Tuesday, 12 December 2017

My 2017 in 775 words

As the year wends its way towards its denouement, I find myself in a position of feeling really hopeful and confident for the future, moreso than I can remember for a long time. This might have felt odd, considering that for much of the year I was in a bit of funk; professionally and politically, if not personally. But as we reach the end of 2017, things really do seem to be looking up – and I feel much more able to grab the opportunities that present themselves.

Indeed, I feel like I’m generally – and literally – walking taller these days. (I’ve lost a bit of weight, and I’ve sought to improve my posture.) As various things have fallen into place, this has become easier – although it brings with it a paranoia that my trousers are not long enough for my stretched-out frame.

Professionally, I am in the situation of moving jobs. Again. My current role, which (by coincidence) I started a year ago today, didn’t pan out in the way I’d hoped, and I reached the conclusion that I was better to move on than try and make a silk purse out of what had become a sow’s ear. I wondered, as I have before, whether I just needed out of Financial Services, and I explored some other options However, in the end I got an offer from another company with which I was happy. Having spent last Friday with my new colleagues at their Christmas do, I am confident that this new company will be a much better fit for me.

That said, a good thing to have come out of my current tenure has been the sitting – and passing – of two more CII exams. One of these helps towards the “gap fill” required to upgrade my existing Diploma in Financial Planning to the newer Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning standard. Both contribute towards the learning path to the Advanced Diploma – and I now only need three modules to complete that. So that’s what I’ll be doing during the OU holidays over the next few years! (Gaining a distinction in my first OU module was another highlight of the year.)

The alternative jobs I alluded to above were both with local Lib Dem parties – in Organiser roles. These would have entailed a complete change in lifestyle, and possibly location. (Un)fortunately I failed to get either of these – on reflection I think that’s for the best.

Which brings me on the political aspect of life. It’s been a busy year – with two election campaigns in which I was relatively heavily involved. Neither of these were successful – and the national picture arising out of the General Election was depressing as well. The ongoing backdrop of Brexit has been wearing – and I fear that it will be for a long time to come.

But adversity is grist to the Lib Dem’s mill, and I never quite gave up. As we approach the new year, I really do feel like my campaigning mojo is on its way back: the party may have a mountain to climb but I am ready to help. And ready to help lead too… Finally, two and half years after downloading the application pack, I recently completed the process to become an approved candidate for the party. This means I can now apply to selections for parliamentary candidates. There are many aspects of the role that I will need to work on and develop but I recognise what those are and will be addressing accordingly. In the meantime, I will continue with activity in my local ward, constituency and city. I also want to give more time and energy to the LGBT+ Lib Dems, and have taken on the Secretary’s role for 2018.

Going through the experiences of this year has really helped me personally: I feel like I have grown more self-aware, and that the votes of confidence (being offered a job on the spot in the interview, and passing the approvals process) have really perked me up. I’m also lucky to have an understanding housemate with whom to talk things through, and seek second opinions on when doubts set in.

More broadly, my personal life is the best it’s been in years – debt accumulated over my late 20s and 30s has all but been eliminated, bringing about a much better quality of life with regular trips to concerts, comedy gigs, and sporting events, and Glastonbury. A large network of friends, both within the party and outside, is also appreciated, even if I don’t always say so.

There is much else I could say but I’m going to stop at a round 775 words.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Sunday Sounds 81 - Grace (We All Try)

One of my highlights of Glastonbury this year was seeing Rag 'n' Bone Man. It was Sunday afternoon, the weather was nice, and the Other Stage was mobbed for the man who has had the biggest selling debut album of the year, and the decade's fastest selling.

His overnight success has been a long time in the making, and prior to Humans he has had two album almost-album-length-EPs. Which is by way of saying that he had enough material to fill that hour long slot. Two things - other than the amount of love the crowd had for him - stand out in my mind. One was his willingness to acknowledge where he had come from by bringing doing a number with a Hip Hop Collective he used to perform with. His music may have taken a different direction and he may have gone stratospheric but he still seemed grounded. The other is related: he genuinely seemed overwhelmed by the size and reaction of the crowd.

Anyway - here is a special performance of Grace (We All Try) that he did for the BBC Review of the Year in Music show. This is gorgeous - turn it up as loud as you can get away with.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

On O'Mara, Social Media, and being invited on to Newsnight.

So, following the Guido* revelations earlier about Jared O'Mara's online comments concerning Michelle McManus winning Pop Idol in which he called her "fat" before launching into a rant about "fatties", I wrote a Twitter thread, that spawned this post, and also prompted an invite (unfilled) to go on Newsnight. No really.

Now, before we go any further, let me be unequivocal: the remarks were lamentable and are to be condemned. In addition, they seem to fit into a pattern of misogynistic and homophobic comments that give a great deal of cause for concern despite the time lapse. Given the quantity and nature of these, I think it is right for him to have resigned from the Women and Equalities committee today. He now has a job of work to do to convince people he no longer holds the views reported. That being said, though, I think there is an issue to explore here with regard to the use of social media, the permanent record it generates, and what should count as "fair game" for attacking those who become public figures.

This blog is an attempt to unpack some of my views expressed on Twitter earlier, and to address the responses to them. You can see these on this storify.

My first point was that the McManus remarks were 14 years ago, when O'Mara was a 22 year old. At that point he may not even have envisaged a career in politics, and his views may well have matured and developed since then**. He wasn't an MP or any other type of public figure at the time. So is it fair to trawl someone's social media history for past indiscretions, or for inflammatory or controversial comments? And how far back do we go?

In my Twitter thread it was at this point that I moved from considering O'Mara to an hypothetical MP, mainly on account of already being aware of questionable views disseminated by the member for Sheffield Hallam even before all of today's revelations. But there are other real life cases we could look at. Take Mhairi Black, for example, elected at the age of 20 in 2015, she had several years of tweeting behind her, and on record. This included several featuring "parliamentary language" and a number which were subsequently deleted.

Hers, though, weren't on issues of substance - although maths teachers and Celtic fans might disagree - so should we treat the youthful indiscretions of a teenager differently than opinions of someone in their early twenties?

Some of my Twitter respondents suggested that 18 should be considered a cut off point - and pointed out that "I was younger then" isn't a good excuse. Personally, I'd take a more nuanced point of view - I've met teenagers more mature than folks in their mid twenties, and people whose views (particularly on issues of equality) have changed and developed well into adulthood. That's not to say that I don't think age should be a factor when making a judgement on whether something is in the public interest, in addition to being in the public realm, but I do think that someone's more recently expressed views should be given greater weight. I also think remarks made by those once they are seeking public office deserve a more intensive examination that those from before that point.

But my main concern in all of this is that such intensive media scrutiny could further damage diversity in parliament and amongst those seeking election. We already, rightly, lament the rise of identikit politicians moving from PPE degree to Special Adviser to Safe Seat***. If we declare open season on everyone's Social Media, then we'll discourage those who haven't spent their formative years being conscious that anything they type could come back to haunt them. (Or, alternatively, have spent all their time being so on message it hurts.)

Like so many issues, this partly comes down to education. O'Mara's generation embraced the internet and Social Media with little acknowledgement of its permanent nature. The current and future generations need to be taught that online security extends to being aware that once something is online, its online for good. Don't go posting something you couldn't comfortably say to someone's face might be a sensible rule of thumb to start with.

So... that's the extended version of the Twitter thread... but between conceiving this post, and actually writing it, I got an email:

Unfortunately, I sat on it for 40 minutes before replying, which is clearly too long in telly terms... What would I have said? Probably along the lines of the above! And now it's online, its here for all to see.

* Note to self: you maybe should stop responding to Guido articles.
** Like I say, this remains to be evicenced
*** Apologies if this describes you - I don't want to suggest that you have nothing to offer, but if this becomes an even more well tread path to parliament, we will lose out on talent from other walks of life.

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Thursday, 12 October 2017

For Your Consideration.

Picture the scene:

It’s 2020 and Oscar season is upon us. Film studios, directors and producers are busy touting their wares to the members of the Academy, offering up their prize films to the electorate and soliciting interest – and votes – with adverts, direct mail and parties.

Campaigning is in full swing, and you’re flattered to be invited to an exclusive screening of the highly rated “The Hat”, hosted by the studio chief and followed by a private party with some of Hollywood’s finest actors and directors.

As costume designer, your part in the making of “The Hat” was small, but crucial. As a member of the Academy, though, your vote is worth as much as Spielberg’s or Streeps’. Naturally, you were going to vote for the film in all of the relevant categories – but the invitation was still flattering, and you’re going to make the most of it.

As you get ready, you reflect on how much you had enjoyed working on the film, and what a contrast you feel in your career now to when you were starting out. Having climbed the ladder as far as you have has given you a unique viewpoint as you observe the industry, and your place in it. You shudder at the memory of some of the people you have encountered along the way – the power-games and manipulation you had to deal with, not to mention the “favours” expected and unwanted advances rebuffed.

The evening progresses and, after seeing the film, you move on to the function. And then it happens. As you enter the gilded function room you see him: Harvey Weinstein. He’s schmoozing academy members, working on behalf of the studio chief, the director, you(?), to get votes for the film. You can’t believe it; after everything that emerged in 2017, it beggars belief that he should be here, pressing the flesh, and continuing to wield influence.

Sound unlikely? I hope so. But it wouldn’t be without precedent, or application as an analogy.

Earlier today, Guido Fawkes published a story about a certain peer of this parish attending an event in Brussels with our Acting Chief Executive, various of our MPs, our MEP and others. Like all good Lib Dem photos, all the women were at the front, promoting diversity and an (almost) gender balanced group – and at the back was Lord Rennard. A further photo showed him campaigning for Vince in Twickenham in June.

Laying aside Guido’s agenda, the inference is clear: Rennard wishes to exert any and all the influence he can. Vince should resist any moves in this direction, and seek to suppress the Baron’s ambition. As I noted when our Lords elected him as their representative on the Federal Executive: “It's time Lord Rennard … realised that if - and for as long as - he is seen to hold influence, he holds back the ambitions of the party.”

Just as Harvey Weinstein’s continued presence as a manipulator of Oscar voters seems unconscionable, so should the reinstatement of Lord Rennard to any positions of influence and power within the party.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

On Labour, their conference, and #Brexit

It's not often that I would share Labour Party graphics, but bear with me on this one...
Tonight, via the machinations of the Labour Party byzantine internal processes*, delegates to their conference opted NOT to discuss the party's #Brexit policy**.
So on the single biggest issue of our time, Labour's much vaunted internal "democracy" has ensured that it won't be discussed. Of course, this will suit the leadership in its continuing quest to face both ways on the issue: supporting Brexit whilst doing just enough to keep pro-Europe supporters on board. In this regard talking about "Austerity", the NHS, Schools and Inequality is the right approach for Corbyn.
And they are all important issues - and should be talked about: but it's hard to see how Labour's approach to Brexit will not have an adverse impact on all these areas. Corbyn's long term Euro-scepticism, and antagonism to pluralist politics, put paid to any prospect of Labour leading a coalition to mitigate the impact of Brexit and push for, say, the Norway solution.
But what of the picture? Well, surviving pro-Europeans such as Mike Gapes MP and Richard Corbett MEP are circulating it as proof of what Labour's policy is, decided at their last conference. Of itself, the wording of the policy may give heart to those who see Labour's approach as playing a long-game - but their actions since the referendum have not suggested that they have such a long term strategy.
Indeed, the policy itself was "clarified" just hours after to state a referendum didn't form part of their approach, and since then Article 50 was invoked with Labour support and a general election. In that time, Labour have disabused those of us who hoped they might argue for the Single Market and Customs Union. At best they have remained agnostic on these, at worst they have abandoned them altogether (other than in a transitional period.) This lack of clarity was enough to see them gain left-of-centre votes in a two-party contest. What remains to be seen is how long this anti-Tory support will weather a pro-Brexit policy.

**in contrast to the Lib Dem conference where hundreds of delegates turned out first thing on Saturday morning to force a suspension of standing orders and a debate on a motion, rather than just a consultative session.

(This post first made on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WhatAndrewThinks )

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