Showing posts from 2015

AIPL: the mysterious world of weaning

For obvious technical reasons, the natural way to share a year of leave is for mum to take the first half and dad the second half. This meant I was able to benefit from Mrs Tomsk's hard-won experience in many areas, but weaning would be a daddy-managed activity. Little did I realise how it would dominate proceedings.

The advice from on high these days is not to start weaning until your baby is six months old, a good couple of months later than used to be the case, and exactly the time I was due to take over. Elspedoodle had tried a few things before this time, most notably in the notorious Magnum chocolate accident, but also broccoli and a chip she reached out and grabbed when we weren't looking. So she was aware of the most important food groups, but making a concerted effort on her weaning fell to me. I am rather proud of navigating her from an essentially milk-only diet at the start of my leave to three meals a day by the end while somehow miraculously maintaining her gro…

Adventures in Paternity Leave

I've been back at work now for almost as long as I was away on paternity leave, and excuses for not writing a blog about it are wearing thin. My memories are starting to get distinctly rose-tinted too: as we battle through nursery virus season juggling work commitments it feels like a lost era of tranquillity and cake. Not that there wasn't cake, of course, but I'm pretty sure I'm imagining the tranquillity. Time to publish before it turns entirely fictional.

It's only recently that fathers have been given a right to paternity leave in the UK. The standard leave of one or two weeks after birth was introduced only in 2003, and it wasn't until 2011 that it became possible to transfer a portion of maternity leave from the mother to the father (aka "additional paternity leave"). These were the rules under which I took my time off work, but things move fast in the paternity leave game and since 2015 the more flexible "shared parental leave" has …

Corbynmania, or How Scotland Changed Everything And Will Do Again

On 7th September last year, YouGov published a poll putting Yes in the lead in the Scottish independence referendum, and so kicked off a year of political wackiness that will almost certainly end in Jeremy Corbyn being elected Labour leader this 12th September. Hands up who predicted that?
While the eventual referendum result went the other way, the poll was enough to provoke the panicked "vow", followed by the notorious tone-deaf Cameron speech in the wake of victory that did so much to cement the SNP's support. Then Labour wipeout in Scotland and a Tory majority, each a bigger surprise than the last. We should have guessed that Labour's leadership election would not be the dispiriting snoozefest it initially promised to be.
In the wake of Miliband's defeat, all 3 mainstream candidates vied to cosy up as much as possible to business, declare their undying love of "aspiration", and drop as many leftish policies as they could get away with. …


Just when you thought it was safe to check the mail...

Yes, the Lib Dems are back in the game! And there's a proper old-fashioned dodgy bar chart on the back to prove it:

I'm impressed that Leech and co are still up for a fight, but the chances of them overturning Labour here are  zero for as long as Labour remain in opposition. I do think the Lib Dems will recover, particularly if Tim Farron leads them back to a Kennedy-style position on the political spectrum, but their recovery won't start here. So this will definitely absolutely be the last piece of political literature I post up.

PS: Slightly embarrassed that Leech has got back in touch before I got round to writing my very important reflections on being a stay-at-home Dad. I blame the pressure of no longer being a stay-at-home Dad.

Life no longer in a marginal

Withington was a very comfortable win for Jeff Smith:

Labour: 54%
Lib Dem: 24%
Conservative: 10%
Green: 8%
UKIP: 4%
Mysterious Independent: 0.1%

The outcome was remarkably close to Ashcroft's poll from almost a year ago. If that was a true snapshot then the Lib Dems' impressive campaign was worth all of 2% extra on their vote. It appears their famous incumbency bonus vanished this time, in line with the many other Lib Dem losses around the country. The Predict-o-Matic 5000 clearly requires some adjustment.

The local results are also out, more or less mirroring the parliamentary vote, although locally the Greens were almost level with the Lib Dems (this is actually an improvement in the Lib Dem position from last year).

So with a Labour majority of almost 15,000, it's fair to say we no longer live in a marginal. The only question left is where to move to in time for 2020?

Life in a marginal: endgame

Lest we forget that it's polling day today, the Lib Dems got up early to remind us:

The scan cannot adequately convey the sheer size and weight of this greeting. It was impossible to see the hallway beneath it. If the election were decided purely on last day polling reminder card area, the Lib Dems would be odds on for a landslide.

The Labour effort looked a bit feeble in comparison:

Still, the same quality card stock. The boat is being pushed out by both teams. And Labour even came to my door to ask how I'd voted.

So what was the result of all these months of persuasion?

I went for Jeff Smith. John Leech was a good MP with a great voting record and I wouldn't be unhappy if he were returned to parliament, but I was put off by his attacks on Labour's economic record and plans. Ultimately I voted for those plans.

In the local elections I voted Lib Dem, as a kind of oblique protest against first past the post. It is unhealthy for all of Manchester's councillors to be…

Life in a marginal: polling eve news

Good old South Manchester News has hit the printing presses again just in time for the election.

Well, it's sympathies are less obvious than the national newspapers I suppose.

The Leech campaign is really not doing any favours with me by attacking Labour's entirely sensible if not timid spending plans as "reckless". But never fear, because the man himself has sent us a handwritten note in a final plea for our votes:

Having noted the "P.S."s at the bottom of all his letters, I'm not sure Leech has got the hang of them. They always reiterate what he's already written, when they should say something in passing like:

P.S. I've heard there's free ice cream at the polling station today


P.S. Would you stop your dog barking at our canvassers?

Labour go for a more conventional leaflet:

Nothing new to report here. I'm running out of things to say about these leaflets, so just as well it's polling day tomorrow...

Life in a marginal: the dark arts

Hmm. An anonymous brown envelope arrives containing all kinds of terrible revelations about Labour. Who could it be from?

I'm guessing it's not from Labour...

I see it's very positive about the Lib Dems' record in government on the back. Could this be a clue as to the senders? Ah yes! They admit all in the very small print at the bottom. I should have guessed from the paper.

Quite why they think this will convince me to vote Lib Dem is beyond me. At least the previous Ferrero Rocher letter was upfront about being from the John Leech campaign. This one is a new low, not only repeating the same old twaddle about Labour causing the financial crisis, but also heavily implying without openly stating that Labour plan to cut more than the Lib Dems in the next parliament, when of course the opposite is true.

Still, if the Lib Dems want to spend good money making it less likely I'll vote Lib Dem, that's their call.

Life in a marginal: canvassing and a revised prediction

Labour continue to step up their leaflet game, sending me a personal communication addressed personally to me in person, a variation on the one received by Mrs Tomsk a while back:

In addition they've sent me my very own personalised polling day information card:

I like the reminder to put an X next to Labour. Also, remember to put some shoes on before leaving the house.

Unfortunately for Labour, the Lib Dems have gone one better again by sending a canvasser to Tomsk79 HQ at last! I learnt an interesting piece of information: that John Leech had not voted for the coalition in the first place.

Naturally being canvassed affects the delicate calculus at the heart of the Predict-o-Matic 5000. Its revised and final prediction is therefore as follows:

(beep beep boop boop boop etc.)

Con: 8%
Lab: 45%
LD: 37%
UKIP: 3%
Green: 7%
Mysterious independent: 1%

(nb: result adds up to 101% in light of the model's continued awesomeness)

Attack of the Also-Rans, Episode 3: the Greens

Finally in our round-up (as I've yet to receive anything from the Mysterious Independent), the Green Party. Again it comes in compact A5 format, no doubt because more eco-friendly. It is of course printed on FSC-approved paper.

No-one does hopey/changey quite like the Greens. Bannister's photo is curiously back-lit, like an angelic character from a Sofia Coppola film, leading us to a Green utopia with a list of the promises you wish Labour would make if only they didn't have to worry about actually winning an election.

On the reverse we learn Bannister is another proud graduate of the University of Manchester, only this time writing with impeccable English. I'd expect no less from someone who studied the king of subjects.

Surprisingly even on the back there is no mention of the environment at all. I suppose this is what they mean by "politics for real people". As a Real Person who occasionally attempts to get to Sheffield using a car, I curse the Greens every…

Attack of the Also-Rans, Episode 2: UKIP

Perhaps the best that can be said about UKIP's election leaflet is that it comes in a handy A5 format. Whether the size symbolises their little England worldview or their chances of winning here, I cannot judge.

The front is essentially a transcript of Davies' opening statement at the hustings:

Many things are said to be the definition of madness. Seriously wayward punctuation. Standing for UKIP in Withington.
Still, I'm intrigued by his wide experience of business AND organization. What is this non-business organization he has wide experience of? UKIP purple always vaguely recalls Wimbledon for me, so I can't shake the notion that it was the Wombles.
Being oop north we get the version of UKIP that is intended to appeal to disgruntled Labour voters, with promises on the NHS and bedroom tax nestled in amongst the foreigner bashing:

I do hope the Australian-style points-based system will allow Madame Cholet to stay.

Attack of the Also-Rans, Episode 1: the Conservatives

At last the Lib Dem/Labour leaflet duopoly has been broken, with all three of the other parties' free communications arriving on the same day.

First the Tories. Receiving a leaflet with hues from the other side of the rainbow is a refreshing change for the eyes, even while the content makes them burn.

Manning's cover letter (as ever, click to enlarge) is undermined by some terrible grammatical howlers. "investment ever more in our NHS"? "Liberal Democrats set to loose many of their seats"? I expect better from proud graduates of the University of Manchester! With all the gazillions of pounds being poured in to the party by hedge funds you'd think they'd be able to hire someone to proof-read their sales pitches.

On the other hand I quite enjoyed his subtle trolling of the yellow team: "It is not clear that the Lib Dems will be able to support a Conservative government again". Heh.

The Northern Powerhouse gets name-checked in a small paragr…

Life in a marginal: my poster's bigger than yours

An increasing focus on local elections as Labour send me a leaflet advertising the Jeff Smith/Matt Strong two candidate combo deal:

Good stat work there with the claim that the Lib Dem candidate (who he?) has voted with the Tories 93% of the time in the last parliament. Just guessing but I imagine it's the other 7% of votes that are the important ones.

More exciting is the other side of the leaflet which doubles up as a poor man's window poster:

Even if I was in a poster-displaying mood I think I'd be too embarrassed to put one up featuring text-speak, but I have seen them go up in a few windows so clearly it's a worthwhile use of leaflet space.

The Lib Dems, however, have trumped these puny A4 signs with a supersized hashtag in the middle of Chorlton:

I thought political hoardings died out sometime in the mid-90s and spotting one this time round would be as likely as ever hearing a new Blur album. We live and learn.

The Manchester Withington Predict-o-Matic 5000

The 2015 election has been notable for the manynewmodels attempting to predict the result, mostly created by academics trying to avoid doing any proper work. In that spirit we at Tomsk79 have created our own model for predicting the result of the Manchester Withington constituency, which is detailed in full here.

The starting point for my model is the constituency poll carried out in June 2014 by Lord Ashcroft (blessed be his name). This poll suggests a decisive swing from the Lib Dems to Labour since the election:

The next stage is to correct the Ashcroft poll by movements in the national polls since June 2014. For this we use the BBC Poll of Polls, which reports changes as follows:

Con: 31 to 34 (+3)
Lab: 34 to 33 (-1)
LD: 10 to 9 (-1)
UKIP: 15 to 13 (-2)
Green: 5 to 5 (0)

We assume that the national changes apply uniformly to the Withington constituency.

Next, we apply a sub-seat correction using local election results from Withington wards. By analysing trends in council results …

Life in a marginal: still uncanvassed

If the election result was decided solely on how many times people have knocked on my door, there would be no doubt about the winner: the Jehovah's Witnesses. Oxfam and "Hello Fresh" would also retain their deposits. No political party has bothered yet, and there's barely a week left for them to get their acts together. Honestly, what is the point of living in a marginal if you're not going to be given the opportunity to rant on your own doorstep? Plus I'm a stay-at-home Dad so I'm in all day and can even offer a traditional baby-kissing opportunity. Roll up!

"But her face is covered in porridge!"
"Do you want my vote or not?"

The leaflets keep on coming of course. Mrs Tomsk has received a personal letter addressed personally to her from John Leech. It's all but identical to the one I was sent except that the controversial opening paragraph has been replaced with something much more anodyne. Either this blog is much more widely rea…

At the hustings

I was kindly allowed off fatherly duties for an evening to attend the election hustings at St Clements Church in Chorlton. A few things I learnt about the candidates:

John Leech (unsurprisingly) and Jeff Smith (reassuringly) are both good at this game. Rob Manning (Conservative) and Mark Davies (UKIP) also put up a good front against a mainly hostile audience. Lucy Bannister (Green) was the youngest and least assured candidate but to her credit was the most willing to take on the UKIP arguments directly. Mysterious independent candidate Marcus Farmer was not on the panel. Perhaps he was gazing down malevolently from the bell tower.Jeff Smith was happy to go on record saying that he would vote against his own party in order to ban fracking and cancel a Trident replacement. I don't actually agree with him on either of those issues but still I'm impressed with his independence of thought and it has addressed some of my previous doubts. Of course it was also a canny pitch that pre-…

Life in a marginal: when communications backfire

It's always good to receive a personal letter addressed personally to me from candidate John Leech. Not least when it comes on rather nice parchment-like paper. It's the Ferrero Rocher of personal letters.

However, this particular letter seems almost purposely-crafted to drive me towards voting Labour.

The first two paragraphs contain so much piffle that they actually broke my piffleometer. I understand the need to trash talk Labour in their leaflets, but "Britain nearly bankrupted"? I expect that kind of mendacity from Clegg, but I thought Leech would have more scruples.

If you're going to make up recent history for your own benefit, at least be creative:

"In 2010, the tyrant Brown ruled the Kingdom with a great clunking fist, and all the peasants did whimper as their first borns were sacrificed to appease the mighty Banker Barons. And yet there was still hope, in a fresh faced young hero named Nick Clegge from the South Riding of York-Shire. And lo, the p…

Undecided of Manchester Withington

A confession: I haven't made up my mind how to vote yet.

If it were simply a matter of choosing a party I would have settled long ago on Labour. I've never voted for them before at a general election but picking Ed Miliband as leader showed they were ready to stand for something again and I'm pleased with the direction he has taken the party. While some of the policies they have already proposed may be a bit gimmicky (stupid NHS targets), and some I'll believe when they happen (200,000 new homes a year), others look both doable and will tangibly improve the country: doubling paid paternity leave, reducing tuition fees, giving 16 year olds the vote, abolishing non-dom status, giving football fans a voice in the boardroom, reinstating the 50p top rate of tax, scrapping the bedroom tax, and giving renters more rights to name just a few. Small policies that will make a big difference without breaking the bank.

I could hardly be less persuaded by the endless attacks on Mili…

Life in a marginal: a tale of two Jeffs

After the blizzard of Lib Dem leaflets, Labour strikes back. It's all about Jeff this time, both in boring old A4 format:

And in a personal communication adressed personally to Mrs Tomsk in person, an intriguing origami-like construction yielding much the same information:

His handwriting looks a bit childish. Should have stuck to the typewriter. Plus he's blown the personal effect by addressing himself to "Dear Resident". Still, it's an impressive roster of ordinary definitely-not-Labour-activists backing Jeff there.

Believe it or not the leaflet folds open again to reveal yet more Jeff knowledge, like a more boring version of those folded paper number choosing thingummies you made at school.

In response Leech has sent us his own innovation: a square leaflet.

Could do better, frankly. But I have learnt something new: Manchester is a one-party state...

Life in a marginal: a brief guide to Manchester Withington

As the distribution of leaflets I've received so far may have hinted at, Manchester Withington is a Lib Dem-Labour fight. Historically Withington was a Conservative seat, but turned Labour in 1987 after all the Tory voters moved to little villages in Cheshire. It stayed that way until 2005 when John Leech took it for the Lib Dems with a swing of 17.3%, benefitting from both the student vote and a steady influx of Guardian readers into the consituency. Leech held it in 2010 with an increased majority of 1,894.

The constituency is made up of seven wards: Chorlton, Chorlton Park, Didsbury West, Didsbury East, Old Moat, Withington and Burnage. In the local elections of 2010 (held on the same day as the general election), six of the wards voted Lib Dem, with only Old Moat going Labour. By contrast in the local elections of 2014, all seven wards voted Labour. Indeed, all of Manchester voted Labour; as the Lib Dems like to point out (*), we have a one-party council. So far this has not …

Life in a marginal: job application edition

The last act as an MP of The Man Formally Known as Our Man in Westminster (TMFKAOMIW as I shall be referring to him in future) was to send us his CV and covering letter for an MP vacancy now being advertised in the Withington area. Full marks for promptness - where are your CVs and covering letters, other candidates? Don't you know The Campaign Has Begun in Earnest (TCHBIE)?

Yes, yes, schools, hospitals, blah blah blah. The key point here is that TMFKAOMIW is a City fan and therefore a gentleman of taste and discernment when you consider the possible alternative.

Life in a marginal: mysterious orange buildings revisited

All is revealed! It is of course the local Lib Dem campaign office.

I particularly like the eclectic list of things delivered: Metrolink, New Jobs, New School, Safer Roads, Alan Turing, The Christie, Environment. Who knew Our Man had both the midwifery skills and command of time travel required to deliver Alan Turing?

You can follow his further adventures in time and space with hastag #makeit15 ...

Life in a marginal: a Libdemalanche of leaflets

Not one, not two, but three items have arrived from Our Man in Westminster.

First up it's the welcome return of South Manchester Life, now in spacious A4 for its Spring 2015 collection. Is this really the last we'll see of South Manchester Life until the summer? I am saddened.

Following on from absolutely non-partisan South Manchester Life, here comes an actual Lib Dem leaflet complete with an actual Lib Dem logo and actual Lib Dem dodgy bar chart on the front cover. Still no sign of Clegg inside though. Our Man's not that foolish.

Finally there's a proper old-fashioned Lib Dem Focus copied on someone's dodgy old Xerox just like Lloyd George would have done. Respect to the bar chart in the top right corner which actually over-represents the 'can't win here' candidates. Now there's confidence.

Using the power of Lib Dem Maths, I extrapolate from today's figures that we will be receiving upwards of 2,500 Lib Dem leaflets a week by the end of the …

Life in a marginal: The Voice strikes back

Just when I was wondering where my next fix of Labour Voice was coming from, it turns up, this time tailored to our very own Chorlton ward:

I've previously applauded LV for not pretending to be anything other than party propaganda and this remains the case. The front page is nothing to write blogs about, holding close to the national party line. Inside gets more punchy, with the distinctly dubious "Never trust a Liberal Democrat":

OK, it's a very reasonable attack on the Lib Dems as a party, but of course it fails to note that Our Man in Westminster's voting record is quite different to the Lib Dems in general, rebelling on both tuition fees and the bedroom tax.

There follows a list of things Labour have done to make Manchester "the most successful city in the UK":

Yep, Manchester Labour are claiming credit for the discovery of graphene. With such scientific prowess how could I vote for anybody else?