to provide Labour with a Lab-Lib Government with 340 seats and a majority of 14. 

Whilst that majority is slim and would not normally be strong enough to carry a Government the full five years (due to by-election defeats and rebels on particular votes) it would probably be enough to give a Prime Minister 6 to 12 months ‘honeymoon’ to put forward more popular policies before returning to the polls to try and gain a larger majority or to ride out the storms ahead with the odd defeat on Bills and use nationalist votes to keep the Government more or less on track.
So what would Gordon Brown do the day after the election on Friday 7th May?
Well, providing Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems agree either a formal agreement or a robust vote by vote mechanism to support the Government, we can expect Brown to ease out certain Cabinet members to make room for three or four Lib Dems and as retribution for those who have been ‘disloyal’ and to promote his supporters.
Perhaps the ‘key’ members of the new Cabinet in 2010 may look like:-
The Cabinet
Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service
Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Rt Hon Ed Balls MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Rt Hon Lord Mandelson
Secretary of State for the Home Department
Rt Hon. Nick Clegg MP
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Rt Hon. Vince Cable MP
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills
Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor
Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP
Secretary of State for Defence
Rt Hon. Sir Menzies Campbell CBE  QC MP
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Rt Hon. Chris Huhne MP
Secretary of State for International Development
Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo MP
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Rt Hon Edward Miliband MP
Secretary of State for Health
Rt Hon. Mike Foster MP (Worcester)
Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal
Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP
Will Alastair Darling, David Miliband, Jack Straw, Alan Johnson and others find demoted jobs in the Cabinet or will they be consigned to the backbenches with the promise of other ‘ambassadorial’ jobs to soften the blow?
What will happen to David Cameron? He will face huge criticism after having large leads in the polls in 2008 and 2009 and yet failing to deliver a Conservative Government. Nevertheless, it is likely he will keep his job whilst the Conservatives hope that the Coalition government falls.
The interesting question will be can this coalition government work together? There will be obvious tensions and rows especially when the government has to enforce cuts in capital spending and departmental budgets such as health or education. When Labour’s opinion ratings sink lower in 2011, will Labour oust Gordon Brown? Ultimately, will Cameron win the following election and not be tainted with implementing huge budget cuts providing him with an outright majority in a fresh election in 2011 or 2012? The Conservatives could face a difficult election aftermath but find they are the real winners within a year.
The next few months and years are going to be some of the most interesting in British politics for a generation. 

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Writing a blog

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On 1st January 2010, I had no Blog (and no blogging experience whatsoever) and I had in fact avoided writing one (partly due to the offputting and ugly name derived from Weblog) because of 1) time, 2) will anyone read it and 3) will it really add to my ‘branding’ for business?
I have to say that after a lot of time and perseverance it has worked. Last week my Blog was number one for a ‘Paul Marsden’ UK Google search and number two for a worldwide Google search. From a standing start I landed on page twelve after about four weeks and after six weeks I was on page five of searches. It then suddenly arrived at the top after plugging away building up articles and following some simple rules to make it a very modest success (in my terms).
Now please remember I am not an SEO or Blogging expert and there will no doubt be thousands of budding social media experts that will take one look at my Blog and be pointing out umpteen ‘mistakes’ or ways to improve it! That’s not the point and frankly those sort of people frighten away so many others who are not particular ‘techy’. I still have a lot to learn but so far so good.
So for what it’s worth, here goes:-

  1. I chose Blogger to get started since it seemed relatively straightforward as it provided templates to choose from. I could easily add different gadgets without worrying about learning too much  html language to start with.     
  2. I was lucky to be able to choose a name for the blog which matched my Twitter name and Facebook of paulwbmarsden to assist with compatibility.
  3. I uploaded some photos of me and uploaded simple Amazon adverts and music clips just as an experiment (no I am not a millionaire just yet from the income). I was amazed to find a short book that I had written to add to the carousel at the top of the front page (The Black Friars of Shrewsbury if you must know and no I really am not a millionaire after writing that book!).
  4. I tagged in Digg and BBC news headlines to allow an automatic freshness to appear even if I was behind in uploading a new blog.
  5. Then the easy bit; choosing the content. I find writing easy so I could plough into my favourite subject on Malawi and discuss issues Friends of Malawi LinkedIn Group and even tea and coffee from the small African nation (ok a bit different I agree). I avoided inane brief comments or pointless photos (although everyone needs to find their own style) and tried to think of things out of the ordinary and perhaps from a slightly original angle. I added blogs on topical issues such as the Toyota recall, if I found it interesting and not just because they were topical. I have added lots of hyperlinks to other articles (or my book...) which I understand search engines like, but only where there is an interesting link and not just for the sake of it (except my book...).
  6. I read up on articles by others who had invented the wheel before me and tried to incorporate a few keywords without twisting my articles to fit the words rather than allow natural writing to take place.
  7. I learnt a little then about html so I could play around with the coding inside the blog to add Follow Me on Twitter buttons, Facebook and Twitter.
  8. Lately I have added in a button for Wieowie, which is a Dutch based website that pulls together different social media sites for myself. It is slightly disadvantaged as it has a natural bias towards all things Dutch so even the Google search comes back with articles on Paul Marsden in Dutch and tends towards more national Dutch sites such as SchoolBank (and no I couldn’t find my school even though it allows overseas schools to be included). But it does generate an interesting league table for devoted collectors of contacts and friends from different sites.
  9. I have registered the blog website address with as many listings directories as I can. It is slow when you have to do it manually but they are free.
  10. Also recently I have added a Share/Save button so others can if they really want to let people know what I have been blogging about!

I want to professionalise the image of the site in due course, add more background information (such as when I was an MP) and try my hand at adding videos and more photos. However, as the Blog influences search engines more and more as I add more blogs, so I am affecting what people read and hopefully providing them with some interesting articles. I have yet to crack Yahoo and Alta Vista
Enjoy and please feel free to post any constructive advice so I can keep learning!