What's our Story?

One of the things that I'm enjoying most about this leadership content is the discussion, on blogs and elsewhere, about creating a Liberal Democrat vision for Britain and how important it is for our new leader to be able to do that.

Every now and then there's a spurt of discussion on the blogosphere about what a narrative is; have we got one? If not, why not? Do we want one anyway? And, what's wrong with freedom, fairness and green..or whatever it is?

As I mentioned on Charlotte Gore's blog the other day, I'm at the point of 'concious incompetence' when it comes to understanding what a narrative is: I can recognise when something is not a narrative and in fact just a list of policies or a slogan but find it hard to define what one is.

So, when I came to trying to work out what subject to discuss at the Crystal Palace Pizza & Politics that I'm hosting in December it seemed a good idea to have a debate about what our vision might be.

In other words I want to get a whole load of people round to my house, feed them with wine and pizza and get them to provide me and my fellow activists with a pithy, vision type, answer that we can all agree on, to that doorstep question: 'Why should I vote for the Liberal Democrats?'

Neil Stockley (from the FPC and Greenwich, but we're not holding that against him, it's still south London, after all) has very kindly agreed to come and sketch out what a narrative is, what it isn't and why we might want one. And then the debate about what that narrative is can begin!

If you would like to contribute to the debate whilst being bribed with food and wine in the glorious corner of south London that is Crystal Palace (we have our very own Eiffel Tower), then please do come along.

Strangely, I wont be posting my address up on the internet but you can find out details on the Flock Together website...it's on the 15th December, the day the leadership polls close and is filed under Pizza & Politics (Crystal Palace). The details and entry fee are all there.

No Pay Day

Today is what the Fawcett Society is terming Women's No Pay Day. The pay gap between women and men working full-time is equivalent to men getting paid all year but women working for nothing from October 30th to year end.

And this is despite the fact that women do better at school than men!

And this is not a fringe issue, either. 71% of women think the government should do something about it (that's a lot of voters), over 50% of people would be more likely to vote for a politician who believed in equal pay.

What always depresses me about this debate is the fact the the first response of so many people is to try and undermine the statistic...so, you get from the BBC's have your say comment box today (I really must stop going there) arguments along the lines of:
  • Women work fewer hours (no, the stats are per hour)
  • Women choose to go off and have children and so it's fine
  • Women don't do as hard a jobs..women are secretaries, men are managers...etc, etc, etc
  • Women are better at looking after children, it's biology so deal with it!!
It seems impossible for the pay gap to be accepted as a fact. It seems we are still having to argue the case that there is an issue and always dealing with its denial rather than being able to debate and understand why it is so and what can be done.

To those who think that the pay gap is just a manipulation of statistics I ask: what is it do you think the campaign is about? I mean, do you think the Fawcett Society, and all of us who recognise a pay gap, are trying to do is trick our employers into actually paying us more than men for less work? Do you really think that government ministers and opposition front benchers would be going on Woman's Hour to talk about it if it was just a silly misreading of the numbers? After all, it's not as if we haven't got all sorts of other discrimination to go off and campaign about!!

I say government ministers and opposition front benchers but I am not referring, of course, to Liberal Democrats; our website and press releases have been silent about it all day. I don't know why; I think we find it a difficult topic to address as a party.

But still, there's a lot of voters out there interested in this....and what are we doing? Having a good old debate about Trident!!

The reasons behind the pay gap are many and complex and they are economic, social and political. I would like to get beyond the statistic and start looking into why we have this gap. Why if girls do so well in school as they paid, in London in particular, nearly 3/4 of that of their male counterparts? Why are traditionally feminine roles, that when assessed are equal in terms of skills, experience and responsibility to many traditionally masculine jobs, often low paid? For example, you are paid more to look after cars than to look after children!! Why are women who haven't taken time off to have children still paid less than their male equivilants?

The discrimination taking place here isn't the easy to identify and I'm not sure that legislation is the answer; it is a lot more subtle, a lot harder to pin down, easy to dismiss and more difficult to resolve. The answers are as much about what goes on in the home as it is about what goes on in the work place.

But then perhaps this is all part of my cunning plan to actually earn more than my male equivalents in the work place and I'm making a lot of fuss about nothing?

Let's not indulge ourselves...please!!!

I don't want to get into an argument here about Trident and our current policy. Nope, I really don't....becasue that's one thing that's sure to send voters off to read about something more interesting.

If we make this leadership contest into a policy debate, about one particular policy, which although dealing with £15bn of Government expenditure, does not interest the electorate at large then we really are just a debating society and clearly not interested in power.

However important we think it is, however much we wish that voters would vote on the basis of our policy on a nuclear deterrent, we're wrong if we think it's going to get us closer to power. As Charlotte Gore asks 'Are we here to win or here to be a more effective multi-issue protest group?'

And for me, Chris Huhne’s attempt to create some clear blue water between him and Nick by attempting to reignite policy discussion of Trident completely misses the point of what is required of us by the voters.

Activists may lap it up but it will turn the voters off completey.

And whilst activists are the noisiest, in my experience the majority of members (of the armchair variety) behave more like the general public. In the last 2 or 3 years, as part of various selection contests I have knocked on the door or phoned up every single member of about 6 parliamentary constituencies. I frequently rather wish I'd spent my time doing more productive things, but one thing I noticed is that many often refer to the party as 'you' not 'we'; as in 'you Liberal Democrats, you have to do this, that or the other...'; they are far closer to the space occupied by voters than those of us who blog or are heavily active in the party in other ways.

So, by indulging the activists in such a way, he is not only is putting us in danger of losing voters he’s also in danger of losing his own votes in his own leadership election.

How proud am I of Vince Cable today?

Oh, very! I am grinning with pride and have been since I heard that Vince was going to be boycotting the Saudi Dictator’s visit to the UK!

I remember years and years ago, sitting in an 'International Relations Theory' lecture and learning for the first time about the two different paradigms of nation state behaviour in an international setting. It is soo good to be part of a party that actually puts their commitment to internationalism into practice!!

There were basically two ways to behave in international relations: you could be a ’realist’ or an ‘idealist’. No prizes for guessing which point of view chose the terms!!

‘Realism’ refers to a belief in the primacy of the nation state, acting in its own self interest and pragmatically interacting with other states on the basis of how much can be gained for and lost for itself from the interaction. Idealism on the other hand, is more internationalist in nature believing in co-operation between states, that nation states should be subject to international law and through this global stability can be achieved. Think Machiavelli for the first and United Nations for the second…..

I knew immediately which one I believed in. I also remember sitting in the lecture theatre half way up Penglais Hill, bristling with indignation (some things never change) that the so called realists had won the spin war decades before by referring to ‘idealism’ in such pejorative terms….and it does still seem that to call somebody an idealist is to call them na├»ve, immature and foolish.

You see, with Saudi Arabia, there is no question that it is a vicious dictatorship, which spreads its corruption throughout the world, which effectively enslaves the female half of its population by treating them as the property of men and that exports such an extreme and illiberal ideology as wahabism throughout the world including the UK, under the guise of community investment. Nobody is actually arguing that that is an incorrect analysis of how Saudi Arabia conducts itself in its own country and in the world; what they are arguing that despite all of that it doesn’t matter because the pragmatic approach, the approach that is in the best interests of the UK is to ignore all that, invite them to dinner and let them ride around in a big golden coach.

And this is what we need to deal with, the idea that the pragmatic ‘realist’ way is best and there is no alternative. We need to point out that it is harmful to the UK if we allow companies such as BAe Aerospace to be corrupt, that we undermine free trade in such a way to undermine the competitiveness of our own defence suppliers. We need to point out that a ‘pragmatic’ approach is generally the short term, tactical approach and therefore rarely best in the long run. We need to point out that the Sadu family is basically blackmailing us into accepting them by refusing to cooperate with gathering intelligence on terrorism. For sure, global warming is not the only reason why we should be looking to find alternatives to oil; money used to bribe the Saudi Royal family might be more productively spent, in the interests of the UK, in investing in alternatives to oil. But we need to challenge the idea that, given our current dependence on oil, that the only option left open to Britain is to pay backhanders to the dictator and invite him to tea.

And you know what, even if it does just come down to principle, then what can we really thinking about people who curry favour with a man who rules a country so that torture is carried out in the way described by Sandy Mitchell, in Johann Hari’s once again, excellent column in the Independent today? I do hope Messrs Brown and Cameron think of the years of dried blood on the walls of the office where … …. was tortured as they shake King Abdullah’s hand over the next couple of days. I know that the country never expected integrity of David Cameron but surely this must put an end to any rumours of Gordon Brown being a man of principle and integrity.

I know, I know…politics is a dirty business and we may expect too much of our leaders to keep themselves above the fray. But I say, you get the government that you deserve and if we don’t make a stand, as Vince Cable is, then we should not be surprised if our political class lacks integrity and principle not just in its dealings with other countries but in its dealings with us.

Why do people always think they are the exception?

Ok, Mr McClintock, which bit of the word legislation do you not understand? It is the law that you are not allowed to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality. A law that every one of us is subject to whilst we are in the United Kingdom.

What a person chooses to believe, and Christian beliefs are a choice thankfully not predetermined biologically, is not a good enough reason for the law not to apply to that person. For goodness sake, why do ‘committed’ religionists always think that exceptions should be made for them? You choose to believe it; you interpret your book in that way, nobody is making you and nobody should be making an exception for you!

Grrrrr……

On a more positive note I've finally worked out how to deal with the increasingly 'anti-atheist/agnostic' comments that have been cropping up on Thought for the Day; I now make sure I'm blow drying my hair at about 7.50am and I don't get to hear them at all!

Of course, this completely crews up my critical path on the major project that is getting me from my bed into my clients office looking vaguely presentable and professional, but it is worth it.

Better to be into the office 10 minutes later than be continually offended each morning; we only have the one life and it's far too short for that kind of stress!!

PMQs! Ugh!

I haven’t blogged for ages and in truth I’ve been waiting for something positive to say about politics, being a political activist and parliament before doing so again…and I’ve been quiet now on the blog for over a month. I still can’t find much positive to say, so I’m going to give up and tell you about something I hate about politics.

I hate the bear pit that is the House of Commons, particularly at PMQs.

Ugh, where do I start? Perhaps, with listening to it on the Today Programme, as I did this morning before pulling the covers back over my head and attempting to burrow into the mattress to get away from it.

Clear GB lost it and yes, I think it would’ve taken a saint not to mention the election that never was, and DC is no saint. But I wouldn’t mind if it was just the two of them, but it is all the braying and shouting and honking and no doubt hand gestures, that I can’t even begin to imagine from the radio, from the other 600 odd farm yard animals in the place that is so revolting. And these are the people that we elect to scrutinise our legislation, to represent our interests, to think about the impact of their decisions on the most vulnerable in the country and world! The childishness of it all, yet worse than any school playground, whether public and private and the self indulgence! Entertaining it may have been to some, especially to themselves, but I say shame on them all!

And people wonder why the place is not more diverse? With behaviour like that it’s no wonder that women don’t want to get involved in formal politics and political parties.

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