I am not a token

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When I look at a group of people, I don’t break it down into a mental pie chart of the genders, races, ages or disabilities represented within that group. To me, removing barriers for everybody and seeing all people equally is the best thing we could possibly aim for as a society and it is my view that any kind of tokenism directly contradicts that mindset. To try to ‘balance’ any selection of people is to categorise them by the very things that I wish we could all be blind to.

I’m not, however, saying that I’m happy with the status quo. Where under-represented groups exist, I believe that we need to find the root of that problem and deal with it effectively. Quotas and tokenism achieve nothing but to undermine the very people they are trying to help.

Liberal Democrats celebrated this week when a popular fringe panelist announced his intention to refuse to sit on any more all-male panels. A few of us, however, were upset by the wider-implications of stands like this but quickly found ourselves in a minority. It’s easy to dismiss us as being too ideological or as not being committed enough to solve the problem and, through that dismissal, I felt very much excluded from the debate.

We spent a good while on Wednesday night getting our ideas and objections together for a concise blog post which was published over at Liberal Democrat Voice today and I am now really hopeful that party members will understand where we’re coming from a bit more now that we’ve reasoned it all out and, maybe, that some might even agree with what we’re saying.

At the top of this post is an avatar that we made of myself and the two other co-authors (Ewan Hoyle and Eilidh Dickson) for the original blog post. The Campaign for Gender Blindness, however, is not limited to 3 people writing a blog. If you like our view of a world in which nobody is judged by their identifiers and in which all barriers are broken with nobody excluded or included on the basis of anything other than what they can bring to the debate then, please, let’s start a movement.

We are not tokens. We are all worth so much more than that.

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A Tough Time to be a Liberal Democrat

“If my defeat tonight is part payment so that no child will spend another night in a detention centre then I accept it, with all my heart.”Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Central)

As a Liberal Democrat I’ve had to deal with a lot of abuse recently from members of other parties. At the local count on Thursday night I had to cope with jeers & heckles from Labour & Tory supporters (including my own councilors and MP who are supposed to represent me!) – We were less welcome in that room than the BNP and the EDL.

As an economic liberal, I’m even getting abuse from the social democrats (for those who don’t know, the Liberal Democrats are comprised of classic liberals [who subscribe to the Orange Book] and Social Democrats [who sit more to the left of the party]).

Essentially, it’s a difficult time for anybody who is an ‘out’ Liberal Democrat. So, why am I not leaving? Many have and many are threatening too. A lot of members are disillusioned now that times are difficult and lots of voters feel the same (as we saw with Thursday’s results) and even the YES campaign’s cross-party mechanism shattered a short time after the referendum was lost and the blame game began. The leadership & sitting MPs are hated by the public and the press for being part of the Government and Clegg (however you feel about him) is being unfairly and personally victimised.

I’ve campaigned up and down the country since I joined the party & I know people who work themselves half to death for the sake of the party. I’ve seen nervous breakdowns, sleep-deprivation & rifts in personal relationships. I know people who have given up their jobs, spent their savings, left their homes & given blood, sweat and tears to the Liberal Democrats when there’s a tough fight to be had.

Why do we do it?

It’s all well and good to say (as I hear all too often) that we’re all after power and fortune and that we’re only in it for ourselves, but if we were after power we could defect to a party that’s more likely to get into Government & who’s taking over the councils (Labour) and if we wanted money we could obviously sign ourselves up to a party that would be more likely to pay us highly (Conservatives). Perhaps we want a soap box to rant from? Surely we’d be better in a loud fringe party like the SWP or the Trade Unionists Against Cuts. I won’t deny that some of our members signed up during Cleggmania and are now disappointed to find that politics isn’t always as fun as that and I imagine they will leave now that the glory has passed, but the grassroots will stay no matter how we’re perceived by the media.

“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

 

If I wanted money or power there’d be a much easier way to get it than to tirelessly campaign for a party that’s having to make some very unpopular decisions & is nationally disliked. As Alex Cole-Hamilton says, if this period of difficulty and heartache is just part payment for some of the fantastic things we’ve achieved (and still are achieving) in government, in line with our key principals as a political party, then I’ll take it. Happily.

Oldham East & Saddleworth

It’s been a very long few weeks but I’m finally home from the by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth where Debbie Abrahams held the seat for Labour with a majority of 2,878 votes.

It’s been over 20 years since a governing party took a seat in a by-election from the opposition. It’s very easy to be the opposition (in fact, I frequently miss it!) because you can promise anything, you can point to the flaws of the current system without offering an alternative (Hi, Ed) and you can skip over your own track record.

Add to that the current difficulties we’re facing as a party on the whole. After tackling some very difficult and controversial issues in Government, the media haven’t exactly painted the Liberal Democrats in the best light; and with all those factors considered, it is a real testament to Elwyn and his team that they managed to come as close as they did. It’s a difficult time to be in Government right now and it’s a deep shame that so few see that it was Labour who put us into that position in the first place.

I cannot stress enough how impressed and proud I am of every activist that took part in the campaign. We had such a cold winter in a high area with lots of hills and people still consistently came to help out from all over the country and the core team leading from the HQ could not have worked harder than they did. We fought a perfect campaign and could have done nothing more to get our message out to the people of OE&S.

The biggest loss of all of this is to the people of the constituency who, thanks to a horrific smear campaign from Woolas, have missed out on such an excellent MP. The people of OE&S have been such a friendly bunch to deal with and I sincerely hope that their new MP will work as hard for them as we know Elwyn would have.

It’s not all loss though. Our candidate took a huge risk and put everything he had into getting justice for the people of the area and for our political system as a whole – the example made of Phil Woolas by Elwyn Watkins will never be forgotten and will prove to be a great point in our country’s political history – politicians now know that they will NOT get away with lies and libel, they will NOT win seats with dirty campaigns and they will NOT get away with with using unfair tactics to trick their constituents. For that, we have all to thank Elwyn as he’s secured a better politics for all of us.

On a lighter note, everyone can go home now and get back to warm beds and lie-ins and rest their aching legs. I’ll miss everyone who I’ve worked with on this and wish them the very best. It’s been long and difficult but we can all relax now!

So, Thank You Focus delivery, anyone?

Tuition Fees

I’ve always had mixed views on Tuition Fees. I’m of the impression that it’s more important to help students with their money while AT uni, rather than with their later debt – Hell, look at me! Uni was very difficult for me for financial reasons – and it wasn’t fees that were the problem! (Thought it will be fees that stop me from going back and starting again.)

That said, I do feel that the principle of free education is important and that fees are still a barrier to education, even if they aren’t the biggest one. More importantly, however, I feel that breaking promises isn’t something to be taken lightly. Today we’re looking at a fees raising to £9,000 per year. £9,000! ALL Lib Dem MPs signed a pledge that they would not vote for a raise in fees – it’s quite sad that just a few short months later we have to remind them of that. It’s not just the pledge though. It’s not just the broken promise.

I know of a few students who got involved solely based on the tuition fee policy. Some of these students have gone on to chair LY branches and some have lead campaigns and run as candidates themselves, all because of tuition fees! Some feel so strongly about it that they would leave the party if that policy were to be reversed. The work of student activists can not be underestimated by the party. The hours and hours of trudging through the rain with heavy bags of focuses. The aching muscles and sore feet after the 50th tenement flat that morning or even just the first high rise of the afternoon. Stuffing envelopes, fighting with RISOs, staying up all night to study to leave days free for campaigning… None of this is unfamiliar to a student activist. All for the party. Who now pull the rug out and say ‘thanks for the help guys! We’re having to change our minds about a couple of things though…’

Some MPs wouldn’t be in their seats if it weren’t for the students: the students who got involved because of tuition fees.

Have they forgotten that?

Oh, and let’s not underestimate the student vote either! Students are notorious for staying in on voting day, but many do get the postal ballot or head on down to the local primary school come election day and countless students will have put a big X next to the name of an MP who had promised them free tuition fees last May. Again, ‘thanks guys! Great to be in power, but oh, about those fees….’

And if you think it’s just the students that are annoyed at this, think again! In politics, every day you are faced with ‘they’re all the same’ and ‘politicians are liars’ etc etc – I always felt that I was involved in something different. I’m not longer sure, and nor are the electorate who may previously have seen a fresh, honest and trustworthy bunch in the Lib Dems.

There won’t be a way to recover from this.

Liberal Youth are still hugely opposed to fees. That hasn’t changed!
Add your voice to ours and make it stronger.
We are calling upon all Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament to represent students and abide by their commitment to the Liberal Democrat policy of removing tuition fees.
Please sign the petition: bit.ly/dxuzRG