Friday, 7 December 2012

My Hesitation Over Same-Sex Marriage

I am often asked why I oppose same-sex marriage. It's a curiosity for people. According to popular rumour, it was bizarre enough that this nobody Tory party member signed up to be an LGBTQ JCR Officer in the first place. To have him then become Equality non-sabb yet openly oppose "gay" marriage, I suppose, might seem like an eclectic scenario.

I suppose it stems from my conservatism, though not for the reasons you might think. I don't oppose same-sex marriage in the same way I would if I did so on religious grounds, or because I base my politics on some outdated moral compass. Indeed I rarely think of myself as opposed to same-sex marriage at all. Instead, I tend to think of myself as simply against marriage, or rather legislation on the subject.

To me, the State is a complex construction. It's role is to be limited in remit though absolute in authority. Very little should be under the pure control of it's bureaucracies, though where that power is granted by the people, that power ought to be limitless. Why, then, do we presume that marriage is something for the State to be involved in?

I could appreciate it if these were simply left-wingers, who's natural inclination, rightly or wrongly, is for the State to hold sway. But I don't buy that, and I didn't think my conservative and liberal and libertarian compatriots did either. It strikes me as odd, and often saddening, that people who I thought I had common ground with, rush to welcome same-sex marriage laws as "progressive" and "modern". I disagree.

How can it be progressive, in any measure of the word, to create even more legislation in which the State with grace and majesty grants us our freedoms and our equality? Progress? Towards what, exactly? Some say equality, which is a word far too often bandied around by people with very little understanding of it's true meaning. Equal right to have our relationships approved by the State is not something I wish to be equal in. I do not need approval.

For every piece of legislation on marriage that we craft in our parliament, we are legitimising State intervention in our personal lives. We are saying that in order to be equal, we need Stately approval.

I cannot support that. "I shall not make windows into men's souls" said Elizabeth I. Quite right. So let's stop doing it. It is time for the focus of the LGBT movement and of truly progressive activists to shift. It is time we started pushing for true liberation; to be liberated from this State-approval of our relationships. It's time to take marriage off the statute books.

Some will cry pragmatism; taxation, benefits, financial administration; the State needs to know. Fine. So a civic union open to all will suit that need fine without marriage. Some will cry religious freedom. Fine. So a couple's ability to have a blessing in their faith and call it a "Marriage" should not be hindered. I agree. Some will cry tradition; I can't help you there. Traditions that need to be changed cease to be traditions and start to become barriers to liberation in my view.

The LGBT community's obsession with marriage doesn't even make sense to me. An institution that has historically been racist, and sexist, and xenophobic, and anti-Semitic...not exactly filling me with confidence here.

I don't oppose same-sex marriage. I oppose any legislation on marriage. And whilst some will try to paint this as a "next best thing", as a "stepping stone" to what I want; you said that about civil partnerships and we're still tinkering around the edges of the issue.

Will I refuse to get married? Unlikely. I can't hide from the reality. But it doesn't stop me being damn angry about it. And I don't know about the rest of you, but neither Cameron nor Miliband have a rightful place in my sex life.

Monday, 24 September 2012

CF Chairmanship: Northern Bred and Northern Based

Before I start, I ought to make it absolutely clear that I am not in any way pre-empting the departure of our current CF Chairman early and nor am I making the case for an all-out assault on his position. I firmly believe that Ben should serve the full of his remaining term of office and that we're all the better for it. Just to be clear.

A surge of recent discussions on the future of the CF Chairmanship, from alleged platform launches of potential candidates, right through to parodies of our beloved Chairman on Twitter, has caused me to make this plea to our membership regarding the future of our party's youth wing.

As most people are undoubtedly aware, the deadline is creeping closer. The deadline I refer to, of course, isn't a nomination period or the opening of a ballot. It's much more serious. This November we will be closer to the next election (2015) than we are to the last (2010). It is at this pivotal moment that our party's youth must make a choice. We can stay the course and keep the status quo or we can make the case for a youth-led assault on the Labour and Liberal heartlands.

2015 will be an election that is won in Yorkshire, the Midlands, the North West and the North East of England. The next CF Chairmanship election will give CFers the choice to elect a leader who is going to lead the charge. As it stands, the Conservative Party is still polling poorly in these regions. The Coalition is deemed out of touch and the product of southern dominance. However whether you are a young person in rural Northumberland, central Birmingham or in the South East blue heartlands, an understanding and consensus must be reached that if we are going to win and form a full Conservative majority in 2015, then a new focus on the North is essential.

Despite the myths, this Government is doing a lot for the North and Midlands. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, himself an MP for Cheshire, has been working to boost productivity and it's working. Output is up and for the first time since 1976, Britain is once more a net exporter of cars. This is due, in part, to the effective expansion of the Nissan Plant in the North East. However, whilst manufacturing is up, employment figures don't seem to reflect this in the localities near the plant. Why? Because in a modern, high-tech marketplace, more efficient, effective and productive plants often involve less staff. Investment in robotics, automated machinery and new technologies mean that often whilst the economy is growing in these regions, jobs are not being created as fast as they once would have been.

This is the type of issue that the Conservatives need to be talking about. This is the sort of issue that our Chairman needs to be highlighting and helping with. By linking this issue with the rise in apprenticeships, Conservatives can start to win the trust of the North back by saying; Yes, we do understand and this is what we're doing about it..

Northern Conservatism is a unique brand. Typically Northern Conservatives are less concerned about free market ideology and more concerned with jobs and training. We have a unique social conservatism about immigration and welfare and we have a concern about our public services. The North is disproportionately reliant on the public sector and so if we ignore it as a party, we're throwing the election away. You don't need to convince me that we're doing the right thing or that we're making public service more efficient. However our message needs to be stronger, clearer and more vocal.

My challenge for the next CF election is this: If you are a member, think about where you want your Chairman to be bred and based. Having a Northern-bred Chairman would be a nice start but I challenge the next Chairman, hopefully from the Midlands, North West, Yorkshire or North East, to base him or herself in the North.

If our Chairman was so determined to take the fight north that they would be prepared to base themselves in the North instead of in a London-centric office near Party HQ, if they would stand up for the unique brand of Northern Conservatism that we need to fight for to win, if they would lead the charge even if the rest of the Party-proper does not follow, then we will have done everything we can as a youth wing to help our Party and our country.

So at the next CF elections, take a moment to reflect. Northern bred and Northern based; that's the target.

(Edit: Quick note to say that I am aware the recommendation is overly simple here. It is deliberately so in order to spark debate and discussion on the issue.)

Monday, 6 August 2012

DPM just doesn't get good governance

The Deputy Prime Minister’s assertion that the conservatives have “broken” the Coalition agreement is not only inaccurate but is worryingly unprofessional.

The news has hit that the DPM plans to take revenge on the Conservatives following the rebellion of 91 MPs on Lords Reform. He has confirmed that the Liberal Democrats plan to hit back by blocking boundary changes in the House.
There are several worrying nuances to this.

The first is that the Liberal Democrats believe that putting a bill forward with a timetable motion to get it done quickly, an attempted whipping of MPs and a public fight over an issue equates to the Prime Minister “breaking” the Coalition agreement. Clearly their idea of breaking an agreement and mine are too very different things for as far as I can see the Prime Minister has done everything in his power to help Lords Reform through. Ultimately, if there is a rebellion, there is a rebellion. The Prime Minister tried whipping and pressuring and he has, rather sensibly, concluded that it just isn’t going to wash.

The second is that the Liberal Democrats believe in “an eye for an eye”. They’ve asserted that as the Conservatives have, in their eyes, “broken” the agreement, they can too. This is an exceptionally worrying stance for a party that self-righteously reminds us constantly that they believe in the rule of law and clean politics. It appears that viewpoint doesn’t apply when they want the chance to play dirty. There is a strong element of hypocrisy here in criticising the Conservatives for breaking their agreement right before doing the same.

The third, and my personal fear, is that the Deputy Prime Minister plans on taking revenge and retaliating against his own Prime Minister. It’s as if the LibDems don’t quite get good governance at all. He is the Prime Minister’s deputy, not his equal. As a rule, he is there at the pleasure of the Queen, who chose David Cameron to govern. Why does he then feel it’s appropriate to rebel openly against not only an incumbent Prime Minister but his own colleague? It is the height of unprofessionalism and does great damage to the Liberals’ statesmen credentials. If they can’t be loyal to their own Government whilst IN Government, especially in a positions such as DPM who on earth do they expect is going to trust them with such senior positions again?

 The final is that the Liberal Democrats believe House of Lords Reform is more important than economics, education, health or welfare. They complain that they backed all of the above and yet Lords Reform is a step too far. Wow. Really? They went back on tuition fees, backed the budget, pushed through controversial health reforms and have contributed to stripping welfare provision (I hasten to add that I express no opinion here about any of these things), complain about doing so and then decide that Lords Reform is their major issue they can’t continue without. They really think reforming that House is their priority? I don’t join with the ridiculous notion that Government’s can’t do two things at once, of course they can. However to have picked this issue above all others to rebel over is just pathetic.

I have to question, what are these people doing in my Government? Say what you like about both Labour and the Conservatives but ultimately both have proved to have statesmen amongst them, to believe in good governance, to stand for collective responsibility and to show loyalty toward their Prime Ministers. Somebody needs to drill this into the Liberals quickly if they want to ever repeat their stint in Whitehall.

Friday, 4 May 2012

CF Needs To Rally Around Our Chairman

There has been a lot of criticism over the last few week of CF Chairman Ben Howlett and his handling of particular incidents within the organisation. I have no real interest in attacking Ben or in speaking up in defence of him. The problem I wish to address is broader.

CF needs to do its part in addressing the serious defections happening in the party’s grassroots. Whilst defections on Twitter and Facebook and running commentary regarding them are often portrayed as melodramatic and inconsequential there is a growing amount of young activists switching side. Youth are most often portrayed as the most loyal of activists; they’re the ones who deliver the leaflets, hand out the flyers, canvass the doors and do the ‘grunt’ work during an election campaign. Whilst this is not always the case and young people do sometimes switch allegiance, CF is facing a more worrying trend.  The members who are defecting are not simply changing their view. These members are sticking rigidly to their view and are punishing CF for not doing the same.

I consider myself to be a liberal Conservative but I am worried by the increasing amount of rhetoric about an alienated right. The right wing of our group (and I’m talking about CF here, not the main Party) feel that the current Government do not represent them fully. They’re worried, rightly so, about the liberalism in cabinet and the One-Nation view conquering the party. Equally, the libertarian wing of our party see issues such as privacy and are fleeing for the freedom-loving arms of UKIP and, in some cases, the Liberal Democrats.

These people should not be ignored and they certainly should not be criticised. These are the young people who are struggling to see why their youth grouping is not pushing and pressuring their own Government, who they help to get elected, to represent their view. Whether on the left of the party or on the right, they’re worried that CF is not pulling its weight. Hence the critique of Ben having stepped up a notch.

However the solution to this serious feeling of disfranchisement is not to attack our Chairman or to publicly call for his resignation. CF needs to help Ben feel that he can openly challenge the Government where we feel he is going wrong. CF and its leadership should not be pushing the cabinet agenda and ought to feel strong enough to declare our position, as varied as they come, to the upper echelons. If we are serious of fighting to win in 2015 and we’re serious about having a true Conservative government, CF needs to be empowered to its part. 

So rally around our Chairman and send the message that we’re giving him the power and voice so say what we’re all thinking.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Sad Reality: Homophobia in British Schools

A few weeks ago in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) Magazine, there was a piece by Suran Dickson about her personal ‘mission’ to combat prejudice in schools. Suran is founder and Chief Executive of Diversity Role Models - an organisation which promotes positive LGBT role models in the classroom.

Due to our shared interest in education and our respective experiences of working in the classroom and with school-aged children, we were both engaged by Suran’s article and so decided to jointly write this post expressing our delight at what Suran is doing and adding some of our own thoughts.

One of the most powerful messages in the article – and one with which we can both sympathise - was how challenging Suran has found her quest. Anybody thinking that promoting equality in the so-called ‘modern’ or ‘liberal’ education system is easy can think again - you have to be pretty tough. Our classrooms are full of latent homophobic attitudes. Perhaps most noticeably, the use of the word ‘gay’ in a derogatory sense is endemic amongst students in our secondary schools; responding to a poll of lesbian, gay and bisexual students by Stonewall in 2007, 98% said the word "gay" was used as a synonym for "rubbish".

Whilst there are notable examples of many teachers out there who do stand up against this inequality and intimidation in their classes, there are many who don’t. For us, what is most concerning is the fact that the expression of homophobia is in many instances completely ignored by teaching staff, leading to a culture in which homophobia is tolerated rather than unambiguously condemned. For example, teachers may brush off use of the word ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ in an inappropriate context as slang or some sort of linguistic evolution. They may justify their lack of intervention on the grounds that such language isn’t ‘homophobia’ but is instead simply ‘modern’ language. They are wrong. This is homophobia and isn’t being taken seriously by enough people; whilst great progress has been made in tackling racism in our schools in recent years - by raising awareness of the issue across the curriculum - sadly the issue of homophobia has until very recently been ignored.

The picture is not however entirely bleak; encouragingly, the Coalition has made tackling homophobia in schools a political priority. However, the Government must not simply target those typically troubled inner-city comprehensives, whose poor classroom discipline and widespread bullying is frequently criticised in the media. Homophobia is asymptomatic. There is no pattern in who does it or why - it is just as prominent in the flashy ‘progressive’ schools higher in the league tables. Homophobia, like homosexuality, is classless and sadly, entrenched. The scale of the problem must be confronted before it can be addressed.

In many instances there are national solutions to these issues. For example, the Government needs to look at changes to the way teachers are given guidelines on tolerance. Diversity is a watery part of teacher training and the attitude of many seems to be that ‘diversity’ and ‘equality’ in the classroom are simply boxes to be ticked, something to prove when Ofsted come calling rather than a value that is actively promoted cross-curriculum. A pro-equality ethic is not part of some bizarre political agenda, it is something that simply ought to come naturally to our teachers. That can only happen when we stop treating the liberalisation of the curriculum as a partisan target or single issue but as a part of a push for a more tolerant society.

Aaron was working in a school in Lancashire and had a small group of children outside doing some maths challenges. I can’t remember how it came about but one of the children asked if I was married. When I replied that I wasn’t, he asked if I would want a wife. One little girl in the group immediately corrected him. “He could have a husband,” she said thoughtfully. “He might marry a man. You can get married to boys if you’re a boy.” The little boy, quite seriously, turned to her and replied; “Yeah but that would make him gay.”
I was lost in all this and didn’t need to say anything because at once, a third child entered the conversation and replied; “Yeah and that’s ok.” To which the first boy replied; “Yeah, I know it is. I was just asking if he wants to get married.”

Now if only all children had that attitude! Perhaps our teachers could learn quite a bit about the best way to have a frank and honest dialogue about sexuality from them.

- Aaron Spence & Andrew Bennison are both aspiring-teachers studying History at Lancaster & Oxford Universities respectively. Aaron tweets at @Aaronlspence & Andrew at @Andrew_Bennison.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Free Schools as a Liberation tool

I have a quiet confidence about the Government’s Free Schools programme. I liked the idea from the beginning, I’ll admit, so I haven’t really been converted in any way. However one area that I think the Free Schools will be a good contribution to our society, arguments over the teaching of Latin and vocational studies aside, is education on LGBT issues.

I hear a lot of talk from my colleagues on the Right about ending ‘political correctness gone mad(we all know that in reality it hasn’t gone far enough but we’ll let the Thatcherites cling to that for now). I also hear a lot from my friends on the Left about the Free Schools damaging the fight for LGBT rights as schools will not have an obligation to promote equality or diversity (I’ll freely admit this blog piece is in-part a reply to a contrary post).

Now the interesting thing is that whilst it is absolutely true that Free Schools will not have that particular obligation, they will be no more expected to promote or teach other questionable criteria such as Intelligent Design as a science or abstinence as a viable alternative to condoms. The beauty of the Free Schools is that is becomes the right of the educator and the parent to flexibly create a curriculum that is personal to the child.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have been harping on for years about the need to make an individual, personalised curriculum. This is our chance. I, for one, have made it my absolute life ambition to start a Free School mirroring “Egalia”, theSwedish gender-neutral pre-school. (OK, one of my 127 life ambitions; right between being on Question Time and being an Autism specialist.)

OK so we risk LGBT issues getting sidelined in some institutions but look at the flip side; schools with a completely secular, atheist and neutral agenda, schools that can teach LGBT as a separate subject if they wanted to or mainstream it into every subject very openly. This is a chance to get onto that ‘Liberating the Curriculum’ notion that we like so much and to run with it. Don’t want the religious right taking over our schools? Don’t want our children indoctrinated? Me either. So let’s all set-up some pro-LGBT, secular, gender-neutral Free Schools and really let Political Correctness run wild. They’ll wish they’d never complained.

Monday, 11 July 2011

A Prime Minister in the Lords?

After the discourse on the News of the World phone hacking had reached the Commons floor today Labourites started tweeting about what would happen to the Conservatives and the Government if David Cameron were to step-down in a VNC.

Now, I don’t think that this is very likely to happen. In fact, I’d put money on to say that it won’t. However a discussion with @tomilo revealed a slight issue; nobody is entirely sure what would happen if Cameron were to go. I suggested that the Party Chair would be the next best thing to a leader we’d have without an official Deputy.

The flaw being then that The Baroness Warsi is, well, a Baroness. How could she lead the party from the House of Lords? The simple answer is that she couldn’t. It’s far too impractical and would never be accepted but I’m not too sure about that.

The world of the Lords that we seem to insist is far away and a relic of the past is actually a lot closer than we care to think. Lords take part at all levels of government, from parliamentary secretaries right through to the upper echelons on the Supreme Court and right throughout Whitehall as policy advisors. They are sometimes even Ministers in the Government or Secretaries of State such as Lord Adonis.

We send them abroad and even push them for high-profile international roles. Lord Carrington, Foreign Secretary to Margaret Thatcher, served as the Secretary General of NATO and more recently Baroness Ashton of Upholland is off jet-setting as Europe’s face to the world. So why then is the thought of a Prime Minister being in the other place so unusual to us?

This is where I go a little populist and start to blame the media. I do however maintain that the now wide viewing of Parliament on television and especially Prime Minister’s Questions has led to some completely constructed idea that the PM must be available to the House of Commons. 

Of course, the House of Commons no more scrutinises the Prime Minister than I do in reality. They can call a Vote of No Confidence all they want but they could do exactly the same in the Lords. The only difference is that the Lords remain unelected. People begin to get queasy about our elected MPs having ‘no say’. A bit of a bizarre argument considering the absolute façade that is PMQs in the first place.

So could a Prime Minister work from the Lords? Constitutionally it’s not unheard of or unconstitutional. It just hasn’t been done in a while. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil was our last Lordly PM and as you can probably guess from his name, he was a 19th Century Tory. Not the greatest defence of my argument, I understand.

However the fact remains that there is no real reason why a Prime Minister couldn’t do Prime Minister’s questions from the Lords. At the moment, the PM sits in the Commons and appoints a Leader in the Lords. Why then couldn’t he or she sit in the Lords and simply appoint a chief spokesman in the Commons? The Leader of the Commons post exists, why not use it more?

Natually, it will never happen. The public would, for one reason or another, oppose it and the party would never risk electing a leader from the Lords. It would be an interesting way of making a point about the need for Lords reform though wouldn’t it? I am told Labour leaders must be MPs. Sucks to be them. So how about it LibDems? Tories? Next time there is a leadership contest, why not make a point and cause a little mischief?

p.s My first blog post so play nice ;)