Monday 28 June 2010

Why We Still Need Pride

If anyone ever asks why there is still the need for Pride marches let them look at the events that took place over the weekend; the 41 anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

First off in the City that my family is strongly linked to Derry/Londonderry where a gay couple were attacked as they made their way home in the wee small hours of Saturday morning. Police are treated their attack as a homphobic incident. It has left them both heavily traumatised.

However, it pails beside what happened in San Francisco on the 4oth Anniversary of the first Pride Parades which themselves marked the first anniversary of Stonewall. There a man pulled a gun in the crowd shot one 19 year-old dead and injured two other revellers.

Coming on the weekend before the US Supreme Court decided to restrict the rights of city and state governments to impose controls on gun ownership. It makes you wonder how many more innocent lives will have to be lost before someone in America with the power wakes up the epidemic of gun related crime that is so easy to perpetrate because there is no control on ownership.

Mind you these are two incidents in more tolerant countries of the world. Of course there is a lot more at risk in many other territories. There are places where the state can take your freedom or your live for being who you are. There is still a lot more to be done, as the Amnesty Pride sticker said "Protect the Human: Love is a Human Right".

How About Closing the Loopholes for the Rich George?

First there was the freeze on child benefit and the curbs on housing benefit in the budget. Plus the change in the ways that these will be paid out. Now we hear that there are plans to cut incapacity benefit. But what about the various tax loopholes and avoidance methods that the Lib Dems had highlighted George? Why are all the headline measures to cut taking from the poor like some modern day Sheriff of Nottingham?

Of course having worked in the fraud section of the Social Security Agency I know that there are some benefit claimants who should not be receiving it, but in recent months I've been hearing from people more cases of them being re-appraised and even though they have a genuine medical condition they are finding their incapacity benefit cut.

It is something perhaps that George Osborne should talk to his Equality Minister colleague as Lynne Featherstone has pointed out:

"The previous Labour government tried to get people off such allowances and my experience as a local MP from surgery is that the 're-assessment' of people claiming has been variable at best.

"We need to be sure that there is no perverse incentive to determine that someone can work when they cannot. We also need to be sure that those carrying out the assessment are good at it."

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith added to the debate on Sundaywhen he said unemployed council tenants should to be given incentives to move to areas where there are jobs. Seeing as many of them are living in an area where they have expanded family who may, or may not, be or have helped with childcare in the past, has the provision of moving to a strange part of the country been accounted for into those incentives. Also what about relocation costs? Also what if the unemployed council tenants are a couple and find work in different locations. Is Mr Duncan Smith as a Conservative going to advocating the break up of families?

Of course one of the reasons that leads to such people having a fear of losing their homes when moving, as IDS indicates, is because of the selling off of social housing in such large numbers under the last Conservative government. Oops.

It all seems that the Conservatives had not really thought through the implications of the Social Security measures before they took power, yet somehow it is their policies that are being taken to the front and centre. The Lib Dem policies maintained fairness to the poorest, because it looked at dealing with supplying such benefits to those with need by targeting the tax avoiding tactics of the rich, someone that George is clearly avoiding tackling too much as they vote for him.

So it does beg the question what are those who find themselves in need who have been turning to the Lib Dems in recent years after Labour has failed them get out of the coalition deal? Where is their fairness?

Beware Falling Buses

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At my bus stop this morning I found this most disturbing grammatical error.

Apparently there will be falling services at the Bathgate end of the 417/27/28. Does this mean that buses will be falling out of the sky to their new starting point at the station rather than South Bridge Street.

Or is the falling more to do with the more than 10% hike in weekly ticket prices today, for two zones to included Edinburgh and West Lothian up from £24 to £27. Don't these bus companies realise that none of us are actually even getting inflationary pay increases and now they are hiking the fares once again.

Friday 25 June 2010

It's BP and World Cup

It's been a while since I did one of these but a few links have really got me in the mood.

First this one taking a sideways glance at the BP situation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Obviously I'm shocked by the environmental disaster that is unfolding, it really conflicts with my green credentials. Speaking of Green.

On the theme of the World Cup of course the story is the fellowship of the people playing those little plastic horns, aka Vuvuzeala's. They may sound like a hornets nest, maybe that is what they are.

Simon Fires First Warning Shot 'Cross Coalition Bows

Yesterday the newly elected deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Simon Hughes fired the first major warning shot across the coalition's ship bows.

It's all coming down to the matter of fairness. Having been canvassing members for the past three weeks there was a noticeable shift in their line of questioning come Tuesday. The reason of course that instead of the speculation of what the budget would bring we had the detail. Simon highlighted one of the concerns the welfare system in this case the pensioners. It's bad enough that many may have to wait longer for a state pension without other benefits being hacked into as well. As he said:

"The coalition deal is a deal. There cannot be any unpicking of items in that deal, otherwise the whole thing risks falling apart."

One key element of that as far as Lib Dems are concerned is that yes we need to tackle the deficit and we need to do it fairly. Impinging VAT increases (although noted bringing us in line or behind most of Europe) , benefits getting frozen while inflation continues and not properly tackling the tax loopholes as we promised are some of the areas of concern. The raise in the personal income allowance and the aviation taxes does offset some of that. Making it a less regressive budget than the Tories had promised during the campaign, but does it really make it a progressive budget?

Of course it is hard to be fully progressive when you have not one but both hands tied behind your back by the level of debt left by Labour. I've heard the Labour arguments that their investments were required to bail out the banks and to secure jobs. Securing jobs is fine but they could have and should have looked at the whole mentality of public sector expenditure before now. At the end of each spending round there are always inventive ways to use up to budget so as not to lose any for the next year. Yet Labour and the SNP are both saying there is no more room for efficiencies. There always has been, and unless something is done always will, the mentality of the public sector is to spend money rather than to save it.

You only have to look at the attitude of many of the MPs caught out over expenses. Some did use the defence it was needed, but the majority claimed it was within the rules as if it was an entitlement rather than a provision if required.

So yes Simon is right to sound a warning shot, and that is all it is, we Lib Dems are prepared to make tough calls on expenditure just as long as you are fair to the poorest in our society when you are doing so. Don't exacerbate their problems for the sake of expediency.

Thursday 24 June 2010

First Welsh Born Prime Minister

At last the 'Land of Our Father's' wait for a Welsh born Prime Minister are over. Although I see a few people including the BBC had taken the line that Julia Gillard was the first Welsh born Prime Minister since David Lloyd George, the famous Welsh speaking Prime Minister was actually born in Manchester where his father like many Welsh men was working at that time, in the case of William George as a teacher.

Ms Gillard was born in Barry, Glamorgan in 1961 and her parents migrated to Australia on the £10 immigration ticket as they were advised that their five-year old daughter who suffered bronchopneumonia would get on better in a warmer climate.

But earlier today (during the night UK time) she replaced Kevin Rudd as leader of the Labor Party and Prime Minister of Australia. A turn-around on a carbon trading scheme and a wrangle over a controversial mining tax had led to a vote ousting Rudd on Wednesday night. She was returned unopposed like a certain other Labour leader, but unlike Gordon Brown she knows she will have to take the governing party to the polls in October. She is also the first woman to hold the office in Australia and the first foreign born PM there since Billy Hughes in 1923.

She served as Shadow Minister for Population and Immigration from 2001-3 and Shadow Minister for Health from 2003-6 before becoming the Deputy leader of the opposition on a ticket with Rudd in 2006, again an election she won unopposed as Jenny Mackline the outgoing leader's deputy stood down in that contest when Rudd beat Kim Beazley in the contest.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Well Done ABF - That's Anyone But France

The hand of Va Va Voom may have helped get the French to the World Cup finals with its extra time activities in Paris last November. But the feet of Henry only managed a total of 54 minutes on the park in South Africa 19 minutes at the end of the opening game against Uruguay and 35 minutes in the second half last night against South Africa. The highlight of the tournament for Henry watch was him complaining about a Uruguay handball in that first game. It seemed to indicate that the footballing gods were against the French.
Therefore it is with great joy that ABF (Anyone But France) are progressing with 2/3rds of their squad into the next phase of the competition. Whereas the French will shortly be meeting their new coach. The one to pick them up from  Charles de Gaul airport that is. It is also slightly ironic that the first goal yesterday from Bongani Khumalo seemed to go into the back of the next off his left arm. Oh how the Irish eyes were smiling when that 'header' got replayed in slow motion.
It appears that French coach Raymond Domenech thinks that the whole world, not just the French team, are against him. He snubbed the customary ritual of the handshake at the end of the match with his opposite number Carlos Alberto Parreira. Parreira cannot recall making a statement about the French game that sore loser Domenech wants to place on his bad behaviour.
So ABF won 2 lost 0 drew 1 scored 4 and conceded 1. With that record they would have been second in Group A behind Uruguay on goal difference. I've yet to determine where my support may go for the remainder of the world cup, I may well follow up on support of Uruguay and Mexico who along with Bafana Bafana will be feted from Donegal to Cork, Dun Laoghaire to Shannon.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

June Budget Initial Thoughts

Before I start into what is in the actual budget, two parties admitted in the General election that things would have to be tougher than Alistair Darling intimated in his last budget. Of course the party that didn't say that was Labour, they said they had done enough in the last budget to make things better for the economy and fairer for the poorest.

The budget that George Osborne has just brought before the house does a number of things to improve fairness. It has lifted the personal income tax allowance by £1000, realigned state pensions increases with earnings (or 2.5% whichever is greater) and brought in a Banking Levy to help pay for the mess that the Banks aided by Labour got us into. These are all things that as a Lib Dem I stood for not against as Ms Harman would have you believe.

There are also environmental taxes that have been brought in and an increase in capital gains for the highest earners. That last is something that Harriet Harman seems to have forgotten when she said it was a right wing ideology budget. After all it was Labour that increased the gap for capital gains for the top earners which surely is 'right wing' in concept but brought in by Labour.

Of course I've said here in the past that VAT is a regressive tax, indeed our VAT bombshell launch was in Glasgow and so I was there. We still have our exceptions for food and children's clothes and looking at the alternatives to share the burden of paying for Labour's debt a VAT increase in January has got some merit. It is only on what you purchase at the 20% rate that will increase in price (sadly fuel is one of those which will knock unto public transport) but it would not prevent meals being put on the table or clothes being bought for the poorest children.<

As for Gordon Brown's pledge not to increase VAT this came on on the 30 April after he like the other parties said they had no plans to increase it. It was seen as one desperate last roll of the dice. It is one thing to say you do not have plans for something before you see how bad things really are once you enter Government it is quite another to say you'd do nothing when you know the extent of the mess. Or to crow about excellent growth rates (which now that the independent body has downsized) then accuse to new Government of downplaying growth when in fact your Darling's prediction were ahead of any curve from any independent advice through the crisis (something he failed to hit once).

So yes it is an austere budget but from what I've seen so far there is enough of the fairness from the Lib Dem manifesto in who will pay, who will get some breaks that mean that the lowest paid will benefit most. The markets seem to be responding well, it would appear that it has struck the right balance with them, now could the banks please start lending to business so we can start to kick start the recovery into action rather than the slovenly crawl that Labour produced.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Green Britain Day

Today is Green Britain Day your day to start to do more for our environment.

Personally I left this house this morning turning all the appliances off except the fridge/freezer, then got on the train to come to work. (I'm currently taking the train because I'm leaving Edinburgh outwith the express buses home and it wasn't making economic sense to get a bus ticket and a rail ticket one way each day). Then it will be upstairs to turn on my work PC and monitor, throwing away any waste I have into the correct recycling bin on the office floor. A bus into the city this evening then home again for a vegetable curry made from loose bought veggies not pre-packaged ones. Eventually at some point turning on the long life light bulb for the first time today. It wasn't needed at 5 am when I got up.

All in all there is little room for improvement in my daily life. So what I need to do is get others to do the same and also be conscious of the occasional day when I find things easier to do which aren't necessarily greener. It is often a challenge when you lead a busy and hectic lifestyle like that of an aspirant politician to go for ease over ethics. I know being knackered isn't an excuse, but somebody did ask me when my last time off really was and I actually had difficulty thinking of it, even though I was home for a weekend last month it wasn't fully time off as there was preparation for what was coming up and what I am currently filling my free moments with.

Anyhow, as the above is an example of how your daily life can be greener, I'd like to encourage you after reading this to think of what more you can do. It may be a big project with long term effects and green savings. It may be a change of daily routine in either the way you travel or purchase your food, or even where your food is from. But I'd ask you today to please take a look and consider what more you can do.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Alliance Party Reaction to the Saville Report

I've been a wee bit busy myself to actually look into the Saville report in depth. I have the Independent to gorge on later with 10 pages of coverage. However, overall it does appear to have cleared up 38 years of lies and the injustice that the Widgery report laid on the victims and their families.

Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson* Stephen Farry MLA issued the following statement:

"The party welcomes the outcome and conclusions of the Saville Inquiry. While the detail of the report will require serious scrutiny it is clear that this report confirms what has been understood for decades, that those killed by British forces on Bloody Sunday were completely innocent.

"It was right that Bloody Sunday was properly investigated and the rogue conclusions of Widgery consigned to the dustbin of history. The families and surviving victims have been vindicated in their campaign to secure justice, one which they have pursued with dignity and determination for many years.

"While not diminishing the widespread hurt and demands for truth and justice from all victims of violence, Bloody Sunday raises unique issues relating to the abuse of power and the breach of the rule of law by the state.

"This report closes one chapter, but in doing so, raises new questions as to what happens now. Any prosecutions will be considered independently by the Public Prosecution Service and will have to meet both the public interest and evidential tests.

"There are issues regarding the cost and the scale of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and any future investigations. The British Government has ruled out future inquiries but has not provided any indication of what it would put in their place. There is an outstanding need for a comprehensive approach to dealing with the legacy of the past in a manner which promotes reconciliation and builds a shared future. While far from perfect, Alliance did consider that the bulk of the Eames-Bradley proposals provided the basis for such a process. At best Eames-Bradley has been parked and there is no indication from the UK government as to how they intend to fill this void.

"Given the polarizing nature of the debate over the last number of years it is important that politicians on all sides are considered in what they say. We need to avoid using victims as weapons in a war of words if we are to build a shared future, nor should the Saville Report be used to undermine more widely the very good work done by the army in many other circumstances."

In the Commons chamber Paul Durkin the SDLP MP for Foyle said:

"However, perhaps the most important and poignant words from today will not be heard here or on the airwaves. Relatives will stand at the graves of victims and their parents to tell of a travesty finally arrested, of innocence vindicated and of promises kept, and as they do so, they can invoke the civil rights anthem when they say, 'We have overcome. We have overcome this day.'"

However, as the son of a son of Derry I was quite appalled by some of the unionist reaction. Gregory Campbell DUP (East Londonderry) wanted to draw the attention to the 2 policemen killed 3 days before, and calling for a investigation into the alleged 'state funding' of the IRA from the Republic of Ireland. Whilst I knew that 'parts of the city [of Derry] "lay in ruins"' before that day as he also said. Jeffrey Donaldson, William McCrae and Ian Paisley junior each raised further issues along such lines.

There is a matter that the previous government ignored the will of the House by announcing things outside it. The fact that David Cameron brought such a weighty report to the House itself first was hopefully a sign of the authority of the chamber. Therefore the point of order raised by Paisley at the end, when a debate in the Autumn on the report was already announced about the lack of preview copies seemed petulant. Yesterday wasn't the day for a full debate into the minutiae as the Unionists wanted to do, but to talk about the general reaction to the key findings. No doubt come the autumn Paisley and the DUP ranks will be fully versed in the ins and outs of the report.

*And the MLA for my home seat of North Down

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Being brought up with the strict religious upbringing I had there were only two occasions I could use the word bloody as a kid.
  • 1. When referring to the Bloody River and Bloody Bridge at the south end of Slieve Donard
  • 2. When referring to Sunday 30th January 1972
At the weekend I showed Caron the map of where things happened and pointed out that the Glenn family church First Derry, stood atop the old city walls on Upper Magazine Street looked practically over the killing fields on Bloody Sunday. Though my family came from the other side of the barrier both physically and religiously to those that lost their lives that Sunday it is inexplicably linked to my families past.

Any time I was taken to Derry, especially with my father, I was shown from the height that the walls offered the view into the Bogside, Glenfada and Chamberlain Street. Today of course is the day after 38 years that we finally get some answers as to what happened that day. When you consider that I was 2 years and four months old when it happened, have now almost spent seventeen of my adult years away from Northern Ireland and five working there for the civil service I know it is well overdue.

I hope that the findings of Lord Saville, which are more thorough and more detailed that those of Lord Widgery in the immediate aftermath, are also more fair. Especially in the allegations of Widgery that some of the dead or wounded where gunmen or bombers. The fact that 13 people died on that day when they were protested for their civil rights, not bestowed on those who lived in the flats and tenements in the area was something that has taken a long time to heal.

Northern Irish history has been far from fair, especially on certain groups of its population. Hopefully with the publication of this report Northern Ireland can put a line under another part of its past and look to a future of reconciliation, rejuvenation and working together for a common good.

Monday 14 June 2010

The iChurch in Bo'ness: There's an App for That

During the election you may remember me being rather taken aback when with a few minutes notice I heard that St. Andrew's in Bo'ness would be live streaming the election hustings they were holding there for the Linlithgow and East Falkirk candidates. In fact I was still tweeting the link at the time we were called to our seats.
Well the church, which already had their services available online are now live streaming these as well. Good the see the team at St. Andrew's leading the way.

Darling Fiddling While the Economy Burns

Over the weekend Alistair Darling said he hoped David Cameron and George Osborne would apologise if the size of the debt announced today was not as great as they had said during the election.
Wonder if he will now do the same seeing as his growth forecast from his last budget has now been downgraded. As the size of the structural deficit is also predicted to rise from Darling's prediction of 7.3% of GDP to 8.0% it appears that rather than the Conservatives misleading over the debt it has been Labour doing just that. The structural deficit which of course Vince Cable also warned about is actually the toughest part of the national debt to be dealt with.
The only small, and I emphasise the word small, grain of hope for Darling is that the overall net government debt will be 62.2% of GDP in 2010-11 from the previous estimate of 63.6%. If Mr Darling is going to rejoice over that small reduction he will merely be fiddling while the UK burns under the financial mess that his party have presided over.

Friday 11 June 2010

***BREAKING*** Three MPs and Peer will be Tried in Court

A judge has just ruled that Parliamentary privilege will not prevent  Jim Devine, Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Lord Hanningfield from facing trial in court over this expenses abuses in court. The defence was being used by the three former MPs to try and keep it within the Parliamentary disciplinary structure. But the judge has rules that their case of false accounting has been correctly brought under the Theft Act and is not covered by privilege protected what MPs can say or write in the house.

World Cup Memories

Feel free to treat the below as meme and share your own if you want.
First World Cup Memory
It was 1978 and the World Chart being hung on the cork tiling (hey it was 1978 that was the trend) in the kitchen amongst me and my brother's paintings. It was of course the World Cup of Ally's Army taking on the Argentine. The first memory of an actual game was the Scotland v Netherlands game. Having lost 3-1 to Peru in the opener and then drawing with Iran 1-1 in game two, they had to face the 1974 finalists in the final group game. They may have been without Cruyff but they were still the team to beat in the group, but Scotland had to, and by a 3 goal margin.
But the Dutch scored first. Then King Kenny equalised, Archie Gemill put one away from the penalty spot, then he scored his iconic goal that gave the Scots everywhere hope, a class goal and only needing one more to go through. Of course it never happened as Johnny Rep got another for the Dutch in the end, but Ally's Army almost did shake them up.
Best World Cup Memory
As a Northern Irish lad it had to be one night in Valencia in 1982. Like my first memory it was the last game of the group stages. Little Northern Ireland had drawn 0-0 with Yugoslavia then 1-1 with Honduras. We were up against the hosts in a stadium they had never lost in, needing to win to progress as Yugoslavia had one the night before*.
Two minutes into the second half Gerry Armstrong ran unto a through ball and beat Luis Arconada in the Spanish goal. We were ecstatic. But in the 62nd minute Mal Donaghy was sent off. We had to survive for almost half an hour. It was seat of the pants stuff. But then the referee blew his final whistle, the players were jumping for joy. We'd beaten the hosts and won the group. In only our second world cup we'd again got out of the group stages.
Best World Cup Crowd Experience
When I was working in Hammersmith for USA 94 across the road was an Irish run pub. Just before the World Cup there had been a reward scheme to earn 15 minute early leaving. I'd stored my up in readiness for the matches. When Ireland were playing in the early games I was straight across the road to book space for the others.
The public bar was full of anyone, the side bar had the Irish at the bar and others at the table, the lounge bar at the back was full of Irish. The landlord came round at various times with a tray to bash to get the singing going. We ordered our Guinness to settle as the one before was almost done, me not moving from the side bar bar. Ireland emulated their achievements of 4 years before and got through to the last 16, though no further. But I spent 3 of their games in that pub watching them play amidst a mix of ex-patriot Irish from both sides of the border.
First International Experience
As I prepare for this World Cup yet again I'm surrounded by different nationalities all getting excited about their home team doing well. The French, Dutch, Germans, Brazilians, Portuguese, Italians, Spanish etc. Plus I've just seen pictures of our team in Joburg all geared up joining in the excitement.
However, my first experience of an international flavour goes back to 1982 and being in Northern Ireland on holiday on the north coast between Portrush and Portstewart. We were there for  the final which featured the Italians, who of course owned the ice cream parlours on the proms. So when they won it was ice cream cones on the house, they were so happy.
* This was before all final games were played simultaneously.

Thursday 10 June 2010

SNP Active Transport Cuts

The SNP have been going on about a greener Scotland and about the threat of other parties having to make cuts in order for our country not to collapse under a mountain of debt. You'd therefore expect the SNP to have done all they can in every area to protect budgets for environmental concerns.

Don't you believe it.

As Alison McInnes MSP, Lib Dem Transport Spokesperson, points out ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the Transport Committee’s Active Travel report:

"Active travel is good for the environment, good for communities and good for the people of Scotland.

"Unfortunately the Transport Minister is not going far enough in supporting active travel.

"Under the SNP the cycling budget has fallen each year, whereas it rose under the Liberal Democrat-Labour Executive.

"This Government are serial offenders- they promise much but fail to match aspiration with investment.

"The Transport Minister is not going to meet his ambitious cycling target unless he puts his money where his mouth is and allocates a greater proportion of Scotland's transport budget to active travel."

Cycle path provision is getting a raw deal under the SNP. Encouraging people out of their cars and unto their bikes. There is a network of cycle paths across Edinburgh and the Lothians but there is always room for improvement to encourage more people to take up the option. For example to cycle from Bathgate to Linlithgow you have to take you life in your hands on some of the blind corners when motorists think they own the road and because they don't see or hear a car as they approach forget the option of a cyclist the other side of the bend and hedge as they cut the corner to maintain speed.

Cycling is a nice way to get out and about and get fresh air and exercise. The more cycle routes that are taken away from shared bus/taxi lanes the more user friendly it will become for nervous cyclists. Especially ones who unlike me took on London traffic on a bike for 8 years largely unscathed.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Strictly Without Brian!

Look I know it's not politics and I know that on the day that the final Big Brother* starts I am in the midst of a serious selection process for Edinburgh Central, but I would be true myself, my blog or you my readers if I didn't say:

Yeah Brian Fortuna is quitting the show after the producers wanted to bring in changes meaning that some of the pros would only be there as professional-only show dancers and not in the mentoring role that they have had since the show was brought back to our screens.

What are Cardiff Blogger and I to do now that Brain is on the West End Stage? Are season tickets available for Burn the Floor?

Burn the Floor is the show that he and his 2009 Celebrity semi-final partner Ali Bastion will be hitting the West End with while one of the the choreographers of that show Robin Windsor is joining Jared Murillio (principal dancer in the first two High School the Musical movies) and Latin champion Artem Chigvintsev a So You Think You Can Dance graduate. know....having just searched Google images I think there is plenty of fresh new male totty coming in to keep everyone happy. I may have to show you later.

Update: As promised a few pics and gratuitous chest exposure.

Robin Windsor

Jared Murillo

Artem Chigvintsev

*And this is not a casual reference to the Channel 4 programme.

Dear Stonewall, Some People are Closeted Get Over It

I make no apologies for twisting Sonewall's 'Some People are Gay Get Over It' slogan especially in light of reading Ed Fordham's opinion piece on Lib Dem Voice the other day. Like Ed said:

"I was appalled by the decision of Stonewall’s Chief Executive Ben Summerskill to take the airwaves and print media to launch his own mini-campaign against David [Laws]."

Not everyone finds it easy to be out and proud as Summerskill seems to make it. It they did where are the gay footballers and apart from Gareth Thomas the gay rugby players at the top end of our sports. Similarly in other high profile professions, the media in certain quarters still take great delight in finding out that some film, pop, sport star or public figure is caught in a possibly compromising position with someone of the same sex. Those same sectors absolutely revel in it if that same person comes out, and if there is tragedy like in the case of Stephen Gately they can even blame it all on sexuality.

It's not easy.

Indeed Stonewall seem to have in the shape of Summerskill become the arbiter of family circumstances as far as coming out is concerned. They seem to be saying that they and only they know when you should be out. I thought that was a person decision for every one of us, don't we decide how out and open we are with each individual we know?

I am not a number! I am me!

Of course none of us in the UK have it as hard as Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga had it in Malawi. Therefore the news that Monjeza has either due to the governmental pressure, family pressure or whatever has found himself a female lover and is renouncing his previous love for and engagement to Chimbalanga is sad.

But Chimbalanga is the sort of person who does not need the support of groups like Stonewall, he's said:

"But I am not worried. You cannot force love, and nobody forced him when we did our symbolic wedding in December.

"I will also marry because there are lots of good men around. I will remain a gay."

It is people who like Monjeza feel the pressure to conform to a so-called 'norm' that need the support not the derision that Summerskill is heaping upon people like David Laws. For whatever reason, wherever in the world they are some people are quiet about their homosexuality. I guess it is a fact of gay life.

So Stonewall some people are closeted, get over it.

Monday 7 June 2010

The Local Path to Northern Irish Justice

I'm quite excited about goings on back home in Northern Ireland today. The first Northern Irish Justice Minister, the Alliance Party's David Ford, is going to make a keynote speech outlying his plans. Seeing as this will be first keynote speech by a devolved Northern Irish Justice Minister in my lifetime that is quite a landmark.
David has been in post for eight weeks but has described today's speech as a "platform to outline the opportunities that devolution has provided". I was living back home when the excitement of the devolution settlement was fresh in people's minds. I had friends from all sides who agreed that the only way forward then was to work together (strange how now at Westminster I have to persuade some Lib Dem friends of the same thing). However, the hardest area to be devolved was always going to be policing and justice. It was the area where across the communities there were the deepest scars from the past 40 years or more.
He goes on to say:
"I will be making a very strong case for building partnerships to make Northern Ireland safer.

"These partnerships cannot just be at a political level, they must be across the criminal justice system and across our community."

So it will be from the people up to the political leaders that Northern Ireland can be made safer. Local partnerships in some areas would have been inconceivable 10 years ago, now that is the way forward. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) really has come a long way in recent years in earning the trust across all communities. Now it is time to see if the communities are ready to help in securing a safer future for themselves and their children.

I'll let you know more once the speech has been made.

This post has been sent via email therefore spacing and fonts may not appear at my usual standard. Also there may be links to other relevant blog entries or other content added later today along with adding the correct tagging.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Some Good News for David Laws

There is some good news for David Laws following the rather forced and sudden nature of his coming out over the weekend his family have accepted his sexuality and welcomed James his partner into their lives. Speaking to the Western Daily News he said:

"I guess it was pretty stupid really, because all of the people I have spoken to since Friday have accepted it without hesitation: my parents, family and friends. Not being honest with them has meant a huge price over recent years. I have had to keep a large part of my life secret."

"I have heard from lots of friends over the past few days who said it didn't matter to them, or they didn't care about my sexuality, and to be able to meet them in the future, to be honest with them, to meet them with James, will be a huge relief."

I'm glad it went well, it is just a pity that four years ago or earlier he didn't take the plunge, then we'd propably still have him as Chief Secretary to the Treasury as he'd have been claiming for his share of a joint mortgage rather than paying rent to a 'partner'.

Brick for Brick: Just Not in this Parliament - SNP

With the Westminster elections out of the way and with Holyrood selections heading ahead at full steam it is time to look at some of those promises that the SNP made. On school building they said that they would match brick for brick the money for the proposed school building programme that the Labour/Lib Dem administration were proposing before the 2007 election.
So yesterday's announcement, once again, a re-announcement of the words still lacking the action that actually does match brick for brick of new schools none of which will be completed before 5 May 2011 is a sensational admission of failure. It's not like education is an area you'd think that the SNP Government could have worked on some sort of agreement with other parties, after all it is something that we all agree on. But their grand scheme for Scottish Futures Trust really has proven to be a white elephant.
Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Margaret Smith has said:
"Dozens of schools in Scotland are in a poor state of repair and new buildings are desperately required.

"The SNP pledged to match the school building achievements of the previous Liberal Democrat-Labour Executive 'brick for brick'. But this re-announcement represents the first schools planned by the SNP, and building hasn't even started yet.

"Children will be lucky if their school is built before the SNP leave office.

"The Scottish Futures Trust has been a major disappointment and the SNP have completely failed to keep their school building promise."

In Edinburgh James Gillespie High School is scheduled for 2014-15 which means it may not be complete until AFTER the 2015 Scottish elections. Falkirk will be getting a new Roman Catholic Primary School in 2010-11, in Midlothian Lasswade High School is looking at 2011-12 while West Lothian is not a beneficiary at all of the 'new' building scheme.

This post has been sent via email therefore spacing and fonts may not appear at my usual standard. Also there may be links to other relevant blog entries or other content added later today along with adding the correct tagging.

The People Respect Privacy So How Do We Support the Private?

According to a YouGov poll 73% of the population believe that politicians should not have to be open about their sexuality, providing they do not lie or 'behave hypocritically'.

This finding does of course come in the week after it was revealed and since been surmised that if David Laws had changed his accommodation claims at the time of the rule change he would have been 'outing' his relationship. Caron ran through the various options he was facing on Saturday, which outline the difficult choices he had if he were to remain in a private relationship.

Only one in twenty 5% think it is a bad thing that the cabinet contains gay minister, whereas 13% consider it a good thing. However, while 3% say they would be more likely to vote for their constituency MP if they were gay 9% say they would be less likely to do so. Although I guess we can just take that to mean the the liberal minded will merely be voting for the best candidate irrespective of sexuality while the homophobes are set in their ways. Indeed a staggering 86% said that if the party that they normally supported fielded a gay candidate it would make absolutely no difference to their voting intention.

The one issue is not the sexuality but the lying and hypocrisy of some. If a gay MP has voted against gay rights legislation consistently that would be seen by many as an issue. The bigger issue comes with defining lying.

If they don't care if someone is out of not, don't each of those non-corrections of pronouns in conversation count as a lie, admittedly not a big lie just a little white one. Of course sometimes it is difficult to keep correcting for those, everyone misses the odd one or two and sometimes the circumstances do not allow for the full truth even a partial revealing of the truth.

There has been discussion amongst the out Lib Dem candidates since the weekend about what we can do to support our closeted or out candidates. The consensus is that that our sexuality by in large is not something that we wear on our sleeves it is just part of who we are. It is also something that so far many of us have no issue with being open about. On the other hand you have the stories like David, Simon Hughes and Mark Oaten through the years of those who seek to lead the party, contest our winnable seats etc who are seem less willing to be open.

The party of course is supportive of all minority groups. We have programmes in place to support women candidates, ethnic candidates but how can do the same for LGBT candidates? The other issue is that unlike gender or ethnicity this is not a minority group that is visibly recognisable as distinct. So is there a need to provide LGBT support to all candidates to ensure we capture the closeted as well as the out? To do otherwise would mean that the people who may most need such support are the ones who are missing out as they wish to retain their privacy.

In this day and age it appears the people, the voters don't care one way or another. Of course that doesn't take away the fear of some to be honest with those closest to them. Until they are able to do that they are less likely to be open with those that may impinge on that world.


Yesterday afternoon when I heard that a gunman was shooting people in Whitehaven, my first thoughts were of my cousin who works in the town. As soon as I could I was checking on that first port of call in our social media age Facebook, to see if she had updated her profile to tell us she was OK. Thankfully she had, but for 12 others the news was not so great and further 25 had been injured.

After Hungerford and Dunblane our guns laws in the UK have become some of the most stringent in the world. But there are sometimes no way that even stringent guidelines for issuing licences can stop what locals say was the out of character actions of Derrick Bird yesterday.

With my uncle and cousin both involved in the Rugby world the fact that one of those killed was Garry Purdham a back row Rugby League forward for Wokington, brother of Rob the Harlequins captain and England cap, means there is someone they probably know among the dead.

The role of the dead includes Bird's twin brother, the solicitor dealing with a family will, fellow taxi drivers and then in indiscriminate drive by victims. The pensioner delivering shopping catalogues, the cyclist, the retired Sellafield security guard and others.

Coming so soon after the coach tragedy of 3 dead Keswick school children, indeed on the day of Chloe Walker's funeral, this small and beautiful corner of England is facing more mourning.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

The Race is On

As I said yesterday I've been neglecting this blog a little bit in recent days. The reason for that is that on Monday night I was attending a shortlisting interview for the Edinburgh Central seat at next May's elections.

Well things went well and I was named as one of the five who the Lib Dems living in Edinburgh Central will be voting on to be their candidate. So the next few weeks will be a busy time, as the last few months have also been.

Next years election is going to be an interesting one for Lib Dems standing in Scotland and especially in Edinburgh. We'll be defending a record of working with one party in Westminster and another in City Chambers. Across the city where we are challenging or defending our main challenge is coming from the other party. So we will have a challenge of defending a record in other places while challenging for Edinburgh Central.

There are five able candidates that the good Burghers who agree with Nick will have choose from, so I know that I have a lot of work to do to show people why I think I am best for the job. It is the reason that yesterday I made some subtle changes to the look of the blog which by the way you can also point your servers towards as it was a domain I set up in advance of the Westminster Election but never got the time to develop as I intended then, but things may well change in the near future.

I do intend to keep blogging on the issues as I have always when the opportunity arises, but for the next couple of weeks in particular my time may be tight.

However, I do promise to tell you more later.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Danny Alexander

I'm back at work today after a long weekend as are our politicians. I fully expect that the Times today will be getting a request for the original of Peter Brookes cartoon from the Treasury.

People in the public eye used to say that if Spitting Image didn't have a puppet of you you'd yet to make it. So the cartoon (I'll not link as I'm sticking to refusing to link to future pay-walled site) has George Osborne shoes off feet kicking behind him on the chair, having crayoned in with primary colours 'BUDGET' at the top of a blank sheet. Danny Alexander peeking over the table is asking "Are we allowed to use the sharp scissors?".

It is a play on the fact that the two of them in the treasury are young, but that doesn't mean that the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury doesn't have the gravitas or experience for the job. He was the man who was Nick Clegg's aide and the author of the first Liberal Democrat manifesto to have planks put into a UK-wide programme of government. He was part of the negotiating team that struck the deal, and impressed his Tory opposite numbers.

If he hadn't impressed Osborne also part of those negotiations I doubt he would have been the replacement for David Laws. Of course in his 18 days Laws did make a mighty big impression from the off. Danny is going to have to do the same there is a budget coming up and he's going to have to carry on the work that David had started.

Blogging Lite

I'm sorry that blogging has been a little light over recent days, weeks even after the end of the election period. Those of you who follow my Twitter feed will know that I was back in Ireland for the weekend which affected the speed of my response to some of the big stories but that is only part of the story as to why my blog has remained a little bit neglected since the end of the General Election campaign.
There is more and I will let you know in due course. Meanwhile I do apologise for the inconvenience and I can assure you it has nothing to do with me becoming lazy or inactive in the Lib Dem cause.
This post has been sent via email therefore spacing and fonts may not appear at my usual standard. Also there may be links to other relevant blog entries or other content added later today along with adding the correct tagging.