Friday, 30 April 2010

Friday Night is Music Night: Bad Guys

This one's in honour of whoever's going to end up running the country in a week's time:

Frankly I don't have a clue who I'm voting for in the General Election at the moment - at least in the local election I'll be voting for someone I trust!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Axeman Cometh

One of my manifesto pledges being that I would always oppose increases in council tax and try to get it reduced significantly (significantly to me means at least 10%) then it's reasonable to ask what I would cut. Some people might think it's far-fetched being as Labour have increased council tax yet again and the Lib Dems are only promising a cut of less than 1%.

A good start would be to delete all or most of the budget for “Cultural and Related Services”. In 2006-2007, the budget for this was £66,506,000. By comparison, the budget for roads, highways and public transport services that year was less than half that, which shows a pretty strange set of priorities if you ask me.

Let's go through the itemised list of what this was for and see what we can take an axe to:

£96,000 – Archives spending. I'd have to look more closely into what this includes, but presumably the council needs to keep old records for future use, and it's a tiny part of the overall budget, so I'd leave it alone for now.

£3,825,000 – Arts development and support spending. Delete this completely. Art isn't something that should depend on handouts from the State. Art is generated by the creative impulses of the human mind, and it should be paid for by those who enjoy it.

£4,689,000 – Community centres and public halls spending. This probably won't make me popular, but I would vote to delete this part of the budget too. If there's a demand for such facilities, then they should be financed voluntarily by the people who use them.

£5,376,000 – Heritage spending. I'm assuming this includes maintaining the various monuments and historic buildings that come under council control. This should be phased out and responsibility for this should be turned over to charities and local voluntary groups.

£14,255,000 – Library spending. This is a problem. In principle it's another case where I'd say it should be paid for by those who use it. On the other hand, libraries are such useful facilities for supporting education, job hunting etc that I'd be very cautious about making any radical changes. If anyone has any practical ideas for making the library service voluntarily funded while still keeping it free at the point of use, I'd appreciate the input.

£6,560,000 – Museums and galleries spending. This part of the budget can and should be deleted. I do like visiting places like the Science Museum and the Art Gallery when I've got time, but not everyone does, and should my entertainment be funded by other people? I would advocate a rolling programme of transferring ownership and control of museums and art galleries to charities, volunteer groups and the private sector.

£14,764,000 – Open spaces spending. Parkland and suchlike, in some cases just waste ground that the council has grassed over. Local community groups should normally be responsible for this kind of thing, and in most cases they could probably do the job a lot cheaper.

£9,377,000 – Sports and recreation facilities including golf courses. Should be paid for by those who enjoy them. Privatise them.

£5,810,000 – Theatres and public entertainment. What is this, the Roman Empire, with Caesar laying on entertainment to keep the public quiet? I like going to the theatre when I can afford it (and it happens that we've got a lot of good amateur theatres around Greater Manchester) but I don't expect other people to subsidise my nights out through council tax. Delete this budget.

£1,754,000 – Tourism spending. I don't think I've ever met anyone who has visited Manchester due to promotion by Marketing Manchester. People come from the outside because they've got relatives in the area or there's some particular aspect of Manchester or it's history that interests them (football being an obvious example). Another budget that can be deleted with no problem.

Does a decent cut in council tax still sound far-fetched?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Busy couple of days

No-one told me politics would be this physically demanding. Having spent several days walking the streets delivering leaflets, I seem to be waking up tired every morning now. Never mind, it'll soon be over.

I actually overslept by several hours yesterday, so didn't get anything like as much done as I wanted to. I still managed to cover a reasonable chunk of Newton Heath, though.

In the evening I went to a public meeting concerning the Collyhurst demolitions. I didn't make any contribution myself, I was there to try to learn more about what's supposed to be going on, and I'm not inclined to shoot my mouth off unless I'm sure of my facts. The meeting was supposed to be about giving the residents a chance to find out what the current plan is, but there were no council officers there. Graham Stringer was there - he's the Labour MP for Blackley (or was, technically he's unemployed while he seeks re-election) and some of this development is in his constituency. Although I'm not a fan of the guy (I disliked him when I lived in Blackley and still do) I felt sorry for him on this occasion. All he could do was take notes of people's questions and promise to pass them onto the council, not very satisfying for anyone, but that's genuinely all he could do.

The redevelopment is supposed to be being financed by way of a PFI (Private Finance Initiative). Unfortunately for everyone, the private sector's not very flush at the moment and the whole scheme seems to depend on central government infecting a large amount of money into the scheme. Now everyone's waiting for the General Election result to see if this is still going ahead. Even if it does go ahead, the plans don't seem to have been finalised and it could still be two or three years before the demolitions start, then another two or three years before the residents are moved back - this will kill the community for sure. In the meantime, the council has been neglecting repairs to the properties in question, with the result that some of those maisonettes apparently no longer meet minimum standards. What a way to run a housing policy. The meeting broke up amid accusations of deliberate neglect and land banking. The council should really make a plan (or plans) based on what resources it's sure it can secure and then have an honest consulation with the residents and then actually carry out whatever plan is agreed without undue delay. Almost anything's better than keeping people in suspense.

I had a better day today. I woke up at a reasonable time feeling reasonably rested. I did a bit of leafleting in the area near the Methodist Church Hall then linked up with a libertarian sympathiser to do some leafletting over on the other side of Newton Heath, not far from where the old munitions factory used to be. We managed to cover a lot of ground, and hopefully we'll do at least as well tomorrow. One thing that's struck me is how badly maintained the roads seem to be once you get off the main roads. Definitely a case for more investment in maintenance.

Having spent several hours leafleting, I dropped my mate off in town , drove back to Newton Heath, did a bit more leafleting on my own, had a bit of tea then out again to the Methodist Church Hall on Droylsden Road for a yoga class (these are held free of charge every Tuesday between 6.30 and 7.30, just turn up and introduce yourself). Good stuff yoga, it's the only exercise system I've ever tried which genuinely leaves me feeling refreshed. So I'll be all ready for a bit more groundpounding tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Thinking about housing

Sensible people sleep in late on weekends, or go out and enjoy themselves. Me and my loyal band of helpers, we spent yesterday and today walking the streets of Newton Heath, Miles Platting and Collyhurst, delivering my election leaflets. Yesterday it was roasting hot, today started off pleasantly cool but it soon started raining. A natural result of holding elections at this time of year, I suppose. At least it wasn't snowing.

We managed to get a lot done, though. We've managed to cover most of Collyhurst South, part of Miles Platting and a big chunk of Newton Heath. Hopefully we'll be able to do the rest by the end of the week.

Mostly we've been doing council estates so far, and talking to local residents, I've been struck yet again by what an awful landlord the council is. They're completely unresponsive to input from their own residents, and it can take years to get even simple repair jobs done. I've moved house several times as an adult and certainly that was my experience as a council tennant. It seems to me that the central problem is that the council is too distant and has too many other responsibilities to do the job properly. There needs to be more local control. Eventually, I would advocate local councils getting out of the housing market altogether, and turning council estates over to whatever local forms of control are preferred by the local residents (housing associations, cooperatives, outright ownership of each individual property by the occupants, whatever). Local solutions to local problems are usually more effective than central planning. One size doesn't fit all. Radical reform isn't going to happen overnight of course, and one thing that might be worth doing in the short term is to give more power to existing tennants' associations - they're already embedded in the local communities, so maybe give them a bit of a budget and let them get on with any small repairs that are needed in their area without having to lobby the council first. Obviously there would have to be safeguards, democratic accountability etc, but it's maybe an idea worth pursuing. I don't claim to be an expert on housing, but the current system's clearly not working the way it should. We need to elect some politicians who are at least open to trying out new ideas.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Mad dogs and politicians go out in this kind of weather

I had a bit of a hard day leafleting today. We were working the Collyhurst South area, delivering leaflets and talking to some of the local residents. Not many were around to talk to, sensible people stay indoors in this kind of weather instead of tramping the streets. It seems that the council's plans for "redevelopment" may be on hold for the moment - the latest word is that they're waiting to see who wins the general election, because the funds for this scheme are supposed to be coming from central government. Crazy, it's not like we didn't all know that a general election was coming. Councils should work out what money they've actually got available before announcing grand plans, instead of gambling on screwing a bit more money out of the government. The whole scheme's pretty controversial, with different people either strongly for or against it, but it does seem to keep changing, which isn't good for anyone.

Anyway, we managed to get most of the area covered, and then retired to the Marble Arch for a well-deserved bitter. I could really do with a bit of cool, overcast weather for this kind of work, the sun was definitely starting to get to me when we finished! Labour and the "Lib" Dems have also been working the area, so it's just as bad for their activists, I suppose.

After I got home and had a well-deserved nap, I decided to have a look at the internet for a bit of light relief. And I found some - enjoy:

For the record, I agree with Gordon Brown that the general election is depressing, and I also sympathise with Nick Clegg's reasons for wanting to be Prime Minister.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Tired of Getting Pushed Around

Do you remember Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet?

The Campaign Begins!

I took delivery of my leaflets yesterday. The Libertarian Party's Communications Director, Councillor Gavin Webb, has done a good job of designing these. They're only A5, but they're printed in colour, with a really good layout. He's even somehow managed to make my picture on the front look not too horrible. Gavin also got a pretty good deal, £89 for 5,000 leaflets – we're not a rich party with millionaire backers, and I'm certainly not a rich candidate. Election rules allow a candidate in this ward to spend over £1,000, and I'm sure the two big parties in this ward (Lib Dem and Labour) with their deep pockets will be taking full advantage of that. My budget is in the region of £100, so I'll just have to make do with what I've got. One advantage that I do have is that I'm the only candidate in this ward who's guaranteed a vote – all the others live outside the area!

So I got the leaflets yesterday, and today I started distribution. All of a sudden, it's turned into a real election campaign. Out of the door at the crack of 9.00 am, and I got back just about dead on noon. In that time, I delivered something over 300 leaflets in the area around my house, which I don't think is a bad rate of work. One thing about walking around delivering these leaflets is, I soon developed a real appreciation for what a hilly area my part of Newton Heath is. Lucky I keep reasonably fit (quarterstaff lessons on Monday nights, yoga on Tuesday evenings and walks in the country when I've got time) or I would have been done in after the first hour, especially as the weather turned quite warm after a bit. I had to skip some houses, due to the gardens having dogs in them or being unable to find the letter box (yes, really) but not very many. I didn't do any actual canvassing (I'm no salesman, so I figured knocking on doors and trying to get people to vote for me would be counterproductive) but I did manage to chat to some people when I caught them going into or out of their homes, or just hanging out in their gardens. I can quite honestly say that I didn't have a single unpleasant experience, everyone was at least polite and some were quite friendly. I got back home at mid-day tired but in good spirits, feeling that I'd made a good start.

I rested up for a bit after I had some dinner, then went out again, this time to town. I'd had a letter from the Electoral Services Unit to attend a briefing for candidates and agents. I got into town a bit early, to get my hair cut – which really needed doing. As it happens, I didn't have to wait to get my hair cut, so I ended up with about an hour to kill before I had to get to the Town Hall. I decided to spend it in the Art Gallery, which is one of my favourite free places to kill time. It's a great place to wander around and see what catches your eye – one painting I particularly like is “Work” by Ford Madox Brown. The only thing I'd change about the Art Gallery is that it's taxpayer funded. I don't think taxpayers should be forced to pay for other people's pleasure. Things like art and sport should be paid for by the people who enjoy them. Personally, I'd probably turn the Art Gallery over to some charity and let them raise money through donations and/or charging at the door.

Anyway, 4.30pm rolls around, and I'm at the Town Hall, in the Banqueting Hall. I hadn't seen this part of the building before, it's quite impressive. Tea, coffee and biscuits were on offer free of charge (ie funded by the taxpayer) and I helped myself to a cup of coffee and several biscuits. Is this a sign of me starting to give in to corruption even before I've been elected?

The meeting wasn't as well attended as I expected. There were seats for at least a hundred people, but no more than a couple of dozen turned up – both local and parliamentary candidates. Flanagan and some members of his mob were there, along with Damien O'Connor (the local Lib Dem godfather) and members of his entourage. The briefing was pretty boring, technical stuff, mostly to do with the right of candidates and their agents to attend the count, the opening of postal ballots and suchlike, along with stern warnings not to try any ballot rigging. There were a couple of of interruptions by self-important candidates who seemed more interested in starting an argument than anything else, but I learned what I needed to learn and also picked up a pass for attending the count, so it was worth going to.

Overall, a pretty good day. If this is electioneering, I'll have some more of it.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Sloppily-produced propaganda from Labour

One thing that's surprised me about this campaign so far is that the incumbent Labour councillor (John Flanagan) doesn't seem to be putting much effort into keeping his job. The Lib Dems have been campaigning hard in my area since about the middle of last year – I've had a monthly Focus leaflet off them, along with a Christmas card, calendar and a personalised letter inviting me to join up with them (no thanks). All I've had from Labour this year is a letter from Tony Lloyd, the local MP who's currently after being re-elected. The only time I've seen or heard anything from Flanagan in the last few months was when I attended a local political meeting last year, which was hosted by all three councillors. On that occasion, Flanagan stormed out of the room after one of the local taxpayers gave him a bit too much grief – I really didn't get the impression that Flanagan enjoys his job.

So little or no Labour activity in Newton Heath. Is this because they arrogantly assume that the locals will automatically turn out and vote Flanagan back into power? Or have they given up on Newton Heath on the assumption that this part of the ward now “belongs” to the Lib Dems? It's a false assumption in either case, since the voters all have free will, and anything can happen on election day – but then again, establishment politicians do tend to take the voters for granted, don't they?

It turns out that the Labour Party are doing some campaigning though, just not round my way. By way of this very useful and interesting website, I've found a copy of a “Rose” leaflet that the Labourites have been circulating around Miles Platting and Collyhurst South. It's well worth having a look, even if only to keep yourself amused by counting the typos. Edited by Flanagan himself, frankly it's a bit of a mess.

The leaflet has three pictures of Flanagan on the front, which isn't a good start – he takes an even worse picture than me. Naturally he takes credit for three new schools that are going up in the area, as well as keeping Miles Platting Pools open (for now). He also takes credit for “home improvements” in Miles Platting and Collyhurst, forgetting to mention that some of these “improvements” involve the extensive use of a demolition ball. The plan to demolish nearly 200 homes in Collyhurst South is particularly controversial, but you wouldn't believe it from reading this leaflet. Possibly because it's a relatively small area, not big enough to swing an election, the two big parties seem to be paying scant attention to the feelings of the people who actually live there.

The bottom of the front page is promoting the upcoming St George's Day Parade, which isn't really something that the council should be involved with – if local residents want to organise a parade, that's perfectly OK with me, it's just not something that the council should be financing or taking credit for.

The back page is even worse. According to the leaflet, the council has set aside £600,000 to repair all the extra potholes that have appeared due to the recent cold snap. For a town the size of Manchester, that doesn't sound anything like enough to me. Although I'm in favour of reducing the size of Manchester City Council's overall expenditure, keeping the roads in a decent state of repair is a necessary core function in my book, so it's one area where I think spending a bit of extra money is justified to get it right. And I don't think it's being done right at the moment, because a lot of the potholes near me have just been roughly filled with tarmac – I don't think they'll get through even a moderate winter without needing re-doing.

A bit further down, there's a nice prominent headline: “Manchester Council Tax – no increase”. This is a lie. The reality is that there's been an increase in the council tax bill of up to £22.70, depending on the property you live in. Maybe not as bad as it could have been, but nothing like as good as it could have been either, and definitely not a freeze. If they really cared about the working poor of this town, they could have reduced council tax significantly. Certainly if I'm elected I'll be pushing for at least a 10% reduction (the Lib Dem candidate's only promising a reduction of less than 1%, which isn't surprising as he's an ex-Labourite himself).

The rest of the leaflet is taken up with the usual form to fill in and send back to the Labour Party to get your name added to their mailing list, and some fairly random-looking photos down the side – the top one shows Flanagan standing in front of a playground pointing at the camera as if he's doing a “stick up”. The next one down shows Flanagan apparently being given directions by a Collyhurst resident – not surprisingly, as Flanagan's from Gorton and probably has trouble finding his way around this ward. One pic of Flanagan and Lloyd attending last year's parade. One pic of Flanagan standing outside a youth club, saying it had had a “£100,00 improvement boost” - does he mean £100.00 or £100,000? This leaflet hasn't been proofread at all. Weird how they can afford thousands of leaflets on glossy paper, but don't take the time to get them right.

Note to the Labour Party: I have experience of proofreading. If you want someone to go through your propaganda and check for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors next year, my hourly rate for that kind of work is £7 per hour. For the Labour Party (and Lib Dems and Tories) I offer a special rate of £14 an hour, or we'll call it £10 if cash in hand. You know where to contact me.

A Welcome Visitor

There I was, partway through typing up my latest blog entry and listening to Ted Nugent, when there was a knock on the door. This was slightly disconcerting, as I wasn't expecting visitors (I never do, due to being a loner with few friends).

My first thought was that it was the bailiffscum, but it's too early for them - I haven't fallen into arrears with my council tax payments yet.

Then I thought, maybe it's someone canvassing for the "Lib" Dems - a serious possibility, since they're targetting this area heavily.

It turned out to be a pleasant young guy who was working as a volunteer for Cancer Research UK. He asked me if I wanted to set up a weekly standing order to help finance gene therapy for cancer victims. It's not a treatment that I know much about, but apparently it has a good success rate without the serious side effects you get with chemotherapy. Cancer research and treatment is also a cause that I'm very strongly attached to, so I was happy to fill in the form to set up the SO. If you want to make a contribution yourself, why not visit their website?

I like meeting charity workers, it makes a refreshing change to talk to people who actually get out and do stuff to make the world a better place, as opposed to sitting around complaining that it's someone else's job (usually Nanny State) to get things done.

Some visitors are more welcome than others.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Go, Leese! Just go!

The major local political news story in Manchester over the last few days hasn't been the local election, but the fact that Richard Leese has had to “temporarily” step down as Leader of Manchester City Council after accepting a police caution for assaulting a 16 year old girl. It seems to have been some kind of domestic argument over medicating a cat, that blew up out of proportion somehow. Whether he will return to his £40,000 a year job as council bossman is unclear at this time.

However, it is worth pointing out that he previously spearheaded a “zero tolerance” campaign on domestic violence.

My opinion is that Richard Leese should have stepped down a long time before this incident happened.

This is the man who tried to bully the people of Manchester into voting for congestion charging, claiming there was “no Plan B” in the event of a “no” vote.

This is the man who encouraged thousands of ticketless Rangers fans to crowd into the centre of Manchester in 2008, leading to some of the worst rioting we've seen in this city in recent years.

This is the man who is happy to collaborate with this government's discredited and expensive ID cards scheme.

This is the man who has overseen annual increases in Council Tax even during times of recession, imposing an unnecessary economic burden on the working poor of this city.

This is the man who's idea of economic regeneration usually involves over-use of the wrecking ball.

This is the man, in short, who is the head of a council that has brought this city to its knees.

He should just go.

It's unfortunate that Leese's term of office as a councillor for Crumpsall doesn't expire until 2012. The honourable thing for him to do would be to resign as a councillor in order to force a by-election and let the people of Crumpsall decide whether they still want him. But I don't expect him to do that. Instead, he will attempt to live this incident down.

But there is no way he should ever be re-instated as Leader of the Council. Manchester deserves better.

Friday, 16 April 2010

A Manifesto for Manchester

1. Libertarians believe that taxes should be kept as low as possible and as fair as possible. Council Tax is neither, it has no relation to the ability to pay and Manchester City Council has insisted on increasing it year after year, even in times of recession. I will never vote for an increase in Council Tax, under any circumstances and I will work to get it decreased. The annual increases in the rate of Council Tax levied by this council are a crippling burden on the working poor of this city. I believe that by cutting waste, improving efficiency and focusing on core functions, a cut of at least 10% in the Council Tax bill is achievable while still providing necessary services. This would put between £54 and £265 back into the pockets of each tax payer.

2. As a Libertarian, I am totally opposed to this Labour-dominated council's policy of collaborating with the government's expensive and discredited ID card scheme. The main problem with the ID card scheme is not the cards themselves. The real problem is that if you have an ID card, your personal details will be recorded on the National Identity Register – a centralised database which will be accessible to thousands of civil servants and vulnerable to hacking and criminal abuse. No need for ID cards has been demonstrated and yet this council insists on airport workers and students having them. How long until they try to force the rest of us to follow suit?

3. Libertarians oppose the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders by local councils. This is a form of legalised theft which has been heavily employed against residents of Miles Platting and Collyhurst South recently. People work hard for years to buy their own homes – why should the council then be able to throw them out of their homes, knock them down and pay them below market value for their homes? And all to clear the way for yet another of the council's seemingly never-ending “regeneration” projects. This Labour-dominated council has been knocking down and rebuilding parts of this city for as long as I can remember – a policy which destroys communities while doing little or nothing to improve the quality of life in Manchester. If elected, I will always oppose the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders.

4. As a Libertarian, I believe that local councils should focus on providing the core services which people expect them to provide – policing the streets, maintaining the roads, gritting, waste collection and so on – as efficiently as possible. If elected, I will work to ensure that the council's resources are used to maintain and improve these necessary services and not wasted on grand schemes and white elephant projects. Funding for non-essentials such as art galleries, museums, parades and so on should be left to the private and voluntary sectors who can usually do a better job of running them.

5. Libertarians believe in open, accountable government, both at national and local level. The public were rightly outraged when the scandal over MP's expenses broke last year, but local politicians have continued to feather their own nests while being largely ignored by the media. In 2008-09 Manchester city councillors claimed a total of £1,875,032.79 in allowances between them! Labour councillor John Flanagan – who is defending his seat in this election – personally claimed £25,520.67 in that year. Not bad for part time work! If elected, I will claim the minimal amount in allowances which I believe to be justified, and I will publish any claims I make on the internet within a week of claiming them, so that the taxpayers of this ward can decide for themselves whether they're getting value for money from me. I will also publish details of every Council motion I vote on (and those I abstain on) giving reasons why. Politicians should be prepared to account for their actions to the public every single day, not just every four years.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Words of wisdom from Tony Blair

"Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities."

Tony Blair as Leader of the Opposition, Labour Party conference, October 1995

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Vote Labour and get your home demolished!

A recent edition of the Manchester Evening News had an interesting local story concerning Manchester City Council's planned demolition of 189 maisonettes in Collyhurst South. The maisonettes were built in the 60s and the council now want to demolish and replace them. The cost of this “redevelopment” will be £3,300,000 – the council rejected a proposal to refurbish the maisonettes at a much lower cost of £300,000, which would obviously have involved a lot less disruption to the community. Other options, like turning over ownership of the properties involved to a housing association or a local housing cooperative, don't seem to have been considered. Pretty typical of the sledgehammer approach that this Labour-dominated council tends to adopt.

For me though, what's particularly interesting about this story is that it implies that the local people are almost all behind the council's plan. That wasn't the impression I had recently, when I was canvassing for nomination signatures in the area. I only met one guy who plans to vote Labour, everyone else seemed to hate the incumbent councillor John Flanagan, who voted for the demolition. I talked to people who have lived there for decades and who resented the council's actions. Collyhurst South is a functioning community, not some urban battlezone – I've certainly lived in worse places, so why is the council set on this course of action? One very friendly couple who live in one of the maisonettes in question kindly invited me into their home and explained how distressed they were about the prospect of being moved into temporary accommodation while their home was demolished and a replacement built – both of them already have health problems, the stress from this can only make things worse. As usual with this council, they won't let the needs of individuals get in the way of their grand schemes.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

I've had a letter from the council!

When I got home from work this afternoon, there was a letter from the council on my doormat. Normally this is bad news. The sort of letter I get from the council is usually on the lines of "pay your council tax or we're sending the bailiffs in". This one's different. It's a letter I've been waiting for for over a week, since I handed in my nomination papers for the local election. The letter's from the Electoral Services Unit and it confirms that my nomination papers are valid. I was starting to fret about that, thinking I might get knocked out on a technicality. But no, it's official, I'm now a candidate for election to Manchester City Council. That's one less thing to worry about.

Now all I've got to worry about is fighting an election campaign!

Monday, 5 April 2010

The Mancunian Candidate

Three years ago, if you'd told me that I'd soon be joining a political party, I wouldn't have believed you. None of the political parties that were in existence at that time came close enough to my beliefs to be worth supporting, certainly not the Big Three. Then in late 2007, the Libertarian Party was formed, and it didn't take me long to decide to join it.

At the time when I joined the Libertarian Party, if you'd told me that I'd ever be doing anything more active for it than doing a bit of leafleting, I wouldn't have believed you then, either. But when the leadership said they wanted regional coordinators, I volunteered to run the North West branch. No-one else seemed to want the job, so I thought I'd have a go. But I always saw myself as a back room type - admin and blogging, that kind of thing.

I certainly never saw myself as a potential candidate for election. But here I am, the Libertarian Party's official candidate for the Miles Platting and Newton Heath ward in the elections for Manchester City Council on 6th May. Not only the first Libertarian Party candidate in Manchester, but also in the North West. So how did that happen?

I was first persuaded to consider the idea when I was talking to a new member early last year. He's an experienced politician, and he said he'd help me through the process of getting onto the ballot, which seemed pretty daunting at the time. But I realised that the best way to grow a young party was to fight elections, so I agreed to consider it. I started looking into the logistics of running a local campaign, and it seemed feasible, at least on paper. Then Andrew Hunt fought our very first election campaign in Wisbech South last spring. I helped out with leafleting for that campaign, and I saw that it could be done, if it was properly organised. As it happens, Andrew got a pretty good result by campaigning on local issues, and yet he didn't spend big money on his campaign as far as I know. His leaflets were just knocked up on a word processor and printed off, but he got a pretty decent result. I decided to give it a go, if I could.

But it's not just about promoting the party I'm in. I genuinely do believe that we need a major change in Manchester. After decades of Labour domination, this council has brought us to the point where Manchester - once an economic powerhouse - is one of the poorest areas in the country, with the second worst-performing police force. My ward is officially listed as an unemployment blackspot (I was told this by the staff at Newton Heath JobCentre Plus last year, people in particularly bad areas get extra help job hunting). Council tax is sky high, and if you can't pay, they'll send the bailiffs after you - some people have even been driven to bankruptcy. So the self-styled party of the workers has failed us. I don't believe the "Liberal" Democrats have got what it takes to turn this city around either. They're too timid, they won't carry out the necessary reforms, and they've long since abandoned their liberal roots. As a matter of fact, the "Lib" Dems in this ward all seem to be recycled ex-Labour councillors, including Gerry Diamond who is hoping to win this seat from the incumbent Labourite John Flanagan. So don't expect any massive changes even if the "Lib" Dems do well in this election.

So it's time to look for a real change. As the sole Libertarian candidate in this election, I realise that even if elected I won't have a major voice in the council (although I'll at least be able to argue for common sense). But this isn't going to be the last election that the Libertarian Party fights in this city - not by a long shot. We're going to become a permanent feature of the local political scene in Manchester. As the party grows, with each election I hope to field more candidates in different wards, until somewhere down the line - hopefully in the reasonably near future - we're able to put up a full slate of candidates with a real chance of winning.

I'm not the ideal candidate. I'm not comfortable with public speaking, I never have any money and I've got the personal charm of a dead rat. But I'll give it my best shot, and if I can mount a decent campaign on limited resources, I'm sure other Libertarians - some of them much better qualified to be councillors than me - will follow suit.

I don't know how long the journey will take, a few years at least, but this campaign is the first step towards a Libertarian City Council for Manchester.

Stuart Heal
Libertarian Party candidate for Miles Platting and Newton Heath