Saturday, 7 July 2018

Reading Habits: Mid Year Update.

It is (over) halfway through the year and I thought I'd do an update to this post in which I outlined my intention to read more books by women this year... So, how am I doing?

Well, I think I'm doing well.

Dialling the stats back to how they stood at the end of June, I had read 29 books - well ahead of target, which was 40 for the year.

Last year 64% of the books I read were by male authors. This year, to date, that's been 45%. In terms of individual authors read, just 41% have been male.

In absolute terms, I have read 16 books by 13 female authors - outstripping the 15 books by just 6 women read over the course of the past year by some way. Many of these have been authors I've read for the first time, some as a result of recommendations both here and on Facebook: Jeanette Winterston, Naomi Alderman, Maya Angelou, Mary Shelley, Val McDermid, Jane Harper, Mary Beard, Susan Hill, Natasha Pulley, Jessie Burton.

So, while I still have huge piles of books by men to read, I've been making efforts to buy and read additional books by women. Much of this has been virtual or audible stockpiling: I'm trying to resist adding too much to the physical piles!

Should you be inclined, you can follow my progress on my goodreads page.

Sunday, 20 May 2018


Last Thursday (17 May) was International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia*. Here's a piece that I wrote for Lib Dem Voice on behalf of LGBT+ Lib Dems, of which I am Secretary. The original piece can be found on Lib Dem Voice, and on the LGBT+ LD site.

On this day in 1990, the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of ‘mental disorders’. Since 2004 the anniversary of this has been used to promote awareness of the legal and cultural discrimination LGBT+ people still experience around the world.
In the UK that we have come a long way towards achieving equality – and yet we know that, for many, there is still a stigma around their sexuality or gender identity. Imagine being a teenager struggling to reconcile same-sex attraction with the teachings of their parents, or religion. Think about why you may not know many people who are openly bisexual, or those who have multiple partners in consensual polyamorous relationships. Consider the workings of the “spousal veto” which insists a trans person’s husband or wife must consent in order for them to gain gender recognition.
IDAHOBIT is about celebrating the diversity of human sexual and gender expression and challenging the barriers to people living their lives as openly as their cis, straight peers.
In the UK, this year’s day takes place against a backdrop of the current media storm over self-ID for trans people. This is the proposal to reform the Gender Recognition Act such as to reduce the hoops that trans people have to go through to replace their birth certificates. Despite what you may have read, it’s not a licence for any man who wants to perv at naked women to walk into the female changing rooms at the local swimming pool. There are, after all, already rules against that sort of thing. It is merely the UK catching up with such notoriously socially liberal states as Ireland.
This year’s theme for IDAHOBIT is “alliances for solidarity” – and that, to us, sums up what we’re about as an organisation: solidarity with all under-represented, discriminated and persecuted groups. LGBT+ Lib Dems believe that you can’t build equality on the back of another minority or under-represented group. This is why we are vociferous in opposing those who hide their transphobia beneath a cloak of “feminism”. It is why we insist on referring to Same-Sex Marriage as just that – it’s not “Equal Marriage” whilst the spousal veto remains. It is also why we strive to ensure that we do what we can to give additional weight to the L, B and T+ in LGBT+: in a society that has become more accepting of gay men, there is much that remains to be done.
Tackling discrimination in all these forms, and others, is not just an LGBT+ fight, but a Liberal fight. After all, as the preamble to our party constitution has it, “No one [should] be enslaved by … conformity.”

*IDAHOBIT in the UK and Australia, IDAHOTB in the rest of the world. An explanation of this can be found here.

Friday, 12 January 2018

On Nigel Farage and a deal referendum

Two posts on consecutive days? That's not something that's happened for a long time! Although this is, essentially, a re-hash of some thoughts I posted on Twitter earlier.

There was much excitement amongst "Remain"* campaigners today when Nigel Farage announced he was beginning to come round to the idea of a second^ referendum. His thinking being that a second** "leave" win would kill off any further thoughts of re-entering the Union "for a generation". On this last point he is right - just as it took dissenters^^ from the 1975 result over a generation to reverse that decision.

(Of course, for all his talk of the finality of the 2016 vote - the day democracy stopped, folks - we know that his campaign would have continued had the result gone the other way by, well, by any margin.)

Anyway, lots of people jumped on this news - arch remainers*** Ian Dunt, AC Grayling and Nick Clegg, amongst others, made hay whilst the Lib Dem Press Team and prominent spokespeople went to town on the news.

But why? Or, at least, why the lack of trepidation?

I mean, it's not as if Farage hasn't a record of being disingenuous, is it?

Now, I know that the polls are showing a lead for remain over leave now - and that is welcome, as far as it goes. But for the majority of the population, the matter is settled, so the question is considered moot. If it were to be reopened, whether on the nature of the deal agreed or otherwise, the numbers would rapidly change - and the narrative and tone of debate would be even worse than before.

Now, this isn't intended as a council of despair - but it is intended as a dose of realism. It's also not intended as an argument against having a deal referendum. That's a policy I support, albeit I would have liked the party to have also adopted a line that categorically said election of a Lib Dem majority government^^^ prior to actually leaving would be a mandate to reverse the process. Would such a policy have made a difference at the last election? I doubt it, but I'm not about to second guess when the next election may be, the role Brexit may or may not have in that, or the outcome.

No, I support the policy on the pragmatic grounds, outlined in part in this exchange:

Put simply, I think the restoration and exercise of Parliamentary Sovereignty followed by the throwing out of Brexit would plunge this country into a much greater level of turmoil than another referendum. I'm not suggesting war, but there would be substantial civil unrest and political instability. In addition, the forces of xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism (not to mention other forms of hate and discrimination) that the Brexit vote has given licence to would then be unleashed in a way we have not seen in a century.

So, back to Farage. He has his own agenda, and we ought to be very, very careful in the way we react to his pronouncements. Rather than reacting with glee, his words should give us pause.

*One of the things I bitterly, bitterly despair about is the way Brexit colours *everything* in our political debate, and huge swathes of people identify, or are identified as, "Remainers" or "Leavers" without either side seeking to engage with the other. There is a lot of speaking in echo chambers, or slinging mud, insults, sneers and jeers at the "other side" and not a lot of anything constructive. And, before anyone else says it, I don't consider consider myself blameless in this regard, although I do try to avoid sneering: that's just not a pleasant, or Liberal, thing to do.

^Shorthand. I prefer to call it a deal referendum. Or "a first referendum on the facts." But as far as a choice between staying in or leaving the EU/EC is concerned, we've had two of those already.

**in short order.

^^Farage himself would have been only 11 at the time when 67% of those who voted opted to secure a brighter future for themselves and future generations.

***Gah, even I'm doing it now.

^^^I know, I know.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

A few words on Tim Farron.

(Note: This wasn't meant to be a post - I merely intended a few words on my Facebook page, and repeat of the LGBT+ Lib Dem line... but it sort of grew arms and legs.

Tim's been at it again - picking at the scab which never quite healed following his failure to give a good response to Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News on his day after election as leader.

Having defended Tim, despite his unpreparedness for the question then (and, as it transpired, continued unpreparedness in 2017), his repeated pronouncements since (beginning with his resignation statement) have become increasingly frustrating.

When. You're. In. A. Hole. Stop. Digging.

Especially when it has an impact on others, who are busy trying to climb out of that hole.

I still like Tim*, but every time he pulls this sort of stunt it becomes harder to do so.

I had hoped that Tim could play a role in the recuperation of the party's reputation. He seemed to have found his mojo again on social media, and could have continued to be an asset on the telly, particularly the softer media opportunities which Vince may not be so cut out for.

But now he really needs to take a break from Making. Pronouncements. Whether on the issue of gay sex, or the nature of Liberalism, a period of quiet is now well overdue.

Today's video caused much anguish on the LGBT+ Lib Dem exec: particularly as we had had his back during the General Election. There is a distinct feeling that this is not the way to pay us back. (This is putting it mildly. Some of my colleagues might not be so polite as I.)

Accompanying Tim's statement comes a fresh media circus.

Lib Dems in the headlines! Hurrah.

For all the wrong reasons. Boo.

LGBT+ Lib Dems were asked for contributors on LBC - including on Nick Ferrari's show tomorrow a.m.. No one was available for interview, but we did issue a line - composed by yours truly and intended to be diplomatic and brief, but also pointed:

"Tim speaks for himself and has no brief for the Liberal Democrats on these matters. LGBT+ Lib Dems represent members of all faiths and none, and campaigns for equal rights for all, irrespective of their personal morality."

The not so subtle message?: We're campaigning for your rights, Tim, please don't undermine us when we do so.

*this is because I couldn't give two hoots as to whether he thinks gay sex is sinful.

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Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Recommendations Sought: Women Authors

I still need to do a proper New Year post but in the meantime, I have a favour to ask: recommendations for women authors.

One of my (as yet to be finalised) aims for this year is not just to keep up my reading, but to increase the number of books by female writes I read.

To put this in perspective, and because I'm sad enough to have kept track, last year I completed 44 books. Of these, 28 were by men, 15 by women and 1 was an anthology; in percentage terms this breaks down as 64%, 34% and 2%. When it comes to different authors, I read books by 19 male authors and just 6 different female authors - a 73% to 23% split. (The difference is down to the fact that I'm reading (listening to) a number of book series, including the Miss Marple and Ripley books.)

So, this year, a supplementary aim to that of reading 40 books is to achieve gender balance overall, and to improve that secondary split as well.

There are a number of good candidates already on my list - but I've always operated on the basis that a book list can never be too long...

P.S. If you want to see more of my book reading habits, you'll find my goodreads page here.

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