Thursday, 4 December 2014

Renters : Screwed over twice in one week

Well, well, well - the Autumn Statement was quite a bonanza wasn't it? Well, no, actually. Or at least, not if you're one of the 9 million people currently renting property in England - if you're one of those people, you've just been screwed over royally, all in the space of one week. 

Tessa - fast becoming one of our best MPs on this issue.
First, we had the second reading of the Bill on Revenge Evictions last Friday. This is something that has made Tessa Munt one of my favourite MPs, because she's campaigned on the issue for a really long time. It's currently completely legal for a landlord to evict you from their property because you speak out about bad conditions, or because you ask them why they're not completing the repairs they said they would. This is something quite close to my heart - not only have I lived in rental accomodation since I left home, but since I've been a Councillor I've lost track of the number of times that I've been contacted by people whose homes are damp or in states of awful repair. One of these people was eventually moved, because their flat was so damp that their child had a perpetual chest infection for a number of years. My experience has shown me that we desperately need to strengthen the position of renters, because currently, it's up to them to go hand to hand with landlords in the fear that they might be evicted. What happened last Friday was an utter disgrace. With many Liberal Democrats turning up to back Tessa's effort, the debate was talked out by Christopher Chope and Philip Davies - unsurprisingly, two Tory MPs who make not insubstantial sums from the rental market. Tessa's work would have meant that tenants would have been protected from rogue landlords who evict tenants on spurious grounds, but the efforts of Christopher Chope and Philip Davies mean that yet again, no action will be taken. Of course, it's unlikely that either of these MPs will lose their seats next time, because that's the sad world we live in, but I hope that voters in Christchurch and in Shipley briefly consider the actions of these shameful men before casting their votes. 

The second thing, happened yesterday in the Autumn Statement - or, more importantly, it didn't happen. The headline from George Osborne's speech to Parliament was his reform of Stamp Duty, paid by people who sell property. Once again, this is policy that completely ignores those who don't own property and who aren't in shouting distance of doing so. It's a handout to those who are relatively lucky already, and one which will make no positive impact to those stuck on the rental ladder, being moved on every six months by Landlords looking to make quick money. I'd also be interested to see what impact this change has on the rental market - with landlords buying and selling property ever more frequently, what we could see is an even quicker churn in landlords offloading property. What does that mean? An even worse deal for tenants who already get moved on time and time again. 

More important still, the reform to Stamp Duty won't massively benefit those who own one home and move every ten years or so, it'll benefit those who own whole portfolios of housing who buy and sell to monetise their stock - it'll put more money back into the pockets of Landlords. 

Please forgive me if I seem a bit rabid about this, but my view is simple - that the Government that we're a part of has been pretty horrific for those renting property. We passed the National Planning Policy Framework - a piece of planning policy that might as well have been called the Linden Charter. Those of us elected to Planning Authorities will know that in effect, the NPPF has opened the doors to big developers as long as they can put forward some loose argument suggesting that it's 'sustainable' development. In my area alone, this has meant developments with no social housing, no affordable housing, and no local link. 

Quite frankly, the Government's approach to renters has been piss poor, and we've let them down. I'm glad that finally we're talking about the Government actually starting housing schemes rather than leaving it to the likes of Linden and Barrett, but it does feel like too little, too late. 

In the past week, people who can't afford to buy their own homes and who have very little security in rented accomodation have been let down. My question really is, if we Liberal Democrats don't go into the next election with solid promises to support renters - then who will stand between them and the Landlords who see a price on their head? Fantastic work from Tessa Munt, but we must do more. 

Please join me in donating to Shelter - they're doing fantastic work, and they're sometimes the only people fighting the side of renters up and down the country. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

My Question for Sal Brinton

So - there we have it! Baroness Sal Brinton will be the next President of the Liberal Democrats, and a fantastic job she'll do. The one thing I love about LibDem internal elections is that generally whoever wins, we all win. Sal has massive experience in the Party, she's a proven campaigner, she's a skilled Parliamentarian, and the important thing for me - her record on LGBT+ issues is incredible. Whilst I supported Daisy, I know that Sal will do a fine job in leading our Party through the General Election and making sure our systems are fit for the 21st Century.

I won't pretend that I wasn't sad on Saturday. I think Daisy ran a great campaign, and importantly for me, she inspired me. That doesn't happen so often in politics, for me and so I'll always be grateful for it. One thing I'm left feeling is that whatever she chooses to do next, Daisy's service to the Party is something that we'll all benefit from.

In looking toward her time as President, there's just one thing that I hope Sal will consider. She's been very heavily involved in the Leadership Programme, and we're still yet to see whether that will make an impact, but I hope Sal picks up Daisy's plan to diversify the Party's grassroots. I'm incredibly glad that the Leadership Programme targets support at underrepresented groups within the Party, but I also recognise that we'll never be able to truly represent the Country and appeal to all people unless our membership is representative too. The thing that I loved about Daisy's pitch was that she planned to start an outreach programme, one that targeted media outlets used by varying communities to recruit and train new members. Daisy's plan would see us advertising in newspapers and broadcasting on radio stations that don't have a predominantly white, straight market. Daisy's plan would then provide information and training to people who responded, and if they joined, would support those people into positions in the Party - whether that's becoming a candidate for election or a Local Party Chair.

I know that with her record on equalities, Sal understands that our Party must do more to become more representative - she's shown that time and time again in word and deed. So, if there's one thing that we take forward, please let it be the plan for the grassroots. It doesn't need to be expensive, and it doesn't need to be on the same scale as the leadership scheme, but it's something that we can do to start to build the Party we want to see in the future. Whilst I'd hate to put words in Daisy's mouth, I'm sure she'd be happy to spearhead such an endeavour, and I'd be very happy to work with her.

But finally, massive congratulations to Sal, she'll be a President we can all unite behind and be proud of.

Friday, 28 November 2014

We need to talk about willies.

This is a post that I've been meaning to write for quite a while, but was reminded when Caron Lindsay posted a link to this piece on Facebook. In it, we hear that Deputy Leader of the Conservatives in Scotland referred to our Leader as 'little Willie Rennie'. GEDDIT?! It's a dick joke! I always think; no better way to serve your constituents and the party you're proud of than standing up on a national platform and making penis jokes, right?


Well, it's not the first time this kind of thing has happened, and it's not the first time that I've been annoyed about something like this happening. In fact, it seems to be just the latest in a string of these kinds of jokes and references.

For example, late last year Ed Balls joked about David Cameron getting changed on a beach, under a 'surprisingly small towel'. See what he did there? It's a joke about David Cameron having very little to hide when getting changed on a beach? Get it? Gales of laughter are ensuing, I can tell.

Not to be outdone, In January of this year, we have George Osborne telling a joke about how Ed Balls needed 'new crystal balls', as he'd been proven wrong on the economy. Let me tell you, these lads are not simply restricted to penis jokes, they can tell HILARIOUS jokes about testicles too.

*excuse the interlude, I'm trying to compose myself again - bare with me while I try to stop hyperventilating*

The top joker, for me, however, is everyone's favourite irascible uncle - David Davis! He apparently parroted a line about the Tories and Lib Dems being in a 'Brokeback Coalition'. First of all, I'll defend both the short story and film of Brokeback Mountain until my last breath.Annie Proulx is a genius, and I won't laugh at a story about love in a time where it was outlawed, and I won't laugh about a love that ultimately sees people murdered on a near-daily basis. More than that though, the joke here isn't about Brokeback Mountain, it's about the suggestion that David Cameron and Nick Clegg might be gay together. You may be able to sense that at this juncture, my sense of humour is starting to fail me. I don't think that laughing about the suggestion of a gay relationship is a very nice or clever thing to do. I also don't think that suggesting some kind of 'backward' sexuality in an official Government Coalition Agreement is a very classy thing to do.

Quite frankly, I'm a voter. You can probably guess who I vote for, but I'm a voter nonetheless and I think our politics is tarnished by this kind of school-boy 'lad' humour. They should be utterly ashamed that while our creaking benefits system was accidentally cutting off payments to vulnerable people, they were standing up in the Commons making cock jokes. Similarly, all of the people involved will happily extol the need for more women in politics, yet I'd guess that this kind of atmosphere is only going to put women off - not because they're delicate and worried about such jokes, but because most people want to work in an intelligent and professional environment - not the political gutter.

I really hate the fact that it seems okay today to make penis jokes as part of a national political discourse. I don't like the idea that joking about somebody's balls is considered funny or correct. Even more, I have absolute disdain for the creeping, homophobic insinuation of the 'Brokeback Coalition' comment. If we're supposed to believe that politics in this country is any more than a petty old boys club - where people make up for the fact that they were socially awkward teenagers by making jokes about manhood - some of our politicians are going the wrong way about showing it.

But that's fine. I'm a liberal. It's not my place to stop anybody saying anything. Carry on making penis jokes as long as you like, but you're only making dicks of yourselves.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

That's it! Voting for Lib Dem President is CLOSED!

Well, what a busy little while that was, eh? What with the Committee Elections and the election for the next Party President, it's been a busy and engaging time to be a Lib Dem.

That said, there have been a few lessons to take forward, and I just thought I'd lay them out here.

- The voting processes in these elections needs looking at.
It turns out that the process here might not be quite as watertight as we'd like. Online voting emails were sent to all voting reps the Party had email addresses for - clearly, not all of those emails ended up arriving, and a lot of members have reported difficulty in getting access to ballot papers. Clearly, online voting only works if the Party has recent and continued contact with members online - I'm not entirely comfortable that this has been the case. My feeling is that the difficulties aren't widespread enough to cause any kind of challenge to result, but it's something for FE to consider.

- Candidates for Committees need more information.
If I'm honest, I have considered running for Party Committees in the past, but what's stopped me is that I haven't been able to get information on what each committee actually does. It turns out that candidates for these positions didn't even get this information, which seems like a pretty poor state of affairs. Putting together a pack with all the relevant details really wouldn't take that long, so I hope that's something that gets looked at.

- Members need to be informed more about the role of President.
Obviously, I've publicly endorsed Daisy Cooper in the Presidential race, and am confident that she'll be able to undertake all tasks thrown at her. But there seems to be some confusion about what the President does, and what her responsibility is. Some clarification on this would be brilliant, because if this election has proven anything, it's that candidates stand on pretty wide and often reformative platforms, and I'd hate for them to be elected with a mandate that the position doesn't really allow.

- Presidential Candidates need more info too!
The second email sent out by Tim Gordon with snippets of messages from the Presidential Candidates highlighted a real issue. I'm told that none of the candidates realised that they'd have their statements cut into pieces and subject to a click through - clearly messages would have been different had they known. The whole thing just suggests that things weren't made very clear, and that's a shame. I've been involved in a few different selections, and the key thing has to be clarity for all candidates at all stages - so, more of this please!

So, voting closed for President at lunchtime today, and the result is expected in the early afternoon on Saturday. I'm going to say now, that I couldn't be more proud of Daisy Cooper and the work that she's done throughout her campaign. I hope more than anything that she's elected on Saturday, but if she isn't, her campaign has reminded so many people of why they're LibDems, and energised so many people that it'll have had an incredibly positive impact. I'm sorry if you were asked one too many times by James Moore to sign nominations at Autumn Conference and I'm sorry if you follow me on Twitter and have been subject to my constant retweets about Daisy, but this is all really important to all of us. I'm proud to have been part of a campaign that counts our only MEP, some of our best MPs and many of our fantastic Councillors as supporters. But, more important than that, I'm proud that Daisy's campaign has truly spoken to members who aren't on 'the inside', who might live in an area with no LibDem representation, who desperately want to know how our Party is going to succeed right across the United Kingdom - not just in our battlegrounds. Whether Daisy wins or not, a clear message will have been sent that many people in our Party are demanding change. Not a change of Leader, but a far more important change - in aspiration for the Liberal Democrats.

If Daisy's taught me one thing, it's that we should never be content until all areas of our country have the option of good, strong, Liberal Democrat representation. That we shouldn't rest until we're a party of Government once again, this time, without either Labour or the Conservatives. That's an aim that Daisy and I agree on, and, win or lose, it's an aim that I will always work with her to achieve.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

In defence of Myleene Klass

Here's a thing. I didn't see The Agenda last night. Why? Because, if Question Time makes me angry, I'm only going to be angrier with the version that is terribly chaired, never really politically balanced and that looks like it's filmed in a nightclub that closed down in 2002. There, I said it.

Similarly, other than a brief bit of reading this morning, I'm not going to even start questioning Myleene Klass's treatment of Ed Miliband over the Mansion Tax. What I am going to talk about is the online reaction to Myleene's appearance, because something interesting is happening.

Many people aren't really talking about the Mansion Tax, they're talking about Myleene Klass being stupid. Let me lay this out.

The point of this one, surprisingly, has nothing to do with Mansion Tax. It focuses on belittling Myleene Klass and calling her stupid. Later, from the same account, we have -

LOL. We're big men who can make a joke about a woman being stupid without even indirectly referencing what she was talking about. *slow clap*

Then we have this delightful addition to the debate from @WellMax81 ...

A whole award ceremony? You really shouldn't have, Anthony. Once again, somebody talking about what a 'stupid bitch' Myleene apparently is, rather than accepting that you disagree and taking apart her argument on the Mansion Tax. 

Then we have this from 'Dom Hancock'...

More offensive still. Again, not a mention of the Mansion Tax, but a big mention of Klass being 'talentless'. Now, sorry, Dom, babes. Have you ever seen Myleene Klass playing the piano? She's incredible. That's talent. 

Malcolm Carter - such an asset for UKIP that I've never heard of him. Here we have the insidious suggestion that Ed Miliband would make a terrible PM because he 'couldn't even' hold his own against Myleene. Ed Miliband would make a terrible PM for a number of reasons, but the suggestion that Myleene should have been some kind of easy fight is really offensive. Is it because she's a woman, or because she's a TV personality? Either way, this is idiotic. 

Then, things move on and we get nastier. Again, people calling Myleene stupid rather than responding to her comments, but this time, getting more offensive. 

So, we have 'stupid greedy tory woman' and 'stupid fuckin (sic) bitch'. Nice. It gets better, right? 


So, to add to the list we have 'tory, nasty cow' and 'big, stupid cunt'. Oddly again, that from such erudite Twitterers we have barely a fleeting mention of the Mansion Tax. Oddly again, lots of suggestion that Myleene is stupid and lots of baseless insults. 

Then this... 

Sorry to list things. I realise that for right thinking people it's horribly depressing, but it's important. Isn't it interesting, that when a reasonably intelligent, articulate and successful woman voices an opinion she's not challenged on the opinion, she's challenged for being a stupid Tory bitch. I don't agree with Myleene on the Mansion Tax, I don't really follow her career but it makes me incredibly angry that while men are challenged on our views, someone like Myleene is belittled and denigrated because she had an opinion.

Next time somebody tells me that they don't understand what's meant by male privilege - they can bugger off.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Does anyone remember the Chilcot Inquiry?

I'm going to tell you something about me. I'm not really somebody open to conspiracy theories. I tend to give most people the benefit of the doubt. For instance, I don't tend to think that all politicians are out for themselves, I think that all politicians are human and thus, sadly fallible. In my mind, before buying into odd theories, I tend to weigh up what would be simplest and easiest, because more often than not, that'll be the answer. So, is the world being run by the secretive Illuminati who pull strings and arrange things to speed up the New World Order? Or is it more likely that it's run by a group of men (probably with castration complexes) who hoard power and influence? I know which one I'm going with.

That's why, when the Chilcot Inquiry was launched, I didn't just assume that we'd be sold a pack of lies. I assumed that it might be fallible, and there would probably be more redactions than immediately comfortable, but that we would get the answers we needed. We'd get answers about the conversations between Bush and Blair before we invaded Iraq. We'd get answers about the dossier that readied Parliament and the British people for War. We'd finally get some conclusive answers on whether or not we'd been lied to, and whether or not the lives of British men and women were lost in vain.

That report was due in 2011. It's a report that, three years later, we're still waiting on.

At this point, I don't want to see it because it might bring shame on Labour or vindicate the position taken by the Liberal Democrats. This is bigger than that kind of politics. To me, the British people who funded that war, and the British men and women whose lives were put on the line deserve to know what they were fighting for and how it came about. As I said, I'm not somebody who assumes wrongdoing, but when a controversial report is delayed again, and again, and again, I start to wonder what's being hidden from us.

For me it's clear. I couldn't care less who this report embarrasses. I couldn't care less who it implicates. I'm not worried if it damages the tawdry mess that we call a 'special relationship'. What I do care about is that this Government thinks enough of the people that elected it to tell them the truth.

So, the clock's still ticking. As I click 'publish' on this post, we've had a wait of three years, nine months and three days. It's high time that the Chilcot Report was published and we were told the truth.

And let me say this - if we are willing to accept being treated this way and we continue to say nothing, then we'll get exactly what we deserve.

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!'...


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.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Better Together : Strength in our Union

I've resisted from getting involved in the Independence Debate for a very clear reason - tomorrow's vote is for the people of Scotland and not for me. Scots will decide based on a whole load of issues that just don't affect me. If Scottish Independence is successful at the vote, it isn't me who'll have to contend with questions of currency, or national security - in one sense I'm grateful for that fact. It's the same reason that I haven't phonebanked anybody in Scotland to try and pull them round to my way of thinking - when it comes down to the brass tacks of the issues, people will do what the Queen said and think carefully before making a decision.

What I'd like to speak for, however, is the ideology of the United Kingdom. It's funny, because over the past few years there seems to have been a rise in the ideas of the individual nations. I don't really consider myself English, because to me, England is the past, and the past is another country. The things that make me proud of where I come from have all happened since the Union was formed, and in that sense, I consider myself to be from the UK - I always have done.

It wasn't England or Scotland or Wales that brought the National Health Service into being - it was the United Kingdom - it was our collective achievement. I'm one of these slightly annoying people who will very rarely hear a bad word said about the NHS, because to my family, it's been nothing but brilliant - never glamorous or incredibly impressive, but it does it's job, quietly and without complaint.

Similarly, something like the BBC makes me proud. It makes me proud that we still all fund a national broadcaster that has become a world leader in exporting TV from the United Kingdom around the world. The BBC is almost an anachronism in our world of contracting and squeezing margins - but it's an anachronism I'm so proud of.

It's also the UK - not any one of it's nation states - whose MPs voted to ensure that going forward, we give 0.7% of our GDP to aid abroad. That makes me proud, because it is so British. It is British to look at what we have, accept that *relatively* we're doing well and see what we can do to help elsewhere. It makes me proud to see on the news, boxes marked 'British Aid' being unpacked from shipping containers in the world's poorest and most extreme locations. That wasn't Scotland's achievement, or England's achievement, it was our achievement.

When the Better Together campaign has spoken about how the Union makes us strong, they've too often gotten the wrong end of the stick. Too often, when talking about strength, they've started talking about the threat from terrorists, or how an independent Scotland would fund it's Armed Services - to me, that isn't what strength is about. Strength is about how we look after those who can't look after themselves. Things like the 0.7% aid bill, and like the changes made by the LibDems and Labour to the Bedroom Tax* when we stand together as a United Kingdom, we can do untold good in the world.

So that's what I hope people spare a thought for when they go to vote tomorrow. Not being scared or concerned about the dangers, but having their eyes wide open about the possibilities that Independence promises and the proven record that the Union has to do good. More than that, I hope that the vote and the aftermath go ahead without too much upset between neighbours. Over the past weeks I've seen for myself the parting of friends over this issue, and nothing is as big as that. I hope that whatever happens, the union between friends and between neighbours remains intact and whilst I hope that the United Kingdom I care about isn't divided, I also hope that proud Scotland isn't divided either.

*Stop trying to make 'spare room subsidy' happen, guys - it's not going to and it's getting embarrassing

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Pride - A few Footnotes in History.

Tonight I went to see Pride at Komedia in Bath. I'd seen it advertised, and just knew that I'd have to go and see it. It covers the work of LGSM - Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners, a group formed during the height of the 1984 Miners' Strike. It follows the story of how a group of LGBT people ran street collections, jumble sales and benefit gigs to raise money for struggling mining communities in South Wales as the strike wore on and grew more and more bitter.

The film was cast incredibly well, the plot dipped and peaked beautifully (having me in tears more than once, unsurprisingly) and the soundtrack was just incredible. Not only was there a real A to Z of popular gay music from the 80s, there was also a really beautiful blending of typical orchestral soundtrack with the sounds of brass mining bands.

For anybody with any interest in the struggle for LGBT rights, this film is a must see. Mainly because it focuses not on the wider battle, but on something that many won't know about and something that could have ended up being a footnote in the history books.

The film also reminded me of a group that I used to be a part of. I found the Queer Youth Network - an online and 'real life' community of young LGBT+ people - that I found when I was about fourteen. I remember being amazed that there were so many people out there who were like me, and I remember feeling absolutely free to talk openly about my own experiences. The forums there contained things from 'How do I meet nice men?' to debating 'Jackboot Jacqui's' time as Home Secretary. What's more, I loved QYN for how political it was.

QYN were absolutely instrumental in overturning the last vestages of the homophobic Section 28, it held Pride events to account, marching under 'Pride not Profit' banners and it demonstrated at the Stonewall Awards when (the horribly transphobic) writer Julie Bindel was given an award. In short, QYN stood for something that's very important in politics - never resting on your laurels and always fighting to move further and faster.

It was also full of some people who were just the most inspirational. Jack Holroyde, who lobbied Jacqui Smith to ban the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church when they planned to picket in the UK, stood for election as a Liberal Democrat in May this year. David Henry ensured that QYN remained radical, but importantly, remained a caring and nurturing place for young LGBT people. He actually stood against Hazel Blears in 2010 for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition - importantly, he spoke real truth about Blears' record of over-claiming expenses. I guess what I'm saying, is that while I loved Pride, the best thing about it was the fact that it reminded me of the amazing people I know, who to this day still fight battles big and small for our LGBT+ community, and our communities more generally.

Pride might be seen as a film about gay rights, or about the plight of Miners in Thatcher's Britain, but more than anything, it's about British communities, whether geographical or cultural. It's about how we pull together, and show support. For me, QYN was about all of those things. It's a little footnote in history that I only played a really small part in, but it's a period that I remember with great fondness. People in all walks of political life can learn something from QYN and something from this film - that we should never be complacent - that we can always do more and go further in the struggle for fairness.

* With some irony, in researching this article and going back through QYN stuff, I see that they've also picketed a lot of LibDem stuff since 2010. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it, though what I will say is that I love how diverse a range of 'afterlives' we've all gone on to. From socialists to conservatives - being staunch in your beliefs is never a bad thing.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Joan Rivers - comic, actress & hateful bitch.

I just learnt of the death of Joan Rivers, and I'm writing this whilst feeling really quite upset. Upset that the world has lost an original comedy legend, and upset because I have a feeling her death will be characterised in certain ways by certain people.

Joan Rivers was a comedian (I don't use the word 'comedienne' because having a vagina makes very little difference to anything) who made people laugh for decades. She knew that her job was to entertain people and she did absolutely anything to make sure people got what they paid for. She's become notorious for tearing people to shreds on shows like 'Fashion Police' and 'Joan and Melissa' and it's something that she does with incredible skill. It's odd really, because the impression could be given that the hateful words she said often equated to hateful deeds, that she was a bad person, and this is the distinction I think it's important to make.

For example, Joan makes a joke in the clip below about how her perfect child would be Helen Keller. It's a pretty extreme joke, and in the clip she's heckled by a man whose son was deaf, she then tears him down pretty quickly and rescues her show with the deftness of a real pro. What the clip doesn't show, however, was that after the show, she spent over an hour scouring the venue looking for the heckler to explain what her comedy was and make it clear to him that she was upset that she'd been so heavy handed with him. It's an example of somebody who will let nothing get in the way of the momentum of her show, but who also has absolute empathy with the people who find her shows too close to the bone.

Josh and I went to see Joan when she performed in Brighton a couple of years ago, and I have to say that whilst most of the show had me in fits, there were parts of it that were just that touch too far for me. But that's comedy. That's how comedy works. I don't like Frankie Boyle because too often he goes too far, but I think the skill Joan showed so often was taking people just far enough over that line to make things tingle.

What I'm not going to do, is even start to defend every joke or comment Joan Rivers ever made. She made some comments recently about the Israel Palestinian Conflict that were really abhorrent, and even I watched the clips not knowing quite what to make of it. But here's the thing about that distinction - there's a massive difference between hateful words and hateful deeds. Yes, Joan Rivers made incredibly challenging comments about Gaza, yes she made jokes about absolutely anything (she was in New York on September 11th 2001 and refused to cancel her show) but she was also a woman who delivered meals to the sick and disabled at Thanksgiving. She sent the children of all of her staff to private schools. Whilst the headlines of the jokes might give you one view of Joan Rivers, there was also a very different, very private side that supported and cared for people and chose to do good. I'll say this now - I would rather that half the world spoke absolute trash but did the right thing, it would make a nice change from the current status quo where many people will do nothing to offend anybody, but where they'll also do nothing to make the world a better place.

I'm incredibly sad, because Joan's passing marks the end of an incredibly complex life and a glittering career. It marks the end of a life that was committed to making people laugh, and committed to blazing a trail for other female comics. And it also marks the end of somebody's life who often made so many people feel free, in a world that is perpetually offended. In Joan's performance in Brighton she made a joke about how the audience should hope that she dropped down dead on stage, because it would mean we'd get invites to dinner parties for the rest of our lives. I'm glad that Joan had more privacy, and I hope that what will be an incredibly difficult time for Melissa and Cooper doesn't become tainted by the inevitable tussle over Joan's legacy. I for one am incredibly grateful that my sister bought us tickets and that I had the chance to see Joan live - it was an experience I'll never forget.

So, there it is. See you later, Joan, you wonderful, hateful bitch.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Slimming World Sadness

I just wanted to write something quick this evening, because today's been a bit of an ordeal, but I wanted to mark it in some way.

On a Wednesday evening, I attend a Slimming World group in Frome. I first attended this time last year, and tonight I lost 2lbs and achieved my 2stone award. It's all a bit incredible for me, because whilst the weight loss is clearly important, over the little while, the weight loss has also become one of the least important things about attending my group.

For me, the incredible thing has been that when I started attending this group, as I'd walked over, I'd thought to myself 'they're all going to know I'm nuts, and they're all going to think I'm fat'. That's because I was in a much different position than I am now. When I first went to Helen's group, my Wednesday evening appointment was the only time I really left the house other than to see my therapist. It was, for a time, the one thing that I looked forward to, because just for an hour or so, I could sit there and worry about other people's problems rather than the problems inside my own head. Oddly, I loved that I could worry about how many Syns were in Snackajacks and whether I could use Ryvita Crackers as a Healthy Extra, rather than whether I was getting better or whether I'd be depressed forever.

Bit by bit, over the weeks, Slimming World for me has been a process of putting myself back together and, happily, realising that there was a bit less of me to put back together each week. That's why this week was really hard, because it was the last session taken by my consultant Helen. Helen is fantastic. She's run three groups a week for five years, and I'm absolutely never worried about attending meetings because I know that whatever happens, she'll have my back. I've had gains and I've had losses but I've always known that Helen will be happy to see me whatever happens. At times, that's been crucial. Why? Because beneath all of the Syns and Superfree Foods, we all have worries and troubles and we all need escape. I think for so many people, Slimming Clubs provide that opportunity to just sit and chat. At group, I'm not a recently-resigned politician. I don't have Cllr before my name. I'm just 'Our Sam' and I can't tell you how much that means to me.

Helen's going to be moving on to incredibly exciting things, and I know that if she puts even a fraction of the heart into her future ventures as she has my group, then she'll be a roaring success. We'll have a new consultant next week and I'm sure that she'll be fantastic, but I can't pretend that I'm not sad that it won't be Helen welcoming me on Wednesday. In fact, earlier on I blubbed quite unashamedly in front of our group, because it is sad, and because we will all miss her, and because we are all so grateful for her help.

So to anybody who's ever smirked at the idea of Syns and B Options, or Points Values, you're missing the point entirely. For me, Slimming World has helped me find who I am again, and Helen's been a massive part of that, but more than anything it's about friendship. Helen's a friend of mine, as are so many people in my group, and for that, I'm more grateful than words can express.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge - why I'd rather not.

I'd like to talk about one thing that I like, and one thing that I don't like so much, and what any of this has to do with the latest social media charity wildfire - the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I love the fact that over the past year or so charities really seem to have caught on to how to use Social Media. They seem to - at last - be abandoning the expensive and probably not super effective targeted social media ad buys. Less and less I'm seeing harrowing images of orphans in my sidebar, and I can't say that I'm sorry to see the back of them. That isn't to say that I don't think awareness needs to be raised, and it's not to say that I turn a blind eye, but I question how effective it is for charities to almost spook people streaming through FaceBook with images designed to shock or upset. Charities and NGOs seem to have realised that actually, whilst it's a bit less direct, sparking a movement like the 'No Make-up Selfie' or Ice Bucket Challenge is going to reap far better reward. In reality, it's an old trick. In all of these trends, the secret is making people believe that they've had the idea themselves and that it's somehow original or organic. That's actually really important, because I think it leads to charitable giving that is more home-grown and probably more heartfelt.

David Beckham taking the challenge. I won't apologise for including this gem, so don't ask me.

The thing that I dislike, is that it all really revolves on social pressure, and that's something that isn't so helpful. I haven't yet been nominated to dump a bucket of ice water over myself (I'm thankful for that, as should you be - it's an image that you really don't need burnt on your retinas) but I'd have to turn the offer down and that would then be on social media, and the whole thing would be horribly awkward. Some people don't want to take part in these things, and whilst I don't want to sound like one of these people who displays a 'no trick or treat' poster, that needs to be respected.

Another aspect of it, is something that I feel quite keenly. I don't tend to give to charities in the street and I very rarely give one-off donations. That's not because I'm miserly, but because every New Year, my partner and I sit down and decide upon five charities that we're going to donate to every month for a year. Currently those are Refuge, the National AIDS trust, Shelter, Save the Children and Bath Cats and Dogs Home - some of them have been on there for years, others are newer additions. What that means is that we can research them properly (some people I know, for instance, won't donate to charities who use animal research - this approach means you can be aware of those things) and it means we can donate slightly more and over a longer period of time. The charities that we choose are close to our hearts and mean something to us, and we feel much more comfortable that way. I don't enjoy being given the third degree by every 'chugger' I meet, but there it is.

The final thing, is that these same trends are often started by small charities and are then jumped on by larger ones. Often a trend will be launched by a reasonably niche medical charity in desperate need of funding, and it'll then become bandwagon fodder for far larger, far better funded organisations. In this sense, there's almost an internal politics that those nominating and donating on FaceBook might not be aware of, and something that I'd rather not play a part in.

So, I'm not being joyless. I have a great deal of time for all of those people on my feed who are freezing themselves half to death on their patios in the name of good causes. But I won't be doing it, and I'd ask that you consider signing up for a longer term donation to a charity that you've considered and researched. Charities rely on these long term donors to back up their integral running costs, as well as needing them to match-fund finance from other streams. It's also great, because our charities and NGOs do amazing things and by sticking with them for the journey, you can make a great deal of difference to people's lives.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

A note about my Resignation

Point of clarification 14/8/14

I was contacted today by an officer of the County Council, who have received a number of complaints about their statement that they would not be investigating any issues related to me. I want to make it quite clear that none of the behaviour I outlined below that contributed to my decision to resign involved a current member of the County Council, nor did any of it take place at a County Council meeting. As far as I'm concerned, the issues that do exist are to be investigated by political parties, and not by Local Government bodies.

One point that I would make, is that it seems strange to me that I'd only be contacted today by the County Council. They have at no point acted wrongly, but it would strike me as better practice that they would contact me immediately after the blog that I posted. Perhaps, this is something that the Council Leader could have done rather than attacking me in the papers. But, that, after all, is politics, so there we are.

My apologies if I didn't make it clearer that Somerset County Council isn't a guilty party. This blog talks of a wider culture that I have found is toxic, and that I think probably deters most even-minded people from entering the political arena.

Hi everyone,

This is a post that I've known that I'll be writing for some time now, but one that I've been, quite simply, absolutely dreading.

I was elected for the first time to District Council in 2011, and elected again - taking a Conservative seat on the County Council - in May last year. Every single time that somebody takes two minutes out of their day to go and vote for me, it's a really touching thing. I take my responsibilities as a Councillor, and my responsibilities to those people incredibly seriously.

That's why I have to resign from Somerset County Council today.

I entered politics for a very simple reason to - in whatever small way - try and make things better for the people that I know and grew up around. That's what politics is about. I'm proud that in the fourteen months I've been a County Councillor, I've secured new funding for First Schools in my division, funding for Harry's Hydro, a charity offering hydrotherapy to those who couldn't otherwise access it, secured funding to solve heavy vehicle problems in Norton St Philip and did my part in the campaign to save a crucial rural bus service, the 267 between Frome and Bath. All of those things are reasons that I have to be proud, and reasons that I take forward to be happy about my time as member for Frome North.

I have to be clear however, that one of the main reasons I'm resigning is because it's becoming almost impossible to do my job properly against the obstruction coming from other politicians. I've always been happy to work across party boundaries to get things done. As far as I'm concerned, as soon as the elections are over, we all work together for the good of our areas. I've been met with such resistance, and - at times - such hostility, intimidation and bullying that I simply can't and won't go on any further.

We have a real question to ask ourselves about why 'real' people don't get involved in politics. I have a few of the answers, and they're all reasons I'm stepping back. During attendance at my first ever Council Meeting, my partner overheard me being referred to as 'that dirty bloody homosexual'. I've had time taken off sick characterised as time taken off on holiday. I've been chased down the road by a Conservative candidate shouting at me because I'd been speaking to local people outside of a shop. I've been harassed on Twitter to the point of having to block and report people - something I always vowed I'd never do. I was told that I'd only won a seat on the County Council because I lied (note, I didn't, and haven't lied...), I was also told that during recent elections activists from other parties had gone door to door telling people that I was gay - as if it would be a reason not to vote for me.

If ever we ask ourselves why more 'normal' people don't want to stand for election, please take that as a 101 from me.

I'm proud of the work that I've done as County Councillor for Frome North and I'll move forward (into a by-election) feeling positive about my contribution and committed to seeing another Liberal Democrat returned. The reason that I came into politics in the first place, and the reason that remains, is that I care about people. That's also the reason that I joined the Liberal Democrats. Because I know that nobody else matches our party when it comes to working hard and caring for their communities. That's what I'm passionate about, and I hope that you'll forgive me for leaving the more abusive stuff behind.

There will ensue a really hard fought by-election (I only won by 45 votes!) that I hope LibDem colleagues will support us in. It's important to me, and important for our Local Party that a Lib Dem Councillor is elected and that local people are served in the way that they deserve.

I know that I'll look back on my time as Councillor for Frome North with fondness, and I'd like to thank you for being a part of it. For those few days in May last year, me, my partner and some friends of ours decided that we'd go above and beyond to win and to serve local people - that time is a special time that will remain with me forever.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Sarah Yong stands down as Somerton and Frome LibDem PPC

I just wanted to put on record, how incredibly sad I am to see that Sarah Yong has stepped back from her role as LibDem PPC in Somerton and Frome. I've known Sarah for a few years now, and know that this decision won't have been made lightly. I also think that it's important that it's put on record the incredible work that Sarah did during her time as our candidate.

As a County Councillor, she took time to speak to me directly about issues affecting people in my division and actively sought solutions for problems that arose. When bus services were threatened in Rode, she made no fuss, and did no glad-handing, but delivered letters with me, informing local people what was happening. She took time to speak to people - often elderly - who were incredibly worried about how isolated they'd become after the bus service stopped. She knew implicitly, as somebody who grew up in Somerset what a blow it was to local people. That's why we selected Sarah, and that's why I'm sad today, because she's a great campaigner who wants the best for people.

Perhaps the most touching thing that she did, however, wasn't on a doorstep, and it wasn't whilst giving a speech. It was in a strategy meeting with other local Liberal Democrats. When asked if she got to Parliament what she'd like to change, she thought for a while, and said that for her, improving mental health services for vulnerable people would be key. She knew, as I do, that unless you can afford to pay for support, you're part of a postcode lottery within the NHS. In that moment, Sarah was speaking from experience, and she was saying that she'd look out for people who were left behind.

Obviously our local party will now have to select a new candidate, who we'll stand behind, and who we'll work to ensure becomes the MP for Somerton and Frome. So long as they carry on David Heath's hard work, and so long as they have half as much heart as Sarah Yong, they'll have my full support.

Monday, 30 June 2014

3 Ways that Dolly Parton is a great Feminist.

So, we're all still a bit reeling from how great Dolly Parton was yesterday - yes? She's a seasoned performer, her back-catalogue is incredible and her ability to connect with people is, I believe, unrivalled. What's more, I'd argue that she's a pretty stonking feminist too - not that she'd ever admit it. When asked about such things, she usually responds with the same thing, that she would have been the first person to burn her bra, but it would have taken the fire department four days to put it out. This is part of Dolly's thing, she doesn't really get involved in politics and she actively makes sure to brush away issues that might be contentious. She supports gay marriage, but in just about the most socially-conservative friendly way possible - "I think everyone should be with who they love, I don’t want to be controversial or stir up a bunch of trouble but people are going to love who they are going to love. I think gay couples should be allowed to marry. They should suffer just like us heterosexuals." Basically, speaking politically, her messaging is impeccable for her market. But, in some really important ways, Dolly is a feminist icon. Here they are, y'all. 

1. Dolly sticks it to the man on a regular basis. The music industry isn't the easiest place to be a woman now, and it certainly wasn't when Dolly started out. But, when Elvis asked to cover 'I Will Always Love You' and his manager demanded the royalties, Dolly told him where to get off. This was only a few years into her career and it would have meant one of her most famous songs being covered by The King, but Dolly stood her ground. In an interview she had this to say - 'Then when Whitney did it, I got all the money for the publishing and the writing, and I bought a lot of cheap wigs with that!' Damn, girl. 

2. Dolly is using her vast wealth doing something incredible - educating people. Unlike many of today's celebrities, Dolly doesn't use her wealth or status to hawk wears in the same way that others do. It's interesting, on the way to her gig at the weekend, I passed a shop offering tans endorsed by the Kardashian sisters. In effect, in doing this, they're suggesting that to be as successful as they are, you should look like them. Dolly's Imagination Library gives books to children from their birth to the time that they start school, unlike the Kardashians, Dolly's message is clear - if you want to be successful, you'd better do well in school. What a refreshing idea that is. 

3. Dolly has been married for 48 years, and you've probably never seen her husband. She married Carl Dean in 1966, and they celebrated their anniversary ten days ago. Rather than being some sort of 'power couple', they're very rarely seen together in public and Dean almost never sees Dolly perform. That's odd isn't it? No, it isn't. They're both successful people in their own right. When was the last time your partner popped into your workplace to check on how things were going? As the couple look toward their fiftieth wedding anniversary, I think the fact that neither one 'wheels out' the other (unlike many politicians and celebrities) is really cool.  

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Was Dolly just miming at Glastonbury?

Short answer, no.

There are a few rumours on Twitter at the moment that Dolly mimed during her Glastonbury performance. There are a few things I'd like to point out, because rumours like this are only slightly less annoying than people being all 'OMG, does Gamu really sound like that?'.

1. OMG, but it totes looks like she's miming.
And you're watching on the BBC Coverage? Yeah, it does look like she's miming, because there's a glitch in the sight and sound syncing. When I watched it on the live stream, no such glitch appeared, in the edit, they've bungled it and she's out of time. It's actually really annoying if you're watching it, and I'd argue the BBC should have better production value considering how much money they spend on Glasto. The tell-tale sign of this, is the fact that Dolly's also out of time whilst speaking, and her backing singers are out of time.

2. OMG, but it really looks like she's miming!
Notice that she very often uses two microphones at the same time. During this performance, Dolly had a gold handheld mic, and a flesh coloured mic attached to her earpiece. My guess would be that the flesh-coloured one was the one she was using the whole time and the gold one was a prop.

3. OMG, but it actually looks like she's miming.
During the two parts where Dolly used instruments, I believe the instrumentation *was* mimed. The Benny Hill sax skit, and the fiddle piece probably were mimed. I do think she can play those instruments, but I also think she's a professional who wants a tight show.

4. OMG, was she miming though?
You'll also notice that if she *was* miming her vocal, the blends between her speaking and singing were incredibly well done. On the balance of probability, I don't think that her Glasto set was so well planned and rehearsed on the main stage that they were able to blend in and out between spoken and sung word that quickly.

Okay, so I'm being extreme in responding like this, but accusations like this really annoy me, because people so often know so little about lip-sync. It annoys me that a pro like Dolly would be accused of these things, when people like Katy Perry (who I'm also a massive fan of) uses forms of mime ALL THE TIME. So, there are a few versions.

1. Full mime. This would effectively be a singer not singing at all and 'miming' to a backing track - either the original track, or a *live* version recorded in a studio. A good example of this would be this performance by Delta Goodrem when she opened the Commonwealth Games. It's a *live* version recorded beforehand and slotted in with plenty of reverb to give it an arena feel. I imagine they did it because it'd be pretty mental for anybody to sing in the middle of those firework dancers.*
2. Part-mime. This is something really often used for big performances used on TV shows or awards ceremonies. Often, artists will perform along to a backing track where their vocals are included in some parts or all the way through. So, if you're Madonna and you're going to be doing a crazy routine, you might have your recorded vocal overlaying your live one, so that you have some breathing space if you're missing words out. An example, I'd say is this performance of Roar by Katy Perry on the X Factor. I'd argue that she's singing live and unassisted on the verses (note at the opening) but that her recorded vocal comes in to overlay her on the chorus. I don't blame anybody who does this really, especially with big production numbers.
3. Totally live. Like this performance of Blue Smoke by Dolly on American TV. I'm pretty sure she's totally live, you can see how she drops a few notes here and there, you can hear her breathing - things you could hear during the Glastonbury set too.

So, basically - don't diss Miss Dolly. There, I said it.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

My experience in A&E today

So, this afternoon my Dad had an appointment with his GP. It wasn't scheduled, he had a flare up of a long-running chest infection, he called, and he was able to see her on the same day. Good service, eh? She told him that he needed to go to the Royal United Hospital in Bath, we got him there, they were expecting him and moved him straight through to the Observation unit, where they took blood, temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. He was seen by a doctor, whose bedside manner was incredible, who took time to explain everything and who couldn't have done more to make sure Josh and I understood everything that was happening. We left as he was waiting to be taken down for an X-Ray.

All in all, a very quick list of everything that I love about the NHS. High quality care, delivered quickly by people who are clearly passionate about what they do.

One thing that I noticed, however, worried me quite a lot. In my Dad's cubicle was a blue poster, which said -

'How was your care today? Would you recommend this unit to a friend if they had similar care needs?'

Now, I'm sorry, but when on earth did the NHS go all TripAdvisor on us? I'm going to be candid here. I'm generally a very healthy person bar an extra few pounds, but if for some reason I was unwell, I wouldn't give a monkey's uncle what other people thought of the hospital. What I would care about was that the hospital was reasonably nearby and would take good care of me.

Now, of course, what patients think of the care they're receiving is imperative for the NHS to improve. But recommendations? Really? To me, this is the end point of the pointless competition culture within public services driven by the Tories, and by New Labour, and still being rolled out by the coalition. I don't believe that hospitals should be market driven, particularly. I think that if my leg's falling off, who is competing for my business is inconsequential. Does anybody really think that my Dad would have ever thought 'Oh, well I can't really breathe at all, but Circle Bath have flowers and a menu... what to do... what to do...'

It's not just the NHS. Michael Gove's remorseless move on the education system has the same effect. 'Which school should my child go to? Well, we'll have to see which school competes for him more!' - rubbish.

It's about time we realised that trying to enforce some kind of phony competition culture in public services that we treasure is a waste of time. Instead, how about we focus on ensuring that high quality healthcare is available relatively locally? That's what I care about, it's what I want for my Dad, and it's what I'll want for my children.

In other news, I'd give the RUH five stars for Service and Value, four for Sleep Quality and I didn't use the pool or fitness room, so couldn't possibly comment. Absolute bloody madness.

Monday, 26 May 2014

I blame the LibLabCon for the rise of UKIP

Do you know what's really interesting? The number of people who have woken up to the horrific results today and are shocked that UKIP did so well. I don't find it particularly shocking, I have to say. It's a very natural progression in something that has been happening for a very long time, and it's a progression that should scare LibDems to death. 

In 2009, I started knocking on doors in County Council elections here in Somerset. The two things we heard most were about MPs expenses and immigration. What did we do? We said, 'Oh, I understand your anger, but we have a really great local record here...'
A year later in the General Election, expenses had died down, but again, a portion of people canvassed talked about immigration. We said that we understood, but that the Conservatives capping plan was unworkable and that we had a great local MP. 
In 2011, I was elected to District Council here in Frome, and during that campaign, people were talking about immigration and benefits, and all I said was that it wasn't something I could do anything about as a Councillor. 
Last year, in the County Council elections, I won, but with a massive chunk of votes going to UKIP. 
Then, last night, we lost our MEP Graham Watson, largely because we couldn't convince our known voters to turn out and vote for the Liberal Democrats. We couldn't, once again, ask them to do us a favour. 

It seems to me, that actually, the rise in UKIP has been part of an ongoing problem - the fact that we (as well as the Tories and Labour) are living on the never never with the General Public. We can't, time and time again, canvass people, pretend to listen, then carry on regardless. 

Now, I don't think that UKIPs rise is just to do with immigration. I happen to think that this government has done a lot to allay fears on this particular issue. It's far more to do with a general distrust with the three major parties - it's a lack of belief and a lack of hope that people might keep promises.

The sad thing, for me, is that people with legitimate fears about very legitimate issues will have voted UKIP this week. Not because they're racist, but because UKIP is the only party speaking to them. I happen to think that if one of the three main parties had made a strong and reasoned stump for EU reform, many more reasonable minded people would have fallen back from UKIP. This should be shameful to both Labour and the Tories - when met with a challenge, they shirked it because they were scared of UKIP voters. 

And the LibDems? We made an unabashedly positive case for the EU, and we lost all bar one of our MEPs. Now, we can blame this on Nick Clegg as much as we like, but I'd argue that it has just as much to do with the fact that our views on the EU aren't too close to those widely held by the British public. We campaigned for the EU when, for decades, people have been taken in by anti-EU rhetoric.We campaigned for the EU when people have been sold half-truths for years. I don't think we should be surprised by the result. 

Again, this is a case of LibDem positioning being too many steps ahead of where the British public actually is. I'd argue that it wouldn't be anti-European to demand reform. It isn't pandering to the right-wing, it's standing up for something that I think is inherently sensible. It's also not a million miles from what many of those UKIP splitters were thinking. 

So, it's easy for us but dangerous of us to think that there's been a massive rise in racism or xenophobia in the UK. It's easy because it absolves us of any part in the whole sorry affair. I'd argue that far more, many of those people voting for UKIP had to do so because they were left with very little choice. In my mind they've actually been cheated by UKIP, because UKIP don't stand for the moral values British people have. They're the same grim, sleazy politicians we got shot of before 1997. 

This gulf, between real people and the political parties is ignored at our peril. As LibDems, we now have a massive opportunity. If we can be the party who truly listens to our electorate and speaks to them properly and with respect, I believe there's a lot to gain. Our entire campaigning model is built to give people hope in politics - if we don't, I worry about the alternative. 

I don't believe a great deal of what Nigel Farage says. He's a snake-oil salesman who says only what people want to hear, and only what will gain him a few votes. But what I do agree with him on, is that we're currently led by a Westminster elite who seem more and more remote from the lives of real people. As Liberal Democrats, we must continue to work in our communities, to reengage our electorates and to give people hope in a party that listens. 

The rise of UKIP is about one thing more than any other - the general public losing hope in it's politicians. That's the most upsetting part, but it's the part that we LibDems can do most to solve. We must meet this challenge. 

*Oh, and sorry for using 'LibLabCon' - I don't like using their language, but it is instructive. 

Saturday, 3 May 2014

It's only spousal abuse - LOL.

Trigger warning - violence and domestic abuse.

This evening, Josh and I went to see the last showing of The Grand Budapest Hotel in Bath. We like going to the cinema, and we'd agreed to go with a friend. So, we went in and settled down to the trailers, and, as we always do, turned and nodded or shook our heads after each one to filter out what we'd like to see and what we'd happily miss.

Enter, the hilarious and charming ad for 22 Jump Street. For those who haven't seen it's prequel - the hilarious and charming picture probably described by Empire as 'absolute dross' - it's a cop buddy movie starring Hollywood lumps of gristle Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. So far, so good and nothing to do with spousal abuse, right? Wrong.

As Metro writes - Jenko, played by Tatum, quips: ‘We’re like a power couple.’
Schmidt (Hill) adds: ‘We’re like Rihanna and Chris Brown. You’re a good dancer and sometimes you’re meaner than I’d like you to be.’
Isn't that just hilarious? Lads being lads. Jenko and Schmidt, kicking back, having a few beers, making light of the cuts to Rihanna's face. Smoking a few joints and laughing about old times, football matches, old girlfriends - that time Chris Brown attacked his partner on the way to an award ceremony. 
This whole thing makes me sick. 
It isn't just this ad either, though this is particularly grim. In February last year, the Daily Mail ran a piece about Chris Brown 'opening up' about his 'greatest regret'. Really? The Daily Mail does it's fair share of story slanting. We have scrounging immigrants, workshy single mothers - and what for Chris Brown, someone convicted of assault? Does he confess? Does he come clean? No - he 'opens up'. Even the language of this whole affair is riddled with the inherent bias of a celebrity hungry media. 
My family has had experience of the hell of domestic violence and let me say - abuse of any kind is never funny. When people laugh at the abuse Rihanna suffered at the hands of Chris Brown, they devalue the experience of people across the world who have lived this kind of hell. They might be pop stars, they might live lives that we all could only ever dream of but laugh at this, and you're laughing at people in refuges. Laughing at women who don't believe they could survive alone. Laughing at men who don't think anybody will believe them. 
I, for one, was never going to be queueing at the Odeon to see 22 Jump Street, because it looks like a really crap film. But I hope that those who do go to see it, realise that the butt of this joke isn't Rihanna or Chris Brown. It's the men and women who have to pick up the pieces and hope that it won't happen again, while all the while, they're surrounded by a media which trivialises the crimes being exacted against them. 
It's 2014 for goodness sake - we shouldn't still be arguing about this. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

And the next LibDem leader should be...

Do you know what? Call me strange, but I think it's pretty weird that five weeks away from Local and European Elections, there have been a slew of articles (some from people I have a great deal of respect for) engaging in a hypothetical debate about who the next leader of the Liberal Democrats should be.

A few articles have suggested that Danny Alexander is being a shrewd fellow and positioning himself - mainly by going to the papers with a change to Mansion Tax policy and showing a pretty blatant disregard for party process. Another, last night, was from my friend Mathew Hulbert, arguing Tim Farron's case and putting a pretty solid case forward for a leftist leader. Somebody else, I saw, was extolling the virtues of Steve Webb and of course nobody can ignore the recent activities of the Member for Taunton Deane.

The issue for me, is that this is a debate that doesn't need having. As with all of these things, if somebody was in a position to get rid of Clegg, they probably would have done it by now. The reality is, clearly they're not. Jeremy Browne's book release, which could have been seen as an assault on Clegg from the right was widely laughed off within the party - it's quite clear that his views are niche, even for the right-wing. In fact, rather than improving his position, it probably damaged Browne with most even-minded people in the party who don't like seeing things dragged across front pages.

There's been quite a kerfuffle this morning about this article - where Nick has said that he'd like to remain leader until 2020- and why? Quite clearly, when asked about the leadership, Nick isn't going to turn around and tell the exact truth - that if we're not in Government a leadership ballot will automatically be triggered, because the press would have a field day. On questions like that, Nick can only give one answer if he doesn't want to start another stupid media frenzy - that he's in it for the long haul.

So that's the position we're in. It won't make everybody happy, but it's true. Changing leader this close to an election would do one of two things - it would make us look weak and divided and would lose us votes, or it would make us look like political opportunists ditching the man who's led us through four years of Government - thus losing us votes. For me, changing leader before the General Election is a complete non-starter.

After that? Well, if an election is triggered, we'd be right to have these types of debates. If we enter another coalition? Then we have to react to the situation we're in. What isn't helpful. is having an open debate about who is likely to take over, and who is getting ready to nail down the coffin lid.

Like Nick, or loathe Nick, he's the leader that we have. I, for one, am proud that he's led our party into Government. I'm proud that he's made sure that people who are struggling now like my Mum did in the 90s won't have to pay any income tax. I'm proud that he's worked with colleagues to make sure that when Josh and I want to get married, we can do. I'm proud that he's tackled the free school meals issue and that he's confronting the scandal that many have ignored - that a child will wake up and go to sleep today in the UK and not have had a hot meal. I'm proud that he's seen the 0.7% pledge on International Aid come to fruition. I'm proud, that whatever the circumstances, he stood up for our position in the world and took on a politician (and *alleged* expenses cheat) that nobody else had the balls to.

Is he perfect? No. But, I promise you, right now, the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.  I'm proud that Nick Clegg is our leader, and so, until the situation changes, I'm going to do a Tammy Wynette and stand by my man.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Is this the worst mini-reshuffle ever?

So, Maria's gone. Good news. I'm not somebody who's signed a petition to get her sacked, or who defends her position - for me it's quite simple, if it's been proven that you've done something wrong, you probably need to go and not cause an almost week long scandal. For me though, Maria isn't the issue. 

For me, the issue is the new Maria Miller. Splitting her roles into two jobs, Sajid Javid will now pick up business from Culture, Media and Sport while Nicky Morgan MP will take his old job at the Treasury whilst also becoming Minister for Women and Equalities. 

Two points - 

1. Nicky Morgan voted AGAINST equal marriage. 

Yes, that's right, the woman who has just become the Minister for Equalities doesn't actually believe that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. She wrote at the time that she voted against the bill because she'd had very few emails in favour of it. *facepalm*

2. Morgan, as Minister for Women and Equalities WON'T be a full Cabinet member but will 'attend meetings when necessary'. I mean, for goodness sake. This is part of the problem! Surely, the whole point about having a Minister for Women is that they can watch over the work of Government and - I don't know - perhaps highlight when Govt decisions are adversely affecting women? Perhaps be a critical friend to those in power and offer a different perspective? 

This whole thing has been a total bloody nightmare from start to finish. First we had Miller-gate, now we have a Minister who doesn't believe in some pretty key tenets of her Job Description. 

Only one thing for it... *FML bomb*