Election Time in Southampton

Posted on May 5, 2010 by

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The UK will hold one of its most hotly contested General Elections ever tomorrow, with parts of Southampton potentially crucial in tipping the balance between the parties.  In this article, the Dolphin’s Blowhole will give you a run-down on some of the candidates for our city, and issues surrounding this election.

Southampton North and Romsey is a newly created Constituency in this election, which takes the former Romsey sat and expands into Southampton into Swaythling and parts of Highfield.  This is the 6th most marginal seat in the country, with the incumbent Lib Dem Sandra Gidley having a majority of only 0.2% – it is being heavily targeted by the Conservative Caroline Nokes.  Sandra is a relatively approachable MP who generally is open to discussion on issues (such as around the environment), but has had her own recent expenses scandal.  If you live in this area, your vote is statistically worth more than 4 times the national average in terms of being able to effect the result.  Students could hold the balance here, with the Lib Dems promising to remove top up fees (although whether this can now happen with the defecit is unforunately waning in possibility).

In contrast, the rest of Southampton are relatively safe for Labour, with a 17% majority for Alan Whitehead in Test and Itchen being considered very safe for John Denham (secretary of state for families etc.).  In Test Alan is being challenged by Jeremy Moulton of the Tories, Dave Callaghan of the Lib Dems, Chris Bluemel of the Greens and Pearline Hingston of UKIP.  Alan’s record is pretty good, having been an effective head of the city council in the past and even president of the students union at southampton, and is generally open to discourse with residents.  In parliament he focuses on campaigning on energy and climate issues, and has secured fairer payments for micro-generation in households and campaigns for fairer energy metering.  He didn’t come off too badly in the expenses scandal, and he even rebelled against the party line on Trident and the Iraq War, but has toed the line elsewhere for example on ID cards.  Indeed, despite Alan being a nice guy and campaigning for noble causes, being part of the New Labour machine leaves an unsavoury taste in the mouth considering their record.  Those looking for an alternative on the left might consider the Lib Dems or Greens, although Callaghan is confusingly standing for local elections in London as well.  Chris Bluemel of the Greens is certainly a decent guy who stands by his convictions, having also led the local Friends of the Earth group for years and is deeply involved in activism, but realistically in a safe seat is not going to make headway in this system.

On the right, Tory candidate Moulton has claimed to be on side with the local community and a representative of the tories message of  ‘change’ and big society, but residents in Portswood will know him more for his frosty reception to the proposed local community garden (which Whitehead supports).  Indeed, crucial soil survey reports needed to proceed with the project have been delayed in being given to the NBSP residents group for over 3 months, which has led some campaigners to fear that it may have been delayed by Moulton (who is the councillor in charge of looking after this project due to issues with valuable land for the council) in order to be released after the election in case it angers residents enough to swing the vote against him.  This is of course hearsay and might not be true, but The Blowhole wonders if this Tory really stands by this community (as he claims in his leaflets) and for ‘big society’ in general, when such a beneficial project for the local community is delayed over short-term money issues and potentially manipulated for political gain.  Lastly, for UKIP the candidate is somewhat confusingly a Black Jamaican Woman, standing for a party promising to halt all immigration to the UK for at least 10 years – perhaps somewhat hypocritical we wonder?  But then the party has consistently proven to be a tad odd, what with conspiracy claims over climate and promising to replace all trains with steam engines.  At least we have our alternative to the Monster Raving Looney Party (who sadly aren’t standing here).

In Southampton Itchen, the situation is even worse, with incumbent John Denham sitting on a majority of 21.5% and consistently toeing the New Labour line as an unquestioning minister.  Alternative left votes here can go to the respectable John Spottiswoode of the Greens or Tim Cutter of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, who represent a true socialist tradition unlike New Labour.  However, the majority here makes anyone here but Denham unlikely to succeed, with even Tory Royston Smith unlikely to make headway or David Goodall of the Lib Dems.  Test could potentially fall if both tories and lib dems make a large headway, and the seat was tory until 1997, but national polls suggest this won’t be the case – the tories need a 6ish% swing for a majority, and Whitehead is on 17…  Somewhat unsavourly, Itchen has had in the past one of the biggest votes for a far-right party too, with over 20% going to the ultra-nationalist National Democrat Party in 1970, although this was likely to have been a protest vote against the seat being held by the Speaker of the Commons and so otherwise uncontested.  Luckily, no far-right parties are standing here, due to low BNP activity (rumoured to be due to an incident involving their local activists and poor quality drugs…)

Indeed, all of these seats show the startling differences that different votes can make in our current electoral system.  Someone in Southampton North has one of the most valuable votes in the country, whereas just down the road that vote is nearly worthless in Test and especially Itchen.  Up the road a vote can be truly counted, whereas down the road that vote is prety much just a protest vote, and potentially more useful as loo paper.  And yet this is our so celebrated democracy, so democratic that every 5 years or so we can cast a next to meaningless vote depending on where we happen to end up living.  And they wonder why so many people are so apathetic.

The worrying thing is that so many people see this and still pretend that this is the peak of democracy, and become convinced that this is the only way to make ourselves heard and make a difference.  That might be more so the case in Southampton North, but in safe seats this looks ever more ludicrous – in Southampton North there can be democracy, in the South there is not.  Even with the marginal North seat, the position that this is the only way to make a difference is also dangerous, as it convinces people of that fact and neuters local political action on a community level.  The changes we need in society to help humanity change and survive are so far from what is being discussed in this election that from an objective viewpoint it becomes ludicrous, even laughable.  Where’s the discussion on increasing inequality?  The issue of endless economic growth?  Climate Change?  Imminent Energy decline?  Consumerism and Happiness?  Privatisation of the welfare state?  War?

Whoever wins this election will have to cut the deficit any way they can, with the deficit approaching twice the painful levels in the early 90s.  The cuts to the welfare state will strike potentially fatal blows, and your taxes will rise to chronic levels.  There will be poverty and strife.  Inequality will grow.  The environment will continue to suffer.  The energy crisis will strike without preparation.  We will suffer.  Will they listen to us then?  Take a bet…

Closer to the truth than we'd like to admit...

So,  reader of The Dolphin’s Blowhole, we leave you with this.  Vote in the election if you feel you can make a difference, especially in Southampton North – there might be a slightly different political landscape as a result.  For those of you in Test and Itchen, vote if you feel like it, but don’t be shocked if the seats remain unchanged.  But remember this – they’re all a million miles from what really needs to happen to make society fair, sustainable and happy for all.  If you vote or choose not to, remember that we all need to participate far more in society if this change can happen before the unfolding crises we face engulf us.  Participate in your local community, become activists, join transition groups, help forge a real politics, democracy and economy away from the ivory towers in London.  You can make a difference, but it goes far beyond the ballot box.

“Our Dreams don’t fit on your Ballots”

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Posted in: Comment, News, Southampton, UK