The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde

An alternate version of Swindon in the 1980’s doesn’t seem the obvious place to set a book, but that’s exactly what Jasper Fforde did with his Thursday Next series.

 

The Eyre Affair is the first book in one of my favourite series, but one I haven’t read for a long time. Going back to the very beginning, I was surprised to discover how simple it all was.

 

The world of Thursday Next is one where Wales is its own republic, cheese is smuggled across the borders, England is at war with Russia over the Crimea and literature is the dominant cultural force.

 

There us uproar when Archeron Hades steals the original Martin Chuzzlewit manuscript and threatens to destroy its characters.

 

This is a fantasy series, akin to Pratchett’s Discworld – though with far fewer books – and as such by the end, it became complex and self-referential. Even the above summary seems a complicated – though is nothing like how it ends up.

 

I was surprised to discover how simple it was. Fforde manages to ease the reader in to this strange new world, one step at a time, so that as more and more bizarre things happen, they don’t seem that unusual.

 

I have to confess, I’ve never read any of Pratchett’s Discworld series – it always seemed a bit daunting, the sheer number of books incomprehensible and impenetrable, but now seeing how simple the Thursday Next series starts I’m tempted to give it a go.

 

On the flip side, If you’re a Pratchett fan and you’re looking for an easy, escapist read filled with bad puns, then The Eyre Affair – and the rest of the Thursday Next series – is a very good place to start.

 

Minority Report

I can’t stop thinking about what happened in Orlando over the weekend. It’s brought up a lot of different thoughts and issues for me. Where I thought I knew my mind, I’m now unsure. This is my attempt to reconcile those thoughts.

 

Pulse is a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. On Saturday night it was the location of the worst gun massacre in US history.

 

We’re not talking about Swindon or England or United Kingdom, we’re talking about the United States of America.

 

According to the Gun Violence Archive (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting) this is the 136th mass shooting in the United States this year alone – that’s one every 29 hours.

 

On the 11th June the website reports that there were five mass shootings, a day later, there was just one. But it was the worst one they’d ever had. That’s why you’re hearing about it, that’s why it’s everywhere, because even somewhere like America, this was an exceptional event.

 

The shooter went into Pulse – self-styled as the hottest gay club in Orlando, and ranked second most popular according to the users of gaycities.com (http://orlando.gaycities.com/bars/) as of 13th June – and killed forty nine people, injuring many more. The death of the shooter himself takes the number of dead to a round 50.

 

Why did he do it?

 

Short of finding a signed confession, we may never be a hundred per cent certain for the reasons behind the massacre, the gunman himself has a violent history, as well as suspected links with IS. Islamic State themselves have already claimed responsibility, but there is no substantial evidence that they had any direct involvement.

 

We do know that his father has already confirmed that the gunman became “very angry” after recently seeing two men kissing.

 

If there are so many mass shootings in America, why is it this one that has upset me?

 

The reason I can’t stop thinking about it, is because it was aimed at me. At my friends. This wasn’t done for religious reasons, or race reasons, or even because of a relationship gone wrong.

 

This was beyond race, beyond religion – but not beyond love. It was love the gunman objected to. Love between men, love between women, and any variation thereof.

 

I’ve never felt like a minority before.

 

Minorities in the we talk about them are people who need protection, people who are vulnerable. I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a time and a place where I’ve never felt that.

 

I’m a white, English-speaking man, I’m by no means rich but nor do I struggle. I live in one of the most forward thinking countries of the world and I can criticise the people who lead my country without fear of retribution.

 

I’m also gay.

 

In the past, I’ve been critical of Gay Pride events in their current form. I’ve always said that I understood why Pride marches were needed, but that I felt they weren’t needed anymore.

 

Pride marches in the UK have become over-sexualised, commercial parties. When straight families are taking their children and grandchildren to Pride events, when music acts are queuing up to take part and when the event itself is part-funded by government of the day, I can’t help but feel we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve.

 

For me, the focus should shift away from standing apart and more to integration. Being gay doesn’t define me, it is just part of who I am. I don’t need a special bar or a special nightclub or a special march. I’m proud of who I am wherever I am, whatever day of the year.

 

I’ve never begrudged those who did. I’ve always understood their reasoning. A safe place to go up to a guy and ask him out, being able to be who we really are without having to worry – but the truth is, most of us feel ok to do that most of the time these days.

 

Until now.

 

Someone invaded one of those safe places and started slaughtering us. That could have been me. I’ve not been to Pulse in Orlando, but a couple of weeks ago I was enjoying drinks in gay bars in Los Angeles.

 

They’re 2,500 miles away from each other, they’re not exactly close (the distance between them is only marginally shorter than the distance between London and Syria) but the in LA are the same as they are in Florida.

 

Someone could have taken offence at me mincing through Beverly Hills and done exactly the same thing.

 

It could have been any of us.

 

The whole incident brings up lots of different issues and already has from gun control to, bizarrely, whether the UK should leave Europe (we shouldn’t, if anything this teaches us that a tolerant world with closer links to other cultures is more important than it ever was).

 

But for me, the issue is more personal… it goes to the heart of who I am. To who we are as a society.

 

We talked about what happened in Paris, we talked about what happened in Brussels. At the office today, no one talked about Orlando.

 

It’s not an attack on the United States or the Western world. It’s an attack on a community, on my community.

 

I’m not going to forget what happened in Pulse, Orlando, and I’m not going to let it scare me into hiding away. Short of breaking out into a show-stopping performance of ‘I Am Who I Am’ complete with John Barrowman-esque jazz hands, I’m going to be the gayest gay I can.

 

I’m not going to feel like a minority anymore.

7 New Things I’ve Learned This Week

They – the inimitable collective “them” – say that you learn something new every day.

Is that true, I wonder? I think not, so I’m keeping track. If I haven’t learnt something new – I’m going to seek a new thing out.

Here are seven things I’ve learned in the last week

  1. “Lost his Deposit”

This phrase was bandied about during the election night coverage a bit, and while I had heard it before, I didn’t fully know the story behind it.

Every prospective candidate standing to be a Member of Parliament must pay a £500 deposit. The theory being that a financial stake being put down will reduce the number of fringe or joke candidates standing for election.

If the candidate receives more than 5% of the vote, they receive their deposit back. According to one twitter account, the Liberal Democrats lost a staggering £169,000 in the 2015 General Election.

  1. Dame Vera

70 years after VE Day the Force’s sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn – whose most famous song We’ll Meet Again is often played as a celebratory song to mark the end of the second world war – is still alive and kicking at the grand old age of 98.

That may seem old, but she’s only nine years and one month older than the woman in charge of our country (and no, I don’t mean Nicola Sturgeon).

  1. Maggie Simpson

When England and Wales are coloured blue and Scotland is yellow, Great Britain looks remarkably like Maggie Simpson

  1. Pippa in the Middle(ton)

Nearly all of us felt a bump this week as we shifted down one in the order of succession to the British throne. A new princess was born last Saturday and shortly after was revealed to bear the name Charlotte Elizabeth Diana.

While it may seem that she was named after three members of the future King’s family, she also shares the name Charlotte with her aunt, whose full name is Phillippa Charlotte Middleton.

The princess also shares the name Charlotte Diana with her second cousin once removed on her father’s side – curiously, Earl Spencer refrained from adding the name Elizabeth to his daughter’s title.

  1. Amazon’s spring

As an employee of WH Smith I know an awful lot about it’s history, but even I was surprised to discover that the first online order in the UK was taken and fulfilled by the company twenty years ago – in a room just across the road from my flat.

The book (I’m slightly pleased it was a book at the beginning of this revolution) was Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy – Amazon – the great river of modern online shopping – wouldn’t take it’s first order for another four months post that first delivery from Swindon.

  1. The Groucho Club

The Groucho Club in London turned thirty years old this week. The original premise of the famous private member’s club was to be an antidote to the stuffy gentlemen’s clubs that inhabited Soho at the time.

You don’t have to be a member to visit the club, but your name does have to be put on a list by a member in order for you to gain access. Alternatively, you could hire one of their six rooms available for private functions for an evening. The prices range from £400 up to £1800 for non-members.

  1. Counting the Cost

Those people you assume to be volunteers that you see when you go to vote aren’t actually volunteers at all. The folk that man polling stations and vote counts are actually paid £160 for their time.

Those who man the stations are expected to be at the polling station for the full fifteen hours.

While a “cruel and punishing” night for the Lib Dems, perhaps Nick Clegg can take solace in that his party’s poor performance meant that their lost deposits helped fund over 1,000 of these workers.

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.

Trident.

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.

A Question of Culture

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been asking the five prospective parliamentary candidates for Swindon a series of questions. One of the questions concerned the town’s cultural environment.

I’m a great fan of live shows, specifically theatre and musicals (gay cliché #1 P), but frustratingly for me, the best stuff is always on somewhere else. Swindon’s theatre – the Wyvern – is pretty small and it’s not a very attractive building.

Whenever I’ve been there over the years, the show’s haven’t been filled up, the small audience only half full (or half empty depending on your view), most recently a Joe McElderry concert (gay cliché #2 P) and the other a big band concert with my granddad.

I also saw the Avenue Q musical when it came to town a couple of years ago, although, this time the theatre was slightly fuller.

It seems that the people of Swindon don’t really go to the theatre, but is that because the residents of the town aren’t theatre folk, or is it because they just simply don’t think of the theatre as an option?

When big name comedians come to town, they’re announced months before, and the tickets sell out in a matter of minutes – most likely to the ‘Friends of the Wyvern’ who get advance notification of such things.

Swindon needs a bigger theatre for those events, but for most of the time, the theatre is too big.

Why am I rambling on about the Wyvern? Well, because I went there earlier this week to see the stage adaptation of the Peter James book Dead Simple starring Tina Hobley, Jamie Lomas and Gray O’Brien.

Also Rik Makarem whom I quite quickly fell in love with thanks to his tight fitting top (gay cliché #3 P)

I’ve read quite of a few of James’ books, including Dead Simple – the book opens with a character trapped in a coffin, a stag night prank that has gone wrong. The book is told from Inspector Roy Grace’s point of view, while the play focuses on the characters that are being investigated.

I could write for ages about the fascinating way this play was produced, how the adaption changes the presentation of the same story significantly, how the change of format gives a different insight into the characters.

I’m not going to talk much about the show itself – a) I don’t want to give any spoilers, but b) I’ve known Peter James for several years, and as a rule I avoid reviewing works by people I know well on the basis that I feel can’t always be honest – or come across as not sounding biased.

Needless to say, Dead Simple was highly enjoyable and Tina Hobley specifically gave a magnificent performance.

There have been quite a few posters for the show around the town, more so for this than any other play that has been performed at the theatre – knowing Peter James as I do, I suspect that this is largely down to him – and as a result, the audience was pretty full.

An actual play in Swindon, and people went to see it. Hopefully now, this means more plays will tour in Swindon, and perhaps that will mean more people of Swindon start going to the Wyvern, and start seeing the full raft of shows that are available.

Maybe then, we’ll start to see the audiences fill up a bit more. Maybe then we’ll see a regeneration of the theatre, and maybe then there’ll be more seats available when the big names come to town.

Maybe that will help improve Swindon’s reputation.

The question I asked the candidates was what they could do to help change the image of the town. Now that I think about it, the town like the theatre doesn’t need a massive cash injection, or to change it’s direction, it just needs to shout about itself a bit more.

It’s not difficult. In fact… it’s dead simple.

Swindon Chooses… The Labour Party?

I’ve now had my fourth response to my questions to each of the candidates for Swindon (if you don’t know what I’m talking about – see my original post by clicking here)

The Labour candidate Mark Dempsey was sent the same questions as everyone else:

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? 

His response is as below:

As a local resident I believe that Swindon is a town with huge potential. However I can also see we need real change to rebuild our town. 
 
Many people tell me that they feel that the Tories haven’t delivered the change our town needs.  That’s why I have launched our Positive Plan for a Better Swindon.  Our plan includes:
 
>> Action to restore Swindon as an economic powerhouse and kick start the regeneration of our town centre.
>> A long term plan for a University for Swindon and for a new school for North Swindon.
>> A roadmap for a transport system fit for the 21st century including a new Northern Link Road.
 
These are big challenges but I believe we should do the difficult things that will transform our town.
 
If I am elected as the MP I will dedicate myself to rebuilding Swindon’s economy and have set out a plan to attract new green tech and high tech companies to our town.  Labour will expand high quality apprenticeships and guarantee a starter job to every 18 to 24 year old unemployed for a year.  I am leading the campaign for a University for Swindon, which is vital to unlock the talents of local people and attract new businesses to our town. This action will help get people back into work and restore our position as an economic powerhouse.
 
We need action to kick start the regeneration of our town centre. People are hugely frustrated by the Tories’ town centre failure.  I am determined to deliver real change and I have set out an ambitious vision for our town centre based on the successful examples of Bristol and Bath – and with our railway heritage at its heart. And Labour’s promise to cut business rates will help the high street and breathe new life into Swindon.
 
I want fair fares for Swindon.  Commuters in Swindon pay the highest ticket prices in Europe and under the Tories prices have increased by a staggering 20%.  Labour will introduce a strict cap on fare increases and reform the railways to secure value for money for passengers and taxpayers.
 
I live locally and I love our town.  However Swindon can and must be better.  I am determined to build a better future for our town.  The General Election is the chance for us to work together to deliver the change we need.
I’m close to making a decision and will post a deconstruction of each of the responses as soon as I receive the final reply from the UKIP candidate. I haven’t heard from him, yet, but in his defence, he had a different email address on his leaflet to the one I sent the questions to, so he’s had a week less than everyone else.
I’ll give him until next week to reply.
You can see what the other candidates had to say below:

Swindon Chooses… The Green Party?

Last week 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 Green Party candidate Poppy Hebden-Leeder was the second candidate to respond – 9 days after the email was sent.

Here are her 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?

Personally I think people are far too hard on Swindon and forget just how much we have here – having lived in another part of the country that was really lacking in a lot of what we’ve got, Swindon is very well equipped. The answer to give to anyone relies upon what they’re interested in seeing/doing. I’ve only touched on a few things here.
Swindon has some fantastic outdoor spaces, nature reserves and walks; Lydiard Park and Coate Water to name a few.
For the more active, we also have the fantastic Mountain Bike trail at Croft., this can be combined with cycle routes around Swindon (many special routes devised by local cyclists in collaboration with the council) or entry onto the Ridgeway nearby..
There are far more cultural events than I ever get to go along to; Swindon Mela and the literary festival and various museums  – we’ve got the best 20th century Art collection outside of London. And stately homes, and gardens in the National Garden Scheme.
In terms of leisure it would hard to be bored in Swindon with the swimming pools, leisure centres, outdoor parks, climbing wall and various clubs and activities from Archery to Salsa.
People often knock the look of Swindon, but architecturally we have some world famous buildings (the former Renault building) and roundabouts, as well as the lesser known but unique to Swindon. Yes there is some pretty horrible looking stuff – but there is everywhere, but we also have some wonderful buildings too.
This is just a snap shot of what’s here – and we need to shout about it a bit more. Swindon suffers from people who have never been here passing negative comments which is a shame. I’d love to see Swindonians have more pride in our town and start to promote it better as somewhere to come to, rather than being apologetic and explaining that it is a great place to reach other places. Its low hanging fruit, but if we have pride in Swindon I think other people will start to see it more postively too.
Maybe we need a street slide down Victoria Hill like the one they had in Bristol last year… (actually that might be scarily steep?)

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?

Green party policy is to bring the rail networks back into public ownership so that the service begins to run for society, rather than the shareholders of a few companies. I am committed to this and believe that the £4bn in public subsidies could be better reinvested back into our railways.  66% of  the members of public polled by YouGov agreed with the idea of bringing railways back into public ownership.
One commitment the Green Party has made that would be an immediate cost reduction for the travelling public is to use some of the £15bn allocated to the national major roads programme to achieve an average 10% fare reduction in public transport (ie on trains and buses) – this would cost about £8bn over the Parliament, but be of massive benefit to many people relying upon the rail network to get to their workplaces.
At a time when fuel prices are very low, but the benefits of this don’t seem to have been passed on the public transport users, it is clear we need to take a different view of transport in order to support increased use of public transport. This is especially pertinent right now following several days of very poor air quality levels caused by a combination of factors including air traffic pollution. I am keen to see more people use public transport as a way to reduce pollution and improving the service while also offering cheaper fares is an obvious way to do this.

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?

There are a few issues that once tackled would contribute to more organisations being willing/keen to relocate to Swindon. At a recent business hustings there seemed to be two key issues raised:
Availability of suitable office space:a lot of comments focused on the fact that while there is office space available it is not always suitable for companies. We have a number of industrial estates with buildings on them that are not fit for purpose. If we are serious about attracting more business we need to make sure the infrastructure is in place – this isn’t just about the buildings, but access to them through transport links too.
Skills: this was also an issue that came up at the business hustings, with some businesses saying they are unable to recruit staff locally because of a lack of skills.   I have personally encountered this problem at times in my job too while running recruitment rounds.  Swindon absolutely needs a University – too many of our young people leave to go  away to study, and then not returning. A university would be a way to tackle the shortage of skills that some local organisations experience.
Having benefited from a university education, I am very keen to see a university set up in Swindon and think there would be a wide range of benefits to the town – this is something I would push for very strongly if I were elected.

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?

Hebden-Leeder didn’t directly respond to this question but did add to the email following the answer to the last question, the following:

The Green Party has a fully developed set of policies and we released our manifesto today – for those undecided who to vote for, a really useful website that is independent of all the political parties is voteforpolicies.org.uk  – very easy to use and allows you to compare policies easily.

She then asked the exact address of my blog, so presumably she’ll find this post – naturally, wanting to check I have quoted her properly! – so if you have any questions, perhaps add them into the comments?

I’ll send an email to the remaining three candidates (Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP) this weekend if I haven’t heard back from them.

You can read what the Conservative candidate Justin Tomlinson had to say here

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: www.justintomlinson.com 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: http://www.justintomlinson.com

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 yournextmp.com)

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.

Regards,

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.

Can I tell you the story of my life in 250 words exactly?

Probably not, and especially not now that I’ve wasted 13 of those words on the blooming sentence.

And now thirty.

Thirty three.

ANYWAY, I was born and raised in Swindon.

I spent the first eleven years of my life living with my mum and dad and sister, until my mum and dad divorced (a story that would take 250 pages, let alone words).

My dad moved out – I remember being quite surprised at how quickly it happened – and then life changed, and I adapted and everything was ok. No big trauma sorry.

Life ticked along, I went to college and studied Psychology, Law, English Language and Philosophy. At the same time I got a job in the local WH Smith.

Worked my way up through there, and eventually got a job in the head office where I’ve been ever since in a job that’s the same as it always was but also completely different.

I’ve written a book, but you knew that.

I bought my own flat in 2009 and am only just finishing the decorating.

In 2011, I travelled around Australia and just after I came back, I met my best friend Aaron. He currently lives with me. We drink a lot and eat chicken nuggets.

I ran the marathon in 2012 and won’t ever do it again.

That’s the story of my life in a nutshell and I’ve still got two words left.

And: Gay.