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Posts Tagged ‘Catch21

interviewing the new MP’s with Catch21

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I spent a few days last month filming interviews with about 50 of the new batch of MP’s. Working
with Catch21, the idea behind ‘mpinions’ was to encourage political engagement by ‘humanising’ the new crop and asking them simple yet timely questions – such as ‘do you believe in proportional representation?’

All MP’s we’re asked the same 5 questions –

1) What is your main priority as a new MP?

2) What colour is the coalition government?

3) Are you in favour of electoral reform and if so which system?

4) What is your special talent and can you demonstrate it briefly to us on camera?

5) Where are you off to next?

Video’s are being posted here, on facebook and being linked to from all over the place. So far the interviews with Duncan Hames, John Glen, Liz Kendall, Ian Murray, Angie Bray, Kate Green, Simon Wright and Peter Aldous have been uploaded. MP’s still to come include Caroline Lucas, Zac Goldsmith and Julian Huppert.

The project was supported and promoted by the HansardSociety, Dod’s Parliamentary Communications (via e-politix)Operation Black Vote and The British Youth Council and of course the new MP’s themselves.

if you would like to follow for you can do so on@robandale or on Facebook


Written by Robert Dale

July 26, 2010 at 9:24 pm

The ‘Big Society’ or an atomised Britain?

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David Cameron ended the Parliamentary session by launching what he calls his ‘Big Society’ program and plans for a national citizen service to encourage volunteers. But what does ‘Big Society’ mean and does government backing for voluntary services really help?

The whole idea of empowering communities to do something for themselves was previously explored by Tony Blair after his huge victory in 1997. If it didn’t take off for an (at the time) popular leader during a time of economic prosperity then one must rightly be wary of its chances to succeed at a time of savage cuts in public spending.

The biggest problem with Cameron’s initiative isn’t the idea itself – it’s the vagueness with which it is being promoted (The Independent last Saturday described it as his ‘hazy vision of social regeneration’) and the lack of detail as to how these programs will work in reality.

It is understandable that most people are listening to these plans with a sense of caution. Society is very suspicious that this is really a plot to cover the government from its strong austerity measures – is the government trying to mask enforced redundancies behind a wall of newly-found volunteerism?

Perhaps the most striking thing however it the lack of realism in government thinking – the fact of the matter is that those who will volunteer are already doing so. Millions of people all around the world are already volunteering through richer and poorer so rather than spending time, effort and indeed money in building new voluntary structures, why not focus those resources on making life a bit easier for these already overstretched organisations?

Underneath the soundbite title the government is hoping to harvest a much more definitive ideology behind the ‘Big Society.’ Cameron and Clegg have bonded over desires to remake the way government functions and lift the dead-weight of bureaucracy that stagnates so much social innovation. And for these reductions in regulation and red-tape there appears to be a great deal of public sympathy.

But these subsidiary objectives aren’t necessarily the same as de-centralisation. Britain’s centrally-controlled political structure dates back to Thatcherism and her efforts to weaken local government. But despite wanting to cut bureaucracy the Prime Minister isn’t pushing any desire to re-empower these authorities – in fact the ‘Big Society’ is taking further power away from them in two big areas, education and planning controls.

The function of the government is to mediate between competing interest groups in society, but by fragmenting and removing this local authority function of mediation Cameron is potentially leading Britain towards a very atomised society. The result may well be a rise in problematic local antagonism with very little accountability to anyone if or when it all goes wrong.

Written by Robert Dale

July 25, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Obama is healing US politics

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Here’s another article I’ve done for Catch21 – the UK’s first internet television channel based at Westminster – run by young people, for young people.

President Obama operates in an interesting way. For weeks he had been laying low, appearing not to do very much except make a few long speeches. His healthcare bill was looking in severe jeopardy and he was gradually being written off by friends and enemies as a weak, indecisive failure.

Every new US President enters the White House saying they want to be a uniter not a divider, but January’s defeat in one of the nation’s strongest Democrat seats in Massachusetts snapped Obama out of this sense of romanticism. Instead he was galvanised, returned to campaign mode and rammed his healthcare reform bill through Congress despite fevered Republican objections.

And just a few days after the signing of the bill (for which he used no fewer than 22 pens), which brings healthcare cover to 35 million extra Americans, he went on to ‘bring peace on earth’.

The treaty between the US and Russia, reducing the allowable number of long-range nuclear warheads by 30%, is the most significant nuclear arms agreement since the Cold War. It’s also the first real step towards Obama’s long-term vision for a nuclear free world.

But while last week was a massive boost for the US president, it in no way makes his seat in the Oval Office more secure. Firstly, the treaty with Russia doesn’t actually mean that much domestically, as Americans on the whole aren’t that interested in foreign affairs or disarmament. Instead, it will be how Obama tackles the economy and the country’s 10% unemployment rate that will decide the 2012 election.

Further, the healthcare bill gave a new rallying cry to the Republicans – ‘the socialists are taking over’ became a dominant sentiment among the opponents of the bill, and opposition became so venomous that some Democrats who voted in favour of the healthcare reforms actually had their homes come under attack. So intense in fact was the discontent that Obama himself had to appear on Fox News – something he previously decided not to do – to justify his bill to the people. All this paints a picture that things in America are not as rosy as they appear on our side of the pond.

But regardless of what all this means for Obama’s presidency, last week was a whole lot more important to the US political system as a whole. America actually looks governable again. Had a president with such huge majorities in both Houses failed to enact his keystone legislation, what would that have said for US democracy? Now, for the first time our generation has ever known, there is talk emerging of reforming the system, reforming the Constitution and the way Congress works. These are new ideas, new voices and are slowly building up to something monumental.

This may at first seem a prediction of revolution, but remember that it was this same society that overwhelmingly elected its first African-American president – a revolutionary act in itself and one that proved that, in the political world, surprises are out there all the time.

Written by Robert Dale

March 31, 2010 at 12:06 pm

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Article – the strikes are significant, but they won’t determine the election

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Here’s an article I wrote for Catch21 – the UK’s first internet television channel based at Westminster – run by young people, for young people

It’s looking pretty certain that the general election is indeed going to be held on May 6th. So the budget Alistair Darling ‘unveils’ this today is really a bit of a lame duck – despite claims that it won’t contain any ‘giveaways’, he can say pretty much whatever he likes as there’s very little chance he’s going to be walking back into the Treasury come May 7th.

Be this as it may, the budget does still remain politically significant. Not least because of the current disputes over British Airways cabin crew, but more so because of the rail strikes that are looming large on the horizon -if there is one way you really you want to infuriate middle England it is to grind all the commuter trains to a halt. Yes the grounding of planes will annoy a few thousand people, but if the trains stop we will begin to see some real anger emerge from the hundreds of thousands who daily use Britain’s rail network.

The disputes therefore could not come at a worse time for the Labour government as they’ve exposed their dependency on the trade unions. Unite (who represent the BA cabin crew) have given £11million to the party over the last two years and funds 148 of its constituency offices.

Ironically though, it is precisely because of this closeness that Gordon Brown decided to speak out against Unite last week. Clearly Number 10 feels the union should be more sensitive to them just weeks before a general election.

But need the Labour government worry so much? Are these strikes going to re-awaken the fears of the 1970’s and sap momentum from their recent resurrection in the polls?

If the country was in good shape then maybe yes, but there are so many things that people are unhappy about, so many things not to vote in favour of Mr Brown for that, if anything, his offensive tactics will help the Labour cause rather than hinder it.

Consider the storm whipped up by the Conservatives following the revelations in Andrew Rawnsley’s book ‘The End of the Party’ that labelled the Prime Minister as a ‘bully.’ The ploy backfired and the public actually accepted his aggression and hard-line approach as the required method needed for the tough times.

Spared this time around from attacks by the Tories (who are quite happily sitting back on this one and allowing it to draw energy away from the Ashcroft debacle), Brown is hoping public sympathy will be thin and sparse for the BA staff – Labour will be keen to point out that these workers already get paid double that of those peers who work for Virgin Atlantic and other companies.

However, strike or no strike, the mere fact that the issue is back in the media spotlight helps foster this image that Britain simply isn’t functioning – the old cries from Thatcher’s 1979 campaign of ‘Labour isn’t working’ are reverberating again.

Written by Robert Dale

March 24, 2010 at 12:11 am