Wednesday 31 July 2013

Why we should go to Sochi

I've been giving this some thought over recent days. With all the talk between the IOC and the Russians about how the application of the anti-gay propaganda law would be enforced in next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi. This has included the first arrests of foreign nations who were interviewing people was a documentary story on the law change.

At first their were calls to boycott Russian vodkas. But I scanned the shelf at Tesco. Smirnoff is distilled in the UK, Stolichnaya is distilled in Russia but bottled in Latvia, in the EU, there are others that sound Russian that actually come from Belarus, Ukraine or Finland. If I were a big Vodka drinker it would really need a lot of knowledge to check the labels as some boycotts would actually be affecting jobs outside Russia, and the home distilled stuff would still be getting produced and drunk in Russia. Earlier today a New York bar and its customers poured Stolichnaya vodka down the drains outside the Russian Embassy, however the company has risked a lot back home when it released this statement opposing the law and supporting LGBT equality.

Then there was the call to boycott the Games themselves.

Now as some of you know I am a bit of a sportsman who once held hopes of appearing the Olympics, and until bowls qualifies I fear that day will never come, but if it does I will try and compete for Ireland. I love the Olympics, if any of your read my histories of the Summer Games or my reports of the Games last summer will attest. I'm not one for boycotting the games, mainly because the people it affects most are the athletes who have given up a four year cycle of their life to try and peak at the right time to win that medal. Think how many of you currently have a goal of what you are going to do in four years time? How many of you are willing to sacrifice more or less everything in order to achieve that goal?

But there is another reason why those athletes should be allowed to go to the Games. The nations that are most likely to object to the draconian nature of the law change in Russia are also those nations that are most likely to have the most openly LGB athletes and allies in their party. They are the nations that are most likely to make a stand live on Russian TV that is carrying the Games as the Olympic Broadcasters. People like openly gay New Zealand speed skater Blake Skellerup who said he will be wearing a rainbow badge. Others both LGB and straight may be encouraged to do likewise.

These Games could well be to LGBT rights what the Blank Panther salute was in Mexico in 1968 for black civil rights in the USA. To boycott them means that the reason for the boycott will probably not get reported in Russia. I know things have moved on a bit since I didn't learn that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait until I exited the USSR and found myself back in Warsaw, 10 days later. But the press there will still be very careful about how they report a boycott, especially because of the new law. But by turning up en masse and making a statement the athletes of the world can show the LGBT population of Russia that we support them.

Others will no doubt disagree with me. But others will agree that unless we follow the example of Tilda Swinton (right) and make a statement that the people in Russia can actually see and hear we are not helping those who are LGBT in Russia. The Russian LGBT network has called not to boycott the Games but to boycott homophobia.

They talk about not knowing and LGBT people, probably because they are scared to say who they are. We are out and proud and those who support us are too, it is time to be proud that there is nothing unnatural about being LGBT and that a law against being born this way was remarkably one of the things that Russians fought and died for in the second World War.

Whether as Russian legislator Vitaly Milonov says the law will be enforced the Games come during a period known as the Olympic Truce. I would like to see whoever replaces Jacques Rogge as President of the IOC in September to make a mention of human sexuality not being a barrier to participation in the Games, in his speech at the Opening Ceremony. Having heard that sort of statement made in a few pulpits in my day I can assure you that it warms the hearts of those who feel oppressed in such situations normally. It can give them hope.

So I say we send the athletes to Sochi 2014 and provide them with rainbow badges to wear.

Monday 29 July 2013

It was a hundred years ago today... Jo Grimond Centenary

One hundred years ago in St Andrews jute manufacturer Joseph Bowman Grimond and his wife Helen, welcomed a son into the world. He would be named after his father, but would end up being known to many and Liberals for generations simply as Jo.

After qualifying with a first class honours degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Balliol College, Oxford he went on to become a barrister and publisher, before the outbreak of World War II saw him along with many other young men sign up for the army. He was discharged with the rank of Major and as Major Grimond he was selected by the Liberal of Orkney and Shetland to stand in the post war election of 1945.

The seat had been lost to the Conservative Basil Neven-Spence in 1935, the first time it had been out of Liberal hands in almost a century. The young army Major and his wife Laura ( née Bonham Carter) came to the islands and worked their way around the electorate. He promised that he would come and live in the constituency should he be elected, something he failed to do but only by the margin of 329 votes to Neven-Spence. Five years later he was back and while Neven-Spence only polled 56 votes less than in 1945, Jo had increased his vote by 3,262 almost as much as the Labour candidate got. He was one of only 9 Liberals elected in 1950.

Immediately upon his election he was made the chief whip of the party in the Commons a role he would serve in for 6 years. It is role that both successors (Jim Wallace (1988-1992) and Alistair Carmichael (2010-present)) have followed him into.

In the 1955 election the party fared worse and only returned 6 MPs and the following year the leader Clement Davies stepped down as leader. Jo was duly elected by the small parliamentary party as the new leader, looking to take the party forward from their lowest point in history. But over the next 11 years it was a role he embraced along with the life of a constituency MP, the people in Orkney had an MP who lived amongst them, which at the time was somewhat of a novelty for the most northerly seat and the people furthest away from Westminster.

Under his leadership the Parliamentary party was to double in size, although not before losing the Carmarthen by election in 1957 following the death of Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris. A pill all the more bitter to take as the Labour victor was Megan Lloyd George the daughter of the last Liberal Prime Minister. However, the tide was about to turn. Four months later there was a good second place in the North Devon by election, followed in February1958 by a strong second by Ludovic Kennedy in Rochdale. Six weeks later the break through came in Torrington when Jo's brother-in-law Mark Bonham Carter. In was a gain from the breakaway National Liberals who ten years later would merge with the Conservatives. Though it was to be lost the following year at the General Election.

It was to be another 4 years before the famous Orpington by election saw Eric Lubbock, now Lord Avebury, and in 1965 a certain young lawyer called David Steel would win in Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peeble. Between these there was the speech that contains the most quoted phrase of Jo's, it was within the closing, rousing paragraphs of his leaders speech before the Liberal Assembly of 1963 in preparation for the following year's General Election.

The people of this country, as I have said, are entitled to have politicians who stand up and tell the people what they mean. They are entitled to have politics in which the parties stand for some principle and, without that, you will never have healthy politics in this country.

One thing is certain about this election. Great interest is going to be fixed on the number of votes cast for Liberal candidates and the number of candidates returned. Even if there is not a Liberal Government, the temper of whatever government there is going to be will be validly affected by the public support given to the Liberal Party. If you want an example of how effective a Liberal vote can be, only consider the result at Orpington. Not even the crackest shot in the Tory Party has ever bagged six Cabinet Ministers with one barrel! 

If we return after the election with a solid block of Liberals in the House of Commons, even if we do not hold a majority, we shall be able to influence the whole thinking of the country and attitude of whatever party may be in power. We have made it clear that we intend to use that influence. As the election approaches we shall not shirk the battle, nor shall we be diverted by the great volume of criticism which we hope will pour down upon us.

War, delegates - war has always been a confused affair. In bygone days, the commanders were taught that when in doubt they should march their troops towards the sound of gunfire. I intend to march my troops towards the sound of gunfire. Politics are a confused affair and the fog of political controversy can obscure many issues. But we will march towards the sound of the guns.

Our Government, for too long, has pretended not to see what it does not like. It has put the telescope to its blind eye in a very un-Nelsonian mood, so it can say that there is no enemy in sight. But, delegates, there are enemies, there are difficulties to be faced. There are decisions to be made. There is passion to be generated. The enemy is complacency and wrong values and inertia in the face of incompetence and injustice. It is against this enemy that we march. We are not alone. The reforms which we advocate are inexorably written into the future. We move with the great trends of this century. Other nations have rebuilt their institutions under the hard discipline of war. It is for Liberals to show that Britain, proud Britain, can do this as a free people without passing through the furnace of defeat.
In 1967 having led the party through 3 general election at the age of 63 Jo decided it was time to make way for some of the younger men (sadly there were no Liberal women MPs at the time) to take the reigns. But during his time the party as well as the by election gains had finally won North Devon in 1959, Bodmin, Inverness and Ross and Cromarty in the 1964 election, Cheadle, Colne Valley, West Aberdeenshire and North Cornwall at the 1966 election

Sadly Cardiganshire had gone the way of Carmathen in the 1966 election, and Bolton West and Huddersfield West both had fallen in 1964. Caithness and Sutherland just across the Pentland Firth from Jo's constituency was also temporarily wrested back into Liberal hands between 1964 and 66.

Only Montgomeryshire and Orkney & Shetland had remained in Liberal hands throughout Jo's tenure as but the party had grown as a presence both in Westminster and in the Country. Many of the older members of the party when I first joined and indeed still had joined as a result of Jo's time as leader of the part; a time before I was born. But now on my walk to work I pass the house that used to serve as Jo's election HQ in the early years. I sat next to the grandson of the couple who owned it at the dinner to celebrate the centenary of his birth earlier this year, Boys' Brigade badges was the conversation started but the shared love of history made the evening fly by.

Today is the centenary of the day he was born, but Jo was actually the second child born within a week who would go on to lead a political party, though never to Government. Almost at the other end of the country from Fife in Plymouth a City Councillor and the Liberal candidate who failed to win Totnes 3 years earlier Isaac Foot welcomed his fourth son into the world, Michael would of course fail to unseat Margaret Thatcher in 1983 and was soon after resigned as leader to be replaced by Neil Kinnock at the party conference in October.

Monday 22 July 2013

We're sorry to interrupt with other news and sport

Yeah, this morning the BBC went into a frenzy as I was making breakfast and watching BBC Breakfast. The number of non-Royal Baby news stories, and indeed the weather that somehow earned some mention of the news item, for which the only news we have is that the Duchess of Cambridge was admitted in the early stages of Labour was rolling and almost continuous. Going live every 15 minutes to poor Nicholas Witchell who would only have something new to report if he donned scrubs and snuck inside the Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Paddington himself.

But then when the BBC have to give a disclaimer that their news channel coverage may contain other news stories and sport surely things have gone a little bit too far.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

They're sending the bill to Buckingham Palace

They're sending the bill* to Buckingham Palace

with apologies to A.A. Milne

They're sending the bill to Buckingham Palace -
Christopher and Robin are planning their marriage.
Alice is writing her best woman's speech
"A writer's life is sometimes a peach"
                                     Says Alice.

They're sending the bill to Buckingham Palace -
Alice and Robyn can raise the romance.
"A double marriage along with the queens,
Just as soon as the bill is signed by the Queen"
                                     Says Alice.

They're sending the bill to Buckingham Palace -
But Christabel Robyn still needs equal marriage
The love of her life first married her as a man
The lost years are not in this government plan,
                                     Says Alice.

They're sending the bill to Buckingham Palace
And soon it will pass near Holyrood Palace.
But up Stormont's Hill the dinosaurs play,
But the DUP will lose this one day,
                                     Says Alice.

Stephen Glenn
16 July 2013 

* The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Monday 15 July 2013

Very Proud to be a Lib Dem today

Every so often a little seed germinates into a glorious bloom.

I remember sitting with a few members of Liberal Youth Scotland a few years ago and talking about the possibility of what an equal marriage motion for conference should look like. We discussed how to overcome the religious objections and maintain the equality message that LGB and T individuals would be seeking. Within that group I was somewhat of the expert in both sides of the debate and able to help with the questions and difficulties that the Transgender community faced.

Initially this policy was only passed in Scotland but later a similar motion was passed by the Federal party and today it reaches the third reading in the House of Lords.

When I saw on Facebook the headline from Pink News that the Lords third reading may even pass without a vote I clicked immediately to read the article and was even more impressed by what I saw:

Yeah I'm a very proud Liberal Democrat today and delighted for the small part I have played in helping to deliver this to England and Wales. I know that Scotland is not very far behind but I do yearn for the day that the part of the UK I grew up in, Northern Ireland will follow suit. As it stands once Equal Marriage comes in across England, Wales and Scotland were I to get married to another man, whenever I take him home to see my family he would not be my husband but merely my civil partner. Along with many of the issues regarding Transgendered individuals this is one of my biggest heartbreaks about the passing of this Bill today, it is far from complete equal marriage across the UK on both counts and those of us who have fought to bring it so far must realise that there is still work to be done.

Sunday 7 July 2013

It was all the sevens

Today was the 7th day of the 7th month. It was 77 years on from the last time a British man had won the singles at Wimbledon. It was 1977 that a Brit, Virginia Wade, last won a senior singles title at Wimbledon.

I was the 7th time that Andy Murray was contesting a Grand Slam Final. He was however, trying to prevent his friend who is just 7 days younger from winning his 7th Grand Slam title (he has four Australian Open, one each in the US and Wimbledon). Oh and he had only lost 7 singles games in the Championship before stepping on the court this afternoon/

Would he be able to do it.

The answer of course was he did.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Olympics Candidate Cities' promotional videos XXXII Olympiad

The IOC yesterday posted on YouTube the promotional videos for the Candidate Cities for the 2020 Summer Games; Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid. The decision of who will host the XXXII Olympiad will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina with the decision being made on 7th September

So here they are: