Tag Archives: politics

Thank You.

The passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill through both Houses of Parliament has been everything from heartfelt to outrageous, sensible to downright absurd. It has raised fears of hoards of aggressive homosexuals and of the real and present danger of a lesbian queen. It has prompted suggestions from noble lords that they should be allowed to marry their sons and reasonable contributions from interested religious parties.

The contributions of Yvette Cooper and Sir Gerald Howarth this evening epitomised the contrast between how the debate has been constructed on both sides. This evening also saw the Bill clear its final parliamentary hurdle and make its way to Royal Assent and into law.

The most positive thing about the passage of the Bill is that it has enjoyed not only cross-party support in Parliament but broad support with the public as a whole. It is heartening to see so many people in this country supporting the rights of others to marry, to share that love and commitment with their friends and family and to enjoy equal treatment under the law.

The passing of this Bill has many practical implications. It means that heterosexual people and homosexual people have the same pension rights. It means that the protections enjoyed by heterosexual partners are no longer denied to someone on the basis of sexuality. It means that there will be a lot more fabulous weddings. And yes, it also means more money for the divorce lawyers in years to come.

For me, however, the passing into law of equal marriage is not about pension plans and entitlements, as important as they are, but it’s about something much more. It’s about acknowledgement and acceptance.

When I was born in 1990, the age of consent for homosexuals was twenty-one as opposed to sixteen for heterosexuals. Section 28 meant that telling gay teenagers that it was alright to be themselves was illegal in schools. Homophobia was rife. Progress came, slowly but surely. In 2001 the age of consent was equalised. In 2003, the year I became a teenager, Section 28 was abolished and gay kids could finally be told in the open that their sexuality was not something to be ashamed of. In 2005 we had the introduction of Civil Partnerships and today, in 2013, we have the legalisation of marriage for homosexual couples. In twenty three years the political and societal change has been enormous.

This new law won’t change the fact that some gay kids face bullying. What it will do, however, is give the gay teenagers suffering this kind of abuse the knowledge that the country does not treat them differently. That the law does not treat them differently. That, with the exception of blood donation, they are not prevented from doing anything on the grounds of their sexuality.

Homophobia, like all other kinds of prejudice, is a taught behaviour. No-one is born hating gay people or opposing their right to love and equality. This kind of attitude is taught. Nothing will change the fact that some parents will still indoctrinate their children with unfounded, vicious hatred but children growing up in a society where marriage can be between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman will be children who grow up accepting this as normal and as something to be celebrated. A wedding and a marriage will be a celebration of all kinds of love, not just one.

There will be a lot written about this Bill and its legal implications. There will be support, opposition and apathy. Much of it will be important and reasonable. For now, though, I have only one thing to say.

From today, I have a future where the law does not discriminate against me on the grounds of my sexuality. I have a future where any relationship I am in will have the same status as any which my straight friends form part of. I have a future where I can, at some future date with a person I may or may not have even met yet, stand and declare my love and commitment in the same way as anyone else. I have a future where I know I will not be denied marriage. I have a future as an equal citizen of my country. There are no words adequate enough to explain what that really means so these will have to do-

To everyone who has supported this Bill in Parliament, in private, in public and in society, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

He could have gone further but Gove’s education message is a step in the right direction.

As a trainee teacher in the academic year 2012-13, I watched with interest the statement given to the House of Commons this morning by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove.  He is absolutely right to say that the examination system in state secondary schools in this country is in need of overhaul. He is right to say that the most academic pupils are not pushed to achieve their potential and that their less academic peers are languishing with a false sense of achievement having been failed by an ‘everyone must pass everything’ culture which has led to the degradation of the respectability of our secondary qualifications.

He is absolutely right that something must be done. GCSEs are broadly seen by employers as too easy, often irrelevant and nowhere near rigorous enough to be a true measure of a pupil’s attainment. When the standard we place upon young people to enter further education, be that Sixth Form or vocational college, is often no more than five GCSEs at grade C or above and these can include such ‘subjects’ as Travel and Tourism and Health and Social Care, it is little wonder that GCSEs are belittled and seen as worthless by many. Failure to reform a system engineered to ensure the highest level of results and not the highest level of attainment would equate to failing the next generation of secondary school pupils. It fails those with strong academic potential in not recognising that which should be vigorously cultivated and it fails those who would be much better suited to well-funded, well-taught vocational qualifications by failing to offer precisely that.

There is nothing regressive or divisive about saying that a qualification in Maths, English or Geography should be taught differently to and separate from qualifications in Leisure and Tourism, Hospitality or Motor Vehicle and Road User Studies. Lumping such wildly differing qualifications together under the same umbrella benefits neither and fails both. The left-wing opposition to Mr Gove’s plans disgracefully assumes that vocational subjects are automatically of lesser value to academic ones. This is not what the Government is saying and it is typical of the kind of one-size-fits-all approach to education which has seen this country’s global standing slide dramatically over the last decade. What opponents of reform must understand is that differences are not automatically divisions, they are marks of diversity, something the education system in this country is sorely lacking.

Every child should reach sixteen with good levels of literacy and numeracy and a broad understanding of general scientific principles. That much must not, and will not, change. Beyond these core subjects, however, there is opportunity to push for higher levels of attainment across a vast range of subjects. The new ‘O Level’-style academic qualification can be taught more rigorously, across a broader curriculum to challenge those pupils electing to take it. These pupils will be those who are interested in pursuing the subject in more depth and they will no longer be held back by a teacher having to cater to the lowest common denominator. What it will also mean is that pupils who have no interest at all in an in-depth study of say Geography will not be forced into spending two-years wasting their own and everyone else’s time working, or not, towards an exam everyone realistically knows they are going to fail and which will do them no palpable good whatsoever. This is the reality in schools up and down the country and it fails everyone.

A new, more vocational qualification taught by excellent teachers with good, well-funded resources is a viable and necessary alternative to this production line of low-achievement and valueless qualifications. These courses would not be ‘second class’ as opponents of diversity, individuality and change would have us believe but would be taught to the same high standard and would expect the same level of hard work, motivation and attainment as their academic counterparts. Just as a top-quality History course in Years 10 and 11 will prepare pupils for A Level and undergraduate study, a top-quality Motor Vehicle course, coupled with ‘CSE’-style qualifications for breadth, would prepare the pupils taking it for college or apprenticeships, giving them a grounding that is sorely lacking under the current system. One size does not fit all and we should stop the pretence that it does. GCSEs have lost all their value as a result of this approach so a change is necessary.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Gove’s reforms will incorporate these elements and there are certainly legitimate concerns about having one exam board for each subject but the thinking is correct and it is a step in the right direction. If the Government wanted to truly drive up standards and improve the system then they would champion selective secondary education in the form of the reintroduction of grammar schools. Until then, however, this is a broadly positive move.

A week really is a long time in politics.

It’s a cliché, I know, but I have discovered since last weekend’s blog that a week really is a long time in politics. When I wrote here last Sunday of my disaffection with Labour and my imminent defection to the Liberal Democrats I could scarcely have imagined the reaction I would receive from all corners.

Whilst I want this to be a positive blog, I do have to comment on the negatives too, so I’ll do that first in the hope of then ending on a high note. I understand that if you post on the internet you are putting yourself in a public forum and your views can be criticised by all and sundry. This is doubly true if you blog about politics. I knew that I would draw a certain amount of political criticism for my decision and arguments against, perhaps even derision of, my opinions. That is completely fair game. Personal abuse and threats of violence, however, are not.

I have received abusive messages this week concerning everything from my name, apparently so ridiculous it can only have been made up by parents who went on to spend thousands of pounds a term on my education, to my appearance, which I’m reliably informed is ‘fat and ugly’ and thus will fit right in in the Liberal Party. The first is categorically untrue. You’ll have to make your own minds up on the second.

The vast majority of this abuse has been anonymous, misspelt and singularly uncreative. There is, after all, only a certain amount of times you can see a variation of ‘Tory scum’ without it becoming just a little dull. The threats and contempt I have received from some of the left of the Labour Party only serve to make a mockery of their supposed values of tolerance, respect and freedom.

That said, the positive response I have received has been overwhelming. From former Labour colleagues wishing me luck to a message from a member of the Australian Democrats and an SNP member echoing many comments praising me for standing up for what I believe and doing the right thing, I am extremely grateful for each and every one. I have been welcomed more positively than I could ever have expected from Liberal Democrats. From Tim Farron and Baroness Jolly taking the time to message me to the rank-and-file membership offering support, encouragement and an invitation for conference drinks, they have made me absolutely sure I’ve made the right decision. I’ll try to take them all up on the offer of drinks in Brighton but I’m not sure I’ll be able to stand if I do!

The near-hysteria over the defection is now, thankfully, all over. I didn’t join the Liberal Democrats for one week of internet infamy but for an awful lot longer spreading the Liberal Democrat message to as many people as possible. I believe in this party. I believe in its values, its principles and its future. I also, after this week, believe wholeheartedly in its people. The local election results were rough, to say the least, and demonstrated just how much there is to do. So the hard-work begins here and I can’t wait. Socks and sandals, I’m told, are strictly optional.

‘And it was all yellow’ – Why I’m considering defection to the Liberal Democrats.

CLARIFICATION – THIS BLOG AND MY DEFECTION FROM LABOUR DO NOT RELATE TO EXETER LABOUR PARTY OR BEN BRADSHAW MP. I HAVE SEEN NOTHING BUT INTEGRITY FROM PEOPLE I CALL FRIENDS IN MY LOCAL LABOUR PARTY. SUGGESTION OTHERWISE IS CATEGORICALLY FALSE.

-Since writing this I have cancelled my Labour membership and joined the Liberal Democrats-

Every time I have ever seen the old opinion-poll question of ‘If there was an election next week who would you vote for?’ my answer has always been a split-second no-brainer; I would vote Labour. There is, however, an election next week and for the first time I do not know into which box I am going to put my cross. For someone who has been chair of a branch of Labour Students, who has stuffed countless envelopes  for council, European and Parliamentary elections, who has walked endless miles with a Secretary of State in the last Labour Government campaigning for his re-election and who has attended the count in a Labour rosette, this is rather a jolt.

What it is not, however, is a knee-jerk reaction or a rash moment of disillusionment. Rather, it is the result of eighteen-months of soul searching, of listening to the arguments and evaluating the policies, or absence thereof. I no longer feel that the Labour Party represents me, represents the values I hold or the ideas I believe in nor that represents the best interests of this country as a whole. The Labour Party I joined, the Labour Party I worked tirelessly for and the politicians I sought to elect were Blairites. They were modern, forward thinking and inclusive. New Labour won three General Elections. New Labour, as proclaimed proudly by the new leadership, is dead.

My problems with the Labour Party as an organisation have always been present. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the word ‘Comrade’ being used to greet me on entering a constituency office or reading a local party email. I’m not a massive fan of the word ‘socialist’ being used to describe the party on the back of its membership cards. The number of people within the party who would like to see the reinstating of Clause 4 and a return to the halcyon days of Foot-esque leftism with shouts of ‘We’re not left-wing enough’ deeply concerns me. Sadly it is not them that are in the minority but me.

I’m pro-business, pro-wealth, pro-private sector investment, pro-individual responsibility. I’m in favour of a benefits cap because I don’t believe the State should subsidise someone’s lifestyle, merely enable them to continue with their life. I want to see lower taxes for people in general. I don’t think the tax system should be punitive to the rich and aggressive towards wealth creators. Punitive taxation for the richest is not a necessity to have fairer taxes for the poorest. The Coalition Government, in cutting the top rate of tax and cutting corporation tax and at the same time announcing the increase in the personal allowance, have shown Liberal Democrat drive and Liberal Democrat values. The Labour Party and its membership, bar a few increasingly out-of-place New Labour Blairites, are about more spending, more handouts, more debt, more tax as punishment for prosperity and less individual responsibility. This is not a sentiment which I want to be associated with. It is certainly not one I can defend on the doorsteps.

The Labour Party talks of an anointed cabal at the top of Government. The hypocrisy of this sentiment coming from a party such as Labour is ludicrous. Labour is a party where some members have three votes in a leadership election and some only one, where the front-bench are made up of the same rich intelligentsia as the Government benches, where the Trades Unions can hold the Party to ransom and where the next generation of leaders are brought up through Labour Students, an organisation which is untransparent, undemocratic, unfair and whose leadership is anointed not elected.

The class-warfare that the Labour Party is launching on the Government is shameful. It is not the kind of politics a serious Opposition should be engaging in. Mr Miliband should understand better than many that it is not your background that defines you but your ideas. If he believes that governments should not be run by privileged, sheltered millionaires then he and his Shadow Cabinet should hand in their resignations tomorrow morning.

My problem does not lie solely with Ed Miliband, though. With the exception of his brother (who perfectly demonstrates that a lack of charisma is fraternal), the other leadership candidates were just as bad, just as outdated, just as out-of-touch with reality. What is worrying is that the membership is, generally, more left-wing than the leadership. The old adage that Labourites love being a shouty, left-wing opposition is apparently true.

I think all that is enough to safely enable me to say I no longer feel at home in the Labour Party. So, what next? Well I am not a Tory, although I would be more comfortable being labelled a conservative than a socialist. I think that the Tory focus on big business rather than the small- and medium-sized businesses that must be the backbone of the recovery is too much. The Tory Party membership is generally to the right of its leadership much as Labour’s is to the left. Labour tolerated Blair because he won, the Tories tolerated Cameron because he, just about, does the same.

The Liberal Democrats, I do believe, are different. Taking time to see through the vitriol which I am as guilty as any of spouting I can see a Party that really believes in something. There is Liberal Democrat influence in Government, although this influence is of course relative to its status within the Coalition. I’ve read the Coalition Agreement, I’ve pored over every facet of party policy and I’ve found myself nodding along in wholehearted agreement to the vast majority. The Liberal Democrats elect their leader, one member, one vote unlike Labour. Conference decides party, although of course not government, policy. Liberal Youth is transparent and welcoming, unlike Labour Students. Liberal Democrats believe in what their party stands for, if they don’t, they vote to change it. Conservative and Labour canvassers often disagree with what they’re spouting on the doorsteps. I know, I’ve been asked to lie for Labour.

I’m well aware that a Liberal Democrat majority government is unlikely. I know that people don’t vote Liberal Democrat because the other two spread the fiction that a Liberal Democrat vote is really either a Tory/Labour one. I know, I’ve been told to spread this message too. I also know, however, that I agree with their policies more than others. I know I respect the way they do things. I also know joining the Liberal Democrats will provoke a backlash of abuse from all sides, in fact some Labourites have already started it.

I still believe that there is a place for idealism in politics, that there are arguments that can be won, that a vote does not simply have to be red or blue. Socialist or Tory. Standing in the voting booth on Thursday will be the deciding moment for me. To quote Robert Frost, ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood […] and I took the one less travelled by and that made all the difference’.

After all politics is not about doing what is easy but about doing what is right.