My brother is running for Parliament

The primary election in Oregon is not the only important issue voters face in May. In Britain, the ruling party gets to choose when to call for an election (within set parameters), and Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown last month decided every seat in the British Parliament will be up for election on May 6. My brother, Peter Jones, is running (in Britain, they call it "standing") for election in Milton Keynes, a city near London. It's the fourth time he's been a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats. In Britain, the "Liberal Democrats" are the center party, with Labour on the left and the Conservatives on the right. There's a nice map showing the North-South divide in political affiliation here.

Peter has a campaign blog. I enjoyed the recent entry, "No junk mail", and hope you might too. In Britain, each candidate gets one piece of mail delivered free by the Post Office, and is allowed to deliver any additional mailers using the regulation post office mail boxes by hand. "Letter boxes" there are most often slots in the front door, or a container by the front door. They don't have curbside mailboxes. Mail carriers all deliver on foot, except in rural areas.

My brother would tell you he has almost no hope of winning, Milton Keynes South being a marginal Labour seat but with the Conservatives in solid second. In Britain, people vote much more by the party and the leader of the party rather than the individual candidate, and whichever party's leader gets the most seats gets to be the Prime Minister. Most of the election coverage goes to the leaders of the three main parties, rather than the local candidate. You will notice there is no information about the candidate or his positions on my brother's web site, http://www.peterjones.mycouncillor.org.uk - elections are almost all about the party, with how hard the local candidate works being a relatively minor factor in getting out the votes.

Peter ran in the now-redistricted Milton Keynes Southwest linked above in 1997, coming third. He also ran twice in Aylesbury, finishing second both times with over 25% of the vote, in a heavily Conservative district. He has been an elected member of the Chiltern County Council since 1991. His biggest claim to fame on the national stage may have been his Safe Standing at Football Games motion at the 2008 Lib Dem National Conference, adopted as a plank in the national platform. The motion was wildly popular with both delegates and fans, but failed to swing the subsequent election to the Lib Dems. Sigh.

Back to election mailings: Anyone who is standing to be MP (Member of Parliament) gets one Royal Mail delivery at no cost for mailing. The leaflets themselves have to be paid for by the party / individual but the delivery of them is free. There are rules about sizes - standard Post Office Preferred stuff so they are usually A5. The Royal Mail will deliver either a) one to each house or b) one to each elector. The former is preferred by candidates who are not going to win. The latter is good as it gives you the chance to send a leaflet to Mr Smith and a similar but very slightly different leaflet to Mrs Smith. And in theory Master and Miss Smith as well. The latter costs more money for the party as either they need to be addressed at the factory ("laser on-line mail-merge stuff", says my brother who is a partner in a business forms company), or have address labels stuck on them.

In case you're wondering, a (perhaps the only) claim to fame of Milton Keynes is "the birthplace of the modern computer", it being the place where the Germans' Enigma Code was broken during World War II. It's kinda close to London. It was established as a "New Town" in 1970 - the Brits' don't have ever-expanding Urban Growth Boundaries around existing large - they designate, plan, and build new communities around small ones, like Damascus is intended to be here. In Britain, UGBs are "Green Belts" and they stay fixed.

Only the leaders of the three main parties are in the televised debates - Gordon Brown (Labour), David Cameron (Conservative), and Nick Clegg (Lib Dem). Minor parties like the UK Independence Party (independent from Europe, that is), and all the fringe candidates don't get a slot. There are separate debates being held and televised in Wales, where the big three plus Plaid Cymru participate; Scotland (ditto with the Scottish Nationalist Party); and in Northern Ireland (four Irish parties, not the big three). The rules for the debates are essentially no audience response (no clapping, booing, calling-out), and no interrupting the other speaker. Very civilized. Nick Clegg wowed watchers in a recent debate. It would take a massive swing to elect him, with Peter Jones winning Milton Keynes South.

Of particular note when discussing British elections is that the Official Monster Raving Loony Party has actually won contested elections in Britain, albeit for local rather than Parliamentary elections. This Monty Python skit shows how they still announce the results, in person and live. The Monty Python portrayal of TV coverage of the results is pretty much how I remember the real thing.

Election night was a big thing in our family as far back as I can remember. The six weeks of election run-up is intense. All politics, all the time, on TV, radio and newspapers -- much like the last six weeks of the Presidential elections here, except everyone isn't sick of it after two years of same. My parents used to get us all dressed up and take us to "the hustings", the one debate per election between local aristocrat Sir Keith Joseph, MP (Con) and whichever hapless Labour blue-collar male was running against him, held in the youth center hall of our local Church of England parish. Our family was Labour (because at the time the Liberals had No Chance), but we thought Sir Keith was A Good Chap who cared about the constituency. I remember not understanding the questions or answers at the hustings, but being thrilled with the dignity and orderliness of it all, and the supreme gift of being able to vote in a free country. I think I only got to vote in England twice, both times for the Labour candidate in Cambridge - who also lost to the Conservatives. So I left.

Milton Keynes is almost as

Milton Keynes is almost as awful as Croydon. I feel your brother's pain. But I'm so glad to hear you voted Labour. Your "basic services" platform, coupled with the blue suit, had me wondering if you might be a Thatcherite at one point! One of my earliest political memories is distributing leaflets for Croydon's SDP candidate—back before the Lib Dems were called the Lib Dems. The leaflets were yellow. That's all I remember. And I think my mum had a crush on the candidate, so me and my brother got to distribute these leaflets with her. My dad's family was Labour, going back over the years. My mum's family too. I remember all the optimism in 1997 when Blair got in. It's sad to see all that gone now. I agree that Clegg was best in the debate and I hope your brother wins. I hope Clegg wins, too. Against my party affiliation, I do rather like Boris Johnson as mayor of London. He's charismatic and he speaks his mind. But I can't imagine I'd ever vote conservative. Fox hunting, etc.

had me wondering if you

had me wondering if you might be a Thatcherite at one point

Did the Iron Lady talk about basic services? I remember her most for selling them off to private corporations, and also for her nickname TINA - There Is No Alternative. Both of which are the opposite of my approach.

I know, I know. But the blue

I know, I know. But the blue suit!

Tory gain from Labour in

Tory gain from Labour in Milton Keynes South. Plucky Lib Dem Peter Jones third, with 2.5% gain compared with previous Lib Dem result. Boo hiss for Tory gain.