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Candidates for Parliament - John C. Kirk

Apr. 21st, 2010

12:18 am - Candidates for Parliament

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Apparently there's a General Election coming up soon. I always vote, on the theory that if you don't vote then you can't complain about the result.

I've voted LibDem at almost every election so far (local/national), but that's mainly because I liked what they said about Proportional Representation when I was at school. I'm aware of the counterargument (fringe groups having to form coalitions), but if you want a strong government then you could simply say that the winning party gets all the seats. However, I've now seen the BNP win two Euro MP seats due to PR, which makes me wonder whether it's not such a great idea after all. There's also a pragmatic aspect of this, i.e. "Just accept it, they're never going to win", although it's ironic that I'm finally starting to feel that way in the same election where they actually do seem to have a chance.

totherme posted some useful links to help you choose who to vote for, based on party policies. However, taking a quick glance at the questions, my first reaction to lots of them is "Meh, I dunno." For instance, I would like us (collectively) to reduce the national debt, but I don't know enough details to make an informed choice about raising taxes or cutting spending in particular areas. Ideally, I'd like to say "Party X seem to have some sensible people, so I'll delegate my vote to them, once they've researched the subject in depth." However, it's tricky to decide which party is sensible unless I already know about the policies... Benevolent dictator, that's the way forward!

Taking another approach, maybe it's better to vote for a person rather than a party, since my MP will be representing me in the future, and I will have to contact them with any concerns. So, I've tried to find out who is actually standing for election in my constituency. As a fringe benefit, this can simplify things a bit, e.g. if the BNP aren't putting up a candidate then I don't need to waste any time looking at their policies. (Just to clarify that, I'd have no intention of voting for them even if they were standing, but I feel that I ought to make a token effort to listen to them, rather than doing the "no platform" thing.)

I received my polling card on Saturday, along with a leaflet for the Conservative candidate (who has been the local MP since 1992); I'll upload that to The Straight Choice if nobody beats me to it. I've been looking online to find out who else is standing, but I get conflicting information from different websites, and I can't find any official source. According to page 4 of the General election timetables, the closing date for nominations is today (Tuesday 20th), so hopefully there will be a definitive list soon, but it would be nice to at least have a placeholder available now. Has anyone else found something relevant?

My constituency is Croydon South. Here are the candidates according to different websites:

WikipediaUKPollingReportYourNextMPCroydon GuardianGuardian
ConservativesRichard OttawayRichard OttawayRichard OttawayRichard OttawayRichard Ottaway
English DemocratsGraham DareGraham DareGraham Dare
GreenGordon RossGordon RossGordon RossGordon RossGordon Ross
IndependentMark SamuelMark Samuel
LabourJane AvisJane AvisJane AvisJane AvisJane Avis
Liberal DemocratsSimon RixSimon RixSimon RixSimon RixSimon Rix
UKIPMartin FergusonJeffrey BolterJeffrey BolterJeffrey BolterJeffrey Bolter
UnityMarienne BownessMarienne Bowness


Ok, plan B: go to the official website for each party/candidate. They should certainly have some information about who's standing, and if they can't be bothered to do that then I won't vote for them. I'm not asking for much at this point, e.g. I will accept a Facebook page. This is a good test from my point of view, because it plays to my strengths: I may not know much about economics, but I can tell whether a website is working properly. Also, if a party can't run a website then they're not ready to run the country; it's a bit like starting kids out with a gerbil before you buy them a pet dog.

Taking the parties in alphabetical order (as above):

* Conservatives.

Full marks for them: they make the information easily available on their website. Click "People", "Parliamentary Candidates", "List by constituency", "C", and I see Richard Ottaway listed (with his own page).

* English Democrats.

They pass, although the information is a bit meagre. Go to their website, and hover over "Election", then "2010 General Election", then click London Candidates. (You can only get there by hovering, rather than clicking through.) This has a list of Facebook pages, including one for Graham Dare in Croydon South. At this point I'm just testing for existence rather than content, but I have to say that there are some remarkably unflattering photos on the London Candidates page, including a couple that presumably got stretched out when they were uploaded.

As a side note, if we assume that this listing is accurate then that means that Wikipedia and UKPollingReport are both wrong, or at least incomplete. (Wikipedia not an accurate source of information? I am shocked! Shocked and appalled, I say.)

* Green

They scrape a pass. Go to their website, and they have a nice big link that says "Find your Parliamentary candidate". This opens another website, where I can search by postcode, and that confirms that my local candidate is Gordon Ross. That all seems fine, so what's wrong?

1) When I clicked the link on the main website, it tried to spawn a new window, which was blocked by my pop-up blocker. The same thing happened when I clicked the "Gordon Ross" link on the second site. If I want a new tab/window, I will ask for one, but I don't like websites being pushy.

2) If you scroll a bit further down the main website, there's an "Information" section with a People link. However, that returns a 404 error.

3) If I look for local information, I can click through to London Green Party, and then Croydon Greens. However, the Croydon site is a blog which immediately asks me to run the "2007 Microsoft Office component" add-on. I can click through from there to Croydon Greens (non-blog), and I really think that they ought to send people there first (with a link to the blog), rather than vice-versa. This also has a People page, but it's blank. Other pages (e.g. "Your Area") say helpful things like "coming soon..." Well, at least they didn't put an "Under Construction" gif there.

I'll let them off, since the information is available, but I'm not impressed, and this level of computer illiteracy isn't going to help with their "damn hippies" stereotype.

* Independent

Fail. Outside of news reports, all I can find about Mark Samuel is a rather boastful email address: tpeopleschoice@aol.com

* Labour

Pass. Go to their website, then hover over "Our people" and click "PPCs". Alternately, click "Our people", then click "Labour's Prospective Parliamentary Candidates". (Take note, English Democrats!) Then click "browse by parliamentary constituency", scroll down to Croydon South, and it lists Jane Avis. I think they could afford the bandwidth for a slightly higher resolution in the photo, but this passes my test.

* Liberal Democrats

Pass. Go to their website and click through the splash page. On the right hand side, enter your postcode under "Find your local party", and click "GO". This lists my local candidate (Simon Rix), with links to his page and to the Croydon Liberal Democrats.

* UKIP

Pass. Go to their website, scroll down to the bottom (under "People"), and click "UKIP Candidates". If I search by postcode, it shows me the candidate for Croydon South: Jeffrey Bolter. If I search for "Croydon South" as my constituency name, it shows me 68 constituencies: this is apparently everything that has either "Croydon" or "South" in the name; which is pretty stupid. Still, they do make the information available, even if it's not immediately obvious.

Looking back at the table at the top, all the sites agreed that Jeffrey Bolter was the candidate except for Wikipedia, which lists Martin Ferguson. According to the Croydon Guardian: "Retired local police officer Jeffrey Bolter stepped in to the breach when UKIP candidate Martin Ferguson pulled out due to family commitments." I realise that I could edit the page to include the correct information, and I have corrected mistakes there before. However, in this case I think it serves the greater good to demonstrate that Wikipedia isn't a reliable source of information. (I may post a separate rant about that one of these days; for now Wikitruth do a good job.)

* Unity

Fail. Go to their website, and it doesn't have any information about who is standing for election in any constituency.

Based on all of that, I can reduce my choices from 8 to 6. The next step is to actually look at the policies, but I'll leave that for another day.


On a vaguely related note, I found a couple of videos where American celebrities encourage people to vote:
Hollywood Declares Themselves
Hollywood Declares Themselves - Part 2
The first one's a bit dull, and I gave up after a minute or so, but the second one is a bit funnier. ("What if people don't understand that it's being sarcastic?")

Edit: I have now edited the Wikipedia page to have the correct list of candidates (see comments), but the table above demonstrates that you shouldn't rely on it.

Comments:

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From:susannahf
Date:April 21st, 2010 06:18 am (UTC)
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I find it interesting/amusing that you checked 5 different websites to find out who your candidates are, but didn't look at your local authority's website (since that's where they have to register, I'd expect that to be most up-to-date).
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 21st, 2010 11:25 am (UTC)
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It didn't occur to me to look there for MP information; I think of them as being a bit lower in the chain (just local councillors). Now that I have looked there, the only info I can find is my current MP:
http://www.croydon.gov.uk/democracy/elected/mpsandmeps/mps
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From:susannahf
Date:April 21st, 2010 11:34 am (UTC)
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http://www.croydon.gov.uk/democracy/dande/elections/parlia2010/south
There is (as I expected) the official list of people who have put in validated nominations. Your council's returning officer runs the elections in your area, so if anyone will know who is standing, they will. It would appear that, as of yesterday (the pdf is dated at the bottom), the only parties fielding candidates in your consituency are Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dem, UKIP and Green.
Since nominations closed yesterday, I'm guessing the others didn't find enough seconders, or were otherwise disqualified from standing for election.
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From:gaspodog
Date:April 21st, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)
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See? Croydon Council is good for something!

If it's a statutory requirement, we almost definitely probably with a high degree of certainty actually do it... :)
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 21st, 2010 11:44 am (UTC)
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Ah, thank you - that's exactly what I was looking for! (Part of the reason I wrote this post was to say "Am I being stupid by missing something obvious?")

So, the three "missing" candidates are Independent, Unity, and English Democrats. They were all down at the bottom of my list anyway, so I don't think they had much chance of winning.
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From:billyabbott
Date:April 21st, 2010 07:05 am (UTC)
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The way that wikipedia becomes more accurate is by people updating it when they find that it's incomplete or wrong...
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 21st, 2010 11:31 am (UTC)
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That's true, and I don't have a problem with the concept of a wiki. However, a few days ago I was reading some comments about Wikipedia vs Brittanica, and people were saying that they ought to be able to cite Wikipedia as a source in a academic essays because it's so reliable and accurate. In other words, there are still people who think "It's on Wikipedia so it must be true" rather than "It's on Wikipedia so it might be true or it might be complete bollocks, just like the rest of the internet", and that's the mindset that I want to change.
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From:gaspodog
Date:April 21st, 2010 11:37 am (UTC)
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The correct thought process is: "It's on Wikipedia, so I should check read the references at the bottom of the page" :)
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 21st, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)
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In this case, I think that the traditional phrase is "citation needed" :) Actually, I think that Wikipedia is a bit like Open Source software - just because people can check it for errors, that doesn't necessarily mean that they do. So, there are some articles (and programs) which have been under close scrutiny, and I'm sure that they're very reliable, but others have probably only been read by the author.
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From:gaspodog
Date:April 21st, 2010 12:14 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure the similarity between open source software and Wikipedia is that great to be honest...

Wikipedia is based on the premise that anybody can edit it - it's entire foundation is user-generated content. They've had to place greater restrictions on it these days as vandalism has become a problem, but fundamentally anybody with a brain and an internet connection can contribute. They may have their edits reverted if they do it wrong, but they can still get stuck in.

Open source software just means the source code is unencumbered by commercial licensing restrictions. It doesn't require the user to do debugging if they don't want to - most popular OSS projects are as well managed (if not more so due to the additional transparency) as any commercial development process. Also, some of them are developed by companies anyway. OpenOffice is a Sun project and MySQL is part of Oracle's portfolio.

The content is not user-generated in the same way that Wikipedia is - larger OSS projects will not just let any random person merge their attempts at coding into a release version of the software. They carefully manage and test every addition to their software. Users can report bugs in the same way they can with commercial software. If my experience is anything to go by, they're likely to be fixed far more quickly in the OSS world too... :)
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From:shuripentu
Date:April 21st, 2010 04:51 pm (UTC)
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"So, there are some articles (and programs) which have been under close scrutiny, and I'm sure that they're very reliable, but others have probably only been read by the author."
Uh, how is this different from closed source projects?
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From:shuripentu
Date:April 21st, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
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(Aside from the obvious answer that "closed source projects by definition can only possibly have been read by the author".)
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 21st, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
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It's not, which is why I don't think that open source software is intrinsically better. I have nothing against OSS, but some of its advocates seem to get a bit carried away :)

To give an example, a while back I was talking to a web hosting company about their CMS software, and I asked whether it was compatible with multiple browsers. Here's part of the reply:

"This is one of the reasons I use an OpenSource solution rather than a proprietary solution. OpenSource means that it is being used and tested by millions of people all the time and issues such as these are discovered and fixed almost immediately."

It may well be true that this particular application is being heavily used, but I don't think that's true for all open source software! So, I just try to deflate the hype where I can, to give people a more realistic idea of what to expect.

Edited at 2010-04-21 05:00 pm (UTC)
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From:billyabbott
Date:April 21st, 2010 01:01 pm (UTC)
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Yes, wikipedia is something that needs to be checked before accepting as true, just like every other source (although, a bit more than some).

However, have you updated the page yet to have the correct candidates? If not, be good and do so :)
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 28th, 2010 09:53 pm (UTC)
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I've just edited that page; I think I left it long enough to make my point.
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From:billyabbott
Date:April 29th, 2010 09:13 am (UTC)
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What was your point? If it was 'people shouldn't rely on wikipedia' then waiting to update to show people that they should do their own research seems a bit silly.

The mindset you want to change isn't restricted to Wikipedia - "It's on the internet, it must be true" seems to be replacing the gospel nature of the Daily Mail as the obvious lie that people seem to be believe...
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 29th, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
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I mainly just wanted to give anyone reading this post a chance to see the Wikipedia article in its original state (to verify what I put in my table). I was only originally planning to wait a couple of days, but then it took me a while to get round to it.

Having said that, I was also curious to see whether anyone else would update that page. In other words, have I just beaten them to it, or would it have stayed that way until after the election? The longer I waited, the less likely it was that anyone else would do it.

I certainly agree that correcting inaccurate information is a nice thing to do. However, I am concerned by the idea that there's a moral imperative to do this. (I'm not trying to put words into your mouth here; this is more of a general impression I've got from some people.) The logic seems to be: "If it's bad, then you should improve it rather than criticising it." However, where do you draw the line? At what point do you say "This thing is so bad that it's better to abandon it than fix it." E.g. if you wanted to point out all the mistakes in YouTube comments, I think that would be a life long quest!

As you say, this isn't specific to Wikipedia. I'm just picking on them because they seem to be weighted quite heavily in Google searches, so they are perceived to be more reliable.
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From:billyabbott
Date:April 30th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC)
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You aren't putting words in my mouth that much...

For wikipedia in my opinion there is a moral imperative to help out if you're going to use it - it's user generated content so either help out or don't use it, is my opinion. I know that most people don't agree with this, but it's the attitude that I am trying to change :)

That said, if everyone edited wikipedia it would be rubbish. At the moment it's just the people who can be bothered and fortunately they quite often seem to know what they're talking about. Not always, but some of the time...
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 30th, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
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That's fair enough - I don't use it very much, so I don't feel too much like a parasite :) I think I'm happier with smaller wikis, e.g. RGL, where I know the other contributors.
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From:gaspodog
Date:April 21st, 2010 11:39 am (UTC)
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It's a shame you're in Croydon South and not Croydon Central. Croydon Central was very close (75 votes) last time, and since the current MP was kicked out of the Tory party and is standing as an independent it's anyone's guess what might happen :)
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From:terpsichore1980
Date:April 21st, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
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Didn't he get kicked out of the Tory party for beating his wife (allegedly)?
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From:gaspodog
Date:April 21st, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC)
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Indeed. He was accused of (allegedly) beating his wife. This is why he loves our broken libel laws so much - they enabled him to get lots of tasty money out of his accusers (the Mail on Sunday iirc).

He was even represented by Carter-Ruck - that bastion of truth and justice in the modern legal profession.
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From:johnckirk
Date:April 21st, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
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The Voter Power Index site has some depressing statistics:
"In Croydon South, one person does not really have one vote, they have the equivalent of 0.042 votes.
In Croydon Central, one person does not really have one vote, they have the equivalent of 0.835 votes."
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From:shuripentu
Date:April 21st, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC)
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Yep, and the latter is strong by comparison to the rest of the country! o.O

Of course, even in extremely safe seats people still theoretically have voting power; you "just" have to convince everyone to all switch together. :P
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From:gaspodog
Date:April 21st, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps if we tell them there's a twitterflashmobvirallolcattubeathon happening at every polling station, but it only works if they all vote lib dem :)
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