Thursday, 30 October 2014

5 Reasons to vote for Daisy Cooper

So, folks - it's that time again, Liberal Democrat internal elections! Not only is this an opportunity to run an election the way it should be run (this is a brief happy interlude in FPTP life for those interested in electoral reform), it's also a one-member-one-vote chance to elect the people that effectively steer our party. You'll be able to cast votes for various party committees and you'll also be able to vote for our next Party President.

I need to let you into a secret - I've been supporting Daisy Cooper for some months now. When I resigned my Council seat due to various issues including homophobic bullying, Daisy picked up the phone and listened to me. She wanted to know what the party had done to support me, and she wanted to know if there was anything the party could do in the future to make my situation less likely to occur. Do you know what was great? She GOT IT. She got that the Party hadn't been perfect in it's support, she got that it was about more than homophobia and her focus was protecting others from having to deal with the same issues. That's somebody I can get behind, but that was only the first reason. Here I'm going to list the others and ask you to consider giving her your first preference when ballot papers arrive this week.

1. Daisy knows what it's like to be on the ground right now. 

She isn't in the House of Lords, she hasn't been elected to all kinds of lofty positions within the Party. What Daisy has done is grafted. As the Parliamentary candidate for Suffolk Coastal in 2010, she added nearly 8% to our vote, but the important bit is what she's done since. Daisy is a campaigner through and through. She hasn't spent her campaign courting the media or rocking up wherever she thinks most members will be - she's been campaigning. Whether Chippenham or Clacton, Daisy has built her campaign by knocking on doors with our campaigners. Why? Because it's incredibly important that our Party President realises the challenges we're facing. I know a lot of LibDem members who are really angry, because they don't believe that HQ realises that the shit has hit the fan - Daisy does know, because she's been there, not as a candidate, but as a foot soldier. That experience counts for a lot.

2. She understands that our Party needs root and branch reform.

At a hustings at Conference, the other candidates seemed to be debating how soon it was right to enforce the findings of the Morrissey report. Daisy was clear -Morrissey didn't go far enough. In the face of allegations of abuse or inappropriate behaviour, Daisy gets that our Party was caught out. Her focus hasn't been on the particular characters at play in the current problems, it's been on what we can do to make sure it can't happen again.

Her idea is a great one. That each elected official or member of staff has a responsibility to report any form of inappropriate behaviour. It's brilliant, because it takes the pressure off the victim of the behaviour and means that a proper file of evidence can be put together before disciplinary procedures start. Daisy's approach would cut out the implicit victim-blaming that our current system is dogged by.

3. Daisy doesn't need schooling on LGBT+ issues.

There's a thing that happens when I mention that I'm a member of the LGBT+ community - people start talking about gay men. 'Oh yes! I've just been to a gay wedding!', 'I used to live in Brighton, it was great!'...

*tumbleweed* 

There's nothing that pisses me off more than people who assume that LGBT+ issues are gay issues. Here's the thing, the spousal veto isn't an issue that will affect my marriage, but it's something that will affect the lives of people that I care about. I'm not bisexual, but I care massively that bisexual friends of mine are almost excluded from the debate. I have pansexual loved ones, and it bothers me when people ask them constantly what the deal is. I want a President who doesn't need this kind of stuff explaining. 

When asked to submit statements to LGBT+ LibDems all three candidates responded. Sal Brinton made a very good point about the spousal veto but Liz Lynne started talking about 'Lesbian and Gay' people. Well, Liz, I'm sorry, but this isn't 1995 and we don't need that kind of accidental exclusion. 

Daisy has extensive experience of fighting for my community. When Commonwealth leaders discussed decriminalising homosexuality, it was because in part Daisy had been putting pressure on them to do it. As Director of the Commonwealth Think Tank she was part of forcing the arms of those who would rather ignore the fact that LGBT+ people exist. In her new job with Hacked Off, she works closely with Trans Media Watch to highlight the fact that beyond phone-hacking, our media is still completely skewed on these issues. 

She has a record on this, and it makes me so, so happy. 

4. She isn't on the Leader's team.  

Now, my friend Mathew often calls me a 'loyalist' because I don't tend to slag Nick Clegg off too much in public. But, I think there's an important role to be played by the President in being firm with the Leadership and properly representing the views of members. I personally won't vote for candidates for whom I think this position would end up being a conflict. I believe that Daisy is actually uniquely placed to make this work. 

She's sat on FE and so knows the inner workings of the Party, but it means she also knows the proper ways of challenging the direction in which the Party moves. I'm confident that as President she wouldn't cause distractions by publicly attacking Nick, but she would allow members voices to be heard around the negotiating table - that's important. 

5. We need to be the party of progress again.  

In 2010, the LibDems benefited from the fact that people saw that Nick Clegg understood their lives and their problems. Now, that's gone south a bit, but I don't believe that it's impossible for us to regain that position. 

It would say something really important about our Party if we elected a woman in her thirties who isn't an MP or peer to the position of Party President. Daisy doesn't have friends in high places. She doesn't have enough money being piled into her campaign to buy ads on LibDem Voice the week that ballots go out (really subtle that one...) - what she does have are ideas about how to really change our Party and take it forward. 

So, those are my five big reasons. Those are the things that will be in my mind when I cast my vote. I want to make it clear that I don't have anything against either Sal or Liz. Sal was incredibly supportive when I resigned and is a great candidate. Liz is a strong candidate too, I'm just concerned about whether she has enough aspiration for our Party, and I'm concerned that she hasn't properly answered questions raised recently about her past as MP for Rochdale.

I won't be crestfallen if any of the three candidates win - but if we're talking about properly moving our party into the future, about building the kind of Party that could get enough women elected to have a balanced cabinet and about building a Party that doesn't have 'black holes', Daisy has to get my vote. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Lynda Bellingham : Dignity in Death

On a particularly busy day at this year's LibDem Conference, I asked questions to Danny Alexander, Tim Farron and our leader Nick Clegg. It's the question to Nick that means most to me, however. In his Q&A I asked him if he would fight to ensure that parliamentary time would be put aside to debate assisted dying. He, to his credit told me that he would, but that he wasn't yet convinced of the arguments in favour of the issue - that's a kind of honesty that I like.

I care about assisted dying for a number of reasons. The main one is that my Mum has worked in caring roles with the elderly for most of my life. Growing up, it was quite normal for me to visit my Mum's place of work and play piano for her residents, or to speak to them about their lives - it's something that can really help those in the early stages of Alzheimer's. What that also meant was that I became quite used to the fact that every now and again my Mum would come home and tell me that a lady who I'd often spoken with had died. And here's the thing, I've also been fully aware that death isn't very often like falling asleep. Sometimes it is, but just as often somebody who dies has been manhandled awfully because paramedics tried of resuscitate, or they died in a way that will have removed almost all sense of dignity.

Almost worse than the dying, is the people that have to live with no sense of dignity. I've met enough people in my life whose existences became almost intolerable, all because we have a narrow health system and narrow attitude that would rather leave people to suffer than to give them help and support.

In this sense, the way that Lynda Bellingham dealt with the final stages of her life are a breath of fresh air. Her final interview, broadcast on Loose Women today was actually almost joyful to watch. Yes, it was sad, because she made it very clear that she intended to live until Christmas and spend time with her family, but it was also joyous because she was still absolutely herself. She was still the glamourous actress who talked on a daily basis about 'Mr Spain', she looked fantastic and she clearly was happy to spend such a touching time with women that she cared so much about.

She was also open about the fact that she'd been given a 'way out' - the option of taking pain-relieving medication that would probably end her life. She had taken ownership of that decision.

I'd like to see more movement on the issue of Assisted Dying, because I think whilst Lynda will have been able to help herself, many people aren't in that position. I understand the arguments and the need for safeguards, but I also understand the massive suffering that people go through because the law won't afford them another way. I'm glad that Nick agrees with me that it should be debated.

I hope that Lynda becomes a role model of how to deal with death. Rather than taking to her bed, or writing a 'bucket list', Lynda wrote letters to her children, she wrote a will and she made plans for the near future that seemed attainable. Those are pragmatic and dignified things to do - small measures that can be taken that say quite openly, death might be on it's way, but it'll be on my terms.

Lynda Bellingham was a wonderful woman. She became a household name through her acting roles - Oxo Mum or anything else - and she became a friend to people up and down the country who welcomed her into their homes every lunchtime. But to me, her real legacy could be a change in attitude toward death that allows us to talk about it all, and discuss things properly. In that case, Lynda's life will have been effervescent, but her passing will have made a lasting and meaningful mark too.

I don't know Lynda Bellingham's views on actual assisted dying, and wouldn't profess to, but you can get more information from Dignity in Dying by clicking here.