The Cheltonian > Articles

Martin Horwood MP

New Year' Comment crack

Politicians are heading back to Westminster fortified by Christmas pud and time with family, friends and constituents (and undercover Telegraph reporters).

There’ll be early political excitement on 13 January at the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. At the general election Labour’s Phil Woolas was just 103 votes ahead of Lib Dem Elwyn Watkins with the Tories a few thousand votes behind. But highly dodgy allegations about Watkins lost Woolas his seat. Labour still hope to retain their traditional support there while LibDems are hoping to snatch victory, starting 2011 more positively than they ended 2010. The Tories are quietly hoping they can sneak through the middle. This scenic Pennine constituency would certainly be welcome in the Lib Dem fold (we specialise in beautiful constituencies: Cheltenham, Bath, Cambridge, the Lake District, most of the Scottish Highlands, half of Cornwall)... And Nick Clegg needs cheering up!

Everyone will be cheering on 29 April for the first Royal Wedding (the second, of course, being Cheltenham’s own Zara and Mike. Expect less pomp and souvenir mugs). Ministers may be hoping the general feelgood factor will at least distract from the spending cuts that will be biting by then. Libraries, youth services and day care budgets are the big worries locally but it won’t be bad news for everybody – schools in less well-off areas will start benefitting from the £625m Lib Dem ‘pupil premium’, helping them meet challenges that always threaten to knock them down the league tables despite often outstanding work. But expect mainstream media to accentuate the negative.

Days after the wedding will come the coalition’s biggest electoral test yet in local and national elections across most of the UK (although not in Cheltenham) and the referendum on changing Britain’s voting system. On offer is the alternative vote system – not fully proportional but much better than we have now. Every MP will have to win more than half the local vote, or face the elimination of the weakest candidate whose votes are recounted according to voters’ second preferences. This eliminates the so-called wasted vote. So voters in Cheltenham can vote UKIP or Green or Labour even if they have no chance of winning but give their second preference to the leading party they’d actually prefer to win. MPs themselves will have to work harder to win that 50%. They’ll have to be less confrontational too – as they might need the second preferences of other parties’ supporters.

By summer, the economy will be the story. The coalition argued the VAT rise and spending review were economic necessities. At the time, the markets agreed but Ed ‘Cassandra’ Miliband predicted a double-dip recession. Before long, one will be proved right. As I write, employment locally is still rising, thanks to the private not the public sector. Alarmingly though, it might not be down to us: the teetering Eurozone and wobbly Americans may yet hold back our recovery too.

Locally and nationally, politically, economically and matrimonially, it’s going to be a fascinating year. Happy New Year all.

Martin Horwood MP

To contact Martin, Telephone: 01242 224889,
Write to: 16 Hewlett Road, Cheltenham GL52 6AA