Monthly Archives: April 2010

En-ger-land! En-ger-land!

Just take a look at the Evening Standard today. Do you think Currys would have wanted their ‘England’ campaign placed right next to a full page story about nationalism, the British National Party, and why voters in Dagenham are fed up of immigrants?

Currys 'England' ad

Final leader debate

I have to say, after Clegg leading both of the first two debates, I think he came last in this one. He sounded a bit ineffectual and undecided on several key points. Banking, the economy, and immigration all tripped him up this week.

David Cameron was the most improved and almost certainly the winner of this final debate, but the Prime Minister was a strong second. Brown should have struggled far more than this, but he was a strong performer and often reminded the audience that both his opponents have very little experience of running a country.

But this was a debate on economics and there was no detail at all on the public sector cuts we expect after an election.

More in the morning, after some sleep…

Is immigration ‘a good thing’?

Gordon Brown is in trouble today. A woman complained to him about the number of immigrants coming into the UK… a familiar complaint he has heard many times before, but this time he made a private comment about her in his car just after the event – calling her a ‘bigoted woman’ – and Sky News had left their radio microphone on his suit… so the private comments were recorded and replayed to the world.

It was a private comment, and many would credit Brown with telling the frank truth, but Sky can’t be blamed for using the material – any broadcaster would love to have an indiscretion like this on record.

But is the woman just reflecting what the majority think, and is the Prime Minister reacting in a liberal left way – horrified that someone might criticise those from another country, or race, or faith?

The immigration question is one of the hardest for our politicians to deal with because they never seem to quite get it right. The Labour party at present has made it almost impossible for unskilled workers to enter the UK, encouraged people with specific skills to come using the Highly Skilled Migrant Worker programme, simplified visa approvals using a points-based system, and made it far harder for foreign students to work and overstay their visa.

When you list the measures Gordon Brown has presided over, it looks quite tough on immigrants, but the public perception is that Johnny Foreigner continues to flood into the country. The reality is that immigration is reducing – mainly because of the economic downturn and fragile recovery – but again, why ruin perception with reality?

So, is the problem just that nobody trusts politicians anyway?

This is really the power of the BNP and UKIP. They don’t behave like ‘normal’ politicians and they focus on the immigration and ‘foreigner’ issues. UKIP has pledged to ban immigration for five years if they had any power over legislation, the BNP has been watering down the racist content of their manifesto, but they still appear to actively favour repatriation of migrant workers.

These parties are getting considerable support with their extreme views, and that’s really because of a failing by the major three parties to be seen to be doing something. Brown has argued this point on all the genuine changes he has made to the system. Clegg has argued that we need a better understanding of who is here illegally – potentially leading to an amnesty because that would not change the number of people working, but it would mean they pay tax. Cameron has argued for an absolute cap on immigration numbers by skills.

All three of the major parties have ideas on immigration, but they are all essentially failing to communicate the positive values of welcoming people – with skills – to Britain. The skills that help the British economy to succeed – and therefore allows us to live in a prosperous nation far richer than a population of 60m would suggest.

They are also failing to explain the different types of immigration; what is a refugee, what is an asylum seeker, what is a highly-skilled migrant… and the freedom of labour movement within the 27-nation European Union. All these issues are entirely confused in the arguments of the ‘bigot’… that’s not implying that those who oppose immigration are stupid, but any debate on immigration has to focus on the real issue that concerns them: Are people coming in and taking work from locals?

If that is what people perceive then the mainstream parties need to show that it is not the case, or what they intend to do about it, and they need to do this in a way that people believe. The Prime Minister has a good grasp of facts, but when he reels off stats about this and that, the public switch off and ask why the corner shop sells Polish food. Without once realising that the Polish shop down the road was a Punjabi shop twenty years ago.

The major politicians need to explore why normal people are so attracted by the BNP on this issue, why normal people don’t see any value from the European Union – they just see it as Eastern European workers coming to take jobs, and why a caring and tolerant society like the UK should close the shutters to those not born here.

Leaders’ debate – round two

The leaders’ debate on Sky last night was a more charged event that the first. They really argued this time. They were all clearly more comfortable with the format, and Sky political editor Adam Boulton seemed content to just sit back and let them slug it out. It was not a bad strategy, but sometimess Boulton did allow them to stick to a single subject for too long – he could have moved it on a few times.

What is really interesting to observe is that the instant polls are useless. They reflect the prejudice of the people who would support one particular party anyway. So the YouGov poll sponsored by the Sun came out strongly in support of Cameron having won. The Channel 4 poll came out strongly in favour of Clegg, and so on…

Personally I thought it was very close this time. Clegg probably was still in front by a nose, but they were all close together. That actually says a lot for Brown, who should be doing much worse in the debates as the incumbent and conversely it also means Cameron is not landing punches when he should have a sitting target. It’s all wide open.

Chancellor's Debate on C4

When will conferences allow more participation?

I was at a lovely office by the river Thames on Tuesday, chairing an event focused on the environment and sustainability. It was interesting and there were some good speakers from companies such as HSBC and IBM, but a few thoughts crossed my mind as I sat there controlling the speakers and taking notes:

  1. At most conferences, the audience is packed full of knowledge, but they end up only having a few short minutes in a controlled Q&A session, the rest of the time is given to the speaker. Yet more knowledge and learning can be drawn from having a debate with many experienced people, rather than all listening to one experience. So why isn’t the unconference format more popular?
  2. Why isn’t more knowledge captured at conferences? All these learned speakers get together with an interested audience, but the majority of events I attend don’t bother to video the talks, or even capture the audio. All that information can be extremely valuable and published in a rich multimedia format with notes from speakers or audience members. Usually the last you hear of the content is at the end of the day over networking drinks.

I realise the status quo is that sponsors finance events and sponsors want visibility and the opportunity to provide ‘thought leadership’, but when will some event organisers start structuring conferences that (1) create learning and real knowledge that lives on past the day itself and (2) allow everyone to participate in a meaningful way – if they want to?

Southwark Bridge

Santa Maria pizza: “best pizza in London”

I was really pleased to see this review of the Santa Maria pizza restaurant in Ealing in the April 14 edition of Time Out magazine.

I had just walked past the restaurant the other day and Pasquale came out to say that he was short-listed in a Time Out survey of Italian restaurants. He was telling everyone that they may possibly be listed as the best pizza restaurant in west London. I was only walking past the restaurant and he came over to tell me this. I’ve only eaten there three times, but already it feels like I’m a regular… it’s new though, just a few months old, so he must have noticed a few people developing into ‘regulars’.
Santa Maria, Ealing

But the Time Out review goes much further, giving the restaurant 5 stars for food and listing it at the top of all their pizza restaurant reviews for London. And it’s listed as the best pizza place in London whilst also being listed in the ‘budget’ category for price!

Congratulations to the guys at Santa Maria. I loved the food there when I tried it and I know I will be returning more often – if I can get a table.

Oh, and if you want to know how to find it, use the 65 bus. The bus goes north from South Ealing station or south from Ealing Broadway – the 65 runs right past the restaurant, and it’s next door to the Red Lion pub. Well worth a visit for their collection of ‘Ealing Comedy’ posters and photos (the pub and restaurant are directly opposite Ealing Studios), and the Fuller’s beer.
Best pizza in London

Leader Debates, round two

So it’s time for the second leader debate tomorrow. This one should focus on international affairs, so it’s likely Gordon Brown will be on the defensive when talking about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “special” relationship with the USA.

But Brown should have been on the back-foot in the first debate on domestic policy, yet Clegg’s style and Brown’s substance somehow combined to force Cameron into a box. The Conservative leader was most popular when talking on the ‘British jobs for British workers’ immigration debate and that causes an issue for the Tories. They have consistently tried playing to the middle-ground in an effort to win back the Conservative voters who deserted the party for the New Labour project, but if he feels support is coming from sounding tougher, harder right, and less empathetic, then what can he do?

Those views will resonate with old-school Tories, and probably the party membership. But he won’t win the election by sounding like Michael Howard used to. Especially when Cleggmania means the Lib Dems are now on a charm offensive with Vince Cable already the most trusted politician in the UK.

Clearly, with the present first-past-the-post voting system, there is no chance of a Lib Dem majority, but a surge in support for Clegg means we are aiming for another Labour government (if Lib Dem support is mainly poached from Tory areas) or a hung parliament in which a Lab-Lib coalition will carve up power between them.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Lord Neil Kinnock
Whatever your politics, this has to be the most closely-fought and exciting British political battle in a generation. And it’s all over the TV and Internet in a way that was not imaginable at even the most recent general election. I’ll be blogging the debate live for Reuters, so lookout on their politics page for my comments as the leaders speak…