Wanted : Politicians

As a kid I was quite interested in political debate and discussion. I’m no activist – I’ve never carried a placard and I only enjoy rallies if they have fast cars, but I did have fairly well-formed views on current affairs and would argue the toss until the cows came home. From being 18 right up to the General Election of 1997 I voted at every opportunity.

It was in 1997, when everyone around me was repeating the “time for change” mantra that I realised that I wasn’t going to vote. Not because I didn’t have strong views and beliefs, but because there wasn’t a single name on the ballot paper that came close to representing them. I remember driving to work and feeling quite odd that I wasn’t part of this great mood of expectation. I didn’t want New Labour in power and I equally wanted the Conservatives to lose.

Wind forward to 2009 and the European Elections. Living in Barnsley it really doesn’t make a fig of difference who you vote for so it’s quite hard to motivate yourself to bother, even if you do live 200 yards from the polling station. But although I hadn’t cast a vote in the last 15 years and I was more despairing of the political choices than ever, I was moved out of my armchair by the presence of the BNP.

The polling station is in the church next door to my daughter’s school and I took her with me to vote. As a bright and ever-so-slightly gobby six year old, she wanted to know who we wanted to win. I told her I wasn’t sure yet. We stood outside and studied the options. We went inside and studied the options. I picked up the pen and mentally ticked off all the people I couldn’t possibly vote for. In the end, I put a cross in a box. I didn’t vote BNP and so, above all else, I wasn’t the “one in six”. It was hardly a positive vote in favour of anything and I really struggled to explain it all to the wide-eyed kid who was asking me simple questions.

Since then I’ve thought a lot more about politics again. I now know a few things…

I cannot possibly vote for this Prime Minister. Brown cannot lead, cannot accept responsibility, cannot listen to the people he appoints, cannot listen to the people at all. He steadfastly refuses to be swayed by all opinion, right up to the moment where he does a total U-turn.

I cannot vote for the current Labour Party. They are steadily taking away our liberties and hiding behind the ‘war on terror’. They are spending a huge sum of money on an irrelevant nuclear deterrent, funding worthless quangos and giving jobs to GOATs, Mandelson and the rest of their ever expanding clique. New Labour has totally trashed the British political scene, undermining parliament and avoiding debate wherever possible.

I cannot vote Conservative. They have repeatedly leapt on the nearest bandwagon without any real policies or long-term vision. Their hunt for power is reminiscent of New Labour in the mid-nineties – desperately shedding any policies that look too “old Tory” whilst keeping just enough Thatcherism to keep the grass roots happy. They will win the next election because they will be effectively unopposed. I can’t say if that will be a bad thing; I don’t know what they plan to do.

I cannot vote Liberal Democrat. They have a refreshing honesty about their policies and are quite likeable. I like (wihout any deep analysis) the cut of their jib on environmental policy and I am, by nature, a ‘small L’ liberal. However, as an organisation they are hardly an inspiring machine and it’s hard to see Clegg, Cable and the other one whose name escapes me making a big impression on global politics.

So who can I vote for? The truth is, there is nobody out there for me to vote for. The centre-left has failed spectacularly when it could have achieved so much. Failure to engage in honest debates with people (and I mean real debate with real people, not courting the media and finely polishing presentations) has led New Labour into

  • a phoney war, with false objectives and no exit plan
  • economic meltdown which followed years of missed Treasury forecasts on growth and borrowing, not to mention endless independent comment that the economy was overblown which Gordon Brown steadfastly refused to listen to
  • an expenses crisis borne from fear of open debate on MP’s earnings
  • falling educational achievement (despite rising GCSE grades) due to obsession with league tables and measurement
  • countless unresolved scandals – Ecclestone, cash for questions, the dodgy dossier

So now we have a pretty stark choice ahead. The far right obscenity that is the BNP or the opaque if not invisible Conservative manifesto. My personal politics are probably more ‘left wing’ than they have ever been before but the Labour party has made itself unelectable.

So, we need someone to turn the tide. Who is going to stand up and apologise for the mistakes of the past, present their ideas for the future and argue their case in the face of dissent? That’s the politics I want to see. I might disagree with you on a lot of things but you’ll probably still get my vote.

Google StreetView just saved me hours…

Much has been said about Google Streetview; it’s an invasion of privacy, it’s utterly pointless etc etc.  Well today we used it at work and it saved us a huge number of man hours.

We are currently working with a UK council to digitise their waste collection service, starting from entirely manual systems.  Before we can do the really clever bits we need to get a firm grip on the basic layout of the territory, who has what bins etc etc.  It sounds real easy, but you soon realise that whilst the great majority of premises are straightforward (house with 1 black bin and 1 green bin) there are lots of exceptions which don’t follow the norm

  • blocks of flats where dozens of ‘dwellings’ share a communal bin store
  • premises above shops
  • sub-divided houses
  • commercial premises

and the list goes on…

Asphaltic concrete road in Thailand

Today we were looking at these exceptions and trying to get a grip on exactly how many of these exceptions there are, and what the actual situation was.  It was a planning meeting to work out exactly what data was available and what needed to be done to get the computer systems to reflect reality.

This time last year, one or more of us would have spent half a day plotting some representative locations on a map then another day visiting each one and taking photographs.  Then a few hours documenting it all and presenting it back to the team.

Today, we gathered around the laptop and used Streetview to look around a few locations and survey how the bins were stored.  We found some in the middle of the road (!), some where several blocks of flats shared one or more different bin stores etc.  We did the whole thing in about 30 minutes and cut the ‘decision time’ from a week to an hour.  Pretty cool.

Sony Xperia X1

I wrote recently about my dream smartphone, wondering if it would every really exist. A friend just sent me info on this gorgeous wee beast. I’m a self-confessed Sony fan and I reckon this would just about fit the bill perfectly. It will no doubt be priced for its target market (i.e. pretty high).

In my view, Apple have really missed a trick by locking the iPhone into a single-network contract. This effectively closes a large section of the corporate market, where the execs want a stylish and powerful tool for email and web – exactly what the iPhone is good at. If Sony deliver a device that works they will be on a real winner with this. Putting a stylish user interface on the front of Windows Mobile 6 could be an inspired move that lets big corporates run their own software without making the X1 a dull business-only tool.

I want one….

I Don’t Want a German Car

As a rule, I dislike making the obvious choice. It’s much more interesting to do something a bit unexpected, particularly when buying stuff. At home I run Windows on a Mac, I bought a PS3 at a time when all rational folk were buying Wiis and X-Boxes and my company car (mostly used for long-haul motorway driving) is a pick-up truck.

With the exception of the latter, these choices have all come good. The Mac is stable, fast and switches easily between Vista and OS X. It serves all the media throughout the house without complaint. Sony have finally won a format war after 30 years of glorious failures and have continuously updated the PS3 to the point where it does absolutely everything I could want (OK, a proper music library and slightly less fussy MP4 playback would be nice).

Even the truck, a stinking pile of unreliable Japanese tat that will be subject of a future article, has done what I asked it to – that is, get me from where I am to where I’m going (and usually, but not always) back again for £500 tax including fuel in Year 1 and £1400 in Year 2. But the 2 years are up and it’s time to change. So I’ve been looking for an interesting car – something that can quietly match the undoubted quality of the BMW 5 and Audi A6 without being the default choice.

The bad news is, there is only choice for any sane company car driver. It is cheaper to run as a company car than any competitor (and by a country mile), is faster, handles better and rides comfortably. If it had the seats from a Volvo V70 and the leather didn’t look so plasticky (so much so that I’ve chosen cloth) then it would probably be utterly faultless.

So if you want a exec company car but don’t want a BMW 5 Series I’ve got bad news. Whatever you do choose is going to be more expensive, slower and handle worse than the car you should have bought. And unless you buy the V70, it will be less comfortable too.