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.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Fresh queer lefty reading matter

Landing on the doormats of lefty queers (and our allies) nationwide round about now, the new edition of Plus.


It's been a while since the last issue of the magazine (which is the journal of LGBT+ Lib Dems, sign up here to get your copy) so suspecting it was a case of "no one's had the time to organise one" I stepped up and volunteered to guest edit an edition. Maybe someone reading this will take on the job of the next one?

As the only edition of the mag from 2017, there's a look back at what was in the Lib Dem manifesto on LGBT+ issues, along with a look at Lynne Featherstone's book on same-sex marriage and a fine piece on why you shouldn't call it equal marriage.

A few months ago I put together a special history section of the LGBT+LD website, and so there's a feature encouraging more people to contribute content. Many minds make a more detailed history, and while I'm quite good on remembering things from the 90s and 00s but was too busy learning to walk and suchlike in the 70s to recall what was happening on equality issues. Similarly, I know that I'm better at the B and T strands than the L and G by dint of what more readily catches my eye. Others will have focused on different news stories and struggles and so will be able to add to the story.

Rather than just reporting back news there are also simple things to do - including the first of what I expect to be a series of template council motions for councillors to use.

Many thanks especially to Jennie Rigg and Lisa Smart who contributed vital words, and Victor Chamberlain for finding me just the right photo with phenomenal speed.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Alas, poor AdLib



The Lib Dem party members print magazine AdLib is for the chop. Lib Dem Voice reports this news and reminds us of how AdLib came about as a successor to LDN.

Lib Dem News was a lovely paper. Sure, there was that sense that the council byelections reports were so skewed toward gains rather than losses that a reader who only got their elections news from LDN would conclude that the Liberals now held every single council seat in the country, but there were always a couple of good articles at least, some weirdness on the back page with gossip about people you'd never heard of, and something to warm or incense you in the letters page. For anyone who wasn't on CIX in the 90s it was the fastest way of finding out what was going on in the Lib Dems, albeit best supplemented by a late-arriving Liberator. Most weeks you'd wind up reading something over lunch that was on an area of policy you might otherwise never get round to learning a thing about, and so be a teensy bit wiser about the world.


It came to an end I think in part due to the shift to online communications, but I also blame the move to size-based postal charging. Maybe it's just me, by psychologically the sense of being an LDN subscriber you got from a folded newspaper coming through your door that stood out from the rest of the mail was much more powerful than its shift to being in an anonymous C5 manilla envelope. It went from "ah, LDN is a day late" to "that's probably another bill..."

AdLib was a different pitch of publication, a little more inclusive of the armchair activist than LDN. I think it would have done better if it had not been caught by the arrival of pricing-in-proportion and had been A4 (like long-forgotten Ashdown/Kennedy era magazine Informed) but the post office chose to screw publishers over and the postal costs on A4 had become prohibitive.  In a (reasonable) attempt to keep the word count up the font size shrank, so friends with less than perfect vision told me they didn't even bother trying to read it after the first couple of editions.

Issues would get dropped from the party budget during the left-right coalition years when it they needed to mail 30,000 or so copies at a time and were a bit short on dough, so it's no wonder they have baulked at the price on mailing it to the 100,000 members today.

It does make for a peculiar situation though that if you aren't on email, your party membership now gets you very little by way of communication. It's common to compare it with the likes of the RSPB or RSPCA - send both an animal charity and the Lib Dems fifty quid a year and one of them will say thanks while the other will say thanks and add in a cuddly toy and a poster.

I have a fond vision in the back of my mind of reaching all those offline Liberals with a print magazine to opt in to for a couple of quid a month, in the way we did back in the days of LDN, but I think the niche that would fill for most interested people is already strongly covered by Lib Dem Voice. Maybe there's a collaboration project to be developed there? In the absence of an official LDHQ print title, a quarterly best-of-LDV could make for a good way of keeping in touch for those less web-savvy members, and highlight things many of us with healthy internet addictions might have missed. I wonder what the mods would make of the idea...

(A final aside about the decline of print: as the editor of a small-press magazine for many years, if you'd've told me back when I started that by 2018 it would be shifting more print copies than the Independent and the News of the World combined I would have laughed. And then run away.)

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Across the pond

Over in the United States of America, I read, there is eager work going on to come up with a more gender-inclusive term for first year university students than "freshmen".

Now don't get me wrong, those weird genderified words are throwbacks and moving on from them is all well and good. As the saying goes, "men and women: for when people is too short and too inclusive".

But the conclusion is that the shiny new term should be "first year students". It makes me wonder two things:

First: how the frack is that not already in use?
Second: what's wrong with the genderless "freshers" as used copiously over here and how come that has - by implication - not caught on over there?

Ah well. Two nations divided by a common tongue and all that. 

Monday, 18 December 2017

10 years on from Clegg v Huhne

Let's have a little counterfactual fun this morning. All just because ten years ago a Lib Dem party leadership contest came to an end. It was very close:
Nick Clegg 20,988
Chris Huhne 20,477

Clegg had been seen as the front runner, with more support amongst the MPs and perhaps a bit because Huhne was defeated in the previous leadership contest. Huhne fought a bold campaign though, and nearly stopped the heir apparent to the top job. What if it had gone the other way?

The usual mark against Huhne is the speeding ticket farrago. Putting the morality of the incident to one side, it only ever became public knowledge as a result of his marital breakup.I imagine that in the party leader role Huhne would have felt more pressure to keep his marriage together and might have had less time for other relationships, so I tend to think that a swing of 256 votes would have seen him never face the driving related prosecution.

It's plausible that Huhne wouldn't have had quite the Cleggmania impact in the 2010 election; from that, we can assume the Lib Dem poll bounce would have been reduced. Prior to Cleggmania everything was pointing to a loss of around 30 Lib Dem seats at that election - leaving the party a mere 30 or so MPs, for which by summer 2015 the bird of liberty would have given its right wing.  Most if not all of those seats would have fallen to the Tories, and so Cameron's May 2010 problem of being 19 seats short of a majority would instead have been his glorious victory with a majority of about a dozen.

We've seen where Cameron with a majority of twelve winds up.  I wonder who would have become PM in the summer of 2012 after he resigned because we voted to leave the EU? The result of the referendum would be more in doubt, of course, as the chances are we'd've had a less pro-poverty Labour leader than Jeremy Corbyn.

But if we'd voted to leave, as negotiations sank into the mire we see today, Huhne would have then been the only major party leader to have fought a general election, leading a - or the - anti-Europhobe and pro-Brejoin party from a basis of 30 seats, rather than the slim team Tim Farron was at the helm of in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

How different would that 2015 election have been? Without the contraction of the Lib Dem council base we saw during the left-right coalition years, and without the ironic voter opprobrium of Labour-leaning voters who in 2015 were outraged at the Liberals for delivering Labour policies like the ATOS contract and the Bedroom Tax. With the support of student voters who had seen the Labour-Tory plan for unlimited tuition fees deliver an annual cost nearer £20k than £9k.

A greater loss of seats in 2010 could have made for a noticeably bigger parliamentary party by 2017 than in 2005.

Ah well. What might have been. But, as with any counterfactual, probably wouldn't've.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Bi Groups Back Then

It's 23 years ago today that I first went along to BiPhoria, then a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new meetup for bisexual people and today the oldest bi group in the country.

It wasn't my first time in bi space, but it was the first time I'd been in a bi space I hadn't had to lobby for and organise myself. And unlike those bi spaces I'd contributed to small conferences and events, this wasn't a one-off, but a regularly repeated chance to hang out with other bis. Rather than just meet people and talk here was a space to get to know people over time and make friends. So exciting!

Back then we met at the Sidney Street Lesbian & Gay Centre, whose name gives an honest reflection of where bisexuals came in the pecking order: every so often meeting rooms would be overbooked and upon arrival at the centre we'd find ourselves meeting in the kitchen. We were given use of a filing cabinet to keep bi resources in, but no-one had a key to it so what we really had was a filing cabinet we could perch a couple of cups of coffee on top of whilst talking.

It was technically not before the internet, but for all practical purposes it was. Communication was through postal mailouts, and people got in touch to know more about the group by writing letters to us at our P.O. Box address. As the person most likely to turn up first I was entrusted with knowing where the post went, collecting it, and doling it out ("we have a letter from someone wanting to know if there is a bi group near them in Liverpool, who wants to write a reply?")

But I think getting information through the post was much better for people actually coming to the meetings: rather than a vague "oh, I'll post it on the facebook group when I remember" you'd have a half-dozen flyers for whatever upcoming event might be of interest to pass around and be taken home by anyone interested.

Decision making was painfully slow. A side project, Bisexual Action Manchester, engaged the local council in debate about their policy of the non-existence of bisexuality. We'd meet one month and hammer out a letter; a month later, with a typed copy, we'd sign it and put it in the mail. Another month on we would meet and read the reply, and agree a rough wording for what we should say in turn. With no quick way of rounding people up, dates for meetings were set on a "they'll probably have written back by then" basis, and at least once we got to the bar to talk and the person with the typewriter sighed that they hadn't.

A simple discussion like that would go on for six months then and today would be over in an afternoon's worth of angry tweeting.

What's interesting is what hasn't changed. With growing bi visibility in public life, people are much less likely to write in asking: is this real, am I not the only one after all?  But the moment of personal crisis when coming out to family, friends or partners still wants a human face and connection for support and advice. People who have come along for the first time to the group in 2017 describe being in a special space where you don't have to defend the existence of bisexuality or that your bi-ness is valid when you have a broad preference for this gender over those ones or are trying not to be erased into monosexuality whilst in a monogamous relationship is still just as real, the same way we did back in the 1990s.

23 years on for me, 23 and a quarter years of regular meetings for the group. The change all around us has been remarkable but BiPhoria being there is still surprisingly important.

Monday, 4 December 2017

At last! Social mobility for those with ideas on social mobility.

The press consider the Prime Minister to be embarassed because all four members of her Social Mobility Commission quit over the weekend. They're not entirely wrong.

What this means and none of the papers have mentioned is that four spaces on a high-profile talking shop have just opened up and that's brilliant news for people who have hitherto been denied the opportunity to have that experience. Mobility alert! Stuck on the dole in the north with nothing to fill space on your CV for the last year? Why not put yourself forward, they've had experts in social mobility theory on the board up til now and we have had enough of experts.

It's actually fairly miserable a story, as the four have concluded that whatever policy proposals they put forward, no matter how friendly to a Tory-DUP agenda those plans might be, nothing will happen because what little talent there is in the government is already tied up in the horror of Brexit.

Social mobility has always been a bit of a red herring: a few people escaping up the socioeconomic slope doesn't change that for as long as any of us can remember the slope has been getting steeper and the summit ever further away from the bottom most of the time. As long as, to take a couple of examples, local councillors do not have to live in their wards and housing officers don't have to live in the social housing they administer, "mobility" for the few will be a fig-leaf.