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Archives for April 2011

I leave this world for a so much better place

Len Tingle | 09:10 UK time, Thursday, 28 April 2011

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There is good news and bad news.

I leave you to decide which is which.

First, this is my last entry for "Len Tingle's Blog".

Second, you will be able to continue reading my musings on the new-look "Len Tingle Page".It is just one click away- just follow this link
And what a week for the move to a different part of the "blogosphere"....or should that be "pageosphere"?

It is less than a week to the first national test of the Coalition Government at the ballot box with some of the tightest local government election contests in Yorkshire and the North Midlands for years.

Anybody think they will be decided on local issues? Well I am sure some must believe that is the case but I have yet to meet them.

On the same day more political history will be made. What will be the UK's second national referendum is being held.

You can tell how long ago it was that that the first referendum was held when I reveal it was the first opportunity for the newly-enfranchised teenaged Tingle to cast his vote.

So did I vote for or against our membership of the Common Market in 1975?

Embarrassingly I am sure it was not a decision based on my careful assessment of the facts. My final choice depended on just how shaky was the nervous hand that held the pencil.

To this day I cannot tell you where the tip landed.

I was so worried about being the kid who spoilt his first ballot paper that it still all a blur from the moment I pulled the curtain behind me in the polling booth.

Not the most auspicious start to democratic adult life for a future BBC Political Editor.

Thirty six years later I am hoping to make a more logical choice on whether the system of voting for our MPs should be changed.

Though when the Politics Show asked people at random in the streets of Sheffield what they thought about the arguments for "Yes" and "No" campaigns I got the distinct impression that many of them might quite like a few tips on my old "pencil in the shaky hand" technique.

So which way will I vote? Well, that would be telling.

So as I shuffle off this from this blog and jog towards my new page please feel free to refresh your memories on the words I have written here over the past year or so.

The BBC, in its wisdom, has decided that "Len Tingle's blog" will be permanently parked on the hard shoulder of the information superhighway.

It will not be towed away and scrapped for the digital dustbin.

I absolutely refute allegations that this is a cost saving move because taking a blog down is an expensive process.

Huge reduction in BNP council candidates in Yorkshire

Len Tingle | 17:34 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011

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The BNP claims it has strengthened the party by getting rid of a few troublemakers from its Yorkshire ranks.

There is an absolute denial that what appears as a struggle for control of the party at national level is in danger of neutralising the BNP as a political force in Yorkshire.

The statistics show a very different picture.

2009 was the high point for a party that emphatically denies it is racist but unashamedly fights for the rights of whites.

That was the year that Andrew Brons scraped in for the sixth seat in the European Parliament for the Yorkshire and the Humber region.

Just over the Pennines the BNP party leader Nick Griffin also took one of the seats in the Lancashire region.

Those voices in the European Parliament, and the generous MEP salaries and allowances, were meant to be used to launch the ultra-right party into the spotlight of the political mainstream.

In fact, the highly secretive BNP has remained in the murky waters on the very edge of the political pond.

It has seen the number of councillors in Yorkshire fall; it made little or no showing at the general election and boasts that it would trounce Labour in the recent Barnsley by-election came to nothing.

Its showing even before the polls have opened for the council election in Yorkshire has also been dismal.

There are 551 seats up for grabs across Yorkshire. The BNP is putting just fifty candidates into the fray.

In some of those areas where it has had high ambitions in the past it will hardly trouble the scoreboard.

Its most spectacular withdrawal from the political arena is in Leeds. Here it had 30 candidates at the last council elections. This year it has just two.

The party claims it is targeting the Scottish, Welsh and Irish elections so has little or no resources for anything else. Well, it's a view.

In fact some of its most prominent names in Yorkshire have jumped ship and joined the English Democrats.

Four of them have immediately been drafted in as English Democrat candidates.

That is creating stresses in a tiny party which has spent years trying to distinguish itself from what it claims is the racism of the BNP.

Yorkshire regional Chairman Michael Cassidy says each of their new candidates has been vetted and they have signed statements saying their do not have a racist bone in their bodies.

He says they will fit in well with a party that wants an English Parliament; curbs on immigration and less "political correctness".

Meanwhile Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons sit with their far right anti-EU group in the European Parliament, make speeches few ever hear back in the UK as they oversee a party whose limited popular appeal appears to be disappearing.

The good and the bad news on fresh public investment in Yorkshire

Len Tingle | 08:17 UK time, Wednesday, 13 April 2011

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This week the Coalition Government allocated around £40 million pounds of taxpayer's cash to projects aimed at boosting the economy of Yorkshire.
According to Business Secretary Vince Cable's Business Department it should create or preserve at least 7,000 jobs.
It is a welcome shot-in-the arm after weeks of relentless announcements of tens of thousands of job losses from the workforces of local councils, hospitals and even our police forces.
Behind the headlines this announcement actually confirms that central government economic investment in Yorkshire is now being cut by around two thirds.
Under the Labour Government a much bigger grant of around a quarter of a billion pounds was being sent for investment here every year.
The responsibility for where it should be spent was delegated to the Regional Development Agency Yorkshire Forward.
One of the first acts of the incoming Chancellor George Osborne was to consign Yorkshire Forward to a big dustbin marked "QUANGOs" as a cost-cutting measure.
The Agency is being wound down with the last of its 450 staff ordered to switch off the lights and lock the doors of its Leeds headquarters behind them by next spring.
The replacement for Yorkshire Forward, and the eight other RDAs around the country, is the Coalition Government's Regional Growth Fund.
The announcement this week is the allocation of the first pot of money from the fund.
There are two fundamental changes with this way of targeting public money to oil the wheels of investment.
Firstly, the £1.4 billion pounds being made available to the Regional Growth Fund is its entire budget for the next three years. Between them the English Regional Development Agencies spent roughly the same amount every year.
Secondly, each region is not guaranteed a fixed share of the money. Every individual project has to bid for funding alongside similar projects from around the country.
So it is great news for winning projects like the £18m earmarked for a new link road from the M18 to South Yorkshire's Robin Hood Airport and the extra investment aimed at improving the growth and employment prospects of key companies in West Yorkshire like sweet manufacturer Haribo at Normanton near Wakefield and David Brown Gears at Huddersfield. Eight hundred extra houses can now be built in the City of Wakefield and work can now go ahead to improve the infrastructure to attract more businesses to Doncaster.
Yet, there is bitter disappointment too.
There are many more projects convinced they would have been backed by funding from Yorkshire Forward but are now classed as unaffordable as the UK struggles to repay its debts.
It is not the end of the story. There is still another two years to go for the Regional Growth Fund. Projects have to submit their bids to the Business Department by July 1st for the next year's allocations.

AV or not AV?- that is the question in Yorkshire

Len Tingle | 19:23 UK time, Friday, 8 April 2011

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The Mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, says he owes his surprise 2009 election victory to a form of AV called the "Supplementary Vote" system.

He came second in the poll but the system gave the South Yorkshire town's electorate a second vote.

The then little known English Democrat found more people gave him their second preference so he overhauled his opponent and took the Mayor's office.

Up to six Yorkshire MPs might also find their closest rivals sitting in their seats if the Alternative Vote system had been used at last year's General Election.

In each case the Liberal Democrats, would be the beneficiaries.

Who says so? Well the UK's Political Studies Association in a briefing paper on AV prepared by a dozen or so of the country's leading academics.

In fact it does not take much number crunching expertise or tortuous political analysis to work out which seats would be most likely be producing a different result under AV.

Here is the Tingle guide to spotting them.

Firstly, was there a nail-biting finish? In which case it would not take many more second and third preference votes to overtake the leader.

Secondly, look at all the also-rans who finished further down the field. Are most of their voters supporters of parties who would rather die than give even a second or third choice to the winner?

Labour's Sheffield Central and Chesterfield seats are good examples where both of those boxes are ticked.

Sheffield Central's Paul Blomfield and Chesterfield's Toby Perkins, had Liberal Democrat candidates breathing down their necks right up until the final declaration.

549 votes saw Toby Perkins home with Paul Blomfield just 165 ahead.

In both seats either right wing or centre-right parties took the bulk of the rest of the votes. None of those were likely to put Perkins or Blomfield high on their list of alternate preferences.

Ironically, Paul Blomfield is the only Sheffield Labour MP backing the "Yes to fairer voting" campaign.

Three, possibly four, Conservative MPs also look vulnerable under similar analysis.

In West Yorkshire's Colne Valley Jason McCartney has what looks like a healthy majority of almost 5,000. But there was a three way split at the top of the poll. Liberal Democrats, in second place, and Labour, in third, took just over fifty per cent of the rest of the votes between them.

Remember, in those pre-Coalition days, Liberal Democrats were not known for giving much support to the Conservatives at election time.

In York Outer, Julian Sturdy went first-past-the-post with a majority of 3,688 for the Conservatives.

Again it was a three way split with Labour and Liberal Democrats closely behind taking most of the rest of the vote.

The right of centre parties that would probably have sent "Alternate Votes" Julian study's way performed so badly that they could muster only 4% of the vote.

The Conservatives took Harrogate and Knaresborough from the Liberal Democrats by taking 45.7% of the votes and a winning margin of 1,039 votes. But would new Tory MP Andrew Jones have been able to do that under AV?

His Liberal Democrat opponent in the seat Clare Kelly took 43.8% of the vote. That meant that if second preference votes had come into play she needed another 6.2% of the total vote to be the first with a full majority.

Take a look at how Labour performed in Harrogate and Knaresborough. Its share of the vote was 6.4%. How many of those would have put a Conservative as their second choice?

It was a similar story in Keighley.

Kris Hopkins 20,003 votes was an impressive 41.9% of the vote but Labour and Liberal Democrats took 50.6% of the rest.

His right-of-centre natural supporters only polled 7.5% of the vote between them.

The Professor of politics at Sheffield University, Matt Flinders, says a switch to AV would hardly lead to a "radical" shake-up of the party mix at Westminster.

He estimates the five vulnerable seats forecast by the academics would make Yorkshire one of the areas where the most changes would be made.

In the country as a whole no more than a couple of dozen seats would change hands.

Well, all this analysis will not make any of these five MPs lose any sleep unless we decide to bring in the AV voting system. So maybe we should come back to this after May 5th's referendum.

Do the young hate politics?

Len Tingle | 20:09 UK time, Friday, 1 April 2011

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Schools Question Time

There was a real buzz around the school hall in Harrogate.

Question Time, the BBC's longest running political programme was in town.

The audience had shuffled in; the questions prepared; microphones tested; the carefully selected panel in place and what must be one of the most recognised TV theme tunes was echoing off the walls.

Everything was as familiar as... well... Question Time.

But the chairman's seat occupied for decades by a Dimbleby was being filled by an 18-year-old sixth former.

Eleanor Pick was part of the team which had spent months organising the event. Harrogate Ladies College is a regional finalist in the BBC's 2011 annual Schools Question Time competition.

The team immediately came up against the realities of producing an audience participation show.

Eleanor told me that their star-studded "wish list" of panellists had included Foreign Secretary William Hague and Stephen Fry.

William Hague was apparently too busy helping run the country.

Stephen Fry never got back to them.

The BBC's Schools Question Time competition, run jointly with the Institute for Citizenship, is aimed at trying to pique the flagging appetite for politics amongst 14 to 19 year olds.

Even here, at one of the poshest schools in the country, another of the organising team admitted that quite a few of her friends were not interested in politics.

But sixth former Isabelle Dmaree-Cotton said they would probably come along to the event anyway so maybe her enthusiasm would rub off on them.

Seventy miles south a similar event was being held at Worksop College in North Nottinghamshire.

The College, another top-rated fee-paying boarding school, is the second finalist in the Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and North Midlands region.

The organising team had managed to pull in a couple of local MPs and a businesswoman as panellists but they also included one of their own sixth formers.

As for the very young not liking politics? Well, a young lady called Rosie challenged that theory.

At 13 she is the youngest member of any Question Time panel I have ever seen.

She and sixth former Jack Robinson- a relative ancient at 18 - put their views forward with an eloquence and maturity that took the breath away.

Who was best? Well, not for me to say. The winners will be announced on 9 April.

The prize? The chance to take part in putting together a real edition of Question Time this summer.

Oh - and don't worry about putting David Dimbleby on the wish list of potential chairmen. He does it anyway.

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