Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Correcting some nonsense in the porn debate

David Cameron wants to get ISPs to force households to opt in to porn. This has received wide coverage and is the subject of much conversation on Twitter.

My own opinion is, though it's not my thing, it clearly is to a lot of people. Therefore I tolerate it - as this is more about taste than anything else. I also think the idea of "porn filters" is quite unlikely to work, as people will use proxies and other IT workarounds to get around it. I'm also a liberal, so I'm pretty against banning things, but to argue porn has only had positive effects is probably naive or possibly disingenuous. So, that said, I'm probably somewhere in the middle of this argument.

However, there were two utter pieces of nonsense, on the side of the "liberals", written yesterday.

One was that porn filters would break up marriages

"Some men (and women) in happy relationships may secretly watch pornography without their partner’s knowledge. This, as Mr Cameron admits, will force them to fess up or abstain. A husband whose wife finds he has secretly turned off the porn filter could find himself in trouble – possibly straining the institution Mr Cameron cares most about: marriage"

Apart from being a desperate attempt to link back to Cameron to show some perceived "inconsistency", it's absolute nonsense. If a marriage is at risk because porn filters mean a man has to "fess up" to watching porn, then they are either incompatible or their values are fundamentally different - anyone lying to their partner like that, or having such differences, has issues in their relationship.  So it's the lying that may kill the relationship, not the filters.  

Next up for my ire, this Tory Reform Group piece, saying that Cameron had clearly made this move to "appeal to women".

"First and foremost, the Conservative leadership knows that it has a problem attracting female voters. From the fallout from the now infamous “Calm down dear” jibe to Labour’s Angela Eagles, Mr. Cameron is often portrayed as being out of touch with women and their concerns. So, what could be better than a campaign to protect children from the evils of pornography? Surely that could only endear him to the legions of mothers up and down the land."

 As you see, all women are mothers and also opposed to porn. A twitter user (@Lord_Palmerston) replied they thought this point was sarcastic but I disagree as the other points in the TRG's "threefold" attack are not sarcastic. 

So I put it that TRG are sexist, and wrong. I've had women all over my twitter feed objecting to the idea of porn filters, so it's basically nonsense, again. 

Moreover, I dislike both of these pieces for the "Men vs. Women" theme through them both, and really hope this debate doesn't turn into another War of the Sexes, because if there's one thing I can tell about this whole thing, it's not that.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Book Review "The Lost Continent" - Gavin Hewitt

On my holidays earlier this year, I read "The Lost Continent" by Gavin Hewitt, the BBC News's Europe Editor, about the causes, effects and response to the European financial crisis, with its outlying crises in Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. 

It was a great read and I heartily recommend it to any of you, especially those going on holiday as it both rewards in-depth attention and travel makes a good backdrop to its change of focus between different countries. I find travel often makes me think about the world as a whole, so this book is a great accompaniment to that mood. 

He opens with a dramatic image of a one-man-and-a-cement-mixer protest outside the Irish Parliament in September 2010. As an image it's arresting, and it also proclaims the structure of the rest of the book. Hewitt Starting chapters often with human stories, both at the micro level of individual people in the country whose lives have been adversely affected by the economic crisis, and contrastingly, the leaders at the top of the food chain.

Special focus is given to Angela Merkel, as the "pivot" for a lot of the resolution to the (many) crises, and I came to understand how her innate cautiousness was responsible for the (at times) seemingly glacial progress of the response. Our own response as Britain receives a chapter's worth of attention, though you are reminded once again how little part we played here.

If like me, you've lived through the crisis, but really only been aware of the day-to-day headlines, this is a fantastic book to get a handle on a lot of the big picture and the machinery of government behind the scenes. Themes that I became more aware of included the extent of the property speculation within PIGS - Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain - and how exposed this left a lot of their businesses, banks and governments. At one point he describes how an airport was built facing the wrong way in Spain, because of the scramble to build prestige projects, and baffled locals had been rode roughshod over because of a need for "development" which wasn't actually there. It is that level of detail which really makes the point again and again, rather than the sheer mind-numbing size of sums required to bail out countries - though those numbers and the reasons for them are also explored very well.

Hewitt seems opposed to the idea of further integration, and though some of us may have a different view, or be waiting to see what is proposed before making a decision it is definitely a good account of the major players and individuals affected by and responding to the crisis. I'd venture to say you shouldn’t miss out on reading it, and I'm sure it will be an important book both now and in the years ahead, as we place what just happened in historical context. 

This post originally appeared on LibDemVoice here:

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Social Liberal Forum Conference in Manchester : a different experience

I went to my second SLF conference on a very hot Saturday in Manchester. You can read the review from my first one, last year,  here

First impressions were it was all very well organised and I saw a number of familiar faces and friends, including John Leech MP. I was accosted once for being a member of Liberal Reform - having run the Liberal Reform stand at the ALDC conference it seemed beyond at least one person why I would want to be at the Social Liberal Forum conference but otherwise seemed to pass without comment.

As to why I was at the SLF conference, as I answered my accuser, it was as a centrist, because I enjoyed last year and also because I was part of a blogger's interview to interview one of our most successful ministers, Steve Webb.

Vince Cable was there and his talk opened the conference, about how to return to growth. I thought one of the most important points he made was that our issues these days are about identity: immigration, EU, Scotland. I hadn't considered that before but realised he had a point. This is also a point to note for Lib Dems  - that we should have something coherent to say on each of these issues. 

I'm a bit of a Martin Tod fangirl, as I admire his commitment to liberalism at a local level. He spoke eloquently, as I have heard him before, about empowering individuals in their communities, and pointed out local level campaigns can be quite "negatively determined" - i.e. Stop this sort of thing and Save that sort of thing. I agree, and am also happy that at a local level here in Stockport we are running campaigns about new libraries - difficult in straightened economic times but not impossible. 

I was surprised to find two panels in the first break-out sessions without women, as I had thought the SLF were committed to gender equality. I tweeted about it. It seemed someone from Evan Harris' panel was pregnant and unable to travel so hadn't attended. Though I was informed everyone had done their best, I was reminded of the excellent Olly Grender who, on finding that a panel had no women on it, added herself to the panel (it was an area she had expertise in).

Onto lunchtime- and I was privileged to interview Steve Webb with other bloggers, over some sandwiches. Steve was relaxed and confident as ever. I find his manner with activists to be very engaging - both on their level like Tim Farron, yet able to tax us with the intricacies of pensions, keeping us on his level and being interested in our point of view. As Kelly-Marie Blundell told us before she introduced him in the Beveridge lecture, Steve Webb polled really well ahead of the Lib Dem leadership election in 2005, and with that in mind it might be worth considering him as future leadership candidate.

My own question to Steve was over how can people of my age be sure about when they are going to retire. His reply was that within 10 years of retirement, you can be sure FOR YOU that the retirement age will not change. He also spoke eloquently about how they were trying to ensure that post retirement age was something that could be enjoyed, rather than suffered, the point being that quality of life post retirement age may not be great for some people, given many medical conditions (such as dementia) that can occur in older people.

Perhaps it was just in comparison to last year which I found very inspiring on the subjects of community wellbeing and housing, and perhaps I just didn't find the content engaging, but I didn't find the conference as inspiring this year. I admire quite a few of the members of the SLF and their aims, but they either didn't have prominence  - I'd like to see more of Prateek Buch for instance - or it didn't seem to have as much of a coherent sense of itself this year.  

I hope I'm just as welcome next year, these comments none-with-standing, and suspecting a lot of my opinion is because I had such a good time last year. My companion definitely did experience the inspiration factor, and came up with new ideas on the way home.... I really enjoyed seeing so many friends and hope the SLF conference continues into the future. Oh and have a live feed if possible!

Other blogs on the Steve Webb interview

Maolo Manning - Lib Dem Child
Caron Lindsay - Lib Dem Voice 
Mark Jewell

I'll update this "Other blogs" section as I'm made aware of them.