You might as well have said you were going to fly to the moon
June 11, 2009 12:08 PM   Subscribe

The English town of Doncaster has a new mayor. English Democrat Peter Davies was elected on the 8th of June 2009. His first engagement in his new role was an interview with the local BBC Radio station. Listen here (MP3 link) with a transcript here.
posted by ClanvidHorse (39 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Presumably there's a reason I'd want to read or listen to this? What might that be?
posted by mrnutty at 12:16 PM on June 11, 2009

Sounds (from the transcript) as if England now has its own version of Sarah Palin. I would have thought that Blighty would have had enough with the twits who have inherited their positions, but there you go.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:16 PM on June 11, 2009

From the article:
Over the course of seven and a half minutes, Toby Foster took Mr Davies’ election manifesto and pulled it apart, pointing out that he doesn’t know what ‘PC jobs’ there are in the council (Mr Davies’ reply being “the things that are usually advertised in the [...] Guardian”), that he can’t cut translation services for non-English speakers (Toby Foster: “It’s more than likely illegal, isn’t it?”. Peter Davies: “I dunno”), and that he hasn’t even though of the possible benefits of funding minority events such as the Gay Pride march (when asked how much money went to funding it, he replies “Haven’t got a clue, I haven’t looked into… I haven’t got the details”). On top of this, he admits that his cuts will mean job losses - which I’m sure the electorate of Doncaster will be happy to hear.
posted by ryanrs at 12:19 PM on June 11, 2009

It's a smallish town. If you want small town mayors with no real idea what they're doing, you don't have to look far.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:20 PM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Shockingly, I am not intimately familiar with local politics in Yorkshire. Would someone who is familiar care to explain why this is notable? I don't doubt that it is, but none of the links appear to come even remotely close to explaining why.
posted by dersins at 12:40 PM on June 11, 2009

I'm familiar with the local politics of the Sheffield region (where this is), and this is very important. But can't talk now, will explain later.
posted by Sova at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2009

Would someone who is familiar care to explain why this is notable?

The radio interview is one of the most thorough drubbings of a politician by a journalist that you're likely to see for awhile... That's interesting at least.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:49 PM on June 11, 2009

It was basically the equivalent of some twelve-year-old running for (and winning) class president, and then being informed he can't actually carry out his promises to outlaw homework and fire all the mean teachers.
posted by aswego at 12:50 PM on June 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

You know what the problem with this FPP is? No editorializing.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:59 PM on June 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

Doncaster? more like DORKaster.
posted by wendell at 1:06 PM on June 11, 2009

"What happened to your manifesto, Peter?"
"The front fell off.'
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 1:07 PM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm sympathetic to the some of the underlying reasons for the EDP's existence, but, like most fringe parties, they have absolutely no plan to actually govern anything.
posted by rocket88 at 1:12 PM on June 11, 2009

Funniest part is at the end of the transcript. PD is the new mayor, TF is the interviewer.

PD: Okay, I’m stopping this interview, it’s a complete waste of time, er, you’re not asking any sensible questions, and er, I really don’t want to continue.

TF: Peter, all I’m asking is how you’re going to deliver on your election manifesto?


TF: Well, I can assure you, that’s going to be one of the easiest he gets.
posted by mdoar at 1:26 PM on June 11, 2009

I'd just like to point out that the title of the transcript is "A whole lot of nothing".
posted by srboisvert at 2:02 PM on June 11, 2009

Shockingly, I am not intimately familiar with local politics in Yorkshire. Would someone who is familiar care to explain why this is notable? I don't doubt that it is, but none of the links appear to come even remotely close to explaining why.

The English Democrats are a fairly new party, and a response the devolution in Scotland and Wales. Their basic argument is that the creation of new parliaments/assemblies in these areas have left the people living in England with a democratic deficit in comparison. This is summed in up the famous West Lothian question, which asks how matters devolved for Scotland and Wales will be dealt with for England through the British parliament, as it includes Scottish and Welsh members. In this understanding, the campaign for an English parliament is quite rational, especially when the three main parties are committed to the Union. I think the furthest any of them is willing to go is a Conservative proposal to exclude non-English members from the British parliament when voting on devolved matters.

However, it doesn't quite stop there. As both Scotland and Wales, in the SNP and Plaid Cymru, have parties actually advocating for complete independence and an end to the Union. The English Democrats don't (yet) fulfil this role, but it's a truism that the Union will break up more quickly once the English want it to. The campaign for an English parliament, even if just to realign the powers of the nations within the UK, involves creating and using arguments that are (possibly) the same for complete independence. But the English Democrats also differ from the SNP and Plaid Cymru in their political ideology. Though the two latter are typically left of centre and more or less civic nationalists, the English Democrats tend to fish in the same pool as the Conservatives, UKIP, and even the BNP. It's kinda unknown just how BNP-like the English Democrats really are, but some of their pronouncements on 'political correctness', sexuality, immigration, and multiculturalism have the same kinda feel.

Doncaster is one of those 'Northern towns' some of us mentioned in the recent thread about the BNP. It's a pretty rundown and shabby place, with some serious problems with regards employment/health/education, with is being among the most-deprived places in the country. Politically it has traditionally been a Labour town, but a corruption scandal about a decade ago led to some loss of support, and the introduction of a directly-elected mayor. The first mayor was Labour, and so still was the council, but support has declined yet further, with many councillors now independent or community, and the council being under no single party's control. It probably wasn't a big surprise that Labour would lose the mayoralty, but more likely that it would go to an independent (as it almost did). The English Democrats win represents pretty much their first major success as a party, and was really really unexpected.

As the interview points out though, Peter Davies' manifesto was full of things he simply has no control over, and which he can't deliver on, but that didn't deter people voting for him. Like with the BNP, the protest against mainstream political parties and their policies is so strong in some areas that it's upsetting the 'knowns' of politics. They've clearly bought a different (and new?) conception of politics and how problems and solutions are conceived. I mentioned in another comment that for the BNP this conception is based around linking politics to race, but for the English Democrats it seems more about linking problems to the 'outside' or 'them', such as other parts of the Union, the EU, immigration, free trade, and so on. This is less worrisome, but still not good, especially when their votes combined with the BNP equal 20% in the Euro elections and 33% in the mayoral election.

I recently got a message about some comments the mayor has (already, with only days on the job!) made about sexuality, along with his desire to cease funding for Doncaster Pride. It's likely to part of a whole shit tip of 'them'-bashing over the next few years, playing to people's insecurities and fear of others. Thankfully the LGBT response in the area is seemingly to pour into Doncaster for Pride and make it more popular than ever. If anybody is passing by Doncaster on 13 August with nothing much ado, you're hereby invited to join.

(Wow, just too many words about politics. I didn't mean to write that much.)
posted by Sova at 2:13 PM on June 11, 2009 [20 favorites]

I'm unconvinced of the benefits of council translation services. Sure, there are short-term benefits, like actually providing healthcare, so it looks like a no-brainer.

But given we have a problem with immigrants not learning English* I imagine conversations like this:

"Sure, spouse, it's not that I WANT to abandon our glorious heritage, but for the sake of the children I need to be able to communicate effectively with the school/doctor/other provision of family services"

Isn't that good for (especially) women in minority immigrant communities, which may have more sexist gender roles?

People learn languages because they have to. If we make it so that people do not have to, they will not learn the language. This will cause enormous harm in a generation or two, if not now.

* Every Cornish, Welsh, Scots and Gaelic speaker will speak English, before anyone points out that Britain != English. And if the Western Isles want to make Gaelic the only language the council uses, they're very welcome.
posted by alasdair at 2:15 PM on June 11, 2009

I sometimes wish that everyone who espouses that "they" need to learn "our" language would be forced to first become fluent in "their" language.

See, it ain't that easy, is it?
posted by hippybear at 2:35 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I could totally get behind a pro-England and get-England-a-fair-deal-in-the-UK party, but wouldn't want this to come with immigration fear mongering and homophobia.

But English Pride also needs a boost - we should get St George's day as a national holiday!

(says the Canadian, but I do have permanent leave to remain in the UK, which for me is basically England 'cause I've never been to Scotland, Wales or NI - want to go, but obviously don't have any emotional attachment to those places, whereas England is clearly the prettiest country in the whole world, with the best beer, and the most cow-like cows).
posted by jb at 2:53 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the perspective, Sova. Much appreciated.
posted by dersins at 2:59 PM on June 11, 2009

Ah, here you go: the Commission on Integration and Cohesion reported in 2006 on the use of translation in local government: Our Shared Future (PDF File) From Annex E:
"Summary: In this annex, we set out our arguments for why Local Authorities and their partners should consider moving from a position of automatic translation of all documents into community languages, towards a more selective approach – driven by need, and set firmly in the context of communications strategies for all residents."
posted by alasdair at 3:17 PM on June 11, 2009

I'm unconvinced of the benefits of council translation services. Sure, there are short-term benefits, like actually providing healthcare, so it looks like a no-brainer.

I've worked for public services, both local government and NHS, and I'll let you in on a secret: nobody likes spending money on translation services. Its not that people don't care, rather there are other things to spend money on which have a better cost/benefit profile. Costs are often minimized to bare essentials, with as much as possible pushed onto central government and local community groups, or sadly, children (it must be embarrassing having your ten-year-old translate for you, but it happens).

Generally the largest groups of people who don't speak English are relative newcomers (often asylum-seekers), or older females from certain ethnic groups. The newcomers (seem) to pick up English pretty fast and aren't dependent on translation services in the long run. Some still have problems understanding technical or complicated information not in their native language, but so it goes, as some native English speakers won't understand the same information until simplified for them. I recall a letter returned to the office where I was working with a pen scribble in poorly spelt English, 'Please can you phone me.' It turned out the women wanted to know what the letter said, and understood it when explained in her terms. Low levels of English comprehension exist in all communities.

As for the older females, well, they face lots of issues in their lives when accessing services, that language is the least of them. When I worked for the NHS, I learnt that it took some coaxing to get them to admit they had a health problem and then a lot of pushing for permission to see a doctor about it. It's very sad, but difficult to find a solution that doesn't invade people's rights. A leaflet in her language might help, but not if she can't read. It's best to ensure that at least some people in certain roles have community language skills where needed, or that we have female community link workers to help them access services, but I'm sure this is just the kind of 'politically correct non-jobs' that Peter Davies wants to be rid of.
posted by Sova at 3:43 PM on June 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

Thanks for posting this, Clanvid and thanks for a well-thought-through reply, Sova.

The guys campaigning for ED round here was a honcho in Fathers 4 Justice. Worrying to think that these fringe parties are gaining footholds.

I hope that these guys and the BNP MEPs spend the next year or so bumbling along in such incompetent fashion that it puts extremism massively on the back foot as voters realise that single-issue axe-grinders are good to say 'Yeah!' to, but aren't the best people to be doing the (mostly logistical, realpoliticking) job of actually governing.

Less-than-excellent first response, Mr Nutty.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 3:48 PM on June 11, 2009

That transcript is a fantastic read, thank you.
posted by Paragon at 4:01 PM on June 11, 2009

Maybe this new guy will get a different graphic designer for their website, which features a Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council ballot box spouting a rainbow. Non-gender specific clip-art should be good for any government website.

And if you're wondering how the other parties fared, here's the full results. The independent candidate was behind by less than 400 votes, while Labor had a gap of 8,700 votes.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:25 PM on June 11, 2009

People learn languages because they have to. If we make it so that people do not have to, they will not learn the language. This will cause enormous harm in a generation or two, if not now.

From my observation of migrants in Australia, the first generation do indeed try to learn English, but as they are older and have to work etc, they learn it with varying levels of success. Their children however all grow up speaking fluent (or nearly-fluent) English thanks to being enrolled in the local school system. I don't think the existence of translation services makes anyone think "haha! I won't have to bother with English!" Translation services exist to help people who need very accurate and careful translations in specific situations - e.g. dealing with a government department, medical emergencies, obtaining legal services etc.

And really, if someone comes to a country, and then has a health problem, and can't explain properly what's going on, and die as a result, how is that country better off?
posted by awfurby at 7:14 PM on June 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

Okay, Sova is now officially my favourite MeFi of the day. Thank you!
posted by DreamerFi at 11:06 PM on June 11, 2009

It would be nice to laugh about all this, but the English Democrats are a nasty, nasty bunch of people.

I first came across them at the time of the European elections in 2004 when the late Chris Lightfoot had a post on his blog remarking that he'd never heard of them before but that, on the basis of their election manifesto, they appeared to be 'some sort of quasi-fascist mob'. He was particularly struck by the fact that their campaign slogan, 'NOT RIGHT, NOT LEFT, JUST ENGLISH!' seemed to be modelled on the old fascist slogan 'Not Right Not Left But Forwards'. This attracted some attention from one of the ED candidates, Steve Uncles, who threatened Chris with legal action if he didn't retract his comments. Chris told him to get lost.

Chris tragically took his own life in 2007. (You can read more about him on this Metafilter obituary post.) Now, fast forward to 2009, and Steve Uncles has popped up again, gleefully mocking Chris for committing suicide -- 'that's what happens when you hate your own country, you have no identity, no focus, nothing'. When he was called out on this he charmingly responded to one of his critics: 'Let's hope you go the same way as Chris Lightfoot'.

Steve Uncles is a vile piece of scum, and the English Democrats are a quasi-fascist mob who only got in at Doncaster with the help of second-preference votes from BNP supporters.
posted by verstegan at 12:46 AM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

Amazing. Thanks for this post, I would have had no idea.
posted by creeky at 1:16 AM on June 12, 2009

Hello *waves*

The site linked to is mine, and I never thought it'd end up on MeFi, but there you go...

There's much to be said about the English Democrats, and lots of it has been said elsewhere, so I won't go into it, but needless to say they have some interesting connections.

I've made further posts (self links - apologies) on my site explaining why he can't carry out some of his election promises - research he should have done before even standing. Unfortunately, it does appear that the only way we in Doncaster don't have to suffer 4 years of him is if he stands down of his own accord - the previous incumbent was Martin Winter, so we've already seen how powerless the electorate and even our local elected representatives are to do anything about it.

He is well-known locally - he's the ex-head of RE and Politics at a local school, and taught many of my friends and (considering his age) their parents, and there's many stories - of course, these can't be substantiated so I won't repeat them - but there are common themes that come out of them. The saddest/funniest (depending which way you look at it) thing about it all is that this is a man who was too right-wing for the Conservatives, and he's been elected in a town that would normally vote for a dead badger if it was running under a Labour banner.

(I have a slight modification to make to the transcription, based on an email I had from the interviewer's brother this morning. Now that's random)
posted by robzster1977 at 2:09 AM on June 12, 2009

I sometimes wish that everyone who espouses that "they" need to learn "our" language would be forced to first become fluent in "their" language.

They could just try moving somewhere where "their" language isn't already the "first" language.
posted by effbot at 2:17 AM on June 12, 2009

Thanks for hosting this, Robzster. You're now officially part of the hallowed gang that is know as 'mefi's own'!

It is an interesting question, though - if someone is elected on a platform that turns out to be total lies, illegal lies, in fact, can they be charged with some kind of electoral fraud? I'm aware that the majority of electoral promises are made by sticking a pin roughly in the centre of the 'What we want to do' 'What we can do' and 'What the public wants to hear' triangle (tending more to one corner than another depending on the candidate), but there must be some sort of recourse if you vote someone in, and then they do a total 180 the moment they gain power...?
posted by Cantdosleepy at 2:25 AM on June 12, 2009

Sova's points about immigrantion and services are great and give a personal account of what's normally just highlighted in statistics.

In the UK there are many immigrants with better English literacy and language skills than large sections of the native population.

The Moser Report (1997) found that "one in five adults ... are functionally illiterate - that is, if given the Yellow Pages they cannot find the page for plumbers" (source, more adult literacy stats).

For low-skilled/low-wage immigrants who either work with no exposure to English and may be short of time, provision of services in their own languages are essential. As is English/ESOL tuition. But the government has repeatedly cut ESOL funding and focused what funding there is on training for long-term immigration, excluding those most in need of the funding tuition.
posted by xpermanentx at 3:17 AM on June 12, 2009

Thanks for this, robzster, and for the extra links. One thing puzzles me, that maybe you can explain: why didn't the Lib Dems put up a candidate in the mayoral election? It seems to have left disaffected Labour voters with nowhere to go except into the arms of independents and fringe parties.

Thanks to Sova too for those excellent comments. Anyone wondering what it's like to live in Doncaster might be interested in Fran Abrams's fascinating account of working in a pickle factory there, from her book Below the Breadline: Living on the Minimum Wage.
posted by verstegan at 3:32 AM on June 12, 2009

MetaFilter is the first place I've seen this news. It's interesting, there was a profile of the outgoing mayor in the Local Government Chronicle the week before the elections and it makes no reference of the English Democrats. The profile is worth checking for an insight into Doncaster politics.

I think it is also worth pointing out how new and rare elected mayors are for the UK. Indepentants and fringe parties have been disproportionat with them. As that profile says:
Two other elected mayoral contests will take place on 4 June 2009, at Hartlepool Borough Council and North Tyneside MBC. Stuart Drummond (Ind), a monkeysuited football mascot when elected in Hartlepool in 2002, has since become a serious politician. He was re-elected with a landslide in 2005 with 42.2% of the vote. Seven independents challenge him, plus candidates from the three main parties, UKIP and the BNP.
posted by ninebelow at 4:37 AM on June 12, 2009

There's much to be said about the English Democrats, and lots of it has been said elsewhere, so I won't go into it, but needless to say they have some interesting connections.

Thanks for the link, I try to deny just how bad the English Democrats are because I secretly hope for our own version of the SNP or the Plaid, but I know it's a losing hand. I not ashamed to admit that I am actually an English nationalist in terms of the future of the UK (of sorts, I hold a complicated position), but I'm not voting for the shit the ED come out with. I suppose then there's room then for yet another party in our polity, an English civic-nationalist party without the crazy xenophobic them-hating nonsense.

Oh, and thanks to everybody else for saying they enjoyed my screedy screed.
posted by Sova at 5:20 AM on June 12, 2009

@verstegan: Not sure why they didn't put one up directly, but I do know that as a party they're against the idea of elected mayors, which may go some way to explain it. Locally they backed one of the independents - Mick Maye, who ended up coming second.

@Sova: Indeed - and I think that there's plenty of people who would vote for some kind of English nationalism (and I mean nationalism in the context of the UK, for an English parliament, etc.), but don't want all the right-wing rubbish that goes with it. As for comparisons with the SNP - the local paper (the Doncaster Free Press) has drawn that parallel already, albeit (in my opinion) wrongly.
posted by robzster1977 at 8:42 AM on June 12, 2009

oh, go on then. any excuse..
posted by trulyscrumptious at 2:33 PM on June 12, 2009

He's had to back-track on funding for Pride already.
posted by Abiezer at 2:34 PM on June 12, 2009

If you think this guy is weird, you should see the elected mayor of Hartlepool, who was elected essentially on his record as a mascot at sporting events. What's even weirder is that it wasn't a one-off- with his re-election last week he's Britain's only 3 term mayor.

Elected mayors are still something of a novelty in Britain - most local government works with elected councillors selecting their own leader from their number. Whilst in the case of the Mayor of London its been a great success, its been rather less so elsewhere, often with quite a lot of friction between elected mayors and elected councillors in the same area. The idea was that elected mayors would reinvigorate democracy, giving people a single figurehead to get behind. In practice this hasn't been the case - the turnout in Doncaster was only 35%, slightly lower than the national average. Hartlepool was even lower at 31%.

In the case of Doncaster, it's a massive victory for a very small party. I guess a US analogy would be if the libertarians won the Mayoralty of somewhere the size of Pittsburgh. Those who imply that this a small town are wrong to do so.

I suspect that this guy is pretty radically out of his depth, and his party simply won't have the resources to help him out. This will probably mean that the council officers (professional employees of the council) in Doncaster will pretty much rule the roost - they do in most councils where elected leadership is weak. They will probably bump along ok, with officers enjoying the freedom to run the council how they want (note how he's already given in on gay pride, which seemed a fairly major manifesto plank) and giving him enough to do to give the appearance of activity in the meantime.
posted by prentiz at 4:41 PM on June 12, 2009

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