Thursday, 24 September 2015
Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Yesterday I gave my second speech at Lib Dem Conference, on Human Rights.
I fear it was better on paper than in delivery - and as the video is not yet online, I've opted to share the text of what I (largely) said.
Later today there will be a consultative session on our Governance Review. One of the things being asked in that is whether the preamble to our constitution fully reflects our values and beliefs.
I’m sure that many of you can quote the extract from the preamble that is printed on membership cards. I have mine here:
“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”
Conference, protecting Human Rights is key to achieving this.
But the preamble doesn’t end there, and this party’s commitment to building a Liberal – with both a small and a capital L - society doesn't stop at our borders. We are an outward looking international party.
Further on, the preamble continues:
“We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely.”
This motion is about our Human Rights but it is about much, much more:
How we act as a society has an impact beyond our shores.
How can we advocate internationally for democracy, the rule of law, the fair treatment of minorities, LGBT+ rights and full equality for all: male, female, intersex, black, white, gay, straight, bisexual, and the rights of those of faith and those of none, if we don't protect these rights for our own citizens.
The world is a complex place. We face threats to Human Rights from new and disparate forces.
ISIS: further destabilising the Middle East with their barbaric and merciless regime.
Assad, using Chemical Weapons against his civilians.
Putin, annexing European territory and implementing anti-LGBT+ legislation.
But we also face threats at home.
Here in the UK there are those who seek to demonise and marginalise the poor. From those that rail against extremists and seem to favour summary deportations. From those who talk of “swarms” of migrant; who deny refugees dignity and respect and would sooner build a drawbridge they could raise than countenance Britain accepting at least 10,000 refugees a year, as this conference voted for on Sunday.
And these, generally speaking, are the people who would scrap the Human Rights Act and pull Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights. Who regard the even handed application of rights as “political correctness gone mad.”
John Donne said “Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind” – and the same is true of Human Rights.
That is why we defend the fair treatment of those that sin against society: for terrorists, criminals, and those accused of acting against the common good. That is why we defend Civil Liberties for all. That is why we have grave reservations at reports of extra-judicial killing and that is why we have respect for the rule of law – nationally and internationally.
Conference, I urge you to support this motion. When it comes to Human Rights: Britain must lead – and if others are going to follow us, Britain must be leading in the right direction.
Sunday, 16 August 2015
Last night, during a Facebook messenger conversation with a friend, I got called a Tory. Twice.
I don't think that I've been called a Tory since the 20th May 2014 when a Guardian reading, small-l "liberal", semi-detached Victorian Townhouse dwelling man declined my canvass approach and told me to "stick it up your Tory arse."
Charming. What a command of the language.
Anyway, as someone who is categorically not a Tory, I took offence at my friends suggestion. Well, you would, wouldn't you?
It was OK, though... because what my friend meant was "not a Tory in the political sense". I didn't know there was any other sense, but they explained further by saying I was "a social conservative".
Reader, I am not sure this is any better.
Had my correspondent described me as "socially conservative", then this would possibly have been accurate. Like most people, I am a creature of my upbringing which was, indeed, socially conservative. I don't drink in excess, I don't do drugs, I don't have tattoos (although I have had piercings), I like home comforts and I'm not particularly impulsive.*
There are, though, ways in which I am not socially conservative: I have no particular desire to "get on the housing ladder", I eschew having a doctor even when on one level I know that is something a man my age should have sorted and any previous thoughts of coupling and settling down have long since gone by the wayside.
In fact, on this last, I get incredibly annoyed at society's expectation of this being the "norm" and that there is something wrong with those who don't, either through circumstance or conscious decision.
To suggest, because I may appear to be socially conservative in light of my own life circumstances and choices, that this means I am a social conservative is wrong.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
I am a Liberal - and want people to be free to live their lives as *they* see fit. And if that means marriage, kids and a two-up, two-down, then fine. But if it means an open relationship, or a polygamous relationship, or giving it all up and living in a camper-van, or anything else, then that's fine too. As long as they're not harming others, then 'tevs (as I'm told the young people say).
And I want a society where people are free to be as open (or not) about all these things and more.
I am not a social conservative. I'm a Liberal who happens, most of the time, to be socially conservative in his behaviour.
I hope I've cleared that up.
*some of these things are due to psychological factors - but that's not what this is about.
Sunday, 19 July 2015
Saturday, 18 July 2015
Tonight on Channel 4 News, Cathy Newman laid into our new leader with questions over whether he considered homosexuality a sin.
The answer to this question is... not relevant.
As an evangelical Christian, his private position is almost certainly that the act is sinful, not the inclination. Christ hates the sin, but loves the sinner. I know this, as it used to be what I believed.
But whatever, he can't say that - it sounds trite and patronising.
And it's not relevant.
Tim Farron's personal views on sin are - and should remain - his own. Sin is not a concept recognised in law, nor should it play a part in political debate. Sadly, Cathy Newman chose to concentrate on this, rather than issues such as Welfare changes, Greece, Syria (on which she spent 40 seconds) or any one of a number of issues that could have yielded more information on the tone our new leader will set.
And if you're going to fixate on someone's personal views on sexuality, the question should be "If you believe that homosexuality is sinful, how will this affect your policy positions."
It's true that there have been concerns over Tim's voting record - and it's obvious that his desire to ensure some protections for those religious organisations that oppose Same-Sex Marriage did cause him to be less enthusiastic than I would have liked our (then) Party President to have been.
But a quick look at They Work For You reveals that as well voting for the second reading of the Marriage Bill, he has also separately (subsequent to having been absent at the third reading) voted to allow same-sex marriage for armed forces personal.
So his own view on whether or not gay sex is sinful has not actually stopped him voting in favour of same-sex marriage.
He has, of course, expressed concern over whether Christians and other religions were adequately protected by the Same-Sex Marriage act. This is his stated reason for absenting himself from the third reading - which he says he now regrets.
It was similar concerns that led him to vote against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in 2008.
Now, we may take different views on these things - but how to balance the competing needs for protection of minorities in our society are legitimate areas of debate; and legitimate areas of concern for Liberals. We must always ensure that in correcting one wrong, we do not create another. Judgements on these things will vary, of course, but the principle is sound.
The fixation on his views on sexuality are a side-show, just as much as the sexual preferences of an unmarried public figure would be, or whether a female politician has had a family.
We cry out for politicians from every walk of life, with differing backgrounds and interests - and then we decry them when they step outside of the model that suits the intellectual, small-l liberal elites. Sometimes with good reason (David Tredinnick) and sometimes not.
Tim has been elevated to be leader, not vicar; to the platform, not the pulpit. I expect him to motivate, not moralise and deliver speeches not sermons.
I expect the press and media to continue to fixate on this issue for a while and there's a sense in which there is no good answer - a "yes" would cause furore, a "no" would seem inconsistent with his professed faith. I hope Tim gets better at answering - perhaps not by calling us all sinners. Beyond that, I look forward to a gradual return to focusing on substantive issues such as the EU, Housing and rebuiliding our party as a Liberal voice for a liberal country.