Month: October 2016

Which Party is the Natural Home for the UK’s LGBT+ Voters?

It’s a question that is often debated over, which party better represents and stands up for the LGBT+ community? As a Liberal Democrat, it would be remiss of me not to state my own belief that my party has the best track record. However, I have *tried*, and I think pretty successfully, to compile an objective analysis on which of the UK’s seven major parties is the best proponent of the LGBT+ equality agenda.

Methodology

The crux of the ranking system for my analysis has been based around several key policies and legislative votes that have advanced the LGBT+ cause. For each topic, the party’s voting records have been recorded as a % of their parliamentary strength at the time of the debate. Parties were also rewarded if the policy appeared in their manifesto before it was enacted, a point for each year prior to its implementation. And a proportion of 10 points per topic has been allocated to each. A bonus point has been added to the party which governed at the time of the implemented policy, and a further one point has been added if there is near irrefutable evidence, that one or two of the parties led on the issue before it passed in to law. Secondly, on rare occasions, a party has forfeited a point for withholding the progression of LGBT+ rights. For example, when calculating points for the votes on the repeal of Section 28, the Conservatives were docked a point for introducing the legislation in the first place.

The topics considered were as follows;

  • Legalisation of same-sex activity
  • The declassification of homosexuality as an illness
  • Equalisation of age of consent
  • Civil partnerships
  • Same-sex marriage
  • Joint and step adoption for LGBT+ persons and couples
  • Equal access to IVF
  • Equal access to surrogacy
  • Allowing LGBT+ people to serve openly in the miltary
  • Declassification of Transsexualism as an illness
  • Right to change legal gender
  • Laws against hate speech based on sexuality and gender identity
  • Anti-discrimination laws
  • LGBT+ sex education
  • The MSM blood donation ban
  • Banning conversion therapies
  • The Repeal of Section 28
  • Alan Turing’s law
  • Immigration equality for LGBT+ persons and couples
  • Recognition of LGBT+ identity for asylum requests

Following the analysis of these issues, further points were added for each new pledge made by the seven major parties in their most recent manifesto, in this case, for the 2015 General Election. After these points were awarded, the percentage of national elected officials who identify as LGBT+ were calculated and a proportion of 10 points added to each party’s total. Finally, further considerations were made as to how much other actions by a party or their respective positions in politics were taken in to account. For instance, having an elected LGBT+ leader of any national branch of a party resulted in the rewarding of one additional point. If a party, supported other measures that disproportionately affected the LGBT+ community, they were docked up to 3 points. Finally, if a leader or senior figure of a party had brought the LGBT+ equality agenda in to disrepute by any of their actions or comments, they were docked one or two points, depending on the severity of their faux pas.

Party-by-party ranking and analysis

7. UK Independence Party

 

Strengths

UKIP failed to score a single point on the analysis of policy, though they have only recently won parliamentary representation. Regardless, the UK’s most ardent Eurosceptic party has failed to champion any pro-LGBT+ policies in any of its manifestos. It even adopted the policy of opposing same-sex marriage because it didn’t animate the daily discourse of the nation. UKIP do however boast one out LGBT+ representative, Scottish UKIP leader and MEP David Coburn.

 

Weaknesses

The main pitfalls of UKIP’s credentials for promoting LGBT+ equalities come not only from direct opposition ot pro-LGBT+ measures but also from a long string of homophobic blunders by candidates and members. Coburn himself has stated that ‘same-sex marriage breeds homophobia’. Another UKIP councillor once blamed localised flooding on the existence of homosexuals. Other gaffes included Nigel Farage calling for immigrants with HIV to be banned from entering the UK, MEP Roger Helmer supporting conversion therapies and the party’s Hastings PPC calling for “poofters to be shot”.

Score: -2


6. Scottish National Party

Strengths

The SNP have long claimed to be on the side of LGBT+ people, and that attestation carries a lot of weight. The SNP have voted pretty much unanimously in favour of LGBT+ rights whenever the situation has presented itself.  The party has supported a vast array of LGBT+ equality bills from equal access to IVF to civil partnerships and anti-discrimination laws. The SNP also boast an impressive amount of openly-LGBT representatives, with 6.72% of their membership in both Westminster houses, Holyrood and Brussels identifying as LGBT+.

Weaknesses

However, supportive though the SNP may be on issues affecting our community, they do not appear to prioritise them. LGBT+ rights issues appear in none of their Westminster manifestos until 2015, where just one is listed – a pledge to promote rights of LGBT+ persons internationally. The Scottish Nationalists are without a doubt LGBT+ allies, but their record suggests they have much bigger priorities.

Score: 13

 

 


5. Conservative Party

Strengths

The Conservatives’ last two leaders and the country’s last two Prime Minister’s have definitely been in the socially liberal camp of their party. Both David Cameron and Theresa May supported same-sex marriage, with the latter being heralded as a secret champion of the legislation. Former Tory MP Edwina Currie was also prevalent in equalising the age of consent, introducing a bill in 1994 which was eventually defeated by her own party and dissenting Labour members. The Conservatives also look set to implement Alan Turing’s Law in the coming weeks. The Scottish Conservative party also boast having an openly lesbian leader in Ruth Davidson.

Weaknesses

The Conservatives, under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s hold the indignity of being the first governing party in over 100 years to introduce anti-gay legislation with the infamous passing of Section 28. The Tories also opposed an amendment, alongside the Labour Party, that would have prevented Trans people divorcing when the right to change legal gender was enacted. In general, the Tory backbenchers tend to be much more socially conservative than their media friendly leadership, as evidenced by the party’s vote against same-sex marriage in 2013. Whilst, the Tories willingly boast about the passing of same-sex marriage under a Tory-led coalition government, just two pro-LGBT+ policies appeared in their 2015 manifesto. As well as this, just 2.74% of the Tory’s massive parliamentary strength across the UK is openly LGBT+.

Score: 16


4. Plaid Cymru

Strengths

Again, Plaid Cymru have consistently, and without exception, voted in favour of greater rights for the LGBT+ community. The Party of Wales also boasted an impressive roster of pro-LGBT+ ideas in their 2015 manifesto, with six policies ranging from improving access to Gender Identity Clinics in Wales, and overturning the MSM blood ban, an issue the party has led on. 5.88% of the party’s parliamentary and assembly representation is LGBT+.

Weaknesses

Unfortunately for Plaid, there parliamentary presence both in Wales and Westminster, has been scant, meaning their well-intentioned brand of pro-LGBT+ politics has had little effect on the lives of our community. There is no doubting which side of the debate the party falls on, but they have often been too small a party to make a meaningful difference to LGBT+ lives.

Score: 16


3. Green Party 

Strengths

The Greens have been gaining a reputation for being the new frontier of LGBT+ politics in the UK for some years now. They were the first party to support same-sex marriage in 2001, nine years before the pledge was matched by the next major party. The Greens also boasted the joint highest number of new pledges for LGBT+ equality in 2015, with an impressive eleven new policies.  These included innovative ideas to promote education access for Trans people, as well as LGBT+ specific teacher training. The Scottish Greens are jointly-led by openly-gay Patrick Harvie, who makes up 14.29% of their national legislative strength, though there are only seven Greens in office at all.

Weaknesses

Similarly to Plaid Cymru, the Green Party have a history of being too small a party to make much of a difference. The Greens are also ideologically opposed to coalition governments, meaning they are never likely to lead the front for LGBT+ people in office. As well as this, the Greens have adopted the practice of separate LGBTQI manifestos, something many in the community rightly find patronising.

Score: 21


2. Labour Party

Strengths

Without doubt, the Labour Party have led governments with the most changes for LGBT+ equality, including the legalisation of same-sex activity, Civil partnerships and joint and step adoption among other things. In fact, the amount of pro-LGBT+ policies that came to fruition under Labour governments compared to Conservative governments is staggering. In fact 70% of the policies analysed here happened under a Labour government. Impressively for one of the nation’s two largest parties, 4.5% of major elected Labour officials are openly LGBT+.

Weaknesses

However, whilst there is little room to refute New Labour’s achievements, their overall record has been somewhat patchy. The Civil Partnerships legislation which Labour enacted in 2004 was actually drafted by the Liberal Democrats. The Labour government are praised for ‘paving the way’ to same-sex marriage in 2013 but the party did not champion the issue in its 2010 manifesto. Disappointingly, Labour only championed five new policies for LGBT+ people at the 2015 election, again in a segregated manifesto.  Similarly, Peter Tatchell condemned the last Labour government for reneging on promises to ease asylum for LGBT+ individuals. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn must also be questioned for taking up to £20,000 from an Iranian State broadcaster, a nation where gay people are killed for their sexuality, actions he defends.

Score: 31

 


1. Liberal Democrats

Strengths

Britain’s largest liberal party has a long history of supporting LGBT+ rights. The Lib Dems were the first major party to support equal age of consent, the right to change legal gender and were the first party to oppose Section 28 and the MSM blood ban. The Liberals are credited with instigating same-sex marriage in 2013, a policy they have supported since 2010, a pledge not matched by the other two main parties. This was an achievement made with just 8% of MPs, and a bill spearheaded by Lynne Featherstone. As with all of the other major progressive parties, the Lib Dems have voted strongly in favour of LGBT+ rights, and boasted an impressive eleven new LGBT+ policies in their 2015 manifesto, the joint highest.

Weaknesses

However, the party’s role in the Coalition government led to the Lib Dems  opposing some but supporting many of the Conservative’s cuts to public spending. Studies show that the austerity enacted under the Coalition government negatively impacted the LGBT+ community more than the average straight person. Similarly, there are doubts over current leader Tim Farron’s commitment to LGBT+ rights, though he never voted against same-sex marriage as widely reported, he did abstain on one reading, a decision he claims to regret. He also courted controversy for refusing to deny that he thought gay sex was ‘sinful’.

Score: 53


 

Conclusions

From my research in to the history of LGBT+ rights in the UK, it is my belief that there is a grey area as to who is the greatest advocate of LGBT+ policy. Labour have undoubtedly overseen the most instrumental changes for the LGBT+ community whilst in power, but it is equally agreeable that the Lib Dems have had greater success, pound for pound, and have consistently been ahead of the curve compared to Labour and the Tories. The Conservatives remain a deeply divided party, and have as much to be ashamed about as proud about when it comes to their LGBT+ rights record. The civic nationalist parties, the SNP and Plaid Cymru have both proven to be allied with the LGBT+ community but are often hindered by other priorities. The Greens are creating a reputation for being leaders for the LGBT+ community, as evidenced by their impressive future pledges.  It is my belied that UKIP is the only ‘bad’ choice for LGBT+ voters, they are lagging far behind the rest.

I am confident that my points system has delivered the correct verdict, if you wish to comment, offer alternative views or systems of ranking then please share them with me! If you would like to see my workings, please e-mail me here.

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#WorldMentalHealthDay: A word on Anxiety

For several years now I have suffered with mental ill health. I never used to talk about my depression or anxiety, not because I’m ashamed to admit or acknowledge my body’s frailties but because I didn’t want to be an encumbrance on people around me. I, like so many others, have come to realise that attitude is wrong.

I used to be a depressive who could not cope with the world, somebody who struggled to function on a daily basis. On World Mental Health Day, I want to share the story of my anxiety, and how I took back my own life.

Mental illness is a hideous thing, it is consumptive, it can take over the very essence of your being, it suffocates you until it renders you unable to fight back. As recently as 18 months ago, I was heading in to an abyss I would have struggled to escape, I was chronically sad, and more importantly for this story, chronically anxious. Anxiety is not simply a state of just being scared of things, it can manifest itself in multiple ways including nervous ticks, irritability and panic attacks.

In fact, it was a panic attack that eventually set me on the path to freedom. I was used to panic attacks at this point in my life, I didn’t experience them that often but they weren’t infrequent either. One afternoon, whilst I was alone in my Dad’s house, I heard several bangs outside. Despite the fact they weren’t particularly loud or close, my stomach sank, and a sense of imminent jeopardy took over me.

I tried to carry on whatever I was doing when the banging sounded again. Instinctively, I flung my body to the ground and crawled in to the hallway. By now, despite lack of any other evidence, I was convinced there was a gunman on the loose in my vicinity.

The banging went on for half an hour, I flitted between sitting in the hallway, on the stairs, and behind the sofa – anywhere where I couldn’t be seen from the window. Eventually, convinced that the ‘assailant’ was getting closer and closer, I ran in to the bathroom, locked the door, and sat in the shower, clutching my knees to my chest. My heart pounded and I sat sobbing, waiting to be killed.

A few minutes passed and the door downstairs opened, I had managed to lock it in the peak of my anxiety, so I knew it was my Dad returning home. I heard him call up to me and I felt a relief like no other. I had ‘survived’ a massacre made by my own mind.

For hours afterwards, I would not stand in eyeshot of any window, I was still terrified, despite the fact neither gunman nor any gunshots had ever existed. That night I returned to my Mum’s house to try and escape the scene of my episode, and whilst there, I made a decision to take back my life from my irrational mind.

It may seem so small to the average person, but I forced myself to go outside and grab a coffee with a friend the very next day. I had to prove to myself that I could be safe outside again, and I had to do it quickly – and it worked. (P.S. thank you, Emma)
Following my traumatic episode, my Mum and Dad came together and got me the help I needed, my Mum came with me to the GP and I was prescribed anti-depressants, and my Dad encouraged me to return to counselling, which helped me learn to rationalise the irrational thoughts that plagued my headspace. Ever since then challenging my illogical thoughts has become easier and easier.

Today, I am able to do things that just two years ago would have been unmanageable. I can go to London on my own, I can go for a coffee on my own, I even managed to live on my own for a year – I am mostly free from my own mind. And even when it tries to snatch back control, I am equipped to put it right back in to place.

The reason I’m sharing this story today is to make it clear that battling mental illness is not easy. My brain was ill, it was imbalanced. If I didn’t get the medical and cognitive help I needed I would still be in that place now. It is not weak to seek help for mental ill health; it’s not even strong; it’s just smart. Mental ill health is real, it is chemical, and it is science. With every other illness you get treatment, don’t let stigma make you treat depression, anxiety or whatever else any differently.

Though, I am far better now, I still suffer. But I have found a recipe for tough love that has helped me manage. I am tough on my anxiety when I have to be, I rationalise and scrutinise each and every nervous, irrational thought I have – it’s gruelling but it’s worth it. And on days when I feel lower than low, I wrap myself in love. I indulge myself with all my favourite things, I remember only the things I like about myself , I remember all the things other people like about me, no matter how small, no matter how few. Eventually, my irrational brain is quietened, and lets me be.

My irrational brain used to be my nemesis, now it is a just a nuisance I could do without, and am doing without.