Sunday, 20 February 2011

Whatever you do... don't mention Coco Pops!

It was a Saturday. Carwyn Jones had just finished his speech, and Leighton Andrews had prepared well for his appearance before the media. He was nervous. He had watched Fawlty Towers the night before. That, and his guilt about the funding gap between English and Welsh students had combined to create the weirdest dreams, where the Coco Monkey was doing a goose-step round a British hotel screaming, “DON’T MENTION THE COCO POPS!”

To be fair, it must have been terrifying. And maybe that’s why he dressed the way he did. He had chosen a saucy little number. Jeans, suit, shirt and tie (deliberate reference to fashion – may start describing male fashion more, until people stop describing the fashion of female politicians). It was a brave choice of attire, but the mismatched jeans and suit combination was an unfortunate parallel of the disjointed nature of his tenure as Education Minister.

Leighton Andrews is everything that is wrong with (Newer) Newish Welsh New (now Old again) Labour.

Education Failure and Criminal Political Games

He is desperately trying to bring Education back under the absolute control of the Welsh Assembly Government. Now maybe it’s necessary sometimes to keep monitoring what’s happening especially with regards to standards. But he keeps avoiding the issue: Welsh pupils are underfunded, compared to English pupils, by £527!

Now I’m sure when asked about this, he’ll say “DON’T MENTION THE COCO POPS!” or maybe that old classic, “TORY-LED GOVERNMENT SPENDING CUTS!”

Yes, he will try and blame it on London.

But please. The Welsh people aren’t stupid. And he needs to stop treating us like we are. Labour was in power in London since 1997. So in that case... who is to blame for failures in Wales? Since 1997 Labour have been in charge in Wales in every Government. And believe me; an education spending gap of £527 doesn’t just turn up after a year of a Coalition Government.

So who is to blame? Leighton Andrews, and his predecessors.

Do you know what make this worse?

The introduction of the Liberal Democrats’ policy of the Pupil Premium in London could have meant a huge amount of money for Welsh schools – for the poorest Welsh schools. Now imagine it. All those lovely Labour champagne socialists in the Bay need to think about this. Imagine it. Those schools in Wales, some of who are failing the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Wales, could have been given more funding to target their poorest children.

Instead, Leighton ignored the policy. I mean, it’s a Lib Dem idea, isn’t it Leighton? We can’t go having Lib Dem ideas that actually work being implemented, can we?

And then there’s his awful, awful response to a question yesterday.

When asked about his free breakfast policy, Leighton erupted. “DON’T MENTION THE COCO POPS!” he spat hysterically. Maybe it reminded him of his nervous dream the night before? It must be hard, spending every night worrying that the people of Wales might wake up to his shocking underfunding of our education system.

Or maybe it’s because he was asked a question.

Leighton doesn’t like questions. They’re too much effort for this man. They’re far too much effort for someone who rules by diktat. They’re far too much effort for this Minister who has tried time and time again to bring more and more power into his Department.

But there are tough times coming up. And what would the people of Wales rather see: Coco Pops in the bowls of kids? Or real investment to tackle the huge, gross inequality in our small country?

As Kirsty Williams said a few Conference ago. You don’t tackle poverty by “waving a piece of toast at it”.

Sorry. I mentioned the Coco Pops. And toast. Please don’t hit me, Leighton.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Hooters and Feminism

I’m a feminist.

But I might not be their kind of feminist. Or your kind of feminist. Or his kind of feminist. Or her kind of feminist.

Unfortunately (and fortunately!) there are many kinds of feminism. It makes it a rich academic field, it makes it a potent political force (or did), and it makes it a hugely important area of thought to consider.

Unfortunately, feminism as a concept is in danger.

Had I said that, decades ago, we might have blamed the silent majority complicit in male oppression. We may have blamed the status quo, or the system, or Conservatives (and conservatives with a smaller c).

Nowadays, feminism is in danger from two main areas: firstly, apathy and secondly, though this is only my view, from the increasingly “out there” actions of an increasingly vocal (yet of an increasingly diminishing number) feminists.

If you ask a girl or woman whether she is a feminist, their face (generally) will pale, and they will say, “No!”

If you ask a boy or man whether he is a feminist, they will (generally) snort, or something suitably "male" before saying, “No!”

And that’s worrying, surely?

The view that apathy is killing feminism has been documented and spoken about. There is a distinct view that there is nothing left to fight for. This, of course, is fundamentally untrue. The feminist cause, whilst having achieved great victories, has many more battles to fight (see my earlier blog post on that very subject).

The second hypothesis is one that is probably controversial – the fact that, in some respects, feminists have become guilty of alienating the mainstream from their cause.
I think feminism has fallen victim to its own over-intellectualising approach.

Nowadays, to be a “feminist”, one has to identify whether you are first, second, or third wave. One has to identify whether you are an anarcho-feminist, a socialist feminist, a radical feminist, a liberal feminist. One has to work out whether or not lesbianism is a choice or a biological fact. One has to wade through tracts on political lesbianism. Then there is the question of whether or not feminism is meant to be opposed to capitalism. There are reams upon reams upon reams of feminist theory.

Unfortunately, by over-intellectualising, and by splintering into innumerable fragments of varying philosophies and approaches, feminism has lost its voice. And when it finds its voice, it is (regrettably) a voice that is raised in tired arguments that no longer need to be had.

For example, myself and my friends are all (predominantly, anyway) feminists. Only when I say ask them, “Are you a feminist?” they back away. Which is odd, because they agree progress still has to be made on a variety of (women’s?) political issues: political representation of women; the tone of the media towards women of all kinds; body issues, viewed by many feminists as a new (or old, with new weapons) battle of women’s rights; childcare; prostitution, rape and domestic violence.

The consensus that action needs to be taken on all those issues (and more) should, logically, lead to an overwhelming number of women identifying as feminists.

Unfortunately, they do not.

I remember I was once told I couldn’t be a feminist because I was a man.

I was then given chapter and verse about how, because I happened to have a penis, I was by default part of the predatory nature of man. That somehow, because I happened to be born a man, I was predicated to the setting of rapist and abuser, and that therefore I was not worthy (my word, not hers) of standing alongside women and fighting for their rights.

It was like being told I couldn’t oppose racism because I was white.

Or like someone being told they can’t oppose homophobia because they’re straight.

Or like ... well... anything else that is incredibly stupid.

(Incidentally as an aside, whilst I understand the motivations behind women’s only marches, and accept their potency in uniting women and giving them a confidence and a safe place, there is still an element of me that cries out, “No! I want to fight with you! My voice is as powerful as yours, let me raise it with you and change the world!” But I suppose that might be my innate, natural tendency to oppress women coming out, there.)

So why this sprawling, inconclusive discussion on feminism?
Well, because of Hooters. Matt Smith has already blogged here about the arguments for and against. My discussion is taking a different tangent, and asking feminists directly, “Why?”

Why are they challenging this place?

Is it because men might leer at women? Yes, that is unpleasant. The only argument that has any sway with me is the fact that it propagates the view of women as sex objects, which diminishes them in the eyes of men, making Hooters, in a sense, societal endorsement of predatory attitudes towards women.

So yes, it is unpleasant. Yes, it may propagate that view of women. But the key point here is that it is those women’s choice to work there. Just as it is a woman’s choice (or should be) if they want to work as a lawyer or stay at home and look after children.

For me, feminism is not about an equally narrow-minded approach from a small section of feminists, to the narrow-minded nature of misogynist men. For me, feminism is about the power of choice.

Is it a woman’s choice to work in Hooters? Yes.

If you are a feminist who doesn’t like it, don’t go there. But don’t look down on a woman because she chooses to use the freedom you claim you fight for. Unfortunately there is also an element within feminism of “you do it our radical way or you are a man’s plaything”. There is an element of feminism which looks down on women who want to be mothers, who want to get married, who want to have the choice and freedom to do whatever they want. For even the smallest most radical section of feminism to take any of that choice away is selfish, controlling, and hideously patriarchal and oppressive.

So, Hooters. And feminists.

As a final point. Why in the name of feminism or anything else, are you campaigning here? Against a bar?

Do you realise, anyone who is devoting their time to this, that for every minute you spend campaigning, sending leaflets, picketing, or whatever... you could be fundraising for a women’s shelter?

Do you realise that for every moment you spend writing letters into the local paper... you could be writing letters prompting action from people with regards to political representation or equal pay?

Do you realise that for every councillor you contact, asking them to oppose Hooters, you could have contacted that same councillor ... asking them to donate some of their community fund to a local women’s group, for a new kettle, or a microwave, or something concrete that might help some of the most vulnerable women in our society?

So please. Feminists concerned about Hooters? That’s fine, be concerned. I suppose deep down if I had a choice I’d rather it wasn’t there.

But any time I have (other than writing this blog post) that I might have used to protest against Hooters, will be spent working on real issues of importance.

A simple, brutal question: would you rather, as a feminist, stop a restaurant or reach out that hand to help someone who has just escaped from an abusive relationship, who needs help? Will you help to provide her with shelter and food urgently to help her stay free?

Or would you rather stand outside Hooters feeling vindicated about how much of a feminist you are, looking down on those silly women endorsing male views of oppression – whilst behind you in the street, you fail to notice a woman with a child walking past, dreading every step that brings her closer to her house?

Will you focus on the glitzy restaurant, and ignore the pain and fear far closer to home?

I know which one I’d take action on.

But because we’re a free society, and I’m a feminist, the choice is yours.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

My Coalition Squee Moment

It is not often in the past fourteen years that I've actually gone "SQUEE!" when I've seen a news article. Okay, maybe very occasionally, but generally when the Labour Party were in power I'd feel generally angry, betrayed and devastated whenever they acted with a ridiculous, knee-jerk, instinctively statist and dictatorial motivation.

I remember last year particularly, I felt as if I was in some sort of parallel universe, where a Government was using the safety and health of our children as a means of appearing tough politically. I remember blogging (here, here here and here about it, and setting up a Facebook group and attempting to gather like-minded people together.

As Campaigns Officer of IR Cymru, I also wrote a motion which passed unanimously at the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference. This called on the Welsh Liberal Democrats to fight the formation of the ISA at every stage. In my mind, I was glad that our political party would form a barrier at Offa's Dyke, to keep the dictatorship Leviathan out of Wales.

So imagine my joy today (yes, a literal SQUEE) when I saw this news. I am happy for many reasons. First, that the new coalition, which stands for a freedom so opposed to anything Labout ever proposed, has decided to cancel this vile plan. I am also happy that it was IR Cymru, the youth wing of the Welsh Party, that led the charge against it. I am ecstatic that it was so enthusiastically supported by our Party.

It is why I love both the Liberal Democrats and the youth movement. Our instincts, generally, are spot on. We seek to protect the individual, we seek to safeguard liberty and freedom. We refuse any attempt to increase the intolerable hold of the state over our lives.

So I want to say:

Thank you to those who felt the same as I did, and who tried to fight.

Thank you to those in IR Cymru who fully supported my motion.

Thank you to those in the Welsh Lib Dems who voted for my motion.

Thank you to the coalition Government.

But above all?

Thank you to the millions and millions of people who said no to Labour's autocracy.

It means children might be able to start trusting again. It means we are not branded as criminals for just wanting to work with children. It means our lives are not probed and examined by the Government. It means our charities can survive and do their wonderful, wonderful work.

What makes this news better, is that I know there is more coming. Slowly, slowly but surely, the great Leviathan of Labour's state is being driven back. It will take time, but the tide is turning.

And it feels bloody amazing.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

How the Liberal Democrats can win a majority, actually...

There’s been a lot of discussion about Howard Dean, claiming the Liberal Democrats could win a majority, or at the least that Nick Clegg could be Prime Minister. Well, I’ve put my thinking cap on, about how we might actually reach that target.

It’s difficult really, because I don’t know tonnes and tonnes about polling methodologies and weighting. But even a complete amateur like me can make a few diverting observations that are more fun than watching the news.

The lowest (I know they have gone lower, but let’s consider this the “normal” lowest for now) the Tories have gone in recent times is 31%. At the moment, the Conservatives are polling an average of 38%. Which gives, to my mind, 7% “softenable” vote that can be taken from the Tories.

The lowest Labour have gone is 22% - although such a position had not been seen, until last year, for over two decades. So, let us say the lowest “normal” vote for Labour is 24%. A fairly arbitrary figure I know, but for illustrative purposes, it is useful.

So, the current averages for the polls (from ukpollingreport): Conservatives 38, Labour 30, and the Lib Dems on 19.

Well, what follows is what could potentially happen to bring us within reach (in terms of votes, not, unfortunately, seats) of winning a General Election.

(election is called): media coverage begins to give more equal air time to the Liberal Democrats. We usually jump 3 or 4 points during an election. Now, what is interesting, is to compare our ICM poll results from previous to the 2005 General Election, to the ICM poll results we are seeing now.

Around the start of April 2005, we were polling 21%. It is interesting that in the poll for April by ICM today, we are polling 23%. Notice that the election has not been called yet, so we may still benefit from fair coverage during the campaign proper. Now, because we’ve been a bit more clever lately at fighting our corner, I am not sure if our poll results will still jump as much as 3 or 4. They may well do, but let’s be cautious and call our “general election boost” +2%. Where will that leave us around the start of the General Election? 25%.

Looking at the numbers from May, we can see that when we were last on 25%, Labour were languishing on 22% and the Tories were in the heady heights of the magic 40%. I doubt those numbers will be replicated. So instead, let’s turn to July 2004, when we polled 25%, Labour 35%, and the Conservatives 30%. Well, that means the Labservative share comes to 65%, when we stand at 25%.

So, to extrapolate from our most recent ICM poll, we could potentially see the following figures a short time into the next election:

Lib Dem: 25% Labour: 28% Conservative: 37%

That’s quite a strong showing already, but alas, as elections tend to do, voters would solidify around the two main parties, as is the accepted wisdom for a “change” election. But wait! There’s something new this time. Actually, some three things new.

15th April, ITV Leaders’ Debate: now, this has never happened before. We are not sure how or if at all, these debates will affect our showing. But I think we will do very well for them. And I am going to suggest that we gain 3% after the first debate, with the debate “payoff” reducing a little after each one, as voters adjust to seeing us on an equal footing with the other two. This could change if our leader makes a gaffe, or either of the other two make a gaffe, of course.

So, a few days after the first debate, you could potentially wake up to these poll results:

Lib Dem: 28% Labour: 28% Conservative: 34%

I know, it could be more likely that we gain Labour voters than Conservatives, but I am trying to be extremely cautious here. Well, as cautious as I can be whilst being wildly optimistic. Rather than hoping to be ahead of Labour just a while into the next election, let’s at least hope to be level with them. But anyway, just imagine how these scores would look to the voters. All of a sudden, it looks like a three-way fight. And that is just plain exciting!

22nd April, Sky: okay, so then we hit the next one. And I’m going to be incredibly unoptimistic, and suggest we only gain 1% from this poll, touching as it does upon foreign affairs and potentially the poison chalice of Europe. So imagine waking up a few days after that debate, with these numbers:

Lib Dem: 29% Labour: 27% Conservative: 34%

Jesus, all of a sudden we’re two points ahead of Labour in the polls, and Nick Clegg starts talking about the possibility of a Liberal Democrat government. All of a sudden, it doesn’t seem so stupid. I mean, the Conservatives are five points ahead, but Labour are starting to slide down, and the Liberal Democrats are offering real radical change. Radical tax policies, radical environmental policies, policies that by now are being spread across the entire country.

29th April, BBC: And there’s still one more debate. During which we will talk about our tax policies until we are blue in the face. So then, we close our eyes, and head out over the next few days to deliver more and more leaflets. Nick Clegg is on the radio, news presenters are talking about the potential “death of Labour”, people are talking about “thinking the unthinkable”. Something has changed in the election mood, and there is a real sense of movement from the Liberal Democrats.

And then a new poll hits us:

Lib Dem: 31% Labour: 25% Conservative: 34%

By now, Labour and the Tories are starting to foam at the mouth. The Tories are flinging Europe at us (ouch, meant the issue of Europe, not the whole continent, because that would hurt), but it doesn’t really wash, because it runs the risk of opening up Tory divisions on Europe. Maybe the Tories get rattled enough to start returning to their reflexive attitudes, similar to those under Howard? Labour are telling people that “a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for the Tories”, but that isn’t working either. Because now Nick Clegg can point at the numbers and say, “No. We are in second place. A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for the Liberal Democrats.” Mud is being thrown left right and centre. They are panicking.
And slowly, polling day approaches, and we are just three points behind the Conservatives, and they are three points away from their “normal” lowest vote.

6th May, Polling Day: So imagine the unimaginable, and imagine exit polls that show the following:

Lib Dem: 34% Labour: 25% Conservative: 31%

Of course, then you have to fight the inherent imbalance in the political system. But if we obtained that result, and if (as it says according to ukpollingreport) we had the following seat allocations, then there would be real, serious questions about our democracy.

Lib Dem MPs: 148 Labour MPs: 235 Conservative MPs: 234

I know, it isn’t a majority.

So for fun, I tried to work out what we’d need for a majority, by firstly going to the limits of what Labour and the Conservatives have polled recently - Labour: 22%, Conservatives: 28% Lib Dems (as a result): 40%.

These “election” results are fun:

Labour: 151 seats. Conservatives: 162 seats. Lib Dems: 302 seats.


Now, I don’t think it is likely. I mean, by being really quite cautious, we reach a heady height by May 6th anyway. How could we manage to beat both the Labour Party and the Tory Party to their lower vote shares, in the space between the last debate and polling day?

And it is a challenge in itself to sustain the potential growth in our vote share. That would mean our Party would need to work to keep the poll result up in time for the next debate, then sustain that level in time for the last one. If we rise after one debate, then fall, then rise, then fall, we will not break through.

But all the same, the opportunity is there. This is the first time I have sat down and tried to imagine a cautious, gradual, but (at a stretch) achievable route to a strong second place (in vote share, not seat share). Then once you’ve reached that achievable strong second place in vote share, you sort of have to see how we could get to a majority (or as close to it as possible). And then you realise that actually, the jump from the lofty heights of the Liberal Democrats on 34%, and the Liberal Democrats on 40%, is not completely outside the realms of possibility.

And so when Howard Dean is laughed at for saying “There could be a Liberal Democrat Prime Minister”, you can smile. Because yes: he is reaching for the stuff of incredibly distant, far-away dreams. But for the first time in years, that stuff is out there to touch.

I suppose we just have to campaign for it.

And believe in it. Because yes, it is close to impossible.

But not completely impossible.

Friday, 26 February 2010

The Feminist Battles of the 21st Century

I know, I know, feminism is a dirty word. I mean, what else can there be to fight for, now that we have the equal pay act, anti-discrimination laws, and (puke) all-women shortlists?

There are many women nowadays who will describe themselves as anti-feminists, with great passion and vigour to their voices. They speak about being anti-feminists with the same passion of the suffragettes and suffragists, when they fought for the fundamental right to vote.

Every woman (and every man, for that matter) should be a feminist. Now, a radical feminist might hate the idea that a man is writing this. Men, after all, are the cause of patriarchal oppression and so having the default perpetrator of millennia of oppression suddenly speaking out for feminism might be seen as wrong, somehow. But then, I never said I was a radical feminist. I am just a feminist who is occasionally radical. There is a difference.

Those who misquote, misrepresent and focus their views of feminism on rare, fringe, radical feminists have, in my opinion, done more to destroy the common ground for the last battles of feminism than any sexist man could ever have done.

I am not talking here, about the questions asked by radical feminists who challenge the societal, defined roles of women, nor about any of the vital points that have contributed to a vast body of theory and argument which cannot be neglected or dismissed. But there is a lot of wacky radical feminism out there, and it is a deep shame that feminism is seen nowadays as inseparable from that wacky fringe. When we watch debates, or listen to radio shows, or watch TV political programmes, that sort of “fringe” feminism is seen as the feminism by which we should define ourselves. It is wrong, and as I wrote above, it has in my view weakened the fight for true equality.

I do not believe... no. That is not strong enough: in no way, at all, ever, would I ever accept or even condone the view that all men are intrinsically motivated towards violence or abuse. That is a view shared by many of the “fringe” feminists. I also fundamentally believe that our society has changed so much for women in the past hundred years, to make the UK almost unrecognisable today. That is not a view shared by many of the “fringe” feminists.

So, before I get to the point of this blog post, let me be clear about what I mean by feminism. I do not mean that narrow-minded fringe feminism that paints men as villains, that decries women for choosing to marry and have children, that denounces women for giving up jobs to raise children. I am talking about the feminism of choice and freedom. It is a feminism of choice and freedom that allows women to seize whatever opportunity they wish.

(I am aware that the tone of this blog post may end up seeming patrician and patriarchal, as if I am anyone of import to deign to talk about allowing women the freedom – I apologise if it comes across that way, but unfortunately, I am bound by the words that exist, and it is hard to qualify exactly what I am trying to say.)

So, what do I feel are the biggest battles left to fight? What issues do I think that all people should rally round as if marching to war?

The lingering, un-ending horror of domestic violence and the woeful lack of care for women suffering from eating disorders.

These are, I feel, two of the biggest battles left to fight for feminists. There are, undoubtedly, far more. They are all important: greater access to childcare for example, ensuring representation of women in our democracy, and ensuring that the glass ceiling is well and truly broken, to name another three. But, and though it pains me to say it, none of those three issues are anywhere near as important as the first two I named.

In England and Wales, two women a week are killed due to domestic violence. That is just one of the terrifying statistics concerning domestic violence. It is a livid scar on the face of our country. It is a mark of shame that it still continues unabated. Unfortunately, it will never be possible without a Big Brother state of gargantuan proportions, to prevent every single incident of domestic violence. However, there is still a lot we can do. I am sure every single woman’s charity has suggestions on how to help deal with domestic violence. I am also aware however, that all these suggestions cost money which, in the current climate, is hard, or impossible, to find.

So, perhaps it is worth contemplating an action so grubby, so dirty, so sickeningly statist, that it might make our liberal stomachs churn. I would suggest that any man convicted of domestic violence or rape should be forced (yes, I used that dreaded word forced) to pay a huge amount of money to the Government, which would then be used to fund the support systems that victims of rape and abuse need.

Let’s say a man living in a beautiful house, with a beautiful car, and a fantastic job, leaves his wife emotionally and physically scarred, living under the shadow of a terror that may never fade. Why should he not be forced (yes, that word again) to lose a large part of that money, to allow other suffering women to find a way out?

I am also very supportive, for perhaps the first time in my life, of the illiberal, draconian, heavy-handed measures by France to electronically tag violent husbands. I am still working out what I think about the nuances of the law, but in practice, I actually strongly support this idea and, if UK women’s charities believe it would help here, I would be 100% behind a similar move in our country.

Illiberal, yes. But arguably necessary, in a way that ID cards just are not.

Eating disorders are responsible for more loss of life than any other type of psychological illness.

At least 1.1 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.

A survey by Beat of 600 young people found: only 1 per cent of children felt they could tell their parents. 9 per cent of children felt they could tell someone in school. 17 per cent of children felt they might be able to talk to a doctor or a nurse. 92 per cent of children felt they couldn’t tell anyone.

There is a temptation when it comes to talking about eating disorders, to focus on body image, and magazines. Whilst these are obviously contributory, and remain one of the key reasons I offer my resounding support for the Real Women campaign, the issue of eating disorders cannot be so easily dealt with. It requires massive changes in the way we deal with these disorders.

For example, (if it has not already been done) we should start to count eating disorders as a cause of death. I have been told that when people die as a result of eating disorders, the cause of death is entered as heart failure, or kidney failure, or such like. By ensuring that doctors note the eating disorder’s cause of the death, we can begin to get a much greater impression of the scale of eating disorders.

There are many other issues raised by Beat, a fantastic charity, which I urge you to look into. They make the case for action on eating disorders far more eloquently than I could ever hope to.

These two issues do go beyond feminism. But they also serve as a potent reminder (and a shameful one) that feminism is not redundant for the 21st century. They serve as a call to arms for all caring people to take real action to beat these problems. Whilst perhaps not as “glamorous” as the right to vote, they are nonetheless just as vital.
We are talking about the rights of women to live safely in their own home, and to live a life free from the terrible burden of anorexia, bulimia, or any other eating disorders. The right to life a healthy, safe life is something that all of us take for granted.

And it is a right that is denied to an incredible number of women every single second of every single day, in the UK.

So no, feminism is not dead, and never will be, whilst these infections linger in our society.

Maybe think about that if you ever listen to a radio debate when someone phones in and talks about feminism being irrelevant, or the fact that there are no struggles to fight any longer for women in the UK.

And maybe wonder why so many people think that, and who is insisting on focusing our minds on the wacky fringe feminism, as opposed to the hugely relevant, vital battles still to fight.

It is something to think about. No, more than that: it is something to act on.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Why We Should Hug Tories...

There have been many blog posts over the past few weeks or months about the Conservatives and gay rights. Most of them have been examples of exhaustive, agonising examination of the Shadow Cabinet. And some of the points raised by the bloggers have been important and constructive. However, what I find extremely distasteful, is the way in which we have begun to use it in the Party, as a political football.

Ask me the question “Which political party in the UK is most committed to gay rights?”

The answer would come back loud and clear, “The Liberal Democrats.”

From the perspective of Liberal Youth Wales, it is amazing to see our consistent arguments and policy ideas being taken forward by Nick Clegg. In 2007 MIDR Cymru persuaded the Welsh Liberal Democrats to vote to allow gay men to donate blood. It is great to see this policy being strongly supported by Nick Clegg.

In 2009, our youth organisation (now known as IR Cymru) persuaded the Welsh Liberal Democrats to pass a policy in which we would institute compulsory anti-homophobic bullying guidance (and sex education) in all schools whether public, state or faith. It is incredible to see this policy being supported by Nick Clegg in his interviews with Attitude and Pink News.

So, let us be clear and let us be clearly happy. The Liberal Democrats (as ever, on gay rights) lead the way. We are miles ahead of the other parties in seeing what must be done, and having the political will to do it.

However... do we need to constantly attack Cameron on gay rights? This constant wailing (it seems to me) is only distracting from something which we should be pleased about. A Conservative leader actually talking about gay issues and listening to them? A Conservative leader, actually considering how to end homophobic bullying? Incidentally, his plans are ridiculous and designed to avoid any major clash with the religious establishment. But that’s an attack on his policy, and not on him.

Yes, there are serious questions to ask of the Conservatives. But why can’t we be happy for once, and welcome the Conservatives into the 20th Century? They can join us in the 21st Century in the next decade, but can we at least be pleased that for possibly the first time, gay men and women can choose either of the three main parties based on their political beliefs and not based on having to defend their sexuality?

It has always appeared to me that there is too much of a focus on “gay” as an identity (just as much as there is too much of a focus on “Catholic”, “Liberal Democrat”, “British”, “Welsh”, etc, identity). When you meet someone, you don’t want them to say, “I’m Billy, I’m gay.” You want them to say “I’m Billy”, and be happy that they are a person, with all the complexities and beliefs and issues any person will have.

If religion, sexuality, disability, etc, becomes the sole determining factor of that person’s identity, that person will constantly have to fight everyone. It also means that that “culture” and “identity” becomes closed-off, elitist, dismissive of change. For example: the gay community and culture. I know many LGBT people who find that community quite dismissive and closed-off to gay people of certain views and beliefs – and (although a minority) of a certain size.

By having just one identity, it means that, because an entire being is taken up with one identity, one “raison d’etre”, there can be no room for compromise. There can be no room for the appreciation of other beliefs and ideas, no room for the acceptance that a multicultural society needs to survive.

This blog post is turning very heavy, very quickly. But it is not enough for us to boldly declare, “We have a multicultural society” and expect society to follow suit. No. We must work hard, and see places where compromise is possible, and places where compromise is not. We must ensure that people are able to identify with many different communities, ideas and beliefs. Because then as individuals, we can reach out to join others, rather than putting up walls (or being at the receiving end of others’ walls) that create division and hatred.

The Conservatives are a perfect example. Do I believe the entire Party has changed? Nope. But do I believe that Cameron is at least genuine in having had a rethink about his beliefs on homosexuality? Yes. I may detest the man and his politics, but to criticise a man for now supporting gay rights just because he never used to, seems a bit much.

How are we meant to persuade anyone with entrenched views about gay rights to support gay rights, if we lambast the man who does a U-turn on his beliefs?

We need to be grown up about it. And we need to welcome Cameron into the new era of accepting gay rights.

And direct our questions and accusations of homophobia against other members of his Party, not the man who did risk a great deal by raising the subject of gay partnerships at a Conservative Party conference.

You do not gain equality and acceptance by forcing it on people. You gain equality and acceptance by preserving your own freedoms and then slowly (and yes, infuriatingly slowly) working to convince others to support your different views.

You don’t gain equality and acceptance by bellowing down anyone who thinks differently, or who used to think differently.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Why I Might Be £1080 Better Off This Time Next Year…

Okay, so I’m not sure how much tax you pay on bets, so my calculations may be a bit “off”. But last year, when my student loan came through, I decided to be brave and fork out £20 as a sort of long-term investment. If it doesn’t pay off, well, none of my 2010 income has been devoted to the failure, so I can write it off as the folly of a previous year.

I placed two £10 bets with Ladbrokes. One, I did as a hopeful safe bet.

For Sarah Teather to win Brent Central. I’ve always liked Sarah Teather, and would back her campaigning vigour and ferocity against (almost) anyone. So although last year the general “odds” were against her, I decided to put £10 on her winning Brent Central. Interesting, and a hopefully safe return on my money to leave with (at least) a £10 profit from my fiendish betting habit.

Oh, but you haven’t heard the best bit yet!

I put £10 on the Liberal Democrats winning 90-99 seats in 2010.

“What?” you shout, “What? Ninety to ninety-nine seats? For us? Madness!”

Well, yes, madness it might be. Especially at the time when I laid the bet, when the odds were 33/1. I mean, back then, the Liberal Democrats were being squeezed by the Tories, and people were predicting an absolute meltdown for us. Well, because I enjoy being contrary, it seemed the perfect time for me to place my bet.

How can I honestly believe we would do so well? Okay, no incredible mathematical decision has been made here. And I accept it is a tough ask. But if Labour continues to be unpopular, if the TV debates take place (and if we do well in them), if the media scrutiny of Cameron picks up to decent levels, if the Liberal Democrats benefit from the fair media coverage during an election, if our income tax policies gain enough ground and are seen as workable… if, if, if, if and many more huge ifs…

…then we could do it.

Make no mistake. The Liberal Democrats are in an incredibly strong position. I won’t brag that we are the cleanest of the three parties (we were, after all, still accused of some wrongdoing), but we should brag that we were the first mainstream party to call for a transparent Parliament. That should count for something.

We are the only Party committed to real, radical reform that would change the future of our country.

There is so much going for us that, at the General Election, the voters will be able to see more and more of.

I do not believe in a month of beaten, bruised Mondays that we will decrease our overall seats. If I was being realistic, I think we might get into the high seventies or the low eighties. But, but, but. If the perfect storm is created during the general election (which it could be), I think we might be able to climb as high as 90 – 99 seats.

My only dilemma now is whether or not I place another £10 on us gaining 100+ seats. Because I really don’t want to be in the situation where we have won 99 seats, but are still waiting for Newport East to be declared… eek!

So, this time next year, I might benefit from a £700 income tax cut + my £380 ( - tax) winnings from what is, I suppose, a sinful, wicked pastime (the gambling, not the progressive social reform that is our income tax policy).

Whether or not I then retire gracefully with my winnings, or use some of it to lay some ever more ridiculous bets, is another question entirely.

So, to the rest of you, which seats, and how many seats, are you putting your money on?