Category Archives: Politics

Facebook in Local Politics

I have been thinking recently about the use of Facebook in local politics.  This is not a deep cover Cambridge Analytica style data mining investigation, it’s a lot simpler than that, and is to do with who are the Admins on local Facebook groups and who they allow into the groups, and I think it could be a fairly significant problem in local politics.  I should say that I am standing as of this moment to be a Parish Councillor for Labour in the Eldene ward of Nythe, Eldene and Liden Parish Council in East Swindon, which is what has brought this to mind.

A note first on the difference between Pages and Groups on Facebook, as people often do not know the difference.  A Page is set up to represent a person’s “professional” persona or an organisation.  As an example, I have my own Facebook personal profile, then I have a Page for my political stuff, a Page for gaming, and have set up Pages for Am Dram organisations and my local church, for example.  Pages are usually very obvious what they are for, and are not problematic, people just Like and Follow them if they are interested in what the Page has to say.  It is possible to post on a Page, but usually the Page will post something and then people will respond to it.

A Group is a different thing – it is a collection of people with a common interest.  You “join” a Group, and once you have joined everyone can post.  A Group will have a team of Admins and Moderators (which I will shorten to Admins) who approve or block members of the Group and sometimes have to approve a post.  If posts do not need approval, there will certainly be a set of rules and posts that do not meet those rules (e.g. relevance, politeness) can be deleted.

A particular subset of Groups is those that serve a common area, and you can find examples of such Groups here.

They are often called “Place Community”, and are either set up by well-meaning local individuals or local politicians who serve the given area.  If the former, great, but the problem comes when politicians or individuals with very particular political views set up the Groups and then run them with their own set of undeclared biases.  When this happens, the local community may be expecting a non-partisan local view, but instead is getting a curated slice of local news.  This would be similar to only getting news from the Telegraph or the Guardian, when you were expecting the BBC (if we assume the BBC to be neutral, which is a separate conversation…)

Poor behaviour from Admins in these Facebook Groups can include:

  •         Banning local politicians from non-favoured parties from the Group.  This can be “blocking” so that the individual cannot see the group at all, or just not allowing to join.
  •         Banning pages representing parishes from the Group (pages can join groups, as well as individuals).
  •         Deleting posts that are critical of a particular party or administration.

I set up a local Facebook Group over a decade ago, and always strived with my team of Admins to make it politically neutral, which was especially difficult because there were unfortunately people who lived in the area representing some strange views.  We allowed criticism and promotion of viewpoints as long as they were not offensive or illegal. 

While it is too late to bring this issue to people’s attention for this week’s elections, I believe that using Facebook Groups in this way is immoral, though obviously not illegal.  If you are a member of such Groups, maybe have a look at who the Admins are and simply post in the Group about any political affiliations they might have?

Finally, a caveat to all of the above.  Local Facebook Groups are a good thing, it’s hard work sometimes being an Admin, and I would not want people to stop.  Also, I am very aware that not everyone is on Facebook, and this may well be regarded as a minor thing by lots of people, but Facebook is one of the major global communication tools, and I believe it is incumbent on those in local politics to set a good example and behave honestly and openly wherever possible.

Parish Councillors

I received a piece of election literature through the door today, from someone standing as a parish councillor.  This is brilliant – someone taking the parish elections seriously enough to spend money on producing leaflets.  I read a few of the policies (reducing anti-social behaviour, great, new  footpath (good, but in the wrong place), other stuff (not sure you’ll have the power, but good thoughts), but then saw that it was a UKIP flier.  Boo.

Firstly, there is a problem with political parties being involved with parishes.  Our parish will have 9 councillors, rather than the 650 in parliament or 60 in Swindon town council, so they should be able to vote on issues independently, rather than having to decide among themselves in groups what they stand for.  The national issues will generally not be relevant to parishes, and the local councillors should be elected overwhelmingly on individual competence rather than a broad sweeping generalisation on what they stand for.  Sadly, very few electors will put in the effort to find this out, which is one of the reasons that parish elections are flawed anyway.

However, the big impact of having party political allegiance is that for lots of electors the broad sweeping generalisation is what they will vote on, which brings us back to UKIP.  I will never vote UKIP, for a few reasons.  In the beginning they were a dog-whistle racist party, in that not everyone who votes UKIP is racist, but if you are racist you are likely to vote UKIP, and equally if you are racist and want a mainstream political party to represent, then you are likely to choose UKIP.  Therefore, the broad sweeping generalisation that comes with being a representative of UKIP is that you are a bit racist, in the same way as Conservative means low tax, and Labour means high public spending.  Lib Dems, still not sure.  Green, lots of good things, but we don’t have anyone standing for Green in our ward.

In addition, UKIP’s reason for being is Brexit, which I am very much against.  It has been, and continues to be, a massive distraction from the actual important issues.  There is very little time for actual governing, while ridiculous number of hours are given over firstly to campaigning for the referendum, and now putting into place a decision made with a majority of 52-48.  No-one can know the actual economic impact of coming out of the EU, so it seemed to me to be a completely irrelevant choice, fundamentally based on a certain amount of xenophobia.

So, in summary, I wish that parish councillors were all standing as independents, but if they do choose to align themselves with a party, this will lead to me ruling some out due to this, and then choosing from the rest on the basis of perceived competence.  Not that I have much of a way of finding this out, as none of those standing has ever got involved with any of the community activities that I have organised over the last three years…

South Swindon Hustings Report

WP_20150428_001Last night, I joined around 300 people at the Wyvern for the South Swindon (SS) hustings. The chair (Editor of the Adver) asked if anyone was undecided in the audience, and I was one of a minority to put their hands up.  I am still undecided, but it was a very helpful evening.  All that follows is just my opinion on the evening, but I’m not trying to be independent, so no apologies for that.  Apologies however if I do have any facts wrong, I haven’t particularly checked them, so this may be my perception of the facts.

Questions ranged from local buses to Trident, and gave the candidates a good opportunity to show their local knowledge and represent the position of their parties.

Lib Dems (LD), Conservative (C), Labour (L), Greens (G) and UKIP were represented, and each gave a 2 minute speech at the beginning.  C, L and G were all well-rehearsed and fitted nicely into the two mins, with C and L using a hand held mic instead of the lectern.  L came across as energetic and confident, C as self-assured and local, G as idealistic (to use her own word) and enthusiastic (despite being quite ill).  LD struggled a bit, listing some of the LD achievements in coalition, but it didn’t seem like his heart was really in it, and throughout the evening he often ploughed his own furrow (e.g. on Trident). UKIP spoke about his experience as Deputy Chief Executive of Swindon Council.

From my personal point of view, I am choosing between C, L and G.  I think the LD are a spent force, they have had their time in Government, and I don’t entirely see the point in voting for them at all, and this is particularly true in SS.  The UKIP candidate is also standing as a local councillor in my ward, which I thought was interesting, as it did reflect the little chance of winning.  I am also very unlikely to vote UKIP in general, as I believe lots of their policies are designed to foster resentment of different people.  And leaving the EU would be bonkers.

SS is very marginal between C and L, and having had a few chats with the two candidates I think there is little to choose between them as individuals – both seem very enthusiastic and committed, both have experience as MPs. They give the impression of not liking each other very much, but I suppose that is inevitable when they are in competition and have to spend 6 weeks disagreeing with each other.

I am also tempted by G, in that I like the groundswell of popular support they are getting, and like some of their more outlandish polices (a set wage for all, whether working or not). I was also impressed by a phrase at the local hustings that reflected the real situation, in that she said “if we were to have influence in government” then they would push for certain policies.  I think it would be a lot more of an interesting election if all the “minor” parties took this approach, rather than pretending they have a chance of getting a majority and being able to put their policies into practice.

The obvious problem with voting G is that even if you believe in all their policies, you are leaving the choice between L and C to all those who vote for either L or C.  G addressed this point directly in her address, saying that if you keep voting for people you don’t want, you’ll keep getting people you don’t want, which was a fair point.

The UKIP candidate came across as perfectly reasonable and sensible, to the extent that one wonders why he is the UKIP candidate.  Please don’t vote UKIP, as outlined above.

So I will mainly focus on L, C and G candidates, and the main memorable points for me.

The main flashpoint between L and C was over the so-called “bedroom tax”.  I really dislike this phrase, as it doesn’t seem to reflect what the policy is actually about, but never mind.  The irritation on the evening was that L and C had a disagreement about facts, as to whether C had supported it, whether L had brought it in and so on.  Disagreements about facts on panels really annoy me, in that there is very little point in arguing about them.  Someone should stop the discussion whenever it happens, and Google whether it is true or not.  Instead, it is always left unresolved, like a pub discussion about “who that bloke was who played that part in that sitcom” in the days before mobile phones.  Opinions about what should happen in the future are worth discussing, discussions about facts about things that have happened in the past should not be allowed.

Locally, there was interesting discussion of housing, particularly to the East of the A419, but the candidates (if I recall) were mostly in agreement that it needs the infrastructure to support it.  C is very keen on buses not going through the centre, and seems very pleased about the new bus station that will be built, but in a week where the number 20 bus is being axed, this was never going to be a good selling point.  This discussion also sparked the introduction “Talis, you like buses…” from the chair.

G made a good point about the subsidisation of public transport – I had never particularly thought about buses being a public good, but it does make a lot of sense, in that they bring people together and help people who can’t necessarily afford (or use) transport for themselves.  All the candidates said very strongly that local groups should always put pressure on transport companies, so I had better go and write that letter.

So who to vote for?  Nationally, I think that the accelerated austerity that C is promising is going to be damaging to vulnerable groups, and the more C candidates that get elected, the worse it will be.  L do not have plans to completely reverse the cuts, but equally not to accelerate them.  If L were to reverse some of the cuts I think that would be a mistake, as to a certain extent once the pain has been inflicted you should get the benefit, and the benefit should be making more jobs possible.  G are not going to be elected in SS, realistically, but the candidate is fantastically committed and the cause is good.

So after last night, if you are choosing between C and L, vote L, if you are choosing between C and G, vote G, if you are considering UKIP or LD, I’d be interested to know why.  So that leaves choosing between L and G.

I think Miliband is running a good enough campaign to avoid anyone getting a majority, and I don’t think “Bluekip” will get enough votes for a majority, but neither will the “Coalition of Chaos”.  I love these terms.  So given that, I think voting for G is probably a good thing to do, as the whole thing is going to be a ridiculous mess that no-one can predict.  So in that case, it’s probably a good idea to vote for change. Which I think means voting Green.

That’s my take – here is what the Adver thought.


Ed’s Poster


  1. What does blacklist mean?
  2. Isn’t this true already?  Or is it 20 hours?
  3. Don’t know what ISDS/TTIP means.  What effect would repealing the act have?
  4. Good idea with Free Schools.  Have always hated the words “Bedroom Tax”.  People probably shouldn’t have bigger houses than they need?
  5. State control of prices without state control of businesses seems like a mistake.
  6. Why Bankers’ Bonuses and not all Bonuses?  Bankers are not evil.
  7. Building homes is a good idea.
  8. How will guaranteed jobs work?  Sounds nice!
  9. The NHS is flawed as people are living so long, it can never have enough money. No idea what the answer is.
  10. Not sure what I think about renationalisation.  Can’t see it being a good idea, but don’t feel strongly.
  11. Raising the threshold for tax-free seems more sensible.

Would have been easier if he had numbered them!

Who to vote for?

With the election in 5 months, the media is all about the beginning of May, and not just because of my birthday (or even partly).  So who to vote for?

The public finances are in a bit of a state.  The massive deficit does seem to be a bit of a problem, as it does mean that a lot of taxes go to servicing debt.  Gordon Brown did talk about the economic cycle, but that didn’t seem to work.  So it would be nice to reduce the deficit.

Cuts are probably necessary, but wouldn’t have been necessary if Labour hadn’t made such profligate increases.  Belt-tightening only hurts if you are too large to start with.

So probably not Labour.  Though Anne Snelgrove seems to be a good egg, despite her too-political tweets.  But the negativity there might just be a necessary by-product of the political system, which is obviously flawed.  The worst except for all the others, possibly.

So Tory?  What’s wrong with voting Tory?  Rob Buckland seems to be doing a good job for Swindon in Parliament, but I do have a slight bias against white middle-class Oxbridge types (like me) because it would be nice for Parliament to be representative.

And voting Tory just seems wrong, to be honest.  Working in state education means a frequent anti-Tory union agenda, which is difficult to resist.  The Academy agenda just seems a bit unnecessary, and the changes to GCSEs etc are spectacularly ill-thought-through (can you double hyphenate?).  But if cuts are necessary, who else will implement them?

So are cuts necessary?  Could tax rises work instead?  Obviously getting large international corporations to pay tax would be a good idea, but everyone wants to do that and no-one seems able.  High tax on ridiculously large incomes (£2m+?) seems like a good idea, as do crazy things like a maximum wage as well as a minimum wage, so maybe that means I should vote Green.  But they will never win in Swindon, where it’s a two-horse race.  Or maybe not this time round, if UKIP rock the boat and the Green surge continues.

I would also find it very difficult to vote Green because of the name, and that I don’t especially buy into the Green agenda.  I believe in climate change (because I’m sane) but until India, China and the US start changing their behaviour it won’t make a huge amount of difference for the UK to do so. So I’ll recycle, but I won’t get solar panels (or whatever the international metaphor is).

Speaking of wasted votes, there is then the economic problem that the difference one vote can make is miniscule, and it is very difficult to decide who to vote for, so it takes a lot of energy reading manifestos etc, which in economic terms is irrational because the difference you can make is much less than the energy required.  So there are better ways of making a difference, and hopefully I do some of them (like, erm, teaching…).

But to vote is good!  So the sensible thing to do is to find someone you trust, and ask them who to vote for.  But I am yet to be convinced by anyone’s arguments.

Would like to be convinced.  Go on, convince me.