Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Changing Trains

Few coherent people entirely support the policies of just one political party and one of the Labour policies I warm to is the proposal to renationalise the railways.

Despite being old enough to remember how much worse they were before privatisation than they are now, the idea has deep emotional appeal.

Trains really don't make sense in a privatised-for-competition kind of a way: just like the water and sewage companies, it's all a bit peculiar.

Buses work out badly under competition but you can at least conceive that on the profitable routes at the busy time of day three or four operators can whisk a bus along a bit of road and compete on frequency, price or the like.

But trains can't so easily weave around one another. On the odd route where they can compete, the demand that you buy tickets before travel and while trying to crane your neck round to look at a departure board on the other side of the station from the ticket office to check whether you want this ticket or that ticket if you are to be able to board a timely train. But for most of us, rail competition is a work of fiction, as we have a monopolistic supplier for whatever commute or common trundle up the line to the big town we most often make.

But this is a bit of a heart versus head kind of a subject. And the more I think about it, the more I struggle with two things about renationalisation, even ignoring the potential impact on private pension provision and the like.

First - that I think most people cheering on the idea of rail nationalisation believe it will put an end to the ridiculous fares we pay in the UK.  "The rail companies make millions off of us!" goes the cry. 

The trouble is that's millions in profit from billions in turnover: take the profit out of the system and you free about 2% of the money involved.  With annual fare rises officially of the order of 3%-4% and actual fare rises* locally ranging between 10% and an outrageous 45% in recent years, 2% is not a lot to take out of the system. It's not even one year's worth of fare rises.

A fare freeze for a year and you've taken all the profit out of the system.  I think when the fare rises then go back to their usual painful pattern there would be a lot of public disappointment.

The second problem is taking rail investment into the hands of the government. There are two parties who mostly take turns having power in the UK - and to be blunt, one of them is about twice as effective at winning elections as the other.

Thinking about the agendas of recent Chancellors, do we want to go from the ongoing programme of new rolling stock being added to the network in the past twenty years to a situation where two years out of three there would be scant investment because public spending is "bad" and the rail unions bankroll the 'wrong' party?

* How do they keep getting away with this lie by the way? They claim 3% or the like in the headline figures but then every damn ticket gets rounded up by another 9p.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Change for the better?

The Beeb have announced changes to political programming on TV. I wonder if they will be for the better?

Certainly, UK television needs better political reporting. Like our newspapers, even the bits that like to think of themselves as responsible grown-up reporting are frustratingly lazy and present a narrative that has its flaws and its sparkle but is crucially devoid of attention span. 

On the left, think back to when Clegg became the leader of the Liberals in 2007 and he announced his aim was to double the number of seats the party had. Never mind what became of that for now: nowhere was there any analysis of what that would actually mean for the party and for politics. A simple grasp of maths tells you that Liberal force with a quarter of the seats in the Commons rather than an eighth would have meant a hung parliament or one of the Establishment parties being deposed from their cosy duopoly. Exploration of what that might mean prior to May 2010: nil.

Moving our lens to the right, at the start of this decade when Ed Miliband became Labour leader and sought to capitalise on the wave of unpopularity of the increase in student tuition fees from £3500 to £6000-9000, the BBC lacked even enough attention span to challenge this with the fact that a few months earlier he had stood on a manifesto that promised to raise them to £15,000 a year and beyond.

And continuing on our rightward trajectory, the BNP were cheerled to popularity by a media that thought they were exciting, newsy and edgy and was happy to help them to a brace of MEPs, and that for UKIP did the same in spades. Society paid and will continue to pay a price for those things, but not the people who enabled it.

I am perhaps kidding myself but the rose-tinted memories of Brian Walden's forensic interview approach on Weekend World in the 80s would surely have had the kind of background reading done thoroughly that seems to be missing now.

It's not just a problem at the BBC, as we saw last year when Channel 4's homophobic news anchor was left to run riot despite the station's pretensions to liberal values. And as for Sky Fox News...

The Beeb are determined to cut expenditure. That's going to happen through cutting broadcast hours. Surely better to save through getting rid of the deadwood presenters. The airtime is all there in the digitally multiplexed broadcast world, after all.

A press release from Auntie promising a shift to a more "conversational, unstuffy approach" that has less screen time and drops the party conference season from the roster doesn't sound like one that will lead to the kind of paying attention we need from our political reportage class.  If anything the reverse. Go on, Beeb, prove me wrong.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Rid of it

It's an emotionally resonant date to mark but I probably can't improve on my summary of the Section 28 affair from two years ago here. But as we mark 30 years since Section 28 came in, worth remembering that it is also 15 and 18 years since it was got rid of, depending where you live. Yet its shadow lingered on - and as the current government drags its heels on reform of sex and relationship education for England that shadow gets to linger a little longer. And we have this bold parallel taking place around us as voices just like those that warned of the danger of allowing children to know that bi and gay people existed then, now warning of the horrors that will be unleashed if children get to know about gender diversity. I might just live long enough to see what the next stupid scare story is in thirty more years.

It was heartwarming to see the news from Wales yesterday where the Lib Dem / Labour coalition is striking out in the opposite direction from Section 28, giving young people age-appropriate information to give them information and skills around gender, sexuality, consent and bodily autonomy. I grew up in Wales at the height of clause mania and it is nigh impossible to imagine such things. Yet here we are: hurrah.

For Scotland, the clause went three years before the rest of the UK, reflecting how the Lib Dem / Labour coalition government there had different priorities from the Labour majority government at Westminster. One of the frustrations of the 2010-2015 Lib Dem / Tory coalition was that it was almost always critiqued against what had been before, rather than what would have happened had the Brown government won another term. That's a misleading prism to look at things through - a logic that would wind up with asking why the 1974 Labour government did so little to roll out broadband internet access to rural areas - but with the SNP running Scotland and Labour running Wales there was no easy and direct comparison. But with tuition fees, the evil clause and a smattering of other things, from 1999 we got a clear reflection of exactly what difference the Liberals were making compared to having a single party administration.

For the rest of us it took another three years, and I'd forgotten that when it was at last brought to an end by an amendment tabled by Ed Davey - one of those Liberal MPs who lost their seat in the big lurch right of 2015 but who is now back in parliament. There's a neat symmetry that both sides of the border it was kicked out by Liberals, as the only party to have opposed it in those early days of 87/88.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Bi Erasure at the Beeb

Sadly little surprise that the BBC politics team is erasing bisexuality again.

It's over a decade since they were taken to task over reporting about another prominent left-wing bisexual MP, Simon Hughes, as John Pienaar declared that someone who had talked about having relationships with men and women was therefore gay. 

Expect a lot more of this as a retelling of the Thorpe saga is heading for TV screens (carefully timed, you note, for publicity just ahead of a round of elections).

There is a simple yet remarkable story that his career was ended by the demands of his ex, which spiralled out of control winding up with the bizarre dog shooting incident. Or there are the takes on it which reflect on how he was seen as a growing threat to the establishment in the UK and to the South African apartheid regime. Choose the level of conspiracy that suits your tastes.

Thorpe was - insofar as one can tell from much distance in time and social strata - a bisexual man whose life was shaped in an era where that had lots of social and legal implications. Like Nigel Farage, a great self-publicist, though with diametrically opposite views.

But as he seems to have had long happy relationships with women, erasing many years of marriage and other relationships away on a "just one man makes you completely gay" basis is below the standards of reporting we should expect from Auntie.

The "bi" part of the word bisexual gets falsely accused of meaning "2" from some quarters, but there are sadly still BBC journalists not capable of counting even that high.

(Not unique to the BBC, of course. Here in the Times for instance.)

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

At last, the 2010 show

So in today's news the Daily Express front page cries out "AT LAST! TAX CUTS ON WAY!"

We have had chunky tax cuts every year since 2010. It started thanks to the Lib Dems (arguably thanks to one Liberal parliamentary candidate, who from what I recall didn't even take first or second place in her seat) and after five years of being grudgingly allowed by the Tories as part of the left-right coalition deal it had proved so popular that Cameron and May carried on with it in their starring roles as Prime Minister With A Plan To Properly Sink The Economy and Prime Minister Who Will Never Take A Walking Holiday In Wales Again.

Top journalism. I look forward to their upcoming feature on who the entrants might be in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. As it's the Express they'll probably even let us know which song Princess Diana will be voting for.

Friday, 9 March 2018

"Just a Phase"

This started as a comment on someone else's blog post but I feel like it's a big enough a Bi Thing to be worth a blog post of its own.

One of the things people say to us when we come out is "oh, you're just going through a phase". And it's a silencing thing, to get us to shut up about something they maybe don't like hearing or discussing. Or something they say just because it's the only thing they know as received wisdom about being bisexual and they haven't thought it through any further. Either way it's like being patted on the head and told to shush our silly little heads.

Now, one of the things we used to say and write on placards when I was first out and involved with my local bi youth group was "it's not a phase!"

Only I have to admit: sometimes it is. I've known people who for instance when I first met them were lesbians, had a time of identifying as bi, but these days if you asked them they'd most likely say they were straight. Other mixtures other ways round - straight to bi to straight again, or bi to lesbian to bi again, or all round the houses like the slow bus that stops everywhere in a loop round your town. For those of us who are trans that bus route can include identities as gay, bi and straight in several genders. Pokemon sexuality!
The thing is though: people who are bisexual for the whole of their lives are bisexual for the whole of their lives. People who are bisexual for only part of their lives are bisexual for that part of their life. And if you're "only" bi for months or years or decades, where your head and heart are at that time are totally real. Those crushes?  Real crushes.  Those kisses?  Real kisses.  Those orgasms?  Ho yus, And how. Ahem.  Where was I?

Dismissing it as "just a phase" so something that doesn't need to be taken as real? Well, being a teenager is a phase but it doesn't stop you being a mardy git for a few years. Being pregnant is a phase - a year from now you won't be! - but a plan of just ignoring it and pretending it's not happening isn't a good idea.

Some of us are bi the whole of our lives, while for some people it's a phase - yet if it's a phase so is whatever comes before and whatever comes after and no-one dismisses those as "just phases".

"It's just a phase"? 
"Well, maybe it will turn out to be a phase, but it's the truth about who and where I am right now."

Saturday, 3 March 2018


There'll be lots all over the internet today celebrating 30 years of the Lib Dems. I am struggling to use the computer just now so only a short blogpost to mark 30 years of the latest iteration of The Original Left Wing Party And Still The Best (copyright battle with Kelloggs' ongoing) to reflect on how I came to join.

Growing up where and when I did I got to see two things at once about politics growing up: the Tories are - collectively, with individual exception and all that - selfish venal people interested only in their own well-being and as a party with that of the people who bankroll them. Whereas Labour are - collectively, with individual exception and all that - selfish venal people interested only in their own well-being and as a party with that of the people who bankroll them.

The introduction of Section 28 - as supported by Labour and Tories alike and its repeal blocked repeatedly by both - made me move from "I am interested in politics" to "I will have to get involved then". Moving to England narrowed the choice down: having started to see the kneejerk transphobia in the Greens and with Plaid off the table both due to geography and my ongoing leftward drift, the Liberals were the only remaining option of note.

Then Paddy told Paxman to get the fuck out of here* on a Newsnight grilling about whether "lesbian and gay rights" was a popular cause ("we don't propose these things because they are popular, Jeremy, we do it because they are right") and - at last having just reached voting age - I was sold.

But it then took finding someone who gave me a bit of paper with how to join on for me to take that last vital step. It's much simpler these days, you just click here to get at the form.

I quit the party for a while in the mid 90s but had to come back in the end because - like in a cheap sci-fi alien invasion film with a wonky spaceship possessing an unreliable laser cannon and a steering column that wobbles all over the place at critical moments in the plot - for all of us at the bottom it's our last best hope against the relentless onslaught from above.

* he was a little more civil about it than that - though it would have made great telly...

Friday, 23 February 2018

False flags

In America the latest (that I've heard of at the time of typing) school shooting feels like it has picked up a little more momentum in the calls for action afterwards; not least because of the bisexual boss of the school's Gay/Straight Alliance group and how her extensive use of the term "BS" while explaining how the US' gun laws look from the perspective of some of the groups most likely to be killed as a result of the NRA's diligent purchasing of politicians was an ideal clip for going viral.

Naturally there's a pushback with someone - possibly someseveral, but you know how it is with server farms full of fake social media accounts and people paid to work full time on them - claiming that the whole thing is a 'false flag' operation with no children really dead and paid actors working for shadowy organisations faking the entire thing to acheive political ends.

Maybe that's true! It's not. Of course it bloody isn't. If you think it is, go wash your head in a bucket of water, come back and think it over some more. But suppose this weren't another case of the lying liars who lie about such things telling porkie pies to try and have the most contorted conspiracy theory out of their entire gang.

Well, it's like climate change and the related proposals that we move from unsustainable stinky polluting life-shortening energy production to clean renewables really isn't it?

What if it is all a lie. Maybe if we took a few million guns out of circulation in the USA it would all be in response to some staged pretend disaster. Maybe the sea levels will be just the same whether we use wind turbines or coal power to keep the lights on.

Imagine how awful it would be to be living in a nicer, cleaner, safer world, all for no particular reason.

Decades from now you'd be kicking yourself as you sat in your retirement home, years after you would have otherwise been dead. 


Friday, 12 January 2018

Strange Obsessions

The local paper reports a handful of danger-to-their-own-children type parents up in arms because Altrincham Grammar School for Girls has advised staff to call pupils "pupils", "students" or the like, rather than "girls".  The thinking being that it makes the place more accommodating for pupils who have been at the school for some time and then start to either question their gender identity or to come out as trans or enbee.

"But if they aren't girls, why do they want to go to a girls' school?" is the first silly question being knocked about. If you were starting out afresh as a prospective first year pupil and were male you'd be rather unlikely to apply, but if you are five years into your time at a school and about to sit your TGAUs, swapping schools and having to leave your friends and familiar spaces behind as well as dealing with your own gender vertigo may all be a bit much to cope with.

Persistent misgendering damages lives in many ways including those all-important-to-schools exam results, so it's in the school's enlightened self-interest to not have gender variant pupils under more stress than needs be the case.

It also has the fringe benefit of inculcating in the pupils a sense that they aren't "girls", the subtly belittling diminutive which gets used for women so much further into adult life than is the case for boys. So a bit of a boost for the cis kids too.

The other bloody stupid question being punted is: "but what shall they call the school?" This one carries on into extended drivel which boils down to:
"If it's now a school for girls and people who we thought were girls right up to the middle of their A levels and then found out we were wrong, and all of a sudden we've decided that people who are legally able to leave home and live independently, pay taxes, get married, have children or join the army and die in a war overseas are now also allowed to have an opinion as to what name they should be called, well, the sign on the front the school will have to be changed because PC Police."

I can't help but think that the schools I attended between 10 and 17 both had signs on the gates with "Saint" in them, and there was precious little in the way of saintly behaviour amongst the attendees be they staff or student. I suspect the students of AGSG will cope...

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

2010 and 2017

2010: Lib Dems provide enough votes to let Tory PM have a majority.
Faux-Left Twitter: OMG Everything in the Liberals supposedly believe in must be delivered because they provide the extra 17 vital votes so clearly they must be able to dictate everything this government does and anything that happens was the Liberals' policy.

2017: DUP provide enough votes to let Tory PM have a majority.
Faux-Left Twitter: The DUP provide the extra 7 vital votes but must be allowed to dictate absolutely nothing, and this in no way goes against our previous stance.