Friday, 24 May 2019

So, goodbye Mrs May

So, the inevitable has happened - and, when it did, few of us felt the slightest surprise or even sympathy for the Prime Minister.

Finally running out of road, Mrs May could no longer kick the can further down it.

For all the talk of "drama", this saga has followed a rather predictable pattern. The PM has consistently used double-dealing stalling tactics to avoid taking decisions until as late as possible, to catastrophic effect. Her MPs have, true to form, backstabbed yet another leader. Take note - it was not the heaviest government defeat in history or Labour's vote of no-confidence in the MP that brought about the end of May. No. It was cowardly Conservative backbenchers, and the 1922 committee considering re-writing their own rules simply to oust her.

Her statement this morning was dignified by the current standards of political discourse, but it was too defensive to be effective in its apparent aim of reaching out to her potential successors, and too selective in its hailing of "government achievements". There was no mention of the "hostile environment" policy, no recollections of the failures surrounding Grenfell, no acceptance that Mrs May's own approach to Brexit has resulted in an even more divided country. The suggestion that the PM has given "a voice to the voiceless" was not only laughably inaccurate but also rather insensitive given the situation that many EU nationals experienced only yesterday when attempting to exercise their democratic rights.

Mrs May also had the nerve to talk about the "family of four nations" and the union which she, more than anyone else in living memory, has helped to undermine. But the most ironic things about her resignation speech was her insistence that "compromise is not a dirty word" and her urging her successor to "find consensus". That the person who coined the divisive phrase "Brexit is Brexit" - who sought Henry VIII powers to override Parliament, who insulted opponents and labelled them "citizens of nowhere" - should eel the need to lecture others on the need for flexibility and consensus is more than hypocritical. Perhaps she realises, somewhat belatedly, that her approach was entirely wrong from the outset.

And this is why I, like many others, have little sympathy for the Prime Minister. She inherited an unenviable situation, but her entire attitude towards it has only worsened that situation. The decision to opt for a hard Brexit was her own; the arbitrary red lines were again her own. Her refusal to gain parliamentary consensus in regards preferred outcomes prior to invoking Article 50 was, again, her own. The toxic, dismissive and arrogant speeches were hers.

So too was the decision to deal with the Democratic Unionist Party in order to impose her will upon Parliament rather than, as a minority government, seek cross-party agreement. So much for the "consensus" instincts she is urging her successors to adopt.

So today when political colleagues (often hypocrtically) praise Theresa May's dedication to public service and when political commentators paint a portrait of her as the unfortunate victim of circumstances outwith her control, I respectfully disagree. I do not accept either of those narratives. It did not have to end like this. The PM could have found alternative ways forward but, having alienated so many people in the early part of her brief tenure, it was always going to prove difficult to bring them on board once the ERG began to make life difficult. It was Mrs May who backed herself into a corner, simultaneously dependant on the likes of the ERG while finding it impossible to appease them. She did not have to cling to her party's right wing; that she did so rather than seek consensus and multi-party collaboration was her decision. She has reaped what she has sown.

BBC News this morning described Mrs May as "The Brexit Prime Minister who didn't deliver Brexit". She deserves to be remembered as such, but let us not forget too she was the Prime Minister of the "hostile environment", of the Universal Credit disaster and of widening social divisions - who used EU citizens as a bargaining chip and failed to respond adequately to the humanitarian disaster that was Grenfell.

So, goodbye Mrs May - the Prime Minister who was always out of her depth. Can there have been many worse PMs? Even Lord North had the courage to admit to his mistakes and take responsibility for the outcome. For all her faults, however, the unfortunate reality is that all of those jostling to succeed her (Johnson, Leadsom, McVey, Raab) are even less appealing.

I feel little sympathy for Theresa May, but I feel a great deal of it for the country that now looks set to have one of the individuals named above imposed upon it as Prime Minister. And that too is a legacy of the outgoing incumbent: her own party, whose interests she always put ahead of the country's, is now so right-wing that the likes of Justine Greening or Dominic Grieve look like Socialist softies by comparison. Their once mainstream voices have become unelectable in the eyes of the party membership.

Theresa May's tenure has been one of failure. Fortunately for her, the distinction of being the most inept person every to occupy 10 Downing Street looks set to last only a few more days...

Friday, 17 May 2019

Today is IDAHOBIT. But what about tomorrow?

Today is IDAHOBIT: the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia.

It's a day in which we make a stand against intolerance and prejudice. It's also a day in which we raise awareness of the ongoing violence and repression LGBT+ communities experience worldwide

My friend Mathew Hulbert has written this for the occasion, which for me perfectly outlines why we need to mark the day - and why resisting homophobia, biphobia, intersexism and transphobia cannot be something that happens once a year.

A day.

A single day.

24 hours where we take a stand.

Against Homophobia. Against Biphobia. Against Transphobia.

Against hate.

A day where we say ‘enough is enough.’

This ends now.

No more bullying, no more name-calling, no more discrimination.

Not this day.

But what about tomorrow?

Will we allow it then?

Is it somehow ‘OK’ if it’s just not today?

Will we turn a blind eye, with a warm glow that we’ve ‘done our bit’?

Because, after all, there’s equality now...isn’t there?

Equality, under the law.

But laws don’t change hearts and minds.

They can still beat with intolerance, fear and hate.

So, we march on.

We speak out.

We raise our rainbow banner high.

We take to the streets, to the corridors of power, and to the airwaves.

With our message of inclusion, of diversity, and of hope.

We just want to be us.

To be free to be who are.

And to love who we love.

Is that so much to ask?

Is that really so hard to accept?

So, thank you.

For being here.

On this day.

It means a lot.

But what about tomorrow?

Thursday, 9 May 2019

A tribute to a friend...RIP Sam

Social media has its uses, and it seems one of those uses is the quick communication of bad news.

This morning, via facebook, I discovered a good friend of mine had died.

Some of you will know her and will be as saddened and shocked by this news as I am.

I only got to know Sam (Samantha Stretch) relatively recently. I was adopted as the Lib Dem candidate for Bury South for the 2017 General Election. Having only tenuous links with the constituency, I was appreciative to have a local party whose expectations were realistic and who were very much focused on local issues. Sam was a member - and I think a relatively new one. She struck me as the kind of person who had come into politics for all the right reasons - to make a difference for her community, because she had a strong sense of social justice, because she wanted action on health services (especially mental health). She knew what she believed in and felt she was better getting involved in the struggle to change things rather than snipe from the sidelines. 

What I liked about Sam as soon as I met her was that she was obviously unconventional. She was hardly your usual Lib Dem, or usual anything really. She was very much her own person, and a real straight-talker. She didn't suffer fools or nonsense. I immediately liked her authenticity, her honesty and her positivity.

Sam had served in the Army for many years, and while she had an inescapable respect for her former employer she could also be highly critical and advocated radical changes in the way UK military forces operate - especially in relation to the mental health of service people. She had also worked in frontline NHS mental health services, and was an advocate for suicide prevention charities 

I thought Sam was exactly the kind of person the Liberal Democrats needed at a time when we were thinking of how to regenerate. She was unashamedly working class, very down-to-earth, optimistic while realistic, compassionate, people-focused and outrageously funny. I encouraged her to apply to be approved as a candidate. I'm not sure she did, but that didn't matter. My time as a candidate in Bury South might not have won me a huge number of votes, but I did gain a few friends.

Since that election myself and Sam kept in touch - she even travelled to my place once and we spent the afternoon admiring architecture while talking about (and laughing about) politics, religion, books, the military, history, music, LGBT issues (she was very supportive) and - inevitably - her experiences of how NHS mental health services work (and sometimes don't). There's little we haven't talked about to be honest - she was even a support when I was dealing with some historic abuse issues. She was a kindred spirit, and will be sadly missed.

I'm not going to write about Sam's fascinating life here, as that's best left to others who know her better. But I will pay tribute by saying what a fantastic, wonderful and caring person she was. I am privileged to have been able to call her my friend. 

Sam died in a road traffic accident, I am led to believe. Only last week she was sharing photographs of St Andrew's, the Cairngorms and Caithness as she toured Scotland - Sam loved the outdoors and especially remote places. It's hard to believe she's no longer with us.

How can you sum up such a warm, beautiful person in one word? Well, it's difficult but I'll let Sam do that for herself. I'm taking it a little out of context, but the final word on Sam's facebook timeline is "justice". That for me sums up Sam's worldview. It's what she cared about.

It's a tragedy that Sam died so young. But for those of us who knew her, the memories will last forever.

RIP Sam - thank you for everything, and especially for being you.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Cheers and Jeers #9 (local elections special)

What a sensational set of results for the Liberal Democrats!
Here's my latest news roundup, in which I cheer or jeer the week's events (sorry it's been a while since the last instalment...)

Cheers to everyone – and I mean everyone – behind the fantastic local election results...indeed, the best ever local election results for the Liberal Democrats. Cheers to every candidate, every campaigner, every volunteer, every agent – and, lest we forget, every voter. Thanks to you all!

Cheers for all those new councillors – 700 of them! – who will now bring their liberal values to directly serving their local communities. Cheers for many of my personal friends, some of whom were hopeful but not confident of being elected, who I know will make fantastic councillors. Cheers for those who will now be leading councils for the first time, and for those making breakthroughs in areas which haven’t had a Liberal councillor in decades.

Cheers to the tireless optimists, the relentless door-knockers, the encouragers, the positive thinkers and those who simply refuse to give up hope. Because of them we’ve won in some of the most unlikely of places. Cheers for all the positivity, and for giving us something to be positive about!

Cheers also to those who weren’t successful in being elected – thank you for taking the liberal message, our values, our aspirations and our positive, inclusive outlook to the voters. Cheers for standing up and being counted.

Cheers for the Green Party, who also has a spectacularly good night and – alongside solid performances from various local independent groups and the Yorkshire Party – are helping to make the case for electoral reform. These local elections tell us a great deal, but one thing many commentators seem to be missing is that they point to the inescapable reality that the public want something other than the usual two-party dominance. Let’s hear it for STV – are you listening, Jeremy Corbyn?

Cheers to the voters of Peterborough – or at least 27% of them – who signed a recall petition, meaning a by-election will be held. It’s not so much the ousting of Fiona Onasanya that I’m cheering, even if I have very little sympathy for her, but the first successful use of a recall petition in the UK. Accountability should be at the heart of politics but, as Ms Onasanya’s defiant statements have shown in recent months, too often we find arrogance and entitlement instead. This is a historic moment for democracy and hopefully one other MPs will learn from.

Cheers to Theresa May for finally giving me the opportunity to congratulate her for doing the right thing – in sacking Gavin Williamson she has dismissed arguably the most inept defence secretary in British political history. I hope that’s not the end, however – the allegation that he leaked secrets merits a criminal investigation. Well done Mrs May in appointing Penny Mordaunt as his replacement – she’s an obvious improvement and the UK no longer has the unenviable and unwelcome record of never having appointed a female defence secretary.

Jeers to those in the media who seem only to consider the local election results in relation to Brexit, or focus on what they believe it means for the two largest parties – playing down the phenomenal Lib Dem/Green surge because it doesn’t fit their pre-conceived narrative. The public have told us what they think of the two largest parties by abandoning them (the Tories’ disastrous night was worse than even the most pessimistic of opinion polls), but unfortunately we had endless perspectives from Labour and Conservative parliamentarians and even the Brexit Party (who didn’t actually contest these elections) about what this means for Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn. Sorry, it’s pitiful – local elections are just that: local. They’re not a backdrop to the theatre that is Brexit, and ”smaller” parties’ success can be due to their own messaging and targeting rather than failures of others...

On which point, jeers also to those making the bizarre "observation" that these elections prove that the public want the government to deliver Brexit. Anti-Brexit parties gained in excess of 900 seats, with combined Conservative and Labour losses around the 1,500 mark. How can that possibly interpreted as support for Brexit?

Jeers to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in rejecting Caster Semenya’s appeal.  To my mind, the idea of an athlete being required to take performance-suppressing drugs is as absurd as Sebastian Coe’s belief in “a level playing field”.  Genetic advantage has always been – and always will be – an inevitable part of competitive sport and the obsession with caster Semenya’s particular genetic “advantage” seems somewhat hypocritical.

Tears (well, crocodile tears) for Jacob Rees-Mogg, who now has a Liberal Democrat councillor. How sad!

Finally, on a completely different subject, cheers for Albion Rovers on pulling off one of the greatest escapes of all time. Stranded at the foot of League 2 on a mere 7 points after 26 games, they somehow had their best run of form for years to take 20 points from the next 9 games to secure safety with a game to go. Absolutely sensational!