Thursday 14 April 2016

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

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

This is an extract from the UUP manifesto:

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

I have asked the three in North Down:

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

Wednesday 13 April 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Incomplete measuring of diversity #LibDems

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 1 April 2016

Philatelic Friday 1: WWI Centenary Gibraltar Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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