Could social media win it?

David Cameron is not on Twitter. Will it cost him the election?

@Downing Street,the PM’s official Twitter page, has nearly 2 million followers. Sarah Brown has just over a million. The Conservatives’ official mouthpiece has around 20,000. Not very impressive. But still more than the Lid Dems and Nick Clegg put together.

Surely, though, in the digital age, where personality rules over party and the youth (ah fickle youth) is almost completely disengaged with politics, politicians need to get social media savvy.

Television isn’t the medium through which elections are fought these days. Just look at Barack Obama. MySpace, Facebook, he even had his own site MyBO, through which he raised the majority of his campaign money. And he won.

"Oh no it wasn't..."

Is there a link? Most likely. The fact is social media is the latest en vogue drug, everyone who’s anyone is on it. By not tweeting, Cameron will almost certainly not help his campaign. While it might be sensationalist to proclaim that social media alone can win an election – which would be similar to what the Sun did in 1992 – there can be no doubt it is an as yet unploughed furrow.

It can mobilise people – such as the not too distant Trafigura and Jan Moir tweetstorms – and it can make you accessible. This second element is highly important in the often muddy game of personality politics.

Of course there have been many cringing moments when politicians have been bold enough to try and be “down with the kids”. Often misjudged, these forays into popular culture are often mocked by the media and politicians would retreat to the safety of their second homes, complete with moats to keep the wretched masses out.

While the pitfalls may be many, politicians, like journalists before them, need to learn the etiquette and rules of engagement before venturing into social media. Obama’s campaign is a good place to start. Come on Cameron, don’t be such a fuddy duddy.


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Follow the Leader

With the general election likely to take place on May 6 and party candidates stepping up the media coverage in a plea for your vote, this paper feels it should make its position clear.

As party campaigning gathers momentum, we feel it is important to remember not only the past 13 years of Labour government, but also the Tory administration which preceded them.

And let us not forget politicians across the board, who hardly did much for their image in 2009, with various headline performances such as the expenses scandal or Nick Griffin’s embarrassing exposé on Question Time.

It is with this in mind we believe change is necessary. Not just a superficial change of one set of self-motivated careerists for another, though.

“A vote for Labour is anything but a vote for change”

The choice appears limited. David Cameron has so far failed to convince on the economy, backpedaled on Europe and seems to be pushing a soft, Thatcherite agenda.

The economy must be the first priority, however, because – as we have seen in Wales in particular – a number of our core industries have been affected.

Cuts in public spending cuts could see more Welsh jobs lost, with the current unemployment rate now at 8.5 per cent. Also, while public sector cuts are rarely welcome, it is likely the trend of private investment in the public sector would be furthered by the Conservatives.

We realise the large debt incurred by the Labour government means the winning party will have to make necessary cuts, but the Tories, historically at least, are not the party of “inclusive” politics.

Labour, meanwhile, seem to be suffering from being in government too long. Mr Brown recently survived a leadership challenge but this paper is not convinced this was the display of unity some Brownites would have us believe.

And good handling of the recession aside, a vote for Labour is anything but a vote for change.

The Liberal Democrats have long been denied to demonstrate their potential to lead on a national scale, although Nick Clegg appears to be a credible candidate.

“Not just a superficial change of one set of self-motivated careerists for another”

Their sometimes innovative policies are usually lost in the humdrum of the PR battle between the two bigger parties but this time around maybe they should be given a chance.

Mr Clegg certainly has more media clout than leaders past and they present the most “inclusive” politics out of the big three.

It is time for a change of approach and some fresh ideas. As we see it, neither of the two main contenders have the insight or ability to provide this. In comparison the Liberal Democrats appear foil-packed and fit-to-burst.

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Original Pollsters

Just found, not that it was particualrly hard, a poll tracker that the BBC have put together showing opinion poll results for the three major parties dating back to the Thatcher era.

The most recent YouGov poll (8 Jan) shows the Conservatives 12 points ahead of Labour on 42%, while Populus (12 Jan) has them at 41% and the Reds on 28%. The Lib Dems have failed to make any significant gain in the past few years with only a brief ICM poll rating them at three points above Labour at 25% on 31 May 2009.

The Tories have held the lead since towards the end of 2008 across all pollsters but Labour’s decline can be charted back to 2003, at the beginning of the Iraq war.

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The Dethroning of Gordon I

In these dark days when the weather is the staple of news programming, politics bowls a corker to match Dale Steyn’s ball that took out Kevin Pietersen, lbw, in Cape Town earlier today.

And just as the fall of KP may signal the end for England’s hopes of victory in the Third Test so might this leadership challenge severely weaken Labour’s chances in the next general election.

Former cabinet ministers Geoff Hoon and Patricia “Che” Hewitt have caused a bit of a ruckus, to say the least, with their letter to Labour MPs calling for a secret ballot with regard to Mr Brown’s leadership.

Hoon and Hewitt share an in-joke

Hoon and Hewitt, dubbed the new Castro and Guevara, signalled their intent in the letter, which Mr Brown became aware of only this morning, calling to resolve the “uncertainty” which they believe is “damaging our ability to set out our strong case to the electorate”.

If it wasn’t before today, this latest unrest will do nothing to stabilise the party nor inspire public confidence in its ability to govern. While it may not yet be a case of “they think it’s all over…” the damage has already been done, whether a secret ballot is held or not.

“This is not an attempted coup.”

Patricia Hewitt on BBC Radio 4’s World at One

Insistent that it was not an attempt to see Brown deposed, both Hoon and Hewitt will have expected to have received much support from their “deeply divided” party. Such backing has not been forthcoming. Margaret Beckett offered the most damning put-down: “This kind of thing is diversionary, it’s stupid and I hope nobody will pay any attention to it at all.”

Such a move was unprecedented, according to the BBC’s Nick Robinson, who wrote: “Don’t believe Labour MPs and ministers who say they’ve not talked about changing leader. For months the talk’s been of little else.”

Early indicators are that the cabinet is behind Brown, albeit only publicly. Should one minister resign, or Brown lose their backing, it could spell the end for the unelected leader.

Will Gordon I survive til the morrow? All we know for now is the spirit of the Roundheads lingers menacingly around No.10 this day.

Follow the story and analysis live on the BBC news, Times Online and Guardian websites.

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"No seriously, it was this big"

All this talk of kings is making me nauseous. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has refused to be drawn on whether his party is already in talks over a deal to form a coalition government should the next general election result in a hung parliament.

“I’m not the king-maker”

Nick Clegg on BBC’s Today programme

While trying, albeit rather dramatically, to reassure us that our democracy is recovering from the recent outbreak of hand-in-piggybank disease, Mr Clegg was adamant that the people should be allowed to speak first before any “backroom deals” are made. Of course backroom deals are fine afterwards, but before? Gosh no, what would the public think then?

It does seem though that as we approach the election at seemingly ever greater speed, Mr Clegg and his band of plucky dreamers may have to make some crucial decisions. Not least upon which ship to board while the tide is in. Even the possibility of a hung parliament will have got the yellow brigade excited because in that event they would be the only winners.

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Hurrah! Should you need further proof that American culture has permeated British society, look no further than today’s announcement of a live televised debate by all three, yes three, of our top politicians.

The BBC’s Nick Robinson has labelled it the political equivalent of X Factor. More likely Brown prefers American Idol and Cameron Britain’s Got Talent (although he strikes me as a Rage Against the Machine fan). What next? The jungle perhaps?

Poised: Battle lines have been drawn

The leaders have agreed to three separate debates, one on ITV, one on BBC and one on Sky. This is very good news indeed and will in fact make history for British democracy although whether the viewing figures can reach the heights of the X Factor, which peaked at 19 million viewers during its live finale, remains to be seen.

The only reasonable guage of the public’s appetite for politics this year has been the infamous Question Time with Nick Griffin, which pulled in around 8 million.
So forget Pacquiao v Mayweather, Haye v Klitschko and even Aston Villa v Tottenham (in the race for 4th that is), this is one match-up you don’t need to have Sky for. Oh how we live in exciting times.

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Capture Cardiff: Sleeping Rough

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.  Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?”  demanded Scrooge.  “Are they still in operation?”

“They are.  Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843

This passage serves as an abject reminder of the plight of the homeless, but also of some of the attitudes towards it.

It certainly did when Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of the Huggard Centre, Cardiff’s only open access centre for the homeless, read it aloud before the start of its annual sleep-out.

The event, which was to raise awareness for the Huggard Centre’s work with people who would otherwise be sleeping rough on the streets, was well attended and highly successful, raising £1526 just through the collection tins on the night.

And while homelessness seems to be an issue which gains sharper focus in the wider consciousness as the cold nights of winter set in, for some who find themselves homeless it can be hard to escape.

Simon Bray, 42, from north London, has been homeless since 16 and came to Cardiff after a relationship breakdown a few years ago. Homelessness for him has been a life-long problem.

“I’ve got a serious problem with it. I’m 42 and I’m still having the same problems I was having 25 years ago.

“I’m a good person and I try hard in life but every now and again I hit a brick wall and I will just fall through the holes and I end up homeless.

Since becoming homeless Simon has been in and out of hostels and private rented accommodation both in London and Cardiff, and has struggled to maintain employment.

“I’ve had jobs, I’ve had good jobs, I’m a grafter but I can’t keep it up, do you know what I mean?”

“What happens with me is because I’m not from Wales, I come into Cardiff and I may be sleeping in doorways. Or you go to Tresillian House and they can put you on floor space but they don’t always have room for everybody so that means you have to go and start sleeping out.”

Rough sleepers are only part of the problem with an issues as complex as homelessness, but they are perhaps the most visible.

First Homeless by darcysj77

Cardiff Council’s Rough Sleeper Count, carried out during a single 24-hour period on 24 September 2009, identified 26 rough sleepers in the capital, the same figure as the two previous years.

Compared to other urban areas in Wales, such as Wrexham and Swansea, 26 is a considerable number. In fact, compare that figure to the government data on England and Cardiff has the highest numbers of rough sleepers across England and Wales outside of London.

Of course these statistics are highly unreliable as they neither give a continuous representation of rough sleepers throughout the year nor take into account those who are in temporary accommodation like the Huggard. The Welsh Assembly Government scrapped the requirement on local authorities to conduct an annual rough sleeper count after 2008 and have since issued guidance on continuous measurements.

The reasons for people sleeping rough are varied, Simon explained. There may not be enough space in the hostels, some do not want help and some, like Simon himself, have no local links to Cardiff.

Jan by darcysj77

Due to a change in the law, under the Homelessness Act 2002, local authorities could take several factors into account in deciding on priorities for housing allocations. Section 16 (2A)(c) states that one of these factors is “any local connection which exists between a person and the authority’s district”.

This means people like Simon and others are considered lower priorities on the housing list. The front line homelessness services like the council-run Tresillian House, the Huggard Centre and the Salvation Army Outreach Bus do provide shelter for these people if there is space.

Jan Thomas, a Key Worker at the Huggard, said: “We still offer shelter to people from out of the area. At the moment we have a number of Eastern Europeans accessing our floor space. They’ve got no recourse to public funds but obviously we are not going to leave them outside if we have space inside.”

The problem of course is that with space being so limited –  the Huggard Centre has 20 bedrooms for people who are residents and floor space for around 14 or 15 more – influxes of homeless people from other areas cause the overflow onto the streets.

Jan believes this is because Cardiff has more in the way of front line services. She said: “Cardiff compares favourably with places like some of the valley areas. Caerphilly, Newport and places like that. We get a lot of people from those areas coming to Cardiff because they cannot access any services in their area.”

Simon (right): "Every now and then I hit a brick wall"

London, too, is a less comfortable place to be homeless according to Simon. He said: “It’s a bigger problem in London. There’s more people, a lot more people, up there on the streets and for me personally I just find it better here in Cardiff. It’s too overcrowded in London. It’s hard to get help up there.”

While Cardiff might score highly on front line services, it seems the problem is hard to eradicate. Jeremy Thomas, head of the Council’s Housing Options Project (HOPs) which deals specifically with people aged 16-21, acknowledged this.

He said: “Cardiff in general is very proactive in terms of homelessness. It’s never enough but there’s lots of provision.”

HOPs, in dealing with highly vulnerable 16-21 year-olds, is highly effective and it’s family mediation services are particularly successful in keeping young people off the streets. Latest figures for the period June to September this year suggest 52.2% of young people returned or remained at home with ongoing support.

Answer by darcysj77

For Simon, though, it is too late for family mediation. He just needs somewhere to settle down. Currently staying at the YMCA in Cardiff, he has at least got a roof over his head for the time being but as is clear from his story, everything is temporary when you are without a home.

“I’ve drifted back to London but I keep coming back to Cardiff because Cardiff is where I want to stay. I’m trying to make my roots here do you know what I mean? Just trying to settle here now.”

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