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Archives for March 2010

Under starter's orders

Len Tingle | 16:51 UK time, Sunday, 28 March 2010


Gordon Brown c/o AFB/Getty ImagesAs I write this we are all still waiting for Gordon Brown to decide when he will climb into the back of the Prime Ministerial Jaguar and take the two minute journey to Buckingham Palace to tell HRH that he intends to dissolve parliament and call a general election.

Bookies take bets on this sort of thing.

The smart money, apparently, is backing him to speed down the Mall some time on Tuesday 6 April or at the latest Wednesday 7 April.

Then MPs will be able to spend the following few days "washing up" bits and pieces of important legislation before leaving the House of Commons on Thursday 8 April.

Many, of course, will never return.

That gives four weeks for what is widely expected to be the closest contest for a generation with polling day on Thursday 6 May.

But judging from the in-box on my BBC e-mail account the campaign has already begun.

Like everyone who has an e-mail address available to the public ( in case you didn't know) I receive a huge amount of unsolicited "spam" and "phishing" messages as well as the pile of legitimate internal mail that an organisation as big and complex as the BBC throws at me.Computer screen

On top of all that, in a "normal" week, I get around 50 e-mails from politicians, parties or pressure groups.

They tell me about an amazing range of topics depending on what interests them at the time.

The issues range from the price of fish (thanks for that Austin Mitchell); how many pubs have recently shut down (a favourite campaign of Greg Mulholland) to the latest bit of "ludicrous red tape" (usually winkled out by Philip Davies).

All of it I read and inwardly digest.

But electronic election fever is already raging.

This week the e-mail count from the politicians and candidates hit the 200 mark... EVERY DAY!

Harold Wilson's legacy to teenagers

Len Tingle | 18:36 UK time, Wednesday, 24 March 2010


Len Tingle and young voters

In 1969 a Huddersfield lad had a bright idea. Why not change the law so that 18-year-olds could vote?

As that particular Huddersfield lad was Harold Wilson the voting age was reduced from 21 in time for the 1970 general election.

It didn't do much good for the then Labour Prime Minister. He was expected to win but he lost.

Since then the number of younger people turning out to vote in a general election has plummeted.

In 2005 just one in five of those who were eligible to vote for the first time bothered to do so.

The biggest concentration of teenagers in Huddersfield who now have the right to vote as soon as they are18 go to the local Kirklees College of Further Education.

Many of its students walk past the great man's bronze statue outside the town's railway station every day.

So where better to try and find out why most of them do not want to use Harold's legacy?

But grabbing the attention of a teenager isn't the easiest thing to do. Believe me, as a middle aged dad that is something I know all about.

So when the Politics Show team descended on Kirklees College one lunchtime this week armed with questionnaires we didn't use the subtlest of tactics.

The attached pictures tell the story.

Len Tingle and young voters - rear view

The result? We all had a really good time and met plenty of charming, thoughtful and articulate teenagers.

You can see them on the Politics Show on Sunday March 28th.

Oh - and the questionnaire?

The team of myself, cameraman Peter Thompson and volunteer pollsters Chloe and Jessica cajoled 83 to fill it in.

Two thirds said they would use their vote either in the coming general election or as soon as they reached 18.

Most of those said that was because they wanted a say in the future of their country.

Of those who said they wouldn't vote, a fair few said it was because they felt outside of the decision making process.

Others said they simply did not trust politicians so what was the point?Harold Wilson statue c/o PA Images

So is the democratic spark glowing stronger in the hearts of teenagers in Harold's home town?

Well, maybe.

It has to be pointed out that similar surveys in the run up to the 2005 election produced the same level of enthusiasm among the young.

But when polling day came the majority of them found better things to do.

Tomorrow's World today

Len Tingle | 17:35 UK time, Tuesday, 23 March 2010


One of the easiest ways of checking just how far schools have changed over the past couple of decades is to do what I did this week and visit one.

Allerton High School in North Leeds invited me along to talk to its sixth form media studies class.

Allerton is one of those local state schools that has been totally rebuilt and re-equipped with every kind of technological gizmo.

What is more they know how to use them. Or, at least, the students do.

Virtually the entire class came to the aid of the old duffer who did not know how to plug his laptop into the school's all-singing-all-dancing overhead projection system.

Teacher Russell Bathgate and I were clearly outclassed by the technological expertise of the 16 and 17-year-olds (all pictured below).

Pupils with len Tingle

Then came a session where I was able to play clips from the BBC Politics Show and Look North on a giant screen at the touch of a button. All this in a bright and spacious classroom.

Amazing when I think back to my school days in the 60s and early 70s when a black and white television set was wheeled in a couple of times a month for a "school's programme".

It took so long to warm up that we usually missed the first 10 minutes of the broadcast.

The idea of catching it again on something like the BBC iPlayer was something that only Tomorrow's World* could have envisioned.

They can do that now with ease at Allerton High.

The economics of rebuilding and re-equipping schools like Allerton High has been a political hot potato for more than a decade.

Should the tax payer have stumped up the cost directly instead of a private developer footing the bill and "leasing back" the school to the local education authority for the next 25 years?

Tomorrow's World TV programme

That issue will be a legitimate political dispute in the coming general election and probably for many more to come.

But from my visit one thing seems clear however we finish up paying for schools like Allerton High.

Life in the classroom has certainly changed for the better.

* "Tomorrow's World"- a popular 1970s BBC television programme showing what life would be like in the 21st Century.

I am still waiting for the personal hovercraft.

Question Time in Whitby

Len Tingle | 10:36 UK time, Friday, 19 March 2010


BBC Question Time debate logo c/o BBC Question Time
A familiar theme tune, six chairs on a podium, a packed audience clutching carefully prepared questions and the camera team checking microphones and checking final angles.

It could only be Question Time couldn't it?

Well, a rather different version of the programme was about to begin last night in Whitby.

For a start veteran Chairman David Dimbleby had been replaced by a somewhat younger female presenter plucked from CBBC's Newsround.

The entire production had been put together by a team of 14 to 16-year-olds and the "camera team" was just me filming the event for a report in a future edition of the Politics Show.

But the tension was as great as any edition of the real Question Time.

This was the final round of the BBC's annual "Schools Question Time" competition.

Whitby Community College has now reached this stage of the event four times over the past few years.

Fifteen schools are at this stage and events like the one being put on last night are taking place all over the country until the end of March.

Judges will then chose four schools to take part in producing a real edition of the BBC's longest running political discussion programme which will be broadcast on BBC One later this year.

Sonali Shah

The idea is to try and get younger people involved in politics. At the 2005 election just one in five of the under-24's bothered to vote.

The Institute for Citizenship, which promotes participation in schools, jointly runs the competition with the BBC.

The Whitby youngsters aimed high.

They added a bit of youth credibility by persuading Newsround's Sonali Shah to come up from London chair the event.

Sonali didn't just pop in for a couple of hours. She spent the entire day with the 20-strong teenaged production team in exactly the same way David Dimbleby does for a real edition of the programme.

They then convinced the local Conservative MP and the Labour, LibDem and Green party parliamentary candidates that this was the ideal opportunity to hold the general election's first local hustings.

And the added spice to the panellists? Step forward UKIP MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber Godfrey Bloom.

He didn't disappoint.

His views on how 10-year-olds committing murder should be locked up and the key thrown away was one of the many lively discussions of the night.

The finale was a discussion on why teenagers find politics so boring.

Robert Goodwill, the Conservative who holds on to the Whitby and Scarborough seat with a slim margin of just 1,200, came up with the only credible answer: "As my wife will tell you," he told an expectant audience.

"I am the most boring man on the planet."

Incidentally, the Whitby College team did very well. They and last night's audience and the panellists thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

But I can't say too much about that because apart from being the cameraman on the night I also happen to be one of the judges.

Do the Tories have the X-Factor?

Len Tingle | 12:44 UK time, Tuesday, 9 March 2010


William Hague and Margaret ThatcherEven before I set off for this year's Conservative Party Spring Conference in Brighton I'd been told that it would be a relatively low key event with few Yorkshire candidates trekking down the M1 as they would be too busy knocking on doors back in their constituencies.

Imagine my surprise when I had to join a huge queue which stretched round the block from the Brighton Conference centre.

What's more, it was full of precisely the sort of supporters that David Cameron and George Osborne have been desperately trying to get on board - teenagers and young mums.

As the queue shuffled round the corner to the front entrance I realised that it wasn't the attraction of seeing William Hague live on stage that was motivating this crowd.

I'd actually joined the queue for the Brighton regional heats of the "X-Factor".

The actual conference attendees, with a rather different age and gender profile, were gathering in the Metropole Hotel just down the sea front.

I did eventually find and record an interview with William Hague for that week's edition of the Politics Show.

Some time later I took the interview tape to the BBC's satellite truck parked outside the back of the conference hotel and I could hear loud cheering, applause and screams of joy.

Alas for the Conservatives it was the X-Factor groupies again who were had spotted some bloke called Simon Cowell popping out of the stage door.

I wonder which stage door William Hague would have been standing outside had he been 17 again?

I think the historic picture above gives a clue to the answer.

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