Month: October 2015

Oh Canada, How I Envy You

How I envy Canada. Their General Election campaign came to a thrilling conclusion this week after the three main parties; the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP), each took turns polling as clear front runners. However, it was Justin Trudeau’s revitalised Liberal Party that claimed a majority government, coming from third place four years ago. I could quite easily wax lyrical about Canadian politics for 600 or so words but instead, I think I could make better use of my time by reflecting on the more sober thought of how the Liberals can inspire their sister party in the UK.

For pretty much the entirety of Canada’s parliamentary history, the Liberals and the Tories have jostled for power. In 2011, the Liberals fell to being the nation’s third party for the first time in its history, slipping behind the NDP. Since then, the Liberal Party have been rejuvenated by breaking the shackles of establishment politics and becoming a political movement first, and a politics playing party second. As a result they now preside over a majority government that seemed unthinkable a few months ago.

New Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau

Remember the 2010 General Election campaign here? For about a week, it seemed the Liberal Democrats may shock the nation and actually win an election. Cleggmania was building on the momentum of successful leaders Paddy Ashdown and the late Charles Kennedy, and the party were genuine contenders, even topping the opinion polls. The Lib Dems were riding the wave of being outside the ‘Westminster bubble’; they were fresh, invigorated and exciting.

The Grits, as the Liberals are known in Canada, managed to recapture that essence over the last four years and made meaningful, passionate, principled policies at the heart of their crusade. The Liberals championed fringe issues like marijuana legalisation, open politics, voting reform, campaign spending reform, Trans rights among other things.

Whilst it is absolutely key that here in the UK, the Liberal Democrats continue to be a strong voice on big issues like our membership of the European Union, the positives of immigration, the housing crisis and the Snooper’s Charter, our party must also extend its message to the issues people care about but other politicians won’t dare touch.

Liberal Democrats need to shout louder about changing laws on drug use and possession, about being meaningful guardians of our environment without the crazy economics, and about championing social justice for those most oppressed in our society. Whilst I know that their message is vitally important, it’s a disgrace that in 2015 there is even such a need for Sandi Toksvig’s new Women’s Equality Party.

The Liberal Democrats are vehemently unapologetic, and probably rightly so, for entering in to Coalition government in 2010. In government the party was able to enact some of its best policies and retract some of the Tories’ worst – but it has come at a price. The party is now tainted with the plague of establishment and has seemingly somewhat lost its way.

If there is to be any hope of a Lib Dem ‘fightback’, the party must rediscover the gritty radical roots that made them so popular pre-Coalition. Despite the fact that the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party of Canada are not the same, they are very similar, they are sisters and there can be great parallels drawn between the two. If the Liberal Democrats are to win again, they must be like their Canadian sisters; loud, bold and more importantly, brave. In fact, as simplistic and vapid as it sounded, the Canadian Liberals’ campaign slogan is the most concise blueprint you could offer to the Liberal Democrats right now; Real Change.

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Nadiya’s Victory Is Socially Important

The most watched television programme of the year was the final of a baking competition. Almost a quarter of the nation tuned in to see Nadiya Hussain win the Great British Bake Off, a competition comparable to those held at village fetes the nation over. But Hussain’s victory is much more important to British society.

For many of us it seems bizarre that a programme about baking is so revered at all and probably that extra bit bizarre that it has the power to help change social attitudes in this country. I wish Nadiya’s victory was as understated as the victories of her predecessors – but it isn’t, because she’s Muslim.

If we were in any doubt that Islamophobia and xenophobia weren’t still high on the list of Britain’s social ills, we were shown that wasn’t true this last week. The Conservative MP and Home Secretary Theresa May made a disgusting attack on mass immigration an affront to ‘cohesive society’ this week and was upstaged just a few days later when the aforementioned Hussain, a British woman of Bangladeshi heritage, scooped TV’s biggest prize.

After Nadiya’s win, The Daily Mail tenuously and disgustingly made every pathetic effort to stringently link her heritage and ethnicity to terrorism, indirectly attributing her to the 2005 bombings in London by referring to the fact her wedding took place in the same year as relevant…seriously.

Xenophobia and Islamophobia are still rife in this country. In London, one of the nation’s most cosmopolitan and presumably tolerant cities, Islamophobic hate crimes rose by 70% over the last year, and 60% of those crimes targeted Muslim women. Why? Because of the repugnantly stupid assumption that being Muslim and having Islamist sympathies are mutually exclusive.

And despite immigrants being a net contribution to our economy, and despite the fact that Britain is in fact only filled 2% to capacity, immigration is the biggest concern for the nation’s voters and 57% of people think immigration should be ‘reduced a lot’.

After Nadiya’s victory, she said ‘I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can do it. I’m never gonna say “maybe”. I’m never gonna say “I don’t think I can”. I can and I will.’

Yes, all Nadiya did was step out of her comfort zone and bake, and bake well for that matter. But, without trying she has endeared herself to millions and counteracted the damaging messages from the right of the political spectrum that British Muslims are less British than the rest of ‘us’, and that generations of immigration damage the fabrics of society. We need more messages of equality, inclusivity and tolerance in this country – and a baking competition is doing far more than our government to promote that. Nadiya Hussain is the deserved winner of the Great British Bake Off, but her greatest victory isn’t her dazzling lemon drizzle wedding cake but her unintentional yet vital uprooting of stereotypes and bigotry.

Cameron’s Telling Porkies

David Cameron must think politics is rather easy. First, he wins a majority in the Commons, subsequently his coalition partners are obliterated, then his right-wing copycats are left virtually unrepresented and now, his main challengers have flown off to the unappealing left. He even managed to brush off any lasting damage made by the swine kind, unlike Ed Milliband before him. The Conservatives seem to think they’re in for a peaceful stroll to another majority in 2020 – provided, of course, that their latest set of falsehoods goes unchallenged.

When politicians are afforded such good fortune, it breeds arrogance, and with it, complacency. The Prime Minister addressed his adoring audience at Conservative Party conference on Wednesday. The party’s leader made an unexpected play for social justice, ending poverty and the case for progressive conservatism –whatever that is. He pledged to make this next government about the ‘proud tradition of conservative social reform’, showing that David Cameron is nowhere near as adept at political history as he is subterfuge. My point is, Mr. Cameron – we’ve heard this lovely chatter all before and seen nothing from you.

The Prime Minister alluded to the introduction of new policy for protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination, citing the coalition’s deliverance of same-sex marriage as a record of deliverance to that end. It’s wonderful to see the leader of a Conservative Party talk about LGBT+ rights, and even more wonderful to hear his comments met with enthusiastic applause from the Tory delegates in attendance. But if history is anything to go by, the Tories seem to be more interested in monopolising the electoral support of social groups than championing their cause.

So whilst it fills my heart with joy to hear support from David Cameron for gender, LGBT+ and BAME equality, forgive me if I remain profusely sceptical of this sudden change of priority. I just cannot overcome the questions that damage the legitimacy of his rhetoric. For instance, where was this concern in the European Parliament in June this year when the party voted against protecting the rights of LGBT+ citizens and a woman’s right to abortion? Where was this concern when David Cameron appointed, not just one, but two opponents of same-sex marriage as Minister for Equalities? Where was this concern when the Prime Minister allowed a free vote on same-sex marriage, leading to the majority of Tory parliamentarians rejecting the bill?

Why did you offer Lynne Featherstone so little support for her ‘blind job application’ proposal and campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation in a generation, and instead wait until the Liberal Democrats were out of government before you could claim the credit for our hard work? Why is it that the Conservatives have one of the worst records in the whole of the European Parliament on defending and advocating for gay rights? Where was your sense of injustice when George Osbourne announced cuts to maintenance grants and tax credits whilst easing the burden on the wealthy by slashing corporation and inheritance tax?

It is clear that Mr. Cameron has become terminally self-righteous. He really wants women, BAME and LGBT+ people in this country to believe that his ‘compassionate conservatism’ has substance – it doesn’t.

LGBT Equality Parties
Why do ethnic minorities and women still report disproportionate amounts of racism and misogyny among the party’s ranks? Why does the Conservative Home Minister think that immigration is an unavoidable affront to social cohesion? Why are the compassionate Tories so anti-immigrant? Why are they so reluctant to accept the same amount of Syrian refugees in five years that the Germans are taking in in a day?

How can David Cameron stand on stage and one minute spout cosy yet vapid egalitarian rhetoric then the next minute maul the poorest by cutting tax credits, lacerate LGBT+ citizens by slicing funding for mental health services which they disproportionately need more than everyone else, ignorantly vetoing progressive plans for age-appropriate sex education for straight and LGBT+ students and generally brutalising these must vulnerable groups with unnecessarily brutal austerity measures?

I’m sure I speak for everyone in the Liberal Democrats when I say that I welcome any Conservative Party support for tackling inequality – the more, the merrier. But, we have seen this all before and I stand by summation that the right of politics only ever want to be seen to help promote equality, they never actually care enough to do it. So now, Mr. Cameron it is time for you to walk the walk, now we’re not there for you to pin all your ills on. If you really do care for equality, put your social liberalism where your mouth is.