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.