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.

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‘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.

La France, joue-t-elle encore un rôle dans la politique mondiale ?

 

Pendant quelques dernières semaines, il y a certains qui ont dit que la France ne joue plus aucun rôle important dans la politique mondiale. Pour commencer, il faut que nous rejetions ce sentiment comme faux. La France d’aujourd’hui joue un rôle actif et important dans la politique globale. Elle est, par exemple, un des membres permanents du Conseil de la sécurité des Nations unies. Une telle position ne serait jamais accordée à une national sans influence ou sans puissance mondiale. Les décisions qui sont prises dans les rendez-vous de ce conseil ont toujours un impact grave et global. Ces pays peuvent autoriser les attaques militaires contre les autres, mettre en place des mesures qui légalisent une guerre ou imposer des sanctions politiques et économiques sur un pays pour faire pression sur un régime ou pour le punir. Comme membre du Csnu, la France est au cœur de la politique internationale.

Ce n’est pas seulement dans une salle de rendez-vous à New York que la République Française montre son rôle mondiale. Avec le Premier Ministre britannique, David Cameron, le Président Sarkozy a mené les efforts de l’Otan pour aider les opposants de Colonel Kadhafi en Lybie en 2011. La situation dans ce pays s’empirait avec de nombreuses fatalités civiles. En conséquence, M. Sarkozy a donné l’ordre à l’Armée de l’air française à intervenir. Avec M. Cameron, la France a mené une intervention qui s’est terminée par la mort de Kadhafi et la transition vers la démocratie.

Actuellement, le problème le problème le plus profond pour les hommes et les femmes politiques est la crise économique internationale, est pour l’occident surtout, la crise dans la zone d’euro.  Avec la Chancelière allemande, Angela Merkel, c’est le Président français qui mène les négociations pour sauvegarder l’économie européenne et pour formuler des mesures urgentes budgétaires  pour les cas sévères comme la Grèce ou l’Irlande. La BBC a reporté récemment que certains irlandais surnomment leur pays la Merkozie à cause de l’entente entre les deux chefs d’états que leur semblent contrôler la direction dans laquelle l’économie irlandaise va avancer.

Face à l’opposition du Royaume-Uni, un pays normalement considéré comme plus important dans la politique mondiale que la France, le Président continue à avancer les reformes à Bruxelles et beaucoup des grandes idées sont annoncées aux sommets franco-allemands.  Ces deux anciennes adversaires ont prises ensemble leur place dans l’histoire européenne que s’écrit pendant que nous parlons.

La France en 2012 est un pays au cœur des grands évènements politiques internationaux. A New York, elle a une voix dans les discussions dont les résultats pourraient avoir un effet profond pour tout le monde. A Bruxelles, la France mène, avec l’Allemagne, le projet de protéger les  grandes économies européennes et avancer la zone d’euro. Elle est un état déposant des armes nucléaires et elle à une place aux tables les plus importantes du monde où elle joue un rôle d’importance majeure. A Paris, le prochain habitant de l’Elysée va se trouver comme chef d’état d’une France revitalisée et bien préparée pour un rôle mondiale majeur au XXIème siécle.

Race for Life – The Acceptable Face of Sexism

Once again the time of year has come around when, as the skies are bluer, the birds are chirpier and the excuses to avoid spring cleaning are brought out with abandon, Cancer Research UK start running their TV advertising campaign to get people to sign up to run the Race for Life to raise much needed funds.

Now before the criticism comes flooding my way, let me just say that Cancer Research UK are a fantastic charity. The work they do raises extraordinary amounts of money for a cause that is more than likely to affect all of us, in some way or another, in our lifetimes. The platform they have established allows the message to be broadcast wider than ever before and awareness is at record levels. The Race for Life is a flagship event and one which raises millions every year and Cancer Research UK must be commended for this. Anything that raises that kind of money for a good cause on a national platform must surely be lauded.

Unfortunately, however, the Race for Life is also the only overtly sexist and discriminatory charity event that I can think of. I know men who have done the night-walk wearing a bra to raise money for the fight against breast cancer. I know women who have donned a wig and a beard for the awareness raising drives for testicular cancer charities. I do not, however, know one man who has done the Race for Life, despite knowing plenty who would happily do so. That is because men are not allowed. It is, as their website proudly boasts, ‘the largest women-only fundraising event in the UK’.

The advertising campaign shows tear-jerking images of women running the race with dedications stuck to their chests. They are all running it for people they know. ‘To my Mum, the bravest and the best’. There is no way anyone can fail to be moved by those simple words and it is things like that that make me feel, even as I write, a little uneasy about criticising. But criticise I must. There are millions of men across the country who have lost loved ones to cancer and who would dearly love to run, bedecked all in pink with a silly wig, with their dedication written on their chest. Excluding men from this event is simply awful and I fail to see how, year on year, it is allowed.

I would ask how many of you would be up in arms if a men-only event was launched. If a grieving woman was prevented from taking part in an event in memory of her husband, her brother or her Dad. Women have suffered at the hands of discrimination and sexism at the hands of men for centuries and it is right that we have anti-discrimination laws in place and that attitudes are changing. What that does not mean, however, is that we now have carte blanche to exclude men, many of whom feel hurt and angry at their grief and desire to take part is seen as less important, less significant than that of women. In 2012, the barring of people taking part in an event on the grounds of sex is simply unacceptable.

Cancer does not discriminate. Nor should the Race for Life.

Why Marriage Equality is our next once-in-a-generation change.

After the comments by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, the issue of gay marriage is on the lips of newsreaders, commentators and ordinary people up and down the country. Cardinal O’Brien has done his country a great service by bringing this issue to the fore and he was very right to do so. He is also right to say that laws introducing marriage equality would fundamentally change a concept that is so ingrained into our culture and consciousness. On every other count, including his use choice of words and ludicrously hyperbolic comparisons to the legalisation of slavery, he is wholly and fundamentally wrong. That is not a surprise, however. After all, Cardinal O’Brien comes from an institution whose politics, and I mean politics and not faith, lead it to stand against the right to use contraception, even to prevent the spread of HIV, and the right to divorce, even in cases of violence and abuse. It’s hardly a great shock, then, that he is not waving the rainbow flag and calling for universal LGBT rights.

But what the Catholic Church, and indeed the Church of England, thinks is their business and the state has no right to dictate to them. They are at liberty to afford the rites religious marriage to whomsoever they see fit. What they are not at liberty to do, however, is dictate to an elected Parliament how it should legislate on civil marriage. Speaking as a secularist Christian, thankfully the days in which religion holds such powerful sway over our national politics took their final breath along with the last millennium. Whilst the Cardinal and his ilk can and should state their opinion, what they think is really an irrelevance.

What actually matters is that this country, for probably the first time, has a Prime Minister, a Deputy Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition who not only support marriage equality but have the political will and the courage of their convictions to make it a reality. This could mark an historic change in this country, one that half a century ago seemed impossible. People are making the argument that this would mark a fundamental change in the way this country defines one of its oldest institutions. To them I say ‘Of course it will, that is why we must seize this chance’. The evolutionary progress of British politics is usually slow and I am a great advocate of the idea that it is our national small ‘c’ conservatism that has held our country together and prevented great crises for centuries. We come to points, however, on occasion where we must face the fundamental redefinition of an idea, a concept or an institution to something which, in the past, may have seemed unthinkable. We arrive at the point where things come to a head. We arrive at a position where we have to go against our conservative grain to do what is right. The ending of absolute monarchy, the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, rights for women, the National Health Service and the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the abolition of the death penalty all seemed to go against everything that was engrained in national ideas at the time but now are integral parts of what makes us proud of our country. Marriage equality is the next one of these once-in-a-generation steps.

There are those who argue that civil partnerships have given homosexual couples equal legal rights so we don’t need to afford them the right to fully define themselves as married. I say that this is precisely the reason we do need to afford them this right. There are now no legal barriers to overcome, the legislation is there and civil partnerships have not destroyed society like some of the doom-mongers claimed would happen. The practical step we have to take is actually a very small one but it’s one of immense significance. It would mean that homosexual couples not only have the right not to be discriminated against legally but also culturally. It would mean that homosexual love and commitment, now widely accepted across society, would be given that same sanctity that heterosexual love and commitment has. It’s not ‘gay marriage’ I believe in, it’s marriage. It’s the idea that two people could commit their lives to one another before the law, before friends and family and before the national emblem of our country regardless of their sexual orientation.As the Leader in today’s Times says, ‘Reforming the law to allow same-sex couples to marry would enrich an historic institution and expand the sum of human happiness’.

As a country we should be proud of the fact we have a Prime Minister who supports marriage equality and not surprised that it has Catholic priests who don’t. I profoundly hope that my generation’s children will not know what ‘gay marriage’ is, they’ll simply value the idea and the institution of marriage, whoever might be making the vows.

The Tories are right on the cap and Labour must wake up.

It feels distinctly odd to me to start this blog by writing about how the Conservatives are right on welfare but the cold hard truth is not only are they right but they’re in touch with the public on this issue too.

I am well aware of the importance of State Benefits, my own family have relied on them one way or another over the years, but, as one Tory MP put it in the Commons yesterday, Welfare has become an alternative lifestyle choice and not the safety net it was originally designed to be.

I agree with both the principle of the cap and the level at which it is to be set. £26k is equivalent to a yearly pre-tax salary of £35k which for many families, including my own, would be a dream level of income. It is frankly appalling that the state can hand out more than many families earn to people who have never worked and often whose parents and even grandparents have never worked either. Who can blame them, really, when Welfare pays better than work. Due to the failure of successive governments, this is the culture we now face in Britain and, as much as the Left may not like it, it is a ‘something for nothing’ culture.

I have heard it argued that a cap is unfair because most of it goes to private landlords, whose prices we cannot regulate. The majority of a low-income but working family’s money goes to private landlords too, or on now unaffordable mortgages sold during the boom years. It’s a non-argument. We hear how people may have to move because of the cap. This may well be the case, although you do wonder quite how exaggerated some of the more out of touch old-school Labour members’ figures might be, but why is this a bad thing? People who work have to move all the time for various reasons so why not people on benefit? If they are long-term unemployed, living in an unaffordable area and unable to find a job or pay the rent then surely it is in the best interests of themselves and their families to move, to settle somewhere else, to find employment and to set a working example for their children.

Whilst Government must intervene where there is child poverty or children are in distress or danger, it is up to parents to take responsibility. Having a child should be a decision taken with financial and employment factors taken into account. There should not be an attitude that the State will take care where parents fail. If the benefits cap hits a family three generations unemployed and used to being sustained by the State and forces them to move, perhaps a short distance perhaps a long one, to find work and make a new start then it is a necessary decision. It may hurt in the short term but could bring about a distinct change in culture than will benefit this country in the long run. Provided no-one is going hungry in their beds or being made homeless due to the actions of the State then it is up to the individual to take responsibility.

A Labour MP attacked the Government in the Welfare debate yesterday and quite frankly I was appalled that my Party is associating itself with her arguments. She says the Government’s plans may move people from social housing in to different accommodation if they have spare rooms. Well good! Quite why she sees this as a bad thing when there are so many families in work but struggling to pay private landlords due to a lack of available social housing is beyond me. If there is one couple living in a three bedroom house when a one bedroom property is available and a family qualify for social housing then surely it is the State’s duty to move them around. The State should provide for people’s needs, not their luxuries.

Yes there should be exceptions but these should be based on an appeals system on a case-by-case basis. Cancer patients, indeed anyone with a long-term illness, should not be forced to work or forced out of their home due to a cut in benefits and the Commons should ensure that this Bill does not do that.

But these are not the people that will be the most affected. The people most affected will be the workshy, the parents who show little to no interest in their children’s education or behaviour and continue to have children they cannot afford who will grow up seeing the life they can lead on State handouts compared to the effort of working. These are the people we should be targeting. If we are to return to a State that gives people a hand-up and not a handout, that encourages work over Welfare and ensures people do not get sucked in to a cycle of disillusionment and dependency then measures like this need to be taken. In the long run, it not only helps the nation’s finances but its prospects.

Labour should cotton on to this, to realise that if Miliband’s ‘Promise of Britain’ is not to be an empty one then they need to argue on the Living Wage, against cuts such as those to EMA which really do cause harm, on creating a new economy which inspires new growth, new jobs and new ideas. At the moment the Tories have the upper hand and I for one would have voted with the Government yesterday.