I was drawn by this article in the Guardian on the Report by the Commission of Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society on taxing 'churnalism' . Local newspapers with primary news gathering operations do have some rights when the stories they acquire are syndicated or distributed worldwide and there is a case for some financial payback. A tax or levy on Google would redistribute revenues but since four publishers contol 70% of local and regional press, what guarantees are there that it would be used to finance the regional newspaper as opposed to central overheads. It will be interesting to see how the arguments on 'philanthropic journalism' used to finance the Huffington Post will develop and elicit a change in Charity Law to allow public benefit news gathering in the UK. There is no reason why this model might not help ailing local papers in the UK.
The grapevine said a few weeks ago the Lib Dems were busy doing a spot of phone canvassing, actually they had phoned a member of my campaign team who surrepticiously told them many of the things they wanted to hear.
Now last week they phoned a bit closer to home, literally! My mother got a call and was rather blunt on the phone. If you know that I am the Plaid Cymru candidate, Penri James, Taigwynion, Llandre it doesn't take much deduction to conclude that other James' with a similar address and postcode might be related. Obviously no local knowledge available and any research absent. One of the Lib Dem staffers lives in Llandre and should know, however in traditional Lib Dem style he is renowned for being reclusive.
On the same night my wife got a call, I had mentioned that this was happening and she had the foresight to note down the content of the call. It was a female Lib Dem campaign worker on the phone and the conversation went something like this:-
[LibDem] Hello I am phoning on behalf of Mark Williams your local MP. Phoning to see whether he can get your support in the election
[My Wife] Possibly - Could you give me a reason why I should vote for Mark Williams
[LibDem] Mark Williams is local and is working hard on your behalf and has not been caught up in the expenses scandal. He is very productive.
[My Wife] I am glad to hear - Can you give me one example of something he has done or achieved since becoming an MP?
[LibDem] ......well I am sorry I am afraid I can't.......... but I can send you some literature if you want
[My Wife] Yes I have received some literature but if you want to send some more you can do so. You said Mark Williams was local are you local yourself?
[LibDem] .....I am very sorry but I am not local. I am from Cardiff. I am phoning from Lib Dem Central Office in Cardiff. We have a 3 pronged system and we are phone canvassing from here to get a feel of where we are. Mark Williams is always in the local newspaper
[My Wife] Yes he certainly is
[LibDem] and he is good with people in home care and also people with cancer. Can we hope for your support?
[My Wife] Well I would like to know more because I want to vote for the best candidate
[LibDem] I am very sorry I can't answer your questions but I will make sure we send you something...
Just in case you are worried, my wife is not doing a Sam Cam impersonation, she will be voting for me! If you are describing on the phone how productive an MP is, it opens the conversation for a question on an example. Its a disaster when an example cannot be found.
In addition my eldest son, who is at University, received a letter from the Lib Dems outlining their pensions policy. It is important to consider pensions from an early age but its not high on a 19yr old's list of priorities. Since my son and I share a name, surname and address its not rocket science to work out that he might be related.
This week it was Mark Williams' turn for free publicity in the Cambrian News with his regular political column, it didn't appear. Its not the first time in recent months he has missed the deadline and lost his turn. With such an opportunity for unanswered propoganda it seems strange for it to happen.
What does this tell us all? It seems the Lib Dems are doing a lot of distance canvassing but their local information is not particularly good, the blunderbuss has come out of the gunstore rather than a more precise weapon and targetting is a bit slap dash. Despite having at least 3 staff on the taxpayer's payroll things are not being done, are they regretting having 2 of the staff as County Councillors and Town Mayors at the same time? Both now appear to be pyhrric victories especially if Mark Williams loses his seat in Parliament. I for one cannot believe how disorganised they seem to be! Mind you they could be running a cunning plan to deceive.....
Perhaps it could only happen in Tregaron but I was out there today canvassing with Elin Jones AM, Minister for Rural Affairs. A Zetor tractor passes with 6 big bags of sheep concentrate on the towed trailer; farmer parks the tractor, still running on the side of the street, and enters a lucid, well informed discussion with Elin on Glastir. How many other Ministers could be engaged in such an ad hoc discussion? Says a lot about the accessibility of Welsh Assembly Government Ministers, Elin and politics in Ceredigion. Absolutely wonderful and really how it should be. Made my day!
I often ask myself how elected members can say one thing one month, then assuming we have forgotten, say something totally different later on. In September 09 Nick Clegg said that 'savage cuts' were required then today said he will not 'will not back early cuts'. Savage means brutal or painful cuts done more or less immediately yet now Nick Clegg has changed his mind. We don't know where we stand with Lib Dem populism!
The BBC has many critics including myself; in its London centric guise it portrays a one nation view of Britain with which I have great difficulty. We are not a collection of Britons (defn-ones who live on the British Isles) with one language, one view of life, one view of politics and an unswerving loyalty to all British institutions. Thankfully that Reithian viewpoint has largely disappeared although it does manifest itself on occasion, I will not give obvious examples but it doesn't take much thinking to find a few.
However with BBC News, web reporting, radio, current affairs, documentaries and drama it does provide a standard quality that is precious. Attacks on the BBC by Tories and News International hide a deeper end game, break up the BBC on the grounds that is is adversely affecting commercial activity, sell it off and allow News International to start charging for access to news. Do we really want to have the viperous news reporting synonymous with the Fox News Channel? I think not. Progressive politicians at Westminster post General Election will have a fight on their hands to defend the public right to unbiased reporting and broadcasting quality in the face of a reactionary right wing Conservative Party in debt to Murdoch for delivering an election victory.
I spent the day canvassing in Cardigan and came across some Labour quarry to test whether Peter Hain's plea to the progressives works in the other direction. I asked a long standing Labour candidate/agent and also a sister of a sitting Labour AM whether they would in a seat like Ceredigion - where Labour will be lucky to keep their deposit - vote for the only progressive Party (Plaid Cymru). Surprise, surprise the answer was no! Tactical voting is only good when it benefits Labour, so say the Labour rank and file. It was good fun asking them!