Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why I am supporting Ed Balls

Although the media is reporting it as "hotting up" the Leadership election is now drawing to a close.

I have been able to have numerous conversations with colleagues in the Labour Party, UNISON and LGBT Labour about the relative merits of each candidate; I attended the UNISON hustings and watched the New Statesman hustings on TV; read articles by each candidate and read numerous tweets on twitter and perused each candidate's website and read their election literature.

Quite early on I have been following Ed Balls. I am impressed by his economic literatacy; his articulation of sound Keynesian principles which we need in our current time of a Government recklessly cuting the deficit in too short a time frame with the side effect of a slashing of much needed services relied on by those most at need.

He's been effective at opposing Gove's hapless and McGoo type of performance and generally gives you the impression he can take on the Tories and provide an effective opposition to the current Government.

But that isn't why I support him as Leader. As I watched his media performances and read the articles he's been writing it's clear he has good communication qualities - persistence, clarity, ordinary language. And I genuinely like to watch him and find him engaging and interesting.

My second preference goes to David Miliband. He has better presentational skills than Ed Miliband, more experience in government and more gravitas. Of the two Milibands I think he wouldbring us into Government quicker. I am a little worried by Ed Miliband's tendency to 'give up' too much policy areas too quickly, which though to many in the Party may find pleasing (and it generally is pleasing) has a tendency to be too apologetic.

I don't want to over exaggerate. All candidates reflect a breadth of political views which ar in the centrist social democratic tendency of things. I think that we have genuinely have learned the lessons of excessive party control and a willingness of the Party to learn, not have all the answers and listen and learn. All the candidates would be effective Leaders of the Opposition and PM if Labour won an election.

Once the eletion is over we will I think find it easy to get behind the new Leader and construct an effective Opposition.

But for me the quicker and surer way of getting there is with Ed Balls and David Miliband.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Marriage equality in the UK

10 countries in the world now have marriage equality (Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Portugal and now Argentina) as well as in several US States - Massachussets, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington DC and the state of Mexico City.

A number of other countries are in the process of preparing legislation to introduce equal marriage (Luxembourg, Slovenia and Finland to date with the political left in France supporting equal marriage - Socialists, Communists and Greens).

The UK introduced Civil Partnerships for same sex partners in 2005 with parity to same sex couples in all areas and this was reinforced with the passing of the Goods and Services regulations in 2006 which covered equal access to adoption and more recenntly the removal of 'need for a father' for IVF treatments complete the provision of equality in partnership and family law.

But the journey to equality never reaches its end and equality always needs to advance. In several areas the current law creates difficulties. There is a ban on a religious ceremony where the partners wish for it and the religous body wants to offer it. There is a ban on entering a marriage for those who wish for it - whether from their faith psrspective or because that's what they want. Gay relationships become apostrophised - whereas opposite sex couples marry, same sex couples "marry"; a woman has a husband, a man has a "husband". The apostrophe indicates it isn't a real thing and the same sex relationship is pointed up as being an unreal thing and definitely not the same in worth and dignity of an opposite sex coupling.

The ban on marriage is a modern, less in your face, but real nonetheless version of section 28. Same sex couples are inferior and therefore not entitled to equality of treatment and regard with opposite sex couples.

There are other problems. Those who have entered into marriage in other countries are unable to bring their relationship effortlessly into the UK - something heterosexual marrieds never have to worry about; when someone seeks Gender Recognition and they are married they are forced to end their marriage even if they wish to stay married.

So I believe only equality will do. This is not about choices - you may not wish to marry (whether you are gay or straight); you may not even believe in marriage - that still does not justify treating one group of people as less equal than others.

The question is a live one at the present time because of the number of countries that have or are in the process of adopting equal laws for marriage and because the debate is now engaged within UK's political parties. The LGBT groups of the three main parties support equality; all 5 leadership candidates have supported equality and a resolution on thew matter is to be debated at the Lib Dem Conference.

Therefore the time is now ripe for the UK political class to take note and move forwards inthe direction of creating more equality.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Coalition scraps Human Rights Report

Very disturbing news that the Government has scrapped or is in the process of scrapping the UK government's Human Rights Report.

This is a very worrying development and will impact on many groups, including LGBT people worldwide.

It's a clear indication the government gives good lip service on LGBT equality in the wider world but isn't prepared to do the work required or rather is quite happy to cut such work in favourn of making the FCO a permanent trade mission.

UPDATE: I gather the Govt's response is that they are only thinking about how to produce the report 'more cheaply' - well, time will tell what actually transpires - watch this space.

The art of opposition

First stage is one of relief and feeling glad to not be under pressure of being the government. This last about 3 minutes.

Then comes a feeling of emptiness and then a strange lack of purpose and direction.

After that a strange fascination with the inevitable leadership contest.

Then comes the angriness.

Then the feelings of disoerientation.

It's all so difficult. You have to defend a manfesto you've just lost an election on, the Government are getting away with murder because there is a fairly prolonged honeymoon where the new regime fascinates and interests (there's nothing the 24 hour media dislike more than things staying the same and conversely they have a lot more to report when there's a new load of personality clashes to report - like Osborn v IDS), you haven't got a leader and haven't worked out what you did wrong and what you need to conceed still less what you want to offer to the elctorate.

It all takes a certain amount of time in any case and some aspects of this can't be rushed. The Government's betrayals and mistakes are slowly catching up with them and the honeymoon will pass. The leadership election is drawing to a close. Opposition initially is to rally your own side - the electorate are still drawing some pleasure from their new government, then to engage with what's going on, to attack where necessary and finally to be an alternative government.

The job (as opposed to the art - a differnt matter) of opposition is to scrutinise and not let them get away with bad policies, in particular looking at any broken promises (rich pickings here) and to wait for the government to start looking arrogant and domineering in its approach (Nick Clegg getting there faster than might have been thought).

Of course nothing make up for the fact that a Government with a majority does things you disagree with. You can criticise but not necessarily stop them.

Australian Labor loses its majority

Commiserations to comrades inAustralia after the General Election held there on Saturday (an election held under the Alternative Vote....).

It appears there will be a hung Parliament with a handful of independents holding the balance of power. Unless they are able to give very firm backing to either party it is likely there will have to be a fresh General Election.

It's interesting territory - and this hasn't been picked up by the media - because Australia has very similar rules and conventions for such situations to those of the UK. The role of Queen is played by the Governor General.

First initiative goes to the sitting Prime Minister to see if they can form a Government and they remain PM until they resign. If the Opposition has firm support from independents then it's kind of 'game over' until then we shall see.

Potentially more interesting is that this is the second country in the same year to have an inconclusive result and harks back to the inconclusive knife edge of Gore v Bush in 2000. This is suggestive that the modern age will give us more rather than less inconclusive results and that arrangements and coalitions, while perhaps not the norm, become an unremarkable feature of our politics.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Labour Leadership election

This process has not exactly set the nation alight. Unjustly we tend to think of US politics. But the US contest to become the nominee takes place over several years over which less successful candidates fall out of the race and happens (or consludes) just before the actual election.

Our contest takes place in the wake of an election defeat where the new government is enjoying its honeymoon (aided by the novelty of being a coalition) and where there are shades of difference between candidates it is a mistake to exaggerate them.

To that extent the process is a bit boring as well as being difficult for party members and affiliated members.

To the extent I've been able to engage with it I have been able to determine my vote. I've watched the UNISON hustings, watched the New Statesmen hustings, watched some of the TV material, read stuff online and discussed with colleagues in the Party and my own trade union and in LGBT Labour.

I am settled in my support of Ed Balls. He is a thoroughgoing Keynesian in a time where Keynesian approach is more needed than ever (avoiding the mistake of the 1930's by taking fright at the deficit in the way that the Tories and Libs are doing NB Keynes was a Liberal). I think he has an earthy normalness which is what a Labour Leader needs if it is going to reconnect with voters.

So my first preference goes to Ed Balls who I think deserves support. Of course other candidates are making their case and it's an election under the Alternative Vote. Of the other candidates I would give David Miliband my second preference. I've had my doubts about DM but, overall, I think he's done well to improve his appeal throughout the campaign though I thought he didn't do too well at the Unison hustings. Of other candidates I liked Andy Burnham but he's not experienced enough in my view and I have concerns about a Labour Leadre with some of his social views (though he supports marriage equality). I really like Dianne Abbott, she's a great speaker but I'm not sure she could be a leader of the opposition. Meanwhile Ed Miliband has garnered some support from Union political structures - though how representative of their members these bodies are remains to be seen.

Marriage equality in California and Argentina

Oops, with all their funding the organisers of Prop 8 gave no thought to defending legal cases after it passed and struggled because their campaign consisted of a) galvanising religious antigay sentiment b) lying c) using 'despisal' techniques - 'a storm is coming' 'they're after your children' etc.

This is easy to do against small minorities such as LGB people but likely to be unconstutional and so has proved. Judge Walker's ruling is slightly dull and boring but works through the facts as one may conclude them boiling down to i)marriage is long held to be a basic right ii)gay people exist and face a history and ongoing legacy and reality of discrimination iii)prop 8 is motivated by animus against a group and is deisgned to classify and mark them out. Therefore it violates principles of Due Process and Equal Protection.

Regarding the stay motions see here.

The state of California declined to defend Prop 8 and the Governor and Attourney General are against a stay of the ruling so we shall see. We must also await the reaction of th 9th Circuit who may themselves grant a stay if Judge Walker doesn't.

Then also the Supreme Court will get its final say. Either way it coud end up being a 5-4 decision whichever way it falls.

Equally encouraging if not more so is the decision by Argentina to enact equality in its marriage laws.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Time out for the Coalition

OK so I found the whole 'losing the election' thing and the whole 'we're going to lose the election' thing pretty bad, pretty hard to deal with and pretty traumatising.

Hopefully I'm lifting out of my post (and pre....) election funk a little now. Adapting to opposition is a really hard thing to do but do it we must. Good governance needs governments that carry out their manifestoes (ah yes, those - maybe the two parties forming the current government have completely lost sight of what they said to the electorate prior to the election...) and effective oppositions to force the government to explainitself and show up the conradictions and shout out when their actions cause damage to real people.

Now is, more than ever the time for an effective opposition and as the libs have gone in with the tories it's either the Labour party or no-one.

It's time to stop licking our wounds and look at some of the outrageous things the con-dems are proposing - though there are so many where do you start?

Perhaps one place for us to begin is to expose the hollowness of the Coalition's show of being somehow 'progressive'. On many issues their promises are vague and meaningless and they are doing little more than taking over Labour's achievenments in government to make them look progressive so they can do all the cutting and privsatising they are planning to unleash on us - a kind of 'progressive' Thatcherism if you wil.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Coalition on bumps to earth

It's true the Coalition started with warmth and good will in the media and all governments get a honeymoon. But the reality is now seen. A fiscal tightening and retrenchment was inevitable. But increasing the regressive VAT to 20%, cutting benefits (thus increasing child poverty and relative poverty overall) and now raising the retirement age.

It is pretty certain that many of these things were not raised in the election campaign and many voters would not have voted this way had they known.

These are the most cynical tricks in the book and to an extent we expect it from the Tories. What is happening now is we are seeing it from the Lib Dems who really have sold their soul.

That's before we think about departmental cuts of 25% or more over several years which we have never seen in time of peace. This will devastate many services on which people rely.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The results Part 1

I cannot remember a more dramatic result from an election. It was unpredictable because the swing between parties was no where near uniform and because it was not clear what the final result was going to be.

Usually UK elections the exit poll results plus the first few results tell you who has won and that they will have a working majority plus or minus a few surprise local 'upsets'.

In this election the upsets were the norm.

On a personal level I was pleased Labour held Nottingham East (my constituency) and neighbouring Nottingham South and especially Gedling which was a fantastic result. At the same time we lost Sherwood, Erewash, Broxtowe and Amber Valley.

Anyway results now in. We are well and truly hung - or balanced as I believe the phrase has it.

It's really hard to make sense of the campaign and its result. While Labour was completely written off and whose national campaign was broke and not very good and our leader was not telegenic in debates we did much better than predicted and came a clear second and won in many close seats.

There is in this country a seem of people, activists and voters who together want there to be a Labour party and will make this happen.

While a reform coalition is possible it seems unlikely. This is because the Lib Dems appear to not want to invest in a historic moment where we could create a government to reform the voting system and the House of Lords amongst other things and instead are turning to the Tories because they came first in the election - that is to say according to the logic of first past the post at constituency level which they so object to but appear to embrace at the national level.

So we'll have a Con Lib government whereas I'm an anti-Tory who wants all options to be explored to avoid a Tory government.

The consequence of this is we must embrace and learn the art of opposition until we are back in the government. I am sure that we'll have to revisit some policies, learn from mistakes and elect new leaders by which time we can be renewed and work out what we're really about, what we really want to achieve in political alive.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Why I'm voting Labour

OK, I'm not pretending everything over the past 13 years is all brilliant - some of it isn't. Some of it is brilliant but took a long time to get there.

BUT for the Human Rights Act, Civil Partnerships, Minimum Wage, saving us from a massive depression, Sure Start, improving the NHS......

Added to the risk of getting a Tory led administration with or without a majority that will put all of this at risk.

You can of course vote Lib Dem, Green or whatever floats your boat. Please feel free to do so but beware of the consequences under our voting system (Labour want a referendum on changing this so you're not forced to vote tactically) the risk could be letting the Tories in - especially in Labour Tory marginals. Go to bed with Nick and wake up with Dave. Not a nice thought and a major risk to the country's recovery and prosperity.

I am therefore voting Labour in this election. I am sure and know that with the Labour Party we will be able to make progress in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cameron fluffs his lines

The details (with some excerpts) here.

This was described as a 'car crash' of an interview. Cameron became confused at times and disoriented and at one point forgetting it was a televised interview.

It's important to ask why his discomfiture.

Could have been he'd had no sleep that night, had had a row with his staff and was therefore out of sorts.

It is likely this was the case.

This does have some repercussions for our view of David Cameron. A PM, even if being evasive or just not very good, should still be more or less competent at doing interviews.

In my view it says something about Cameron, who he is and what his method is and spells big, big trouble for him and the country if he ever gets to be Prime Minister.

I think that he thinks that merely making a few glib sound bites is a sufficient stand in for policy making and maybe isn't even aware of the broader policy issues affecting LGBT people - hasn't even thought that there's more to this than learning a few cheap sound bites. Plus he has been given a kid glove treatment by the media and wasn't expecting a probing treatment by anyone - a bit of the old Etonian who is born to rule and needn't be scrutinised.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Important ECHR ruling

I saw this in Pink News. See also ILGA-Europe.

It's a very important ruling, especially as it's unanimous and builds on previous rulings in similar cases (notably Austria).

The Court concluded that 'de facto marital cohabitation' must include same sex couples under the right to private life and freedom from discrimination.

I find para 92 (near the end) to be particularly important in terms of the Court's own understanding of its own jurisprudence:

92. Sexual orientation is a concept covered by Article 14. Furthermore, when the distinction in question operates in this intimate and vulnerable sphere of an individual's private life, particularly weighty reasons need to be advanced before the Court to justify the measure complained of. Where a difference of treatment is based on sex or sexual orientation the margin of appreciation afforded to the State is narrow and in such situations the principle of proportionality does not merely require that the measure chosen is in general suited for realising the aim sought but it must also be shown that it was necessary in the circumstances. Indeed, if the reasons advanced for a difference in treatment were based solely on the applicant's sexual orientation, this would amount to discrimination under the Convention (see E.B., cited above, §§ 91 and 93; S.L., cited above, § 37, ECHR 2003-I; Smith and Grady, cited above, §§ 89 and 94; and Karner, cited above, §§ 37 and 41).

At the same time ILGA-Europe reports of latest developments of the Schalk and Kopf case on same sex marriage where Prof Robert Wintmute has been given intervener status in front of the European Court of Human Rights (arguments regarding admissibility at this stage).

There is a very interesting link to the oral arguments here.

Civil partnerships in Church?

I must admit I still scratch my head about this one and struggle to see how it can work given the practicalities. Hopefully the government can work something out.

I am glad that the House of Lords did vote in this way. Kudos to Lord Alli who has been a fantastic performer in the House of Lords on this and on many other issues.

I am also glad for the fact that there is some respect for the spiritual autonomy of minority faiths such as Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaisms.

I think, ironically, that religion is quite a good angle to come at this problem and that it leads us to the view that for some faiths they will be able to marry people in church (or synagogue); others might not be happy to marry in church or synagogue but might doctrinally be happy to provide civil partnerships and others may opt for either civil partnerships or civil marriage.

I am for respect for spiritual freedom for churches, faiths and individuals and I think that this is the way to approach this issue.

The attitude of the Church of England is sadly pitiful. It's the kind of attitude of "Why on earth do people need religious services?" whilst being a church that wants (presumably) wants to attract people to have a service.

This attitude can only (a) put people off coming to church for a ceremony and (b) when they do have a ceremony they are likely to see through the church's spiritual bankruptcy and see this as a ceremony but no more and it's a pathway to a profound divorce between church and people which is very sad.

The scare stories about litigation against priests who refuse to conduct a ceremony are utterly mendacious and badly reflect on the bishops' seriousness and integrity - clearly people that daft (or frankly dishonest) have no place in our Parliament and should be kept out of any reformed upper chamber.

Thinking Anglicans has been great on this issue as well as Ekklesia.

Goodbye Michael Foot

Sad to hear of the death of Michael Foot at the wonderful age of 96.

My favourite memory (only from recordings - I was too young when it happened) is Michael Foot's wind up speech in the confidence motion that brought down Callaghan's government in 1979.

His oratory therefore wasn't just good for barnstorming rallies and wooing the faithful at Conference (great though he was at that). He was a great parliamentary performer as well as actually doing Parliamentary business - keeping a minority government afloat during the most testing of times in the 1970's by working with minority parties.

His greatness didn't translate as Leader of the Labour Party. I don't think he was ever going to be Prime Minister at the best of times but after the loss of the SDP and the Falklands it was always a very long shot and, although he was always a sincere (and indeed unspun - I can't think of anyone further from the world of political spin, though the result wasn't great in a TV age) he believed his own rhetoric and therefore didn't succeed in translating the radicalism of the Party into anything likely to get a good showing.

On the other hand I don't think anyone else would have done much better given the material.

He did at least lead the Party in the way it wanted to be led at the time and keep the show together (more or less) and allow a fightback.

That's the reason Foot is remembered with so much fondness by the Party.

Only in his passing is the wider culture becoming aware of Foot's bigger history as a journalist, campaigner against fascism, erudite lover of literature and representative of an English liberal take on socialism.

Hopelessly romantic in the end, and the antithesis of modern politics I remember he had the humility to have never spoken out against his successors (Kinnock, Smith, Blair and Brown) even though he had many opportunities to do so. Not many have displayed such loyalty and ability to efface themselves.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Equality Bill hooha

I have not followed all the intricate comings and goings of the Equality Bill but here's my brief overview to date:

Unfortunately the God-squad have been in action (bishops in the Lords) and latterly (and much more high profile) His Holiness the Pope.

The Pope's timing is a bit off as he attacked the Equality Bill as a whole after the bishops had won the votes in question and the intervention isn't the most well informed, from a number of perspectives.

The Pope meanwhile has been waxing lyrical on the idea that any equality legislation for gay people is against the Natural Law - this doesn't even compute as a concept so I won't try to understand what he exactly means by that. It is of course silly and insulting and does more to undermine Natural Law thinking. Which is a good thing.

The debate isn't about religious posts per se - it is clear they were always going to be exempt. It's about cleaners and office staff and whether it should be lawful to discriminate against people in such posts.

Anyway, the religionists have won that vote and the Government seems to have accepted this and won't be seeking to reverse the Lords' amendments. Apart from anything the Equality Bill which has been many years of hard work in the making is fast running out of time ahead of the General Election and there's limited parliamentary time left.

Whether the religionists have won what they think they've won is a different matter and in this field the UK needs to comply with EU law on discrimination (this is what the Government was trying to make clear in the Bill). So a lot of sound and fury for very little.

What are we left with?

The Church in its official manifestations seems to have put discrimination at its heart. Equates freedom to discriminate with both Natural Law and 'religious freedom'.

The Pope's obviously playing a bigger, wider game both in international power politics as well as trying to pick up Anglican converts to his 'Anglicanorum Coetibus' thing.

Very sad, will any one save the Church from itself?