Lets not beat around the bush. I am a Nick Clegg guy. A total Nick Clegg guy. I have always been a Liberal Democrat voter but Nick is the reason why I’m a card carrying member. Nothing against any leader before or since but there was something extremely special about Nick Clegg. He could’ve been a great leader of this country but instead it’ll be a generation before people truly understand what they’ve missed out on by essentially nailing him to the cross based mainly on the tuition fees situation and of course some voters believing that working with the Tories in any capacity was treachery.
In the past week we’ve seen much upheaval in the political sphere. A Labour Party held at gunpoint by a leader who has an army of followers but no way to ever win a war at a wider level and a Conservative Party where the big beast expected to be Prime Minister has bottled it after one of the most egregious pieces of back stabbing we’ve seen in modern political history by one of the nastiest and slimiest MPs around.
Amongst all that the Lib Dems have seen a surge in new members, over 12,000 in the past week at last count and having already spoken to a few around where I live in Southend, I was surprised (and very pleased) that none of them so far have had a bad word to say about Nick Clegg. Quite the opposite in fact. This gives me the sense that some of the stigma surrounding the party is starting to evaporate and that opens up big opportunities for the party.
I don’t think its exactly breaking news that I’m sceptical about our leader, not in his convictions, I think on that issue he ticks the boxes but in terms of being at ease in the spotlight and being a natural orator then I think there are still questions to answer. Yet his speech at Conference in 2015 was fast rate, it was passionate, it was heartfelt and it gave hope. The big question now is whether he can make enough waves to get the media attention when the party are now arguably the fifth most important in the United Kingdom political sphere behind the big beasts, UKIP and the SNP.
What the past week has shown though is the Lib Dems now clearly stand for something. They have that headline sign around their neck. The Lib Dems are very much Pro-EU. This means they are pro international business, they are pro the City of London being the heart of the world’s financial sector, they are pro small business. They are pro the freedom of movement of people across the EU, they are pro having an open and tolerant multicultural society.
It is something I think many Lib Dems have struggled with in recent years, telling people via canvassing or leafleting exactly what the party stand for. Did they stand for keeping the Tories in check (which I still think they did very well considering the electoral math against them) or did they stand for just local issues and try to ignore the national scene. The sad truth is national swings will often effect local races when they shouldn’t so I’m always been a proponent of talking about national issues as well as local ones, this isn’t something that has been widely shared amongst some that I know.
Still now is an opportunity for people to join or rejoin the party and the softening of the distrust and dislike of the party by the voters. This isn’t going to change overnight but the Lib Dems now sit at the heart of the centre-left on the ideological spectrum, a position not too far away from where Tony Blair won office in three consecutive landslides from 1997 to 2005.
The Labour Party are in complete disarray, their leader is so far left that they are now unelectable and he can’t even command his own party. Either he goes or his party splits and should that happen and a split Labour Party alliance or amalgamation with the Lib Dems and suddenly the centre-left once more has a party at the heart of it. This isn’t beyond the realm of possibility and in this era of political uncertainty, things move fast and flexibility will be key but the signs are everything is in play.
Over in the blue camp, they are undergoing a leadership contest where it is assumed that a pretty hard-lined right-winger in Theresa May is set to win. Should that come to fruition then she will drag the party away from the centre ground where David Cameron has cleverly put it to win a surprise second term at Prime Minister. With the Tories potentially abandoning the centre, Labour way out left and UKIP way out right, imagine a progressive party sitting in that centre-left spot consisting of non Corbynista Labour and the Lib Dems. Has some real potential no?
Still that is a long way off, for now the Liberal Democrats now have a clear identity. They know who they are and can mix the national scene with local politics once again. The Lib Dems aren’t just Tory-lite or Tory-curbers, they have their own clear electoral platform. Whether they take this opportunity, well we’ll find out in time but as it stands they are the only party in England who firmly want to stay in the EU and aren’t placed on either extreme flank of political ideology.
If you believe in this country being part of the world and not a backwater island, want the country to be a player on the world stage, want to keep down racism and xenophobia and hopefully eradicate it altogether, want to be part of an all-inclusive multicultural society and want the next generation to have the opportunities that we had then at this moment there is one clear political party for you. I’m not saying the Lib Dems are the greatest things since Cherry Bakewells (we’re not) but we do believe in looking forward and not backwards and know exactly what direction we want to take the country in and that isn’t something either the red or blue teams can say at this juncture.
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Well that was fun wasn’t it? Wait, no, that isn’t right, that was a fucking disaster and one of the most stupid things that any country has ever done it itself. Bugger.
Still, whilst my views on the result are pretty clear, I am pretty fed up with people who are ragging on those who voted in a different way or want a second referendum. You don’t just keep going until you get the decision you want (I’m looking at you Scotland…) that isn’t how democracy works. So I don’t want a second referendum and won’t sign a petition to say such a thing. I would love to go into my time machine and shows 17million people the first 24 hours in the markets where if we spread out the loses in just one day total £6,000 for all of us but alas my time travelling capabilities are still pretty rustic.
The truth is three sets of people voted to leave and two of them I don’t have an issue with. Firstly the racists and xenophobes, I think you are quite awful people for a variety of reasons but if that is how you voted sincerely then so be it, I can’t rag you for having an opinion (no matter how horrendous I believe those opinions are).
Secondly those people who genuinely believe they know better than the overwhelming majority of economists, I think you are stupid when you say things like, ‘what do experts know?’ and I wonder to myself when you go to the doctor, do you ask the receptionist to oversee your visit or do you listen to the fucking person employed to try and fix you? When your car breaks down do you wander over to your local coffee shop and ask the barista to take a look at it or do you go to the mechanic? I think I’ve made my point but if you sincerely believe that you know what is best for the economy then so be it, you are a moron but entitled to be a moron.
The third group though, which is significant, are people I can’t can’t get on board with at all. These are the people who used this referendum that would change the way the world sees us, change the way laws are made, change the economy is a frighteningly devastatingly manner, these people voted just as a protest or to show the Tories and/or the Westminster elite that they were angry. Bravo people, bravo. It is like tearing down your plasma TV from the wall and smashing it on the floor because England can’t score against Slovakia. It makes you feel good for a few seconds but then you realise what an eejit you’ve been and how it is going to cost you. If you voted to leave and are in this camp then I quite simply do not have time for you.
There are plenty of reasons about why Great Britain voted to become little England and I don’t have time to write 10,000 words on all of them so I’ll just touch on a few of them.
I would like to start with the banking crisis and the way the media portrayed it. This was the seed that would grow into the anger that a lot of the country felt on Thursday. The belief that the bankers caused the financial mess and pretty much got away scot free. This perception was fuelled by the media and bankers because one of (if not the) most distrusted set of people in the country for a short while. It was fun to bash the bankers and it was also an easy way to get a laugh. Comedians lived off of banker attacks for several years and whilst it was a cheap and easy laugh, all it did was intensify the resentment for the City of London amongst many people.
I touched on the media there and there is no doubt in my mind that they deserve a large slice of the blame due to the lazy journalism that has swept through the industry for many years. Good journalism is hard and is often expensive to produce because it takes time and money to investigate fully. If you are an owner of a media outlet and can get a million clicks for a story about Chris Evans and Matt leBlanc feuding about hosting Top Gear for near even free or pay for two journalists to investigate and write about the real banking crisis then what are you going to do? You are going to be lazy. That is just modern journalism for many media outlets.
For years they pilloried Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems for being ‘liars’ or ‘caring more about ministerial cars’ and yet what was it, all of the dailies bar the Guardian, Daily Mirror and Morning Star endorsed some form a Lib Dem influence on the 2015-2020 government knowing that they had actually done a good job? Well do you know what thickwads (which isn’t a word) if you tell your readership for five years how fucking awful a political party is and how much of a lying toerag their leader is, don’t be surprised if at the very little minute one editorial doesn’t erase the five years of horse shit you’ve shovelled.
Next up the political parties themselves, the Tory party essentially were playing with house money and finally came up against a Royal Flush and still bet big. They danced with losing Scotland but kept it just about. Then they won a General Election that no-one expected them to due to Labour being shit, everyone hating the Lib Dems and as it turns out, they may have been fiddling the books and just buying the election if multiple police investigations bear any fruit. They felt invincible and the Prime Minister thought he could finish the EU situation once and for all and go down in history as the man who governed for the best part of two terms, kept the union together, destroyed a real rival in the south and kept the country in the EU on favorable terms.
However history will say that he was the man who lost the referendum and oversaw the rise of intolerance within his nation and of course it is possible he’ll be the man that causes a long and deep recession. All because he wanted to roll the dice once last time on a big issue that he wasn’t sure he could win. As any gambler will tell you, at some point your luck runs out and boy did luck run out for the PM. Sadly for all of us, we’ll also share in the suffering and it won’t be just him who deals with the embarrassment.
I thought the PM was right to resign and essentially roll a hospital pass to his successor. Why should the PM deal with the shit storm that is coming? Yes he helped create it but he at least tried to stop it and put the genie back in the bottle. He has colleagues (and probable successors) who actively wanted to leave so why don’t they help shape the new emboldened UK, free from EU red tape. The sombre look on Michael Gove and Boris Johnson’s faces on Friday morning said more than 1,000 words could. They won yet are mortified that they helped create this and now have to deal with the repercussions.
Now on to Jeremy Corbyn, the spineless leader of the Labour party (at the time of writing, I haven’t checked Twitter in 20 mins or so) whose lukewarm endorsement of the EU essentially shifted the balance of power. Had the Corb thrown his weight fully behind the remain camp then that side would have in all likelihood won. Yet his history of railing against the EU and clear wanting to not share a platform or fully campaign alongside Tories led in part to the result on Thursday. Jeremy Corbyn played politics with the future and he helped screw all those young people he said he cared deeply about just because he didn’t like David Cameron and the Tories.
I hope Jeremy sleeps well at night because he has to take a large swathe of the blame to go around and that is why the Labour party are ready to revolt against him. Corbyn has been in power less than a year and in that time he has helped destroy the EU and is on the verge of seeing Labour genuinely split and officially break apart. Not a bad years work for the lad…
Whilst many people were surprised at the result, some of course are already saying they predicted it, that politicos only exist within their own bubble and don’t know what real people think out in the world. I surround myself mostly with people who wanted to remain as part of a reformed EU, these are the people I speak to and work with. People for who a strong economy and opportunity for them and their loved ones are a priority. People for whom multiculturalism is a good thing and that there is a great big world out there and we are but a small part of it. The overwhelming majority of those people are absolutely gutted today knowing that the future is bleaker, not just for them but for those they care about.
On the other side of the ledger I do know some people who voted to leave and they mostly sit in the casual xenophobic camp. People who have never themselves actually had an issue with foreigners, never lost a job because of a foreigner yet will blame them for hogging up the road or for being ill and ensuring they can’t get a doctors appointment when they need one or believe that foreigners are living on our benefits system. I shake my head and despair and ask them for proof of these things but they just say they know and that I can’t see because my head is too far up my own backside. I don’t live in the real world accordingly to them because…well I don’t know why but I presume it is because I disagree with them politically and anyone who does so doesn’t live in the real world.
As some of you know I work from home so often have the idiot box on in the corner and I like to watch/half watch Homes under the Hammer most mornings so after that there is sometimes a show on the BBC called ‘Saints and Scroungers’ where people are talking about their need for housing benefit. I have casually watched this and I’d say 95% of the ‘saints’ are white English folk and 95% of the ‘scroungers’ are people of foreign descent. I’m relatively sure this isn’t a good indicator of the housing benefit issues facing the country but is just lazy propaganda by the BBC that reinforces some peoples view about the world that they live in.
It is also true that is the vast majority of instances on Thursday, places with a lower rate of immigration voted far more to leave than in places where immigrants live to a more significant degree. In places like Yorkshire, Cornwall, Wales, the Isle of Wight and even around where I live in Southend, where the immigration rates are extremely low voted to leave. It either shows that people voted for immigration reasons based on what they think they know and not what they’ve actually experienced or that immigration wasn’t the issue and I think immigration was the key.
We as a country have made great strides forward to becoming a more open and tolerant society, for example on LGBT issues know whilst there are some dickheads who will still hassle people for the way they choose to live their life or who who they love, steps have been going in the right direction. We aren’t there yet but things are better now. Yet in large parts of the country on Thursday, people voted to show the world that we are more intolerant. People have showed that abusing those who are different is to be more accepted and my word is that a depressing state of affairs.
For me the EU Referendum question was a no brainer, I didn’t even have to think about it because I knew firmly that the best thing for the country was to remain. For economic reasons it just isn’t a question and for tolerance issues that shows the world that we are an open and accepting people. We had it great with the EU, we had an unbelievable deal that gave us the Veto on many important issues and all number of preferential treatments. Instead though we’ve seemingly decided to throw it all away to go our own way.
The fact we have potentially shot ourselves in the foot economically speaking is maddening and stupid but the fact we’ve embraced xenophobia and latent racism is the real result of Thursday. We’ve decided that our place isn’t in the world, it is as an island on our own. We, the country that invaded and conquered most of the world, have now turned our back on the rest of the globe and its 7billion people and want England just for us because we know better. The arrogance of it all is just bewildering.
Yet we have made our bed. It is time to lie in it. It sucks but that is life. I’m just grateful that I’m not going to have any kids because the next generation are going to have it so much tougher than we had. We lived in a golden era of opportunity where anything seemed possible. For the kids of my friends, that will not be the case and for those children I can only apologise. Had young people engaged and gone out to vote then everything would’ve been different but what was it, 36% of 18-24 year-olds voted, a statistic in itself that should send shivers through the spine.
There is plenty of blame to go around and not one person, party or segment of society can shoulder all of it. This is the country we’ve created where lazy journalism wins, where short-term political ambitions are more important than issues that will shape the next 100 years of this country, where internal party feuds are decided by national referendums, where intolerance and distrust of anyone different isn’t lambasted but welcomed and where the disenfranchised can vote for something as a protest not realising that what they thought they voted for wasn’t actually what they voted for.
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The local elections are over and I’m more free to write about what has gone down and I have to say that whilst it was an extremely poor evening for the Lib Dems (bar the huge win in Leigh) it wasn’t a surprise. I think most people fully expected the party to lose Prittlewell and Blenheim Park, two seats we were defending and not be able to pick up much traction elsewhere. There are reasons for this which it would be unfair to go into in such a public forum but the results in terms of what happened to the Lib Dems went down pretty much exactly as expected.
Whilst the news has finally surfaced that the Conservatives two gains (at the expense of the Lib Dems in the above two wards) helped them into a position where they could run the council (either in coalition or with a confidence and supply, which is indeed now widely reported to be the case with the two UKIP councillors) they didn’t have a great night at all. Beating the Lib Dems in those wards isn’t anything to write home about.
The biggest result for them was hanging on to Southchurch from a strong independent challenge. Had they stolen Belfairs from the Indy’s or managed to navigate through the warring independents in Shoeburyness then you could say they were the winners of the night. As it was they did what they were supposed to do but nothing more. John Lamb may be set to run the council but with a majority of just one (when you take into account the two UKIP members who will back them up) then it is a very weak majority and Southend is in for two years of council struggles.
No the big winner was clearly Labour and this has sweet fuck all to do with Jeremy Corbyn or the Corbynistas. It has to do with the fact their ground game is by far the most superior in the town. They have activists who go out come rain or shine throughout the year and engage with residents. You can have nothing but praise for them.
They held the three seats they were defending by very large margins in seats that were seemingly vulnerable. Cllr. Anne Jones moved wards to try and take out popular incumbent Dr. Vel and did so with relative ease to make Westborough a three Labour ward. However despite these admirable achievements, they weren’t their best moments.
The two results that will send shivers down the spines of the other parties will be Labour finishing a very close second in Prittlewell and a comfortable second in Blenheim Park. The former is demographically horrendous for Labour and they shouldn’t be anywhere even close to taking that seat. The fact they were 78 votes away from winning it is insane.
In Blenheim the demographics are slightly more favourable but still in the grand scheme of things they shouldn’t be outperforming the Lib Dems or the short-term the UKIP factor. It shows that hard work over a significant period of time, coordinated strategy, fielding a strong candidate and a party can perform well above national expectations at local level.
Labour can now legitimately say that they are the party that can stop the Tories in Blenheim Park and Prittlewell. Whether that is true come the next time people are voting in Southend come 2018, it could be another story entirely but as of right now they are clearly the main opposition party.
With 2018 seeing UKIP defending those two seats, whether they stay purple (highly unlikely) or go blue or red could easily be the deciding factor in the make-up of the council. They can easily put themselves as competitive or favourites in six wards going into 2018, only the Conservatives can say they are competitive in more seats.
My last point I want to write about though is strategic cross-party planning. To keep the Tories out of controlling the council (with/without the propping up of UKIP) will likely need some some of cross-party strategy. An agreement to not stand a candidate in a seat or two where they are only going to be paper candidates anyway in exchange for reciprocal agreements.
This is something Labour, the Lib Dems and the Independent Group should at least consider. I know it goes against the principles of certainly both Labour and the Lib Dems who believe you should put up candidates everywhere to give your voters a chance to vote for you but in terms of locking the Tories out and having a center-left coalition instead of a right-wing allience in charge at the Civic Centre, speaking very much in a personal capacity here, it deserves some real thought.
So to recap, a very impressive and deservedly so night for the Labour group. The Tories did what they were expected to do, nothing more. UKIP showed they are very much in decline locally, the Greens ran a nice spoiler campaign to enable the Tories across the town and as for the Lib Dems, well what can you say? A huge and comprehensive win in Leigh and then 16 other results (ok 15, West Leigh was more than solid too…)
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Oh hello there blog. It has been a while. What have I been up to that has kept me from writing copious amounts of words being pious on whatever the topic of the day is I hear you not ask. Well the truth of the matter is I just haven’t felt the need nor more importantly want to actually sit here and write. It isn’t like I’ve had a zillion e-mails wondering where I’ve gone either but I’m writing now, but what is the topic that has dragged me back?
Being young, knowing everything and the futility of treading water.
When I was a young I wonder if I felt I knew everything or not. I suspect I probably did. Yet as I’ve grown older I have learned three important things. Firstly that there is far less black and white than what I used to think, instead their are increasing numbers of shades of grey (and not in that quite terrible book/movie way). Secondly that as you get older you gain knowledge and wisdom based on your life experiences far more than I could ever believe when I was young but here is the kicker and most important thing, the third thing I’ve learnt is that the more I grow and learn, the more I realise how little I actually know in the grand scheme of things.
I am sure I used to be cocksure of myself and my place in the world, I may have even felt that I was important and significant when in fact the opposite is true. I am more insignificant than I could ever have imagined when I was younger. This isn’t meant to sound depressing and I don’t see it as such but I have realised my influence is far more sparse than I thought it would be when I was growing up.
Sometimes I sit here and look at the bright eyed young people who have the world in front of them and I am filled with mixed emotions. I will think how many of them will sell out to provide for themselves and their loved ones. Doing a job they hate (or at least not what they wanted to do when they were growing up) but going forward and making their little world that little bit better. On the other hand I look at them and hope that they succeed in making sweeping changes to make not only their world that little bit better but in doing so make the world a better place as a whole.
In terms of politics this is being played out in the Democratic nomination in the US of A. Bernie Sanders wants to change the world and lots of people are buying into that hope. Changing the world requires big thinking and I admire that. Oh my do I admire that. The problem with changing the world is a lot of people don’t want to change the world so its nearly impossible for him to ever do what he says he wants to do. On the other side of the ledger you have Hillary Clinton who doesn’t want to change the world but make small incremental changes to make things better. A less ambitious but more realistic goal.
The problem with hope is that once you don’t deliver what people thought you could then you are savaged and people are more disillusioned than ever before. We saw that here to some degree with Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems in 2010. A surge of popularity and doing things differently but when push came to shove, he couldn’t deliver the big sweeping changes people hoped for and could only make small incremental changes that would either a) makes things better or b) curb the bad things the Tories wanted to do. When you put yourself out there wanting big change and fail to deliver on that hope that people will be hurt.
We are coming up to a year after the 2015 General Election when the Lib Dems got massacred/got what they deserved* and suddenly lots of people joined the party that were to be frank lying on their back like a tortoise with no idea of how to right itself. Have these people who have thrown their lot in with the party made a difference or maybe more importantly, do they feel as though they’ve made a difference?
One man who doesn’t believe so is Josh Lachkovic whose piece Why after a year of #libdempint, I won’t be renewing my membership went live earlier today. Lets not beat around the bush here, in my opinion large chunks of what he has to say is fair criticism. Even I sometimes struggle to understand what the Lib Dems stand for and what platform they are standing on. Maybe the party is still licking its wounds and maybe they’ll (or should I type we’ll?) continue doing that for a while.
I suspect that the plan is to rebuild from the bottom up with starting to claw back the councillor base that has just dried up in the past five years. If people start believing that the Lib Dems are the party who’ll sort the issues that councils deal with that maybe they’ll start being trusted to do the big things. There seems to be this thought that if you deliver x amount of leaflets then you’ll get x amount of votes, I don’t really agree with this notion. You have to offer people a reason to go out and vote for you, a reason for them to believe that you can help make the lives of them and their loved ones better than if they didn’t vote or voted for someone else.
I don’t see any vision or long-term planning with the national party about making the UK a more liberal place. That might be because the party has been decimated at the top and also because the media who have enjoyed (and trust me – they have absolutely loved it) using the Lib Dems as a political football to kick as hard as possible for five years now see little interest in doing so, being irrelevant is even worse than being kicked repeatedly.
Bringing this full circle, this is something that I find sad but also I find doesn’t anger me the way it used to. The fight is gone. I wanted to drag people kicking and screaming into looking at the big picture but too many people don’t want to do that. The party at a national level has been far too inward looking and they celebrated the #LibDemFightback with much pizazz. In the next month or two many of those members will have to make a decision as to whether they renew or not. I wonder how many will just choose to let it slide, it wouldn’t overly shock me if the number is statistically very significant.
Yes the Lib Dems have performed well in by-elections up and down the country. There are legitimate green shoots of recovery but they are very small green shoots and need lots of water and nurture to get anywhere. Every victory is a slog.
As we’ve seen in the US of A, we aren’t in a world where small steps of progression is a political movement people want to get behind. If it was then John Kasich would be waltzing away with the Republican nomination. The people want more extreme people who speak specifically to them and in turn the media will promote these people all the more because it drives up ratings, page views and newspaper sales.
I was once told by someone at the Portsmouth News that if they had a headline on the back page about Portsmouth Football Club then they would see sales rise by 30% that day. The same is true of politics. Donald Trump gets more support because the news organisations fawn over him because he is so outrageous that people want to see what he has to say. Over here Tim Farron is a nice guy who wants to get his message across but his message isn’t as extreme as Jeremy Corbyn or Nigel Farage and whilst David Cameron has no real message apart from ‘winning’ he is the Prime Minister so people want to talk about him and his party as they are you know, in power.
For the Lib Dems to engage with the latent liberals at a national level then they need to find policies that will make the country a more liberal place. I will still contest Nick Clegg was that man. He could’ve been our Justin Trudeau, he really could’ve. Sadly the electoral math and the long established belief in this country of two party politics coupled with the media driven hatchet job and the fact the party couldn’t raise the money of their more established rivals meant that was never to happen.
When I was young I believed I could be anything I wanted to be. As I grew older I understood that maybe I couldn’t. As I grew even older I learned that there are more people who want to drag you down than help push you up. As I continued my path I learned that the amount of absolute right and absolute wrong answers to the trials and tribulations of life are far fewer than I could ever have believed. As I sit here now hopefully somewhere between a half and a third of my way through my journey of life I have learned that there is so much I’ll never know nor even understand but that is ok.
Sometimes I still wish I had the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my youth. I look at these young people with the world at their feet and endless possibilities with a mix of envy and hope. A lot of my hope for radical change in the world has dissipated but maybe they can deliver. One thing they have to realise is hope is a very dangerous thing. Hope gets you hurt and hurt doesn’t go overnight.
Changing the world one step at a time is achievable but changing the world a few steps at a time? Good luck with that. My hope for that has gone by the wayside. It might be time for others to take up that baton and I’ll concentrate my time and energies on issues that are more selfish. My love and enjoyment of politics is at an all-time low but I am not unhappy. Far from it. Maybe I’ll find some hope from somewhere, I can see one or two small pieces of hope bobbing about but whether they come to anything only time will tell. Politics has not be a particularly fun thing to get involved with and whilst the fun and enjoyment was never exactly high, when you couple that with feeling like its futile then you get to where I am and that isn’t ideal.
Life is good. I am waiting to be inspired on a political front but until I am once again then my feet will get less wet than they have previously and do you know what, that is just fine.
*delete as applicable
It has been a good couple of months since I’ve even clicked on my blog link to write anything. I just haven’t had the gumption as I remember no-one really gives two hoots about what I write and I’ve been busy being an NFL columnist elsewhere. Yet the one subject that has always threatened to drag me back kicking and screaming has been the internal debate on All Women Shortlists for the Lib Dems because the parliamentary party is too ‘male and pale’ (although AWS doesn’t even attempt to fix the pale part but still).
It looks likely (has it been confirmed?) that it will be debated and voted on at Spring Conference. It is going to be the most divisive internal debate the party has faced in a long time. You have people who believe AWS are needed to fix the problem at the top and those who believe that AWS doesn’t fix the issue and that AWS goes against the whole ethos of a liberal party. I think it is generally well known what camp I’m in and if it isn’t, lets put it this way, I believe in equality. That should make it clear.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this, I have been told by more than one prominent female in the party that I shouldn’t be able to have an opinion on this matter because I don’t know what it is like being a woman. Only women know the issues that they face and therefore only women’s opinions matter on this subject. That is nice. I’m sure these women (and others who express a similar sentiment but haven’t told me) haven’t cheered when a multitude of men have come out in favour of AWS. They have instead lambasted them for having an opinion. I’m sure this is exactly what has happened.
Anyway into the issues facing the party on diversity. They are very real and one that the party needs to be addressing. I think the amount of people who don’t think there is an issue (to varying degrees) are relatively small in number and percentile. So the big question AWS looks at is how to fix the problem at parliamentary level. This has speeded up considerably since May 2015. The Lib Dems were left with just eight MPs, all of them white and all of them unable to wear a dress in the House of Commons without violating the dress code.
I have seen many men point to this has the reason for them finally switching over from against AWS to supporting it. The reason that all our MPs are men is enough evidence in itself that there is a problem they say. What these people seem to forget is the total obliteration of the Lib Dem vote in 2010. Total obliteration. The only way any woman had any chance of being elected in 2015 in retrospect is if Nick Clegg or Tim Farron resigned or stood down and a woman was selected for Sheffield Hallam or Westmoreland. This is saying absolutely nothing about the quality of female candidates, but just looking at things objectively.
Clegg was very much the ‘Marmite’ candidate of 2015 and there was a clear Anti-Clegg vote. However on the flip-side many Tories lent him their vote to keep him in. Would they have done that for another Lib Dem candidate? we’ll never know. Also Tim had a huge majority and a lot of that is very much a personal vote, yet there is an off chance the Lib Dems survive without him in 2015 in his seat. The other six holds, the likelihood of a hold without the incumbency bounce is minimal (whether the new candidate was male or female).
So using 2015 as an accurate measuring stick about the Lib Dems and women is like me putting up pictures from ten years ago on a online dating profile, not strictly accurate.
In 2015, many Lib Dem MPs who stood down were replaced by female candidates and none of them won because as history has showed us, no-one was going to make a Lib Dem gain in 2015. The deep rooted dislike of the party was far more widespread than many of us ever thought. Most thought (me included) that people would still vote Lib Dem (certainly in LD/Con) seats as the Lib Dems were holding back the Tories but instead most people actually said they preferred the Tories to the Lib Dems and what happened, happened. David Laws lost Yeovil FFS and look at Eastbourne and Lewes.
So plenty of excellent female candidates were given chances in seats where we were either the incumbent party or were a close second. These women were impressive and were given the candidacy in these good seats without the need for AWS. Going forward even though no seats have formally adopted their candidates for 2020 yet (as far as I’m aware) due to the possibility of border changes, I have noted well known women and potential candidates moving across the country into seats that are going to be considered target seats in 2020. You would assume that they aren’t doing this for fun and that they have a nod and a wink that they are going to be the 2020 candidate.
I think it is fair to say that in 2015, women made up the majority (yes majority) of new candidates in our top seats. The numbers bare (or is it bear) that out. Isn’t that exactly the type of thing AWS is meant to do and we did it without the need for it?
Personally I have always felt the biggest issue facing some women and some men who are looking to progress upwards is the support that they need. Both emotional and financial. To put yourself out there to be a candidate is quite a decision. The Lib Dems as we all know have no safe seats and to win you are essentially putting in at least four years of work for no money with no guarantees. Many will have to move across the country, find new employment and find time to embed themselves into a new community. It is no easy task.
You are basically living two lives within one body, you are a full-time worker to earn money and also a full-time candidate. This is extremely difficult and causes a lot of stress. It is partly why a greater proportion of candidates are of a vintage that have progressed up the career ladder to the point where they have more flexible working hours and are financially more secure than others.
I think that addressing this situation is actually far more key than ensuring that there are some seats that are designated as women only. This help needs to be ensuring that chosen candidates get help to find new work, a strong team around them to help them and of course some sort of financial help to ensure that they can afford to live and be the strong candidate that the party members believe them to be. We need to put candidates into the best position to be themselves as possible. Be the best they can be. This is a far bigger issue for the party to help get younger candidates and those with a less stable financial situation to get involved and put themselves up for key seats.
We can all agree (well ok, only some of us) can agree that we want everybody who wants to put themselves forward to get the leg up and support they need. Former MP for Redcar Ian Swales has written about the issue on LibDemVoice and some of the comments from people on twitter and Facebook make me despair. It is a well reasoned and thought out piece. He points out that plenty of excellent candidates got put in a position where in a normal year for the Lib Dems, they were in places where they could do damage and for some of them, win. 2015 though was an anomaly and we got our backsides handed to us. His comments that AWS is only a solution if women aren’t being selected by local parties is dead right, we all know this, that is obvious but some people still disagree for reasons unbeknown to me.
Going forward this debate will become extremely bitter. People are very much entrenched into their positions. I’ve seen supporters of AWS tell people who disagree that they are sexist for disagreeing with the idea. So someone who thinks that the genders should be treated as equals is sexist and that if you think they shouldn’t, then you aren’t. Sexism has moved on seemingly. This will not be pretty. However it goes down in York some people will be bitterly disappointed and disillusioned with the party. Some will wonder if the party is about equality any more or if they are all about ticking quotas whereas if AWS doesn’t go through, some will call it the old establishment ensuring that women are disadvantaged (because they aren’t being given an extra advantage due to their gender).
It is not going to be pretty. It will help split the party however it goes down. At a time when Labour are in a nasty civil war over the future direction of the party, we have decided it is time to answer whether we are about equality or inequality.
When you have an issue you have to seek a solution. When the solution doesn’t fix the problem then you really aren’t doing much. If women aren’t getting selected for key Westminster seats when they are vacant and have no incumbent then AWS would be a solution. The numbers though suggest clearly that this isn’t the case. the fact we have a 8:0 men to women ratio in the HoC has little to do with internal party wrangling on women and all to do with a disliked party, a poor campaign and a proper shellacking. The optics do suck but they are just that, optics.
I can see why people are passionate on both sides. However if AWS was instigated in 2015, we don’t have any extra female MPs and how many extra female candidates are in key seats? We put up an overwhelming selection of women in seats we held but had an MP standing down and even on the next step down, plenty of strong female candidates were selected. Women are getting selected where they are seemingly the best candidate and isn’t that the key?
Seats like Lewes, Yeovil, the seats in SW London will be top of the tree for the Lib Dems come 2020 and excellent women seem to be the frontrunners for the vast majority of those seats. Excellent. They have seemingly been given the nod and a wink not because the local party were told they could only select women but because they went out and found fabulous people who happened to be women and essentially head-hunted them.
The cream will always rise to the top. If a woman is the best candidate who applies for a seat then they’ll get selected. I do think that the other issue of financial and emotional support is a much more pressing one, to attract younger voices and those who aren’t as financially secure into politics and into key seats for the party. That is a much more liberal way to potentially help open up the parliamentary party to other backgrounds.
Still what do I know, I’m but a man and as I’ve been told, I can’t hold an opinion of this subject because of this fact.
Looks a no brainer doesn’t it? After the way the independence referendum jolted younger people into the importance of politics, then there seems no reason for anyone who be against 16 and 17 year-olds being given the vote, certainly for such an important referendum such as the European in/out one that is being planned for 2017. There is one caveat in my mind though, I struggle to believe that we can view young people as adults or as children at the same age depending on what we are discussing.
Can someone at the age of 16 gamble in a betting shop or have an online betting account? No. Yet at the same age they can buy a lottery ticket. What is the difference between gambling on the lottery and gambling on the horses? You can legally marry at 16, can get a driving license at 17 but you still aren’t allowed to go into the local boozer and buy a pint until you are 18. Surely if we trust people to get married and to drive then they should be trusted with regards to booze and tobacco.
I have real issues with the idea that you are an adult at very different ages depending on the circumstance. Also you have to remember that being on the electoral roll and having the right to vote means one big thing that is often overlooked, you become eligible for the jury pool. Are 16 and 17 year-olds ready to try serious cases when justice for the defendant and for victims is on the line? I have been a juror and in a case of multiple counts of sexual assault against a minor, all the younger people on the jury thought he was guilty, quite simply because he looked it. That was pretty worrying. We found him not guilty in the end but their attitude was worrying. An 18 year-old on the jury didn’t care at all and just wanted to go with the majority so she could get home quicker. This is an aspect of votes at 16.
Today if you were a Liberal Democrat member you I presume got sent a link to a petition about getting votes at 16 from Elaine Bagshaw, the text is below along with this link:
Over seven years ago as a member of Liberal Youth I stood outside our Bournemouth Conference in a wedding dress to protest the fact I could marry before voting. Sadly, not enough progress has been made over the last seven years and 16 year olds still can’t have their voices heard through their votes.
This week, our politicians are debating whether to give 16 year olds the right to vote in the European Referendum – a referendum David Cameron has described as “perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes”.
If this is the most important vote the British people will have to take, then 16 year olds need to get to vote in it. It’s not right to deny them their voice – especially because 16 year olds can leave school, get married, join the military and become a director of a company.
Liberal Democrats want to allow 16 year olds the right to vote. Will you stand with us and sign our petition to ensure that everyone’s voices can be heard?
I actually agree with Elaine and swiftly put my name to it but it has to be part of a wider look at how we treat young people. They can work full-time and pay tax at 16 but can’t say a say into who gets to choose how to spend that money until they are 18, they are clearly unfair. This whole mish-mash of when we look at people and see them as an adult or a child is just bonkers to me.
It is true that we grow up and very different rates, some 14 year-olds are more adult-like than some 21 year-olds but we can’t put people through individual tests to decide when they are an adult, that would be wrong so we have to find an age where we look at people and say, now you are considered as an adult in all forms, that you are old enough to gamble, to drink, to smoke, to vote, to pay taxes, to be a member of a jury, to have sex, to be tried as an adult. I don’t know what that right age is but I think the current system has such a grey area that it doesn’t help young people or indeed parents.
If that age is at 16 then so be it, if we raised the age when people had to be in full-time education to 17 or 18 then I’d be fine with moving the voting age with that but when push comes to shove, if you can work full-time and be out of education, then as society we are saying that you have the right to go out into the world and make your own way. Part of that process should be the ability to vote. I don’t think this is as slam dunk as many others but for now I think voting age should be linked with the end of forced full-time education and that is why I am for votes at 16 at this current juncture
This really isn’t about the Lib Dem position on Syria but more about the hysteria from the membership about our position. This evening Nick Clegg (this is apparently another bone of contention) announced/was on Sky News and said that the Lib Dem MPs would be backing the government proposal to join with our allies in bombing on ISIL targets in Syria.
I’m in a strange position here as I essentially have no position on what we should do because I quite simply do not have enough information to form a considered opinion. What I do know is these MPs have more information than I do and and therefore in a much better position to form an opinion than myself. I would also contend that they have more information than most (if not all) Lib Dem members but as I’ve found out, they all know many things, apart from those who don’t, but they are wrong.
Recently on this very blog I was called many names and told I was uneducated because I had an opinion on something. On that subject I had far more information on which to form an opinion because that is what I do. I form opinions on subjects based on the information at my disposal, those opinions are fluid depending on learning more information. Therefore my opinion can change but unless I have at least some information then I find it hard to form an opinion on a subject. Others seemingly don’t have that problem.
Over on Lib Dem Voice, the comment thread underneath the article on this news is quite something to behold. I’ve also read elsewhere of people who are seriously considering their positions within the party and whether they can be associated with the party any more. I find this puzzling, I really do. There is a difference between ideology and the real world and if you don’t believe that there is then no wonder some people are perpetually disappointed.
Next up the whole fact that Nick Clegg spoke on it, seriously why is this a fucking issue? Tim is said to be writing to all the members as I type and that e-mail could well be in my inbox before I post this. Nick Clegg is one of only eight MPs we have and if Tim wants to go and write his letter to the members then so be it. I’m surprised some people haven’t got annoyed about the fact it was on Sky News.
As I’ve said already, I have no real opinion as I don’t have any information but here is what we do know. We know that these are bad bad people. They have already murdered Brits, they have murdered allies, they have murdered their own, they take young women as sex slaves just because it makes them feel powerful. I think we are all in agreement that a way is needed to stop them, whether that is air strikes who knows? The fact is probably none of us do but we elect representatives to parliament and ask them to listen to their constituents, their party and their own conscious to make decisions for the good of the people of this country.
Military intervention is part of the world and unless we want to turn a blind eye to atrocities that are being done around the world and become a complete isolationist country then it will continue to be part of the United Kingdom. Whether it is right or not in this case isn’t clear (and trust me – it isn’t) but people revolting, leaving the party and such just for getting involved in military action (and heck, we’ve been involved in military action in Iraq and Afghanistan for ages) seems bizarre to me.
As Brian Paddick just tweeted, ‘V difficult decision with no “right answer”. @LibDems parliamentarians debated the issues, respecting different views, rightly not in public’ and he’s right. There isn’t a right answer, there isn’t a wrong answer. We can’t see into the future, it is drawback of the human mind. All our MPs can do is discuss and debate the situation with the information at hand and make the best decision that they can. I wish it was a cut and dry issue with a clearly defined right and wrong answer but it isn’t. I trust that our MPs are good people, I’m actually extremely confident that they are and they won’t have made any decision in haste without careful consideration.
Making decisions is difficult as I was typing that sentence, Tim’s letter was passed on to me. You can read it in full below. Having just read it I don’t think it will soothe the concerns of some of the party but I do believe it to be sincere and honest, which is all I could personally ask of him. Being an MP isn’t easy and when you actually have to make tough decisions, it is much harder than when you don’t actually have to make that decision.
I still have no real position on air strikes in Syria but I’m willing to trust that those with more information have a better idea of what might be the best course of action, one thing I certainly wouldn’t back is to sit back and do nothing, which I fear many people would back until terror hit UK shores and that would not be right.
The rest of the blog post is Tim’s letter:
When the government asked MPs to support military action in Syria against Assad in 2013, I refused to provide that support. I was not convinced our intervention would be effective, nor that it was fully backed by a diplomatic effort to establish a lasting peace, nor would it prevent more suffering than it caused.
In response to that deep-rooted scepticism last time I wrote to the Prime Minister last week, together with Nick Clegg, Paddy Ashdown, Ming Campbell, Kirsty Williams and Willie Rennie, setting out five principles against which the Liberal Democrats believe the case for military action should be based.
It is my judgement that, on balance, the five tests I set out have been met as best they can at this moment, and I will therefore be voting in favour of extending our operations to allow airstrikes on ISIL in Syria.
I have written in more length about how I have reached my decision below.
I am well aware that many in the party will disagree with me. I hope that, even if you cannot support me, you can support the approach I have taken, and recognise that I have taken this difficult decision after the fullest consideration.
ACTION AGAINST ISIL
Having considered the five principles I set out last week, having read the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report and the government’s response, having listened to the Prime Minister’s case for action, having listened to impassioned arguments for and against supporting military action from inside and outside the party, I am clear that this conflict is very different to Iraq in 2003 and I think it is important I explain why I believe that.
THE ILLEGAL WAR IN IRAQ
In 2003 a ‘dodgy dossier’ was used in an attempt to convince us that Saddam Hussein represented an imminent threat to international peace and security. In 2015 there is no dodgy dossier.
Instead, ISIL murdered 129 people on the streets of Paris. In restaurants, at a concert, on the pavement, those killed could just as easily have been here in Britain, in London, already a top target for ISIL.
This is before even considering how ISIL is threatening the security and stability of Iraq, a sovereign nation that has requested the help of the United Nations in protecting itself.
Unlike 2003, ISIL’s evil is apparent to the world in the beheading of journalists and aid workers for a worldwide audience, the rape and enslavement of tens of thousands of women, the summary execution of gay men and women, its brutal occupation of vast tracts of Iraq and Syria, and the terrified exodus of humanity we see in refugee camps from Lebanon to Calais.
THE UNITED NATIONS
The role of the UN Security Council should matter to us. In 2003 it was impossible to secure support for a further UN resolution to legitimise action. It was the crux of our argument against the illegal Iraq war.
On this occasion, the UN Security Council has not simply supported a passive resolution, it has made an active call for action “to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”.
UNSCR2249 was passed with the support of France and without objection from Russia and China. As members of an internationalist party that has placed great store on the framework of international law established by the United Nations, I urge you to read the text of that resolution which can be found here.
I would also ask you to consider that Article 51 of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter provides countries with the right to take military action in collective self-defence.
Iraq has asked for help in defeating ISIL, now commanding its operations from Syria. Just earlier this month, ISIL launched a savage attack on our closest neighbour and ally in Europe. We know, too, that so far this year seven terrorist attacks by ISIL against the UK have been thwarted. ISIL is a direct threat to the UK, our allies and to international peace and security. We are being dishonest if, already engaged against ISIL in Iraq, we pretend that inaction now in Syria somehow makes us safer.
In 2003 there was the thinnest veneer of international support for action in Iraq. In 2015 there is a wide-ranging coalition of nations who are committed to the eradication of ISIL, including states from the region who understand the threat ISIL poses to their security and stability. Those same nations recognise that it is crucial there is a strategy for Syria beyond air strikes.
In 2003 there was no thinking about the post-conflict situation in Iraq. The result was a disgraceful corporate free-for-all that paid no heed to Iraq’s infrastructure and prioritised corporate greed ahead of reconstruction.
It is not just Iraq we should learn from. Similar criticisms have been levelled at the UK and her allies over Libya and Afghanistan. In 2015 we have a diplomatic process in the Vienna talks aimed at ensuring the world remains engaged with Syria through this period of conflict and beyond, supporting the Syrian people to rebuild in a post-ISIL, post-Assad Syria.
Earlier this year I went to Calais. More recently I went to Lesbos. I saw young children exhausted and terrorised as they’d made the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean. I heard through an interpreter a terrified seven year old boy’s first words as he landed on the beach from his rickety life raft: ‘Daddy, are ISIL here?’
I saw elderly women huddled beneath thin blankets as the evening came to the camp and the temperatures dropped below zero. I saw broken and desperate people who had witnessed horrific things in their own communities including the murder of loved ones. They pretty much all had one thing in common: they were fleeing for their lives from Syria and Iraq and in particular from ISIL.
So I came home from Lesbos and I angrily tore in to the Prime Minister for his callous refusal to take any of these desperate refugees. I proposed that we take three thousand orphaned refugees from the camps, and that the UK plays its full part by accepting others. I am personally enormously moved and angry about the plight of these desperate people, who want nothing more than to return home to a Syria and Iraq that is safe and stable and where they can live the lives they wish to in their own country.
Airstrikes alone of course are not going to resolve the hugely complex political situation in Syria. But I am clear that unless something is done to remove ISIL from Syria, from where it is coordinating its actions, there is no hope of progress towards that goal of a safe and stable Syria. And there is no hope for a home for refugees to go back to.
Of course I have tremendous concerns.
I have pressed these directly with the Prime Minister. I believe it is critical that the Gulf states are vocal in their condemnation of ISIL. I believe much, much more must be done to cut off the funding and supply routes for ISIL.
I think that we have not paid enough attention to the way in which extremists here in the UK have been funded.
It is imperative that everything possible is done to minimise the likelihood of civilian casualties.
I have been crystal clear that the future of Syria, after any action, must be at the forefront of the minds of all those asking for support for airstrikes, here in the UK and also amongst our international partners.
I realise, too, there is great uncertainty over the ability to command and control disparate ground forces which will be necessary to hold territory recaptured from ISIL inside Syria. All of these are reasons to question action.
None of them in and of themselves are reasons not to act.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
There is no doubt that military action means diplomatic failure, and the formation and spread of ISIL is the ultimate display of our failure as an international community over the last five years.
We cannot undo the mistakes of the past, but we have the chance now to take action against an organisation that cannot be reasoned with and that does not obey international borders.
There is no quick fix solution for dealing with ISIL, nor is there an easy route to peace and stability in Syria, and it would be wrong of me to pretend otherwise. The military action we are supporting is just one part of a long process that will be needed to make that happen.
I cannot promise you that this will succeed. What I can promise you is that in supporting this action, in no way am I giving my unreserved and uncritical support to the government.
I can promise you that we will be holding the government to account on their strategy, that I will be ensuring that they continue to act in the national interest and in the interests of the millions of Syrians and Iraqis who deserve a stable home in a peaceful country.
The Prime Minister has set out what I believe is a comprehensive motion which gives us the ability to take action against ISIL in Syria and also restates our commitment to a long term solution in Syria. Those of you who disagree with this decision may find little comfort in this, but it is my commitment to you as leader that if at any point these objectives are no longer possible I will not hesitate to withdraw support.
I am instinctively inclined towards peace. I am deeply sceptical of the ability of military action to achieve positive political outcomes. But I am not a pacifist. Just as I was proud to stand with Charles Kennedy against the illegal war in Iraq, so I was proud to stand with Paddy Ashdown as he was a lone voice calling for military intervention to stop the massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo.
As a Liberal Democrat I am an internationalist. I believe in acting collectively with our friends and allies, and in responding to threats to our security within a framework of international law. I believe that our decision-making should be governed by what we consider to be in the long-term interests of the UK.
I believe we should not take action without considering the long-term objectives of that action for Syria. And I believe we have a moral duty to the people living in the despair of Calais and Lesbos, who want a secure and stable future in Syria, to take the necessary steps to attempt to bring that about.
It is my judgement that, on balance, the five tests I set out have been met as best they can.
I believe it is right to support a measured, legal and broad-based international effort to tackle the evil regime that has helped trigger the wave of hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees, fleeing for their lives.
I will therefore be asking my parliamentary colleagues to join me in the lobby to support this motion. I am well aware, too, that many in the party will disagree with me. I hope that, even if you cannot support me, you can support the approach I have taken and recognise that I have taken this difficult decision after the fullest consideration.
Oh people. People of the UK. At times I know I sit on a different side of the fence to the majority. That is fine. I’m used to it. Yet last night when I saw an e-petition get shared on social media entitled, Stop all immigration and close the UK borders until ISIS is defeated then I started to get angry. Not because this e-petition exists, as I’m not surprised some people would think like this but because over a quarter of a million people had signed it. Overnight another 50,000 people have seemingly signed it and I want to go up to every single one of them and shake them vigorously asking if they understand exactly what they are arguing for.
Here is what we know, there are some bad guys (and girls) out there who are determined to change our way of life. They want the western world to take steps back and allow them to lord over huge swathes of the Middle East without any interference. They want this so they can use terror and intimidation to get what they want, whether they be to kill who they want to kill, rape who they want to rape, do some genocide just for the thrills, force people to follow the path that they want them to follow. Is this really what we want for people who are of the same species to us? Are we really so insular that we care only about what we can see if our own very narrow field of vision?
Just because we can’t physically see the danger that millions of people face doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. These refugees are fleeing from these barbaric people because what the people of Paris faced on Friday night is akin to what these people face every single day. Read your newspapers and you’ll see stories most days about people being rounded up in IS held territories and being executed for a variety of made-up reasons, that the terrorists use to reinforce their power and control over people. Would we accept that if it was us in that was us and would we want the world to turn a blind eye? Fuck no we wouldn’t.
It is easy to turn yourselves off to what is having beyond your spectrum. It is so easy to bury your head in the sand but these people are out there and they are brutally tearing apart the lives of millions of people. By closing our borders until this horrific terrorist group are defeated all we are saying is that we are all right and everyone else can deal with helping out these people fleeing from fear. Is that who we are? Are we really the type of people that only care about our lot in life and can’t empathise with those who have it so so so much worse?
There but for the grace of God is a great saying (although God doesn’t exist but still) and it is pure luck that you or I were born in the UK, where we have some many opportunities and relative freedom from oppression. We don’t get gunned down in the street just because we have a different point of view to someone else. Our sister and daughters aren’t taken by men with guns to be sex slaves just because they get off on it. These people face these scenarios daily and we wonder why they are desperately fleeing because lets be honest, wouldn’t we? Of course we fucking would.
Yes bad men and women will abuse the system to attempt to get into our country and carry out attacks aimed at changing our way of life but just because some bad people exist doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t help those who need help. People rag on the benefits system because a few bad eggs abuse it and take money that they don’t need or are entitled to but those few bad eggs taint the view of far too many. The benefits system is a lifeline to many but it is another example where our views are changed by the insignificant minority. People are being slaughtered and what some people want to do is totally looks inwards and not think about their fellow human beings. I know it sounds a bit Zen or hippy but we are but one species and we should be united against those who want to divide and conquer.
I’ll end this with this scenario. It is easy to ignore something that we cannot see but put yourself in this situation, you are walking down the street and you see a group of men with guns dragging a 12 year-old girl into a van and they start raping her. Do you get angry? Do you get scared? Do you feel helpless? Do you want to help? Do you want to do something to stop the pain this girl is feeling? Do you want to do anything you can to stop this happening? Just because it isn’t happening in your street doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It is happening every single fucking day and we in the west have only seen the tip of what these barbarians want to do to people.
What a compassionate society does is welcome with open arms refugees, to give them a safe haven and an opportunity to not only to live but an opportunity to have a life. They are two distinctly different things and if people only care about themselves then they are perfectly entitled to do just that but for me, I don’t think that just because bad people aren’t in my field of vision they don’t exist. This is a time for the people of the UK to stand up for people who need our help, not to look the other way and tell the world that it isn’t our problem. Doing the easy thing is to walk away and tell the world that it isn’t our problem but the easy thing is very rarely the right thing.
It has been an awfully long time since I’ve written anything personal here. I just haven’t felt the desire nor the need. Yet a few weeks ago someone surprisingly turned up in my dreams and then on Sunday I was laying in bed scrolling through Facebook on the iPad and I saw a link that my friend Anna had shared. It was entitled, They Wrote Down Their Confessions To ‘The One That Got Away,’ But Then These YouTube Comments Almost Top Them. The title of the story is pretty self-explanatory. The YouTube video is embedded below:
I watched this and over the past few days I have been mentally composing this blog post all about what I’d say to her and about how everything played out. It is a story not many people will know. I don’t talk about her or it because it was many many moons ago. I’m just not that open. A handful of people will know the story and I’m going to be deliberately vague on any identifying details but I think it is time that I want to write all about my one that got away.
As I pointed out in the previous paragraph, it was many many moons ago. I had been through a time of internal turmoil. I didn’t know where my life was heading and I felt helpless and adrift on the sea of life. I hadn’t been in any position to meet anyone for an awfully long time. Then I slowly found myself and a path opened up, one that would change a lot of things. A path that would very quickly mean meeting her.
Now like most people my age, I have met and talked to thousands of people in my life and yet this person is the only one where I could tell you exactly the first thing she said to me and exactly the first thing I said to her. I can tell you where I was, I can tell you where she was, literally I can recall that first brief conversation perfectly. That is both scary and cool in equal measure at the same time. I knew instantaneously that I liked her and I mean instantaneously. I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, I don’t think I do but if I did, then I’d say I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. No-one before or since has had such an immediate effect on me but she did. I liked her and wanted desperately to get to know her.
Over the coming weeks we would get to know each other, we would become friends and I think it is fair to describe us as relatively close. There was a spark. A real spark. People had told me of this spark thing but I had never believed it as I had never experienced it. I wondered how you could have chemistry with someone. It was an alien concept and not one that I truly believed existed and then I met her and boy did we have sparks, it was a veritable cascade of fireworks. That might be slightly overusing poetic license but trust me, the chemistry was real – and when I realised that other people saw it then I knew it wasn’t just in my mind.
I found this out when a mutual friend one evening said to me, ‘So…you and (name)…’ and pressed her fingers together and raised her eyebrows. I would shoot her down and move the conversation on quickly before later in the evening telling her that, ‘we’ll see…’ and not saying anything else on the matter.
Now this chemistry thing is one that I need to speak of in slightly more depth. To this day no-one else has ever been able to press my buttons to elicit a reaction like she could. Not even close. It was like she had the cheat sheet to me and how I was wired. We would fight and it was so much fun. Like real fun. We would prod and poke each other and it was just fun. I know that sounds weird how fighting can be fun but it just was. I remember once a couple of mutual friends commented how they didn’t like it was when mummy and daddy fought. I just wrote that sentence and smiled as I recalled it.
So yes we have established that there was some real chemistry. I think in my head at this point I thought things were just going to work out between us and that it was only a matter of time. At this juncture I didn’t know there were other suitors for her and to be honest pussyfooted around somewhat, waiting for the right time to ask her out instead of just biting the bullet and doing it. This went on for quite a while before someone basically told me I had to hurry up because there was someone else out there. I would find out afterwards that there was in fact two other potential beaus.
So I asked her out. She said that she really liked me…but only as friends. Dagger. I was surprised in a way because I did genuinely think that things were going to work out. The chemistry was real and we did really get on. I had really liked people before but I was infatuated with them and put them up on a pedestal and there was no real prospect of anything ever happening with them because I was the weird creepy guy who liked someone so instead of getting to know them, I would obsess about them and not speak to them. She was the first person where those tendencies weren’t front and centre. I would go out of my way to get to know her, spend time with her, talk to her. It just felt so natural.
I would have to lick my wounds and I suppose try and understand what had just happened. She went out of her way to not make things awkward and I will always be immeasurably grateful to her for that. Over the next couple of weeks word got back to me that she was going down the road with one of the other guys. That in a way cushioned the blow somewhat because I could convince myself that it wasn’t me or anything I did, it was just someone else was a better option. Whether that is true or not is unknown but I like to think that I couldn’t have read things that erroneously.
Yet despite her going down the road with another person, I still didn’t officially know of his existence. It was like a secret that everyone else knew that I wasn’t meant to know. One day – several weeks later – I sent her a message to say I knew of him and what was going on and that I was fine with things and she didn’t need to hide it from me. She seemed to react with a mixture of shock and anger that I knew but I was like, I’m cool with things and so it became more of an open thing.
A few weeks later I got a message from a mutual friend who told me that this guy was going to around later and the girl was worried about how I’d react. Now I don’t recall whether she was worried that I’d twat him or that it’d just hurt me or somewhere in-between. I genuinely don’t remember the ins and the outs but I sent back word that I was still fine and then it was set up that I’d meet him. It was like a political meet n greet, you meet someone, shake their hand, make small talk and move on. That is exactly how it went down. Yet I can you exactly what he was wearing and everything about that minute or so and it is so many moons ago it is ridiculous that I can remember such a seemingly insignificant event to such a degree. The reason I remember is because it included one of the most profound moments of self-discovery in my life.
During this conversation that probably didn’t last two minutes, I glanced at the girl and I saw the way she looked at him. She was so happy and had these big wide eyes as she gazed at him whilst I was talking to him and I learnt a valuable lesson. I learnt that my heart could simultaneously break but for it also not to matter one jot. I was totally besotted with this girl and I knew there and then that her happiness was what was important, not mine. She was happy with this guy and that was all that mattered. I could be happy that she was happy despite being so deeply unhappy. I know that doesn’t make any sense but it was how I felt at the time and even in the subsequent months I stood by that. She was happy. That was all that mattered.
Over the course of the next few weeks and months our friendship would drift, which is pretty natural. I know from my side I tried hard to keep our friendship close but I know that being friends with a single girl is different to being friends with a girl in a new relationship, certainly if you a single guy. Some months later there was an occasion where we were going to the same place, at exactly the same time, so I suggested we go there together and that was shot down so rapidly and forcefully I knew that we were never going to be close or even that social any more. That saddened me a lot but still, she was happy with the way things had worked out and despite everything that had happened, her happiness was still the only thing that mattered in my eyes between us so I really did step back.
Still this blog has the premise of what confession I’d say to her or what question would I ask, well I’ll come on to that now. Our paths were about to naturally diverge. I was to stop doing the thing and going to the place that brought us together. The last time I was to be there was known to all including her. That day came and she wasn’t sitting in her usual seat, she wasn’t there, I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye and that was the only time she ever truly hurt me. Everyone else said goodbye including people who truly fucking hated my guts but she wasn’t there to say goodbye to. I wouldn’t have made a big thing or anything but just a simple goodbye and good luck with everything would have been nice. Maybe even say we’d try and keep in contact but nothing. On that little whiteboard that people scribbled their confessions on I’d have written, ‘I wish we’d said goodbye’.
Several months later I actually walked past her and another mutual friend on the other side of the street. I saw them but I don’t think they saw me and I remember thinking about whether I should go and say hello but I chose not to. That was the last time I would ever see her. I know she’d ask mutual friends about me every so often and I just wanted to scream that she should ask me herself. I couldn’t reach out to her because she had pushed me so far away that to make contact (that I won’t lie – I have thought about infrequently over the many moons that have come and gone since) would seem maybe a touch creepy so I always decided against it.
I don’t think I regret that things didn’t work out because things did work out for her. As far as I know she is still happy with the guy she chose way back when. I won’t sit here and type that I could’ve made her happier or that I was a better person than him because we don’t know, what I will type though is I would have done anything for her and put everything on the line to try and make her happy. Yet I type this and I fully believe that she made probably made the right decision. I have no idea if we’d have worked out. What I do genuinely think is that we’d have burned very brightly but for how long, that is a very legitimate question.
She was to this day the only person who I’ve instinctively liked and fallen for hook, line and sinker. There have of course been other people that I’ve liked and developed feelings for but with her it was just there and so bold and clear that I didn’t even have to think about it. I knew she was special. She was so smart, like way smarter than me and I like to think that I’m not exactly a moron but she was so intelligent that she could’ve done anything. Couple that with her deep work ethic that honestly she could be whatever she wanted to be and make a huge success of herself. It was part of what attracted me to her, not only was she breathtakingly gorgeous and we had this chemistry, I could see the potential she had in her to do anything.
Yet here we are. At the end of my tale of the one that got away. I wouldn’t even have a date or have real interest in anyone else for several years, not because I was pining for her or mending a broken heart but because I thought that there was little point chasing after someone unless they made me feel something like she made me feel. Weirdly enough the next person I would have interest in, a very similar scenario played out and she is now happily married to the other guy.
If I saw her again I’d just tell her that despite our time of being close being short, she had such a profound effect on me as a person. She taught me so much about me, both good and particularly bad. She made me want to be a better person. She showed me that I can have real strong powerful emotions and that I could be in so much pain and for it not to be important as my feelings can be inconsequential.
It has been so long but I can remember so many things about her, her accent, the way she said my name, her smile, her eyes, even writing this it has made me smile somewhat thinking about her. We may not have made it as it were but my life was enriched just by knowing her and had I never met her then I suspect I wouldn’t know myself half as well as I do. I just hope wherever she is, whatever she is doing, she is as happy as she can be but still, why didn’t we say goodbye…?
Needs is the key word in the title.
The first by-election of the 2015-2020 will be called following the sad passing of Michael Meacher MP, who died this week following a short illness. He had been a representative in the House of Commons since 1970 and had always been an MP of them seat (and the seat under its previous boundaries and guise of Oldham West). The result of the by-election itself should be a straightforward Labour hold, although no doubts UKIP will have their eyes on the prize but in reality Labour should triumph here with relative ease, therefore this won’t be the first real referendum on Jeremy Corbyn or on the Conservative government.
For the Lib Dems this is a seat where they’ve never finished higher than third and never really been in the game in win it as it were. In the 1990s, the party were the kings of shock by-election wins as people protested against the major parties before returning home during a General Election. These days a lot of that protest vote goes towards UKIP, so I don’t think the party should be expecting much here but that doesn’t mean the party should be ignoring the by-election. This is a good grounding for Lib Dems in the local area to get back out of the streets to promote liberal values.
Jonathan Fryer over on LibDemVoice has written that the party must take the by-election seriously and I agree with him. I certainly wouldn’t be advocating an open cheque book in the attempts to pull out something surprising but a good well run campaign seems like a sensible approach.
One key will be finding the right candidate. I have seen multiple Lib Dems saying on social media that the party needs to find a female candidate because our current line-up of eight male MPs looks bad. Whilst I would agree with the second part of the sentence, selecting a woman for this by-election is highly unlikely to change the make-up of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary team, no matter how much we’d like for it to do so.
In 2015, the party chose only one man in a seat where the incumbent was standing down, in every other situation the party chose a woman. I’m not sure the fact the parliamentary party was all but wiped out can be laid at the feet of not having enough female candidates. I’m not sure deselecting Clegg, Farron, Mulholland, Lamb, Brake, Carmichael, Pugh or Williams and replacing them with a female candidate was ever truly advocated by people, yet in all likelihood that is what would have had to have happened for a woman to be selected as a Lib Dem MP in the 2015 General Election.
So I think looking back at the campaign and the gender breakdown our our representatives on the green benches and blaming the party as being sexist or not fair to women is pretty harsh. If we select a woman here and she doesn’t pull off the upset of all upsets then will people still call the party sexist for not having a female MP?
I’ve always advocated the best candidate for the job as being the bottom line. If it is a man, a woman, I don’t really care. If they are gay, bi or straight, I don’t really care. If they are white, black or of other regional descent, I don’t care. If they are atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh etc. I don’t care. I think you catch my drift. All seats at all levels will have better or worse candidates, some people just don’t fit in an area, some are already well known locally. It all comes down to individuals.
Yet having said all this, this word ‘optics’ is a key one. The optics of the Liberal Democrats is not good on this front. The optics won’t change after this by-election, certainly not from the outside, yet maybe the internal optics are just as key? I think that whatever the decision it won’t change much as we have to wait until a by-election in a Lib Dem winnable seat. Should Edinburgh West go tits up then that would be a seat where the Lib Dems could feasibly win a by-election but if that did come up, Mike Crockart would seem highly likely to be the candidate having been the disposed MP in May.
Richmond Park though is probably the key. There was no sitting MP in 2015. A by-election is very possible for 2016 should Zac Goldsmith win the London Mayoral Race (which he is very much in) and although he had a 19,000 majority, political parties traditionally do not do well when they are defending a seat in a by-election. It would be a tough win for the Lib Dems but it would be very much possible. This is a seat where the lights would shine bright for the party and the optics would be glaring. Getting women as candidates into winnable seats is far more important than the likes of Oldham West and Royton.
To answer my original question, no the party doesn’t need to field a female candidate. It would probably be preferable for most people but deep down it won’t make too much of a difference in how the party is perceived on this matter. Now getting female candidates in seats where they can win, that is another story entirely. The party has many impressive women who would be excellent candidates (and indeed many men as well) but just putting females names on the ballot won’t solve a damned thing. Getting women the right experience and putting them in the right situation is the key.