Saturday, May 31, 2008

Riga Pride 2008

Video of event by Amnesty

Particularly moving to see the bravery of those marching in the midst of a wall of hate (including obligatory placards with Bible verses - do they know ugly their religion is?).

From Pink News (2/6/2008):

A march for gay rights has passed off peacefully in the Latvian capital Riga.

Police arrested four of an estimated 400 anti-gay protesters, but the threats of violence against the Pride march did not materialise.

British and Swedish human rights advocates and politicians were among the 300 people who took part in the event on Saturday. City authorities closed off streets and deployed police to keep the groups apart.

Derek Draper (!) comes to Gordon's aid

In today's Guardian , Derek Draper (sometime new Labour spin doctor - though not a very good one and now some kind of psychotherapist - more of which later) gives his view that we are currently living through an exaggerated 'crowd' response to Gordon Brown's difficulties, where he is getting blamed in an exaggerated way for the international economic shocks (triple whammy of banking crisis, oil shock, food price hike - and none of the government's making).

Behind the relentless criticism lies the more balanced truth: That, sure, Brown has made mistakes but that the main source of his unpopularity is that people blame him for the economic downturn. He is hoping that he will receive reciprocal credit for any subsequent recovery. In the meantime something akin to mass hysteria has gripped the nation.

In other words the best antidote is for Brown to exhibit those characteristics he most possesses: being solid, steadfast and serious. Not flash, as the slogan put it - just Gordon. If he soldiers on I suspect that people will begin to realise that the current negativity is out of proportion and that he deserves a more balanced judgment.

At a pivotal moment in the West Wing, the administration's disastrous poll slide is arrested by the simple strategy, scrawled on a napkin by an aide, of "letting Bartlet be Bartlet". Brown's best bet is to follow the spirit of this advice. Be himself, relax, let people get to know him more with all his flaws and eccentricities, take the brickbats with good humour and wait for the tide of opinion to turn.

It makes good sense and if there is a recovery (seems the banking crisis has already settled down) then Brown's ratings are likely to recover.

I think this is only partly correct. There's something odd about the conjunction between democracy and capitalism.

Capitalist economies are like the shares that distinguish them - they go down as well as up. When running for office, parties exaggerate what's going wrong with the economy and exaggerate what they can do about it. When in power they either say they're still cleaning up the mess left by the last lot or that they're suffering under international shocks over which they have no control.

In the midst of all of this the most likely scenario is that governments take credit for successful economies and take the rap for economic difficulties (you have to be able to blame 'someone' for what's going wrong).

Correct diagnosis is of course the key and then you have to sell it persuade people of your view. It's easier if you can demonstrate our economy is doing better than everyone else's. But many people have a magical view of the economy that if there is something wrong in the economy the current government is to blame.

I think we underestimate how severe an economic shock is hitting us at the moment. Gordon's genius so far has been to avoid wild excesses (no more boom and bust) which has kept us out of recession and kept growth solid. Is this transient bumpiness or the beginning of a new economic dispensation?

Martin Kettle has some similar thoughts in today's Guardian The false rhinoceros...

But the greatest collective hypocrisy of our time remains the state of the economy. Indisputably, times are harder than they were. Undeniably, big changes in global financial power are afoot. Yes, growth is faltering, nerves are stretching and politicians are struggling to strike a persuasive note after surfing a long period of rising prosperity. But be honest: is this biting economic distress of the sort that traumatises families, communities and whole generations in the way that the convulsions of the 1930s or the 1980s did? Not yet it isn't.

When I read on yesterday's front pages that a family of four planning a summer holiday trip to the west coast of America, a place which their parents could never have dreamed of visiting, will suffer the "misery" of paying an extra £240 surcharge for the privilege, I wonder who is more deluded, the politicians or the people? And I ask myself what kind of rhinoceros we think we are looking at.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Freedom of expression under threat

Increasing concern about latest developments in Turkey where the State via a Court case has ordered Turkey's only gay rights group to be dissolved, with comments by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly expressing worries over freedom of expression.

Riga Pride Tomorrow

Coverage from Pink News about planned opposition to the planned Riga Pride.

Opposition seems mainly to be coming from two sources - from ultra right nationalists and the Roman Catholic Church.

The event is due to take place tomorrow. Significant support comes from Amnesty International and different LGBT groups within the EU.

It is a key test for the principles of freedom of assembly and expression along with other Pride events within the EU coming as they do after the events in Moldova this year.

A further roundup from Amnesty here.

Also a report from ILGA-Europe about Bucharest Pride which passed peacefully.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

We need a new Government

I think the Labour Government is now in serious difficulty and in need of a profound overhaul.

I may be the last person in the country to catch up on this piece of stunning news but then again I am a loyal member of the Party and generally see things sunny side up.

Where's the sun now?? Are we going to have a death by a thousand concessions from now until the election?

I hope not.

The question of keeping the current leader is finely balanced but surely relates to whether the current incumbent has a dynamic vision for the country.

Now I am sure Gordon Brown does have such a vision but there has been a lot of populism and positioning and ultimately it ain't going to work.

The country is clearly tired of what Labour is offering and there is a need for renewal. Of course economic turbulence hasn't helped either but that won't cut much ice at the ballot box.

There are lots of candidates for what the Mirror today describes as 'spring cleaning' (the Guardian has its own list) that will allow the Government to be refreshed.

These include things like ID cards and 42 days detention as starters for 10.

Brown should certainly ask himself 'If I am only Prime Minister for two more years, what would I like to have achieved?'.

There are doubtless other policy changes as well and there needs to be some big things - headline grabbers if you will (housing, welfare etc) with headline grabbing politicians to front it up.

All this is doable but policy alone won't do it. We also need to shake up the team a bit (a lot).

Things like a Party Chair, a new Chancellor etc, put Miliband in somewhere prominent, appoint a Deputy Prime Minister (possibly Miliband). The thing is it needs to look like a new refreshed team.

Gordon Brown is a very thorough kind of guy so he may already be working on some such package. I certainly hope so, because a Party that keeps defenestrating its leaders doesn't do itself any favours in the long run (to lose one Prime Minister is a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness).

Monday, May 26, 2008

Doubt over Russian blood ban move

This recently reported on Pink News and also on the Gay Russia website.

I, however, remain unconvinced. In such cases I follow the biblical rule of requiring 3 independent witnesses and here we have a lot of websites reporting from each other. There is no official confirmation (although to be honest, my Russian isn't as good as it should be so I might be missing Russian reporting of it).

It is being reported that it took only 2 years of campaigning (from I can tell this consisted of a few letters to the Health Ministry and an attempted - and outlawed - demonstration) to get the ban overturned.

This is being reported to be Russia 'setting a good example' to Western European countries. Hmmm.

It is also reported that the ban on prostitutes and drug users is also being lifted. Maybe there was a campaign by drug users and prostitutes to get their respective bans lifted as well. If so it has been very effective.

It's all a bit incongruous so I am not ready to believe it until I see independent confirmation.

Meanwhile our enemies on the religious right have also picked up on the news and are using it as a stick to beat us with, with a very interesting (and credible) statistic (from the FDA in the US) that MSN are 800 times greater risk of being HIV positive than first time blood donors and 8,000 times higher risk than repeat donors.


Whilst the Party is going through a tough time, LGBT Labour held its annual AGM yesterday in London. In spite of current difficulties it was an upbeat event, showing we are still focused on the goal for equality.

There was plenty of discussion and debate about priorities.

I was pleased by a number of things:

- the new National Committee has quite a few new members, alot of people in different posts (a kind of reshuffle if you will) and the largest number of women (8 by my calculation) in the NC that I can remember.
- a good debate on policy issues, in particular a woman's right to choose (making sure we supprot it from further attacks)
- a good debate on international issues, including an agreement to affiliate to ILGA.
- really good turnout - again alot more women than in previous years

I was also absolutely delighted to see Louise elected as our International Officer, and think she'll do an excellent job keeping that on our agenda as well as seeing a number of UNISON colleagues getting elected in differing capacities.

I was elected as Local Government Officer and Party Conference delegate, where I am looking forward to moving the rule change to add 'gender identity' to the Party's discrimination policy.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In God's Name

I was prompted by Simon Sarmiento to comment on the recent dispatches programme In God's Name - it's still on catch up or a bit if you're on Virgin Media and I don't know if gets repeated.

You can also see it on youtube (divided into 5 sections).

It's a very important documentary and well worth watching.

As you can see from my post below - this has prompted a letter from Joel Edwards which I can only read as Joel saying to evangelicals "If you're going to go nuts don't do it in front of a camera crew".

The most tragic point was of children in a "science" lesson in which a young girl answers Bible questions as well as young children being told about God turning people into pillars of salt before the coming of Jesus. A truly horrible and malevolent view of God that is being inculcated into young children.

It had its counterpoint when Andrea Williams was asked about the age of the earth and asked for the filming to stop and the headteacher when asked about the age of the earth said that he didn't know as he wasn't a scientist...

The programme features a evangelicals with a lot of aggression which seems to find its release in some of the campaigns that they undertake. They did not appear to psychologically balanced and anger appears to be a key concern.

Also very frightening how intertwined all of this with the Tory Party underneath Cameron's gloss of modernity, similar to the US religious right.

And please do not forget how powerful this lobby is - as well as connections to the Conservative Party the patron is a former Lord Chancellor and the President is a sitting High Court Judge.

As to the point about fundamentalist (and politicised) anger see this perceptive quote by Spong:

A major function of fundamentalist religion is to bolster deeply insecure and fearful people. This is done by justifying a way of life with all of its defining prejudices. It thereby provides an appropriate and legitimate outlet for one's anger. The authority of an inerrant Bible that can be readily quoted to buttress this point of view becomes an essential ingredient to such a life. When that Bible is challenged, or relativized, the resulting anger proves the point categorically. [Bishop John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism, (San Fransisco: Harper Collins, 1991), p. 5.]