Thursday, 28 November 2019

Fighting to lose

There are many things to be said of Tony Blair, and by now I imagine all of them have been said repeatedly.

His government deliberately delayed progress on LGB rights, and was the only government to ever legislate away the hard-won human rights of transgender people. It gave the NHS a short-term fix that was consciously designed to bankrupt the organisation in the long term, relying on Labour being out of power by the time the chickens came home to roost. It brought in a - most welcome - minimum wage that the Liberals were attacked for critiquing by the unions and then a decade later the unions started attacking it using the self-same lines as the Liberals had used. It delivered partial devolution of power but kept in the hands of the PM the valuable power to appoint peers as a way of bribing people to toe the party line. There was a spending boom off the back of a bubble that the government totally screwed up and nearly wrecked the economy. There was then another spending boom off the back of a different bubble that the government totally screwed up and really wrecked the economy. Iraq. The trans tax. And so on. You know the score.

However, what Blair did that no other Labour leader has managed in my life, was to properly win. As a general rule of thumb no matter how good or worthy or wicked or cruel your plans, no matter how well you have spun them this way or that, if you don't get in then it is unlikely to come to pass. Very occasionally you get your plans into action regardless: the NHS was implemented, albeit somewhat botched, despite the party behind it not getting into power in 1945; phase 2 of the Bedroom Tax was rolled out similarly in 2010 despite its architects having been shown the door.

What Blair realised - and maybe it needed losing four times in a row to give the vision painful clarity - was that for all the theoretical and philosophical stuff, in practice there are seats Labour can win from the Tories, and there are seats the Liberals can win from the Tories. There is a small amount of drift, perhaps 1% a year, in each seat on this but the general lesson is that there are places where for example the least Labour can get is 5% and the most is 30%: either way they lose, but a couple of thousand people's decisions about whether to vote Labour decides whether the seat goes Conservative or not.

In 1997 Labour and its activists engaged in a pincer movement with their counterparts in the  Liberals. To be broad brush and so slightly misleading about it, Blue-Gold seats got hammered by the Liberals and Labour stayed quiet or went elsewhere; in Blue-Reds the Liberals sat on their hands while Labour went to work.  Tories found they were fighting on two fronts against an enemy that has declared more-or-less a truce on its own internal battle front.  Result: a stonking Labour majority and a big Liberal bloc with the Tories out of power for a decade.

Contrast to 2010, 2015, 2017 and - on the YouGov poll last night though it ain't over etc etc - 2019. Labour keep setting off on a battle plan involving taking out two enemies at once, despite having seen time and again before how that is a strategy entitled How To Get Second Place But Not Win.

General Melchett would be proud of them.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Manifestos Lack Surprises

In this year's second season of I'm A Voter Get Me Out Of Here we are on to week three and the party manifestos.

The Liberals have gone with the idea of a Britain that is in the 21st century and feels kinda hopeful and outward looking and has friends who are a bit different from us but we love them anyway. And revoking Article 50 or having a People's Vote with the options "Stay" or "Go".

Labour have gone for the idea of a Britain that is more 1970s-ey. Nationalised industries, not liking queers or immigrants.  And having a People's Vote, with a ballot paper offering the options "Leave" and "?".

The Greens gave everyone a chuckle by starting their manifesto launch with the words, "we are different. We offer a People's Vote." You can get away with that if you're first but when you're third in the line it doesn't quite have the oomph. If only they could come up with a different pair of options.

Plaid have, remarkably, said they will be putting Wales first. This is a big departure from their 2017 manifesto, "Sod Wales, What About Uruguay?" - amazing they've never thought of that one before.

The Tory manifesto has yet to be launched but seems to be pretty much Labour's manifesto with "owned by the state" crossed out and "owned by one of our friends" written in with a crayon. There'll be some racism to keep up with Labour, and they have expunged the MPs who liked the queers so don't hold your breath on that front.

Their unique selling point will be a manifesto containing no People's Vote. On Johnson's record, that makes the Tories the people most likely to deliver one: it's always what isn't in the manifesto that makes all the difference, like when Labour didn't put in killing a quarter of a million civilians in an illegal war because it's not a big thing.

So if you've got shares in Stubby Pencil On A Bit Of String PLC, vote Liberal, Labour, Green or Nationalist. And if you've had enough of voting there's the Liberals if you are amenable to foreigners and the Tories if you aren't.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

From here to December 12th

So, we have a General Election. Crack out the Spitting Image Election 87 Special and that episode of Blackadder III.

Tomorrow belongs to me; Baldrick, put down "fraud and sexual deviance"...




This might actually be the end of Groundhog Day and the start of Something Happening. Could be for the better, could be for the worse. But hey. At last we get a slightly different show on TV for six weeks.

Even if it is immediately followed by another looping rerun of Groundhog Day...

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Mathematical Operators

A small thought.  The thing about "LGBT+" as a term is that it needs a counterpart.

Specifically "LGBT-", for where you say LGBT on the tin but you really mean a slightly smaller list.

(I want to carry on to other maths operators here but the next obvious one is multiplication, and the * has been appropriated for other purposes already, and the one after that is division and if you haven't already heard about divisions within LGBT you're never gonna learn and frankly it's our own private set of internal battles!)

Monday, 23 September 2019

Political Engagement

It is September 23rd and I see our politicians have been engaging with Bi Visibility Day right across the political spectrum this year.

For the Liberals, Jo Swinson had read up on bisexuality and did a detailed message of support about bisexuality, biphobia and bi erasure.

For Labour, Jeremy Corbyn had read up on bisexuality and sat on a fence over Brexit as a sign of solidarity with people who can't make up their minds.

For the Conservatives, Boris Johnson had read up on bisexuality and spent the day being a cheat and a liar in solidarity with all those bis we know you can't trust.

And for the SNP... nothing. In solidarity with all that bi invisibility.

Non-pisstake version: actually during the course of the day I looked at social media from all the parties, their leaders and their LGBT groups. There was a lot from the Lib Dems including from Swinson; there was a panicked last-minute nod from a couple of Tory, Green and Labour accounts; from Plaid and the Nats, nowt.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

More Bis In Photos

And so - following on from yesterday's photo roundup - to this years BiCon photo, which is also out on the Bi Community News website ahead of its proper schedule date by way of celebrating the opening of bookings for BiCon 2020 tomorrow. 



Subscribe to Britain's bi magazine BCN sharpish and get a nice big colour print of the photo in the mail when the September-October edition lands on doormats in two weeks' time!

Friday, 30 August 2019

Bis In Photos

The past few years I've frequently been part of the BiCon annual photo for Bi Community News magazine - but I'm almost never in the picture cos most years I'm behind the camera.

It can feel a bit weird sorting the photo out each year but never being seen, like bisexual invisibility turned up to eleven.

For anyone who has been wondering what a large group of bisexuals (and allies) looks like or what kind of people go to BiCon, here are a few of the more recent photos:

This was 2015, in Nottingham. People gathered indoors in an atrium area and I leant off a balcony a few floors above them to get everyone in on this shot:



2016, Preston.  Indoor group shots have the benefit of slightly fewer people wandering into shot so they take less time. We did two versions of this one - the other had the Co-Op banner in shot to please them as sponsors for the event. I think I was yelling directions while L wrangled the camera.



2017, this time in Leeds. The "can everyone kindly hang about outside a building while Jen leans out of an upstairs window" model.


2018, Salford. This one's actually taken by Ludy - I had left BiCon early to go and help organise the bis at Leeds Pride. I went on a special site visit a few days before BiCon happened to


Thursday, 25 July 2019

Ally Challenge

I got chatting to someone the other afternoon about bisexuals and allies. In part it was prompted by being at Sparkle and seeing some publications offering tip for allies on how to be supportive to your trans friends, family, workmates and partners.

There have been similar things for lesbians and gay men and from within the diversity and equality campaigner bubble it feels like cishet allies more or less know what they should do and what they should look out for.

Is it different for bis? After all we were historically thought of in LGBT community discourse as kind of "gay lite", with therefore just a smaller level of the same support as you might give to gay friends and family members needed.

Except in recent years it has turned out that no: bisexual experience is, as the bisexuals were saying unheeded all along, qualititavely different from gay life. And it has turned out that, in the statistics, bi experience is not "gay lite" but a kind of "homophobia plus".

Up til now it has been hard for allies to help tackle biphobia because of our own invisibility and because of the lack of differentiation between gay and bi life experience in research and anecdote, and so willing allies simply didn't know enough about our challenges: about what biphobia looks like and what it does. It feels like we are in a time where that changes. At last!

Sunday, 9 June 2019

In Their Prime

Here's an uplifting photo: the first joint meeting of the seventeen Lib Dem and Alliance party MEPs elected two weeks ago. Coalicious, as they used to say.


They're going to be in place to some point between October 31 2019 and June 30 2024. Can't wait to find out who's going to be leading on which issues and sitting on what intergroups...

(Pic: Catherine Bearder's twitter)

Friday, 7 June 2019

Denmark votes...

With 28 member states there are lots of elections around the EU beside the headline-grabbing European Parliament election last month.

For example, the results of the General Election in Denmark are in and they suggest Denmark might be having a Liberal moment of its own akin to the resurgence here in the UK.

They have a more effective voting system than we do for reflecting the will of the voters - and with 179 seats to elect* their two counterparts to the Lib Dems both have lots to smile about.  Venstre (think of the right wing of the Lib Dems - so to the left of Blair but more freemarket than I am) emerge as the second biggest party by a whisker on 43 seats up 9.

Meanwhile Radikale (more my kind of people, D66ey lefties) find themselves on 16 seats, up 8.  The other notable changes are an increase for a Socialist group and a huge seat loss for a Socialist-anti-Muslim party (think of it in terms of Lexiteer logic).

Thanks to the shifts in power between the other political groupings this sees Venstre leave government (as lead party) and Radikale enter it (as a junior coalition partner) so sadly that's one fewer Liberal prime minister across the EU, but across Denmark a step up for the combined forces of the anti-fash.

* - Borgen fans will remember all that "counting to 90" stuff.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Meanwhile in Spain

There are lots of media reports about the Spanish general election all over my newsfeeds today.  Which is great: we should know more about elections in other countries that are not the USA.

Here's how they all go:
  • The Socialists are forming a government!
  • The Conservatives lost half their seats!
  • The Fascists are in parliament again!
  • No-one got elected for the Stop Bullfighting party!

...what none of these stories mention is that the Citizens party jumped from 32 to 57 seats - also doubling its parliamentary representation and moving from fourth party to third party. Indeed they nearly took second place what with the outgoing government being reduced to 66 seats.

It's another reminder that our UKanian media are super eager to report neon-nazis and hate admitting there is anything or anyone pulling in the opposite direction.

Indeed if you ignore the small group of far-right MPs, which has upset the press by not being as great an incursion as they had been talking up, most of the Spanish election looks a lot like the UK's in 1997: Labour doubling its seats, the Tories halving theirs, and the Liberals doubling their representation - but the reportage being all about the reds and the blues.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

2011 and all that

I got to thinking about the 2011 AV referendum. Post-2016, it would be "the referendum we've all forgotten" if that title weren't held by the 2011 Welsh referendum. No, really, there was one - look it up on google, it's seven pages in.

I knew and know people who voted either way on AV, though my social circle was definitely skewed against the national trend (not surprising, I hang out with more lefties than righties) with a majority of people I knew backing AV whether eagerly or on the "half a loaf is better than no bread" basis.

Since 2011 we've had two general elections.  Who's profited from the outcome back in 2011?

A little digging found some figures from a fairly reliable source.

In 2015 - the one where David Cameron got a majority government with help from interesting sources like Unite and Unison - it didn't make much of a difference it seems.

ERS reckoned back then:
Party Seats under AV Difference from 2015 election seats
Conservative 337 +6
Labour 227 -5
SNP 54 -2
Liberal Democrats 9 +1
Plaid Cymru 3
UKIP 1
Greens 1

Two years later the skew went the other way and with a bigger margin:

ERS say:

Party Seats under AV Difference from 2017 election seats
Conservative 304 -13
Labour 286 +24
SNP 27 -8
Liberal Democrats 11 -1
Plaid Cymru 2 -2
UKIP 0
Greens 1

First, you notice that in a country where it's now nearly fifteen years since anyone won a working majority, AV still delivers one smallish-majority government followed by one almost impossible hung parliament.  For people wanting "strong and stable" government, well, we were jiggered under first past the post, we would be jiggered under AV.  All those scary stories of how AV would make small parties overly powerful have come unstuck in the age of Blukip.

Second - how frustrating is it that both times these figures only look at the 332 seats outside Northern Ireland. After years and years of STV elections there it's surely the easiest place to guesstimate where the transfers would go? But we'll have to put that to one side.

So if you're a Tory, AV would have made things a bit better at first but in 2017 would have probably made government impossible outside of a 'grand coalition'. Despite Con-Lab being the easiest coalition fit ideologically, the longstanding pretence of difference means it is incredibly unlikely outside of wartime. The Conservatives would be the biggest party but with the DUP not able to get them across that 323 line it's hard to imagine them getting the extra votes anywhere else. Lots of howling in the press if the biggest party doesn't get to form the government, sure, but to little avail.

Meanwhile if you are Labour it was a mild escape in the pummelling of 2015, but come 2017 you have perhaps missed out of kicking the Tories out of office and being in power, albeit needing a working arrangement with the SNP and the Liberals or the SNP and the DUP. 

Ironically for Liberals, whose first taste of coalition compromise was "well, it's only AV, and there'll be a referendum on it, but we've the furthest we'll have got with bringing about electoral reform in decades" there really hasn't been enough in it to matter, while for the SNP the "no" vote is an increasingly lucky escape.

And all told, for people who hate our current PM and voted who voted "no" eight years ago: she's only there thanks to you!

Friday, 8 March 2019

Opting Out Of Oxbow Lakes

Many readers will have noticed the story in the media about "LGBT lessons" in a Birmingham school and how lots of people who have somehow been entrusted with the care of small children want them protected from being told about how two men can marry nowadays, because if the teacher doesn't mention it no-one will ever find out that Suzie has three mums cos it'll never come up in the playground, and if it does there won't be any bullying because groups of children never stigmatise something they don't understand.

You can't help think these are people who have not contemplated how a vengeful gay son choosing the quality of their care home thirty years hence might behave. 

It seems to vary depending which sources you read whether a these 'grown ups' have succeeded in ending these lessons, or whether the school is continuing them after the Easter break, but it has all got very heated as a clique of parents insist that children are property, not people. Following on from the leafleting we've seen recently equating trans people with paedophiles and rapists, Birmingham has started to have equivalent pamphlets circulating demanding that a section 28 style law is brought in so as to protect kids from not self-harming.  The neon-nazi playbook of targets follows a predictable path.

It is hideous, but it in this story it also leads to a peculiar demand.

Some of the parents are quoted as saying that the curriculum has been updated and it is unfair because they were not consulted.

Now first I have to note that teaching about the existence of something does not inherently make children want to do it. At school, I learned about the existence of things like hockey and rugby, and remained utterly uninterested. Other people might like that sort of thing and all jolly nice for them, but for me, we invented the indoors for a reason, and it's a bit of my cultural heritage I have a lot of time for. Similarly I was taught about oxbow lakes with such diligence that it is one of only two things I remember from five whole years of geography lessons. At no point did I decide I wanted to be one when I grew up. Didn't even have a lake-curious phase as a teen where I wondered about being fed from a river (and no, my regular and committed drinking of neat vodka between the ages of 18 and 21 doesn't count).

So what's interesting about this is that the dangers-to-their-own-kids parents at the heart of this story want control over RSE but don't expect to decide the rest of the curriculum.  How dare they.  If you are going to dictate what children should know about relationships from their schooling as if you had some sort of educational expertise, you should have to do the rest of the curriculum too.

So henceforth a bit of the typical Brummie school day can go like this:

Teacher: ...So that is how U-shaped and V-shaped valleys are formed and the difference between them.  Except for Mattie and Dave - so far as you are concerned, they just happen and, just you two, write this in your books, "no-one knows why, what do you mean they are shapes, and why are you asking me all this shit about valleys what are we Welsh my children don't need to know about that?" 
That's enough Geography for now 4C, so you can put your Geography notebooks away and take out your English Lesson books as we move on to Spelling And Grammer, a word which ends in an 'er' after a poll of your parents.  Today we are going to learn about the correct use of apostrophe'ses', and believe me this is going to be one of your goodest lesson's ever.  Oh wait, Mx Jenkins from class 2A is at the door, they must need to have a quick word with me about something - what's that?  No, Katie, I cannot tell you what the title Mx means nor how to spell it, not without half the class getting to go for morning break early. Nice try though."

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

A fine debate in the Lords

Bi Community News reports on the second reading of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths Bill in the House of Lords last week.

There were some excellent contributions all round, though Lib Dem peer Baroness Barker gave for my money the best contribution to the debate, with lots of depth in the subjects at hand as well as warm understanding of the rest of humanity. Also it reminded me of chatting over breakfast with the Baroness and comparing notes on our recent engagements:
“My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, for the way in which she introduced this Bill, which deals with matters of enormous importance and sensitivity to a very small number of people. I am delighted to speak today not least because my father married a lot of people. He was a nonconformist minister, and I must tell your Lordships that the day on which the Church of England took a more enlightened view towards the remarriage of divorced people was a cause of great sadness in our household.
“Turning to Clause 1, in 2016, I was absolutely delighted to get married in a beautiful chapel—it was medieval and deconsecrated, I have to say—but it was none the less a wonderful day. During the preparations, my wife and I had to see the registrar, and we all concluded that the fact that we had to tell the registrar who our fathers were but not our mothers was simply and utterly anachronistic.
“I am also indebted to my dad for reasons why we should accept the Bill today. Many years ago, my father was officiating at a wedding in Glasgow University Chapel. In fact, it was the wedding of some family friends. When he took the couple out to sign the register, they turned to the groom’s mother, who was in fact a professional registrar—and she had forgotten the certificate. So my father and mother had to disappear from the reception to go and get it so they could be married. Until today, few people knew that the pictures of the happy couple are in fact of them signing a bit of blotting paper for the purpose. So it is high time that we leap forward with tech and make the changes to the schedules outlined in Clause 1.
“Turning to Clause 2 and civil partnerships, there has been a huge debate about why, given that gay people are now allowed to be married and we have civil marriage, we need equal civil partnership. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, not least because my dad often married people in church and had to think carefully about whether that was the most appropriate thing to do. He had the right to refuse to marry people—it was a right that he exercised sparingly, but he did think about it. Back in those days, he thought that there were times when it was not appropriate for people have their ceremonies in church.
“On the question of civil partnership, I am greatly indebted to friends of mine. I am thinking in particular of one person who at a very young age was party to a violent and traumatic marriage. She managed to escape from that and subsequently spent more than 30 years with another man whom she loved deeply, but the idea of entering into something called marriage was absolutely not right. That is no reflection on the value of their relationship, and for her, a civil partnership would have been highly appropriate. I am indebted to her for getting in touch with me last night. When I told her that we were going to be discussing this, she said, “Look, there is a point in this. People who talk about marriage frequently talk about it being a union of two people. I do not disagree with that at all, but for me, the fact we are talking about a civil partnership—a partnership of two people who are interdependent rather than dependent on each other—is extremely important”. She, other friends of mine and others who are a part of the campaign for equal civil partnership have often talked about that point.
“I too want to talk about this in the context of the role of religions. I have spent a lifetime observing and wandering around the religious sensibilities of other people. Through all the arguments we had about civil partnership and same-sex marriage, time and again opponents were quick to throw at us the accusation that somehow this was undermining marriage as it is understood by the religious bodies in this country.
“No one ever recognised the fact that sometimes, a person falls in love with someone who is not of the faith into which they were born, and part of the process of managing their relationship with their family is that they do not get married. Until now, if those people are heterosexual, there has been no way to enter into a legal commitment with their partner while at the same time juggling sensitivities with their family. This is therefore an important step forward.
“Later, we will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, why we should extend civil partnerships to people who are from the same family, because of the issue of tenancies and property. It is not news to him that I oppose that. I believe it is wholly wrong to take a body of legislation designed to apply to adults who, of their own volition, come together to form a family unit and apply it to relationships which are consanguineous and cannot be broken. I agree with him that there is an anomaly in our fiscal law that needs to be sorted, but our fiscal law already makes allowances for children. Those who have children’s best interests at heart should go down that route and desist from this campaign, founded and funded by evangelical Christians, to have a go at civil partnerships and same-sex marriage. We are talking about two completely different things.”
 As a novel-thumping atheist it's easy for me to forget about the complexities of life that having gods can bring, and I particularly welcomed being reminded about intermarriage between people who were raised in or came to the worship of different gods than their partner.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The way ahead

So Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn's coalition of chaos has hit the buffer of a massive 432-202 defeat in the Commons.

What happens next?  Well, the EU needs to come up with an alternative we can support, parps Boris, Britain's highest-paid armchair general.

After two and a half years of bending over backwards to enable our whacky demands that replace the previous combination of opt-outs and special-cases they had allowed us since the 1970s perhaps the EU will have had enough and go for the only fix they can deliver:


By next Tuesday all 27 nations can have ratified a short bill renouncing EU membership and joining EU2, formally inheriting all the currency, political and social institutions of the EU bar "anything that refers to the United Kingdom".

"There you go" Tusk tells us. "It's your EU now, do what you bloody well want with it. No longer our problem so we can get on with reforming the union and protecting ourselves from the huge, systemically corrupt and heavily armed failed state to our East. Catch you later."

We then only have to negotiate with ourselves, which with the skill of the average Brexit secretary should mean we wind up only down about £59bn on the deal.

Except Ireland wouldn't be able to sign up because of the Good Friday Agreement. Bugger. Ah well, there is no solution to the puzzle. We'll have to stay.