The council have published the final list of candidates for the Battersea parliamentary seat.

I know I shouldn’t say this but I’m a little disappointed, the field has narrowed, and we are now down to seven candidates, the major parties are there, obviously, with the Conservatives Jane Ellison challenging Labour’s Martin Linton for the seat. They are joined by the Liberal Democrat, Greens and UKIP along with two independents: Tom Fox, who opposes corruption and Hugh Salmon who seems to share a lot of Conservative policy (although I confess I’ve not spent a lot of time studying his policies).

We’ve lost two candidates though. The Jury Team candidate, it seems, didn’t manage to get a nomination together and, sadly, the Monster Raving Loony Party didn’t stick to his promise to stand. Why am I disappointed? Because I occasionally enjoy politics and some of these candidates can bring some colour to the race. Sadly, they won’t be bringing it to Battersea.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is the nomination of a BNP candidate in Putney. Given that they had managed to nominate a candidate in West Hill, they could clearly get the signatures for a parliamentary nomination (both only require ten people) and the only question remaining was whether they could afford the deposit. It seems they could.

I’m still slightly puzzled by their choice of constituency, as I mentioned with their West Hill nomination, they predominantly take votes from Labour so Putney is a surprising choice given that that the Labour vote there isn’t that high. There isn’t even the argument that there is a media focus on the seat – since most will be looking towards Battersea and Tooting where there are likely to be changes.

Whatever their logic, I hope they get a record low in the polls.

As I mentioned at the end of last week the nominations for the council elections closed last week and the statement of people nominated was published today. The full list can be downloaded from the council.

This is the sort of thing that only really interests anoraks like me, but to give you the highlights.

Every ward has a full slate of Conservative, Labour and (surprisingly) Liberal Democrat candidates. I don’t think the Lib Dems have managed that in my memory. Having said that, I’m not sure how committed they are, I know at least one has publicly stated being a paper candidate, and Layla Moran, their parliamentary candidate is also standing for council in Latchmere.

The Greens have fielded a number of candidates, with at least one per ward. Four years ago they managed to beat Labour in a number of places, so might be interesting to watch.

Then there are a few ‘others’:

  • A Christian Peoples Alliance candidate in Latchmere
  • An independent candidate in Southfields
  • A Communist in Tooting
  • And most disappointing of all, a BNP candidate in West Hill

I believe Wandsworth is a remarkably cohesive borough, so it’s a real pity that they feel there’s enough division here to field a candidate (even worse, they are supposedly fielding a candidate in the Putney parliamentary election). What’s particularly interesting, however, is the ward and constituency they have chosen: the BNP takes votes from Labour – so chosing a Conservative held ward and a Conservative held constituency does not seem terribly logical. Given that they won’t win and their aim is, one assumes, a good showing, they’d have been better somewhere with a stronger Labour vote.

A series of events over the past few weeks have left me realising quite how dangerous it is to hold opinions – to the extent I’m thinking of giving them up.

In recent weeks I’ve had two episodes in which my opinion has elicited a surprising response. First when I suggested in my weekly wrap-up a couple of weeks ago that Tony Belton was a little too political in comments he made during a long service celebration at the council. Then when I made a comparison between the diagonal crossing at Balham and the “country’s first” at Oxford Circus.

Far more high profile have been the the response to Jan Moir’s article on the death of Stephen Gately, the BNP appearing on Question Time and the furore over Stephen Fry taking offence at a comment made about him on Twitter.

The simple fact is that all these involve someone’s opinion. Nothing more, nothing less. We all have a fundamental right to have opinions. And we all have a fundamental right to disagree with the opinions of others. What worries me is not the opinions expressed (however much I may disagree with them) but the response to them.

I commented in my post on Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time that “mob rule isn’t suddenly justifiable because the cause is right.” A comment I stand by.

Returning to my experiences, after my comments about Tony Belton I received an email which disagreed with my interpretation. I responded that it was a personal and political blog and, as you would expect, it was my perception. While that perception was shared by everyone I spoke with that night, I’m not so vain as to think it is the only perception one might have. My offer and suggestion of commenting on the post was rejected (well, ignored) and the complaint restated. I was also offered the warning that unless my blog was more balanced it “will soon be totally ignored.”

Well, I could live with that – there are plenty of other things with which to fill my life. But it’s a shocking state of affairs that I am expected to be balanced, as if I have some sort of equivalent to the BBC Charter and don’t stand for election under a party label.

When it came to Oxford Circus I was taken aback at Westminster’s response to the comments about Balham. I don’t think I would ever seriously compare the two crossings and it was tongue-in-cheek (as was my apology). I’m not sure if there’s an element of insecurity or unnecessary defensiveness on Westminster’s part, but I’m fairly certain their press team are lacking a sense of proportion or a sense of humour.

The simple fact is that I will display bias. You should expect that. I am a Conservative so I am far more likely to agree with them and disagree with any other party. I am a Wandsworth councillor and, naturally, everything in Wandsworth is better than anything anywhere else. Even within Wandsworth I would contend that it’s better in Battersea than the other bits of the borough. These opinions won’t always have an evidence base, they just reflect me and my position in the world. No human can ever be totally balanced and impartial, however much they strive towards that goal. With me, I would contend, at least it’s fairly transparent where my bias lies.

Equally, we shouldn’t be expecting balance from the likes of Jan Moir or Nick Griffin. But what I would expect is a sense of balance and proportion from the right-minded people who disagree with their bigotry.

I would have much preferred the BNP Question Time to be a discussion on policy, but can’t pretend to have shed any tears for Nick Griffin’s treatment. One could, at least, reason that while the ganging up was unpleasant, at least public opinion can be relied on to be right. Or can it?

The Stephen Fry episode suggests it can’t. The alleged assailant merely stated an opinion that despite his high regard for Fry he found his tweets boring. And they can be, just as mine often are. Just as anyone is boring unless the the person reading or hearing them has an interest. Boredom is rarely an issue with the person being boring – because it is a certainty that someone else would find it interesting – but with the person being bored.

Unfortunately, this caught Fry at a low ebb, and his response made news in both the online and offline media while the unfortunate opinion holder had to withstand a torrent of abuse for a perfectly valid opinion with people like Alan Davies suggesting an “Essex style” mob to persecute him for daring to call Stephen Fry’s tweeting boring.

This worries me since ideas, opinion and the expression of those are essential to progress. Many, if not most, scientific and social breakthroughs were, originally, totally contrary to the accepted order at the time. If we create a society in which people are afraid to air new ideas and opinions then maybe we should give up on progress. And maybe we should accept that people who think like the Griffins and Moirs of this world should be driven underground where their poison will do far more damage to society than it ever could out in the open where it can be held up, examined and defeated.

It is, perhaps, an extension of the Diana-isation of grief. It seems as if we can no longer hold an emotion on our own unless it is shared tribally. If we are disgusted by the beliefs of Nick Griffin and Jan Moir we should also be disgusted by the baying mobs that formed to attack them rather than attack their ideas.

The internet should be a wonderful tool for the sharing of knowledge and ideas, and the discussion and debate that leads to progress. Sadly, it might just prove that the internet is just giving us the tools to easily collectivise (and perhaps legitimise) our intolerance of what we perceive to be outside a shared norm.

It is with a heavy heart I find myself having sympathy with Nick Griffin.

Today he is bemoaning his fate of having had to face a BBC organised lynch mob. No better than he deserves you might think and I’m inclined to agree; but I have to stick by the principles that meant I supported his appearance on Question Time in the first place.

The simple fact is that it was a programme about the BNP. The other participants appeared to have agreed a truce to fight a common enemy, the audience happily joined the alliance and the producers selected the questions to help them all fight the good fight.

Why was this wrong? Because mob rule isn’t suddenly justifiable because the cause is right. If we apply one set of standards to ourselves and expect others to respect them, we must abide by those standards for everyone. When we don’t we create victims, and those victims attract sympathy. While most people will have been happy about the way it went, those who are attracted to the BNP, I suspect, probably found themselves just that little bit more sympathetic to them than they had been.

Rather than exposing the BNPs weakness on policy, we simply attacked them again and again. Right minded people know the BNP is wrong, but we must prove that, rather than just saying it.

Instead of just attacking their stance on immigration, we should have been discussing how it’s made Britain greater.

Rather than decrying their views on Islam we should have been talking about how religious diversity makes us stronger.

Rather than digging out old Griffin quotes we should have been challenging his vision for the future and proving why the Conservative or Labour visions are infinitely preferable.

Much as I dislike them, the BNP are a registered, legal, political party. We can all have our fun seeing politicians and the audience gang up on him in Question Time, but that won’t stop his party nominating candidates at elections and won’t stop people voting for them. They have to be stopped in the same way as any other political party.

By demonising the BNP we only succeed in making them appear stronger. Instead we should be attacking where they are weakest, their policies.

The past few weeks have seen tonight’s BBC Question Time take up a lot of people’s time and energy because the leader of a political party is on the panel. Nothing at all controversial about that, perhaps a little unusual since you would not expect to see Gordon Brown or David Cameron there, but not a subject of controversy, surely.

Of course, the reason for the controversy is the politician is Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party.

I’ve been following the various debates about whether he should be allowed with some interest, and cannot help but think of the quote attributed to Voltaire (but actually from a biography about him by Tallantyre): “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

A similar outcry was seen over an article in the Daily Mail by Jan Moir about the death of Stephen Gately. The article was, frankly, obscene – and I won’t link to it – and suggested Gately’s death was related to his sexuality, with some rather sordid implications. The result were complaints in their tens of thousands to the Press Complaints Commission – by far the biggest number for an article ever received and, apparently, totalling more than the PCC had received in total for the preceding five years.

Disregarding the rather sad and tawdry lives people like Griffin and Moir must lead to come to the conclusions they reach, the fact remains that in a free society they are at liberty to draw their own conclusions.

Personally, I find that hard to accept, but accept it I must. For the freedoms we all take for granted to apply to reasonable people like you or me, they must also apply to the unreasonable people like Griffin and Moir. But accepting that creates strength, it means we can start having the proper public debates that can kill off those poisonous views. And hitherto, without them, they have been allowed to flourish.

There are few things worse than knocking on the door when canvassing to discover a BNP supporter. There aren’t many, but they are around, and always have a hard luck story. Invariably they are unemployed, not because they are already drinking strong lager at 10am when I knock on their door (which is their right, after all) but because immigrants have taken their job. Often they need a new home, which they would have had, were it not for those pesky immigrants taking them all. If only, they opine, someone looked after them.

That’s what the BNP purport to do, and until now, because they were never given the platform, they were allowed to get away with it. Their charge that the mainstream parties were letting people down went unanswered. But now, finally, they have to articulate and defend their policies. And I’m confident they will be shown for what they are, rather vicious bullies who can only explain their own failure by pretending the system is rigged to favour others.

I think there is a valuable lesson here. The Griffins and the Moirs of this world are fundamentally intolerant people. Personally, I’d rather that intolerance be out in the open where it can be defeated, but for that to happen we also have to be tolerant of them. If we aren’t, every single time they are shut out of the democratic process it strengthens their anti-establishment credentials and helps convince people they might have something in what they say – and that’s how we get racist MEPs and GLA members.

It was a fairly good night for the Conservatives in London – three of London’s eight MEPs were returned as Conservatives.  Congratulations to Charles Tannock, Syed Kamall and Marina Yannakoudakis on their elections.

It’s also pleasing that the BNP did not win a seat here.  Though disturbing that they managed to take two seats in the north.  Personally, I’m most depressed about the seat they won in Yorkshire and Humber since that area also covers the part of Linconshire in which I was born.

The results in Wandsworth were very good for the Conservatives, where we got just over twice as many votes as the second place Labour party.  In fact, it generally followed my impression from the doorstep.  The Greens took third place, beating the Liberal Democrats into 4th.  The BNP came seventh – and polled much worse in Wandsworth than in London as a whole, in keeping with my feeling that Wandsworth is generally an inclusive borough.  They certainly have nothing like the level of support to even come close to seriously contesting a council seat.

Having said that, one BNP vote is one too many.  While some are quick to condemn any BNP voter, I do not believe most are motivated by racism (a characteristic the BNP do a lot to hide) but instead because they have concerns or frustrations the main parties have failed to address.  Certainly something the major parties in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber need to consider.

Parties getting more than 1,000 votes in Wandsworth were:

Party Wandsworth votes Wandsworth %age London votes London %age
Conservative 26,819 39.04% 479,037 27.36%
Labour 13,041 18.98% 372,590 21.28%
Green 9,050 13.17% 190,589 10.88%
Liberal Democrat 8,240 11.99% 240,156 13.72%
UKIP 4,441 6.46% 188,440 10.76%
Christian Party 1,598 2.33% 51,336 2.93%
BNP 1,588 2.31% 86,420 4.94%

You can get the full results for Wandsworth from the Wandsworth Council website and for London from the BBC News website

Yesterday I highlighted some of the things canvassing is not. Today I want to go through some of the things canvassing is, and my thoughts at the end of this particular campaign.  While the media will concentrate on Cabinet resignations and pressure on Brown, the life of a party activist is less glamorous and less dramatic; we knock on doors and talk to people.

Canvassing to identify support
At its simplest level canvassing is about identifying your supporters so you can encourage them to vote. If you imagine a constituency in which exactly half the population support the Conservatives and exactly half support the Labour party the winner would be decided by who was best at getting their supporters out to vote for them.

Canvassing as an opinion poll
But it also works as a simple opinion poll. Because we are continually canvassing on issues and support we can track changes. It isn’t as statistically valid as proper opinion research, we can’t select a ‘representative’ sample that reflects the country as a whole, but we do get an idea of the way things are going. If you canvass ten people and one has switched, that’s a 10% swing.

I will say from the outset that I don’t actually know any of the figures in Wandsworth or Battersea, I’m no longer involved at that level of political campaigning – I’m just an activist who goes where I’m told. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get a feel from the doorstep.

The feel on the doorstep
And that doorstep feel is an important indicator. The 1992 general election was the first I was actively involved in, and many will remember that, when called, it was seen as being incredibly close. A few days before the actual election one of the older and wiser heads in the association I was involved in told me that we’d win nationally. Not because of the polls, but because “you can see people aren’t ready for Labour”. I wrote it off until some months later when Neil Kinnock, in a documentary interview, said he knew he was going to lose not because of any polling, but because when he met members of the public he could “see it in their eyes”.

Its important to remember that while opinion polls give broad projections, it’s the people who go and vote that decide the result of elections, not the people who answer pollsters.

These are my opinions based on my own experience and during this campaign almost all my canvassing has been in Wandsworth, most in Battersea and the largest part of that in my own ward. If someone tells you its totally different next door in Lambeth or Richmond, they may well be right.

The BNP
It’s a real pleasure to be able to say that I’ve only canvassed a few BNP supporters, indeed I could count on the fingers of one hand the people who have told me they are voting for the BNP. In Wandsworth, at least, they are not a political force. Hopefully that is the case everywhere else in the country.

Minor parties
Again, these have not featured on the doorstep, which is totally at odds with the recent polls showing UKIP in third place ahead of Labour. They may well achieve that level of support, but it won’t be in Wandsworth.

By far the most popular of the smaller parties has been the Greens. Not a huge number of them, to be sure, but certainly more than any other party.

I’m also going to include the Liberal Democrats in this category, although I do so with some caution. Wandsworth has traditionally been a two party borough, there are no Lib Dems on the council, although there are some areas in the borough where the Lib Dems are active. It might be because I’ve not been in those areas that I’ve met so few intending to vote that way.

Labour
It’s safe to say Labour are not having a good time of it. And it shows on the doorstep.

Their vote is definitely soft. Many who rejected the Conservatives in favour of Blair’s Labour Party are returning to the Conservatives if they hadn’t already. But I think the real problem Labour face are their supporter who just won’t go out and vote. It was very much the problem we faced in 1997, people wouldn’t vote against us, but we couldn’t get them to vote for us either. Around three million people fewer people voted in 1997 than had in 1992. Less people voted Labour in 1997 than had voted Conservative in 1992. Blair won not just because Tories switched to him, but also because they stayed home in huge numbers.

Oddly, one of the ways I see this relates to ‘Myth 3’ from yesterday’s post. It means that people can tell us they aren’t voting for us, but give us good news as well: “I always voted Labour, but I’m not doing that again.”

I find it hard to believe this isn’t going to be Labour’s 1997. The electorate want to punish Labour, and will; the question is whether they will be satisfied by this election, or whether the anger will carry over into the general election when Brown or his successor calls it.

Who’s winning?
Easy one for me. The Conservatives. As a Conservative each successive election since 1997 has been nicer than the last, but the change has been much more marked over the past two years. People are pleased to see us and enthusiastic about voting for us again.

Of course, the electoral system for this election means it’s impossible to predict a result. The final scores depend as much on the spread of votes between minor parties as it does on the Conservatives’ lead. I wouldn’t put a bet on the numbers of seats. But I’d put a bet on Cameron being the leader with the biggest smile when the results come in on Sunday.

A few people have had the dreadful BNP leaflet land on their doormat recently and asked me if this means the BNP is active in Battersea.  Luckily, I think the answer is no.

In each case the leaflet has been their badly researched election communication featuring a Polish Spitfire, American models and an elderly Italian couple.  Given the BNP’s references to the Second World War on the leaflet I think the inclusion of the Spitfire from the 303 Polish Fighter Squadron (who claimed the highest number of kills during the Battle of Britain, and were certainly one of the most effective squadrons in the war) particularly amusing.  The BNP’s argument is, essentially, that the brave Polish pilots defended our country from invasion so we could refuse the brave Polish pilots’ descendants any right to live here.

So how did the leaflet get through your door?  Well, it was delivered by Royal Mail.

Every party in a European Election (and every candidate in a General Election) has to right to have one ‘election communication’ delivered to each elector in the relevant constituency.  The major parties, Conservative and Labour, have been individually addressing their leaflets.  Minor parties, like the BNP, take the simpler option of having one leaflet delivered per household.  The Royal Mail delivered leaflets can be identified as they will carry the words ‘Election Communication’ along with the constituency, type and date of election – in this case the London constituency, European Parliamentary election and 4 June respectively.

So, as far as I know, the BNP do not have activists working in Wandsworth.  But that does not mean we should rest easy.  The leaked BNP membership lists revealed a small number of members in Wandsworth and the BNP have boasted about successful meetings within the borough, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for activity (I’d be interested to know if anyone has heard from them).  It’s then for the mainstream political parties to provide an alternative to their anger-fuelled policies.