The Thick of It


Thursday, February 18, 2010

"A different type of people"

According to Tory MP Nicholas Winterton "a different type of people travel in standard class on trains." That would be people like me. Apparently standard class is noisy and full of people spying on each other

David Mellor said after being attacked by Ann and Nicholas Winterton about his affair in 1992, that "Being attacked by the Wintertons always brings the rest of the party behind you." Perhaps Winterton has always been an outsider. His comments mean that he should remain so and it is a good thing that he is standing down after the election. His comments and attitude is unhelpful for politics at a time when public confidence in politicians has hit a low after the expenses scandal. His attitude to the public shows a desire for the deferential politics of yonder. Good riddance.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Electioneering on Google Maps

The Brighton Argus has started an interactive Google Map, inviting readers to mark where they have seen local parliamentary candidates campaigning and what they said, if they spoke to them. This is a great way of showing how much campaigning is actually going on and how active each of the candidates is. What it is likely to show is how each party focuses their campaign on different parts of the Brighton Pavillion seat. Each party will be focused on getting out their voters. I'm going to be interested to see if all of the three main parties, plus the greens, are targeting the same areas.

Do politicians respond well to being tracked down? The recent re-launch of Eye Spy MP on Twitter caused a minor stir after the complaints from MPs about the original incarnation, Parliament Spy, were aired in the Telegraph. It mirrors those occasionally amusing and rather pointless spots of celebrities the public send in to trashy mags: "I saw Cassandra from Only Fools and Horses in Highbury Fields." That I actually did see. There is certainly a place for the cheeky anonymous posts and I enjoy reading them.

The politicians may not like it, but this is a great example of tracking political campaigns and I'd be keen to see this rolled out. From a campaigning perspective it provides fantastic intelligence on the opposition's activities.

Something for nothing? The London Evening Standard to begin charging again

This post first appeared on the Metrica blog, Measurement Matters

It has emerged that the Evening Standard is to charge again, for newspapers sold in the outer suburbs of London, having been free since August 2009. Is this a minor distribution shift or does it signal the end of free evening newspapers in the capital? 

London’s streets were littered with celebrity focused free-sheets every evening between 2006 and summer 2009. This resulted from a “war” between Rupert Murdoch’s News International, incarnated by thelondonpaper and Associated Newspapers’ LondonLite. This phenomenon ended after Associated sold theEvening Standard to ex-KGB officer, Alexander Lebedev and Rupert Murdoch embarked on his paid-for content crusade.The title then shifted its positioning from being London’s paid for (self proclaimed) “quality daily”, became free itself and took back the London evening monopoly it had enjoyed for decades.

Distribution soared to over 600,000 copies a day after the cover price was dropped. This is more than double the paid-for circulation. There have since been murmurings that customers in the suburbs had complained that theycould nolonger get hold of the newspaper, as distribution networks focused on central London after the title was given away free. It appears that this move is a response to those demands.

Further details of the Evening Standard’s plans are yet to emerge; though it is clear that charging for suburban copies covers the additional distribution costs. On a grander scale, does the shift to charging suggest that the title is again to become paid for across London? Cynics might expect that this is exactly the plan having seen off the free-sheet competition. I’d suggest otherwise, as Steve Busfield, Editor of, outlines:

“Once Associated Newspapers no longer owned the Standard, it no longer made sense (if it ever did) for it to be fighting a free paper war with News International. Thus London Lite closed. Over at NI, thelondonpaper was costing a lot of money and it didn't really fit in with the Murdochian paywall philosophy.”

The market has opened up for the Evening Standard, giving it the opportunity to experiment with different charging models, while maintaining a monopoly. That the paper is to launch a free mobileapp, granting free access to its content online would indicate that the free model will be maintained. The Standard would not be about to undermine its hard copy mainstay. Editor Geordie Grieg told last year’s AMEC Awards that the paper would have gone under if it had not gone free.

Charging in some parts of London offers the Evening Standard anopportunity to widen distribution and little more. It is interesting to notethat a quick search of Twitter today shows far more interest in the Standard’s new mobile app than the return of charging. Customers in the outer London suburbs will soon be able to readtheir evening newspaper for free with a phone app, inferring that charging for paper copies in outer London could be a short lived experiment. It also supports the idea that newspapers can best survive by diversifying and embracing technology.

People are always more interested in something for nothing. It is clear that the London Evening Standard is committed to the free model. This poses serious questions to Murdoch’s commitment to the alternative, something for something, paid-for model. 

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Nick Clegg campaigns to save Kingston Hospital: AFTER the "plan" was exposed as a Lib Dem lie

Nick Clegg has given an exclusive interview to the Hounslow Chronicle defending SW London Lib Dem MPs for campaigning against its closure. It is a shame for him that earlier this week Southwark Lib Dem Political Assistant Dan Falchikov was outed by the Daily Mirror's political editor Kevin McGuire as having boasted into his mobile phone, while on a train, about making the whole thing up.  Labour candidate Max Freedman has the whole story at Labour List

Great to hear Clegg state: "Susan (Kramer) and Ed (Davey) are absolutely right to bring this issue out in the open." Shame that it was made up by one of their activists isn't it? Many voters see the Lib Dems as the "friendly party", one they can trust as being outside the political mud-slinging of the two main parties. This shows that they will resort to the dirty and dishonest, feeding lies to major newspapers and even allowing their leader to become embroiled in the row. 

That the Hounslow article should come out now is embarrassing and makes Clegg and his team look very silly indeed. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

George Osborne: it was acceptable in the 80s

George Osbourne's speech today outlining the Tory economic plans should they win power suggests they are looking to reprise many of the economic policies of the 1980s. 

Specifically, the Tory plans to raise the private sector's share of the economy in all regions means only one thing: less government spending. Less government spending means fewer public services. While all parties agree that public borrowing (and spending) needs to be reigned in, it should not be ignored that public spending has helped reduce the impact of the recession. Cutting it severely and quickly could put the recovery back. 

The Conservative Party are recycling the rhetoric of the 1980s. Yet even then, a Thatcher government that regularly espoused a desire to cut public spending, failed to do so. David Blanchflower, Former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee recently asked: "how exactly are the policies of the 1970s and 1980s relevant this time round...these are one-size-fits-all economic policies, and are out of place and out of time." Blanchflower later quotes Nobel Prize winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, neither of whom think public spending should be cut now. 

If the Tories really are serious about being a serious government, they will need some serious and credible policies. Osbourne's speech today failed to deliver. Perhaps that is why the Tory poll lead has come down to seven points, pointing at a hung parliament? Many voters may have fallen out of love with Labour, but they are far from convinced by the Tories and their lack of ideas.