Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Free School Meals - a defence of Nick Clegg

Having worked in education, and about to start my teacher training, I find the row about the rollout of Free School Meals incredibly frustrating. Whether it's Nick Harvey who seems (perhaps rightly) put out that he wasn't given fair warning of the change, or Labour calling out LibDem hypocrisy in Southwark one thing is clear to me - they're all missing one very clear point. 

A study was carried out, and it found that young people in modern Britain are falling behind because they can't rely on a warm meal every day. That's shocking, and I for one am glad that Clegg is standing up and doing something about it. 

But that isn't all. I spoke to somebody on the doorstep who told me how awful it was that children arrived at Primary School not knowing how to write their name - I couldn't bring myself to tell her that I'd seen children who had to be chaperoned to the loo as they couldn't take care of themselves. Or that there were Primary School age children who fell asleep at desks because they'd stayed up late the night before playing Call of Duty. It seems to me that there's been a horrible forgetfulness surrounding Primary education and the state of our society. 

One of the things I applaud most about New Labour is their Sure Start policy. I think it's made a difference in incredibly deprived communities like the one I grew up in and now represent. But it doesn't go the whole way. Regularly, I've seen students who aren't getting even their basic needs met at home - whether that be decent meals, clean clothing or emotional support. The Free School Meals policy won't address all of those problems (we'd need a far more radical reform to combat that issue - an issue that Liberal Democrats shouldn't shy away from) but what it will do is ensure that the very basic level of care is given by the state. It will also mean an end to the stigma attached to 'Free School Meals pupils' by their classmates. 

What's happened around this policy is one of the things that I find most difficult about the way that politics works. This policy will make a great difference to young people up and down the country, and it will stop the singling out of children from lower economic backgrounds in front of their classmates. But no, it's a slanging match about who knew first*, or it's an argument about whether it had been referred back three times in the nineties. I think we'd be a much happier party, if just occasionally, we sat back and thought that we'd done a good job. 

This is just one such occasion. There, I said it. Well done, us. 

* In fairness to Nick Harvey, I imagine that what was a perfectly reasonable comment about not knowing about the decision was taken out of context - plus ça change.

Friday, 22 November 2013

How about we all leave Lily Allen alone?

Now, as a number of you might have noticed, I'm a man. I can't help it - I was born this way. And so, some of you might argue that I shouldn't really have a view on this, or that it isn't my place to start 'getting involved'. I also consider myself a feminist - which only works to confuse things further. But, a lot of the stuff I've read about Lily Allen's latest single, 'Hard out here' is such rubbish, that I feel the need to take it down a peg or two. Yes, it might not be my place to say anything, but it's never stopped me before, so let's begin.

Lily Allen is a pop star. She makes pop music. She didn't write The Feminine Mystique, that was Betty Friedan. They're different people. She didn't write The Female Eunuch, either, because that was Germaine Greer and I'm sure they've both been in the same room at the same time. Lily Allen has released two albums to date, one of which contained a song joking about the size of her ex-partner's penis. I know this because I once bought a copy of the album from a supermarket for £4.99.

Unlike Betty Friedan or Germaine Greer, or whoever, people don't expect Lily Allen to always talk about feminism. People expect her to make music and sing sometimes and occasionally launch ill-advised chat shows on BBC3 (remember that? Sorry if you, like me, are still having harrowing flashbacks). That's why I think that a lot of the scorn heaped at Lily is ill-advised. Her single, 'Hard out here' has been lambasted by stalwarts of the female left because it abandons the sisterhood, ignores the singer's privilege and because the video is racist. Now, I'm not talking about the video, because that's a whole different question, but I will have a go at the song.

Our beloved Suzanne Moore wrote in the Guardian 'As hard as it might be here, I still know it's a damn sight harder for some bitches than others.' Moore's argument focuses on the idea that Lily should be more aware of her own background before preaching about womens' issues, and especially the way black women are portrayed in pop. Essentially, she's wearing a big badge reading 'Check your privilege', she's smiling, and she's tapping it.

Another talking head wrote about Lily abandoning he
r sisters - a cardinal feminist sin. Admittedly, this is a sticking point, albeit one I'll forgive. The lyrics do read 'don't need to shake my ass for you, 'cause I've got a brain'. Does it suggest that she's better than a dancer? Yes. Does it judge people who, after years of training, are paid to dance in music videos? Yes it does. Is the criticism fair? I don't think so.

And this is the crux of it. If a self-identifying feminist firebrand had come out and started talking about dancers in that way, I'd be first in line to argue against them. But, Lily Allen isn't any of those things. As I said, she's a pop star. She hasn't done a thesis on the Male Gaze. She might not understand why people like Suzanne Moore (and myself, on occasion) walk around tapping 'priv' badges and glaring. And that's fine. Is this a faultless message of female empowerment? No. It's problematic in many ways. But, it will do more good than all of the establishment hand-wringing. Let's consider the reality. If I spoke to a fifteen year old girl about male privilege, it probably wouldn't be a very engaging conversation. But, she might listen to this song and think, for the first time, that other women get just as pissed off about their representation as she does.

That's powerful.

Issues of privilege or status are all well and good, but we must remember that most people don't listen to Woman's Hour. Most people wouldn't know who Femen were if they protested in front of them. But, most people do know who Lily Allen is and they feel kinship with her perspective. It seems important that we consider the exclusivity of the feminist intelligentsia. As with mainstream politics, messaging is key, and the message isn't worth anything unless people understand it. Lily's new single may be problematic, but it's a message that's going out loud and clear to a new generation of feminists and I, for one, am glad about it.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Deleting Political History - what would Shirley Bassey say?

As Dame Shirley Bassey once said 'it's all just a little bit of history deleting' (okay, she didn't say quite that...) but this bit of deletion seems to have got Labour and the Conservatives into hot water. News that both of the major parties have deleted their website archive of speeches going back into the last administration is hardly surprising, but it sends worrying messages about the way our politics works.

Clearly, rather than having their own words spouted back at them, Labour and the Conservatives would rather try and pretend it never happened. 'An end to boom and bust' - gone. 'We cannot afford it' - Cameron on tax thresholds - all forgotten. The problem I have, is that deleting these things online suggests that nobody will remember any of it. It smacks of the fact that many people in positions of power seem to think the general public is stupid. If it isn't in black and white, it can't be proven and it didn't happen.

It's all wrong*.

I'm a great believer in political record. I campaign on my political record and my electoral chances live or die by it. People know what I'm for and what I'm against, and if they don't agree, they don't have to vote for me. The danger here, is that political records are being deleted as we speak - in the case of the Tories, they're also being wiped from search engines. If political records don't exist, how can we be properly informed?

My feeling is, whatever they try, they can't hide from the British public. I will never forget that Labour took us to war every couple of years. I will never forget Section 28, or the continued vilification of single parent families. Neither do the public when they cast their votes (or, indeed, stay at home).

My message is simple. Build your record, stand by it, and fight. As Delia would say, 'Let's be 'avin you.' If you need to constantly redesign your own record and rewrite your own history, it's no surprise that people have trouble trusting you. All parties will have to do a lot more than deleting web pages before many people trust them again.

* Images are different. I withhold the right to delete awkward pictures of myself, including anything with me accidentally photobombing and that one where I went to that party as Amy Winehouse.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

'Marine A' killing betrays our Armed Services

The killing of a Taliban insurgent by a British Troop is not an entirely rare occurance. Years after we invaded, our servicemen and women still fight in Afghanistan, attempting to enforce some kind of lasting peace. What doesn't happen every day, is that a wounded Taliban insurgent is killed at point blank range by a British servicemen, aided by colleagues.

The Telegraph is, today, running a petition begging leniency for Marine A - suggesting that the events were 'manslaughter' at best and that these things shouldn't be a surprise in the 'pressure cooker' of war. I have to admit, that the Telegraph has never been lower in my estimation. We should not be lead to believe that what happened here was manslaughter. What happened here, was that a man in British uniform told a wounded human being to 'shuffle off this mortal coil, you c**t', before discussing how best he and his colleagues should go about killing the man. 'Shoot him in the head' suggested one marine, 'too f**king obvious' was the reply. I am the first to accept the idea of pressureised warfare - I'm the first to argue that our country has a shameful record of supporting those in uniform when they return from war. Our shocking record on PTSD stands alone. That doesn't however, excuse the actions of these men.

The vast majority of our armed forces is made up of men and women who want to do their bit. That's it. It isn't political, it's very very rarely about killing people - it's about serving Queen and country for better or worse. It's testament to this end, that we so rarely hear servicemen giving critical views on what I'd argue has been a hopeless war from the outset. Our men and women in uniform tend to get on with business. This murderous act, however, betrays those men and women. Worse still, it plays into the hands of those we argue we're fighting against.

The fact that Marine A himself said at the time to keep things quiet - 'I've just broken the Geneva Convention' beggars belief. This is a man who knew the boundaries, who was aware of them at the time of his action, but ignored them entirely. That is not, in my view, the action of a proud British serviceman. Coming so close to Remembrance, this issue is particularly poignant. Two distant relatives of mine died in the First World War - and why? Because they believed that by doing so, they were protecting the things that the British held dear.

We should stand in the world, as an agent for fairness. Even at war, we should maintain the basic human standards afforded by the Geneva Convention. Whilst our reasons for being in Afghanistan become more unclear by the day - the conduct of the vast majority of our men and women in uniform shouldn't be betrayed and besmirched by acts of this kind. These men didn't show concern for fairness, or kindness - for right and wrong.

In arguing against the acts of Marine A and his colleagues, I'm not arguing against the work of the men and women of the British Military. I'm arguing that we should never allow the positive records of our armed services to be sullied by disgraces of this kind. I hope that Marine A and his colleagues are treated in exactly the same way anybody else would be if they were guilty of such crimes. The pressures of war are one thing - but this is another entirely.

Further reading - the two sides.
An excoriating piece from Yasmin Alibhai Brown
The petition from The Telegraph

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

M&S & BHS : are Britain's leading ladies dying?

I'm going to let you into a secret - I love department stores. It's odd really, because I don't have enough money to shop in them and my family have never been big Department shoppers - but I can't resist. I found myself with a few hours to spare the other day whilst in Bath and did a bit of window shopping. Invariably, what this means is mooching around department stores, looking at what they have and thinking about where I could buy it cheaper.

I first walked around Debenhams (probably my favourite at the moment, if I'm going to be honest) then Marks & Spencer and then BHS. I have to admit that it went from the sublime to the ridiculous and so when I heard this week that M&S clothing sales were flagging still, and that BHS looks set to be bought out by a foreign millionaire I wasn't entirely surprised. The whole thing reminded me of something that Margaret Thatcher said - 'I can't bear Britain in decline'. Walking around BHS in particular, it struck me that what I saw was a proud institution that had been brought to its knees.

It seems to me that the problems M&S are experiencing are actually a little bit easier to solve than those at BHS. First of all, the M&S brand still resonates really well. M&S Food seems to be propping up the business, and I think this could be the saving grace. Shopping at M&S Food is aspirational but it's still connected somewhere to value for money. That's important. At a time where people are increasingly worried about what's in their food, M&S still do provide a safe haven where people can feel that they're getting what they paid for. Similarly, M&S as a brand still means something. It hasn't faded to the point that it only means something to its elderly customers. I think what it does need to deal with is the fact that it doesn't really have a face, or an identity.

Mulling this over the other day, it occurred to me that really what they need is a slight repositioning. You just know, that there will be M&S staff who have been there for decades, who care passionately about the place they work. Gathering some of these stories, positioning M&S retail as something constant - with you for life - under a banner of something like 'We are M&S' would position it in that sweet spot of British continuity, but also leave room for updating. It would accept something that seems to have been ignored - that people want to shop at M&S, not because of Twiggy or because the clothes are incredibly good, but because it's what their family has done, and because it's comforting in a time of change to have someone to rely on.  Looking around, a lot of their Autumn/Winter range was actually really lovely, the floorsets however were a bit of a disaster. Here, they could learn from Debenhams who really are at the top of their game when it comes to presenting things.

So, for M&S I think it's all still to play for. When it comes to BHS, I worry if it might be too late. BHS was bought by Philip Green in 2000 and now sits as part of the Arcadia group with rumours abounding that it could be bought out by a wealthy foreign businessman. If I were him, I'm not sure I'd part with the money unless I was up for a bit of a fight. Where M&S has great brand recognition, and still (I believe) holds a place in peoples hearts, BHS doesn't have that to fall back on. BHS doesn't really mean anything to me, it doesn't mean quality, it doesn't mean heritage. At best, it's the place that my Nan might go to buy fitted sheets. That in itself is a really bad thing. BHS is British Home Stores - it should be the place to go to buy things for the Great British Home. The name in itself talks about quality and britishness. If I were an ad man, there would be endless fun, quirky things you could do with that.

Getting kitsch in the kitchen
Yet - instore, what do we have? When I visited the Bath store, I was confronted with a Christmas gift display not too dissimilar to the one at Debenhams, only that this one seemed positioned just close enough to the door that it was a bit of a confrontation. A bit like M&S, some of the Christmas merchandise was really great but you wouldn't have known because you couldn't really see any of it. Similarly, some of their Home section was really beautiful. They had mock fairisle, flannelette bed linen that just looked like Christmas in a bed. Similarly, whilst the name 'Maison Vintage' just makes me want to cry, the products were actually really well done. Of course, none of this means anything if you can barely see the products, and none of this means anything if you have to trawl through endless racks of rubbish before you can find any of the gems.

In Bath, I found some very quaint cereal tins printed with retro Cornflakes and Rice Crispies
designs. What I don't mention is that they were on a crowded plinth with measuring cups, right next to a rack of woks, right in front of a shelving unit full of toasters. Oddly enough, if I went in to buy a wok, I probably wouldn't buy a matching toaster. The whole thing was a nightmare. Similarly, before I could fight my way to the till (fighting through stupidly placed concessions that is, not through throngs of happy shoppers) I had to clamber past rack upon rack of bargain basement CDs. Now, I like Elton John as much as the next shopper - but by the time I've finished at BHS, I just wanted to leave.

I hope that whatever happens to BHS, it can still be improved and brought back to it's former glory. It's the same with M&S - there is a faded glory there that could be capitalised on. The shame, I think, is that the products and pricing are actually very reasonable. These giants just need to navigate the market and start to carve a position for themselves again. Like Thatcher, I hate to see Britain in decline and I hope that our leading ladies get a new lease of life rather than a long overdue retirement.

* I'll be putting my inner Mary Portas back in her box shortly, just in case you were worried.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Winter Woes

This is winter in my mind, warm, cosy and with
lots of snow that you never have to actually come
into contact with. Last year, the snow left my
partner stranded on a bus to Shepton Mallet -
somethingI'd never wish upon anybody!
Not a great long essay, just a thought I had.

A while back, I thought I was alone in how winter made me feel. Some people argue that it's Seasonal Affective Disorder, some people think I just take too much notice of the seasons but what can't be denied is how horrible and hopeless this particular change of season leaves me feeling. What I've come to realise is how it's not just me. A great many people find the move toward winter a difficult time, and it's especially so in people I know who deal with mental health issues.

In that sense, just as, when it snows, we're told to check on a neighbour - perhaps it's the right time of year to check in on a friend you know is having a rough time. I personally find winter a time when it's difficult to find much hope in anything, and I also know what a difference it can make to know that somebody is looking out for you.

Give it a go - you never know what you might start.

Political ramblings will resume shortly.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Blurred Lines - The Summer of Sex.

There have been endless thoughts, musings and judgements over the summer over right and wrong - they're unquestionably linked with this piece, but it isn't really the same question I'm asking.

Little did they believe her when she said 'I'll be doing
this a lot from now on...' :-P
Is it right for Miley Cyrus to dance doggy-style in front of a largely teenage audience? Is Robin Thicke right to want to 'domesticate' a woman? None of these questions are for me to answer. Firstly, because, I'm not in a position to tell anybody what to do. But also, because, after a lot of privilege checking and soul-searching, I'm not in Miley's position, I don't have her experience, likewise, I'm certainly not Robin Thicke - these people make their own choices. I'm Sam, I live in Somerset and I've never twerked a day in my life.

I think the issue that is more interesting and more productive, is also less about judging people.

It seems to me that a lot of the public debates we're having at the moment are stopping short of the real questions. Is it right that The Sun still shows bare breasted women on Page 3? Is it right that I can turn on the TV at any time of the day or night and see Miley swinging naked on a wrecking ball? All of these questions fall short. To me, the question is about the blurred lines of sexual content and the problems that blurring presents us with.

It seems that the content, as it were, isn't the issue. People have been getting naked to sell records for decades now. When I was young, Robbie Williams was stripping down to very little to try and shift copy of Rock DJ. In the eighties, Madonna was testing the boundaries of how much the public actually wanted to see. This latest spate isn't really surprising. Miley Cyrus' antics this summer don't really cause me moral panic, it just tells me that the 'Good Girl gone Bad-a-tron' has whirred into life again - taking in middle-America's country sweetheart and spitting out the twerking, wailing thing we have now. It happened to Rhianna before her, and Britney, and most of the others. It isn't a matter of our changing moral code, it's a matter of a jaded music industry bringing out the same tricks to sell records.

So, the issue for me isn't morals. The issue for me is more about classification. At Liberal Democrat Conference this autumn there was quite a debate about Internet Filtering - specifically in relation to access to pornography. The question was, how do we stop impressionable young people accessing content that is deemed inappropriate for them. It's a question that still doesn't have a simple answer, but it's also a question which completely ignores the brunt of the problem.

Yes, we must do more to protect and educate young people about sex, but, bluntly, somebody googling the word 'porn' probably has some idea about what they're going to find. The same can't be said for a child who - as I did - picks up a copy of The Sun because there's not much else to read in the house and is confronted by an image of womanhood that they're likely to never have seen before.

Of course, this is all about tolerance levels. Decades ago, Elvis gyrating on television sets caused a stir in middle America, similarly, Cher caused a commotion wearing a sheer body suit in the eighties. There is, however, a difference (bluntly) between Cher straddling a cannon and Miley Cyrus baring her vagina.
The original 'Cher cannon' being dredged from the sea bed after a number of centuries -
in other news, Cher has another record out later this month...
To me, the question isn't about whether this is right or wrong. In my house, Miley's side-boob doesn't really raise an eyebrow (my reaction was more that she's likely to catch a cold) - but in other houses, it would be inappropriate. Josh and I aren't really affected by people swinging naked on wrecking balls, but if we had a son or daughter, I'd rather they weren't surrounded by such imagery.

Similarly, there's far more nuance here than we might expect. So, we might all think it's wrong for Miley to twerk in front of American tweens, but is it wrong for Katy Perry to sing about seeing someone's 'peacock'? Is it right that a song on her album which contains the lines 'you give me that hummingbird heartbeat, spread my wings and make me fly, the taste of your honey is so sweet' isn't listed as explicit? Can metaphors be considered explicit too?

It seems to be high time for a proper debate on what we consider to be public decency. This isn't me going Mary Whitehouse on anybody - it's me saying that we need to have a proper, informed debate that creates a new system (or improves our current one) so that people can be properly informed about what they're watching. Currently, we live in an anachronistic place where the video for Blurred Lines has become ubiquitous, but the Daily Mail was up in arms about the fact that Lorraine Kelly showed a live Breast Cancer screening on her daytime TV show.

We need to find a new order, where things are categorised properly and where a sensible deal is reached. People should not be shamed if they seek out content that is perfectly within the law, but also, people shouldn't be made to feel uncomfortable by being confronted with such things over their Cheerios.

We should be able to find a pragmatic solution that really does allow us to have our cake and eat it. Then, Miley can party on as much as she likes and whether Robin Thicke has a big 'd' will - rightly - become an irrelevance.

I've been frustrated by the number of pieces written about whether various people mentioned here are right or wrong. I hope that this one seeks to do a bit more than that. I'm personally quite a fan of Ms Cyrus' music, and I tend to think that her music videos have some merit too. I think what we have here is a convergence of two issues that need not be confused. 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Selection, selection, selection.

Now, folks, there's been something going on for a little while that I haven't mentioned to many people and haven't blogged about. Some months ago I applied for the parliamentary selection process in North East Somerset. I applied because it's an area that I care about, and I applied because I knew there wasn't a chance I'd come anywhere near getting it, and that it would be a great experience.

Last night, I was selected by the good members of North East Somerset and I'll go on to fight Jacob Rees-Mogg (amongst others) at the next General Election. I can't tell you the mix of feelings I had last night and today. I'm humbled, as I always am and will be when members of our party put their faith in me and I'm proud to move forward with another challenge. I'm also scared, excited and anxious to get started.

One thing that I did yesterday, was make a speech. As a Councillor, I'm used to speaking in meetings, but I've never been tasked with standing in front of a room of people and engaging them for ten minutes. Being anxious about this, I made a lot of notes, did a few redrafts (something I never do) and tried to make sure I was clear what I was putting across.

My page of notes, my collection of bullet points and my list of things to remember was then promptly left, by me, on the table of a Sainsbury's cafe, not in my backpack on the way to the selection meeting.

Whilst I think my speech would have been improved by the use of notes, I think I might commit to not using notes at all now - perhaps I won't miss them if I never use them!

Either way, there was one part of the speech that I was really proud of, which I don't think I got across very clearly and which, to be honest, I didn't want to go to waste. It's a very basic outline of why I'm a Liberal Democrat, and I thought I'd reproduce it here, having retrieved my notebook last night.

'People often ask me why I'm a Liberal Democrat - what it is that makes me walk all the miles and deliver all the leaflets. I wish I could say something worthy about how I'm committed to electoral reform or how green energy makes me tick, but it wouldn't be the whole truth.
The reason I'm a Liberal Democrat, is because I believe Liberal Democrats are a voice for the voiceless - and I know it because I've been there.
When I was young, successive Conservative governments vilified single parent families to the point that mothers including my own were given enough money to feed their children but not themselves.
When I was growing up and realising that I wasn't like other boys, Labour legalised Civil Partnership but still didn't believe that I should be able to marry - actually, properly, marry - the person I love.
The only people who who come to bat, every single time, for people like that, people like me, people who are marginalised are the Liberal Democrats.
That's why I joined and that's why I stayed, because the LibDems became a family for me. Just like family, we have arguments and upsets and difficulties, but just like a family, when our backs are against the rope, we pull together, we work harder, walk further and we go that extra mile for the people we represent.
I don't think we do it just to get elected either. We do it for the lady whose child has had six chest infections in as many months because her house is damp and the Council won't do anything. We do it for the young person struggling to get a job, whose only internet access is at his local library which is threatened by closure. We do it for those people who need our support, who the other parties have ignored or taken for granted, for the people who fall through the cracks.
If we don't do it, nobody else will do it for us. That's why I'm a Liberal Democrat, and that's why I'd like to be an MP, because people deserve a voice and people need to have someone on their side.'

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Angry Irishwoman - Christine Quinn and the lazy American media

Did you see the result from New York? Voters went to the polls yesterday to decide who their main party candidates were likely to be. At this point it looks as though Bill de Blasio, a public advocate has just clinched the Democratic nomination without having to fight a run-off battle with second place Bill Thompson. Christine Quinn, the Council Leader was beaten into a distant third on around 15% and reportedly didn't even win her own electoral area. 

So what went wrong?

Chris Quinn's campaign has a lot of similarities with Hillary's primary campaign in 2008. Perhaps the biggest mistake was that she herself was the main narrative. Not because she was gaff prone or because she was particularly outlandish, but because she was on offer and she was the narrative. Painted as progressive, liberal and with a proven track record of getting results, nothing could go wrong. Or, as it turned out, very little could go right. 

Many of the narratives used by the American media on Quinn were also used in the later stages of the Hillary campaign. They're pernicious, often not noticed and very effective at causing damage to female candidates. I don't even think they're used in malice, but they almost always have a negative effect. 

Going into the final throes of the 2008 Democratic Primary, one of the candidates was branded ruthless, negative and driven. Oddly enough, it wasn't the candidate shelling out millions of dollars on attack ads. Hillary Clinton had started the campaign the frontrunner. She had high approval ratings, had knuckled down as the senator from New York and people had had enough Bush government to start to forget the difficult years of the first Clinton administration. Hillary was painted as polished, accomplished and unflappable. When Barack Obama started to print mistruths and outright lies about her policies, Hillary did what anybody would do and defended herself. There in lies the crime. 

If a male candidate was being attacked and they responded robustly, it would never be remarked that he was particularly angry or ruthless. Dems da rules. However, if a female candidate defends her position in the same way - as Hillary did, and as Christine Quinn did - they become angry, ruthless and, most importantly, are stripped of their femininity. 

When Hillary was attacked by Barack Obama about her healthcare package, which he argued wrongly would force people to buy healthcare they couldn't afford, she responded with force and commitment. Those are two things that I think are good in a political candidate. The response? 'Hillary Clinton loses it with Obama', 'Hillary rants at Obama ad', 'Hillary gets down and dirty'. If anybody could be accused of any of those things, it was Sen Obama, who, behind all the hopes and yes we can's, had been using great sums of money attacking Hillary on TV and on radio. 

Cut to five years later and we have a female frontrunner for Mayor of New York. She's got a track record of getting things done, she's a great fundraiser and she would make history if elected. Just as she pulls ahead in the polls, more and more stories pop up about how angry she is, about how she's a ruthless game player, and, most laughably - about how she had to have her City Hall Office sound proofed because she shouts too much. She stopped being soft, family Quinn from the ads and ended up the angry irishwoman. 

Maybe these things are true, and maybe they're not, but, it doesn't take a genius to see what's going on here. 

Female candidates are repeatedly trashed by a lazy American media which doesn't know how to tell a story. Female candidates are either a quiet, serene Jackie O, or they're a ranting, raving lunatic. God forbid the American people actually elect a woman to high office who doesn't just sit around playing the feminine idyll. God forbid the American press realise that women are people too. 

Tonight New York voted whole heartedly for Bill de Blasio. This is the man whose campaign narrative was 'A Tale of Two Cities' - the divide between rich and poor in 21st Century New York. This is also a man who, right now, has a VIP suite at his Thank You party. There's a part of me that thinks New York will get what it deserves. 

Yet again, a strong female candidate has been passed over. Yet again an opportunity has been missed. I hope that people start to realise the lazy column inch narratives that are used time and time again to attack female candidates. I maintain that Hillary would have made a better President (hell, she still might) and I think Quinn would have been a fabulous Mayor for New York City. Instead, we have a President who turned out to have very little behind his message of change and we have a probable Mayor for New York City who is - as I write - sipping champagne in his VIP lounge with his wealthy backers. 

Plus ça change.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Turning our backs on Syria? When the rhetoric gets in the way.

I generally think that Twitter is a good thing. It allows people to air their feelings, to be more connected, to be more open. It also allows people to turn armchair aristotle on us, and that can be a bit embarrassing.

Today's vote on the situation in Syria has shown parliament for what it should be - a living, breathing, thinking space. On very few occasions do you actually watch proceedings in the house and actually think that something is being considered and contemplated - very rarely do you think that a decision is being made there and then, without the help of back room deals or agreements.

What has happened since the vote has been far less interesting.

I've seen people online condemn the government for rubber stamping the use of chemical weapons on civilians. I've seen people saying that they'll go to sleep tonight ashamed to be British. I've seen people write that this is a massive victory for Labour and that Cameron should resign. I hope that in time, the tweeters look back on all of those things and feel a little bit embarrassed. Quite clearly, tonight's result isn't what a lot of people would have wanted, but this was not anybody condoning the use of chemical weapons. Similarly, it needn't, and better not, mean the UK turning it's back on the people of Syria.

The failure of tonight's motions does make military action on the evidence that we currently have incredibly unlikely, and I'm glad that it does. It isn't because of Iraq (though you'd be forgiven for thinking so) it's because we simply cannot and should not take forceful action against anybody on the strength of the evidence that we currently have. We need to remember, amongst the grandstanding and pontificating, that we still do not have a solid enough basis for full scale intervention. Was the Iraq war fought on less? Very probably. Were MPs more reticent to support it in the light of Iraq? Very possibly also.

However, let this be clear. A decision on intervention needs to be made on the merits of the evidence, and that alone. Not party political mudslinging. Not whether or not it will turn out to be like Iraq. Not whether it'll affect the 'special relationship'. A decision of that magnitude should be made of the facts of the situation and nothing more. My conclusion was that the facts simply were not there.

What I will support, wholeheartedly, is a move to ensure that those people who say that we're turning out backs on Syria are proved wrong. I hope, deep down, that the lasting legacy of this night, isn't of the UK turning a blind eye, it's of the UK playing by the rules and offering support in more than just firepower.

So - bugger the rhetoric. Bugger Ed Miliband getting applauded into his whips office. And bugger what this means for David Cameron's leadership.

Tonight, millions of people sleep in refugee camps whilst their homeland is torn asunder. Tonight, hundreds of people lay dead after chemical weapons were turned upon them. Tonight, we need to stand with the people of Syria who wanted not the first thing to do with the whole sorry affair.

In the face of tonight's vote, we must stand with the people of Syria in word and deed.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A New Coalition? Calm down, dear.

I was reading last night a piece on the Indie website where members of our party were discussing how they felt a second coalition government would be difficult to get past our members. Is it just me, or have I missed out on a whole General Election campaign, and I've woken up a few days into May of 2015? Talking about another coalition is all well and good if it's a question of taking precautions and putting plans together, but, discussing the likelihood of a second one completely negates the process of election.

2010 was my first General Election campaign and I actually took a month off of school to be a part of it. It was probably a dangerous idea considering my A-Level exams were in the June, but it felt like something I needed to do. Some people who became very close friends and I travelled the constituency acting as some kind of roving campaign battle bus, delivering areas that we had gaps and canvassing like nobody's business. I remember the buzz after the TV debates, where it seemed that we were properly in contention. I remember the excitement of a Sunday I spent at Frome's artisan market where people were queueing to get posters saying 'I agree with Nick' and to have their picture taken with his life size cardboard cutout.

I remember the crushing feeling of waking up on that Wednesday morning to see that almost every newspaper was running a smear campaign on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats and I remember driving to the count and feeling as though I was about to throw up. I remember winning.

Talking about the logistical issues of another coalition is fine, but I really don't think now is the time for discussing who would like it, or who wouldn't. I've been clear all along that I joined the LibDems because I want to see a majority LibDem Government. That said, if we need to work in coalition, we should do.

My point it this. Talking about who we would or wouldn't like to form a coalition with is pointless when no votes have been cast yet. Let's make sure we're ready and make sure our plans are in place, but how about we ensure that we have some seats in the House of Commons before discussing who they'll side with.

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Depressive Patchwork (or, the road back)

I'm a bit loathed to write this one - largely because when talking about personal issues I tend to think it's a slippery slope and you only realise where you are when you're doing a Liz Jones. I also do it with trepidation because people read my blog for a whole host of different reasons - some because they live near me, some because we're in the same political party and some because they were looking for funny pictures of cats and got sidetracked an hour ago. Either way, if I do start doing a Liz and telling you far more than you want to know, just holler at your boy.

PROOF - Sam Phripp. Quite good company
on a night out. 
My psychology teacher once said that psychology was like six people touching an elephant and describing what they felt. The idea being that each of them feels something different and nobody understands the whole. In a sense, that's how I'm starting to feel about depression.

Like most other people, I didn't wake up one day and think 'Jesus, I'm depressed' - it was far more gradual.

To start with, I'm not a depressive person. Even now, if you saw me in the street, I'd be just as LOL as I've ever been. I can still be funny, and I think I'm still quite good company on a night out. I didn't even recognise the hallmarks of depression either, which is difficult. Nowadays I'm learning to. Way back when, I didn't even notice that I was laughing at things but not actually connecting with what funny felt like. I didn't notice how odd it was that I was talking to people in the street and planning what platitude I'd come up with next. I also didn't notice that I'd stopped carrying out pretty basic functions.

Nowadays, I notice if I haven't cleaned my teeth, or if I've been shlupping around the house a bit too much. I realise that I've been asked to do the dishes while my partner is at work, and I still haven't talked myself into doing it when he comes home eight hours later. It doesn't mean that those things have stopped happening, it just means that I see it happening, and I think that's probably part of the fight.

Perhaps the most poignant example of this was brought to my attention by my sister the other day. We were talking about how we used to drive places together and belt out Celine Dion classix, and she mentioned how it seemed as though since I'd stopped singing I'd become progressively more sad. Not only was this an absolutely spot on comment for her to make, it also made me realise that it was another aspect of myself that I'd lost. That isn't to say that her saying it was devastating, but it reminded me of a version of myself that I hadn't seen in a while. It all comes down to the same thing - I can tell that I'm getting better, because it feels like I'm learning to be who I am again. Not the person who only sings when he's doing an impression of Heather Small, but a person who sings because he's happy.

Hooking into the early hours...
One of the ways that I've been trying to mark my own progress is through a craft that I love - crochet. I've been a bit of a dabbler in yarn-related doings for some time, but my current project is my first big one. I decided, on the same day that I entered therapy that I'd do a kind of depressive crochet along, creating something as I went. I decided that I wanted some way of quietly marking what was happening - a visual and physical version of personal growth. I want something that I can keep hold of, and when my child turns to me and asks where I got the blanket from, I can tell them that I made it one summer while everyone else was busy getting on with their lives and I wasn't very well at all. (The pattern, and inspiration - for those interested - is available from the wonderful According to Matt)

'Yet still, I rise'
The other kind of place marker, is one that I decided upon a month or so ago and one which caused a bit of a stir on my Facebook page this week. It's nothing more than an excerpt from a very good poem, tattooed onto the forearm of somebody old enough and wise enough to know what he was doing, yet, you might be forgiven for thinking I'd gone over the Mona Lisa with a dry-wipe marker. If I'm honest, I'm not really the tattooey type. If you were to imagine somebody with an anchor tattooed on his bicep with the name 'Brenda' next to it, that person and I don't have much in common. However, I wanted to challenge myself, and also, I wanted a lasting reminder of how I felt at this point and the place I was in. I've been told that I shouldn't let voters see it, I've been told that it might give the impression that I'm a drug lord, but I like it and it makes me smile every single time I look at it - so there.

All of these things feel to me like signs that I'm getting better. No, I won't be getting a tattoo a week until I feel that I'm on tip top form. No, I don't think that I'm quite out of the woods yet, but, I think I'm definitely turning a corner. The blanket will continue to grow, and undoubtedly it will tell a story. Too often when discussing depression cliches are used - I don't feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel, because I don't feel like I'm in a tunnel. I'm in Frome. What it does feel like, is that there are fewer clouds, and that the sun is making me stronger.

I've also realised that my sister was absolutely right, and I sang earlier on for the first time in ages. Properly sang - not singing in the voice of Cher - but singing like I meant it and, let me tell you, it was like a bird taking flight.

Anyway, that's enough mushy stuff for a while.

Find below :
1. A picture of my dog Bentley with a comedy hat on to cheer you up
2. The text of my favourite stanza from 'Still I Rise' by Dr Maya Angelou
3. 'Silenced by the night' by Keane, which feels like the most hopeful song ever.

Not actually his birthday, he was just seeking attention.

'You may write me down in history, 
with your bitter, twisted lies,
you may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.'
                          Dr Maya Angelou

Monday, 12 August 2013

No place like Frome.

A few days ago there was an article in The Times, about Frome - my hometown. It's one of a few that have popped up over the last couple of years, about the town that I live in and have grown up in, and, largely, the Arts culture and Independent Town Council. The article can be read (behind the paywall) by clicking here.

For those who don't have access the general gist is this. Frome is a really cool place. Some celebrities live in Frome, which is good. It all started in 2011 when the Independents took control of the Town Council. The Town Council is essentially responsible for Frome's continued success.

Basically, whilst it's nice to have articles bigging up Frome, it isn't entirely factually correct. There's a lot of posturing going on, and very little challenging, so, lets have a go.

Frome wasn't founded in 2011. In 2011 a number of things happened. The Liberal Democrats lost very safe control of the Town Council to a group of Independents - the Independents for Frome (the LibDems didn't actually field candidates in every seat - in some TC seats in fact, there were no LD candidates and in one three member ward we had none). On the same day, the Liberal Democrats retained 10 out of the 11 District Council seats with the last one going to a Conservative. In 2011, Frome had it's own Radio Station, it's own online TV outfit, an annual ten day arts festival, a monthly artisan market and an uphill bike race. Frome is a pretty cool place.

However, as with most things, politicians have claimed credit for things that really didn't have much to do with them. We're all guilty of it to some degree. I know of politicians who would claim to be the godparent of the Artisan Market because they once bought a bracelet from a stall at it. Almost all of the things I've linked above, and a lot of others, happened because normal, unelected people got off their backsides and made them happen. Yes, various politicians have helped with funding. The Liberal Democrats funded lots of them, and the IFF fund a lot of them, the Tories have been arguing against funding almost anything for years. So far, so good.

What I find endlessly bloody annoying is the fact that there's been a MAHOOSIVE simplification in the message. I'm going to try and be objective about how Frome got to where it is now, and if I end up being political, then hey, shoot me. What I can promise is that I'll miss a load of it out - please add things in comments.

1970's - Merlin Theatre built, run by professional staff with volunteer support.
1980's - David Heath (LD), as leader of Somerset County Council approved the new bypass for Frome, allowing the Town Centre to be developed properly and stopping it being a massive through-route.
David Heath also approved and funded the new Library and Black Swan Arts Centre.
1990's - Labour acquired the Cheese & Grain building and set it up as a music venue.
A group of people got together to build the European Community of Stones, an amphitheatre on the campus of Frome College, with stones from each of the initial European Member Nations.
The Frome Memorial Theatre trust was set up, turning the theatre into a functioning, successful venue with huge volunteer support.
2000's - Frome benefits from massive infrastructure investment from the LibDem County Council, funding for theatres, arts outreach and entertainment for young people.
Frome Festival was launched and was a great success.
2000's - various brilliant ventures set up by local people including The List magazine, the Artisan Market, Frome FM, the Cobble Wobble, Christmas Markets and Frome TV.
2009 - Frome is included in the Tour of Britain cycle race, in large part thanks to Cllr Alvin Horsfall who funded it as part of his County Council portfolio.
Lib Dem run Frome Town Council purchased various pieces of land including an area near the River Frome and an area on North Parade - now public gardens.

The latest innovation, and something I'm a big fan of is the Loop de Loop Cafe, near the Library in the Town Centre. Was it Council Funded? Yes, in a small part. Largely it was funded by local people who love a new project to get behind. The scheme was the brainchild of a local person who wanted to turn a disused toilet block into a cafe and art gallery. It's been a great success. The point I'm making is, it's been a great success because it was powered by people who got off their backsides and did something. Yes, it had political support, but I dare say it would have been a success without it.

What's happening at the moment is a real battle for Frome's identity. It's interesting. I don't think it's a battle between 'old Frome' and 'new Frome' - something I've been accused of believing before. It's a matter of people trying to commandeer what a great place Frome is for their own benefit. The Independents at FTC will claim it's all down to them, just as LibDems propbably do too. In all reality, it's down to the people - most of whom are apolitical and just get on with things regardless.

The thing that annoys me most, is that most of the articles use the fact that celebrities live here as a way to hang their articles. Yes, some famous live here, but actually, a lot of the ones quoted don't. Pearl Lowe and Danny Goffey live in Frome - nope, not any more. Kevin McCloud lives in Frome - no, he lives a little while away. Mariella Frostrup lives in Frome - don't think so. The real point, is that the people who live in Frome, live in Frome, and they make it incredible. It's not thanks to tenuous links with celebrities - but, yes, that one off Hollyoaks did once brush past me in the Golden Goose.

It's probably also not thanks to politicians as a whole either - of whatever stripe. That isn't to say that Councillors and MPs haven't left their mark. David Heath, currently the Minister of State at DEFRA would have Frome written through him if he was cut in half. His fingerprints are all over Frome, whether it be the Arts Centre or the current artisan boom. Similarly, people like Phil Moakes (once a Councillor, now Mr Frome FM) and Jock Garland had a massive part to play. Just as with so many places, politicians can and do play their part in shaping success - I became a Councillor in the hope of doing the same.

If there's been a revolution at all, it's been the fact that local people have realised that waiting for the Council to solve their problems is generally useless, and that, if they want something really cool to happen, they do it themselves. Whilst Councils need to be more responsive and more effective - I hope that Fromies never lose that spirit.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

A bit about the Badger Cull.

Follow Sam on Twitter - @SamPhripp

Bodger and Badger - nothing weird happening here at all...
You know what, as a vegetarian, I don't like killing live things. There are exceptions - I do believe that if it's in my house, the only good spider is a dead one, but there aren't many living things I dislike enough to kill them. That includes badgers. I am one of the Bodger and Badger generation - in a tiny part of my mind, badgers are cute things, making mashed potato and living in a house with a middle aged man called Simon. The reality is sadly different, and I'd like to try and put a few things straight, lest we all start reading the Guardian and thinking Labour are actually right about something.

 I live in Frome, part of the Somerton and Frome Constituency and we're lucky enough to have David Heath represent us in Parliament. You might have heard of him, because he's the Minister of State at DEFRA, or, more likely, because he's reluctantly assumed the title of Chief Badger Murderer. It's odd really, that he's taken up with such a brutal sport because actually, he's quite a mild mannered man really. Yes, he can probably get a bit bombastic if he's watching rugby, but he doesn't strike me as a natural born killer - for instance, he wrote in last week's paper about going to a folk festival. I might be wrong, but I don't think he took a machete with him in case a badger crossed his path. Anyway, I'm digressing. 

As Minister of State, one of the things that David has had to deal with is the shocking rise in Bovine TB. That's not the fact that badgers have TB, it's the fact that they give it to cattle and the cattle end up being killed. Last year, around 30,000 cattle were bumped off because they had contracted TB. Not only was this a bad deal for the cows, it was also a bad deal for the farmers, whose livelihood was jeopardised. The plan that David and his department have put forward isn't just to wholesale murder badgers. He hasn't turned into some kind of guerilla minister waving a gun at anything that moves out of the back of a Land Rover. The plan that has been put forward is actually a lot more reasonable than that, so hear me out.

Rather than just killing badgers, the plan also involves vaccination schemes. This is what the whole argument has been about. Why not just vaccinate them? The answer is simple, because the vaccine for badgers isn't effective enough to stop the blight. The vaccine that we need is an oral vaccine, which is easier to administer to badgers and is far more effective at stopping the spread of the disease.

Did you know, that on the odd occasion that David hasn't been rootling through the countryside looking for black and white creatures, he's actually fast tracked the funding for that oral vaccine?

Labour, and Mary Creagh in particular, would like you to believe that David Heath has his head hidden in the sand. He hasn't. He's openly said that the current plan is a cocktail of things - yes, culling, but also vaccination and better bio-security - and he's openly said that he intends for vaccination to play a larger and larger role in tackling the problem.

However, please don't be fooled. We aren't there yet. The vaccination that will make the difference is still in development, and is still being funded. None of that is going to stop the rate of Bovine TB going up, none of that is going to stop tens of thousands of cattle being culled.

So, accept Labour's line on this if you like. But, please be aware, the truth is a lot greyer and more complex than simply cull or no cull. I for one, am proud that a Minister of ours is standing up for the health of badgers as well as the health of farmers' herds.

So, I'm not a blood thirsty killer, but on the balance of the argument, I support the plan, and still, I love Bodger and Badger as much as the next man.

If you're going to be totes pro any animal, you'd be better off choosing hedgehogs
- they're much nicer altogether.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

A Right Royal Emergency

Follow Sam on Twitter - @SamPhripp

I'm a child of the nineties. By the time I was born, the age of great peril had been forgotten. There was no major aggressor, extremist Islam hadn't really happened yet and the Cold War was effectively over. Of course, we know that the relative calm wouldn't last long, but the threat of World War was largely over. In that same sense, I find it intriguing to imagine that in 1983 the Government took part in War Games, modelling responses for Nuclear Warfare - even down to possible newspaper headlines. It's almost a novelty for me in a way.

Nuclear War isn't something that my generation has had to worry about. My Mum tells me that during her childhood she was quite regularly scared to death about the fact that a major nuclear strike could be imminent. That's something I never had to deal with. My generation were the ones who grew up imbued with suspicion of Muslims, suspicion of people rooting around in backpacks on buses, suspicion of people who didn't deserve it and were doing nothing wrong - the only thing I knew as a child about Russia was that that was where t.A.T.u. were from.

The release of files by the National Archive under the twenty year rule is a revelation for me. These files allow us to get a real snapshot of the work of Government at a particular time. For people like me, whose only experience was New Labour, it's a whole new perspective.

I'm fascinated with the way that Governments gear their citizens up for impending disaster. I remember reading the Government's 'Preparing for Emergencies' leaflet back in 2004 and being mildly panicked that danger could be lurking around the corner. Of course, danger wasn't, I've always lived in rural Somerset, and the only thing that lurks around the corner is a hurd of cows trying to extend your journey. There is of course an argument that these kind of emergency planning exercises are used to scare the general population. I agree with it in part. It may sound a bit Shock Doctrine, but it'd be a hell of a lot easier to justify another Middle East conflict if the general population thought they were about to attack us.

In that sense, the release of a draft Queen's Speech - drawn up as part of a planning exercise for Nuclear War - is even more striking. This wasn't something released for public consumption, it was part of a serious exercise. The speech makes pretty chilling reading, as the Queen asks the general public to help the helpless or homeless. For somebody who never really knew that threat (okay, so North Korea is troubling if I think about it for long enough...) the idea of imminent threat of that kind makes my blood run cold.

The fact that we can even consider whether a like for like replacement of Trident is right and proper just shows how far we've come. I hope that we've come far enough that when I have children and they have families, the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction is just as much a throwback as carrier pigeons or enigma machines.

Read the full text of the draft speech below. Makes very interesting reading.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A New Royalist

Follow Sam on Twitter - @SamPhripp

There's a difference between a Royalist and a Monarchist. Monarchism is far more about the system than it is about the people, whereas royalism tends to focus far more on support of a particular person or family. I think it's important to mark the difference, because I am one and I'm not the other.

Now, just because I've said that, don't go off on one and think that I'm sat here wearing one of those horrible plastic Union Jack hats that people always wear at Jubillee street parties. I'm not. I'm not a flag waving subject. I do however support the Royal Family and I'm incredibly supportive of what the Royal Family is becoming.

Some woman and some bloke and their new kid.
In the briefest moments when they left hospital with their new son, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge laid a very clear marker about what kind of Royal Family they had become. Unlike the obvious awkwardness seen between Charles and Diana at almost any public event, William and Kate carried out one of the most polished, perfectly executed public events I've seen in a long time, and, speaking as a politician, they were perfectly on message.

How did it go for Kate? It was an incredibly special time, as any other mother would agree. BING.

Was William going to be changing any nappies? He already had. BING.

Were they going to be farming the child off to a nanny? Nope. They were off to stay with Kate's mum for a few weeks. BING BING BING.

The message that came forward in incredible volume was, we are a normal, modern family. Even down to the fact that William drove the family away from the hospital - the whole event was considered in such detail about the messages being sent. It was, in effect, a politicians dream.

More interestingly however, it also seemed like a real shift in power bases within the Royal Family. William and Kate now have more capital than ever for being in touch and modern. It was almost uncomfortable that Prince Charles exited just before them, because his manner and his comments gave the impression even more than he was yesterday's news. The birth and the way it was handled also suggests something else about the way that our Royal Family is changing. I got the impression that this was a good example of the younger generation teaching the firm a lesson in public affairs. Gone were the scandals of the nineties, caused in many instances by an uncomfortable relationship with the media, and here was the media savvy future.

Diana and her ill-judged chat with Martin Bashir.
Those who have argued that it was a lesson from the Diana, Princess of Wales rulebook are wrong I think. The couple were very careful to enforce a boundary, stating that they couldn't wait to get home and look after their son. This isn't a tell-all with Martin Bashir, it's an agreement of intentions. Whilst what the Daily Mail will call the 'common touch' is definately very Diana, there's a comfortable middle ground here. That's a middle ground that Diana sadly never achieved.

A quick look over the media spectacle of the royal birth says that these are people who are in control, and who know what they're doing.

That's why I support them. Not because I want to be a subject being ruled by people who achieved their position by birth, but because, the Royal Family are a net positive for our country, and I'm confident that this new generation are getting it right.

I was present for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London last year, and it was clear to me that what had happened was a root and branch change within the Royal outfit. Before the procession, the hangers on were bused in and out of Buckingham Palace, not banished from existance, but stripped of the perks they would have receieved a decade before. Eugenie and Beatrice were trundling along in a lowly people carrier by the time the Queen left in the carriage. Similarly, who was there for the balcony appearance? Only the key people. This was a slimmed down Royal Family.

They're becoming a lot more European. Rather than being an overarching, all encompassing group, they're a far more efficient force. They've stopped being the Royal establishment and started being a Royal operation.

In that sense, I can't help but support them. On a poltical level, in my heart of hearts, I agree that everybody needs to be born equal. I aceept that. But, in William, Kate and baby George, I'm confident that we have a new generation of a Royal Family with social conscience, who care about the welfare of their country's people and who want to do their best. That's something that I find very difficult indeed to argue against. 

So, there it is. I'm a royalist, not a monarchist - a very important difference. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The tories haven't changed one bit, and here's why.

When I was around 17, my Government and Politics class went to a student politics conference where various high profile politicians were speakers. Nick Clegg was there, and frankly brought the house down, George Galloway was there, doing what he does, Jack Straw was meant to be there, but was replaced at the last minute by the most boring junior minister on earth and William Hague was there talking for the Conservatives.

After each speech there was a question and answer session - I hadn't really been interested in asking too many questions until William Hague began his speech, outlining Tory plans for government including tax breaks for married couples (he was really preaching to the right audience with this one, LOL) and cutting immigration. He also made a big deal about David Cameron's leadership and how the Conservatives were ever more a viable option for young people when they went to the polling station. The question that I asked him was this -

'During the 90s, successive Conservative Governments gave my mother enough money to feed her children, but not enough to feed herself. I'll never waste my vote on you, but why should we believe you've changed?'

It was met with a big round of applause from the largely tory-sceptic audience, and William Hague, in his defence, gave an honest answer, apologising, and saying that he accepted that the Tories had gotten it wrong on single parent families.

Then this happened.

I'm just dumbstruck that there are Conservative MP's who STILL think that vilifying young people who fall pregnant is the way to deal with it. Any young person, who, as they suggest, believes that having a baby and living in council accommodation is the way to go, will have a pretty harsh surprise. Despite what the Daily Mail might say, living on benefits isn't easy, as I experienced as a child, as many experience now, with Child Poverty once again on the rise.

A young Mum here, her child would of
course benefit from it's mother being
There is a great difference between helping and supporting young people in this position and encouraging them to do it. There's a great possibility also, that their plans to move them in with parents would fall short. Far be it for me to generalise, but often it's a breakdown in relationships at home that can lead to young women searching for affection elsewhere. Forcing women to move back into that environment with their newborn is very unlikely to be a good idea. God forbid we should actually encourage people to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility.

Just when you think that the Conservatives might be turning a corner and realising that the dogma of the 90's doesn't work, they come back with a gem like this.

It might sound good in soundbites or on the pages of the Daily Express, but if the Conservatives actually want to win the votes of a wider range of people, they might start by refraining from vilifying them, rejecting them as a part of wider society and forcing them below the breadline once again.

This stuff makes me sick.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A statement about my membership of the Liberal Democrats

Every now and again, it happens. You'll hear about it, because it's the thing that gets the headlines. First you'll hear the rumours, that they're about to go, then maybe something on Twitter, and then, shortly after, a blog post about the turmoil, and the difficulty and the stress - and the decision.

Leaving the Liberal Democrats has become such an event, I'm surprised that Elton John isn't throwing an after party and we aren't all getting giftbags.

I write about it with humour, but I need to be honest, I don't find the whole shtick funny. It makes me angry, and the reason that I'm writing about it here, is because I feel the need in some sense to cut through the BS.

So, here are my three top tips if you're planning on leaving the party.

Firstly, something needs to be said about making a departing statement. Congressmen make statements when they're resigning due to sexual misdemeanours. Tony Blair made a statement telling folks he didn't want to be Prime Minister any more. If I decided to leave the LibDems, unless I'd developed a particularly inflated view of my own importance, I probably wouldn't feel the need to make a statement. There's something that turns my stomach slightly, about these 'oh, it was such a hard decision' postings, because, if it was that difficult a decision, you wouldn't publicise it to such an extent that it becomes a direct slap in the face. There's something very strange indeed about making a personal decision based on personal beliefs and then plastering it across the internet.

Secondly, don't expect my sympathy if you join Labour. So many of our departed friends have left the Liberal Democrats to join the Labour Party, because, well, the LibDems have lost their heart, the party isn't democratic, there have been too many broken promises. Don't make me laugh.
A person who leaves the Liberal Democrats for moral reasons doesn't join the same party that took us into an illegal war, that is still being fought and the cost still being counted.
A person who leaves the Liberal Democrats because our members aren't listened to will have a great time at the next Labour Party conference, as long as they're happy to sit, smiling in the back of shot and then tell journalists what a great Prime Minister Ed Miliband will make. A person who leaves the Liberal Democrats because we've broken too many manifesto pledges will enjoy explaining to people in Labour controlled areas why their Library is closing despite promises to protect services, and why the Library in the neighbouring LibDem authority will remain open. Join Labour, if that's what you want to do, but it's best not to start off by lying to yourself.

The third thing, is that if you're leaving, don't pretend to care about the people you're leaving behind. I've read enough 'with a heavy hearts' and 'whilst it isn't easy's to last me a lifetime. If you actually, in your heart of hearts, cared about the future of the Liberal Democrats and the liberal cause, creating a public furore about your departure is a pretty odd way to show it. In so many cases, these people are trying to have their cake and eat it. It's a case of 'I'm leaving you, and doing a hatchet job, but I'm nice and I care really'. No. People who care about the Liberal Democrats are Liberal Democrats. People who care about this party, are the ones who read the posts about people leaving, then go out and deliver leaflets in the snow to help progress the cause. People who care about the Liberal Democrats stick with us, through gritted teeth, perhaps, because there will be a post-coalition party that needs good, moral, people to shape it and support it.

So, here's my statement regarding my membership of the Liberal Democrats. I'm staying. Now let's see how many column inches that one gets.

Follow Sam on Twitter - @SamPhripp