Monday, 15 December 2014

Radio 4 Women's Hour - Female PPCs in the Liberal Democrats

I've just been listening to our President Elect Sal Brinton and two of our best female PPCs - Lisa Smart in my Parliamentary constituency of Hazel Grove, and Layla Moran of Oxford West & Abingdon on Radio 4 Women's Hour.

You can listen to the episode here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04v2ynv and the discussion about the Lib Dems is about 26 minutes in.

My own thoughts, following the programme, are that although the Leadership Programme shows we want to do something about the issue of not having a lot of female MPs in the Liberal Democrats - the issue breaks down like this. There are three categories of seats, as it is pointed out in the programme.

Firstly there are seats that are unlikely to be won by our party. It's not really part of the focus here - they can be useful way of any candidate gaining experience - of a campaign involving media attention, hustings and canvassing voters, and indeed even Margaret Thatcher stood in a seat she wasn't likely to win.

The point I would like to make here is that if women are selected in these seats, it gives force to a rather regrettable narrative of "we select women, they just don't win" - it rather misses the point to say this. So, I think it can be useful for candidates to gain experience in this type of seat, but it shouldn't be used against them, or against women PPCs generally.

Secondly, turning to women in development seats - this is useful if the candidate is selected. I thought the discussion in the programme hinged a little on what the candidates could do to make themselves more attractive to the selection electorate (i.e. members of the party) - which is all very laudable but misses what we need to do as a party to change the perception of members regarding women.

With Jo Swinson MP taking her baby to receptions, and the indomitable Abi Bell voting at council level with baby in tow, this is the kind of highly visible participation of women that shows there isn't any barrier to being an effective elected representative and a woman. With regard to women that don't have and/or don't want children, the "baby question" shouldn't even come up - but does again and again. These are the kind of attitudes we need to change amongst members.

On another level, our policies may be good for women, but we could be talking about them more. To finish this point, the recent sexual harassment scandal must never be allowed to happen again, and we must reform the party - including such hard to reach places as the shadowy Regional Parties Committee that has responsibility for such matters - so as to provide a safe space for women. Layla Moran refers to "how the party looks from the outside" and I think this is a wise focus.

The other aspect of women in development seats is ageism. As Paddy likes to remind us, it took him two goes to get elected in Yeovil - perhaps the definition of a "development" seat there. So really, we need to be selecting women to fight these seats with a lot of energy  - I don't want to hear or see comments along the lines of "bit young isn't she?" or "I don't think she's got the experience" - I don't think any of this was said about Paddy as he was building Yeovil up.

Finally, and most importantly, selecting women in winnable seats must be the Holy Grail. We are lucky in Hazel Grove to have an excellent candidate in Lisa Smart, and I look forward to campaigning to get her into Parliament. We've not taken the route here of defaulting to a Head of the Council (although in Stockport we do have the excellent Sue Derbyshire in that role) and I feel sure we have a bright future ahead of ourselves with Lisa as our PPC.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

In defence of ..... reasonable feminism #notallfeminists


I read with interest Sam Bowman on Motte & Bailey arguments - essentially the action of advancing a reasonable point that nobody would really disagree with and using it to justfiy a more extreme point.

I would like to apply the opposite of this to some people's views on feminism - where people have used the extreme points made by some feminists to discredit the movement as a whole.

Some feminists say very strange things at times, which the more reasonable of us wish they wouldn't. Of course they are entitled, via their right to free speech, to express an opinion, however these do then get held up by our opponents about why "feminism" should be stopped. It's more responsible to think about how your personal hobby-horse or opinion may not help the movement if it's specious or poorly thought through. Especially if you are paid to have that opinion - your outlet may not have the movement's best interests at heart and could, perhaps, shock horror, be looking for clicks if you put a particularly bonkers opinion out there which will get them a lot of traffic.

An example of what I am talking about is Jessica Valenti believing that Dolly Parton's song "Jolene" is problematic, as she believes the woman at the heart of the song has no power. It's not about that - it's about yearning and longing.

Why don't these things get called out more by the feminist movement? It can be unfashionable to oppose causes that famous Twitterati people seem all over, but surely we should do it if we believe in it.

However some of the sisterhood, or cliquey aspects of the various strands of feminism seem to abandon critical faculties in order to have an "in-group". This can be shown also by the feminists who seek to exclude transsexuals from the feminist debate. In that case, both sides are right in a way - we shouldn't seek to exclude anyone who identifies as female (in fact in some cases we can learn a lot about how men and women are treated differently in the world of work) but there are things that you learn if you have grown up idenitifying as female - from the biological such as menstruation to the sociological such as street harrassment first happening to you as a young teen or pre-teen - and that lived experience should be respected and also learnt from - maybe even from men!

I've thought things like this for a while, and really resent how Jessica Valenti and others with very extreme opinions are both held up as "feminist" opinion by their outlets AND berated as such from the opponents to the movement.

Not all feminists want to ban Jolene - the song (or indeed the facial bleach). Not all of us want to ban Page 3 - though I feel my opposition to that campaign is disapproved of most acutely amongst my peer group. Some of us do think for ourselves and differentiate between nonsense and advancing the cause. Up Reasonable Feminism!



Friday, 21 November 2014

One thing that interests me about Rochester & Strood by-election....... & one thing that doesn't.


I find White Van Dan interesting as he is the kind of swing voter I come across in my private life - at parties and just talking to people. I often find on the doorstep, the type of people I meet (and who want to talk) do tend to have explicit reasons why they vote certain ways, or plan to. But most people vote in General Elections, and when chatting to friends and acquaintances I find it's not always a logical decision. White Van Dan said he voted Tory at the last election but "didn't know why". I've heard that sort of statement before - and I don't believe it's altogether a bad thing

On this blog I often argue for the role of emotions in politics to be paid more attention to, especially here in Britain where we aren't terribly connected to our emotions at the best of times, or at least aren't supposed to be. I think recognising that emotions play far more of a role in the lives of voters, members and activists is important work..

After the Police and Crime Commissioner elections it was stated (tho I'm still searching for the source!) that the circa. 20% of the electorate that voted seemed to be the type of people that activists are, and can be wont to think they are targeting - those who engage with logical argument (whether that's to agree or disagree), research candidates and always vote. Which leaves 80% that don't. Worth thinking about.

On the other hand the one thing I'm really not interested in is the "narrative". Emily Thornberry may have been snobbish, foolish, unwise and/or arrogant but I really don't think it says anything about Labour in general.

And I am rather sick of people talking about "the narrative" which seems to be shorthand for "I'm going to either agree or disagree with what everyone else is talking about". It's just all a bit boring.



Tuesday, 11 November 2014

An answer for everything and a solution for nothing?

I've been reflecting on some recent decisions within the Liberal Democrats internal procedures and trying to unpick them from a perspective of "how did we end up here?"

Take the Regional Parties Committee decision on disciplinary matters. Putting aside whether you think it was the correct decision or not, it's very difficult to understand who is on the Regional Parties Committee, what it's remit is, how powers are devolved to it and how decision-making is done. At best it looks muddled, at worst it looks murky.

If you don't like any of those structures within the party, and wish to challenge them, how is that done? Is it just a question of "shut up and deliver leaflets"? Can one stand against these people on a platform of reform or even to raise awareness of the issues? 

But the other thing that strikes me is a number of people always have answers when any question of reform is raised. It feels at times as if the answers are reached for "off-pat" - for instance we can't have All-Women Shortlists because it is "illiberal"  - discussion over. Or because there was a process over the recent sexual harrassment scandal we should all have respect for that process (usually expressed as "having respect for due process") - discussion over.

It just seems that we often have an answer but not a solution.

Finally, I am at a loss about where to find reports of the key committees that run the Liberal Democrats. How am I to know, if for instance, we are going to have a "balance of probabilities" test for sexual harassment cases, if they occur in the future? This decision could be taken by the relevant authority (which would be....... no... don't know that either) and we wouldn't be aware. 

This question doesn't even seem to have an answer..... If I'm elected to the Federal Executive I will endeavour to find out.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

My answers to Jennie Riggs questions for Federal Executive candidates......

Jennie Rigg does an admirable service for members (that are conference reps) wishing to know more about the candidates they are voting for for Federal Committees. 

She's asked the candidates for Federal Executives some pertinent questions.

The link to her post of my answers is here  and in general Jennie's blog is worth a read if you are a Liberal Democrat, or even if you aren't and you want to know more about the party.

I've reproduced my answers here:

Are you standing for the first time or restanding? If first time what new thing do you bring that nobody else could; if restanding, what about your record are you most proud of that you think should make us vote you back in?


I'm standing for the first time. I'm very passionate about One Member One Vote and think this would be a step change for the party. Over the years I have been in the party I have observed frustration and confusion in new members when they are told "you can vote on policy" only to find they can't as they aren't a conference rep!

Are you standing for any other committees, if so which ones; and if elected to more than one how do you plan to divide your time?

No


Are you an active member of any SAOs, and if so which ones?

No


If someone asked you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in one or two sentences what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for – and then why anyone should vote for us – what are your answers?

The Lib Dems stand for freedom and equality of opportunity, enabling everyone to get on in life.


What is your view on diversity quotas for committees? Should they be extended to cover more than just gender, scrapped totally, kept as is or something else?

The Liberal Democrats have an issue with gender at the moment - this can be seen in replies on Lib Dem Voice to articles about feminism, and the poor representation of women amongst our MPs. Some of the responses over the recent sexual harassment scandal about the complainants were very disappointing and show we still have far to go here.

My view is that in this climate, gender quotas should at least be considered. It may be that it should be extended to other areas of discrimination - such as ethinicity, where we also have a problem, and disability, which should be taken in turn.


Secrecy rules prevent the party knowing what committees are doing. What will you do to communicate with members; and in what circumstances is confidentiality justified?

On Federal Executive, several members have usefully used social media to share items from the FE meetings. I would also do this. I would also have Skype or Google Hangouts after the meetings for members to make representation to me and ask questions about what went on.

Confidentially may be justified for issues of party strategy - depending on the context. However I believe passionately that more could be done to provide reports to members - I think there is too much erring on the side of caution here.


As the party has now backed the principle of OMOV, how will you ensure all members are represented, not just those who can afford to go to Conference?

There are two issues here. Firstly OMOV is not just about voting at conference, it's about voting for the members of the committees as well. So in this case all members *will* be represented.

On the issue of voting at conference, at this time remote voting is not part of the proposals, tho I know a number of members are in favour of this - as the Pirate Party succesfully holds their conference online, and as we move forward with technology - tech savvy party members see less and less objections. However on the other side, I also listen to members that have concerns about conference losing revenue.

I would examine the accounts available to me to see how much money comes from the fees for members, compared to what exhibitors and others are paying.

In this case I would propose a charge to vote online, to recoup some revenue and pay for admin and set up costs, but that would be below what the conference fee is at present.

I feel there are other benefits to going to conference such as the networking opportunities, speaking at conference, raising your profile, dealing with the media, training and socializing - that many members who can afford to go to conference will still enjoy. Analysis of how these benefits appeal to people and how much revenue is dependent on each would help inform my decision

In summary, I think the party needs to move forward, not back. Our USP (unique selling point) compared to Labour and the Conservatives is that we can contribute to policy. Therefore it makes sense to extend this to as many people as possible - getting the balance right with keeping conference viable financially. A difficult balance but I'm sure it's achievable with the right strategy.


If police accreditation to attend conference was proposed again, would you support or oppose it and why?

I wasn't comfortable with police accreditation. It's again a complicated question as one could see the security concerns that led to the initial use of police accreditation.

However many people (especially some within the trans community) suffered problems and weren't able to attend conference, which seems exclusionary and against Liberal Democrat principles. I believe I would oppose it, but would listen to the arguments for and against first.


What is your view on electoral pacts? Should the party make them, and if so, who with?

I don't think our party should make electoral pacts. It seems disingenuous before the election and where the people have not had a chance to vote on our manifesto, to organize "back room deals".

These days I feel we have enough distinction from the Conservatives, Labour, the Greens and certainly from UKIP, to offer a clear manifesto to the British public. Within coalition we've learnt to speak out where we differ, and I think that has strengthened our position, tho we've clearly made some mistakes along the way - hopefully as a party we have learnt from them.


How should the FE change the way it operates following the motion passed in Glasgow censuring the Federal Executive?

Presuming this question is regarding the decision regarding gender quotas which was overturned at conference and saying that the FE had acted outside it's powers?

In general I think the constitution requires a lot of expertise to understand. I will be working to make sure I understand it ahead of the election, so if I am elected I am in a position to make better decisions regarding it. If not elected it can help me as a member understand better what the party attempts to do. My view is that at present, because admirable attempts are made to reform the party (not necessarily this one) but those who seek to prevent those reforms can use the constitution against reform. I don't think this is the use to which it was intended, but think part of the answer must be to make the FE more informed about the constitution itself, and powers and remits within it.

I think legal advice on the constitution needs to be a regular feature of Federal Executive meetings. Reports should be prepared on the ramifications of decisions proposed, and examined by the entire group. Perhaps the Lib Dem Lawyers association would be able to help us with this, and I would reach out to establish a resource to be called on in this case.


What do you think needs to be said and done about the performance of the party Chief Executive?

Tim Gordon has been a good Chief Executive. His action and thoughts over the Rennard affair were timely and effective. I would like more to be done with regard to the Pastoral Officer - and if this is something he could lead on, namely establishing a clear and obvious process for internal party complaints, I think this would be very good for the party.

The Chief Executive needs to establish us as a professional organisation - I think there have been some growing pains as more focus has been on us since we are in government, and some bad mistakes in the past have been revealed. It would be good to learn from them, and unforgivable to repeat them. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

I'm standing for Federal Executive.... on a platform about One Member One Vote (OMOV)

I'm standing for Federal Executive as I want to improve the representation in policy debates and for committees in our party. As I've blogged about before, it can be a confusing and difficult process for a new member (or not-so-new member!)  to get selected as a conference rep, yet we insist on telling new members that they "can vote on policy" - yes if they jump through a number of hoops at the correct time of the year, they can. But many new members don't know about those hoops.....

I was speaking to a new member in another local party this weekend, who like many, joined through the website. He referred to the fact he'd voted Lib Dem for years and did now want to get involved. The intricacies of the conference system were a complete mystery to him

I was also campaigning this weekend, in my own local party and had to explain again the labyrinthine system to a party stalwart of many years standing who didn't have a clue why they couldn't vote on policy or for conference reps. 

The final person I spoke to was fully versed on the system AND happened to be a conference rep. I hope I persuaded them to vote for me. However their concern was that the party should spend time campaigning, and I was able to share that if we were able to lighten the membership officers' load a little by meaning they didn't have to maintain a list of conference rep, and take some of the flak off them when people get disenfranchised as the rep updates don't get to HQ on time, then the volunteers that we ask to do this job would have more time to campaign.
I wonder if you can recognize yourself in any of these party members?

So, all in all a good weekend getting a variety of different views on the whole OMOV situation. I really enjoy talking to party members so please let me know in the comments about your view or experience - or alternatively email me 

on CatherineLouiseShaw@gmail.com or Twitter on @LouiseShawLD

You can also find me on Facebook - please Like the page here at  https://www.facebook.com/LouiseAnkersforFE as there are several resources on there including my speech to conference on this matter :)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Psychology of the "Morality of Fiscal Constraint"

I've recently become fascinated by why morals get applied to situations where, to me, it seems they really aren't needed. 

Take fiscal constraint for instance.  Through Mike Bird (@birdyword on Twitter) I read this article about Nominal GDP targeting. Something he and Sam Bowman (@s8mb of the Adam Smith Institute) have been talking about for a while. I tune into these debates and consider the merits of each position, looking at the benefits to each group. 

I also listen to other theories, such as austerity (reduce government spending to try and reduce the deficit and slow the speed of adding to the debt) or borrowing more to increase aggregate demand, apply fiscal multipliers and thus use tax receipts to pay down the deficit and hopefully eventually the debt.

I keep all the ideas in my mind and examine the positives and negatives of each and engage with people that can help me understand them better.. So far, so good in Louise's worldview. I don't feel the need to look for moral reasons at all - the debate being founded on fiscal benefits and thus trying to improve pay, productivity and the health of individual people and the macro-economy seems quite enough for me.

But I was struck today by this phrase in the piece above:


"And Serious People can’t talk like that, because “inflating away the debt” is unthinkable, it is not virtuous."

Which, when I come to think about it, is pretty bizarre.

Why should we ascribe moral judgments to fiscal decisions? Perhaps a better question is why do we?

Witness this critique of analysis on the Greek situation in 2011 - taking apart this rhetoric that "they have sinned and must pay down their debt". 

My extrapolation is that public do this because of their understanding of debt, which often has a moral standpoint, and starts from their understanding of personal debt (which is a bit different from government debt but often isn't considered as such)

In the past, it was considered immoral to get into debt, and that view does still remain at some levels - that it's all down to profligate spending. On the cusp of buying a house, and about to put myself into the most amount of debt ever, I'm struck by the moral relativism of this position - i.e culturally in the UK we consider mortgages to be necessary and needed and almost good debt - this is reinforced by all sorts of mechanisms - culture, lower insurance premiums for homeowners, better credit ratings if you don't move all the time. 

There is other good debt - that that can improve your prospects - such as a student loan ora reliable car to get you to a better job further away, perhaps even using credit cards to feed a starving family - short term thinking, but understandable. But the focus seems to be on "feckless borrowers" or wild imaginings about what people must have spent their debt on (flat screen TVs and holidays, usually). And this moral judgement extends to governments.

(N.B. The mind boggles at what the government's equivalent of a flat screen TV is - the Olympics? HS/2? Ah, suddenly now the Kippers appeal makes more sense ;))

A possible answer may lie in why clickbait works - because people like to ascribe negative motivations to others when problems arise. 

However I'm still puzzled, more reading required - please let me know in the comments if you are aware of any - what is the psychology of ascribing moral standpoints to fiscal decisions or other ones that don't warrant it? 



Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Replying to SLF blog on OMOV

The Social Liberal forum website has published this 

http://socialliberal.net/2014/09/17/conference-voting-reps-and-omov/

I'd like to reply as someone that's been involved in the process. I've also submitted this as a comment but it's awaiting moderation and I wanted to get my response out as soon as possible.

1. This isn’t about bypassing activists, it’s exactly the opposite. Ask around on twitter or at conference itself, and you’ll find many people that want to particpate MORE, not less by voting in motions.
2. It’s not a “very small problem of people wanting to attend and not be able to vote”.
People that aren’t able to vote include
a. Younger members in bigger established parties where certain “known faces” take the conference spaces. This can also cause some people to take those spaces but not attend conference, which seems perverse and counterproductive
b. People in quieter local parties.
c. Younger people again who move house frequently because of our rental market which means landlords can turf people out at a couple of months notice. As you then may have to join another local party and get the coveted conference space, this may not be a possibility. This very thing has happened to me in the past and will happen more and more as the % of renters compared to homeowners begins to increase.
3. In the consultation I think it’s actually mentioned that people are joining through other means rather than activists. It is of course important for local activists to recruit and the party has done a lot to make it easier for them to do so, to motivate activists and to make sure they see the fruits of their recruitment back in the local party. And apparently it’s working w
wonders.

4. Also, by putting so much in the hands of local parties that are primarily concerned with getting elections won (of course!) and also are unpaid volunteers, why are we exposing ourselves to people who have actually signed up as conference reps being not submitted by their local party for one reason or another, and therefore as such they, and the local party are disenfranchised? According to information received from the Membership Services team, this amount of people can be nearly 20 at conference time, so could be the case for a significant amount of policy decisions that people have been disenfranchised. 
5. I think the final point, that nobody had heard of OMOV in the writer’s local party, rather counts against his argument. If the local party isn’t informed enough, why should it be the ONLY way of one getting to be a conference rep ?

Monday, 21 July 2014

Nick Barlow talks about OMOV, and I respond....

The most cogent criticism of the OMOV proposals comes from people who don't accuse the team and I of being "leadership stooges" or that we are aiming to attack any wing of the party. 

One such person is Nick Barlow who has written this piece - I also asked him for further comment on twitter. 

Nick's main point is that by believing OMOV to be some kind of panacea, we miss the opportunity to reform party structures so as to encourage more participation in conference votes and elections to the Federal Policy Committee (FPC), Federal Conference Committee (FCC) and Federal Executive (FE). 

Nick says this on his blog:
"Various people – including me – who aren’t opposed to widening the electoral franchise or changing the way Conference works have pointed out that there are various flaws with the current proposals, and in return the response has come that we clearly don’t support the idea at all, and that if there are problems then we should support the proposal as it is and look to fix them afterwards."
 My response is that Nick and I don't disagree on that much, and I don't think that he doesn't support OMOV at all. I think the disagreement comes on which order this can be done in.

I think it's better to do the fundamental change first - and also that the need to put this to conference and have it voted on - means that it must be as clear a change as possible.

To change the transparency of the committees, which is a charge others have raised, I think that needs to be tackled separately. I'm happy to go on record saying that is something that should be campaigned for after this change, as I do think you need to do changes in an incremental fashion, having had some experience in change management in my professional life.

Thanks again to Nick tho, for engaging with the actual argument rather than supposing my genuine motivations to provide a better membership experience are actually a front for achieving the leadership agenda. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Where We Work We Win....

I don't like shibboleths. I don't like this particular shibboleth of the Liberal Democrat party "Where We Work We Win".

I understand that we need to motivate our support to come and campaign for us. I don't think generalisations are the way forward - both because they can be counter-productive and also in this particular case, it could lead to burn out.

For me, the phrase more irritates me due to inaccuracy than depresses me but I have met activists who are depressed by this attitude. More depressing to me is blank looks when you raise that there may be a better way of putting this, or sometimes outright hostility and the assumption if you question the received wisdom you must not be working hard enough, possibly accompanied by side eye from the person you are questioning. Because hard workers don't have time to question, you see. Although I've always found there's a lot of time for thought whilst delivering leaflets......

I don't like to raise problems without solutions - so how about some of these for motivation?

- What have you done for the Lib Dems today? 
- Where can you help today/this week?
- Look at all these other activists helping, come join in!

I have an additional concern that phrases like this contribute to a general sense in the party that you can never work hard enough (and I wonder if that happens in other parties too?) and that can lead to burn out and loss of activists - it's important to balance the short and long term. Plus I am sure with a bit of imagination a less judgemental slogan to motivate people could be achieved.  If for no other reason that it should be renewed to keep it fresh. 

As a side issue : I'd actually be interested in the genesis of this phrase, especially as a campaigning motivator, so any idea where it started, or who was it's main advocate? Please answer in the comments if you are aware.

Friday, 20 June 2014

There are some things wrong with sexist and misogynist utterances... here's two.....

James Delingpole, from his reactionary "libertarian", yet curiously conservative pulpit, has pronounced that There Is Nothing Wrong With Wanting To Punch Yasmin Alibhai-Brown In The Throat

The first is it's ludicrously disproportionate to respond to anyone's political opinions by suggesting you would violently assault them. Apart from being an ad hominem attack (e.g. to suggest Michael Fabricant wouldn't know an ad hominem attack if it stood up and told him his haircut disqualifies his opinions from sensible debate), it's not engaging with the argument.  This is far from being the hallmark of a civilized society, in that we should all be so darn grateful Messers Fabricant, Delingpole et al do not feel they should physically attack us when we express opinions they disagree with. Praise be for not actually being assaulted in the House of Commons, female MPs, but do be careful with those opinions dears, wouldn't want to upset the blond bloke in the comedy mustache. 

The second, and most important, is that there IS actually something wrong with being sexist and misogynist. Delingpole attempts to disarm this objection but clearly hasn't done his research, by erm, watching a prime-time Kirsty Wark documentary "Blurred Lines" that was on recently. In fact that does tend to be feature of Delingpole's writing, that he sounds off without thinking about the thrust of his argument and where it may logically lead and perhaps what OTHER people may have achieved in this area.

The evidence says that sexism and misoygny has no effect on those with no pre-existing sexist beliefs, however will encourage those with those pre-existing sexist and misogynist beliefs to express them more. So it's not enough to say Fabricant is an idiot, ignore him - though of course Delingpole doesn't he seeks to justify it with some ill thought through thought police nonsense.

Infidelity isn't illegal in this country, but it is morally wrong to deceive your spouse. It's not illegal to talk about the possibility of assaulting someone, no James. But it's very unpleasant, not becoming of a Member of Parliament, and it encourages sexists and misoygnists to do similar. I really don't think it's something people should rush to back.

One might better reflect that if any opinions are quite so annoying to one, that threatening violence seems a proportionate response, why on earth one had arrived at that point of view.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Is Prejudice Inevitable? Relating UKIP to Elliot Rodger.....

On a blog about UKIP I read this superbly accurate quote by Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis:

 “Nazism, fascism, racism and every other anti-social and anti-human mode of behavior are not products of ideology, do not contain ideology and neither do they constitute ideology. They’re the expression of the beast within all of us growing unchecked, when its barbaric and inhuman presence is aided, enhanced or facilitated by sociopolitical circumstance.


“The only antibiotic against this beast within, is education. I am talking about real education and not the irresponsible education of indiscriminate information which actually supresses restless and critical thinking. I am talking about education which does not rest on its laurels and does not create complacency in the student, but instead propagates questions and insecurity”


In my view, education, information and intelligence play a part. Your parents attitudes are important but it can mean that you actually disagree with them. 

When it comes to education - at my school, we discussed Things Fall Apart and To Kill a Mockingbird. The same themes are in Shakespeare if you have the right teachers – there is anti-semitism in the Merchant of Venice, which we discussed in comparison to Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet has prejudice as a theme and can be compared with Love Across The Barricades...... It's all there if you, and your teachers are prepared to look - there really is nothing new under the sun.

My school was also a school with kids from all round  the world, including army kids and honestly, racism wasn’t a problem.There were other problems, including blatant prejudice about kids without much money and parents without the right occupations etc. If smart (which a lot of us were) it becomes discussed, and we realised that prejudice is the problem, be that against women, blacks, disabled etc.

I’m lucky in a way because my sister has a disability, so I learnt a lot of this at the sharp end, at primary school defending her from morons. I learnt early on that a lot of people can be wrong, judge on appearances and people not being "normal", and that sadly, though you can excuse children, their parents aren't much better. 

I’m also lucky to be smart enough to extrapolate the general theme of prejudice and also self aware enough to notice, analyse and disregard it if it dares to try and take me by the hand. It’s often the case that it’s “natural” to be prejudiced, but we have morals, we are human, we’ve had the Holocaust and we’ve tried to learn the lessons it taught us, because we never want it to happen again. But that takes experience, education, information and intelligence. And even then you’ll get people that disagree with you because they resent those things that you have. Probably, deep down, they resent you being right. Hence UKIP.

So, onto Elliot Rodger :

One of the theories is that Elliot Rodger was too protected, so his only “problem” was the one that he became obsessed about – this trope that you’ll get the hot girl eventually, that you are “promised” one and if you don’t there’s something wrong with you. This trope IS a problem – but at a distance my armchair psychologist's best guess is he was depressed, mentally ill and/or psychotic and women became his focus for why he felt so bad (instead of actually confronting what it really was he didn’t like about himself or his situation). What people are saying is that society backs up his world view, and again, this isn’t entirely wrong – I guess a similar case would be if he was a member of the Klu Klux Klan pre Rosa Parks – you know if everything about society backed up your worldview you would have less chance of changing it.



That said though, responsibility eventually has to lie with him, even if we lived in a perfectly enlightened society that didn’t seek to make women seem worth less than men, it may be that he’d find enough “evidence” to support his world view. 

So, prejudice isn't inevitable, but confronting and/or preventing it is difficult, costly and time consuming. I don't think we can do anything else with conscience tho. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

They are Sexist Killings. Not Hunger Games killings, or Virgin Killings. Look at the misoygny, it's right in front of you........

I've been told to enjoy being a newly-wed today, but I'm getting really wound up by the killings by Elliot Rodger and the consequent reporting of them

From the quick move to describe him as mentally ill (I imagine he was, but shouldn't we ask why did he feel entitled to his views on women?) to the reporting of the "Hunger Games" killings or the "virgin" killings.

These were sexist, misogynistic killings. He hated women. Not just these women, but all women. He hated them because he'd been rejected. He felt that this rejection was unfair, and that he should have what he wanted.

A few years ago I read "The Game" by Neil Strauss. It's a really good exploration from a previous member of the Pick Up Artist community, of his previous fellow travellers in the quest to treat women as a commodity, or prey... A year or two later I was at an event run by a news organisation, and everyone in the room rather thought they were someone important in the media. One chap, having previously hit on my friend (smooooth), started trying to impress me with various "Game" techniques - negging, giving and removing attention, etc etc. So I asked him if he'd read "The Game". He honestly looked stunned. He wasn't very bright, and he wasn't very nice, but it occurred to me he couldn't understand why a mere woman would have come across "The Game" or read it. I read it out of interest and you should too - Strauss is an excellent and thoughtful writer.

He saw me, not only as an object, and "prey" but also as someone entirely without agency.

And I saw him, at that point, as the patriarchy distilled into one moron.

Elliot Rodger mustn't have been having a great time, I agree he was deeply troubled. But if we won't look at the misogyny, and the idiocy of removing or denying the agency of women to live and love how they want to, then we will have more Elliot Rodgers.

Monday, 31 March 2014

The Pavlovian response "But what about the menz?"

Owen Jones has written a reasonable article about domestic violence. I'm not completely in line with his politics, however the facts he quotes are correct, and it's definitely important comment about an issue affecting women.

But it's distinctly annoying that EVERY time a commentator talks about this it's always attacked by people (usually men) saying "but what about the menz".

I'd like to argue this is pathological. As in mal-adaptive behaviour. I'm not sure what people's aim is here when they attack any domestic violence campaign with questions about why people don't talk about men.

Just imagine for a minute Owen had written about prostate cancer. How bizarre and idiotic, not to mention offensive would it be for feminists (say) to descend on his article and say "Women get cancer you know!!" "Why don't these articles talk about breast cancer?" "But what about the womenz?" Interestingly, I don't think this ever happens. 

It looks so pathological, honestly. That means habitual (tick), maladaptive (tick), and compulsive (tick).

It's like a Pavlovian response, oh someone's talking about an issue that affects women, lets make sure that they talk about men TOO. Why? Why do people do this? i think anyone that does should at least be examining their own motivations, but I'm sure they'd rather focus on everyone elses. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Why doesn't Mother's (and Father's) Day raise the same hackles Valentine's Day does?

I was struck today by the fact Mother's Day is getting more and more commercialised. Having already done present and card (and scheduled a visit, even if it's not on the day!), I was struck by how much MORE I am encouraged to spend by all outlets. My email box is full of Groupons, email invitations to Mother's Day presents, flower companies etc, and each thing I looked at looked more expensive than the last. I was also struck by how when my partner and I looked to go out one Mother's Day, we couldn't as all restaurants were packed.

And then it struck me, you don't hear siren voices on social media on the run up to Mother's or Father's Day ringing out about how it's a pathetic festival, designed for card and flower companies and restaurants to make a lot of money.

Also, what of those with terrible, or absent, or abusive parents - they must feel quite left out of these days, especially if they've had to cut contact with their parents for their own safety ? There are always siren calls to remember single people on Valentine's Day - or at least be sensitive about receiving a £100 bouquet in the office - perhaps that's sensible as well for this celebration - but nobody ever says it.

I put this to twitter and received several replies, I have a pet theory but not sure how it will stand up - I wonder if at least in some cases, making a case for the "commercialisation of Valentine's Day" and subsequently how you "won't be participating in it" precludes the person saying it from at least putting some effort (which doesn't have to involve cash) into expressing their affection for the other person. And that this may point to at least some issues with commitment. 

Alternatively, it may be the opposite - that the commercialisation of the thing MOST dear to  someone - their partner, someone that COULD leave at any time, unlike their parents - might be what really gets to people.

What do you think? Please answer in the comments. 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Nick Clegg is a real Lib Dem, he loves campaigning.....

Having been to Spring Conference, I was interested to see that a new spring seems to be in Nick Clegg's step, ever since he successfully challenged Nigel Farage to sign up to a debate on Europe.

I also feel quite positively about this myself, proving that once again, if I agree with my leader his move is wise, politically adept and bound to improve our chances in the election. Of course if I don't, he's misguided, unaligned with the membership and destined to take us into political oblivion. The truth is likely somewhere between.

But back on point, I was struck how much Nick reminded me of other Lib Dems, and other Lib Dems around the time in the calendar where families get abandoned, social life becomes a distant memory (unless it's with Other Lib Dems and A Fundraising Opportunity Probably Involving A Raffle) and one persuades oneself that knocking on doors and talking to strangers is a fun way to spend a precious day off from working to pay the bills, and moreover one should take pictures of this to advertise to ones twitter feed of Other Lib Dems that one is doing this - I call this the Lib Dem delivery brag - c.f. "Just popping out to do some leaflets in the morning" or it's sister the Lib Dem doorstep brag "On the doorstep in XXXXXX, beautiful sunny day".

It seems often Lib Dems especially seem to get very fired up by campaigning, and exist in a level of hyperactivity, in the literal sense, whenever anyone wants to campaign. In this sense, our leader with his excellent debate and "town hall meeting" skills, is an exemplary Lib Dem.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Let’s Move to OMOV

Following on from Sue Doughty’s excellent invitation to the consultation session on OMOV for our party’s important committees, I’d like to give my perspective as a young(er) member on why I will be supporting this move at conference this weekend.

Sometimes people on the inside of the party can forget what it’s like to be on the outside, and also what it’s like to be a new member. Imagine for a minute you’ve just joined the party, your eyes and ears full of ideas. You’ve joined the party because of a shining commitment to involving the whole party in policy, something the party is rightly proud of and you’re likely to have heard about from the leadership, your local party and conference itself.

Then conference time rolls around, you excitely sign up and you find you can’t vote on policy, or even the make-up of the committees as you’re not a conference rep, a concept you’ve may not have heard of! Perhaps you’ve joined through the website as an every growing number of us are now, and haven’t been able to get in touch with your local party yet? How disappointing would that be? Unmet expectations are at the bottom of a lot of dissatisfaction with politics. So, let’s take a moment to contemplate how much worse it would be if you’re that rare breed, someone with enough oomph to join a political party, especially the one that prides itself on member involvement and is looked on with envy by the others?

Some might say this detracts from holding the leadership to account, but I can’t see how - as the committees will still be there, only elected from a more comprehensive franchise - it’s the same structure but with a more inclusive franchise, a more modern one. It would be a very conservative view to assume there aren’t any improvements to be had from where we are, one looking back and not forward. I want to be part of a progressive party.

Some might say that they don’t understand our motives, but in reality they are clear - we want to improve the membership experience, include more party members in the franchise and stand up for democracy and an egalitarian approach to our party.

I look forward to this debate, because I hear from my younger friends, newer members and people that for whatever reason can’t be part of their local party structure, how frustrated they are with not being able to vote on policy or party committees. Let’s go forward to the future, and understand every liberal and democratic voice, through working to make more of our decisions mandated by more of our members.


This post was originally published on Lib Dem Voice and can be found here : 

Monday, 24 February 2014

This generation is getting better at marriage ... well timed for me!

I read this lovely piece this morning about marriage  - This Generation Has Learned from it's Parent's Mistakes" and agree with a lot of it.

Added to this, it's a personal frustration that I've been told forcibly before (or "oppressed" ;)) that marriage is definitely out-dated and been faced with questions such as "Why would you want to chain yourselves to another person?" and "How can two people be expected to get long forever?", "It's not natural" which I would think is fine for anyone's particular personal philosophy but doesn't need to be extended to everyone. People are different, and what works, or doesn't work for you, may have the opposite effect with another person.

I'm hesitant to say it's become fashionable to denigrate marriage, but there always appears to be a hardcore of people saying "My parent's marriage was awful so there is NO WAY I'm getting married". I've wondered for ages about the internal motivations and possible commitment-phobia of some of those (one thing a commitment-phobe may do is find numerous rational reasons why they particularly shouldn't get married), tho of course it's rude and hypocritical of me to say this to them - people not wanting to get married should be left alone as much as those of us who want to - I just hope not too many of the two camps are paired up in partnerships together. 

So it annoys me when people denigrate marriage by generalising their opinion to cover everyone. Recently, as me and my lovely partner are getting married in May, I have been thinking about marriage a lot. I find, even if one's parents didn't have lasting happiness with their marriage, that the piece above is right, it can be that that actually makes you more determined to make it work, furthermore you are open to NEW ways of relating to each other, flexibility, trust, communication and understanding. 

So, for that I am grateful. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Vulnerability

Despite the date I'm not going to blog about Valentine's Day today or try and link it to my post!

Today I want to talk about vulnerability. Davina McCall has impressed many this week with her determination to push on through her Sport Relief challenge of a 500-mile (805km) journey under her own steam from Edinburgh to London  . This is indeed very impressive and it's a very important cause she is raising money for. (I was moved to sponsor her myself)

What's also impressed me is that she is willing to  be vulnerable, something people, especially people in Britain seem unwilling to do. Without being vulnerable occassionally, we can't really connect with others. I think sometimes vulnerability is equated with victimhood, which it shouldn't be.

The Drama Triangle teaches us there is a difference between victim and vulnerable and it's in the eyes of the perciever - even if that happens to be the victim/vulnerable person themselves. The difference is that the person, in fact everyone is in control of their actions.


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Callousness

Though I'm thinking of taking this blog in another direction away from emotions in politics, I wanted comment today because of the Francois Hollande "scandal" - although it's not a scandal in France because mistresses are tolerated there.

I am interested in what it says about a person, any person, that they treat their (soon to be ex?) partner with such contempt as to inform them they've been dumped via being seen in public meeting with someone else. Tho Hollande was not married to his partner,  ValĂ©rie Trierweiler, who's currently existing in a Schroedinger like state of perhaps being his partner, perhaps not, she did enjoy some of the trappings of state as "First Lady".

But what I am moved to comment on is the callousness, of taking up with another partner without having at least a conversation with the soon-to-be-ex partner about what would happen. Apart from anything else, if they have rooms and staff, it's really very difficult for everyone else to organise around your particular whims.

I wouldn't like to draw any conclusions about the effect on his Presidency, which by all measures isn't going well, but Francois Hollande's callous disregard for his fellow human beings suffering, does not endear me to him as a person.