Saturday, 20 June 2015

If Pitcairn Island Can Do It, You Can Northern Ireland! #equalmarriage

Last month Pitcairn Island legalised same-sex marriage. One small little British outpost (of 56 people) in the Pacific Ocean managed to be more liberal in a shorter space of time than Northern Ireland which is part of western Europe.

Come on Northern Ireland (and the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey etc.). If the Seventh-day Adventist Pitcairn Islanders can do it, you can too!!!

Also they managed to do it in a gender-neutral, and vastly superior way, when compared with England and Wales' attempt.

Not that this is the first time the Pitcairn Islanders have been ahead of the curve...

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A Merger Of Labour and the Lib Dems Would Be Bad For British Democracy

There has been some talk of late of the need for the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats to merge. Such talk is not unexpected. We are in a period of great political uncertainty. Two unions (the United Kingdom itself and its union with the EU) are now at risk of falling apart. Both Labour and the Lib Dems have suffered significant defeats. Nationalists now form the main party in Scotland (SNP) and the third party in England (UKIP). Both Labour and the Lib Dems need to contemplate their next steps carefully.

So a discussion of a merger should not be taboo. I quite agree that all options should be open. But such a merger in order to "gain power" would come at the detriment of British democracy. All the major parties of the United Kingdom are unwieldy coalitions of quite different groups. The Lib Dems don't just break down into Social Democrats and Liberals. There are classical liberals, social liberals, social democrats and people further to the left. All find a home in the Lib Dems for entirely practical reasons... there is no other party that represents their interests better even if it is far from perfect. Whereas, for example, these groups would have 3 or 4 different parties in most northern European countries to choose from that more closely align to their beliefs, here in the United Kingdom our electoral systems mean we must make some uncomfortable compromises.

This is already detrimental to our democratic choices. We should be working to enable MORE choice politically not only to encourage more people to engage with politics but also to allow more diverse voices to be heard in our Parliament and better represent the real feelings of the British people.

Merging the Lib Dems with another coalition of divergent groups (i.e. the Labour party) might make everyone feel like their are being very grown-up and overcoming nasty partisan feelings and able to make those "uncomfortable decisions" that are "for the greater good". But what they will really be doing is denying people a choice of parties with a reasonable chance of affecting Government policy that best fit their beliefs.

I, as a liberal, would find it incredibly difficult to support a Lab-Lib Dem candidate who, perhaps, is of the Bennite tradition. I shouldn't need to put party unity ahead of agreeing with the candidate for my constituency. But that would be exactly what I'd be asked to do. This sort of merger does not decrease partisan feelings. It seeks to curtail diverse voices and replace diversity with conformity to a unified party of the "left". Surely putting such a mongrel of a party before your own personal beliefs would be the very definition of "partisan"?

Better we get a better electoral system which allows for a greater diversity of parties which, though none will ever represent us all, will allow people in this country to stop making uncomfortable compromises at every election and allow their true voices to be heard.

Then the parties will be the ones having to make those uncomfortable decisions and be grown-ups and work together in coalitions "for the greater good". That would be far superior and must be what we all work together to achieve.

There's nothing stopping the Labour and Lib Dem parties working together towards such electoral reform. Better that than an unhappy marriage of convenience for nothing more than power-hungry reasons.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

For The Love Of Europe

"Rather than constituting a model for an ever closer political union or a European state, federalism implies a process of balancing power in a differentiated political order which enables unity while guaranteeing diversity." - Andreas Gross 
Our Guardian reading, Tory-hating, left-leaning friends came to stay over the weekend. I was shocked to discover that they will be voting "No" to remaining in the European Union. I didn't enquire more (I am, after all, trying to get away from political debating especially on a nice sunny Kentish day over some beers). However I was left to ponder how I'd respond to a "No" voter if they asked me why I will be voting "Yes".

My earliest political memory is reading a Tory leaflet about "nationhood" (their term in 1997 for "unionism") and fundamentally agreeing. Ever since, as I moved quickly away from any agreement with the Tory party, unionism has remained a fundamental part of my political make-up. I believe that we are "better together". Humanity must work together if we are ever to change our disagreeable and violent natures. I apply that principle on our country, on our continent and on our planet. That is why I support our membership of the EU. Can things be done better in the EU? Yes. Will leaving the EU give us more opportunities to work with a large number of countries closely? That is very unlikely. 

At the same time I've adopted the federalist spirit of my chosen party, the Liberal Democrats. I believe that decisions should be made at the most appropriate level. Decisions about who collects my bins, what they collect and when should be made at the most local level possible. Decisions about defence should be made at the highest sensible level to reap the benefits of the largest resource base possible. I believe we should have a supranational body within which decisions at the highest levels can be made on matters of foreign policy, defence, international trade etc. I believe that the EU contains a large number of countries whose foreign policy interests and defence plans largely overlap. I think it is better we all work together on these issues on which we broadly agree than separately and risk misunderstandings and miss opportunities for collective defence against threats such as Putin's Russia. 

I also believe that if powers deserve to sit at different levels then most powers deserve to sit with the individual. I strongly support individual freedom. Thanks to European co-operation (though not necessarily the the EU) we have not just got the greatest freedom of association and movement since before the First World War but we also have the European Convention on Human Rights which gives European human rights some of the strongest protections to ever exist. We lucky EU citizens get to choose where we live, where we study and where we work. That is good for individual freedom, good for business and good for inter-cultural understanding. 

Working collectively with our European neighbours protects us from the dreadful calamities of the past. Europe is not yet at peace. But we are closer to that prospect now than we ever have been. The EU has helped support that process. It boggles my mind that within the lifetime of my grandparents there was a hostile military force just a few miles away from my home town. Bombs by the thousands fell on our villages, towns and cities. It is inconceivable now to imagine Germany or France threatening us. My ancestors would've been truly astonished at the peace we have managed to achieve. I don't believe that if we left the EU we'd suddenly find ourselves at risk of some military attack, of course not, but why should we not do everything we can to ensure communication, goodwill and peace continue unabated within our European community. I think the EU is an important part of helping with that. 

The EU has a great many problems; above all sits the need for greater democracy. Reform is absolutely needed (though I'm not sure the needed reform is of the "David Cameron's gets some opt-outs for the UK" variety). In order to reform it our country must throw itself into the fray and get its hands a bit dirtier. No more holding back and moaning from the sidelines. We have been a great European power for centuries. It is time we started acting like one and got on with the hard work of making things better. A "Yes" is constructive. A "No" is a leap into the darkness.

That's why I'll be voting Yes. 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

LGBTQ* in UKIP banned from Pride... Hmm...

UKIP's LGBT grouping has been banned from marching in Pride. I was wondering who else we might ban? Catholic gay groups? Labour Brownites (he was after all against same-sex marriage until it became cool)? I wonder if we might ban anyone who ever held an opinion that "progressive" lefties dislike? We might get one or two floats and a smattering of feminist queers for Pride if we adopted that policy though...


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

We're On A Twitter Break

I joined Twitter 8 years ago! From a mere place to chat about crappy TV (Big Brother, of course...) it became a place where I could interact with far cleverer people than myself and learn a little more about the world. I used it to get my message on marriage equality out to a wider audience which was an excellent way to vent some pent up emotions (and logic... lots of logic).

But what a time drain it has become. I hesitate to use that overly used faux-medical term "addiction" but it is certainly a habit. This last weekend I was feeling "low" in a way I haven't for a long time. Most of that is simply work-related stress but it made me think "Who the Hell am I?" and "What do I want?". I want more time to learn, to read and to spend more time engaged with my other half (naughty!).

And Twitter is the easiest thing I can get rid of to see if it opens up some space in my life. I get up at 5am. Leave the house at 5.30am. Walk 40 minutes to a train station, take a 30 minute train to the town where I work. I leave work at 5pm-ish and tend to get back home by 6.30pm. My bed calls to me like a siren to sailors and thus I've only a few short precious hours of "liberty" during the week. Rather than spending time constantly reloading Twitter, trying to think of "witty" things to say (sadly I've still not quite managed to think one up, but I live in hope) and tilting at windmills, I could be reading one of the hundreds (that is not an over-estimation either) of books I need to read. I could get round to learning a language. I could be staring at Jim whilst he plays his PS4. I could be re-connecting with extremely neglected real-life friends. Basically, there's a lot I want to be doing and far too little time.

Plus... I've just finished reading Jon Ronson's "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" which paints an extremely concerning portrait of how social media could be making us little better than the sort of people who took glee in attending public executions. Is it healthy? Is there a better way?

That's what I want to explore... I'm not deleted my Twitter and I'm not even promising to stay away for long. I'm too fickle and weak to give anything up for long (though I've managed to be without a denim jacket for several years now much to the approval of my friends and family who tore the last one off me and threw it away...). But I am taking a break from Twitter. Experimenting with a life lived without the need to comment on every thing I see or do. I hope it turns out for the best!

Of course I decided this all last night but broke my break within 12 hours upon hearing of Charles Kennedy's extremely sad passing. But I'm straight back on the wagon... Baby steps.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Tim Farron And Same-Sex Marriage

If I had been an MP in the last Parliament (stop thanking deities I wasn't back there!) I'd have had many second thoughts about voting for the same-sex marriage bill. I went over my reasons for that repeatedly during the debates but they are summed up here.

I state that as a way of saying I'm open-minded (a rare state for me, as you well know Dear Constant Reader) about those who may have had similar concerns about a very flawed bill and even those who abstained (but I'm far less open-minded about those who voted against it as it was clearly a step in the right direction and not worthy of total rejection!). Cheerleaders who hold the same-sex marriage act up as some amazing piece of progressive legislation will not get much of a warm reception from me.

Tim Farron, in the midst of a Lib Dem leadership campaign, has come under fire from his opponent Norman Lamb on the issue of same-sex marriage. I've seen some less well-informed Tweeple (especially non-LDs) claiming Tim Farron was against same-sex marriage. That is absolutely not true.

Farron voted for the same-sex marriage bill in its early stages. He abstained from voting during it's Third Reading. He states this was because of his concerns over protections for some religious communities and conscientious objectors.

I've expressed a great deal of concern regarding Farron's actions regarding some issues around religion in the past. So I'm no Tim Farron fanboy (though, for full disclosure, I am currently planning to vote for him). But, to give him his due, he has been unfailingly consistent in framing his stances on very clear individual liberty grounds. Some of his positions have made me feel uncomfortable but, I admit, have often made me consider whether I'm holding a position from the point of view of consistency or because of some prejudice I may have. And whenever I've engaged with him he has been willing to listen, to respond politely and to appear to consider other points of view.

Farron has made it clear he regrets that his abstention may be taken as a lack of support for same-sex marriage in principle and that he very much supports it and will defend it should it come under attack from the new Tory Government. We can't really ask for more than that now can we?

Well he could champion some of my concerns with regards to the act, of course... ;)

Friday, 8 May 2015

Let's Stick Together And Get To Work

What a bitter, bitter night for the Liberal Democrats, for the Union and for our future as a member of the European Union. And though it is easy for us to blame 5 years of unrelenting misplaced mud-slinging from Labour and the left, I think it is important that those of us who believe in liberal values take stock of what has happened more carefully.

After the defeat of Labour at the 2010 election they immediately moved into questioning the legitimacy of coalitions and into navel-gazing as they fought the leadership contest that gave them Ed Miliband. They did not engage in a period of proper reflection on the causes of defeat and moved straight back into an oppositional “OH MY GOD LOOK AT THE EVIL TORIES AND FIB DEMS” mode which they hoped would easily see them through the next election.

This sort of brazen disregard for understanding why the electorate didn’t re-elect the Brown Government in 2010 has led the Labour party to an even greater defeat this time. We must learn from their mistakes, the main learning of which is… learn from our mistakes!!! Bitter recriminations or, worse, a warming up of the ongoing cold war between “social liberals” and “Orange bookers” will not be useful in terms of coming to terms with what has happened and why. We must stand together, determined but humble and ask "Why?"

And it is a little unseemly to engage in any sort of recriminations when so many amazing MPs and their teams have just lost their jobs. Lynne Featherstone, a wonderful MP by all accounts, who spearheaded same-sex marriage and made a real liberal mark on the Coalition. Charles Kennedy who is not only one of the nicest guys about but a fantastic MP and my first leader. Danny Alexander and David Laws were instrumental in making the Lib Dems work within the Coalition. All have fallen to the electorates will. We must respect that will but we can still feel a little sad.

And Nick Clegg. Oh Nick Clegg. A man whose mere mention divides the party in half and who is the subject of a great deal of derision from the general public. I didn't vote for Nick Clegg for leader. If you think that's my way of distancing myself from his actions, you'd be very wrong. He won me over. His intelligence, his personality and his ability to convince are certainly something to behold. Yes, his actions may ultimate be seen to be the cause of our downfall BUT you'll never convince me he didn't join the Coalition and throw himself into making it work for anything other than the most decent and respectable reasons. He tried. He succeeded in many things. And ultimately when the judgement of the public was made clear at the ballot box, he conceded. I shall always hold him in the highest regard and thank him for giving our party and our country stability in a trying time.

We should mourn the loss of some great MPs and one great leader. And then we should pragmatically and scientifically breakdown what went wrong and what we need to do to make things better.... Onwards, always.