Hooray for gays

The House of Commons acquits itself well: a huge majority for equal rights. Good on David Cameron and the Conservative leadership for putting this through, which genuinely can’t have been easy within the Tory party.

 Two particularly moving speeches came from Stephen Gilbert and Mike Freer.

 The debate also showed the right wing (from all sides) at their most vile, curtain-twitching, and frankly creepy:

  • Most of them almost literally used the phrase ‘separate but equal’ with zero self-awareness or realisation about the baggage that concept has.

  • The old rich white men basically referred to their own poor wives as being primarily kept around for breeding purposes, which can’t have been particularly edifying for the women involved.

  • We got to enjoy some brazen hypocrisy from men on their own third marriages, serial adulteresses, and at least one Tory MP who cheats on his woman wife with men.

 The hero of the debate was David Lammy, who spoke with righteous anger against the bigots of the No camp:

 “There are still those who say it is unnecessary. “Why do we need gay marriage”, they say, “when we already have civil partnerships?” They are, they claim, “Separate but equal.” Let me speak frankly: separate but equal is a fraud. It is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. It is the motif that determined that black and white people could not possibly drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same table or use the same toilets. They are the words that justified sending black children to different schools from their white peers—schools that would fail them and condemn them to a life of poverty. It is an excerpt from the phrasebook of the segregationists and racists. It is the same statement, idea and delusion that we borrowed in this country to say that women could vote, but only if they were married and only when they were over 30. It is the same naivety that led to my dad being granted citizenship when he arrived here in 1956, but being refused by landlords who proclaimed, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”.”

 Also notable from the antis was a baffling assumption of their own victimhood. It’s hard to know how to deal with people like Stewart Jackson, who believes that giving gay people the right to marry is the literal equivalent of sending him, as a straight rich white man, to the back of the bus like Rosa Parkes, or the variety of bigots who whined that people were calling them bigots. I recently read a good blogpost called The Distress of the Privileged which highlights that it mostly isn’t these people’s fault that they’re like this, and that we should understand them and deal with the problem calmly and reasonably. I’m not sure about that; I don’t see why political violence is so frowned upon, and if they weren’t entirely irrelevant nowadays, culturally and legislatively, the guillotine would be a more efficient option.

 Prizes for the most LOLsome contributions go to:

  • Labour’s Madeline Moon, who seems not to understand how being an MP works: “You will be remembered if you vote for this Bill. You will be held to account for it. We will tell your friends and family and we will not vote for you.”? This is a free vote. Members should be voting with their conscience…. not on the basis of threats to electoral prospects.”

  • David Simpson (DUP) for sounding the Adam and Steve klaxon and causing the whole world to spasm with angry mirth.

  • Ian Paisley Jr for maybe the most convoluted logic even by the low low standards of the anti’s debate: He doesn’t care if gays love each other, because “there are many arranged marriages and many marriages are loveless, but those people are still in law and by law married.”

 I suppose I ought to mention the Lib Dem villains of the year: Alan Beith, Gordon Birtwistle, Sarah Teather and John Pugh.

The fact that any Liberal MP should vote in favour of discrimination and against equal civil rights for anybody is disgusting. I take it that this pretty much ends their careers in the party – I can’t imagine them ever living it down. I’d also expect party members to remember this when they are deciding how to volunteer their time. Gordon Birtwistle and Sarah Teather in particular are going to have major fights on their hands in the next election. I suggest we all leave them to it.

Published in: on February 6, 2013 at 12:37 am  Leave a Comment  

The Lib Dems should be the party of manufacturing

An article by William Hobhouse on Liberal Democrat Voice, The Lib Dems should be the party of manufacturing, reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write a post on this subject for ages. Because he’s right: we should

Hobhouse writes:

“Liberal Democrats are excellently placed as a party to champion the rebalancing of the British economy back towards manufacturing. Unlike the Conservatives, we are not tied to financial and Eurosceptic interests. We are a pragmatic party of business and wealth creation unlike Labour, and in the manufacturing heartlands our MPs already stand for jobs and renewed identity.”

Our biggest government department is Business, Innovation and Skills, with Vince Cable at the helm. In a recession, this should be the most important position in the Government for providing leadership to the country. As the Lib Dem Voice article points out, Vince has done some sterling stuff… but it has not been built into a narrative for the party.

And we have a grand narrative.

We are the industrial revolution. We are free trade. That was us: British Liberalism. Our ideological forebears created the modern world.

It is widely agreed (though not entirely fairly) that British manufacturing is in a century-long state of decline. Only Liberals have the ideological and intellectual basis, not to mention the glorious history of creating the first industrial empire, to wrench it from its torpor.

The Conservatives? They were practically made to support the landed aristocracy. It’s the same today, except the landed people they represent are those homeowners who don’t want their house prices affected by volume housebuilding, or their scenic views hurt by new industrial developments.

Labour? Their name being more or less vestigial, they now exist purely to create conditions of state dependency as a form of vote-purchasing. They put themselves in hock to big finance, and fostered unsustainable and unproductive economic booms, to get the cash to do it. In any case, they are an irrelevance: nobody believes that they could get this country making or doing.

Manufacturing and economic revitalisation should be our brand. It’s time to reclaim it. It’s what will resonate as a unifying theme through the rest of this Parliament and into the 2015 election.

Everything we already care about fits into this paradigm.

When we talk about the environment we can sound effete and metropolitan. We shouldn’t. It’s about making Britain energy-independent. Creating power. Launching off-shore wind from the docks in Hull and Middlesborough. Fighting nimbys (be they in commuter barn-conversions or on great estates) on behalf of literal electricity. Ringing the country with new power lines and mills that our industrial heroes wouldn’t have flinched at.

The High Speed Rail lines should be fought on the same basis. It’s a plan practically Victorian in its grandeur: our heritage. Someone needs to stand in St. Pancras chomping on a cigar like Isambard Kingdom Brunel to make that point, if that’s what it takes.

Free Movement

Labour have been trying to outdo the Tories with dogwhistle racism that should make all liberals gag with distaste.

Let’s not be shy about supporting the free movement of people. If people want to come here to work, we should welcome that unashamedly. Industry isn’t a zero-sum game. Immigration restrictions are already hurting some of our best universities, stifling our scientific advance.

By arguing for a renewed industrial identity, we have a solid ground from which to challenge Miliband and other conservatives on immigration.

Free Trade abroad

As the Lib Dem Voice article points out, this is where our long-standing internationalism comes into its own. Tory Eurosceptics dream of autarky. Labour talk up protectionism: British jobs for British people. Liberals want to work constructively with Europe and other markets to open them to British imports. Even international aid can be framed in this narrative: supporting investment abroad as something that’s good for our exporters.

Free Thinkers

We have put good education policies in place through the Coalition- the pupil premium, for example. But I’d bet it’ll come to naught electorally, because if Gove achieved nothing else with his O-level announcement, it was to reveal that the Liberal Democrats have no narrative when it comes to education, other than that we think it’s important.

The Tories can talk about turning the clock back to the 50s, with grammar schools and compulsory Latin – and it’s here that their appeal (?) lies. I suggest that we can weave our educational narrative around manufacturing by way of contradistinction.

We can talk about the Midlands Enlightenment and the Lunar Society – the intellectual movement that really made this country great. A deliberate focus upon practice, and the adaptation of science to useful ends. To put it in terms that Gove and Boris could understand, the Techne to their Episteme.

If the Tories want Latin and a Gradgrindish repetition of facts, we should talk about computer programming and applied sciences and equipping people to be enquiring and innovative in practical ways. Rigorous vocational training.

The Long Term

Because this isn’t just about taking leadership in the current recession, or surviving the 2015 General Election.

There is another industrial revolution about to hit, with new paradigms that will be as disruptive and transformative as the (our) last one.

Additive manufacturing, 3D printing, bio-scale assemblers and sequencers: distributed, on-shore, artisanal manufacturing. Physical and even biological things are going to become as replicatable as the internet has made intellectual property.

Cory Doctorow described Hollywood and the music industry as “the first belligerents in a century-long war”. The new industrial revolution is going to be opposed tooth and nail by “lobbies and interest groups that are far more influential than Hollywood and big content are on their best day.” They are going to be using all their money and power to try and get the Government to stifle this innovation in manufacturing, to impose regulatory and criminal-legal blocks to this new industrial revolution.

We need a political movement that doesn’t bow and scrape to vested interests, that is willing to craft laws on patents, intellectual property, and copyrights that support innovation. If Britain is to get the start on the new industrial revolution that we had on the last one, vested interests will need to be fought, and old orders broken down.

What do you know – I think that’s a job for us again. Only us.


What fortune, then, that our current leader sits in Sheffield. The great cities of our industrial empire should be the backdrop to our cause. We have rugged stuff to do.

Published in: on June 25, 2012 at 11:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Up yours, Delors

I didn’t start this blog to gripe about Lib Dems doing dumb stuff, but those MEPs and Lords mouthing off to the media about Cameron’s Brussels veto are making our party look like naiive Euro-Federalists with no regard for our national interest. Oakeshott, Davies et al are running against the grain of public opinion and the press are seizing on this to damage the Lib Dems.

On the substantive issue, all the OMG about the veto is as much froth. This won’t change Britain’s relationship with the EU on a fundamental level: Europe needs Britain, Britain needs Europe. Most countries joined the EU for free trade and the common market, not French protectionism or German domination.

Whipping up a frenzy over the issue is purely domestic politics, on all sides: the British right wants to present this as a victory; Sarkozy has an election coming up, so has domestic reasons of his own for giving Cameron the cold shoulder and railing against the City of London. Diplomacy sometimes involve sticking to your negotiating positions. Compromise is not always possible. There wasn’t a politician around that negotiating table who didn’t understand that.

The British public are broadly Eurosceptic, and Cameron will have won himself a great deal of support. You only have to look at the popular press to see that. The media is also entirely hostile to the Liberal Democrats, so it’s no surprise that they are encouraging Europhile Lib Dems commit political automutliation on our behalf.

So we have extremist Europhiles Chris Davies MEP and Lord Oakeshott going on TV claiming to represent the Liberal Democrats. We have “senior Liberal Democrats” (although this could mean anything) briefing the press anonymously that this means that Clegg may not be able to control the party any more, there will be a Lib Dem revolt over this, and the UK government will fall. I believe that all they are doing is confirming public suspicions that the Lib Dems are not sound on Europe.

I don’t even vote Lib Dem in European elections, and I’m obviously not the only one: in the 2009 Euro elections the Lib Dems got 13% of the vote and came fourth. There are huge numbers of Lib Dem voters and members who still can’t stomach Chris Davies and our MEP contingent.

It’s always worth mentioning that Nick Clegg’s chapter in the Orange Book is about the EU, and remains one of the best statements of a liberal, British position on Europe that I have ever read. It starts from the position that the EU is broadly a good thing, but that it is an imperfect system and still in desperate need of reform.

British interests need fighting for, and it’s hard to see how any liberal could agree to a treaty that legislates against democratic, local budgeting decisions and enshrines in international law a strictly European People’s Party view of economic governance.

MPs like Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes are doing a good job of presenting a sensible liberal position on this, but their work is being undermined by noisy, unpopular Federalists.

Published in: on December 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm  Comments (2)  

Lib Dem villains of the month: Bob Russell and Mike Hancock

I’m pretty sure that no Liberal Democrat members volunteered time and money to put people into Parliament so that they could join notorious crook/idiot Keith Vaz MP in trying to ban computer games

But this month Bob Russell and Mike Hancock co-sponsored an EDM essentially calling for a ban on Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, which is to say a ban on letting adults choose how they entertain themselves.

It’s hard to tell why they would do this. Maybe there was a splash about it in the Daily Mail or something. Maybe Hancock is concerned that the game portrays Russian spies in a bad light, just when he’s trying to rehabilitate their reputation as sexy secretaries rather than gun-toting fiends.

Of course this is nothing more than an EDM, the most pointless of Parliamentary documents, written by a dumbass and essentially signifying nothing, but as Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee Croshaw put it, if someone who wants to legislate the censorship of arts and culture gets elected, then the next thing you know you’re picking jackboots out of your teeth.

It’s worth remembering that politicians all over the world, even those who call themselves Liberals, are gagging to regulate culture, and may one day require an organised response – such as the Video Game Voters Network in the USA.

In the meantime, though, it would be nice if some liberal Liberal Democrats could sign up to Tom Watson’s anti-censorship amendment to the motion, just to counterbalance the embarrassing actions of Bob and Mike. Julian Huppert to the rescue?

Published in: on November 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm  Comments (3)  

Lib Dem villain of the month: Annette Brooke

There’s a sentence I never predicted that I would write. Still, what else would you call an MP who is proposing a bill that would criminalise valid parenting choices solely in order to suppress environmentally friendly and healthy travel options?

Her new Private Member’s Bill– the Cycles (Protective Headgear for Children) Bill- will make it mandatory for children under 14 to wear cycle helmets when cycling on roads and in open spaces.

If I somehow became responsible for a child under 14 who was learning to ride a bike, I would try and get them to wear a helmet. If there’s one thing a helmet is good for, it’s for people who aren’t steady on two wheels and might be expected to fall off. But that would be my choice. We already have two paternalistic parties in this country: we don’t need Liberal Democrats joining in the game of who can interfere most in private decisions.

Ms. Brooke: parents do not need your help to raise their children responsibly. I say this in the nicest possible way, but please do fuck off.

The main, perhaps only, effect this bill would have would be to stop children cycling.

Going out on our streets is not an extreme sport.

In fact, it’s not legally required for you to wear a helmet while actually doing extreme sports, like skateboarding or parkour stunts. I can’t think of any other area of civilian life where the Government intervenes to force you legally to wear protective padding.

So if you make cycling out to be one of the most dangerous things a person can do, how will that encourage people to take it up? If the Government made it compulsory to wear Kevlar body armour to visit, say, Glasgow, do you think a) more, or b) fewer people would visit the city?

This will reduce the number of children cycling. And if children don’t learn to love cycling we can expect that when those children are adults, even fewer of them will choose to make healthy and environmentally-friendly travel choices.

Cycling is not dangerous. To the extent that it is dangerous, it’s the fault of bad drivers, negligent traffic police, and poor municipal traffic planners. Maybe Ms. Brook could have used her incredibly precious opportunity to sponsor a Private Member’s Bill to tackle that.

At this point, I would like to pronounce my Lib Dem heroes of the month: Firstly, sir Alan Beith, who has used his Private Members Bill to tackle blind spots on lorries.

Secondly, Julian Huppert, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentarty Cycling Group, who said of Ms. Brooke’s plan: “The Lib Dem transport team disagrees with her. I’ve tried to persuade her! Lib Dem (& coalition) policy is not to have compulsory helmets.”

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm  Comments (6)  

Resisting the lure of protectionism

I’m living in Derby at the moment, so have been particularly conscious of the news that new carriages for Thameslink will be built by German firm Siemens rather than local firm Bombardier. Well, I say local. German/Canadian, actually, as if you couldn’t tell by the rum foreign way everyone pronounces it. Still, it means the loss of 446 permanent jobs and 983 temporary contract staff, which is sad for a city that’s already struggling.

What has been still sadder, though, is the protectionist rhetoric that the decision has prompted.

Bob Crow and the RMT today announced that they are considering a legal challenge to the decision. The general response from the popular press has been to demand British jobs for British people. Local Labour MPs Chris Williamson and Margaret Beckett have been doing the same. Which I suppose is fair enough– they could hardly be expected to do otherwise. But the Shadow Cabinet have also jumped on the protectionist bandwagon, which is the height of irresponsibility from the Labour Party.

Most of the Tory argument has been evasive – just noting that the previous Labour Government wrote the tender rules and are technically responsible, and noting that Labour also left the incoming Government with a project 16 years overdue and £600 million over budget. Fair enough, but good on Philip Hammond for also making the point of principle in the House: “I firmly believe that free trade and open markets are the best way for us to proceed.”

Shirley Williams was a hero on Question Time last week, making the case for Free Trade:

“I’m going to say something very unpopular: think very hard before you go for protectionism. We have thousands of people in this country who work for German firms, French firms, Japanese firms, and they have on the continent thousands of people who work for British firms. If you want to start down this train, I’ll tell you exactly what will happen: you will lose at least as many jobs as you’ll gain. If you bring in protectionism, you’ll see the 1930s back again.”

The World Depression was caused and exacerbated by protectionist policies.

We need world trade- free trade. It will be vital to the country and the world’s economic recovery.

If you’ve ridden the railway in South Africa recently, you may have been on a train manufactured at the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works. Likewise if you’ve been to Taiwan. If you’ve traveled on a high-speed train in Switzerland, Italy, or China, ridden the light rail in Madrid or Melbourne, been on the Metro in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, or a tram in Strasbourg or Milan, it may have been one of those designed by one of the hundreds of design engineers employed at the Derby plant.

Which is to say, British manufacturing relies on exports as well as the home market. What would have happened in Derby if the government in Pretoria had demanded on a policy of South African jobs for South Africans?

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 12:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Are Labour preparing to sabotage Lords reform?

Hilary Benn has written an ominous piece on Labourlist. He ostensibly supports the principle of reforming the House of Lords to make it more democratic… but his carefully constructed wording suggests that Labour are preparing the ground to sabotage the whole process to score cheap political points.

Benn writes:

“The Labour Party is firmly committed to a 100% elected House of Lords, and therefore what we will look for in the government’s Bill is whether it provides for a wholly elected second chamber. … how could anyone contemplate reforming our system on any other basis than full democracy?”

The hypocrisy is obviously staggering. How could anyone contemplate reforming our system on any other basis than full democracy? I don’t know, Benn, you were the one in power for thirteen years who, rather than reforming our system on the basis of full democracy, oversaw the greatest expansion of political patronage in modern British history.

Given that there isn’t a majority in the House for a fully elected Upper Chamber, we are likely to be presented with a compromise bill with an 80% elected chamber and the appointment of cross-bench peers. It’s not ideal or perfect, but as the Conservatives are the largest party in Parliament, this should be considered a massive victory for Clegg and a thoroughly worthwhile reform.

But now we can expect Labour to vote this down on the basis of their suddenly-discovered love of “full democracy”. Combined with the votes of the reactionary Tory right, this will sink Lords reform.

If and when this happens, I hope liberals will realise that, as with the AV referendum, Labour are trying to wreck even the good things the Coalition is doing for their own narrow political ends. I hope we remember that in their thirteen years in power Labour amply demonstrated that they have no love for democracy.

And, most importantly, I hope that all liberals remember that, however they may prattle on about their “principles”, the Labour party, from the very top to the very bottom, are a bunch of bastards who have no higher goal than to screw us over.

Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 10:11 pm  Comments (1)  

AV loss is good for the Liberal Democrats

The alternative vote system would have been a disaster for the Liberal Democrats.

What we are seeing in the local elections and the recent opinion polls are the birth pangs of the liberal party as a serious party of Government.

The Liberal Democrats were never going to win an overall majority and enter Government alone. Eventually, we were going into coalition. And this was going to involve sloughing off part of our vote: the part that never wanted us to be in power.

The Liberal Democrats were treated as a bin for protest votes, a ‘none of the above’ vote. Most perniciously, we won single-issue votes from people who don’t share, or in many cases were actively opposed to, liberalism as an ideology. Many of these people would have realised they disagreed with the Lib Dem manifesto, if they’d read it. This includes a lot people who voted for us because we happened to make the right call on the Iraq War.

A lot of council votes were based on time-honoured Lib Dem skills of pointing at potholes and then getting them fixed. Or, in urban seats, particularly in London and the North, because the Liberal Democrats represent a competent alternative to disastrous, corrupt, and bankrupt Labour councils.

All this is ok, because however they get into power Liberal Democrats do liberal things. But its too precarious without a real ideological support base behind it.

I think that in the long term, coalition with the Tories is significantly less harmful than coalition with Labour would have been. Labourism is more offensive to liberals than Toryism. With the Tories we have essentially only had to compromise on tuition fees, which is merely a policy, not a principle. With Labour, we would have had to compromise on real principles, including respect for individual freedom and choice, civil liberties and the principle of subsidiarity.

A coalition with Labour would have deprived us of the voters that never wanted us to be serious about power – but with the same blow it would have deprived us of our distinctive liberal ideology.

Our true task, which I think Nick Clegg recognises, is to build ourselves an ideological core base. The only way we can be secure in power is if enough people vote Liberal for liberalism. Our current polling probably represents the extant British liberals – and while it’s lower than we would like, it represents a start. Clegg has been a good leader because at all times he has consistently put across a distinctive liberal ideology. The height of Cleggmania maybe represents the amount of people this speaks to: our potential core, even if they are not liberals yet.

AV would have made the Lib Dems forever aspire to be the mushy centrist party that is everyone’s second preference. This would have seriously harmed our true task: to create and nurture an ideologically liberal society.

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (3)