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Last night, before the sublime Glee, I sat down to watch the Chancellor’s debate. Billed as a warm up to the 3 leader’s debates, I was interested to see what the different men had to say, and how they said it.

In the Blue corner was Tory Boy George Osbourne. He always seems a little ‘nice but dim’, and it has been said that no other politician would suit a regency wig quite as well as the shadow chancellor. In the Red corner, Alistair Darling. I feel quite sorry for Alistair, I’m sure he’s the butt of many a blackadder style joke with his unfortunate surname. Then in the middle, for the Yellow team, Vince Cable. A name that makes me think of 70’s dodgy moustaches.

The debate started with 1 minute statements, and then proceeded with preselected questions from the audience. It was reminiscent of Questiontime, but more focused, and more polite. The first question concerned the qualifications and qualities that each man brought to the job. Cable mentioned his private sector experience, Darling could talk about being Chancellor through the worst recession in 70 years, and Osbourne… well he talked about his ideals, but didn’t seem to have any experience to bring to the job.

They went on to discuss job creation, tax, spending and so on. There were few revelations (though the abandonment of the death tax was one – which is a shame, I like that idea! It’s not like I can use the money when I’m gone!). There were no major gaffs (a relief to the Tories apparently!), a couple of laughs, and some interesting discussion.

There are clear differences between the parties, and these debates will help to highlight those differences. The Tories are returning to form, with large cuts in spending, and cuts in taxes. The Libdems will cut everywhere, with no ring fencing (a fair, but possibly unpopular approach). Labour will ringfence, and cut later. The possibility of cross-party co-operation came up – which is good when they are in session, but bad for voters – because it reduces our choices.

The papers (and twitter!) are obsessed about who ‘won’ the debate. I don’t think there were any winners, other than democracy. All the candidates performed well, and anyone watching will have a clearer idea of the policies of the 3 parties. Who was watching though? probably people who have already decided who to vote for, and have an interest in politics. It was competing with Coronation Street afterall…

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I have always been pretty indifferent to Carol Vorderman. I liked the number bits on Countdown better than the letter bits as I was better at it, and it was fun to wonder if she had a sneaky calculator back there or whether she really did have an abnormal aptitude for mental arithmetic. It was annoying that even though she was ‘brainy’ she also had to be a ‘dolly bird’ whereas Richard Whitely didn’t have to be either, but this was the 80’s and daytime TV wasn’t very enlightened.

But nothing much changes, eh? Our Carol is now advising Cameron on maths teaching. And spouting Tory talking points on Question Time, apparently channelling Sarah Palin in the process [check it out on iplayer; its both a joy and a horror to watch].

I can’t believe for a minute that there aren’t more qualified people (even women!) out there for both these jobs. People who not only know about arithmetic, but mathematics. People who not only know about mathematics, but about how to actually teach it. People who can not only appear as ‘The Daily Mail in human form’ (kudos to someone on twitter) on Question Time but can actually articulate rational and informed argument.

But the Tories instead have chosen to go the populist route and it appears that, as Gaby Hinsliff writes in the Observer today, ‘anything in a skirt will do’. Is Carol Vorderman really the best person they could get to advise on maths education? Or is she just the ‘acceptable’ face of intelligent women/people, with all those less attractive brains doing the work behind the scenes? The whole thing makes me quite agitated I must say. Pretty much the same reaction I had to seeing Rachel Riley, Carol’s replacement on Countdown, on the recent Channel 4 documentary ‘Kids Don’t Count’ as she breezed into a struggling primary school to sort out their failing maths scores. Just because you are good at sums doesn’t mean you know anything about teaching maths!!

Aaand…..breathe.

[As an aside, Cameron says all prospective teachers must have at least a 2:2 and as such Ms Vorderman wouldn’t qualify. Just saying.]

And just because you have a pretty face, an engineering degree and a career in television doesn’t mean you have what it takes to help shape education policy. Just so you are aware though, there are rumours that Carol Vorderman will be offered a peerage and offered a position as a schools minister. I really hope they are not true.

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Latest rumours circulating suggest that as a result of ‘efficiency savings’ and cut-backs, local hospitals will have to shed 1000 members of staff, close 200 beds and see less patients in clinic. Naturally, the local populace will obliging be less ill. This of course is a nonsense. It is well known that during times of economic hardship, demand for health services grow, especially in areas such as mental health. Additionally, the recession has led to a boom in births, maybe as people take stock of what is important (or indulge in leisure pursuits that are free of charge). It is worrying then that historically whenever cuts are made in the health budgets, it is Children’s and Women’s services, along with Mental Health Services, that are the first in line for the axe.

Some time ago, the local hospital received financial support to expand and enhance services. Circumstances led to the funding being scaled back and improvements to the Children’s Hospital were the first thing to be axed. The same hospital is now looking to merge Women’s and Children’s Services as a first-line measure in cost savings, an agreement that will surely fail to benefit either party aside from the accountants.

Mental Health Services are strapped for cash at the best of times, and are well-known to be Cinderalla services in times of need. Mental Illness is not perceived as ‘sexy’ or at the forefront of medicine. Neither is there going to be a big public outcry, either due to stigma behind mental illness, or a misguided but prevailing view that mental illness is neither life threatening and those suffering are somehow responsible for their plight. Sadly, the mentally unwell are less likely to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

The shortages in midwives and poor standards of care in some maternity units has been well documented over recent years. It is with some trepidation that I consider what the effect of further cuts will be upon healthcare for women of childbearing-age, particularly in view of the current baby boom.

However, the fact that children’s medical services are often in the firing-line surprises me. Any parent knows the pit of worry you experience when your child is unwell, anxiously checking for rashes that don’t disappear and fretting that the tummy-ache could be incipient appendicitis. Aren’t we a nation of child lovers? Don’t we want to invest in the health of the future? Surely children are a fluffy, vote-winning, feel-good priority? It seems not. Why? Is it cynical to suggest this is because children are not voters? Whilst the parents may be on the electoral register there seems to be little resistance to cutbacks that affect their offspring. Does the general public place a higher degree of importance on shorter waiting lists for cardiac surgery, outpatient appointments, or not hanging around for half a day waiting to be seen in the Accident and Emergency Departments? Politicians certainly do as these things are easily measurable and bandied about at an indicator of a ‘Good Practice’. The problem is that many Children’s Services cannot be as easily compartmentalised nor are inadequacies in these areas reflected as much in hospital league tables as adult services.

In times of peril women and children are put first. It would seem that this adage is still be applied; this time in cutting health services for women and children first. There are difficult economic decisions ahead and I envy not those charged with commissioning healthcare services in the current financial climate. I just hope that the vulnerable groups or those without a voice at the ballot box are not left by the wayside.

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The International Monetary Fund yesterday said that our economy is too fragile to cut public spending.  Quite significant news, I believe, given that the economy is the central issue in this election campaign.  I’ve read about it only in the Guardian and the Mirror.  It seems the Daily Mail think maternity leave is more important, the BBC are running yet another day of bullying coverage and seem to have ignored this.  I’ve complained to the BBC about the easy ride they are giving Cameron – because this shoots his plans to pieces – and whatever your political persuasion, you deserve to know the facts.  What do you think?

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We had announcements on labours education policy this week, their big idea being parental ability to sack heads. We’ve heard lots about the Tories plans for swedish schools. But what are the big ideas of the lib dems? Although they’re less effective at dominating the headlines, there are actually some really interesting ideas in the lib dems policy. And they’re easy to find from their website, which is always a bonus.
One of the key ideas is a pupil premium. Children on free school lunches, with SEN, in local authority care, or with english as a second language will attract extra funding – up to £1,000 per pupil. this will act as incentive to schools to take these children, and allow the targetting of resources specifically where they are needed. Importantly, schools will be at liberty to spend the money as they will – the pupil premium will not be ringfenced. This money will come from cuts to the tax credit system – which may not be popular with the lower end of middle income families.
The lib dems are the only party talking about increasing funding for schools. Some of this will come from slashing the Department for schools, children & families – they’re going to halve this government department. And they’re going to pass law forbidding government from meddling in the detail of teaching.
Another key element is the abolition of the national curriculum – instead there will be a minumum curriculum.
Overall, the lib dem policy is about reducing educational disadvantage by targetting resources effectively. Its about more freedom for schools, and removing inherant unfairnesses in the current system (why do FE colleges get less funding than school 6th forms?).
There was very little in the policy I didn’t like – its just a shame they’re not doing a better job of shouting about it!

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The last few days have seen lots of political activity. Brown the Bully. A future fair for all (complete with carousel??). Give labour a second chance. James Purnell standing down. It may well be a couple of months until the election – but the campaigns are all up and running, posters are being parodied, and the political machine is running in top gear.

But what of substance is happening? There have been the efforts of labour and the lib dems to solve the problems of social care for the elderly – hampered by the conservatives and their castigation of the ‘death tax’ – but very little else. Is this election going to be driven by personalities? I hope not, as neither Nick Clegg, David Cameron or Gordon Brown have much personality!

I want to know who is going to stop meddling in schools. Who is going to pull us out of Afghanistan. Who is going to stop funding homeopathy on the NHS. Who is going to increase funding in higher education. Who is going to improve the lot of my family, and who is going to tax us to the high heavens.

So enough of the posturing, the tears, the softly softly interviews, the accusations. Can we have something of substance to debate please?

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Should I vote Tory?

Actually, that’s not a real question for this election, as I’ve moved into Simon Hughes’s (Lib Dem) constituency, and he’s a shoo-in. I also admire him. I’ll be voting for HIM, not for the Lib Dems.

But when I consider whether I could vote Tory I am conscious that I am not only considering the policies, good or bad, of the current crop. I am also aware of how it would “look”. Most of my friends are rabidly anti-Tory. Voting for they-who-once-were-led-by-Margaret-Thatcher is up there amongst the most heinous, unthinkable crimes. It’s socially unacceptable.

Obviously my world is only a narrow slice of nice, middle-class professionals, old enough to remember the last Tory administration. And nice and intelligent as they are, there is no way that they will ever believe that the Tories mean what they say when their policies are good ones, or not suspect a hidden agenda that is the reverse of well-meaning.

Like many, I draw a deal of my opinions from conversations I have with people I respect — more, in my case, as a politically unsavvy creature, than I do from careful reading of political manifestos. Given the broken promises and failures of the Labour Governments, and the horrific things they have done in my name, I’m not even sure reading manifesto promises would be a good use of my time.

It’s hard to believe that any of the options would do much better, or much different, from any of the others. So the decision to vote Tory would make me a social outcast, without, perhaps the benefits of taking an unpopular stand.

That is the problem Tories have to grapple with, at least among the people I hang out with.

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