Monday, 19 April 2010


He had his chance and he took it. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg put in an impressive performance during the first leaders’ election debate last Thursday on ITV1 that has left media commentators falling over themselves to compliment him. In a similar vein to Tottenham Hotspur’s victories over Arsenal and Chelsea, an outsider has blown the title race wide open. The Mail on Sunday reported yesterday that the Lib Dems were ahead in the polls for the first time in 104 years, with 32% (Con 31% and Lab 28%). Whilst this obviously doesn’t mean they’ll automatically get in as a majority government, due to the first-past-the-post election system, it is still indicative of a major swing in the election.

The leaders’ debates have been hugely hyped, and whilst they possibly weren’t the most exciting pieces of television you will ever see, they have done a world of good to the man everyone used to make fun of for never having a chance of getting into power. Yes, his chance is still slim, but there are two more debates to go and more viewers than ever before will now be closely examining him as realistic prime minister material. I spoke to former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown last year, and he said the Lib Dems have a good chance of getting into power in May. I didn’t believe him and thought it was just more of the usual ‘this is the era of three-party politics’ talk from the party, but I wouldn’t be so sure he’s wrong now.

I have also had the opportunity to interview Nick Clegg, when he was speaking at the University of Sheffield last year, and found him a very interesting and well-presented person. But I think when most people consider their vote, they should think more about the local candidates and what they will do for the local area (Southend West for me), than the party leaders - although this is also important. David Amess MP currently holds this seat as a Conservative and I think he’s done a pretty good job during his last term. The Lib Dems in my home area are a fringe party that nobody pays much attention to, but if Clegg can use the next two debates to propel himself in the ratings so spectacularly as he has done over the last few days, there could be some strange results come May 6th. Hold on tight!

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Even the Wright Brothers couldn’t have calculated for this. I think my family was pretty fortunate flying home from Rome just days before Eyjafjallajoekull (try saying that after a few pints) caused the airways system to grind to a halt, through a big layer of dust in the atmosphere. Hopefully planes will get back into the air over the next few days and everything will return to normal.

But it makes you wonder - what would we do without plane travel? What if the dust just sits there forever and planes can never fly again? It’s certainly good news for train and ferry companies anyway. Although it will probably mean more add-on fees for Ryanair flights as they try to recuperate their losses. £10 for a lifejacket maybe? Or £5 if you book it in advance online?

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I was at Hillsborough yesterday for the Steel City derby between Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. The crowd was a gigantic 35,485 and it was a superb atmosphere during the 1-1 draw - as it has been at every Sheffield derby I’ve been to in the past. I reminded me of the importance of football to communities, and how it has such a knack of both dividing and bringing together large amounts of people. The Owls really do hate the ‘pigs’, as they affectionately call United fans, and vice versa. This was demonstrated by some rival supporters’ groups in Hillsborough Park threatening each other, who were eventually dispersed by riot police and mounted officers. The scenes were like something out of Green Street, although it was good fun to watch from a distance!

I’ve been to a few derby matches this season such as Liverpool v Everton and Southend v Colchester, and there’s nothing better. I love the fact that it’s more than a football match - it’s pride in your local area, and that counts for a lot when teams are based close together. Derbies always have more passion, and it’s great to see the first big tackle go in, safe in the knowledge that the players want to win as much as the fans. They can be great days for everyone involved with a club, but also soul-destroying if you get hammered. This seems to have been a habit of Southend’s against Colchester in the last two seasons, so at least the honours have remained more even in recent Sheffield games. And, of course, next season the Magpies will get the chance to pay a visit to the Mackems. Newcastle v Sunderland - where it really does mean more than life or death. Can’t wait.

PICTURES: Combe Down Liberal Democrats, Metro/Reuters, The Guardian