Thursday, 14 April 2016

UUP manifesto contains an LGB&T section, but silence on marriage #ae16

You can almost knock me over with a feather as for the first time in history one of the two main unionist parties in Northern Ireland has launched a manifesto that has a very strong section on LGBT+ issues.

This is an extract from the UUP manifesto:

We want to build a Northern Ireland that is inclusive and safe for all our people, and that includes the LGB&T community.  Our society should have no cold spots for anyone because of their sexual or gender identity. 
In the next mandate we want to see zero tolerance of hate-crime, tackle the high levels of depression, anxiety, suicidal feelings and self-harm and stamp out homophobic and transphobic bullying in the classroom.
We would: 
  • Bring forward the long awaited Sexual Orientation Strategy;
  • Equip our teachers to effectively deal with homophobic and transphobic bullying in our schools; 
  •  Support the toughening of sentences for aggravated crime;  
  • Support the introduction of a Gender Neutral HPV vaccine;  
  •  Work with local agencies to tackle poor levels of mental health and wellbeing in the LGB&T community;  
  •  Bring restrictions on the donation of MSM blood in line with the rest of the United Kingdom; 
  •  Support age-appropriate sex and relationship education.
The only missing component is obviously the issue that has haunted the last mandate of the NI Assembly the issue of equal marriage. It is clear that the UUP are leaving this as a matter of conscience for its elected M:LAs which means that while it has a largely LGBT+ friendly manifesto, voters would be advised to ask their individual candidates where they stand on that matter before considering their preferences.

I have asked the three in North Down:

  • Chris Eisenstadt is in favour and would vote for equal marriage.
  • Alan Chambers considers civil partnerships are far enough, not realising that the fact these are marriage leaving some of the friends and associates he assumes are LGBT+ open to direct and indirect discrimination by certain portions of our community. But then as he never seems to enquire he probably hasn't heard about those incidents.
  • Carl McClean responded positively but failed to address marriage directly telling me to await the manifesto (I have given him a further chance to answer that specifically).

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Eight "Labour" Candidates does this mean the time for NI Lib Dems to stand? #ae16

Firstly I must say I am writing this in a personal capacity and not in my role as Chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats, that it why it is being blogged her and not on the NI Lib Dems website. The reason for this is that there are differing opinions with the NI Lib Dems and the Federal Constitution does stipulate that until the local party decides otherwise and brings a constitutional amendment before conference we cannot stand candidates.

One thing that strikes me about the list of candidates for the NI Assembly elections for 2016 is that 8 of the 18 constituencies have a Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee member standing. There are also 10 constituencies where you can vote for the Conservatives.

While the latter are recognised by the national party, I understand that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was actually out canvassing with my local Conservative Candidate this afternoon. The former of course were recently not formally allowed to stand by the national executive of the Labour party, they appear to have done so anyway.

Political anoraks may be aware that the name Labour Representation Committee was the names used from 1900 until after the 1906 election by a group of candidates and activists that have since become the Labour Party. As far back as late 2010-11 when I was running the referendum campaign I became aware of the fact that Labour Party Members in Northern Ireland were looking at standing candidates for the Assembly elections and that they aimed to do this by 2016. I would appear that in eight seats they have managed to achieve this.

I have also noted that in his first speech as Deputy Prime Minister to a Liberal Democrat Conference in Autumn 2010 that Nick Clegg he intended for the party to stand in every seat in the Westminster election in 2015. Of course we didn't do that we didn't stand in any of the 18 Northern Ireland seats nor did we oppose the speaker seeking re-election.

Now I know that there are many in the Alliance who would consider themselves to be Liberal Democrats, some indeed would tend to vote that way if they life in the rest of the UK, some of course are dual members. There are others, most famously Naomi Long who after the 2010 election said she was not a Liberal Democrat and would not be taking the Lib Dem whip through that parliament, who would not.

I also know there are members within the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats who do see the need to stand for elections in Northern, who think we should continue to throw our all behind the Alliance. Others raise issues about how we would be able to fund it, would be have enough supporters to run it etc.

As for the fact of raising the level of membership and funding I have watched with interest the increase in activity of the Northern Ireland Labour Party over the last 5 years. They have expressed their desire to seek election, to stand up for a normalisation of politics and not stand on sectarian lines, something that some of their members see support of the SDLP and maintaining.

I have also for a number of years watch the Alliance fudge issues that would for a liberal be a matter of principle. But when one of the tenets of your existence is merely to be non-sectarian some of the Liberalism that the Northern Ireland Liberal party once stood  for, before the return of Direct Rule and formation of Alliance in the 1970s, is not in main reason for being.

People have often asked me why I don't stand here in Northern Ireland for the Alliance Party. The reason you most often here is "I am too liberal for them". Many of the Alliance representatives will tell you that I challenge them a lot on what I see as logical liberal steps long before they have come to a party position on them. Reading twitter in light of the recent abortion debate I think there is a large section of Northern Irish society that is now too liberal for most of the Northern Irish parties as well. It looks like I am not alone, it looks like there is a liberal heartland out there that has survived and is starting to rear its head as the Northern Irish parties continue to get bogged down with the politics of division so much that they fail to deal with everyday issues. Or one side or the other will attempt to block them despite it not being a sectarian matter.

The Conservative stepped up in the 1980s, Labour are stepping up in 2016, is it time as Liberal Democrats to consider standing up for the liberals that do exist in Northern Ireland and give them a real liberal voice for the future?

Reminder this article though written by the current chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats is written in a personal capacity and does not reflect the opinion of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats or the Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Incomplete measuring of diversity #LibDems

I'm in the process of completing a diversity survey of the Liberal Democrats approved candidates, I trust that by being asked to complete this I have been retained (although I have yet to have official confirmation of my post election review).

My first gripe was the first question, where it asked for DOB in the format mm/dd/yyyy when like me you have a repeating number (nine) you have rattled this off from an early age. To have to think when answering a UK based survey before you start, to transpose into American format is not a good first impression and people born in the first 12 days of a month may not have realised their error.

However, I see there are some areas that allow a true measure of diversity but when it came to ethnic background I hit a stumbling block as it failed to allow me to fill in my legislated right to identify as I want. I could choose White/British or White/Irish, but unlike what the Belfast Act allows I cannot identify as both White/British and White/Irish. So I shall have to fill in with other. Update Thank you Jennie Rigg who pointed out the other box, I have met my legislative right to identify as both.

The last section is work that you do and it assumes that all candidates are actually in work. It does not allow for candidates to be unemployed, students, retired, or indeed stay at home parents/ grandparents.

I know for ethnic background it may only affect me. But the working background homogenises all our approved candidates as being in work, which isn't necessarily so.

Update Apparently it you answer "No" to do you have a Religious belief the survey ends. While this would not be a problem with the DUP and potentially the Conservative it has repercussions for the Liberal Democrats with a high number of non-religious folks in our ranks.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Philatelic Friday 1: WWI Centenary Gibraltar Part 1

I've decided to start a new series on this blog which will delve into my stamp collection on a weekly basis. And to start it all off I'm looking into the part of my collection that has really grabbed by attention recently and which is going to grow over the next few years as various nations and stamp issuing territories honour their part in World War I.

The decision of course is which location to kick off. I decided that this set from Gibraltar is a good place to kick off.

Designed by Westminster collection this set of 6 stamps was issued on 19th February 2014. The stamps are all 42.58mm x 28.45mm and while largely using black and white photography are printing in four colours (mainly to account for the poppy)

The 12p stamp in the famous Lord Kitchener "Your Country Needs You" recruitment poster. Of course the fact that Kitchener was killed of West Coast of the Orkney Islands on board HMS Hampshire may have some draw as to why I chose this first stamp in the collection to focus on with my political connections to both locations coming in the year before the celebration of WWI started.

The 40p stamp shows a scene that was repeated around the Empire of Army and Navy recruitment stations where young men flocked to sign up for the "great adventure" fully expecting to be home by Christmas. The soldier with the record player is probably either playing speeches from the leaders or patriotic music.

On the 50p stamp we see a scene of one young man fully kitted up saying goodbye to his family. This was a scene that was witnessed all across the land. From researching my own family history and especially with the friends brigades it would often be a scene that would be repeated up and down the streets in the same area at many doors as all the young men headed to the same camp in the same location at the same time. It is highly likely that my Grandfather's cousin James McGonigle Glenn who in 1911 was on the Census Barracked in Aldershot would be one of the first from the Fountain area of Londonderry to have had a weekends leave before heading to the front, long before the new recruits followed behind.

The 64p stamp shows the Quartermaster measuring up the new recruits so that they could look as smart as the professional soldiers who had years of training and preparation before them. All of them of course would soon enough be undistinguishable from each other side by side in the trenches.

On the 68p stamp we see the few short weeks of training that these new recruits were to receive at home before being dispatched to the front line. It was enough to learn discipline, use of weapons and basic tactics.

Finally on the £1 stamp we see smiling faces as the men are finally on their way. Heading by train to a coastal port from where they will sail to continental Europe and the front.

Off course these stamps appear on a first day cover which shows the cancellation that the Gibraltar Post Office is using for their WWI Centenary collection. At the centre is a poppy surrounded by the words "Centenary of World War I 1914-1918". On the left of the cover is an image of the men in the trenches, with the mud and the smiles no longer visible. Below is a red band which features a coloured version of the poppy used on the cancellation.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Dear NUS, from a former Rep who happens to be a gay man

Dear NUS,

I happen to be a former rep for my former University/Polytechnic. I also happen to be a gay man who is from Northern Ireland and currently residing in Northern Ireland. I also happen to be cis and the mover of the Transgender part of the Scottish Liberal Democrat motion on equal marriage which has since become law in Scotland and needs work in England and Wales, but not though any misogyny or transphobia or biphobia on my part.

The point of NUS LGBT+ campaign must surely exist for represent all parts of the spectrum to stand up against oppression not within the LGBT+ community but within the student community. While the vote at the NUS LGBT+ annual conference  this week seems to free up the LB&T sections from being under represented the omission of a specific spot for gay men may have repercussions that the current myopic stance may lead to an LGBT+ society in some Universities having an executive without any input from a gay man.

Of course biphobia is not merely an issue that occurs within the gay men of the LGBT+ community. I also have encountered a number of Lesbians who are radically oppressive to all gay men, but the NUS LGBT+ campaign is not excluding a position for Lesbian specific position because of certain of that group's misandry. Many gay men do feel sick when TERF's attack and deny those who identify as Transgender their identity. And as we have seen from some Transgender people, such as Caitlyn Jenner and Kellie Maloney, that not all those who are Trans are sympathetic to the LGB sectors.

I for one will acknowledge that in some instances the LGBT+ spectrum is far from ideal as there are differing agendas for the different parts at play at different stages. But as a former NUS rep, who happens to be a gay man I find the fact that this motion grouped all of one section of the LGBT+ spectrum with universal negativity as a reason to potentially exclude them in certain instances from having a voice on LGBT+ matters as counter productive.

I will continue to fight for equality for all and fight oppression wherever I see it occurring and will not be prejudging any group based on the behaviour of a few, now negated their point of view based on those prejudices. If I ever do, you can send me a DUP or heaven forbid a UKIP membership form.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The silenced minority #ldconf #lgbt

I have just listened to most of the Liberal Democrat motion on increasing diversity of our MPs. While there were women (the main beneficiaries of the motion), disabled, BME and Trans speakers on this motion. One of the minority groups that is not represented in our MP gay men was not represented, indeed through most of the speeches LGBT+ rights was barely mentioned.

In fact the most mention of LGBT+ candidates came in the request for a reference back. This is a way to ask for the motion to be looked at in more depth and brought back to a later conference. The call for the reference back mentioned LGB and non-binary inclusion to be considered. This was not even voted to be debated. So it appears that Liberal Democrat Conference didn't even want to listen to the concerns of LGBT+ representatives on this issue.

Between the lack of those called, the lack of consideration from most speakers and the failure to even listen to the reference back, it appears that Liberal Democrat Conference does not care about the impact of have no LGBT+ representation and the fact that the chance of having any gay male MPs after the 2020 election appears almost non-existent.

As as gay man who has stood in three election cycles I will be almost 51 at the 2020 election, but almost 56 at the 2025 election. I have spoken on issues affecting women, disability and BME people at conference in the past. I'm not someone who only speaks at conference for people like me, but today I'm sorry that conference seemed to have a debate covering a wide range of boxes, but each of those from a box or boxes addressed "mostly" only those within their box and little outside that box.

It has therefore as a result of the debate this morning that this candidate sees no way to advance as a candidate. There is a lot I can offer to the party going forward, but the party this morning has just shut the door on the potential for me as a Westminster Candidate.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

I'll nae be hasting back to Scotland

Eight days after the 2010 General Election I took the momentous decision to no longer solely seek election in Linlithgow and threw my hat into the ring for a winnable seat for the 2011 Scottish elections.

In the end within weeks of the General Election then I was back on doorsteps of party members seeking their nomination for the seat of Edinburgh Central. Although I didn't win that selection losing out to the excellent Alex Cole-Hamilton I put the experience down as a learning one for the next time I contested a winnable seat.

Of course life between then and 2015 didn't go as intended and I had every intention of not even seeking selection for 2015 until I was approached to stand in a seat that had yet to select a candidate in the early part of last year.My experience as a candidate and running the referendum campaign was utilised through various media to try, in vain, to stem the tsunami that overcame us.

In the hours after the 2015 as I travelled back to Northern Ireland I wrote I would be looking to secure a full time job in either England, Scotland or Wales, to be part of the Lib Dem Fightback. Little did I envision that within a year as I was starting to look elsewhere for a move into a new full time job that I might as well remove Scotland where I have spent the majority of this millennium out of the reckoning.

The reason of course is that Scottish conference decided at the weekend that the chance of them returning their first gay man as an MP was considerably reduced when they voted that the top five target seats would be selected using All Women Short Lists (AWS)I hope that at least one of those five selects an LGT or BAME or disabled candidate as those minorities at least have a higher chance of selection. But if the Scottish Liberal Democrats can only manage to get to 50% of the 2010 number of MPs the chances of any gay man like myself getting elected if low and we would have to compete against men, women and everyone else for the lesser mortals.

Don't get me wrong when I said I was prepared to get back into the fray I meant all the hard work of going around the constituency week in week out. I did plenty of that, mainly on my own, in Linlithgow and East Falkirk between 2005 and 2010 enough that many still thought I was the candidate not only ahead of 2011 but also 2015. But it is making it harder for me to contemplate what may well be a two election cycle to get one of the targets from 6 down into a winning position.

I know that only AWS or all disability lists are legal, but to make all five of the most winnable AWS does not bring about equality of the situation if successful it brings a different imbalance that would have to be addressed against incumbency factors for 2025 and beyond.

I'll be watching to see what is decided by Federal Conference decide in York next month and then how the regions decide to implement those proposed powers to see if it is worth me even considering seeking work to try and work a seat. However, if too many of them do follow the lead of Scotland and make their top five targets AWS it may well be that instead of looking beyond my result in Sedgefield, I bow out of standing for election.

It is a pity that it may come to that, it is not what I envisioned after 40 hours without sleep from polling day morning, to mulling over the aftermath in May.