My Election Address has started hitting doormats across Oxfordshire (thanks to the marvellous Royal Mail).

Some households will be receiving something else later in the campaign so I wanted to share the address here.  It sets out some of the key reasons to support me and the Liberal Democrats on May 7th.  It also offers a taste of my vision for Britain that I’d work to deliver as MP for Wantage, Didcot, Grove, Wallingford and Faringdon:

alex m 2

c. Al Cane

Dear Sir/Madam,

Back in 2010, Britain was on the brink of bankruptcy.  That’s why I’m proud that the Liberal Democrats went into government with the Conservatives in the national interest  to get our economy back on track.  That job is not finished.  The Liberal Democrats are committed to delivering a stronger economy by balancing the books by 2018. But beyond economic data, the question I want to focus on is what sort of country do you want to live in in 2020?I want to live in a country that has a strong economy, but not one that promotes austerity at any cost to its citizens.  I want to live in a society that is fair and looks after its most vulnerable.  I want to be proud of the vital services our country provides to its people and be confident that they are protected.  These are the values that the Liberal Democrats stand for.

Compare that to the Conservatives, who would make cuts to our schools and hospitals in order to reduce the deficit more quickly than is economically necessary.  Labour can’t win in this part of Oxfordshire so a vote for Labour will only help the Conservatives towards the majority they need to unleash their ideologically driven cuts agenda to fund tax-cuts for millionaires.

Rather than reducing the deficit on the backs of the poorest, the Liberal Democrats will continue to build a stronger economy in a fairer society.  We will cut Income Tax for workers across Oxfordshire, increase apprenticeships and protect pensions.  We will close the £8bn NHS funding gap and boost support for mental health treatment. We will increase provision of childcare and enhance support for the most disadvantaged children in early years. We will fight to protect our precious areas of natural beauty and support green jobs.

So, on 7th May, I need your help.  With your vote, we can make a change in Oxfordshire.  We can elect an MP who will make sure that the country we live in when we next go to the polls will be stronger and fairer.  We can elect an MP who will balance the books by 2018 without destroying our services. We can elect an MP who will live in the constituency and help build sustainable communities in Oxfordshire.

I have a bold vision for our community and our country.  Please support the Liberal Democrats on May 7th to help me deliver it.

Best wishes,


Alex Meredith
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Wantage, Didcot, Grove, Wallingford and Faringdon
Thanks to Al Cane for the pictures – all rights reserved.

There is a lot of talk about lack of engagement in politics and a failure by politicians to get out and speak to voters.

I want to change that in Wantage.  That is why I visited so many of the communities in the constituency in a 100 mile odyssey on 26th March.  And to show my commitment to sustainability and investment in cycling, I did it on my bike!  It was called the Tour de Wantage.

Places that do not normally get canvassed were visited as I set out to engage as many communities as possible while pedaling over 100 miles around our large rural constituency.

I’ve set out a few pictures below:

11071084_1541758952755232_5407360262581255136_n 11072680_1541758892755238_2278948540496909794_n 150770_10152933361551676_7727217906964541662_n Marcham_Drayton 11069435_1541758869421907_5862692464610507379_n

 

 

20150326_082821 20150326_100416 20150326_123456 20150326_134811 20150326_150125I’ve set out the details and rough map here:  Tour de Wantage

 

Thanks to everyone who gave me such a warm welcome.  I intend to follow the Tour de Wantage up with an epic marathon on May Bank Holiday Monday.

 

EuropeA cap on immigration does not make sense.  That has always been the Lib Dem position and it’s good to see the Tories and UKIP following behind us.  They have both adopted our fairer tax policy, but I thought they would struggle to take on our liberal approach to movement of labour.  However, given the shifting populist sands on which they built their original immigration policies, it’s perhaps no surprise they have both started drifting.

I believe in free movement of labour because it makes us better off.  Without it businesses will be prevented from expanding and our ability to produce and export competitively will suffer.  On top of that our public services, particularly the NHS, would crumble at a time when we need it more than ever.

We may be willing (as a nation) to pay those sorts of costs in order to reduce net migration, but those proposing to curb immigration need to make those consequences clear.  The fact that the right wing parties have stepped back from caps shows that they are not willing to go into the election with an unworkable policy that will make us all worse off.

The fact that I support and believe in free movement of labour does not mean that I don’t recognise the challenges it brings.  Our public officials (local and national) have to recognise that more people means more and better infrastructure.  We need the foresight and courage to invest now in roads, railways, schools and hospitals to ensure that we can support a growing population.  That will require more active management of the public finances including borrowing to invest, both at a national and a local level.  We should get on with it.

We also have to work harder to integrate communities. Immigration is at its most positive and productive when it results in a mixing of cultures and ideas, rather than  communities living side-by-side but apart.  One of the best ways to do that is to get everybody involved in our election discussions to debate, challenge and reduce divisive negativity.

Which brings me to the third challenge – skills.  There is a lot of rhetoric about migrants taking ‘British jobs’.  The reality is that the demand for labour in the UK is not currently being met by domestic supply, which is why we have a record number of vacancies – 700,000.   Migrants, particularly from the EU, back themselves to have the skills to compete for and win jobs we are creating in the UK, and in a lot of cases they are proved right.  I, for one, have enormous respect for people who have the skills and confidence to travel to a new country that speaks a different language and have the talent to win a job, pay tax and thrive in that environment.  Provided the government is making sure there is a level playing field in terms of minimum wage and advertising, I say “good on ’em”.

Our many unemployed young (and not-so-young) people looking for work could fill those 700,000 vacancies if they had the right training, skills and attitude.  Some of them do.  For the rest we need to work closely – one-to-one in some cases – to equip them to compete successfully with anyone from home or abroad for the jobs being created.  Protecting them from the challenge of migrants is not a solution in the long-term.

That support will take time.  At the same time, to avoid our past mistakes, we need to change the national mindset so that as a society we are actively encouraging and supporting our young people into apprenticeships and trades.

I want to go further than that.  We need to equip young people in our country with foreign languages, or the right to free movement of labour will become meaningless to them.  British people can’t legitimately compete for jobs (outside of holiday camps and ski resorts) in the EU if they don’t speak the native language.   There would have to be a pretty desperate shortage of tradesmen if a Spanish person opted to employ a plumber who can’t speak Spanish?  Why would a German company want a British engineer who can’t participate in a meeting with clients and colleagues?

Even if we were producing the most talented tradesmen and women on earth, they will not be able to take advantage of free movement unless they can speak more than one language, or are willing to spend a long time earning peanuts while they learn it.  This may seem like an academic issue while unemployment is so high in the EU, but if the economic tables were to turn,  we need to be confident that our young people could be employable in the EU if and when there are jobs being created there.

While we remain linguistic dunces of Europe, I find that very difficult to imagine.  It is extreme hubris to think that just because everyone else in the world is learning English we will prosper.  The very fact that too many young people come out of school in the UK with only one language (English) means we are already one step behind most developed countries’ school-leavers in terms of skills.

I believe in free movement of labour but recognise that it presents challenges.  We need to rise to them if we are to equip the UK to be prosperous in the long term.  It also presents opportunities.  If we don’t equip our young people with the right skills, including language skills, British people will never fully realise the dividends that a liberal immigration policy can pay out.

 

MuntThe Rifkind-Straw affair is pathetic, embarrassing and they’ll probably get away with it.  They look ridiculous, but it’s unlikely they have done anything that will attract any more than a slapped wrist.  Greed is not an offence, even for MPs, and since Jack Straw has managed to escape punishment for his part in an illegal war, I’d expect he’ll wriggle out of this one easily enough [as an aside, who pays £5k a day for the advice of someone who thought we had better go to war to avoid being bombed with imaginary weapons?]

The value of the sting is therefore to raise an important question about political reform – should MPs be allowed to take on additional work while they are in Parliament?  That was the question debated by Tessa Munt (Lib Dem for Wells) and Crispin Blunt (Cons for Reigate) on Radio 4 this afternoon.  For anyone interested in politics, and particularly if you live in an area with a Conservative-Lib Dem fight, it gives you 8 minutes of crystal clarity on (A) why the Lib Dems will do better than expected in the election this year and (B) the difference between having a Lib Dem MP and having a Conservative MP.  The debate starts at about 10 minutes into this link:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b053721p

While Munt declares the idea of having a second job as ‘ludicrous’ on the grounds that no MP could have time to do anything other than serve their constituency, Blunt claims that this approach shows ‘everybody does the job in different ways’.  Absolutely right Crispin.  Typically, Lib Dems prioritise their constituency case work and pride themselves on being strong local advocates and campaigners.  Conservatives ‘do it in a different way.  In my constituency, that means getting staff to do the case work and focusing on important Westminster business like entertaining Rupert Murdoch’s henchmen.

Munt reminds Blunt that we no longer live in the 17th Century – you can’t just do another job in the morning and then toddle into Westminster.  Blunt agrees, but try telling that to another Oxfordshire stalwart,  Tony Baldry (Cons for Banbury). Tory Tony is Chairman of Kazakhstan Kagazy plc (a FTSE listed recycling company).  Surely being the most senior figure of a listed UK public company would have presented a challenge even for the rotten MPs of the past.  But, forget the City of London, just to show how important ‘other interests’ are to him, Baldry toddles in to do his bit at Westminster on a 5 hour flight from Central Asia.   Ridiculous.

Blunt rightly identifies that Munt has a marginal seat, and somewhat condescendingly suggests that this is the reason Munt would be working 100 hour weeks.  That neatly makes the bigger point for even more reform.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all MPs worked super-hard for their constituents?

By getting rid of safe seats and ensuring that MPs have to fight for every vote, wouldn’t most of us get a bit more value and find a bit more respect for our elected representatives?

Only through wholesale political reform will we get a lot more Munts, a lot fewer Blunts and hopefully bring an end to the complacency of the Rifkinds, Straws and Baldrys.

Voting Lib Dem in May will not only help get more committed local campaigners into Parliament, but it will help bring long-overdue political reform that much closer to reality.

 

HSBCFew stories get my blood boiling like tax evasion.   It’s the section of the emotional Venn diagram where feelings of  anger with politicians, helplessness about the poorest, envy about the richest and frustration with public services, all come together.

That is why, to me at least, the HSBC Swiss bank scandal matters.  It shows up the unfairness of the way that HMRC operates and shines a spotlight on the open acceptance of a culture of tax avoidance amongst our political and business elites.

Fairness in the tax system means corporate taxes that make a fair contribution without stifling growth, and individual taxes that place the heaviest burden on those that can bear it most easily.  The exact balance of the tax burden is a shifting yoke that see-saws on our shoulders as we make our way down the path of history.  A major shift in the balance can cause uproar, exodus or destitution.  We have a say in that balance through our democratic choices at election time, but having made those choices, evasion and avoidance must be fought at all levels equally.

HMRC are failing on that test.  When average individuals fail to pay tax (often in my experience because of an error by HMRC) we get threatened, prosecuted, fined (or worse).  When big corporations (eg Goldman Sachs or Vodafone) find ways around the system, they are either ignored or come to sweetheart deals.   The threats and intimidation of individuals is often to chase down a couple of hundred pounds.  The approval of avoidance schemes by big corporates costs the taxman billions.  Tax avoidance deals between HMRC and big business are expensive and shameful.  They should be illegal.

HSBC is a slightly different case, but it’s equally shameful.  Here we seem to have a situation where the tax man has been told directly that a UK bank is openly offering tax avoidance schemes to its UK clients.  The response from the tax man is to put his head in the sand, and focus on squeezing working families.  Not only that, the leader of this bank that has deliberately encouraged clients to put assets beyond the reach of HMRC on an industrial scale is immediately ennobled and brought into government.  The fact that Stephen Green has also become a Church of England minister along the way makes this story worthy of a nomination in the corporate cloud-cuckoo-land Oscars.

I do not think that HMRC is run or staffed by bad people.  I do not think that Stephen Green or his political or business chums are inherently immoral.

But their ‘that’s just the way it is’ mentality creates a malaise that eats away at our society.  It feeds a belief that there is one set of rules for the rich and powerful, and another for everyone else.  It supports the tacit understanding that big business and influential individuals will get the breaks while the rest of us carry the can.   It gives rise to the realisation that complacency and hypocrisy are comfortable shoes for so many of our officials and institutions to walk in.

Britain is perhaps not the worst country for this sort of corruption and it is not a new phenomenon.  But the relative transparency of modern public life makes it a front page issue and something that drives deep resentment in Britain in 2015.  We’ve had enough of hearing how cosy arrangements protect vested interests and how nepotism drives political decision-making.

Of course we should review HSBC’s schemes, as well as the activities of those who used it.  We should get to the bottom of who knew what and whether political intrigue adds up to something more damaging.  We should also staff, resource and challenge HMRC to take a firmer enforcement position on corporate and individual tax dodging.  Our politicians should demand that European and Commonwealth partners do the same.

But we need to go further and address the political diseases that gnaw away at our democracy’s integrity.

We have an electoral system that supports 2 major parties and job-for-life politicians to be enticed into corporate influence.  We have a party donations system that allows the rich and powerful to buy influence at the top tables of British public life. We have a House of Lords built on wealth and political loyalty rather than merit or electoral mandate. We have a revolving door between government and business that makes for opaque, suspicious deals in the private, rather than public interest.

All of these issues have been known about for years, if not decades.  We need to act to reform our political system now.  Through wholesale political reform we can make the UK a fairer society, and in doing so make it stronger, richer and better equipped to prosper in the future.   Both Labour and the Conservatives have blocked political reform because it challenges their control of the system – use your vote in May to vote for a party that believes in political reform so we can set about updating our political systems for the 21st century.

Basic human instinct tells us that no-one will pay more tax than they have to.   But while the super-rich have the ability to exert disproportionate influence on the law-makers and organs of enforcement to avoid tax, the rest of us will be left asking – why should I play by the rules when they don’t?  That basic sentiment of ‘why should I do my bit’ has the potential to have profound negative consequences for our society and we should press for reform of our institutions to ensure we do everything we can to arrest it.

Tax avoidance erodes our public services, but the idea that the system is rotten does far greater long-term damage.  Let’s keep this on the agenda do something about it in May.

During my time as a candidate I have received most emails about crossing out cancer.  Given the news on Wednesday that the lifetime risk of getting cancer has increased to 1/2 that is perhaps not surprising.   However since it is a disease of which I have mercifully had very little direct experience I needed to understand the issues facing prevention and treatment better.

Thankfully, a wonderful local Cancer Research UK Ambassador, Sue Duncombe, got in touch and offered to give me a briefing.  Sue does an extraordinary amount to help Cancer Research UK’s work and I was extremely grateful for her time and insight.  Sue took me through the background and key objectives of the Cross Cancer Out campaign.  The main focus of the campaign is to increase early diagnosis, particularly through bowel cancer screening, to give equal access to advanced radiotherapy and surgery, and to make best and most efficient use of the Cancer Drugs Fund.

I have pledged my full support to the campaign.

The figures on early diagnosis are particularly striking.  For lung cancer patients a 25% chance of survival after 5 years if diagnosed at stage 1, can diminish to less than 1% if diagnosed at stage 4.  On bowel cancer, a 9/10 survival rate drops to 1/10.  Bowel cancer is a particular focus because there is a national screening process in place, yet only 50-60% of people take advantage of screening. The campaign aims to increase that by 10%.

Lib Dems in government have worked hard to improve diagnosis. £450m has been committed to support earlier diagnosis through improving public awareness of and GP access to key diagnostic tests and paying for extra testing and treatment in secondary care.  The Coalition Government has also committed over £170m to expand and improve all cancer screening programmes, including extending the age range for the NHS Bowel Screening programme to men and women up to their 75th birthday.

Radiotherapy has been proven to be a potent way to treat cancer if caught at the right stage – effective in 4/10 cases when a cure is achieved.  Cancer Research UK’s campaign to increase access to IMRT (targeted radiotherapy) is a sensible and cost-efficient long-term approach to treatment.  Also when surgery is the best option it should be made available to all patients, regardless of age.

The main obstacles to achieving these aims are the lack of funding and (linked to funding) staff available to carry out the treatment.  That is why we need to invest in the NHS to improve staffing levels in line with Simon Stevens’ five year plan for the service.

The Lib Dems have set out a plan to provide the required £8bn a year by 2020 that Mr Stevens has identified as the shortfall.  This additional cash will support more staff to deliver radiotherapy and surgery as we move towards in Cancer Research UK’s objectives.    It will take time, but the Lib Dems have made the necessary long term commitment to make it happen.

If we combine the Lib Dem commitment to funding with Cancer Research UK’s objectives, I am confident that we can do a huge amount during this election campaign to help cross out cancer.

ClegglegIn recent years panel shows and stand-up comics have turned banter into an art form.  It even has its own dedicated broadcaster – Dave.  The trouble is, it looks easy, but good banter amongst a panel of quick wits is difficult to pull off, especially on live TV.  For that reason, most politicians usually adopt the first rule of PR self-preservation – I am a serious person and therefore can not and should not engage in public banter.  Nick Clegg threw that theory out the window with a triumphant appearance on The Last Leg yesterday.

The show is worth a watch on 4OD if you missed it.  For me The Last Leg has always been the programme after Gogglebox that I never had the stamina to watch.  It’s a live knock-about news review with a bit of slapstick and guests – more natural than Russell Howard and much lighter than Have I Got News for You.  The heart-beat of the show is banter between the hosts and guests.  With the Deputy PM on as special guest last night I prepared myself to hide behind the sofa.

But Clegg did well.  There were a few difficult moments, but it flowed. Most importantly he was just about able to raise the banterometer high enough to engage in the show at its level, without lifting it to a level that would have been ridiculous.  It was also important that he didn’t appear to be trying too hard, or to have prepared himself with a plan of attack.  As such, from nowhere came (dare I say it) a bit of natural charm and the quick wit that most senior politicians have, but they hide so convincingly for fear of an adverse headline.  The line about not voting being equivalent to letting someone else order for you at Nandos may not make it into the quotations dictionary, but it was bang on the money in this context.  And it persuaded Alex Brooker to vote which was the whole point of the encounter.

My favourite moments however were Clegg’s responses to the questions on Vladimir Putin and Tuition Fees.  There was nothing witty or clever about either.

On Fees he expressed himself to have a 9.5/10 ‘feel bad factor’.  This audience has not heard that sort of contrition from him before and there was almost a spontaneous round of applause.

On Putin, Clegg gave a sensible, clear response with the banterometer turned off.   But you could see the hosts and the audience listening.  He had come on the show as a figure of ridicule, but he left as someone people were listening to.  Clegg has fought for 5 years for the right to be listened to by this audience, and on the evidence of that tiny moment he may just have made a breakthrough.

Who knows whether this performance will mean anything in the long run.  Banter is not natural terrain for politicians and I don’t expect that to change overnight.  That said, with this performance Clegg has made a strong positive statement about the front-line politicians engaging in live TV banter – without the format or tone being changed to accommodate him and without looking ridiculous.  This is the sort of show that politicians should be on, reaching politically disengaged audiences on their terms.  I hope that others will follow his courageous lead.  It was good telly and refreshing to watch.

As a Lib Dem supporter I also hope something more comes from this.  If twitter is anything to go by (#cleggleg was trending at number 3 globally) something small but important has happened already.  This performance has given people cause to express something that we have not seen much of in the context of Nick Clegg in recent times – respect.   For a politician facing a tough election, that is even more valuable than good banter.  I hope he can build on it.

YestGreekerday saw a historic victory for Syriza, the far-left anti-austerity party in the Greek general elections.  Though much expected, it is an exciting moment in European politics – there are claims it is the first significant electoral victory for the hard left in Europe in over 40 years.    With all the wide-eyed fantacism that is weaved into the DNA of socialists, some will inevitably see this is the beginning of the end for neo-liberal economic orthodoxy in the West.  As Syriza struck a deal with a nasty right-wing party this morning, others will fear this is the first wave of something a lot more troubling.

We should be cautious about making predictions.  Syriza have made some bold promises about how they are going to renegotiate a £280bn debt with some of the biggest economies in the world.   With a volatile cocktail of political and economic flavours in play, we can only guess at how this will shake out.  My own view is that Germany has room to compromise to keep the Euro project alive.  But if Tsipras gets greedy he could send his country into bankruptcy.

It’s fascinating that Greeks are willing to take that risk.  Admittedly Syriza won on a 35% share of a 60% turnout, but with this result, Greeks are saying that they want a party that has rejected the economics of austerity at the table to throw the dice for them.

Faced with technocrats and experts telling them that the house always wins, Greeks are betting against the bankers.  Faced with misery being forced upon them by unelected bean-counters, Greeks are saying they want to run the numbers themselves.

I find that belief inspiring.

We need to capture that spirit as we attempt to protect Oxfordshire from extraordinary levels of house-building, mandated by our own pesky unelected suits.  In our case the people within the suits are the consultants that produced the Strategic Housing Market Assessment for Oxfordshire, and the gravy train passengers of the Local Enterprise Partnership that appointed them.

Together they have contrived to come up with a plan for a 40% increase in housing in the Vale of White Horse in the next 15 years, with inadequate provision for infrastructure to support that population growth.   That’s an extra 20,000 houses without so much as a new train station, a dual carriageway or a serious attempt to fund schools or healthcare into the bargain.  For anyone living in the communities where these thousands of houses are to be built it is clear that, no matter how many strategies, assessments and reports you throw at us, the result will be a mess.

The SHMA is the Beeching Report of the 21st Century and these consultants promise to do a lot more damage to our communities than the fat controller.

Unfortunately, like the Greeks before yesterday, we have an MP and District Councillors who are willing to swallow the SHMA medicine.  The suits say that we need this many homes to support growth and the politicians nod dutifully and don the high-vis jackets to wave in the cement mixers.  20150124_111200

Well if the turn-out and anger at Saturday’s ROAR rally was anything to go by, this might be changing.  There was more indignation at the Faringdon Town Meeting this evening.  Everywhere I go knocking doors, the trumping of local views on housing by consultants’ reports is a live issue that people are deeply dissatisfied about.

So what’s the answer?  I believe that local communities should be empowered to have the final say on house-building projects of a certain scale in their area.  A national policy that supports a building frenzy, supported by technocrats from Whitehall and experts with spreadsheets in ivory towers should not have the right to dictate to local communities what is the 20150124_111301sustainable level of housing for them.  Neighbourhood plans should override national planning policy.

To get there, and to avoid the outrageous damage that will be done to the countryside of Oxfordshire by unchecked developers we must take a lesson from the Greeks.  We have to believe that by electing different politicians, promoting a different agenda, we can make a difference.

Just like in 2010, the Greek situation may well over-shadow our polling day in May.

Instead of the fear of 2010, let’s capture the Greek democratic spirit of 2015 and vote for politicians who will stand up to the faceless technocrats and put their local communities first.

flagBritain is good at pomp.  Our conventions and traditions are important threads that bind our nation together and add cherished ‘colour’ to Britain’s public life.  Whether it’s a Royal Wedding, Remembrance Sunday or the Olympic Opening Ceremony, at a local and national level we know how to mark an occasion properly.

The fact that we often get it so right, makes it particularly striking when we get it wrong.  The ‘guidance’ from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to fly Union Flags at half-mast in line with ‘long-standing arrangements’ following the death of a foreign monarch has caught the public attention because, on Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the government has got it badly wrong.

We, the public, may be able to swallow our government’s unethical foreign policy and our naked pragmatism on the Middle East.  If we don’t, we have a chance to do something about it in May.

But we do not accept a convention that attempts to express our collective sympathy and respect for a tyrant who has overseen one of the most repressive regimes in the world.   David Cameron or the Queen can send condolences as they see fit.  They knew King Abdullah and his family and can take a personal perspective on his passing.   But when it comes to attempts to express national grief, or marks of respect, we need to be clear to our leaders – Not In My Name!

The charges levelled at the House of Saud are deeply disturbing.  The laws on treatment of women, for example, should be enough to keep our flags precisely where they are when a Saudi royal passes.  Under the male guardianship system in Saudi, ministerial policies and practices forbid women from obtaining a passport, marrying, travelling, or entering higher education without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother or son.  Women remain forbidden from driving in Saudi Arabia, and authorities have arrested women who dared challenge the ban.  King Abdullah has been praised for opening the first university to accept men and women.   The UK took that step in 1826.  Part of the justification for our involvement in the Afghan War has been to improve the educational prospects of women, yet when it comes to the Saudis we appear to happy to offer at least 200 years grace.

And it gets worse.  Floggings and be-headings are common.  The treatment of Raif Badawi, the liberal blogger sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and 1,000 lashes for criticising the regime has been a timely reminder of the reality of life in Saudi Arabia.

The fact that these punishments are often metered out for blasphemy or the practising of faiths other than Islam makes a bended-knee condolence from the head of the Church of England particularly inappropriate. Also the rank hypocrisy of our government expressing outrage about the medieval barbarity of an IS beheading while extending full diplomatic honours to a regime that recently be-headed a woman with a sword erodes our credibility.  How can anyone take the UK seriously when it expresses outrage about Islamist killings when it simultaneously shows itself to be a half-mast sympathiser towards state-sponsored murder on precisely the same ideological grounds.

Saudi Arabia does not observe official mournings and in the kingdom flags were not flying at half-mast.  Their embassy flag in London was unlowered.  Perhaps they would not have even noticed if Britain had not extended our  formal mark of respect.  So by adopting unthinking conventional wisdom that cuts across the feelings of the vast majority of Britons in 2015 we have belittled ourselves for no apparent reason.  If there is a reason that we can not or must not understand, it begs a deeper question about the behind-closed-doors relationship between the House of Saud, the UK government and the House of Windsor.

None of that justifies the foul-mouthed comments of Louise Mensch on the subject, but it does require our government to review the process of extending formal national marks of respect.  The government needs to look at these on a case-by-case basis and give some thought to the mood of the nation when it decides whether to lower our national flag in honour of a foreign leader.  This time they got it shamefully wrong.

 

It would be uncharitable to be too disparaging about South Oxfordshire DC and Vale of White Horse DC’s combined electoral services department when they have just suffered a major arson attack.   I will therefore start by saying that I’m sure that our local authority is no worse than anywhere else.

However I have heard a story recently about a local man’s attempts to register to vote which was very disappointing.

Firstly, some background.  There has been a major reform of the process for voter registration since the last general election.  If you can hold off the yawn long enough to read further, this issue could mean that you are no longer eligible to vote.   Due to a switch from household to individual voter registration, it is estimated that at least a million people have dropped off the electoral roll.

Great, I hear you say, maybe I won’t get anymore calls about PPI claims.

Unfortunately, every five years the electoral roll gets used for more than a way for the Council to sell your information to marketing companies.  There is an election just around the corner and if you have dropped off the roll there is a serious risk that you may also lose your right to have a say in who forms the next government.

If you have had a letter from SODC or VOWH DCs telling you that you are no longer on the register, please take action NOW!

The email I had this week was from a gentleman in Faringdon who has been battling with the Council to get him back on the roll for weeks.  It took four attempts before he was successful!  Four attempts for someone that was on the roll to be re-admitted.  In a first-world democracy, that seems to me to be a lot of banging your head against a brick wall just to ensure that you maintain your democratic right.

Since much of the SODC and VOWH electoral services department will have been at least disrupted by the fire, this slow administration of applications to re-join the roll may get worse.  There may also be a surge in demand for this issue to be addressed which will clog up the system.

Therefore, if you have had a letter about re-registering to vote, please don’t delay.  Take action now to ensure that you can have your say on May 7th.  And if you don’t succeed please persevere.  After all it is a District Council election as well so there’s a chance to vote on the running of electoral services, as well as the country!