Alex Chooses… who?

Three weeks ago, I sent an email to the five candidates who are seeking to election to Westminster as MP for Swindon North on May 7th.

Here are a few thoughts on the responses in reverse order in which their replies were received.

UKIP – The Candidate

At the time of writing this I haven’t received a response from James Faulkner. A week after I sent the initial email I received a flyer through the door that stated a different email address to the one I sent the questions to, so in his defence, he has had a week less to respond.

On the flip side of that the original email address was what was listed on the UKIP website at the time, and all of the other candidates responded within two weeks.

UKIP – The Party

As much as I argued that it is important to vote for your local MP, it is still important to consider the party on the national stage.

Regarding UKIP, while they do say some sensible things, for example their preference for building on brownfield sites, they do speak an awful lot of nonsense. Farage brings everything back to immigration where he can, and a large amount of his party have said some truly terrible things.

They offer a very uncertain future, a referendum on Europe, for example would have lasting repercussions, because a decision to leave would spark another referendum in Scotland, one that this time would almost certainly result in Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom

Here’s a newsflash, you can dislike the immigration policy of the UK, you can even be a little bit racist if you want, but you can’t deny the importance of our relationships with other countries. We need them.

Labour – The Candidate

You can read Mark Dempsey’s reply here.

My first thought on Dempsey’s response was that he didn’t specifically answer each of the questions, but rather gave one reply that encompassed the questions. Regarding the culture, he focuses on the regeneration of the town centre as being key as well as a Northern Link road.

I’m in a part of Swindon North that isn’t very north, but there is a part of it, fairly new that is some way from the centre of town. With a lot of new builds, there are a lot of young families, young people living in this part of town. Those who might be more inclined to spend are too far away from where they might be spending.

The road they mention intrigues me but I’m not entirely sure where it would go – there isn’t a great swathe of empty land waiting to be tarmacked.

He has plans for a university in Swindon – such a thing has been mooted since what feels like the dawn of time. It was certainly being talked about thirteen years ago when I was still in school. What would a university in Swindon offer that Oxford and Bath can’t? I’m not sure, but a business and management course based in the town would certainly benefit from the local businesses in the area, and vice versa. Perhaps more concentration should be put on the local colleges, rather than the into the status symbol of a university?

Regarding railways – he refers to Labour’s plans to put a cap on fare increases. I can’t begin to tell you how wrong this answer is. The fares are already too high for the service that is provided. Right now, a single ticket from Swindon to London tomorrow morning would cost me £62, while Swindon to Cardiff, approximately the same distance, would cost me £25.30 at the same time.

I understand the rules of supply and demand, but that is insulting, and it actually discourages businesses basing themselves in Swindon. If it didn’t cost as much to get to London, maybe a few more people might move away from it?

Labour – The Party

Increasingly the views of Labour are becoming blurred. It is hard to make a distinction between them and the Conservatives. They are part of a political elite that is, frankly, out of touch with the rest of the country.

Ed Milliband as a Prime Minister? Maybe acceptable within the confines of the country, but alongside Angela Merkel and Barack Obama? Well, he seems like a bit of a joke.

Liberal Democrat – The Candidate

You can read what Janet Ellard had to say here.

Frankly, they are the answers of somebody who doesn’t want my vote. Based on those answers alone, which seem to be copied and pasted from some “MPs for Dummies” handbook, I know nothing more about what she stands for.

She put the responsibility of town’s regeneration and reputation on the Borough council’s shoulders, she quoted party policy for the question on transport. With business, the answers could have come from a piece of GCSE coursework.

I’m really disappointed.

Liberal Democrats – The Party

I have a confession to make. I voted for the Liberal Democrats last time. I wasn’t seduced by the charm of Clegg, or by their promise of a reduction in tuition fees, but more by their promise of electoral reform.

We didn’t quite get that, instead we got a compromise, a referendum on proportional representation.

I actually agree with what the party did at the time. It’s important to remember the Liberal Democrats were not voted into power, and a coalition with Labour would not have given a majority, or a stable government, which is important for a country trying to get out of recession.

Yes, tuition fees went up, they conceded that point to the Conservatives. It was more important for them to change the way that our government was chosen. It seems they were an election ahead of their time on this issue, as I think it’s a viewpoint that would probably gain more traction this time around. Interestingly, none of the parties have even mentioned it so far.

The record of Clegg and the party in power have not lost me as a supporter. Janet Ellard has.

The Green Party – The Candidate

You can read Poppy Hebden-Leeder’s responses here

She responds in the same way as the Liberal Democrat candidate, refuting the claim that Swindon isn’t a very nice place to live, and then lists all of the attractions there are, some of which I had forgotten about. On what may be an ill-advised response, though, she does list roundabouts as being a benefit.

She wants to encourage the residents of Swindon to do more to shout about the good bits of Swindon. She doesn’t go into detail how that might happen, other then suggesting a water slide, like the one in Bristol last year.

It’s not new, but it is still fresh.

Once again, on the subject of transport, party policy is quoted, but it’s an interesting one. The Green party wish to invest more in the railways, because they’re greener than the roads. I hadn’t considered this before, but public transport is expensive, inconvenient and unreliable. I am not a passion save the world type hippy, but I do want to reduce my carbon footprint where possible, because why wouldn’t I? Having said that I am guilty of getting in a car for only short distances.

I’d like to review the numbers and the feasibility a bit more, but I like their idea of diverting funds away from roads and into the railway network.

She talks about a university for Swindon, but she also raises the idea of office space, citing that many of our existing buildings are not fit for purpose. She’s not wrong about that. There is a lot of building happening on the edges of Swindon, but there are many areas in the centre that are empty or inefficient. Some of those are privately owned.

The Greens – The Party

I worry about the Green party. I like their general approach, they feel much fresher and much more progressive than any of the other parties, but I worry that their numbers don’t add up. Hebden-Leeder quotes an £8bn reduction in spending on the roads, to prop up the railways. That’s over a 50% reduction in the planned spend – so what’s going to miss out? Are we going to become a country of potholes? Is it worse than that – are our roads going to become less safe?

If voting for the Conservatives and Labour party feels like voting for an 80 year old man, out of touch with the modern world, then voting for the Green Party feels a bit like voting for an 8 year old – idealistic, good intentioned, but inexperienced.

The Conservatives – The Candidate

You can read what Justin Tomlinson had to say here

I was impressed with Tomlinson, he answered within four hours. This is a man who wants to keep his job – and, judging by the polls, likely will.

His answers, however, focus mostly on what he has already achieved. And I can’t deny, the stuff that has gone on under his tenure as MP for Swindon North, has been incredible for the town.

The old college building in the town centre, which has been empty since I left the college in 2003, has finally been torn down and redeveloped. It is now the home of the town’s third cinema, a supermarket and several new eateries, including the town’s first Nandos.

This is part of the cultural redevelopment that has been needed. Some of the old buildings in the town centre and outside of it as well are also being rebuilt and reimagined. I’m not foolish enough to believe this is all down to him, but it has happened under his watch.

He doesn’t talk about his plans for the future, and while he doesn’t talk about the price of tickets on the railways, he does talk about improving them. If I have to pay the same amount, then I want the 15 minute per journey saving that he talks about. Interestingly he mentions the Tories have capped fare increases – something which the Labour candidate is promising to introduce…

His passion for business is clear, and I can’t help but admire it, although again, he talks about his record, and not his future.

A good track record is great, but a plan is still needed.

The Conservatives – The Party

I don’t trust them.

Personally, I will probably be better off under the Conservative party. I earn a decent amount of money, I own my own property and I work for a big business.

Life in the UK hasn’t been THAT bad for most of us over the last five years, and while for some it has got worse – much worse – there is an argument that, like they can’t claim credit for all the good bits, they can’t be blamed for all the bad bits either.

My Verdict

So who am I voting for?

If I’m honest, I surprised myself a little bit. I had never intended to vote for the Green Party or UKIP. I was unlikely to vote for Labour. I was probably going to vote Lib Dem, but I reckoned I could be persuaded to vote Tory.

The Lib Dems lost my vote – that’s down to the candidate.

UKIP never had it, never will.

So who’s left?

I liked the answers from The Green Party and the Conservative candidates. The Labour candidate also seems to have a grip on what’s going on, and what needs to be done.

Of the three, only two of them have any real chance of being a majority government. But the political landscape is changing in this country and while the Green Party won’t likely get in, a vote for them is not wasted. We have a chance to send a message, not just to the MPs, but to the rest of the voters in our constituents as well.

The more the majorities go down, the more politically engaged our society will be, because it will feel like that our voices have more chance of being heard.

We are unlikely to change the political system of this country in one general election, but we can start to move towards change, and that is by voting for what we truly believe in.

Don’t vote tactically. Vote for the candidate or the party that you think will speak for you. Whatever it is that you are most worried about, vote for someone who’s going to do something about it. That way, you can look back on your vote, and know that you did the right thing.

You can’t trust a politician. Too many people regretted voting Lib Dem at the last general election, because they voted for them tactically to keep out the Conservative party.

Morally, you have to be able to stand up and argue that you voted for the right party, the one that agreed with you on the important issues, otherwise you have as much right to complain as the people who don’t vote at all.

For me, I’ve known for the last week who I’m voting for. It boils down to one simple issue – like it did at the last election – but this is something I hadn’t considered until it came up in the debate between the opposition leaders.


We are pouring billions of pounds into this nuclear deterrent, one that we so-say need in order to be safe.

When the public finances are in the state that they are in, when the use of food banks is sky rocketing, when people are struggling to live a decent life this cannot be justified.

Some people will have you believe that without them we wouldn’t be safe.

There are only eight countries in the world known to have nuclear weapons. What’s keeping all the other countries safe? Why is Australia, or Sweden, or Finland, or Canada, or Japan any less than we are?

Ask yourself this – at what point is it ok to press the big red button and launch nuclear weapons at another country? When is it ok to detonate an indiscriminate widespread nuclear attack on another country?

You won’t just kill the bad guys, you’ll kill thousands upon thousands of ordinary people like you and me.

Will the UK ever instigate a nuclear war? If we did, we’d be seen as the aggressors. That is an incredibly aggressive act and one that we can’t come back from.

If Russia, or France, or China or the US instigate nuclear war on us by detonating on our land, it may well be too late for us to even press the button to retaliate – whether we would want to or not.

So… how can we justify spending THAT much money on something we can never use? We can’t.

So, morally, I have to vote for the Green party. It’s actually that simple.

Swindon Chooses…. The Conservatives?

Yesterday I sent the same email to the 5 parliamentary candidates for Swindon with 4 questions – basically asking them directly what they’re going to do for Swindon. See here

The Conservative candidate and current MP for Swindon North was the first to respond, replying at 23:57 on Sunday night, approximately 4 hours after my initial email was sent. Impressive.

Here are his answers, presented in full:

Question 1: Culture.

Swindon is in a prime location along the M4 corridor, with easy access to London, Reading, Bristol and Cardiff, and is surrounded by some beautiful countryside. This is often the only response I can give to associates who ask me about the benefits of living in Swindon – that it’s close to lots of nice places! What can you do to make Swindon itself a nicer place to visit, and what will you do to change the image of the town?

This is an area I am particularly interested in, both as prior to the General Election I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the DCMS department, and prior to being the MP for North Swindon I spent 4 years as the Lead Member for Leisure, Culture and Recreation on Swindon Borough Council.

I therefore led the project team that delivered the award winning £10m Central Library. I helped secure the additional funding for STEAM museum that helped significantly boost visitor numbers and income, securing the viability of this fantastic facility. I supported the refurbishment of the Arts Centre in Old Town and Wyvern Theatre, both venues I have used a lot as a customer. I also supported the £5m investment in Lydiard Park, and I am pleased to see that Swindon Borough Council is now working towards a new Art Gallery. I am keen to see within a new Art Gallery that we would have space for local artists to both work and display their work, alongside our current collection and touring collections.

I welcomed the £50m investment for the Oasis, which whilst primarily leisure, would include a 5,000 / 10,000 seat concert venue, a welcome boost for Swindon.

We have recently seen the completion of the £35m Regent Circus development, kick-starting the much needed Town Centre regeneration.

This will help provide further opportunities to improve the perception of our town and for new cultural and night-tome economy developments / facilities to come forward.

Question 2: Transport

The Swindon to London rail route is famous for being one of the most expensive £per mile rail journeys in the country – considering that this country is known to have one of the most expensive rail networks in Europe, that’s a pretty impressive penny. What will you do to ensure a fairer price for your constituents who work in – or wish to visit – the capital?

I have been very active on this issue as your MP.

Firstly, during this Parliament we have made sure the gap between us, and surrounding areas (ie Didcot) has closed. I would continue to push on this.

Secondly, the Government rightly capped fare increases, ending the disgraceful annual 10%+ rises we saw under the last Labour Government.

Thirdly, we have been delivering the largest investment into our railways since Victorian times.

For our Great Western Main Line this investment is crucial to increasing capacity, reliability and speed of service. This is vital as the service has been put under considerable strain by ageing rolling stock and a 50% increase in passenger numbers in the last 10 years alone. Crucially this investment will also reduce the upwards pressure on train fares as we will take advantage of the increased capacity and modern, efficient rolling stock.

The investment includes:

£7.8bn is being spent on electrification of our services, including cutting between 10-15 minutes off the Swindon to London Paddington journey. The redoubling of the Swindon – Kemble line, driving up frequency and speed for commuters between Swindon and Cheltenham.The major improvements and expansions to stations including the £1bn upgrade of Reading station, helping increase capacity and removing bottlenecks.The delivery of new state of the art carriages, transforming our ageing rolling stock.

This investment is vital not just to commuters or day trippers, but it also helps drive local economic growth, strengthening Swindon’s position as a place for businesses to relocate and invest, providing the next generation of jobs. Swindon is also directly benefiting from the considerable new engineering roles offered by Network Rail to carry out this work, a real boost for our local economy.

Question 3: Business

There are quite a lot of corporations with their headquarters in Swindon: Nationwide, Intel and WH Smith to name just three. Considering that Swindon has a much cheaper way of life, but is less than an hour from the capital. What can you do to encourage companies who are looking to cut down their operational costs to relocate from London to Swindon – in the process, opening up a much more attractive job market in the town for it’s residents?

I have done a huge amount on this as your MP. Prior to being elected  I ran my own business in Swindon for 10 years. (I sold it once I was elected so I could solely focus on my role as an MP).   I am a Small Business Ambassador for the Conservative Party, and both in Parliament and Swindon I regularly meet with businesses, retailers, developers and agencies to help promote Swindon. In the last 5 years we have seen 5,345 new businesses start up in Swindon – the fastest growth rate in the South-West, which has helped secure an extra 7,100 jobs for local residents. We have seen a number of major businesses relocate to Swindon, or existing ones expanding their operations. We are very much a town on the up and no-one has more passion and energy to promote our town. You can see on my website: the extensive work I have done in this area.

Bonus Question

What other priorities do you have for Swindon that you haven’t already mentioned? In short, why should the people of Swindon vote for you?

I have worked very hard to champion our town in the last 5 years. I am the first North Swindon MP to be a local resident. I am approachable, visible and enthusiastic. I was recently voted the 3rd most helpful MP in Parliament when dealing with residents casework.

My sole focus has been fulfilling my duties as the MP and I have one of the highest voting and speaking records in Parliament, so I am making sure Swindon is well represented.

I have attached my recent letter to local residents setting out the above.

As a fellow local resident I want to continue to champion our town, securing new businesses, investment and facilities. We are very much a town on the up and we much to be proud of. As the MP, my role is to be an advocate, a strong voice and I am very active in organizing meetings, forums and events to bring together the key people / businesses / organisations to make sure we continue to improve.

I am very proud of the positive difference I have made for Swindon and I am the only candidate to have secured support from people right across the political spectrum.

You can see more of the work I have done on my website:

Tomlinson did indeed include a copy of the letter – which reiterated several of the points made in his answers above, but also highlighted some other information, focusing mainly on the £24m invested into schools, a further £140m that has been invested into local infrastructure funding and 10 main points about the current government in general.

Make of all of this what you will, I’ll reserve judgement until I see the other answers from the other candidates.

Swindon’s Choice

Next month is a very important month. Next month we get to stand up and vote, make our voice heard and make our political views clear.

But before the Eurovision Song Contest on 23rd May, there is also a General Election in this country – on Thursday 7th May.

The media make a lot of noise about the headline policies and personalities of each of the main parties – but as well as them, we’re supposed to vote for someone in our area to represent us in Westminster.

To that end, I’ve started researching the candidates for the constituency I live in: Swindon North (even though, I’d argue it was more South than North). There are five of them:

Mark Dempsey (Labour)

Janet Ellard (Liberal Democrats)

James Faulkner (UKIP)

Poppy Hebden-Leeder (Green)

Justin Tomlinson (Conservative)

I’ve only voted once before – back in 2010 – and don’t consider myself aligned to any one party, so I’ve picked three questions, issues that are specific to me and the area that I live in, and addressed them to each candidate, using the email address on their party’s website. (Except in the cases of Mark Dempsey – where I got it from a leaflet that came through the door, and Janet Ellard whose profile on the Liberal Democrat page didn’t load. For her, I acquired an email address from

I’ve also chosen three subjects that – up to this point (Sunday 5th April) – have not been covered in the meda

The email I have sent to each of them is as follows:

Dear ________

I am a resident of the North Swindon constituency which you are seeking to represent as a member of parliament from 7th May of this year.

I am currently undecided who to vote for, so was hoping you would be able to answer three short questions which – along with the main policies of your party – will help me to make up my mind.

You should be aware that I have sent exactly the same email to each of your opponents and that I will be posting the responses to each question on my blog, for other constituents to view.

Thank you in advance for both your swift response and your co-operation.


Alex Call

Question 1: Culture.

Swindon is in a prime location along the M4 corridor, with easy access to London, Reading, Bristol and Cardiff, and is surrounded by some beautiful countryside. This is often the only response I can give to associates who ask me about the benefits of living in Swindon – that it’s close to lots of nice places! What can you do to make Swindon itself a nicer place to visit, and what will you do to change the image of the town?

Question 2: Transport

The Swindon to London rail route is famous for being one of the most expensive £per mile rail journeys in the country – considering that this country is known to have one of the most expensive rail networks in Europe, that’s a pretty impressive penny. What will you do to ensure a fairer price for your constituents who work in – or wish to visit – the capital?

Question 3: Business

There are quite a lot of corporations with their headquarters in Swindon: Nationwide, Intel and WH Smith to name just three. Considering that Swindon has a much cheaper way of life, but is less than an hour from the capital. What can you do to encourage companies who are looking to cut down their operational costs to relocate from London to Swindon – in the process, opening up a much more attractive job market in the town for it’s residents?

 Bonus Question

What other priorities do you have for Swindon that you haven’t already mentioned? In short, why should the people of Swindon vote for you?

I’ll post their responses as I receive them – in fact, the Conservative candidate has already replied. I’ll post his answers later.

BEDM14: What’s The Problem?

Yesterday I posted a rather flippant post comparing Facebook and Twitter to having kids. The reason for avoiding the prompt ‘Facebook or Twitter?’ was because I feared the resulting blog would end in a diatribe not against Facebook, but more the people that use it.

I’m still not going to go into it, I don’t want to upset anyone just to make an interesting blog. There’s plenty about what people do on Facebook that annoys me, but to be honest it probably says more about me, than it does about them. I could go on and on and on about some of the things that people do and their response would most likely be: What’s the problem?

That’s what this blog is about. It’s my ‘What’s the Problem?’ to something that I recently read in the latest issue of Attitude magazine.

It was an opinion piece by Iain Dale, there isn’t an online version that I can find, so you’ll have to buy a copy of the magazine to read his full article (But why wouldn’t you? There’s a lovely picture of Ben Hardy aka Peter Beale off of EastEnders on the cover).

It is an opinion piece, and I can’t stress that enough, because if it’s his opinion, then that’s fine. He’s entitled to it, but I’m entitled to disagree. It was subtitled Where are the ‘normal’ gay people on TV?

Dale makes a lot of really good points. The article in itself is questioning why sexuality is used as an adjective, as if it’s something that defines a person. He notes that he was described in The Observer as ‘Iain Dale, the gay Conservative candidate’.

Conservative candidate should be a suitable enough label for him – unless the article in itself (Dale doesn’t mention what the article was about) was specifically around gay issues, in which case the label of gay would add context to the article.

There are two sections of his piece that I object to.

Even EastEnders, the show which broke new ground in the late 1980s by screening the first fay kiss fell for the gay stereotype ‘Muscle Mary’ character, Christian

And then later:

One of the few places on TV where you find completely ordinary gay people is in the news. I say ordinary – they are generally extraordinary people, but the thing they have in common is that most people wouldn’t even know they are gay

There are many kinds of homophobia in this world, and the one we all object to is heterosexuals discriminating against homosexuals simply for the fact that they are homosexual.

What troubles me is when homosexuals discriminate against other homosexuals.

If I was a young gay boy reading a copy of Attitude Magazine for the first time, I would be troubled by Dale’s opinion piece. His unconsidered us of the word ‘normal’ is troubling.

What he is linking normal to is people not being able to tell that they are gay. What he is linking normal, whether he intends to or not, is being able to pass as straight.

What he’s actually saying is that these people – and he lists several examples – are not camp.

The people he lists, among them are Clare Balding, Evan Davis and Paddy O’Connell are people that don’t make you ‘automatically think ‘gay’’ but then he goes onto qualify that in O’Connell’s case he would ‘make an exception but only when he’s presenting the Eurovision semis’

Dale wants less camp people on TV. And that’s ok. But it’s not ok to infer that these people are not normal, or that they don’t exist.

Christian Clarke from EastEnders may well be a Muscle Mary stereotype. But these people exist. They deserve a place on our television screens.

I’m not exactly butch – I have a slight wiggle when I walk, and I know my way around a well-timed eyebrow raise – so Iain Dale’s article hits home slightly.

I recently was speaking to a chap on Grindr. Lovely guy, liked him quite a lot, but he told me he didn’t like camp guys. This led to a discussion in my office among a couple of them, where we agreed that on the scale, I’m probably a six – that means I’m not whole row of tents, but I’m more than just a one person pop-up.

I worried over meeting him, I thought he would immediately take offence if I spoke with a slightly higher voice than he, or if I ordered vodka tonic instead of a beer.

I probably shouldn’t have been worried, he was camper than me, not by much, but if I’m a six, then he was a seven – that doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is that I did get worried about it. I worried about changing who I am.

It’s 2014. We shouldn’t have to worry about hiding ourselves away and trying to be ‘ordinary’ so that people don’t know we’re gay.

It’s fine to campaign for a wider representation of gay men and women in our media, but we need to stop using the word normal when we mean non-camp.

Prompt: What’s the Problem