Thursday, 25 May 2017

Parliamentary Party Candidate Leaflet Analysis For the 2017 General Election: Lincoln

It's taken a while but this afternoon I finally received the third of the mainstream party candidate's leaflet through the post, which has given me the impetus to analyse and evaluate them in terms of layout, policy ideas/vision, candidate backstory and then see whether it has helped clear up the questions that I posed in my framework for choosing a party and candidate ready for June 8th.

Conservatives: Mr Karl McCartney JP

First thoughts:
Well thought out layout with easy access to contact details and good use of visual media. All focused on past achievements and a shame the leaflet was printed in Sheffield!

Good points:
Nobody can doubt Mr McCartney's commitment to the constituency in terms of improving local transport infrastructure. My Dad is pleased that the East-West Link Road has been completed and as a pedestrian who loves to shop, the High Street Footbridge is a positive addition because it allows me to not have to wait for the train to pass by before I can get into the central section of the High Street where Primark, H&M and New Look are located.

The testimonials offered in the leaflet are mostly convincing, especially from Mrs Barker, who thanks Mr McCartney for resolving issues with her mother's Pension Credit and Disability Living Allowance. Of course it is a shame that the Tories have decided to cut Personal Independence Payment (the new name for Disability Living Allowance) and take away 50,000 mobility cars from disabled people.

The stats used in the leaflet are positive; assisting 18,000 constituents with over 20,000 specific cases is a record most MPs would be proud of. It's also pleasing to see that according to the Tory leaflet 90% of schools in Lincoln are currently rated as “Good” or “Outstanding” by Ofsted and that crime is reported to be down by 19% (although there is a concern that street lighting coverage reductions may have led or could lead to more burglaries.

Mr McCartney's has helped to administer Lincoln Jobs Fair and supports National Apprenticeship Week and it's claimed that apprenticeships have increased by 6,960 in Lincoln alone since 2010. I'm not sure whether those who have been in those apprenticeships have found sustainable long-term employment in the area and also whether there has been an increase in apprenticeships offered to over 25's between 2010 and 2017.

Mr McCartney's does care about his constituents and promoting the constituency which is evident on his back page; thanking every person that has helped him “play a part in Lincoln's continuing success story” is a nice touch but I'd expect it from a candidate hoping to be re-elected on June 8th. 

Iffy points:

I'm immediately struck by the absence of a progressive vision (or any vision) in the Tories' main campaigning leaflet for this General Election. I personally think it's imprudent to rely on the past record of achievements alone. Apart from continuing to be active in trying to ensure a Hard Brexit happens and the declaration that the “funding for the Eastern Bypass is imminent”, there's no indication of what his vision or action plan for the future happens to be. That does put me off as a voter.

There's also no mention in the campaign leaflet of the NHS, the Environment, workers' rights and only a very passing reference to schools in a photograph caption. It's positive to see mention of apprenticeships and jobs fairs but voters in Lincoln care about other issues too.

I do wonder whether being part of the “Keep Sunday Special” campaign is that much of an achievement to me; I didn't mind the suggestion of extending opening hours, especially if it led to more weekend part-time jobs for college and uni students. I also did chuckle when I saw “large brown signs” used to describe heritage signs and wondered whether getting them erected on the A1 really was that much of an achievement. I'd need to see evidence that footfall in Lincoln businesses had improved as a direct result of the signs being erected before I'd classify it as an achievement.

The underachievement of boys in English classrooms is an important issue that we need to address. It's one action “highlighting” the issue in a newspaper and talking a bit about it “here and there” but there needs to be practical policies in place ….policies like perhaps reviewing the English Literature syllabus, encouraging more Fathers to read to their sons whilst they are at nursery/primary school. Instead Mr McCartney used his media opportunity to attack gender equality campaigners, calling them "the shrill equal pay brigade" because they don't celebrate the "traditional masculine roles they were born to do" (see more here: Playing back into gender stereotypes isn't going to solve the issue, Mr McCartney and I'm pretty sure that even intersectional feminists like me still think it's great that boys and girls alike can love cars or want to enter the construction industry when they are older. Boys are not being “mollycoddled” into failure by "denying traditional gender roles"! 

Finally there are some figures and statements on the back page that need to be clarified. Firstly, are there really 70,000 voters in Lincoln? There may be roughly 70,000 eligible/registered voters in the constituency (the recent figures for the 2017 Lincolnshire County Council elections in May showed that 62,557 people were registered to vote in the City of Lincoln itself but in the 2015 General Election 74, 012 people were registered to vote in that general election ... 
but as the 2015 General Election and EU Referendum figures prove, those 74,012 odd registered voters do not all vote. Plus there are constituents, such as my Mum, who cannot vote because she is a Norwegian citizen and 16 and 17 year olds who may have a strong desire to vote because they are politically engaged but cannot vote and will not be able to vote in the future because Prime Minister May refuses to lower the voting age. I also question the objective validity of your claim that Lincoln is “the most loved City and jewel in the crown of the East Midlands”; I'm sure that Nottingham and Leicester MPs might say the same about their cities. It's an emotive statement without figures (e.g. survey data percentages) to back it up.

Overall thoughts:
No progressive vision; a leaflet that demonstrates a candidate who is relying pretty much on their past record alone to win the Constituency for a 3rd time on June 8th.

Lib Dems: Mrs Caroline Kenyon

First thoughts:
Clear headings so very easy to read; good to see a vision laid out for the future. Great to see the leaflet was printed by a Lincoln based firm!

Good points:
Mrs Kenyon presents herself as a personable individual who cares about Lincoln and Lincolnshire. It was interesting to hear that Mrs Kenyon has a brilliant academic background and has changed careers a number of times over the years, building up an enviable portfolio of legal and business skills that would come in useful in politics. Nobody could deny that Mrs Kenyon doesn't have “real-life experience”!

There is a clear mention of Brexit in the leaflet that appeals to me as a Remain Voter. As anyone who's read my blog before or seen my Twitter account, I remain very skeptical that Brexit will be the best outcome for the UK economically or politically but I do accept the result of the referendum and understand that Brexit must go ahead. It's the nature of Brexit that can be changed. I agree with the premise of the leaflet which is that PM May's Hard Brexit approach is undesirable because she is willing to walk away with no deal from the EU and plunge us into a World Trade Organisation rule approach which could weaken the UK economy. We deserve better than a future which would require Austerity Agenda rule for the next decade (and perhaps decades to come) that could erode our NHS and Social Care systems beyond repair. I don't want to see school budgets cut further either. It does feel like “Change Is In The Air” at the moment but the nature of that change (whether based on a conservative or liberal/progressive platform) remains unclear.

I also like the fact there is a clear vision laid out for Lincoln for the next five years which focuses on improving Lincoln's economy. Small creative start-ups get a mention in the leaflet, as does farming, a vital part of Lincolnshire's economy (it is noted that Lincs produces 20% of the UK's food). Very few people would argue with the creation of high quality jobs and I certainly want to see more jobs where people do feel valued as individuals (I'd have liked to have seen the bullet point expanded further to say “regardless of their age, disability, gender, gender identity, sexuality/sexual orientation, race, nationality or religious belief” just to demonstrate awareness of the Equality Act 2010 protected characteristics that I'm sure Mrs Kenyon is aware of but that's just me being picky). I also agree with the fact that we do have a “fantastic pool of talent” in Lincoln and we should do everything we can to keep that talent in the local area, including expanding work experience placements/internships in SMEs.

Iffy points:
The lack of contact details is concerning; these days potential voters do like to get in touch directly with campaigns and ask questions that arise from reading their campaign leaflets. Not every voter uses social media and not every voter can attend hustings in person and it's inevitable that canvassing campaigns will not reach every street.

The General Election segment was relatively clear and I do agree there are voters in Lincoln who are disenfranchised and feel no party represents their views but I'd have liked a bit more follow-up in the leaflet on air quality, the NHS and Social Care. The Lib Dems have great policies on these issues and a bullet point to reference this in the Vision section would have been ample to show voters what Mrs Kenyon would do to improve air quality or the quality of Social Care in Lincoln. That being said, what is in the vision section is good.

However the paragraph below the bullet points did make me frown a little. I do not believe that “business drives everything” because public services for example should not be run primarily to make a profit; schools are already seen by some as “exam factories” where students are coached merely to pass exams rather than fully develop their emotional/life skills. I also think that the term “cross-fertilising” should be explained (if to be used in the leaflet at all) as not every reader will have come across it.

Overall thoughts:
A business-focused vision based leaflet that seems a bit vague in places especially on the NHS, Social Care and the Environment but broadly progressive and positive.

Labour: Ms Karen Lee

First thoughts:
Clear headings, with an action plan on the back. Nice to see a page of testimonials and a page for past achievements. The leaflet had a spelling mistake and grammar mistake and again it's a shame that a Lincoln based printing firm wasn't used (but like the Conservatives it might be a regional decision).

Good points:

Ms Lee comes across in the leaflet as caring and someone who does care about Lincoln. Like the Lib Dem leaflet, there's no pretension to claim that Lincoln is a perfect place to live, acknowledging that there are people in the city who do struggle to earn enough money to put food on the table, keep a roof over their hands and keep their children warm and clothed. Ms Lee's record as a Lincoln dignitary is to be commended, having served as Lincoln's Mayor between 2012 and 2013 and being a City Councillor for Park ward, which saw her take an major role in saving Lincoln South Fire Station from being downgraded or even worse, closed. The City of Lincoln's anti-poverty strategy is a brilliant idea and one that could be replicated across the country. The strategy has been put in practice since 2014 and the most recent campaign focused on raising awareness of Loan Sharks, with residents encouraged to phone the City Council if they believe a friend or family member or neighbour may be in trouble with Loan Sharks. Ms Lee is also a nurse and I'm sure that she can bring her specialist skills into the Lincoln MP role. Generally speaking the Labour party in Lincolnshire opposes the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (which is sadly not mentioned specifically in the leaflet) and wants the Government to provide funding to create a sensitive adult social care service for disabled and older residents.

Ms Lee's comments also suggest that she is in favour of Labour's national policy to abolish tuition fees for Uni students and inclusive schools that “educate all children”, regardless of their socio-economic background. I'm sure there are students and potential student voters out there who like the sound of Labour's policy which may bolster the vote on June 8th.

The testimonials are very heartfelt and demonstrate that Ms Lee is an effective local politician. Emma Olivier-Townrow highlights Mrs Lee's “knowledge of Lincoln and passion for a fair and just society” whilst student Madeleine Crossan describes Ms Lee as “a pillar of Lincoln life”. This is backed up by the examples used to show Ms Lee's past achievements, including organising the Carholme Gala, which takes place annually in the west of Lincoln and helps promote local organisations.

The contact details page is comprehensive and inviting; Labour's leaflet is the only one to invite comment directly; hopefully that means I might get some responses to the questions that have arisen as a result of reading the constituency leaflets which is great! I should also add that the Labour leaflet was the only one addressed to me personally!

The back page of the leaflet lays out a 5 point action plan detailing the key pledges that Ms Lee states she will follow-through with if she is elected on June 9th. I think action point 4 on the NHS is the most comprehensive and matches up well with national policy. With Ms Lee's long experience in the NHS, I can trust her judgment in stating that there should be legal “safe staffing levels in Health and Social Care” and I have always backed Labour's call to scrap the public sector pay cap in general and restore bursaries to trainee nurses; it seems bonkers that the Conservatives moan about not being able to recruit enough UK nationals to work as nurses but brazenly take away the incentive for UK nationals to decide to train as nurses.

Iffy points:

Spelling and grammar checks are a must with election communications such as leaflets; opposition parties can take easy advantage otherwise. I'm sure Ms Lee is “consistently” fighting hard for her residents but constituency is an easy mistake to correct, as is the need to capitalise Network Rail (because it is the name of an organisation). There's also the same slogan being used by both the Conservatives and Labour and the “first” isn't capitalised on the Labour leaflet. I doubt that “originality of slogan” is an important election issue but still, it's all about making that vital first impression with voters who may never have met the candidate before in the flesh.

I'd have liked to have seen specific policy detail in the action plan that made some reference to Labour's key policies other than those related to the NHS (although it'd have been good to see a specific reference made to opposition of the current Sustainability and Transformation Plan that has been put forward by United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust which may result in centralisation of most A&E services for Lincolnshire at Lincoln County Hospital without much indication whether funding levels would be increased to provide for the extra doctors and bed capacity needed to deal with increased volume). It's good to see that Ms Lee is looking to help the City Council expand its affordable housing build programme and that jobs should be created as a result but wouldn't there be increased opportunities for construction apprenticeships too? There's also a bullet point referring to a desire to “secure investment for Lincoln's economy to encourage businesses to come to Lincoln”, which is all well and good but I wonder how this would be achieved? Does that mean better collaboration between Further Education colleges, the universities and the City Council to sell the city as a place with a “broad talent pool” with funding provided by central government to facilitate the collaborative process? People do want to see more training opportunities available in Lincoln, especially apprenticeships for the over 25's. Perhaps the investment could encourage businesses in who would be willing to offer such apprenticeship schemes?

Traffic congestion is an issue that concerns voters in Lincoln; the volume of freight trains coming through the train crossing on the High Street frustrates drivers and there has to be a solution that works for all parties concerned. “Further duelling of the A46” is a good suggestion, although I remember that the suggestion made for the Lincs County Council elections was to create a Park and Ride system for the city; they said that it “would also bring major benefits to the local economy”. The omission in the leaflet makes me question whether the Park and Ride system idea has been scrapped or not.

There's also no reference made to Environmental issues in the leaflet; there are Lincoln voters who are concerned at the closure of the Whisby waste recycling facility (in the neighbouring Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency). Labour in the local election campaign leaflet stated that there would be a local facility provided “to prevent a lengthy and unnecessary journey Great Northern Terrace and end fly tipping” and I wonder whether Ms Lee would work with Lincs County Council to try and get another facility set-up.

Overall thoughts:
A good action plan based leaflet that hits the right notes but perhaps a bit generic at times.

Questions arising from my leaflet analysis:

  1. What are your views regarding police and prison staffing levels and funding in Lincolnshire?
  2. How would you help to continue to build community cohesion in the wake of the Manchester Arena attacks?
  3. What are your current thoughts regarding LGBTQIA+ rights in the UK?
  4. What are your views regarding Sex and Relationships Education?Would you back calls to embed SRE into the National Curriculum as a whole (not just PSHE)? Should PGCE trainee teachers study SRE as an essential component?
  5. What do you think needs to be done to reduce the bureaucratic burden on teachers?
  6. What do you think needs to be done constitutionally to help improve UK democratic processes?
  7. What are thoughts regarding foodbank use in Lincoln? Is it shocking that there are 5 foodbanks in a county that provides the country with 20% of its food produce?
  8. Are there any expected direct benefits to Lincoln you can think of that will help the city to grow after the UK exits the EU?
  9. What needs to be done to help improve the employment rights of gig economy workers? Would you advocate for the extension of Statutory Maternity Pay and Leave, Statutory Paternity Pay and Leave, Statutory Adoption Leave and Annual Leave to gig economy workers (who are mostly self-employed)?
  10. Do you think we need to do more to make apprenticeships more accessible to the over 25s?
  11. How would you help to protect Lincoln's wildlife and green spaces?
  12. Do we need to build more social homes? Who should be primarily responsible for the housebuilding programme; central Government or City of Lincoln Council/Lincs County Council?
  13. What are your thoughts on your party's current mental health policies? What do you feel needs to be proposed to help improve mental health services in Lincoln/Lincs?
  14. Would you support the creation of a University Medical School in Lincoln?
  15. Do you believe that we need to create another waste disposal facility in Lincoln (following the closure of Whisby Waste Recycling Facility that some Lincoln constituents went to to dispose of their rubbish?
  16. How would you make a positive contribution to the tone of debate in the House of Commons? Are you in favour of abolishing the filibustering rules?
  17. What does the term “progressive” mean to you? Would you describe your local platform and your party's national platform as progressive?

A Specific Question for each PPC:
  • Karl McCartney: Will Lincoln's creative businesses would be involved in the proposed “Great Exhibition of the North” pencilled in for 2018? If not, do we need our own “Great Exhibition of the Midlands”?
  • Caroline Kenyon: Your leaflet mentions that if a voter “breathes air”, politics should matter to them. What would you propose to do as Lincoln's MP to improve air quality in the city?
  • Karen Lee: In your action plan you mention the need to help “secure investment for Lincoln's economy to encourage businesses to come to Lincoln”; what specific ideas do you have to try and secure this level of investment?

Who would I vote for at the moment?

Having read the manifestos and perused the candidate leaflets, I'm still at the undecided stage. The Conservative leaflet hasn't done Mr McCartney many favours in terms of improving his chance of me
voting to keep him in office on June 8th. I appreciate his record but I'm looking for a progressive vision and action plan for Lincoln which I'm not sure he can truly deliver on. Both the Lib Dem and Labour candidates seem extremely personable and positive and at the moment I have to weigh up whether I vote with a Lib Dem vision of life post-Brexit or a Labour vision. It looks like it's going down the wire for me but that's what makes election time so exciting. There's nothing wrong with being a floating or independent voter!