Wednesday, 26 November 2014

That's it! Voting for Lib Dem President is CLOSED!

Well, what a busy little while that was, eh? What with the Committee Elections and the election for the next Party President, it's been a busy and engaging time to be a Lib Dem.

That said, there have been a few lessons to take forward, and I just thought I'd lay them out here.

- The voting processes in these elections needs looking at.
It turns out that the process here might not be quite as watertight as we'd like. Online voting emails were sent to all voting reps the Party had email addresses for - clearly, not all of those emails ended up arriving, and a lot of members have reported difficulty in getting access to ballot papers. Clearly, online voting only works if the Party has recent and continued contact with members online - I'm not entirely comfortable that this has been the case. My feeling is that the difficulties aren't widespread enough to cause any kind of challenge to result, but it's something for FE to consider.

- Candidates for Committees need more information.
If I'm honest, I have considered running for Party Committees in the past, but what's stopped me is that I haven't been able to get information on what each committee actually does. It turns out that candidates for these positions didn't even get this information, which seems like a pretty poor state of affairs. Putting together a pack with all the relevant details really wouldn't take that long, so I hope that's something that gets looked at.

- Members need to be informed more about the role of President.
Obviously, I've publicly endorsed Daisy Cooper in the Presidential race, and am confident that she'll be able to undertake all tasks thrown at her. But there seems to be some confusion about what the President does, and what her responsibility is. Some clarification on this would be brilliant, because if this election has proven anything, it's that candidates stand on pretty wide and often reformative platforms, and I'd hate for them to be elected with a mandate that the position doesn't really allow.

- Presidential Candidates need more info too!
The second email sent out by Tim Gordon with snippets of messages from the Presidential Candidates highlighted a real issue. I'm told that none of the candidates realised that they'd have their statements cut into pieces and subject to a click through - clearly messages would have been different had they known. The whole thing just suggests that things weren't made very clear, and that's a shame. I've been involved in a few different selections, and the key thing has to be clarity for all candidates at all stages - so, more of this please!

So, voting closed for President at lunchtime today, and the result is expected in the early afternoon on Saturday. I'm going to say now, that I couldn't be more proud of Daisy Cooper and the work that she's done throughout her campaign. I hope more than anything that she's elected on Saturday, but if she isn't, her campaign has reminded so many people of why they're LibDems, and energised so many people that it'll have had an incredibly positive impact. I'm sorry if you were asked one too many times by James Moore to sign nominations at Autumn Conference and I'm sorry if you follow me on Twitter and have been subject to my constant retweets about Daisy, but this is all really important to all of us. I'm proud to have been part of a campaign that counts our only MEP, some of our best MPs and many of our fantastic Councillors as supporters. But, more important than that, I'm proud that Daisy's campaign has truly spoken to members who aren't on 'the inside', who might live in an area with no LibDem representation, who desperately want to know how our Party is going to succeed right across the United Kingdom - not just in our battlegrounds. Whether Daisy wins or not, a clear message will have been sent that many people in our Party are demanding change. Not a change of Leader, but a far more important change - in aspiration for the Liberal Democrats.

If Daisy's taught me one thing, it's that we should never be content until all areas of our country have the option of good, strong, Liberal Democrat representation. That we shouldn't rest until we're a party of Government once again, this time, without either Labour or the Conservatives. That's an aim that Daisy and I agree on, and, win or lose, it's an aim that I will always work with her to achieve.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

In defence of Myleene Klass

Here's a thing. I didn't see The Agenda last night. Why? Because, if Question Time makes me angry, I'm only going to be angrier with the version that is terribly chaired, never really politically balanced and that looks like it's filmed in a nightclub that closed down in 2002. There, I said it.

Similarly, other than a brief bit of reading this morning, I'm not going to even start questioning Myleene Klass's treatment of Ed Miliband over the Mansion Tax. What I am going to talk about is the online reaction to Myleene's appearance, because something interesting is happening.

Many people aren't really talking about the Mansion Tax, they're talking about Myleene Klass being stupid. Let me lay this out.

The point of this one, surprisingly, has nothing to do with Mansion Tax. It focuses on belittling Myleene Klass and calling her stupid. Later, from the same account, we have -


LOL. We're big men who can make a joke about a woman being stupid without even indirectly referencing what she was talking about. *slow clap*

Then we have this delightful addition to the debate from @WellMax81 ...



A whole award ceremony? You really shouldn't have, Anthony. Once again, somebody talking about what a 'stupid bitch' Myleene apparently is, rather than accepting that you disagree and taking apart her argument on the Mansion Tax. 

Then we have this from 'Dom Hancock'...


More offensive still. Again, not a mention of the Mansion Tax, but a big mention of Klass being 'talentless'. Now, sorry, Dom, babes. Have you ever seen Myleene Klass playing the piano? She's incredible. That's talent. 


Malcolm Carter - such an asset for UKIP that I've never heard of him. Here we have the insidious suggestion that Ed Miliband would make a terrible PM because he 'couldn't even' hold his own against Myleene. Ed Miliband would make a terrible PM for a number of reasons, but the suggestion that Myleene should have been some kind of easy fight is really offensive. Is it because she's a woman, or because she's a TV personality? Either way, this is idiotic. 

Then, things move on and we get nastier. Again, people calling Myleene stupid rather than responding to her comments, but this time, getting more offensive. 


So, we have 'stupid greedy tory woman' and 'stupid fuckin (sic) bitch'. Nice. It gets better, right? 

Nope.


So, to add to the list we have 'tory, nasty cow' and 'big, stupid cunt'. Oddly again, that from such erudite Twitterers we have barely a fleeting mention of the Mansion Tax. Oddly again, lots of suggestion that Myleene is stupid and lots of baseless insults. 

Then this... 


Sorry to list things. I realise that for right thinking people it's horribly depressing, but it's important. Isn't it interesting, that when a reasonably intelligent, articulate and successful woman voices an opinion she's not challenged on the opinion, she's challenged for being a stupid Tory bitch. I don't agree with Myleene on the Mansion Tax, I don't really follow her career but it makes me incredibly angry that while men are challenged on our views, someone like Myleene is belittled and denigrated because she had an opinion.

Next time somebody tells me that they don't understand what's meant by male privilege - they can bugger off.







Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Does anyone remember the Chilcot Inquiry?

I'm going to tell you something about me. I'm not really somebody open to conspiracy theories. I tend to give most people the benefit of the doubt. For instance, I don't tend to think that all politicians are out for themselves, I think that all politicians are human and thus, sadly fallible. In my mind, before buying into odd theories, I tend to weigh up what would be simplest and easiest, because more often than not, that'll be the answer. So, is the world being run by the secretive Illuminati who pull strings and arrange things to speed up the New World Order? Or is it more likely that it's run by a group of men (probably with castration complexes) who hoard power and influence? I know which one I'm going with.

That's why, when the Chilcot Inquiry was launched, I didn't just assume that we'd be sold a pack of lies. I assumed that it might be fallible, and there would probably be more redactions than immediately comfortable, but that we would get the answers we needed. We'd get answers about the conversations between Bush and Blair before we invaded Iraq. We'd get answers about the dossier that readied Parliament and the British people for War. We'd finally get some conclusive answers on whether or not we'd been lied to, and whether or not the lives of British men and women were lost in vain.

That report was due in 2011. It's a report that, three years later, we're still waiting on.

At this point, I don't want to see it because it might bring shame on Labour or vindicate the position taken by the Liberal Democrats. This is bigger than that kind of politics. To me, the British people who funded that war, and the British men and women whose lives were put on the line deserve to know what they were fighting for and how it came about. As I said, I'm not somebody who assumes wrongdoing, but when a controversial report is delayed again, and again, and again, I start to wonder what's being hidden from us.

For me it's clear. I couldn't care less who this report embarrasses. I couldn't care less who it implicates. I'm not worried if it damages the tawdry mess that we call a 'special relationship'. What I do care about is that this Government thinks enough of the people that elected it to tell them the truth.

So, the clock's still ticking. As I click 'publish' on this post, we've had a wait of three years, nine months and three days. It's high time that the Chilcot Report was published and we were told the truth.

And let me say this - if we are willing to accept being treated this way and we continue to say nothing, then we'll get exactly what we deserve.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

5 Reasons to vote for Daisy Cooper

So, folks - it's that time again, Liberal Democrat internal elections! Not only is this an opportunity to run an election the way it should be run (this is a brief happy interlude in FPTP life for those interested in electoral reform), it's also a one-member-one-vote chance to elect the people that effectively steer our party. You'll be able to cast votes for various party committees and you'll also be able to vote for our next Party President.

I need to let you into a secret - I've been supporting Daisy Cooper for some months now. When I resigned my Council seat due to various issues including homophobic bullying, Daisy picked up the phone and listened to me. She wanted to know what the party had done to support me, and she wanted to know if there was anything the party could do in the future to make my situation less likely to occur. Do you know what was great? She GOT IT. She got that the Party hadn't been perfect in it's support, she got that it was about more than homophobia and her focus was protecting others from having to deal with the same issues. That's somebody I can get behind, but that was only the first reason. Here I'm going to list the others and ask you to consider giving her your first preference when ballot papers arrive this week.

1. Daisy knows what it's like to be on the ground right now. 

She isn't in the House of Lords, she hasn't been elected to all kinds of lofty positions within the Party. What Daisy has done is grafted. As the Parliamentary candidate for Suffolk Coastal in 2010, she added nearly 8% to our vote, but the important bit is what she's done since. Daisy is a campaigner through and through. She hasn't spent her campaign courting the media or rocking up wherever she thinks most members will be - she's been campaigning. Whether Chippenham or Clacton, Daisy has built her campaign by knocking on doors with our campaigners. Why? Because it's incredibly important that our Party President realises the challenges we're facing. I know a lot of LibDem members who are really angry, because they don't believe that HQ realises that the shit has hit the fan - Daisy does know, because she's been there, not as a candidate, but as a foot soldier. That experience counts for a lot.

2. She understands that our Party needs root and branch reform.

At a hustings at Conference, the other candidates seemed to be debating how soon it was right to enforce the findings of the Morrissey report. Daisy was clear -Morrissey didn't go far enough. In the face of allegations of abuse or inappropriate behaviour, Daisy gets that our Party was caught out. Her focus hasn't been on the particular characters at play in the current problems, it's been on what we can do to make sure it can't happen again.

Her idea is a great one. That each elected official or member of staff has a responsibility to report any form of inappropriate behaviour. It's brilliant, because it takes the pressure off the victim of the behaviour and means that a proper file of evidence can be put together before disciplinary procedures start. Daisy's approach would cut out the implicit victim-blaming that our current system is dogged by.

3. Daisy doesn't need schooling on LGBT+ issues.

There's a thing that happens when I mention that I'm a member of the LGBT+ community - people start talking about gay men. 'Oh yes! I've just been to a gay wedding!', 'I used to live in Brighton, it was great!'...

*tumbleweed* 

There's nothing that pisses me off more than people who assume that LGBT+ issues are gay issues. Here's the thing, the spousal veto isn't an issue that will affect my marriage, but it's something that will affect the lives of people that I care about. I'm not bisexual, but I care massively that bisexual friends of mine are almost excluded from the debate. I have pansexual loved ones, and it bothers me when people ask them constantly what the deal is. I want a President who doesn't need this kind of stuff explaining. 

When asked to submit statements to LGBT+ LibDems all three candidates responded. Sal Brinton made a very good point about the spousal veto but Liz Lynne started talking about 'Lesbian and Gay' people. Well, Liz, I'm sorry, but this isn't 1995 and we don't need that kind of accidental exclusion. 

Daisy has extensive experience of fighting for my community. When Commonwealth leaders discussed decriminalising homosexuality, it was because in part Daisy had been putting pressure on them to do it. As Director of the Commonwealth Think Tank she was part of forcing the arms of those who would rather ignore the fact that LGBT+ people exist. In her new job with Hacked Off, she works closely with Trans Media Watch to highlight the fact that beyond phone-hacking, our media is still completely skewed on these issues. 

She has a record on this, and it makes me so, so happy. 

4. She isn't on the Leader's team.  

Now, my friend Mathew often calls me a 'loyalist' because I don't tend to slag Nick Clegg off too much in public. But, I think there's an important role to be played by the President in being firm with the Leadership and properly representing the views of members. I personally won't vote for candidates for whom I think this position would end up being a conflict. I believe that Daisy is actually uniquely placed to make this work. 

She's sat on FE and so knows the inner workings of the Party, but it means she also knows the proper ways of challenging the direction in which the Party moves. I'm confident that as President she wouldn't cause distractions by publicly attacking Nick, but she would allow members voices to be heard around the negotiating table - that's important. 

5. We need to be the party of progress again.  

In 2010, the LibDems benefited from the fact that people saw that Nick Clegg understood their lives and their problems. Now, that's gone south a bit, but I don't believe that it's impossible for us to regain that position. 

It would say something really important about our Party if we elected a woman in her thirties who isn't an MP or peer to the position of Party President. Daisy doesn't have friends in high places. She doesn't have enough money being piled into her campaign to buy ads on LibDem Voice the week that ballots go out (really subtle that one...) - what she does have are ideas about how to really change our Party and take it forward. 

So, those are my five big reasons. Those are the things that will be in my mind when I cast my vote. I want to make it clear that I don't have anything against either Sal or Liz. Sal was incredibly supportive when I resigned and is a great candidate. Liz is a strong candidate too, I'm just concerned about whether she has enough aspiration for our Party, and I'm concerned that she hasn't properly answered questions raised recently about her past as MP for Rochdale.

I won't be crestfallen if any of the three candidates win - but if we're talking about properly moving our party into the future, about building the kind of Party that could get enough women elected to have a balanced cabinet and about building a Party that doesn't have 'black holes', Daisy has to get my vote. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Lynda Bellingham : Dignity in Death

On a particularly busy day at this year's LibDem Conference, I asked questions to Danny Alexander, Tim Farron and our leader Nick Clegg. It's the question to Nick that means most to me, however. In his Q&A I asked him if he would fight to ensure that parliamentary time would be put aside to debate assisted dying. He, to his credit told me that he would, but that he wasn't yet convinced of the arguments in favour of the issue - that's a kind of honesty that I like.

I care about assisted dying for a number of reasons. The main one is that my Mum has worked in caring roles with the elderly for most of my life. Growing up, it was quite normal for me to visit my Mum's place of work and play piano for her residents, or to speak to them about their lives - it's something that can really help those in the early stages of Alzheimer's. What that also meant was that I became quite used to the fact that every now and again my Mum would come home and tell me that a lady who I'd often spoken with had died. And here's the thing, I've also been fully aware that death isn't very often like falling asleep. Sometimes it is, but just as often somebody who dies has been manhandled awfully because paramedics tried of resuscitate, or they died in a way that will have removed almost all sense of dignity.

Almost worse than the dying, is the people that have to live with no sense of dignity. I've met enough people in my life whose existences became almost intolerable, all because we have a narrow health system and narrow attitude that would rather leave people to suffer than to give them help and support.

In this sense, the way that Lynda Bellingham dealt with the final stages of her life are a breath of fresh air. Her final interview, broadcast on Loose Women today was actually almost joyful to watch. Yes, it was sad, because she made it very clear that she intended to live until Christmas and spend time with her family, but it was also joyous because she was still absolutely herself. She was still the glamourous actress who talked on a daily basis about 'Mr Spain', she looked fantastic and she clearly was happy to spend such a touching time with women that she cared so much about.

She was also open about the fact that she'd been given a 'way out' - the option of taking pain-relieving medication that would probably end her life. She had taken ownership of that decision.

I'd like to see more movement on the issue of Assisted Dying, because I think whilst Lynda will have been able to help herself, many people aren't in that position. I understand the arguments and the need for safeguards, but I also understand the massive suffering that people go through because the law won't afford them another way. I'm glad that Nick agrees with me that it should be debated.

I hope that Lynda becomes a role model of how to deal with death. Rather than taking to her bed, or writing a 'bucket list', Lynda wrote letters to her children, she wrote a will and she made plans for the near future that seemed attainable. Those are pragmatic and dignified things to do - small measures that can be taken that say quite openly, death might be on it's way, but it'll be on my terms.

Lynda Bellingham was a wonderful woman. She became a household name through her acting roles - Oxo Mum or anything else - and she became a friend to people up and down the country who welcomed her into their homes every lunchtime. But to me, her real legacy could be a change in attitude toward death that allows us to talk about it all, and discuss things properly. In that case, Lynda's life will have been effervescent, but her passing will have made a lasting and meaningful mark too.

I don't know Lynda Bellingham's views on actual assisted dying, and wouldn't profess to, but you can get more information from Dignity in Dying by clicking here.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Better Together : Strength in our Union

I've resisted from getting involved in the Independence Debate for a very clear reason - tomorrow's vote is for the people of Scotland and not for me. Scots will decide based on a whole load of issues that just don't affect me. If Scottish Independence is successful at the vote, it isn't me who'll have to contend with questions of currency, or national security - in one sense I'm grateful for that fact. It's the same reason that I haven't phonebanked anybody in Scotland to try and pull them round to my way of thinking - when it comes down to the brass tacks of the issues, people will do what the Queen said and think carefully before making a decision.

What I'd like to speak for, however, is the ideology of the United Kingdom. It's funny, because over the past few years there seems to have been a rise in the ideas of the individual nations. I don't really consider myself English, because to me, England is the past, and the past is another country. The things that make me proud of where I come from have all happened since the Union was formed, and in that sense, I consider myself to be from the UK - I always have done.

It wasn't England or Scotland or Wales that brought the National Health Service into being - it was the United Kingdom - it was our collective achievement. I'm one of these slightly annoying people who will very rarely hear a bad word said about the NHS, because to my family, it's been nothing but brilliant - never glamorous or incredibly impressive, but it does it's job, quietly and without complaint.

Similarly, something like the BBC makes me proud. It makes me proud that we still all fund a national broadcaster that has become a world leader in exporting TV from the United Kingdom around the world. The BBC is almost an anachronism in our world of contracting and squeezing margins - but it's an anachronism I'm so proud of.

It's also the UK - not any one of it's nation states - whose MPs voted to ensure that going forward, we give 0.7% of our GDP to aid abroad. That makes me proud, because it is so British. It is British to look at what we have, accept that *relatively* we're doing well and see what we can do to help elsewhere. It makes me proud to see on the news, boxes marked 'British Aid' being unpacked from shipping containers in the world's poorest and most extreme locations. That wasn't Scotland's achievement, or England's achievement, it was our achievement.

When the Better Together campaign has spoken about how the Union makes us strong, they've too often gotten the wrong end of the stick. Too often, when talking about strength, they've started talking about the threat from terrorists, or how an independent Scotland would fund it's Armed Services - to me, that isn't what strength is about. Strength is about how we look after those who can't look after themselves. Things like the 0.7% aid bill, and like the changes made by the LibDems and Labour to the Bedroom Tax* when we stand together as a United Kingdom, we can do untold good in the world.

So that's what I hope people spare a thought for when they go to vote tomorrow. Not being scared or concerned about the dangers, but having their eyes wide open about the possibilities that Independence promises and the proven record that the Union has to do good. More than that, I hope that the vote and the aftermath go ahead without too much upset between neighbours. Over the past weeks I've seen for myself the parting of friends over this issue, and nothing is as big as that. I hope that whatever happens, the union between friends and between neighbours remains intact and whilst I hope that the United Kingdom I care about isn't divided, I also hope that proud Scotland isn't divided either.

*Stop trying to make 'spare room subsidy' happen, guys - it's not going to and it's getting embarrassing

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Pride - A few Footnotes in History.

Tonight I went to see Pride at Komedia in Bath. I'd seen it advertised, and just knew that I'd have to go and see it. It covers the work of LGSM - Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners, a group formed during the height of the 1984 Miners' Strike. It follows the story of how a group of LGBT people ran street collections, jumble sales and benefit gigs to raise money for struggling mining communities in South Wales as the strike wore on and grew more and more bitter.

The film was cast incredibly well, the plot dipped and peaked beautifully (having me in tears more than once, unsurprisingly) and the soundtrack was just incredible. Not only was there a real A to Z of popular gay music from the 80s, there was also a really beautiful blending of typical orchestral soundtrack with the sounds of brass mining bands.

For anybody with any interest in the struggle for LGBT rights, this film is a must see. Mainly because it focuses not on the wider battle, but on something that many won't know about and something that could have ended up being a footnote in the history books.

The film also reminded me of a group that I used to be a part of. I found the Queer Youth Network - an online and 'real life' community of young LGBT+ people - that I found when I was about fourteen. I remember being amazed that there were so many people out there who were like me, and I remember feeling absolutely free to talk openly about my own experiences. The forums there contained things from 'How do I meet nice men?' to debating 'Jackboot Jacqui's' time as Home Secretary. What's more, I loved QYN for how political it was.

QYN were absolutely instrumental in overturning the last vestages of the homophobic Section 28, it held Pride events to account, marching under 'Pride not Profit' banners and it demonstrated at the Stonewall Awards when (the horribly transphobic) writer Julie Bindel was given an award. In short, QYN stood for something that's very important in politics - never resting on your laurels and always fighting to move further and faster.

It was also full of some people who were just the most inspirational. Jack Holroyde, who lobbied Jacqui Smith to ban the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church when they planned to picket in the UK, stood for election as a Liberal Democrat in May this year. David Henry ensured that QYN remained radical, but importantly, remained a caring and nurturing place for young LGBT people. He actually stood against Hazel Blears in 2010 for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition - importantly, he spoke real truth about Blears' record of over-claiming expenses. I guess what I'm saying, is that while I loved Pride, the best thing about it was the fact that it reminded me of the amazing people I know, who to this day still fight battles big and small for our LGBT+ community, and our communities more generally.

Pride might be seen as a film about gay rights, or about the plight of Miners in Thatcher's Britain, but more than anything, it's about British communities, whether geographical or cultural. It's about how we pull together, and show support. For me, QYN was about all of those things. It's a little footnote in history that I only played a really small part in, but it's a period that I remember with great fondness. People in all walks of political life can learn something from QYN and something from this film - that we should never be complacent - that we can always do more and go further in the struggle for fairness.

* With some irony, in researching this article and going back through QYN stuff, I see that they've also picketed a lot of LibDem stuff since 2010. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it, though what I will say is that I love how diverse a range of 'afterlives' we've all gone on to. From socialists to conservatives - being staunch in your beliefs is never a bad thing.