Luton Arts Festival – 29 April to 3 May

The rebranded Luton Arts Festival has published details of this year’s programme and launched its website this week.

The festival is organised by the University of Bedfordshire and is:

“a celebration of all things artistic and cultural in Luton. It strives to bring together students, local community members and national and international artists and performers work and showcase it to the people of Luton.”

More details can be found at the Luton Arts Festival website.

Will you be voting Labservative in this election?

The Labservative party launched their “unnecessary re-election campaign” yesterday.

After 65 years of continuous government the Labservatives expect to be back in for another five years.

You can visit the party’s website here, www.labservative.com, and watch a video message from their leader, Gorvid Camerown, below:

What is all this?

Only the best campaign idea the Liberal Democrats have had since “a penny on income tax”. Watch Nick Clegg explain.

Luton South is a key seat according to Twitter

Luton South will be a key seat in the general election if an analysis of the activity associated with it on Twitter is correct.

The people behind the political ‘tweet’ aggregator Tweetminster are conducting an experiment to see whether “activity on Twitter correlates to electoral success”. They explain their experiment like this;

“Our inspiration for this experiment comes from last year’s General Election in Japan, when a group of software engineers and PhD graduates from Tokyo University undertook a study analysing the correlation between ‘online buzz’ and election results. The aim of the study was to assess if word-of-mouth mentions of candidates could help to predict which ones would be successful. The study found that in a majority of constituencies the most mentioned candidate won the seat ….

We thought it would be interesting to run a similar experiment to the Japanese study in the UK using Twitter. From now until the election we will be tracking the most mentioned (i.e. posts and conversations about) constituencies and candidates on Twitter and using this data we will try to map the correlation between buzz, word-of-mouth and the eventual election results through a predictive model.”

In their initial analysis they have identified a number of key battlegrounds defined as seats where the difference between mentions of candidates is 20% or less. They have included Luton South as one of a handful of seats where there is “the narrowest margins between the various parties contesting them”. Is this an indication of how competitive the seat has become and how hard the parties are campaigning?

You can follow Liberal Democrat candidate Qurban Hussain on Twitter.

BNP candidates to stand in Luton

Just a quick factual post on this as I need to update my list of candidates for Luton South but I want to give the fascists as little publicity as I can get away with.

The British National Party has announced that it will be standing candidates in both constituencies in Luton in the general election. Their candidate for Luton South will be Tony Blakey, which brings the total number of declared candidates in the constituency to ten.

More debate at the Luton South small business hustings

At the same time as “the Chancellors” were making their arguments on Channel 4 this evening, in the Riverside Conference Centre in Luton the candidates for Luton South were also debating the issues in front of a business audience.

The local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses had organised a hustings for tonight. My spies report back to me that, while Vince Cable was the clear winner in London, things were a lot closer here in Luton. I am told that the meeting was well attended and that all the candidates put on a good performance but with no one appearing to stand out. One curious thing was that while the candidates from the three main parties and the independents were given space on the platform, the candidates for UKIP and the Green Party were relegated to seats in the audience.

The most challenging question I am told was – if this election was taking place under the alternative vote system, of the other candidates, who would be your second choice?

Liberal Democrat candidate Qurban Hussain and Tory Nigel Huddleston both answered with a defence of party politics, saying that they would prefer to vote for another party politician than an independent. Esther Rantzen said that she would make up her mind at the end of the campaign. Stephen Rhodes said that he would back fellow independent Joe Hall as his second choice. However, Joe Hall said that he would give his second choice to Qurban Hussain and the Liberal Democrats. Sensible man!

A quick response to Channel 4′s “Meet the Chancellors”

A quick initial reaction to tonight’s Channel 4 debate between “the Chancellors”, with a more considered response, possibly, to follow.

Alistair Darling performed about as well as I expected. He got across the “we can get through this if you stick with us” schtick reasonably well. No great blunders, landed a few hits on George Osborne, but wasn’t terribly exciting.

George Osborne performed worse than I expected. Some of his answers were very weak and he had a curiously flat delivery. The only real emotional impact was his reaction to Vince Cable skewering him on his inheritance tax cut for millionaires.

Vince Cable performed better than I expected. (Hooray!) A very good all round performance. Landed solid blows on both Osborne and Darling. He had the highest ratio of directly answering the question and by far the best audience reactions. He also delivered the best, and most political, closing statement.

Vince was clearly the winner, Darling second, and Osborne third.

In terms of substance I offer two observations. First, that banking and reform of the financial services is and will remain a hot political issue. The audience reactions tonight confirm my view that voters are willing to listen and react to debates about what to do with the bankers. While Vince was very good on this, with much the clearer and more authoritative answers, I don’t think that any of the three main political parties have yet exploited this issue as much as they could. This, as they say, will run and run.

Second, a strange and somewhat uncomfortable consensus seems to be developing about the role of the state within the economy. A key moment for me was when, in answer to the student worried about unemployment, George Osborne said something along the lines of “I wish you well in your job search – but the government can help.”. Remember, that’s the Tory shadow chancellor. No Tebbit style “get on your bike” here. The role of government intervention and industrial policy will be a key part of the political agenda over the next decade.

Conclusion? Go Vince!

It gets worse: More Moran sleaze

The Mail on Sunday has a story today, based on unbroadcast claims that Luton South MP Margaret Moran made to the undercover operation by the Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme, that paints her in an even worse light. If that is possible.

“A disgraced Labour MP has boasted she used a private company based at the Commons to change immigration policy to allow cheap workers to be brought in from India.

Luton MP Margaret Moran said her chairmanship of the company helped her to ‘influence’ Cabinet Minister Liam Byrne – whom she described as ‘one of those people that makes things happen’ – and Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz, who she said ‘owes me one’.”

Read more here: ‘MPs and Peers run private company selling ‘influence over Government policy’ as multinationals pay to join parliamentary IT lobby group

Qurban Hussain’s campaign highlighted by Lib Dems nationally

It is a measure of how seriously the Liberal Democrats are taking Qurban Hussain’s campaign for Luton South at a national level that the following banner link to his website was highlighted in the regular national general election email newsletter that the party is sending out:

You can read the whole newsletter here and sign up to receive future ones here.

Guardian’s regional election guides highlight Luton South

This weekend The Guardian have published a series of regional guides to the general election battlegrounds. While they are not bad at giving a broad overview for the non-politico, I found them superficial and with a rather negative take on the prospects for the Liberal Democrats.

I also found the “Star of the future” element a little curious. Apparently achieving political “stardom” is to be equated with gaining ministerial office. This shows a very narrow view of what achievement in politics is about.

But my real gripe is that in the guide to the Eastern region they pick out Luton South as a “Key seat” – but in the description completely fail to mention the Liberal Democrats. Labour, the Tories and Esther are mentioned, but not the party that has councillors in half the constituency. More journalistic ignorance.

Parliamentary Standards Commissioner reopens inquiry into Margaret Moran

Yesterday the Parliamentary Standards Commission announced that it had reopened its inquiry into whether the MP for Luton South, Margaret Moran, has breached the MPs’ Code of Conduct. A spokesperson said:

“It was suspended on medical advice but has now resumed.”

You can read more here.

Channel 4 News asks “Is Luton broken?”

It has taken me a little while to write about this week’s Channel 4 News report where Jon Snow visited the town to ask if Luton is emblematic of broken Britain. This is partly because I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.

I think the report was an honest and accurate picture of the issues faced by the town and the attitudes of many residents to those challenges. Maybe it gave a slightly too negative picture. There are lots of positives about Luton that I could point to that weren’t covered. Yet in saying that, I am wary of appearing to want to wish away the very real difficulties that we face. I think the real problem is that the report raised more questions than it answered.

As a local politician and councillor it is good to have such a salutary reminder of just how big the challenges are. It is also good to be brought up short by just how much the political discourse I see in the town seems so divorced from the reality that Luton’s people face. In particular, the antics of Margaret Moran and the clashing egos of those parliamentary candidates that I have been writing about on this blog over the last few weeks seems a world away from the realities depicted in the Channel 4 news report.

Anyway, watch the report and see what you make of it;

Budget reaction: Labour writes off the West Country

The Labour Party, aware that in the South West the General Election is a battle between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, have decided to write off that part of the country in the coming campaign. Well, how else do you explain the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, singling out cider for a 10% rise in duty?

There are reports that, in doing so he as upset The Wurzels, who have issued a statement;

“We are all very upset that scrumpy cider, being one of the few pleasures that we cherish down here on the farm in the West Country, is being hit by such a tax rise.”

What is conference like?

I thought I’d share with you this film by Jonathan Wallace giving a taste of what attending a Lib Dem conference is like. I thought it was a very good reflection of all the different aspects of our conferences and very useful for someone thinking of going to get a falvour of what it is all about. It is presented by Chris Huhne MP.

Qurban Hussain comments on Moran’s suspension

Liberal Democrat PPC for Luton South, Qurban Hussain, has commented on Margaret Moran’s suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party following last night’s Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ programme;

“The Labour party think that banning her from standing again is ‘tough action’. This ‘tough’ action has allowed for her to claim another year’s salary while not doing the job we pay her to do. The programme revealed she has not voted once since May meaning that the voice of local residents has not been heard since then.

Margaret Moran will collect a £54,000 bonus on election day on top of her £64,000 salary from this year. This isn’t fair, right or defensible.

I am sure the people of Luton South will remember on election day that the Luton Labour party failed to speak up for them and call for Ms. Moran to resign.”

You can read the statements in full on the Luton Liberal Democrats website.

Margaret Moran suspended by the Parliamentary Labour Party

As part of the fall out from last night’s Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ programme, Luton South MP Margaret Moran has been chucked out of the Labour Party in Parliament.

The BBC reports;

“Ms Moran, already deselected by Labour as an election candidate following revelations over her expenses, has been suspended by the Parliamentary Labour Party.”

Should have happened ages ago.