Friday 31 December 2010

How did I do with my predictions for 2010

Well with a minute to go to midnight how did I do with my bloody obvious predictions from last year.

1. There will be a General Election this took place on May 6th

2. The boat race will be won by Oxford....or of those two teams at any rate. Yeah, I was right here too.*

3. The ice and snow currently covering large swathes of Scotland will melt. It did, the last from out the back of my house in Bathgate melted in March.

4. During the Football World Cup in South Africa there will descent from players against at least one official. Take you pick of a number of incidents.

5. There will be new boxing world champions....what you want the divisions, belts etc?...hey these are the bleeding obvious predictions not Nostradamus or some Mayans. Yes.There were quite a few changes check here.

6. Talking of Mayan's somebody somewhere during the year will point out that the end of the Mayan calendar has happened before, and if only some Mayan were creating new far reaching calendars the film 2012 might not have happened. Need to check this one

7. There will be 5 men and 5 women nominated for the best Actor and Actress awards for the 2010 Academy Awards. Yes they were Morgan Freeman, Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Jeremy Renner, Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren, Gabourey Sidibe and Carey Mulligan. 

8. David Cameron will smile, look pensive and wave. Yes, he did all of this on the day he walked in number 10 for the first time.

9. Gordon Brown will look glum, look glummer and try not to smirk again. Yes he did the first two quite a lot during the general election. He may have tried and failed with the last during the leaders debates.

10. The Earth will do a complete circuit of the Sun, the moon will make approximately 13.4 orbits of the earth and Vogon Constructor Ships will not demolish us to make way for a Hyperspace least not this year.  Yes, result and not a Vogon in sight.

Of course I also made some considered predictions

So how did they go?

1. Britain will take their best return ever in the Winter Olympics with 5 medals. We'll start with the local pair Sinead and John Kerr who will win their first Olympic medal. Zoe Gillings will snowboard her way to the podium and not to be outdone in form Chemmy Alcock will bring her best to the piste to also lift a medal. On the bobsleigh track two Britons Amy Williams and Shelly Rudman will stand on the podium in the women's skeleton bob. Only Amy medalled, even though it was Gold it was not GB&NI's best performance.

2. The results of the General Election in Scotland give Labour 28, Lib Dems 16, SNP 13, Tories 2. Labour 41, Lib Dem 11, SNP 6, Tories 1. Miserable fail but I would still have guessed more for everyone bar Labour at 7am on polling day.

3. After the result and Gordon falling on his schian dubh, the Milliband brothers tie up most of the remaining Labour MPs nominations between them. Inspired by the Polish President and Prime Minister, or maybe Jedward they decide to run a joint leadership bid. They try to use the name Dedward Milliband, although rumours that Louis Walsh, or PM Cameron are going to either sue or use the 'deadwood' sounding name they decide on Edvid instead. Well they did tie up most of the Labour nominations, some of their supporters lent their nomiation to get Diane Abbott on the ballot. Of course there was no joint leadership bid but they were the last two standing.

4. Andy Murray will win a Grand Slam this year....(I know I said that last year). If he hasn't won the Australian watch out for the US Open. He will reach the semi-finals in all four (if he is fit). Came mighty close to this one in the Austrailian he was leading 6-3, 7-6, 3-0 before Federer came back to win it in 5 leaving Andy in tears. He didn't reach the semi-finals in all four and didn't blame injury for either the French or US exits (although he had a number of trainer calls out in New York).

5. Michael Schumacher will win two of the first three races of the F1 season, but a shunt mid-season brings his comeback to an end when he aggravates old injuries. Oops! Schumey failed to impress upon his return, no major craches ended his career either.

6. Team Sky Rider Bradley Wiggins will ride along the Champs d'Elysee behind his Green Jerseyed compatriot Mark Cavendish to the best finish ever by a Brit in the Grand Tour when he podiums. Brad said himseld he'd done badly in preparing. A couple of crashes cost Cav a close run in the Green jersey. But he won all the sprints he took part in at the line.

7. The Church of Scotland to stop the anti-gay grouping in the church continually breaking the moratorium of silence over homosexual ministers will bring forward a decision on the issue at this years General Assembly. Err no. There are still whispers on this one but it will come to an end at this years General Assmebly, I predict fireworks.

8. Russell T. Davis after bringing back Doctor Who announces that he is try it again. He plans to bring back to the small screen Charlie's Angels with a twist, Charlie is female and the angels are a mixture of male and female eye candy. No word from RTD on this.....yet.

9. A small group of Premier League footballers hold a joint press conference to announce that they are gay. Football fans are surprisingly supportive with the news. Fans of both sets of fans drowning out the homophobic numpties who try and make something of it. Still no out gay footballers in the Premier League and as Qatar have been awarded the 2022 World Cup to Homophobic comments from the FIFA President I don't think it will happen soon, at least not willingly.

10. Strictly Come Dancing sees the return of Arlene Philips as a judge in the new five judges format.Still no Arlene on the main show. She has her own show in development though.

* For the record it was Cambridge that won on 3 April 2010

My Rollercoaster Year

Those of you who know me ought to be aware that I love a big, fast rollercoasters. I really need to go back to the States and experience some of the new rides since last I was there (1996). However, this year has certainly been one hell of a rollercoaster ride with its highs and lows and switchbacks and unexpected turns.

This time last year I was sitting in Bathgate, looking forward to kick starting the local Lib Dems into the General Election year, then onwards to the Scottish Elections and the council elections beyond. The same old routine as laid out by the election cycles. Or so I thought.

Sure enough the year started out in just that manner. On St. Patrick's Night I was selected as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) again for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, with Charles Dundas once again my colleague in the other seat for the local party, Livingston. In the end I came third once more, was agent to Kieran Leach in neighbouring Falkirk (in which campaign I met some new friends). But I was very disappointed on the night that Kevin Lang in Edinburgh North and Leith and Fred MacIntosh in Edinburgh South had done exactly what the party thought was required to win only to no get elected as MPs.

Well eight days after the General Election I had my CV in to start the selection process for the Edinburgh Central seat  for the Scottish elections next May. So there wasn't any real rest between the elections cycles as I started to plot and plan just what I would have to do, first for the seat and then for the list. In the end after another solid 2/3 months of planning and canvassing local members it wasn't to be, but Alex Cole Hamilton had been selected.

So as I started to work for Alex and was settling down to work on the list selection process, which overlapped with the end of Edinburgh Central, I was brought to a sudden halt. Somehow in all the activity of the previous months I had managed to not notice that certain bills were not being paid, kind of major expensive ones. I tried to get finance from the bank but that wasn't happening. I then felt that the only way to deal with this was to return to Northern Ireland and proposed to work that I could continue to work for them from here. With time running out and me having a letter of notice to hand over if there was no decision on that day I was finally given the go ahead to be a home-worker.

So with that then came the task of packing up 9 years accumulated stuff and with the help of Michael completed Operation Evacuate at the end of August. I'd a week to settle in before I started work, but I was also looking for something a little more permanent over here because work, as close friends can attest, was getting me depressed in a major way, even before I moved over.

There then came an email from a friend saying "Have you seen this job?", I applied and found myself up against Michael for what were probably the most angst ridden two weeks in either of our lives. Until I finally was told the position was mine within an hour of a Nationwide conference call for Yes to Fairer Votes as the Northern Ireland Organiser. I just had time to talk to Michael before that call, and he has been a great help and support from that time on.

Since I've got back I hadn't been completely politically inactive, along with Michael we as local Liberal Democrats wrote a couple of responses to consultations from government departments. I've also been involved in the LGBT consultative forum, help establish Delga within the local party, been back across for Scottish conference. As well as attending two party conferences and meeting with others as part of the Yes to Fairer Votes drive.

This year I attended three Pride Parades Edinburgh, Glasgow and Foyle. Somehow I found the time and a person to fall in love with, though sadly that didn't go as I'd hoped. I've also been elected unto my new local party's executive committee as well as keeping up my record of being a conference rep, Sheffield and Birmingham here I come.

So what does 2011 hold?

For a start there is an referendum on May 5th, not the campaigning I expected to be taking up every waking and quite a few of the sleeping moments of my life. But there you are I'm working towards that and looking forward to getting back into the phonebank as people carry on talking to people across Northern Ireland about fairer votes.

After May, who knows. I have no idea what comes next.

Last year I felt that I'd love to find someone I could really connect with that didn't abhor the time I spent with politics and maybe settle down. Seeing as how intermittent my love life has been in the last twelve months it is almost like I am saving myself for that person. Maybe I might get lucky this year and find what I'm looking for in that department. My love life has been a bit of a roller coaster in recent years maybe I just want it to be a gentle punt down life's river from here on. But then knowing the passion I put into things maybe not.

After May I'll be looking for a new job. No idea that that will actually be yet, have an idea what I'd like it to be just need to see if there are openings that I can fill, it may mean a move once more, it may mean staying right here, I just don't know and nobody is able to tell me the answer to that right now. So it looks like 2011 might be another roller coaster year as well.

Stay tuned I'll return to blogging full time in May.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

The "Weekly" Show with Jon Stewart #More4 #Fail

As a political geek one of my secret passions, though I guess not now, is to sit down at 8:30 to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on More4. It's on late enough that if I am in on the evening I will have caught my daily news fix, or if I've done a little campaigning I can often fit in in just after I've finished, then do the news junkie bit.

Rumours that all Americans don't get sarcasm and satire are quickly dispensed by watching this show. The fact it is on Daily means that it covers a lot of ground to fill its slot. Of course some of it is better satirically than other parts of it, but all of it makes you sit up and think.

Therefore this morning when someone pointed out this Guardian story that instead of the four nights of the The Daily Show Tues to Friday with the round up The Daily Show: Global Edition on Monday, we were being restricted to a diet of just the latter I was upset. The reason being that they wanted to schedule more high end American programming. So I wrote the following to Channel 4.

I understand from this morning's Guardian that the Channel is to cut our daily doses of the high-end American satirical take on politics down to the once weekly highlight package the Global Edition.

I'm rather disappointed at this decision as this is the one show I tend to come home to sit down and watch either before or between catching up on the rolling news channels. The Global Edition while invariably picking up what the US editors believe to be the highlights often miss out some of the things that I personally enjoy from the shows through the week. Some of the stuff that has been missed out often leads me to looking more in depth at some of the actual news coverage of that item, because it is often lacking from the UK centric news that is available most readily.

I would ask you please to reconsider this decision.

I got a curtesy email saying someone would get back to me within 7 days. I thought that isn't isn't going to happen, but then I returned from lunch to find this:

Dear Mr Glenn,

Thank you for contacting Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries regarding THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART.

Thank you for your e-mail.  We are sorry to read that you are disappointed about More4's decision to discontinue showing The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, however, you will still be able to view The Daily Show Global edition every Monday night from the new year.

Please be assured your complaint has been logged and noted for the information of those responsible for our programming.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise.


Grace Dawson
Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries

Please note that while my initial email did acknowledge the Global Edition I said that in my opinion it was not enough. The Global Edition does tend to emphasis the world news featured more in the week and miss out a lot of the localised American stuff, but often this content is what makes me dig deeper, I'm that sort of creature. Curiosity doesn't kill this cat, it's what I thrive on.

Clearly I have merely got a standard response from somebody trying to clear their inbox before they leave for Christmas. Sadly it failed to address the point I was making. People who take the line that they 'appreciate all feedback from our viewers; complimentary or otherwise', should really learn to listen to that rather than regurgitate standard responses because the name of a programme or product crops up in the right box.

Friday 17 December 2010

It's Friday...It's Almost a (Digital) Christmas

No doubt this afternoon, many of hostelries in Belfast will be full with civil servants, private sector workers and others having a Christmas lunch, post work drink or whatever. Foursqaure, Twitter, Facebook and email or whatever will be going haywire keeping up with the comings and goings of everyone moving about, not just here but everywhere else. This is the last Friday that everyone will be in the office after all.

However, so many of my friends have pointed out this Digital take on the Nativity. Probably a good job that Mary, Joseph, the gospel writers and the others didn't have the digital technology that we do now. But enjoy...

Thursday 16 December 2010

Belfast Giants Days of Christmas

On Tuesday my second cousin and his bride who had minutes before stolen the name of one of his triplet sisters walked down the aisle as man and wife to a live rendition of Mariah Carey's All I want for Christmas is You.

My friend, and fellow blogger, Andrew Reeves and I are both big ice hockey fans indeed he writes up match reports on the Edinburgh Capitals games. Every day getting to work I pass the Odyssey Arena home of the Belfast Giants. They are a sports team that has done a lot to reach across the divides in the new Northern Ireland. So here is their version of the same song, promoting their Christmas games schedule.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The First Day of Muppet Christmas

Last year the Muppets did a lot of excellent Christmas Songs so I am going to share them with you over the next x day.

Friday 10 December 2010

A Personal Statement - On Tuition Fees

The following is a personal statement I have issued as the former Liberal Democrat candidate for Linlithgow and East Falkirk in the 2010 General Election:

Last night in the House of Commons MPs voted 323 for and 302 against the proposal to increase the cap on tuition fees in England to £9000. If I had been elected on 6th May as the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk I would have been joining the 21 Liberal Democrats who upheld the Liberal Democrat party policy not to increase tuition fees but instead to look at abolishing them. This had been stated in our manifesto as well as the personal pledge that many of our candidates in May signed.

The reasons I would have done so are:

  • The party had instructed us to do so, not only in the years before the election, but in motions passed since the general election in most of our federal regions upholding that commitment.
  •  Because personally the increase on personal debt to students is something I personally have been campaigning against since I was an undergraduate fighting the introduction of student loans when they first came in to replace grants.
  •  We would be leaving students with half a hefty amount to pay off when they leave university, which when you take in the interest payments comes to a sizable part of a second mortgage
  •  Even though I would have been representing a Scottish constituency I saw that the cut of the teaching budget funded by the increase in tuition fees would have a knock on effect in Scotland were tuition fees have been abolished.

I take exception to some of the comments made by colleagues in the party I have long considered closely aligned to me on the political spectrum.

Steve Webb wrote on his blog:

"I stood on a manifesto that had literally hundreds of policies and pledges."

I thought a lot of that was aspirations, many of those had caveats dependent on the economic situation, one that didn’t no matter what the financial situation was the promise not to increase tuition fees. He goes on to say that he was elected as part of 'Coalition programme for Government', a programme that allowed for Lib Dems to abstain if the findings of the Browne Report were contrary to our beliefs. That was a concession that was made to our party over this sticky issue yet Steve and 27 others not only didn't take that option, or uphold their pledge but voted for increasing the level of tuition fees.

Lynne Featherstone another blogging MP wrote:

"For some one like me – who has always believed that education should be free – it has been a difficult decision. Sadly, my view of education (free through raising taxation) isn't on the table – or anywhere near it. That vision was ended when Labour introduced tuition fees and the principle of free education for all feel."

Thankfully my colleagues in Scotland didn't feel this way and reversed the decision in Scotland and as a result that was the aspiration of our party nationally to repeat that process in both our 2005 and 2010 manifestos. I also think that because of the general benefit to society as a whole of those who go through Higher (and Further) education that this should indeed be funded, if need be, by increased taxation. The fact that it is not on or near the table would be a reason for me to further vote against.

Last night I heard Vince Cable even say that Scotland had failed to take hard decisions, I beg to differ one that Scotland has taken in that tuition fees should be abolished and from what I understand the main parties are agreeing that they should remain abolished. That is a tough decision made in light of the current situation and one that I was signed up to as a candidate this May, that we, no matter how bad things were would phase fees out.

At least in Lynne’s favour she did have the courtesy to apologise for breaking her pledge.

However, I am most proud of the twenty one, who I feel are erroneously listed as ‘rebels’ they have stood up for what the party believes in, and how the electorate who voted for them believed they would vote. Therefore I salute Annette Brooke, Sir Menzies Campbell, Mike Crockart, Tim Farron, Andrew George, Mike Hancock, Julian Huppert, Charles Kennedy, John Leech, Stephen Lloyd, Greg Mulholland, John Pugh, Alan Reid, Dan Rogerson, Bob Russell, Adrian Sanders, Ian Swales, Mark Williams, Roger Williams, Jenny Willott and Simon Wright.

However, if Nick Clegg things that those listed above and myself are 'dreamers' because of our opposition to increasing tuition fees, I'm glad that I can still dream of a fairer and truly progressive way of funding Higher and, I want to expand it to, Further Education.

I'll not stop dreaming. I will fight on.

Even though this blog may be remaining silent over the next few months due to the nature of my work, I will be keeping up the fight. Recently I was elected as a Conference Representative for my local Liberal Democrat Party. I will not be ripping up my membership card in disgust, I will be pushing up my shirt sleeves and getting down to the business of upholding the things enshrined in the opening paragraph of the preamble to the party constitution:

"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives."

I'll carry on dreaming of achieving the above, but when I'm awake I'll be fighting tooth and nail to achieve it.

Note: This statement is made in a personal capacity due to the fact that I was a Liberal Democrat candidate in the General Election in May. It is not a statement on behalf of either the West Lothian Local Party, who very graciously selected me, nor the Northern Irish Local Party of which I am now a member, nor of my current employers. 

Friday 3 December 2010

Back to the Long Term Blog Park

Ok I had a little bit of an excursion because of World AIDS Day which carried over into the FIFA World Cup announcements yesterday.

But just at this moment my employer* for the last 9 years, 1 month and 1 week is no longer my employer. I am now working full time on the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign.

Therefore as one friend said to avoid me getting out my "Lib Dem thing" and waving it about while I am part of a campaign that is reaching across political divisions I am parking this blog once more.

It will also affect the way I use Twitter and Facebook, somebody else pulled me up on that earlier as well.

I've given my reasons previously more fully in case you haven't already read them.

So long, see you all again on 6th May 2011.

* Yes this is the first time in all the public utterances or writings as a politician either here on this blog or elsewhere that I have actually revealed who they are.

Thursday 2 December 2010

My Thoughts on the World Cup Location Choice...No Not that One

Map of Qatar
Everyone English fan is so up in arms about 2018's FIFA World Cup being awarded to Russia that they have failed to notice something about 2022's.

It is being awarded to Qatar, a nation with a disgraceful human rights record, especially in the area of LGBT rights.

Article 201 of the 1971 Penal Code punishes sodomy between consenting adults (irrespective of sex) with up to five years in prison. There are also incidents of these laws being enforced on non-citizens. Now there are LGBT football fans, I know I'm one of them.

  • What happens if we want to visit the 2022 World Cup, are we to leave our partners behind? 
  • Are we to sleep in separate beds, rooms, hotels, cities? 
  • What if in celebrating a goal or victory we forget where we are and get over affectionate even for just a fleeting second in full view of a policeman? 
  • What if we turn up married or civil partnered with passports that say so, wearing matching rings? 
  • Would we get lifted as we arrive and carted off to prison?
Gay Football Supporters Network

Qatar is not just homophobic it is a gay criminalising state.

If we are imprisoned I bet the cell wouldn't have the multi-million pound air conditioning that the stadia (as yet unbuilt) that will spring up in Qatar.

Bid logo
There is also the problem that Association Football does not currently have any 'out' professional players. There are suspicions that a number of players may be in the closet. Now would be a good time for those players to come out and stand up for the LGBT fans from around the world, but more important the LGBT community in Qatar itself. As we don't have a spokesman from within the game, it will be up to the LGBT fans and their friends to take this issue further. But I guess we may not have any players coming out, if they have a hope of playing in the 2022 World Cup, even though us gay supporters need a hero, one of 'the family'.

We should start by boycotting Qatari products:

(feel free to provide more in the comments)

Personally I'd not feel safe travelling to Qatar, especially if I was doing so with a partner, I'm just too affectionate. I don't even think I should even contemplate watching the games on television. So I guess I'll not even be watching the 2022 World Cup, even on TV, thanks to decision of FIFA today. Wonder what I'll end up doing instead?

Wednesday 1 December 2010

World #AIDS Day - #ActAware: Confession Time

I have a confession to make.

I don't always practise safe sex. In fact bareback sex does feel so much better than using a condom.... the time.

However, to be frank it is one of the reasons that so many people, especially gay men, are still getting infected day by day.People often ask, how can people put themselves in risk of affection, often that is one of the major reasons, it feels the time.

There is of course then the wait of three months to get outside the window period, the anxious walk to a clinic to get tested, and the wait for the blood results and then the wait for the next time, just to be sure. But at the time it feels good, but that doesn't make it right to do so and here is a personal realisation as to why.

See the thing is that even though I campaign to end the blood ban, I really want it to be lifted in a way that I personally will find it very hard to give blood, not because of my sexual orientation but because of my how I go about it. I have had sex with men who are living with HIV (three of them in total, that I am aware of, though only two told me at the time).

The one of those who didn't tell me, contacted me rather embarrassed 8 months after we last had sex. His first comment was "I have something to tell you". Before he revealed that he'd just been diagnosed with HIV and probably was living with it at the time we were together. Thankfully for me he had failed to answer my questioning in a positive way when he asked for us to forget about the condoms. He also changed his answers when he'd asked again some weeks later.

I'm big enough, ugly enough and informed enough to make my own decisions about who I sleep with, providing I'm aware of the facts. With the two who were honest there are two things that I cannot provide:
  1. I cannot offer him anal sex without a condom being involved
  2. I cannot be 100% sure that any sex we have is safe (there is no guarantee of that)
I'm aware of my current HIV (and other STIs) status, just two weeks ago my bloods came back negative, as did my swabs. But that is as much through luck as good personal responsibility.

Here's the thing, if I were to fall in love with someone living with HIV, I would want to love them emotional, intellectually, spiritually and sexually. Of course anyone in such a circumstance would also be facing the same two criteria above. I trust on point one they would love me enough to respect that is the case, I hope for point two that they realise I love them enough to want to be part of them, even with that one small chance of doubt every time.

There has of course been a lot of jumping up and down in the gay press about Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) benefits from the use of Truvada before infection. However, this is a costly way to counter the issue and

"For now, and for the foreseeable future, condoms remain the most effective, easily available and cheapest way of preventing HIV transmission. As this trial suggests, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is going to be an addition to condom use rather than a replacement of it."

So therefore as you've seen today through my blogging the message this World AIDS Day the message of Act Aware really is one that I am taking on board. That's why I'm protecting myself and others from HIV infection.

It is why I have taken this day away from parking my blog to make these three posts going from the overall picture, through my local situation and friend, to this very personal post. Hopefully through something I have said today, someone, somewhere, maybe even you, will take a number of steps to Act Aware in your own life.
  1. Get tested (and keep getting tested) it may seem like a trauma to do it, but the knowledge of your status at regular intervals is far better than finding out late on you have an issue.
  2. Practise safer sex always use a condom in casual relationships
  3. Never rely on self disclosure from someone else. As I mentioned above 1 in 4 people living with HIV cannot disclose to you that they are, because they themselves do not know. Respect your own body and health, you are only in control of that, not anyone else's.
If you do live in Northern Ireland and are concerned about HIV contact the confidential helpline number 0800 137 437.

Or make a visit to the Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinics at the following locations:

The Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast 
The Causeway Hospital, Coleraine 
Altnagelvin Hospital, Londonderry 
Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry

Condoms are readily available through chemists, public toilets or even in health packs at most gay venues. So even if you pull on a night out there is no excuse to not be prepared.

World #AIDS Day - #ActAware: HIV in Northern Ireland

Yeah it will come as shock to some people in Northern Ireland, but yes there are people living with HIV here in Northern Ireland.

You can't tell who they are by looking at them.

You are not at risk from every day contact with them.

The HIV Support Centre in Belfast says that every week there are two people newly diagnosed with HIV. That is two more people who will be living with HIV in their bodies, two more sets of family and friends that will be living with someone they know very well having HIV.

Of course it is up to the individual in question as to whether s/he lets their family or friends know their status. There is still a stigma attached to HIV, which is almost as much of the ignorance from the 80s instead of what is known now about the disease. In fact it is possible to be in a full relationship with someone living with HIV and practice safer sex and to remain negative yourself*.

That stigma is something that is hard to overcome. It only will be broken down if more people living with HIV are courageous enough to let others know. Showing others that they can live a perfectly normal live.

My friend Michael is a trustee of The HIV Support Centre and he is adamant that the stigma of HIV is best lifted when people are aware that people living with HIV are all around them. Until recently this was even an issue with The HIV Support Centre itself, referring to itself merely as 'The Centre'; the centre of what, one might ask. I recently witnessed him helping lift that stigma one person at a time.

He was talking to a friend he had known for some time, the conversation got round to HIV and his work as a trustee. Standing there listening I had an inkling where that conversation was going, especially once the friend seemed shocked that there people living with HIV in Northern Ireland, the friend was not someone you'd expect to be ignorant of such facts. Michael, eventually asked the question, "Do you know anyone living with HIV?". The friend replied "No". A hand was proffered with the words, "Hello, I'm Michael, I'm living with HIV." It was a brave step even to a friend of some standing, and I'm glad to report he shook that hand and carried on asking more questions, over to the side I was fighting back the tear ducts**.

There is also the stigma of attending a GUM clinic. Some people think that everyone in there is carrying some STI if not HIV. But not every car that you see in a garage needs work doing, some are just being serviced and getting looked over ahead of an MOT, getting tested regularly is just like that. Far better to know what your status is, negative or otherwise at regular intervals that to find out too late that there is something wrong. Late diagnoses means that sometimes the medications may not be effective for the treatment of HIV.

Scarily 1 in 4 people living with HIV are as yet undiagnosed. Scarily of that set 39% are diagnosed so late that they need to start HIV treatment immediately, and 30% were diagnosed so late that there was a real risk of developing a potentially fatal illness. When there are apparently to 1 in 20 of the UK wide gay male population that are living with HIV that can lead to nightmares. Therefore the rule of thumb is treat every encounter the same, be safe and respect your own body. If someone refuses you because you want safer sex, don't give in to peer pressure.

The message this year is ACT AWARE.

Are you aware of your HIV status?

If you're not but are sleeping around whether with people of the same sex or the opposite, may I advise you to go and get tested now and regularly and be aware.

If you don't believe how important that can be I'll advise to wait until my next blog post.

* Of course there is no such thing as 100% safe sex, but if you love someone you decide for yourself what you want to do providing you are in full knowledge of the facts.

** Yeah I tend to well up quite a lot.

World #AIDS Day: #ActAware

I know that I parked this blog a couple of weeks ago, but there is something today that is too big, that is beyond politics that I felt compelled to draw your attention to. Today is World AIDS Day. Here are some of the UK statistics from their website.

More people than ever are living with HIV in the UK and each year new infections occur.

People living with HIV in the UK

  • The number of people living with HIV in the UK has trebled in the last 10 years
  • More than 90,000 people are living with HIV in the UK
  • Over a quarter of people with HIV in the UK are undiagnosed
  • About two thirds of people living with HIV are men and a third are women
  • Over half of all people living with HIV are aged between 30 and 44, but there are significant numbers both of young people and older people now living with HIV
  • One in 20 gay men in the UK is living with HIV

New HIV cases in 2008

  • 7,298 new diagnoses
  • The two groups most affected remain gay and bisexual men and black African heterosexuals.  Three-quarters of people diagnosed were among these two groups.
  • 2,760 new diagnoses among men who have sex with men
  • 2,790 new diagnoses among people from black and minority ethnic communities
This year they are running a campaign to be aware. Be aware of your HIV status. The harrowing fact that I highlighted above is that a quarter of people living with HIV are not aware that they are infected.

I have to admit there have been times that I have gone for my regular checks that I have been worried that I might have been at real risk of being infected. Indeed one of my recent tests I was anxious. I had experienced the primary HIV infection (or sero-conversion illness) symptoms, at about the right time scale when I could have been exposed. However, my tests did come back negative.

Knowing your status is important whether you are gay or straight especially if you are engaging in an active sex life with multiple partners, or if you are in an open relationship. Get into the habit of going regularly (every six months) to your local genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or with your local GP. The local GUM clinic for me now is up at the Royal Victoria Hospital, their staff there carried out my last test.

The message today is:

Be Aware
Be as Safe as you can be
Be Responsible for you own health


The term living with HIV often only refers to those who actually have HIV. But a friend of mine recently said that those of use who know a family member, friend or partner who has HIV are also in a sense living with HIV. We deal with some of the effects it has on the person that we love. If we carry on living with their HIV we do not love them any less, we may show our love for them even more through the practical things we do for them and the support we give them to help them carry on as normal.

In that sense I am someone who is living with another friend's HIV and I want them to know that I am thinking of them as ever today.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Parking up on the side of a Intergalactic Super Highway

Zaphod Beeblebrox entered the foyer. He strode up to the insect receptionist.
"OK," he said, "Where's Zarniwoop? Get me Zarniwoop."
"Excuse me, sir?" said the insect icily. It did not care to be addressed in this manner.
"Zarniwoop. Get him, right? Get him now."
"Well, sir," snapped the fragile little creature, "if you could be a little cool about it ..."
"Look," said Zaphod, "I'm up to here with cool, OK? I'm so amazingly cool you could keep a side of meat inside me for a month. I am so hip I have difficulty seeing over my pelvis. Now will you move before you blow it?"
"Well, if you'd let me explain, sir," said the insect tapping the most petulant of all the tentacles at its disposal, "I'm afraid that isn't possible right now as Mr Zarniwoop is on an intergalactic cruise."
Hell, thought Zaphod.
"When he's going to be back?" he said.
"Back sir? He's in his office."
Zaphod paused while he tried to sort this particular thought out in his mind. He didn't succeed.
From The Restaurant at the End of the Universe chapter 7.

I'm hoping this post will help you all to sort out your own particular thought.

There has of course been rather a lot going on in my life over recent weeks, in will culminate in two weeks time when I will have left the employ of the company I have worked in for over nine years. I'll be taking on a short fix term role with a set end date. Scarily there is also a clause in my contract that something that has yet to happen, if it fails to happen, will immediately initiate a very short notice period for me and my colleagues.

Why take such a risk? Because the job is for something I really believe in, bringing about fairer votes. It is something that is happening in a place where there are a factors that are important to me right now, people who will look out for me in a transition, people who will help me relax (especially two who are not yet 10) and it is a step that I have been trying to make for a number of years but somehow never quite found the way to do so.

However, as all this is happening there is something else that I feel with have to happen in this little quarter of sector ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha*. I have already said that blogging here will be light, I'm going further today. This blog is being parked on the side of this vast highway that is life. Over the past week to 10 days I have caught myself on at times. There are things I wanted to blog, comments on Facebook I wanted to rebutt, Tweets I wished to make. However, I've come to realise that I can't do that an keep my focus unto the one message that I am charged to deliver over the next five and a half months.

If I were to do this on this blog it would become boring and mundane for you dear reader, as quite often it would be referring you to the Yes to Fairer Votes website or page that is relevant to the story in question. One thing I will continue to do is write however, though it may not be publically available, it is one of the things that I have always done to help me relax, unwind, recharge or indeed decharge. So no doubt there will be writing going on, I'm just not sure in what format that will take outside of the work productivity that I will be doing.

However, I do love blogging and the fact that I am parking this blog does not mean that I am never going to do it here ever again, I'll be chomping at the bit no doubt on very many days. But key people kow that they are to bind my hands, lock me in a store room without a laptop, or just glare at me (which will most likely work) if when there is something that is crying out to be said, it need not come from me. Other friends may be getting ideas for stories that I really want to write, indeed this has already started to happen. It does all feel a little bit like I'm entering a Bloggers Anonymous meeting. There is one thing though, I know that I will take up the keyboard once more and write here at some point on May 6th, and it won't be considered falling off the wagon, but merely as steering it once again.

There is one blog post that will appear between now and May 5th and that is my New Years Eve post rounding up the year of 2010. As you can imagine this will be far from a boring read. In the meantime I leave you with the opening lines of the book Mostly Harmless again by Douglas Adams.

Anything that happens, happens.
Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen.
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
It doesn't necessarily do it in chronological order, though.

I'll add may not happen in the chronological order that you yourself may have set out, but when it happens cease the day.

So like Zarniwoop the editor of this blog is going to be on an intergalactic cruise, I may well be in my office, I may well not get outside of Northern Ireland, but you know what I mean. See you all in May.

*Yes this is a popular cultural reference that Michael wouldn't get #PCRMWG. I'm hoping at some point in our friendship's future that I will be able to enlighten him.

Friday 19 November 2010

Children in Need Tonight

It is Children in Need tonight on BBC1 and BBC2. There was one year I recall not actually watching the programme, the reason was a valid one I was at the old BBC Scotland headquarters on Queen Margaret Road, Glasgow and my partner at the time had volunteered to help out behind the scenes.

However, to get us in the mode for this years what better way that last year's official single, which in the best tradition of charity singles brought together a whole gumult of stars, in this case plasticine, or celluloid or computer animations. Well done to Peter Kay for coming up with the concept.

It's Friday so....Allison Jannay

Happy Birthday today to Allison Jannay probably best known to all my readers as Claudia Jean "C.J." Cregg the Whitehouse Press Secretary who becomes Chief of Staff in the Bartlett administration on The West Wing.

So every birthday needs a song, or at least a little lip-synch. What do you mean you haven't seen C.J. do the Jackal.

She also played herself in Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip as Allison Jannay star of the West Wing. Many of the stars of the new show made comment on her being C.J. which is especially funny when it comes from Timothy Busfield (Cal Shanley S60 - Danny Concannon WW) , Bradley Whitford (Danny Tripp S60 - Josh Lyman WW) or Matthew Perry (Matt Albie S60 - Joe Quincey WW).

Of course there was a lot of poker playing scenes in The West Wing so what happens when the stars actually play on TV, for real. Well Richard Schiff has an Allison Jannay shaped space on his charm bracelet.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Who We're Remembering

Map courtesy of the BBC

Earlier Lib Dem Voice pointed us towards the above map on the BBC website, it reminds us that not just in the two World Wars but many other conflicts there are those that we are remembering.

It lists the conflicts and the casualties:

  • Palestine 1922-48 233 fatalities
  • Malaya 1948-60 340 fatalities
  • Yangtze River Incident 1949 46 fatalities
  • Korean War 1950-53 765 fatalities
  • The Canal Zone Emergency: Egypt 1951-3 54 fatalities
  • Kenya 1952-60 12 fatalities
  • Cyprus 1955-59 105 fatalities
  • Suez Crisis 1956 22 fatalities
  • Oman and Dhofar 1962-75 24 fatalities
  • Borneo 1962-66 126 fatalities
  • Aden Emergency 1963-67 68 fatalities
  • Northern Ireland 1969-98 763 fatalities
  • Falkland Islands 1982 255 fatalities
  • Gulf War I 1990-91 47 fatalities
  • The Balkans 1992-2001 48 fatalities
  • Sierra Leonne 2000 1 fatality
  • Afghanistan 2001-present 343 fatalities
  • Iraq 2003-09 179 fatalities
Not a year has gone by that our forces haven't been engaged in active duty in a conflict that some have lost their lifes since the end of the second world war. There are memorials to some of these other conflicts around Northern Ireland, or specific to Northern Ireland, that will have held services at or near them today.

Such as this on to the Royal Ulster Rifles Korean War dead, now outside Belfast City Hall.

There is also the iconic Ulster Tower at Thiepval remembering the 5,000 men of the 36th (Ulster) Division who feel on 1 July 1916 in the Battle of the Somme. Almost a half of the strength of the Division.

The memorial to the police and soldiers who gave their lives right here in Northern Ireland, during my own lifetime.

Our War Dead are just a generation that are dying they are my generation and indeed the one after me. Those who are suffering the effects of war are alive and around us today.

We will remember them, because they are still here, as well as those that have gone before.

Leanfaımıd oraınn cuıṁneaṁ orṫu - We Will Remember Them

War Memorial Ward Park, Bangor

The 8th November 1987 was Remembrance Sunday, on that day I was laying a wreath on behalf of 4th Bangor Boys Brigade Company when at the other end of the Province a bomb had gone off at Enniskillen. Eleven people died that day and I know there are some in Ireland who find it hard to move on from those days of troubles.

However, as my friend Keith has pointed out on his blog attitudes have been changing in the Nationalist community. As I've mentioned here before there are 49,400 reasons from the First World War why all of Ireland should be remembering the lives given up from all communities. Earlier I've used an English and Irish (courtesy of Google Translate) version of the most famous verse of Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen, my friend Michael has also used it and put into another script (used below).

Unlike some of those who cannot forgive for the sake of Ireland (North and South) and our childrens' future we have to move on, we have to inhabit a shared future, actually we have to establish a shared here and now in the present.

I therefore without shame use both once again as we remember those who gave their lives, or are currently risking their lives, in the service of our nation.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.  

Tug fás ní ḃeıḋ d’aoıs, mar atá fágṫa agaınn go ḃfuıl fás d'aoıs;
Ní ḃeıḋ feıḋm ag aoıs bonn dóıḃ, ná na blıanta Cáıneann.
Ag dul síos na gréıne agus ar maıdın
Leanfaımıd oraınn cuıṁneaṁ orṫu.

Prayers for Bobby - My Reaction to Its Viewing

Stills from the film Prayers for Bobby (TVM 2009)

Earlier this evening I was at a screening of Prayers for Bobby at All Souls Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Belfast as part of the Outburst Festival. In the light of the number of teen suicides over recent months the showing of this film and the discussion afterwards couldn't be more timely.

The change of Bobby Griffith;s mother Mary played by Sigourney Weaver to harrowingly in this film came too late for her own son, but this bio-pic based on her families story and journey should be essential viewing in every church; not just in Northern Ireland but also the states and many other places.

Bobby is driven to his own death by the failure of his family to accept him and his homosexuality, a sorry sadly true of many young people still today. In Bobby's case the eulogy at his own funeral also showed how often the churches themselves can fail to act pastorally to those in their midst. Many more are driven to death by the people around them at school or college bullying them, to a point that they cannot cope anymore.

All three can of course combine, if not in actuality at least in the mind of the young person who feels the pressure of all three. At fifteen I very nearly took the route that Bobby took in the film, so you can imagine there were tears as I sat there and watched it.

However, it came to the discussion time after the film, and one question was posed; "Are attitudes changing?" Now people who know, know I'm not averse to speaking publicly but even I welled up as I stood to say what I needed to say in response to that*. I basically got up to say that attitudes would change if every Christian took the attitude of my father, when 15 years after I contemplated taking my own life that time, I told him who I was sexually.

His response was, "Thank you for your honesty" and that really strikes me. Too often the church and Christians look at the 'sin' of sleeping with those of the same sex, ignoring that one of the ten commandments is "You shall not lie". They expect Christians who identify as LGBT to live in denial of who they are and therefore "bear false witness". They make out is easier to brush it under the carpet ignoring the ninth commandment than face up to fact of who some of us are.

Tomorrow's film For the Bible Tells Me So is one I have seen before and goes into the lives of many more church families and their experiences of coming along their journey with a gay family member. It is at 5pm at the same venue and well worth a viewing (again I think it should be spread far and wide).

Many more people still need to go on the journey that Mary Griffiths has travelled as shown below.

If everyone could have that attitude, we wouldn't have to tell the LGBT youth of today that It Gets Better because it already will be.

* Scottish Lib Dems may recall by very personal speech on the Blood Ban debate in 2009 for reference.

Thursday 11 November 2010

We Will Remember Them

Poppy Field by Steve Thoms
At this time of this morning I will be standing at my desk, to attention and in silence. There will this year be nobody else around but at this time of year every year I will always be somewhere where I can pay respects to the men and women who down the years have given their lives and their health to defend our nation in times of war.

We will remember them.

As I posted earlier in the month here are some famous words by which we think of them. I've added a few more languages Irish, Polish and French.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Tug fás ní bheidh d'aois, mar atá fágtha againn go bhfuil fás d'aois;Ní bheidh feidhm ag aois bonn dóibh, ná na blianta Cáineann.Ag dul síos na gréine agus ar maidinLeanfaimid orainn cuimhneamh orthu.
Są one nie rosną stare, jak my, które są pozostawione zestarzeje;Wiek nie zmęczony nimi, ani w latach potępienia.Na zejście słońce, a ranoBędziemy o nich pamiętać.
Ils ne vieilliront pas comme nous, qui nous laisse vieillir;
Âge ne se lassera pas eux, ni le poids des années.Au coucher du soleil et le matinNous nous souviendrons d'eux. 

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Pink Paper Survey Changes allowing Northern Ireland 2Xist*

Following on from my post yesterday and Michael's post and his letter, which led to this response have now included Northern Ireland in its survey.

In an email to my friend Michael Tris Reid-Smith said:

"There’s a further update. Having looked into it further, we have now been able to include Northern Ireland as an option in the Readers' Awards! Obviously anything you can do to get the word out to people and to get them to take part would be great! "
I've filled mine in (if only the party internal elections were so quick to complete) and any offers of free underwear will be greatly welcomed.
* What you think that is a little bit of an unsubtle way to try and get free boxers?

Do Labour Need a Better Campaign Coordinator?

There is a very good piece by Mark Pack on Liberal Democrat Voice about poor Andy Burnham MP who happens to the be the Labour Party's campaign coordinator.

Burnham has said:

"It would be a recipe for chaos and confusion if Labour candidates were also supporting AV in their literature."

Yet Pack points out that there was no chaos or confusion across London when a referendum called by a Labour government on the same day as other elections.

On the subject of the Alternative Vote and Labour's stance Will Straw on Left Foot Forward is calling for Labour to campaign for the Yes vote. He gives two reasons for this:

Firstly it belies the spirit of Labour’s existing policy at a time when the party is (rightly) criticising others for veering from their previous objectives. Labour’s manifesto said:
"To ensure that every MP is supported by the majority of their constituents voting at each election, we will hold a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons."

Also Ed Miliband during his successful leadership bid said "I support AV for the House of Commons and will campaign for it."

Other reasons, he rules out the chaos, confusion and cost element, quite correctly a line of support on literature is not that difficult. 

The opposition from Labour in the commons appears to be nothing more than political sour grapes for finding themselves on the opposite side of the House. It is time to put aside political sniping and get on with the serious business of getting a fairer voting system. 

I look forward to working with the Labour Party in Northern Ireland on getting further votes for Westminster and everyone who believes in this step.

Monday 8 November 2010

When Writing Gets a Positive Response

Early today I posted about whether I was the "only gay in the Province". Of course I know I'm not and indeed attending the LGBT Consultative Forum meetings here in Belfast shows just the diversity with the LGBT community that exists here all doing their best for that section of Northern Irish life.

Of course one member of that community, who I know rather well, also took up the cause up on his blog. But Michael being Michael did more that just blog and sent an email off to Tris Reid-Smith, Editor-In-Chief, GT (Gay Times) and Pink Paper and got a response by phone within a few hours, followed up by a response which Michael has posted, in which Tris writes
"Therefore I'm grateful to you for highlighting this anomaly [of our omitting Northern Ireland] and I'll use your blog as an opportunity to consider how we can improve our coverage and our awards. Meanwhile, I and my news team will be very keen to hear from our readers in all parts of Ireland with their news and comments."

Not a bad days work from all three of us who were involved, even if I have had another busy day. But special praise to Tris for acting so swiftly and positively. If only some of the other media would respond so positively to omission, overlooking or misrepresenting certain sections without their readership.

Surely I'm Not the Only Gay in the Province

This may come as a shock to many friends and friends of friends in the LGBT Sector in Northern Ireland, or a relief to Iris Robinson, but apparently the LGBT community doesn't exist in Northern Ireland.

How do I know this? Because Pink Paper tells me so. Well not so much Pink Paper as their nominations survey for their readers awards. I recently opened it to find I had 8 choices of geographical location:

  • Scotland
  • North West
  • North East
  • Wales
  • Midlands and the East
  • South West
  • London and the South
  • South Coast
Conspicuous by its absence is Northern Ireland. This is from a Paper that on its website does cover UK news. I that it by that they mean the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Indeed they have covered some Northern Irish stories in their coverage.

However, when it comes to nominations it become all colloquial and only covering Britain. Its one of those things that often happens. In the early days of Heat I had a letter published that complained that the film offers never included a Northern Irish option to view. It seems that UK wide publications don't bother or don't care about their Northern Irish readers, and ignore their existence in this way.

When the LGBT community in Northern Ireland is still fighting for inclusion within the Northern Irish community we'd like a little support from the UK-wide LGBT community to acknowledge that we exist first of all.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Good Kickstart to the Campaign

Seeing that it was only on Wednesday night that I was called and offered the post of Northern Ireland campaign manager for the YES! TO FAIRER VOTES campaign a lot has been done.

I attended two party events and as a result have managed to speak to representatives of five of the Northern Irish political parties. The first of these was a quiz night on behalf of my own local Association of the Alliance Party here in North Down along with their neighbours in Strangford. Michael Carchrie Campbell and myself did form a team, yes just the two of us, which managed to hold our own considering the comparative size of the teams.

Of course the main reason for us being there was to introduce the campaign and to get signatures of support from members of one of the parties that is keen to help us the Yes result next May. So thanks to Michael Carchrie Campbell for printing off some flyers and business cards for me, we were armed to start getting the army of volunteers that we need. If anyone is holding a local party event and wants literature or sign-up sheets like the ones we were using please get in touch and we will get this sorted out.

Being in educated at school level across the two constituencies it was good to make my opening public remarks of the campaign amongst neighbours. It was also good to see and talk with two of my own MLAs there the Alliance's Stephen Farry as well as the Green Party's Brian Wilson, who was that with his wife Anne Wilson. Now I have to go to the ends of Northern Ireland to spread it further.

The second was an event that I mentioned in my interview only on Monday as being a key place that the successful applicant would have to be present. So off I went along with Michael again to the Ramada Hotel near Shaw Bridge for the SDLP party conference.

I had a productive time talking to many of the key people within the party including getting a brief moment with the leader Margaret Ritchie. However, I had a longer chat with other MPs, MLAs and councillors, getting a lot of positive feedback from them as well as many of the members at the conference. We also took advantage of the exhibition to present ourselves to many of the key players in Northern Ireland including the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, Northern Ireland Community Volunteers Association, Women's Resource and Development Agency, Disability Action, National Union of Students NI, Age NI - Older People's Commission.

Interesting seeing some familiar faces and as is the way with political activists everywhere, the occasion changing of political hats mid conversation.

It has been a great day, meeting with so many of the influencers within the SDLP and to see the positivity with which they are greeting the Yes campaign here in Northern Ireland.

I look forward over the next six months to working with them and everyone else from all sectors of Northern Ireland life to bring about Fairer Votes for Westminster.

All in all it has been a very productive few days not just on these visible public events but also behind the scenes in drawing a plan together as to how to get the work done that needs to be done between now and May 5th.

Seeing as I am still working my notice for my current employer I am indebted to amount of time and effort that Michael has put in already, often alongside me into the small hours, in getting this campaign off to as successful a start as it has been.

Friday 5 November 2010

Remember, Remember the 5th of November...err not in Northern Ireland

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Today is exactly six months from the general election and six month until another little explosion under the Palaces of Westminster, I hope. On the 5th May next year 'there shall be' a referendum on changing the voting system from First Past the Post to a preferential system the Alternative Vote.

Now Willie Sullivan Head of Field Operations for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign has sent me and all the other supporters a nice email asking us all to do something over Bonfire weekend. Well you see that little star over Belfast, well that is us, and more to the point me as the Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, well we don't do bonfires on this weekend, and that part of the community that does will be doing it too late to help win the vote.

However, that does not mean people in Northern Ireland will be doing nothing. Tomorrow I'm off to the SDLP conference, tonight I shall be attending the North Down Alliance Association table quiz (in conjunction with Stangford Alliance Assoc.), at both events I will be armed with sign up sheets.

You can also sign up at the Yes to Fairer Votes Website, like the Yes to Fairer Votes Belfast Facebook page* and follow us on Twitter. I'll be in touch with everyone who signs up soon about how you can get involve or if you are getting itchy feet and want something to do now, or at least in the next few hours or days email me directly.

* More will follow.

Gladstone's Response to the TUV

My friend Michael has had some fun (tinged sometimes with righteous anger) looking in different ways at some of the Traditional Unionist Voice's approach to Northern Ireland. I think this excerpt from the 7 June 1886, from William Ewart Gladstone on the Second Reading of the First Home Rule Bill* is as pertinent today as then.

Now, Sir, I want to say a word upon the subject of Irish loyalism because we are obliged to use phrases in debates of this kind which cannot be explained from time to time when using them, and it is well that there should be little understanding beforehand. When I hear the speeches of the hon. member for South Belfast (Mr. M. Johnson) - and of some other gentlemen - it always appears to me that he is under the pious conviction that loyalty is innate in the Irish Protestants and disloyalty in (a slight pause) some other persons. I do believe that he is under the impression that at all times, in all the long generations of Irish history, that has been the distinction to be drawn between Protestants and persons who are not Protestants. (An Ulster Member - 'No, No!') Is Protestant loyalism a thing that has a date and origin, or is it not? Has the hon. member and the hon. and gallant member for North Armagh (Major Saunderson) inquired what was the state of Ireland in the 18th Century with respect to loyalty. As far as regarded the great mass of the population - the Roman Catholic population - they were hardly born into political life until the close of the century, and for a long period, in the time of Dean Swift, who described their incapacity of political action as something beyond belief, it would have been absurd to speak of them as loyal or disloyal. But at the close of the century the Protestants and Roman Catholics of Ireland were described in a short passage by Mr Burke, which I shall now read to the House. The date of it is 1796, and it is taken from a letter to Mr. Windham. He speaks of the subject of disaffection.

"It" - that is to say disaffection - " has deep roots in the principles and habits of the majority among the lower and middle classes of the whole Protestant part in Ireland. The Catholics who are intermingled with them are more or less tainted. (Home Rule laughter.) In other parts of Ireland, some in Dublin only expected, the Catholics, who are in a manner the whole people, areas yet sound; but they may be provoked, as all men may easily be, out of their principles."

What does that mean? That the Protestants, not having grievances to complain of, have become loyal, but in many cases the Roman Catholics, as Mr Burke says, have been provoked, as all men easily may be, out of their principles of loyalty. And these are words , and these are ideas, which show us whaat is the way in which to promote loyalty, and what is the way in which we can destroy it.

It would therefore, seem to me that the Grand Old Man had his finger on the pulse. The TUV's response to the OFMDFM's draft Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy, shows the desire to let certain traditional sections of Unionist society to have no grievances, while ignoring the needs of any group that does not fit that perceived 'norm'.

*From Great Liberal Speeches (Politicos, London 2001) Ed. Brack & Little

Thursday 4 November 2010

Lights Mr Producer......Drumroll Please.....

Ok folks I dropped the teaser last night. Promising to keep you informed I am doing so now.

Regular readers will know that was in for a job interview at the start of this week. Last night just after 6pm I was offered the position and took no hesitation in accepting it.

The role is as the Northern Ireland Campaign Manager for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. Yes if you told me at 3:30 on the morning of May 7th as my votes were being read out that I would be doing this and doing it here I would have laughed at you.

However, I totally agree with the words of Margaret Ritchie MP, MLA the leader of the SDLP from 6th July:

"The British Government is right to give people the opportunity to choose a fairer system for electing their MPs. The current system is completely unfair as it favours the larger parties and discriminates against smaller parties who can get hundreds of thousands of votes but no seats in Parliament.

"My preference would be to extend the STV system of Proportional Representation to Westminster. This system is much fairer and we are already well used to it in Northern Ireland in our Assembly and Council elections.

"The 'alternative vote' is, nonetheless, a clear step forward and I hope that people will support it in the referendum next year. In Northern Ireland this would have the effect of rebalancing politics towards candidates of the centre and away from the extremes.

"Given the kinds of stalemates and brinkmanship we have endured in our politics in recent years, anything that supports parties in the centre is to be warmly welcomed as it is in the best interests of our people.

"The SDLP will campaign vigorously in favour of progressive electoral reform."

I look forward to working with Margaret, the other candidates for the position I now hold and everyone in Northern Ireland who believes in getting fairer votes for Westminster over the next six months. That will be people from all parties or none, across each of the 18 current Westminster constituencies.If you haven't already sign up through this link, if have invite your friends, if you've invited them all make more, or start to ask your neighbours or the people on the bus beside you. Start talking about AV and why it is fairer and lets go out and win this on 5th May 2011.

Indeed one of my first roles, even before I work my current notice period will be attending the SDLP's party conference this weekend. Shows that this really is cohesion, sharing and integration in action and how cross communities this campaign here is. That the first party conference in Northern Ireland from this son of a man raised in Derry's Fountain area and attending First Derry Presbyterian should be to the party that owes a lot of its founding to the struggle of the other community on that side of the Foyle.

As I said last night this will obviously have an impact on the blogging that I do here, probably over the whole of the next six months. I will try and do updates here from time to time, just to give me some down time, but don't expect the same alacrity of posting.