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.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Blogging (Here) May Be Light

I know I only said that on Thursday and I mean it again. I have some rather exciting news which I will blog about tomorrow probably after a few of the finer details are sorted out.

So don't say I haven't warned you. I do love blogging as a medium and I do intend to get back to it as soon as I possibly can with the same gusto as ever. I'm just warning you that may be some changes around here over the next few months and this page may not have new content as regularly as you are used to over most of the last five years.

I am also turning comments moderation back on. Basically because if the amount of time I may be able to commit to the blog is limited I feel it best not to take risks with the comments left by others. I hope you understand.

But I promise you this blog is not dead. Keep it on your blogroll or aggregator, stuff will pop up from time to time. All posts will remain visible as will comments, the moderation of which may take a little time.

Fair ye well, but stay tuned.

Guest Post: Andy Williamson: Mid-Terms of Engagement

There is nothing that a blogger more that somebody giving them stuff to put on their blog. Yes, even if that blogger is as prolific as I can be. Therefore earlier today I received an email from one of my Edinburgh friends and fellow campaigners containing his overview of the American mid-term elections and how it relates to us in the coalition. I am therefore of course happy to share it with you all.

The US midterm results are in, and the results seem bad for Obama. Even though the Democrats held the Senate, many of the Senators who survived the Republican onslaught did so only by standing as anti-Obama Democrats. Joe Manchin, elected Democratic Senator for West Virginia, produced a campaign ad showing him shooting the President’s ‘Cap and Trade’ legislation. But whilst partisans in the US are spinning the results faster than an Ann Widdecombe polka, it remains to be seen what the impact will be for UK politics. However, the lessons that can be learned by the UK coalition government must not be ignored.

Firstly, however, we must put the result into context. Yes, it was a clear bloody nose for Barack Obama, as a galvanised Republican party led a vociferous, and successful grass-roots campaign against him. However, government split between president and Congress is extremely common in US politics. In the last twelve years, Republican and Democrat presidents have had both hostile and friendly Congresses to work with. Indeed, the US public seem to regard a partisan division between President and Congress as a strengthening of the separation of powers.

Although the success of the ‘Tea Party’ should not be downplayed, we should also not read too much in the resurgence of the right in the US, particularly given the relative nadir they reached in 2008. Global trends do not seem to suggest a rise of the right. The French regional elections this year saw a victory of the Parti Socialiste (the Socialist Party), and despite the victories of the right in Hungary and mixed messages in Italy, there does not seem to be an overarching global trend towards the right as there was in the 1980s. In Britain, the inability of the Conservatives to gain a clear majority is indicative of an absence of a rise of right-wing vote.

What must be understood is that many Democrats and swing voters who backed Obama in 2008 feel disillusioned with the President’s consensus-based approach. Despite the passage of health care reform, the President has not used his Congress majority to his full advantage, even before Scott Brown and the Republicans ended the filibuster-proof Democrat majority.

Obama, more than any world leader in recent history was given a personal mandate for boldness. In this he has failed, or at least is perceived to have failed. (In politics perception is nine tenths of the law). As Machiavelli wrote:

"it is better to be bold than too circumspect"

Obama is guilty of giving the people consensus, when they wanted audacity. He has managed, not led.

The lesson of last night for David Cameron and Nick Clegg is simple: play to your mandate. Cameron and Clegg have exactly the reverse mandate to Obama – in Britain, consensus reigns. The mandate of consensus is a difficult one, although it suggests that policy should be aimed at the middle ground, rather than the core voters. Obama has paid the price for ignoring his core supporters. It is the dilemma which faces every executive upon gaining power – whether to govern for your supporters, or for the country. Ultimately, this is the decision which must be made. Machiavelli again provides the words, “it is better to be feared than to be loved, if you cannot be both”. Obama is neither.

Time will tell for Cameron and Clegg, although the nature of the coalition suggests that they should strive to be ‘loved’. They will underestimate the mandate at their peril.

Conference Call Itinery for Today

Checking my desktop diary this morning I should by now have completed my last, scheduled, conference call for work for today. However, I have one more conference call today, with the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign.

It feels good to be only a few hours away from kicking off a campaign that will at some point deal with my itchy feet to get out there doing stuff, whether it does. anything to deal with my ever increasing waistline since I returned may well depend on what role I end up getting with the campaign. Hopefully by the time of the call, another phone call will have answered one question that has been keeping two of the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats on edge for a number of days.

But with 182 full days until referendum day kicks off, or potentially in Northern Ireland speak (keeping the Sabbath day holy for some) 156 days to go.

The recent splurge in blog posts from myself and Michael may well take a dip again in the next few days. There will most likely be things that need to be done by whomever in support of whoever.

Tuition Fees – An open letter from the Liberal Democrat grassroots

Reproduced below is the Open Letter as sent to Vince Cable (Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills) and responsible for the implementation or not of the Browne Report. It has also been sent to every single Liberal Democrat MP. It is signed by myself and other key influencers, I'll try and provide as many links as possible from the signatories. (I know there are more links I will add them when I can)

Dear Dr Cable,

On the 12th of October, Lord Browne published the findings of his report into higher education funding, which contained some good points and some very bad points.

One of the bad points was to remove the cap on tuition fees meaning that some courses could end up leaving a student in debt by over £36,000. This is an utter disgrace and cannot be allowed to happen. Vince Cable himself has said the level of personal debt is too high. Why should we force students to take on this kind of personal debt before they even buy a house?

The Liberal Democrats have, since 2001, pledged to scrap tuition fees. And while we are aware that this is not a Liberal Democrat Government, it does not warrant an abstention. We urge you to honour your pledge to fight any increase in fees.

Our party has always been one of fairness, but judging by Mr Clegg’s and Mr Cable’s responses to the suggestions it appears that we are moving away from that.

Please support us and help to retain the party’s identity within the coalition.


Kelly Panter (8612609) Birmingham Selly Oak)
Christopher Fenton (Birmingham Selly Oak)
Paul Wild (8630704)
Duncan Moore (Oxford East) 8616515
Jonathan McCree (Haringey Lib Dems)
Fraser Nesbitt (Bristol East)
Rachel Smith (Sheffield Hallam)
Dr. Richard Davis (Battersea and Tooting)
Caron Lindsay
Benjamin R Lille (8428808)
Elaine Bagshaw
John Fraser (Westminster South & City of London)
Charlotte Galpin (8271607)
Daniel Sear (Guildford) 8640319
Mike Dixon (City of Birmingham Organiser Lib Dems)
Cllr Chris Ward (Guildford)
Robert Howell – Southend
Stephen Mullen (membership no 6039944)
Chris Wilson (Kingston & Surbiton)
Duncan Borrowman FE member, PPC Old Bexley & Sidcup, former National Campaigns Officer
Susan Gaszczak – Watford
Cllr Fiona White, Leader, Lib Dem Group, Guildford Borough Council
Matthew Doye (Somerton and Frome)
Irfan Ahmed (lead campaigner in the Pendle parliamentary campaign in 2010)
Stephen Glenn (2010 Westminster Candidate for Linlithgow and East Falkirk)
Michael Carchrie Campbell, Chair, Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats; sometime convenor LDYS NI.
Nikki Thomson (2790866) Edinburgh Central constituency
Hannah Arnold (8686785)
Cllr Season Prater, Sandgate, Kent. Former LDYS Exec Officer.
Keith McGrellis (Northern Ireland Lib Dems member)
Darren Briddock (South East Region Chair Elect 2011)
Mr Matthew Burton (8570027)
Cllr Martin Hunt – Colchester
Cllr Nick Barlow – Colchester
Luke Bosman – Preston
Cllr David McBride – Bromley
Simon Green Borough Councillor (LB Brent) and Ex Vice President, University of Leicester Students’ Union 2005-6
Nima chatrizeh – Student
John Doran, ex Surrey County Councillor and deeply ashamed member.
James King Please sign me up as well. Ordinary member in Southport, and student activist in Oxford.
Michael James Yates (Preseton)
Merlene Emerson (Chair Chinese LibDems & candidate for London Assembly 2012)
Cllr Daisy Cooper
Andy Pickwell
Richard Huzzey (Oxford West & Abingdon)
Cllr Sam Potts (6644139)
Martin Hunt (Leader Libdem Colchetser Borough Council)
Craig Brown (8587094)
Colin Ross (4902826)
Kai Page
Lisa Harding
Lynne Beaumont, Lib Dem Group Leader, Shepway District Council
Val Loseby, Shepway District Councillor
Bev Rolfe, Shepway Lib Dem Local Party Chair
Maggie Sheldrake, Folkestone Town Councillor
Bill Sheldrake, Shepway Liberal Democrat Executive Member
James Shaddock
Cllr Stewart Golton, Leader of Leeds City Council Lib Dem Group
Cllr Jim Spencer, Leader of Otley Town Council
Cllr Ben Chastney, Leeds City Councillor
Cllr Jamie Matthews, Leeds City Councillor and PPC for Pudsey
Cllr Martin Hamilton, Leeds City Councillor
Cllr James Monaghan, Leeds City Councillor and PPC for Morley and Outwood
David Hall-Matthews, Leeds Central Member and Chair of the Social Liberal Forum
Adam Pritchard, Leeds North West Member
Chris Lovell, Leeds West Member and President of Leeds Liberal Youth 2008-2010
Stephen Sadler, Chair of Leeds Central Lib Dems
Peter Wrigley, President of Batley and Spen Lib Dems (personal capacity)
Ian Howell, Leeds Central Member
Christina Shaw, Leeds North West Member
Cllr John Cole, Bradford City Councillor and Chair of Shipley Lib Dems
Cllr John Watmough, Bradford City Councillor
Cllr Steve Smith, Leeds City Councillor
Cllr Alan Taylor, Leeds City Councillor
Matthew Burton
Chris Ward
Ramon Chiratheep
Hugh Bailey-Lane
Chris Lovell (Chair of Leeds Liberal Youth 2008-2010)
Chris Gurney
Richard Davis
Caron Lindsay
David MacDonald
David Parkes
Harriet Ainscough
Rachel Olgeirrson
Allan Window
Jason Lower (Secretary, Tonbridge and Malling branch)
Paul Freeman
Jenny Marr
Tim Prater
Kirby Meehan
Alexandra White
Michael Yates
Margaret White
Stephen Mullen
Christopher Leslie
Stephen Rule
Sara Bedford
Cllr Katie Ray
Becky White
Emma Page
Claire Berwick
Cllr Keith Legg
Martin Veart
Gareth Epps
Keith Nevols
Nikki Thomson
Cllr Terry Stacey
Cllr Susan Buchanan
Ramis Azer
Nick Blake
Marie Jenkins
Dominic Mathon
Kristian Chapman
Mark Whiley
Henry Vann
Cllr Ross Carter
Vanessa Hubbard
Sophie Bertrand
Seth Alexander Thévoz
Simon Courtenage
Tim Holyoake
Nick Edgeworth
Andrea O’Halloran
Luke Shore
David Warren
Gary Glover
Will Miéville-Hawkins
Fiona James
Jordan Kleiner
Laura Webster
Hywel Morgan
Christopher Mills (East Hampshire)
Ray Khan

That’s 135 signatures. A thank you from the whole team involved in this to everyone who signed.

Fisking Some of the TUV CSI Responses

The Tradition Unionist Vote has published its response to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister's (OFMDFM) draft Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Programme.

Here are some telling phrases with my response:

"We strongly believe that respect for the Unionist/Protestant marching tradition is a key indicator of whether or not this country is genuinely moving forward."

I'm sorry to be truly moving on this should not be the be all and end all. We have people from different countries now living in Northern Ireland. We have people of multiple-identities and indeed family that cross over previous diversities in our society. The sooner our society here in Northern Ireland reflects this the better.

"TUV objects strongly to the commitment within the CSI Programme to publish a sexual orientation strategy (1.9).

"TUV is astonished that there is not one word of recognition of the contribution which nurturing the traditional family unit can make to a cohesive society within the CSI Programme while at the same time there is a commitment to publish a sexual orientation strategy.

"It is patently obvious that there is already a more than enough legislation to protect and promote this interest group. There is no statutory justification or requirement for the proposed strategy. It is an obvious sop to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lobby demanded by Sinn Féin/IRA and meekly accepted by the DUP."

To call for recognition of a minority grouping, which happens to cross sectarian, racial, ability, with/without dependents lines is probably a true reflection from both the unionist and nationalist voices. To dismiss it as a 'sop' instead of seeing it as standing up even for Traditional Unionist people who are LGB or T (yes there are some in the LGBT community here) is a failure to speak out and use that voice.

As for the commitment, which the OFMDFM has said will not happen before 2012. The same department commissioned a harrowing investigation into homophobic harassment and violence in 2003 which has yet to be acted upon throughout the executive. This is a dragging of the heels that has gone on long enough. The 'commitment' is just another 'commitment to procrastinate'.

49,400 reason to give 60 or 120 seconds

It is an often erroneous fact that the Poppy in a symbol of Unionism in Northern Ireland. However, between 1914 and 1918 over 300,000 young men from this island fought in the various armies across Northern Europe. 49,400 of them never returned.

They are remembered at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens (Gairdíní Náisiúnta Cuimhneacháin Cogaidh na hÉireann) in Inchicore (Inse Chór), Dublin (Baile Átha Claith). Also at the Garden of Remembrance (An Gairdín Cuimhneacháin) in the city at the Northern end of O'Connell Street. But these are just two of the many memorials around Ireland.

They are there as a mark that the war dead from this Island against the Central powers. One name that struck out from all the names on memorials across Ireland was one of Eileen Mary O'Gorman of the Territorial Forces Nursing Service a woman who would appear by the name to be of Catholic descent who was killed in the First World War. Her name alongside others is on the memorial at St. Anne's Cathedral here in Belfast on the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service memorial.

Also there and across the island are the names of many from all walks of life. Church of Ireland, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist whatever. Young men who laid down their lives for the freedom of those back home during the Great War and other conflicts.

So come the eleventh hour of the eleventh day give two minutes silent contemplation. On Remembrance Sunday do the same, or even just the minute (depending where you are).

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 maidin
Leanfaimid orainn cuimhneamh orthu.

Busy Day for Northern Irish Bloggers

Considering that both Michael and I were taking a 'break' from blogging over the weekend (somehow we still managed the odd one here and there). Today was almost as if we were unleashed back unto the world with a vengeance or possibly it was displacement theory while we're both waiting to find out who may have got a certain job. I'd also managed to wake up three hours before my alarm clock.

Anyway speaking of the job Michael and myself both managed a post about the Alternative Vote, hmm, I wonder why? On the subject of AV Michael also had an issue with Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes' email to members yesterday evening, I know I heard his disgust as he read it. I on the other hand looked at what Nick said, or rather didn't say about the emails that had gone to him about tuition fees. I'd also blogged about prisoners being given back the right to vote. While Michael blogged about getting another Golden Dozen, so I guess I need to up my game again or else he might just overhaul me.

Northern Ireland formed the remainder of the blog posts, firstly the bomb alert in North Belfast affecting the community where Michael lives, some waylaid campaign literature of mine. However, the most pertinent question after the discovery of the body of another of the 'disappeared' what effort to find the perpetrator or this and other disappearances?

Last night I did blog that I was off to "rescue a friendship, hopefully" well a peace treaty was signed in the Pizza Hut at Victoria Square. However, I was truly concerned at one point on Sunday. Although we have also just had another pleasant evening after an LGBT Consultation Forum meeting.

PS By the way this is also a post from Michael as indeed is this.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Blogged Elsewhere about a #MailFail

If you want to find out why these two campaigning postcards somehow managed to end up back on my desk, then I suggest you scoot on over to LibDemsNI and find out.

What do you mean you're not following LibDemsNI on Twitter? That's how you get all this stuff first.

First Past What Post?

As many reader will now I now reside in North Down won in May by Sylvia, Lady Hermon with 63.3% of the vote. I also stood in Linlithgow and East Falkirk where Michael Connarty beat me and the rest of the field once again, gaining 49.8% of the vote.

Now these are both exceptional cases where in one case the MP has gained a majority of the vote and in the other were even on a preferential system you would expect that the First Past the Post (FPTP) candidate would have been elected. No doubt some of 3rd or 4th place candidates votes would either not have transferred or enough would have to make up that small short fall.

However, what is the post of which FPTP advocates are so keen to defend?

It is off course a movable entity. Take for example another constituency I know reasonably well, indeed I was looking to represent the Southern part of it next May, Edinburgh North and Leith. There the winning post in 2005 was painted red for Mark Lazarowicz with 14,597 votes. Kevin Lang in 2010 took a total of 16,016 on day when the Labour vote was going down on five years previously across the country. Did this reach the post first? No. Because Lazarowicz had moved to 17,740.

The alternative vote does mean that the post is set in stone, at 50% of the vote either as with Lady Hermon cast for you as the first preference or as in the majority of seats as a reflection of the public's additional preferences. AV is actually more of a first past the post system than FPTP, because it has a post that is unchanging, and a post that you need to aim for, rather than a moving line in the sand washed by the political tide.

PS As you may be able to tell I've spent some time on this issue over the past week. No prizes for guessing why. If you want to get involved in the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign visit their website.

UPDATE: I should really not be surprised that Micheal was also thinking along these lines today now should I?

Where are the Answers Nick?

I see that my friend and colleague Michael Carchrie Campbell has taken to task one of the email Lib Dem members received last night. I'm going to take to task the other.

Nick Clegg, after the announcement of the Browne Report inviting comments to be sent to him. Apparently according to last nights email the special email address that was set up received over 1000 responses. Yet only five points were raised in the response all carefully worded to sound supportive:

  • concern that the proposals would result in a free market in higher education
  • some key progressive elements of Browne’s report, particularly the repayment system similar to the concept of a graduate tax, and highlighted the need for Liberal Democrats to emphasise the positive aspects of the report, while ensuring that the most vulnerable are protected
  • suggestions we should make savings elsewhere and increase taxation to fund higher education
  • need to focus on Further Education and apprenticeships as well as higher education
  • concern that those from disadvantaged backgrounds wouldn't be able to go to university under Browne’s proposals
I'm amazed that in those 1000 emails there wasn't a response to the unrest amongst many candidates like myself who raised the promise from our manifesto (emphasis mine):

"We will scrap unfair tuition fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult financial times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students."

and how this grinds instead with an increase in the tuition fee cap. If we were promising responsibility with our financial account how can we say we have allowed for even these difficult times yet are doing the opposite. It wasn't just a NUS pledge than many of us signed it was a manifesto commitment that "even in these difficult financial times" we would not need to burden our students further.

All we got under the question of making savings elsewhere was the same old drivel we were hearing from Cameron pre-Election not the bold, fairer, progressive language that the issue of tuition fees has raised through every conference debate we have had on the issue down my 22 years within Liberal Democrat circles.

I for one not am not going to be a shrinking violet on this one. Nick if you are going to be writing to members cut the drivel and actually answer our concerns. As Jennie Rigg put it so eloquently the other day "it would help if it was not worded as though giving a lecture to the hard of thinking".

Prisioners and the Ballot Box

The opening paragraph of the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution states (emphasis mine):

"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."

So therefore the fact that for the first time since 1870* that prisoners are to get the right to vote restored in the UK, is enshrined in our party constitution. The resultant change is not being brought about solely by the good nature of the new Government but as a result of a 2005 ruling the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It was sort of there in our manifesto under the coverall line

"Ensure that everyone has the same protections under the law by protecting the Human Rights Act"

Everyone having the same protections should include the right for everyone to have the right to decide who makes those laws.

No doubt the Daily Fail will be up in arms about this, but the prison population that will be affected by the change in this law is only 70,000 people. Assuming that they will each be entitled to vote in the address where they were last resident, rather than where they are detained, it comes to an average of 117 votes per each of the proposed 600 constituencies.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said a "historic decision to enfranchise serving prisoners" would bring to an end the "archaic punishment of civic death". She said:

"In a modern prison system you would expect prisoners to have rights and responsibilities and politicians to take an active interest in their constituency prisons. People are sent to prison to lose their liberty not their identity."

While each country has the right under the ECHR ruling to decide what offences would carry voting restrictions, rather than the blanket ban that exists as present. If we believe in a restorative prison system, then surely we must believe that anyone serving a conviction no matter for what crime may serve a useful role in society at some point. Even some of those that are serving life sentences without any hope of remand may still be restored and serving useful functions within the walls of their confinement, passing on lessons in whatever way is possible to others that re-offending is not the way to go.

I'm glad to be a member of a party that enshrines the right of the individual. That stands up for each and every one of the citizens of the UK. While standing up for the rights of some individuals may seem hard and a tough thing to do at times, it is important that the rights of all are defended. Of course course imprisonment of some is required for the greater good to society as a whole, but those convicted are still individual citizens.

* The Forfeiture Act (1870) upheld in the Representation of the People Act (1983)

Monday 1 November 2010

End of a tough week

I know it is only Monday but that is not the week I'm referring to.

Some of the more observant of you will have noticed that both myself and Michael posted rather similar posts on Thursday, basically because we were going in for exactly the same job, interviews for the two of us have now finished*. There was some preparation work involved which took up a lot of our time in recent days.

Both of us wanted the other to be the one that we turned to for areas of advice in what we were preparing for, but this obviously wasn't possible. Both of us we found out over the weekend that we have different ways that we utilise to cope with the pressure, let me just say these were not exactly a snug fit, given the circumstances.

So if you'll excuse me I'm off to rescue a friendship, hopefully.

PS Also hopefully my irritable bowel from the last 4 days will stop being so irritable again now that the pressure is off.

(This was written at 11:15 last night but I've embargoed it until after the second of us interviews this afternoon)

* Hopefully. I've just moved the posting time of this back as my interview slot has been moved back 15 minutes.

Updated> My Song of the Month: October 2010 < now includes song

It's that time of the month again to sum up my month in one song. Whose clever idea was that? Oh yes it was mine. As I say every month the song can be anything something that struck a chord with me during the month, one that has been constantly in my mind, one that either means something personal or that sums up the events of the month.

So here is this months. Again no explanation just enjoy.

Update: Oops. As Caron pointed out below, somehow after copying the embed code I somehow forgot to check it was included.