Author Archives: Rob Parsons

Equal Power, and how you can make it happen

I think Equal Power is the first book I have ever pre-ordered. I started reading it the day it came out. When I tweeted about that, Jo Swinson replied, and I promised her I would review it as soon as I finished reading it.

Several months later…..

My post hoc justification for my tardiness is that, to coin a phrase, a review is something best tasted cold. And I find that my opinions about the book have not changed since I first read it.

I found “Equal Power, and how you can make it happen” very powerful indeed. Not because the material was new to me – most of it was not – but because of the way Swinson treats it. She combines statistics and research evidence, other people’s stories and her own experience in a compelling way. The trick with such material is always in the way the combination is made. Statistics are devoid of life and stories lack width in applicability. Swinson combines the two admirably well in a very readable style. She then delivers much of the punch in the book through recounting her own personal experience. And, very importantly, every chapter ends with a summary of actions that everyone can take to improve gender equality.

She gives herself the space to lay out more than simple arguments. She discusses some of the underlying ideas and languages behind many of our attitudes. She notes in particular (around p31) the use of the word “illiberal”, something I have experienced myself, particularly in discussions about gender issues, being used with the evident purpose of closing an argument. “I’m against all women shortlists because they are illiberal.” Of course they are, but you cannot end it there. You have to show why they are more illiberal than the current system which routinely and significantly discriminates in favour of people like me.*  (Jo does not favour all-women shortlists, but for better reasons.)

Posted in Books | Tagged , and | 9 Comments

The final deal: what would we say?

If there is a referendum on the final deal about leaving the European Union, what would we say? Here is my starter:

Background

We recognise that the vote to leave the EU was fuelled (in part) by dissatisfaction with growing levels of inequality, and felt pressure on cultural values and identity. So we need to address a) the reasons why staying in the EU is better than leaving, as well as b) how we are going to address inequality in the UK and the identity issues tied up with some of our suspicion of foreigners. I think it is also important to make the point that staying in the EU is not the goal. It is a step towards our goal of ensuring that this country works for everyone, and not just the élite.


This is not just about the EU, it is about how we run this country, and about the fact that we can run this country better for the benefit of everybody in the EU rather than out of the EU.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Theresa May

I have been struggling for a while to work out Theresa May’s mentality. I have read, as we all have, something of her origins – the vicar’s daughter who ran through a field of wheat. I am aware of her time at the Home Office where she adopted regressive policies in a pusillanimously oppressive way. I am aware of her stance on the referendum – I find it interesting now that people describe her as a remainer, when it seems to me that the most important thing about her stance at the time was its invisibility.

Then a single word popped into my head which seemed to have a great deal of traction, the word “provincial”. It comes straight from the pages of Trollope, and describes the mindset, which he sometimes satirised to great effect, of the solidly conservative yeoman class which ran the shires of England in the mid nineteenth century. There is much in common between then and now, times of turbulence when the world is changing, power can move with quicksilver speed, the very ground under our feet seems to be shifting, and those determined to hold what they have must work very hard to ensure that things stay the same. There is a concern about standards, loyalty, patriotism (though never stridently stated). There is a feeling that everything will be better if people know their place and stick to it. And there is a feeling that one must never question too closely or demand an account of the people who claim to rule on our behalf. The refusal to publish the Brexit impact papers comes to mind.

Above all these, the key component is a lack of imagination. Or, rather, more than that, there is a refusal to have an imagination. If you have an imagination, then you can imagine things being different, and then you can imagine the status quo being different, and, in the mind of the provincial, who knows what might happen then?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 39 Comments

Can an English identity be a liberal one?

I was intrigued by Chris Bowers’ recent post A slogan you might not expect from the Lib Dems and by the comments on it. It revolves around the question of whether a national identity is or can be compatible with liberalism. Some clearly think not, but the comments thread reveals some blockages in debate that we need to clear up before an answer to the question can properly be made.

The first is that in many instances of the debate people speak past one another instead of to one another. What some people see as a statement of legitimacy, others see as a pitch for superiority. If I wave my St George’s flag, I will inevitably be seen by many as being chauvinistic. “Inevitably” means that that is what the current climate presupposes. It is not inherently so, as many liberals show when they say they want their flag back.

The second is that a claim to patriotism is in common discourse confused with nationalism – a belief in the superiority, the exceptionalism of the native race. This is mixed with the discourse of pride. One of the commentators wrote “I am not proud to be English – I am just English”. And another observed that being properly patriotic includes an ability to acknowledge one’s country’s flaws. Space for that acknowledgement seems to be remarkably small in the current climate. But again, that is the current climate. It is possible to argue that the British Empire was “A Bad Thing” and be patriotic.

Posted in News | Tagged | 15 Comments

This is how to respect the referendum result

I am frequently told that, as a “Remoaner” I must “respect” the result of the referendum. It seems to me that I am not being asked to respect it so much as to fetishise it.

Actually, I do respect it. I respect it for what it was – an advisory vote won by a wafer thin majority based on a mountain of lies.

Then, because I say that, I am criticised (virulently quite often) for being undemocratic and for not respecting the will of the people. And many people who did not vote Leave, and do not want to leave, seem to have accepted the line that the vote has happened and they must “respect” it.

But democracy is so much more than a single vote.

Generally speaking electoral votes stand, even if the majority is unsatisfactory. But that is premised on two conditions.  The first is that the voters get a chance regularly to change their minds. The second is that the voters were – at least relatively – well informed about the subject of their vote. All sides make their offers clear, and the media do a proper job of examining their claims.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 163 Comments

“What I really wanted to hear from Remain”

I don’t know who Little Jackie Paper is but I am grateful to her / him for the following comment on  Katharine Pindar’s recent article o EU reform: “What I really wanted to hear from REMAIN in the referendum was, ‘if we remain in the EU the things that we would do differently in future are…..’”.

I think we all accept how ineffective the Remain campaign was overall. It is still quite painful to revisit it. I can still feel the daily gut wrenching at seeing opportunity slip by as the Leave campaign outthought and outfought us. We had so little to offer that was positive, and Little Jackie Paper’s comment sums that up. It focussed my mind, so here is my answer:

End within two years the silliness of the EU working in two places. It is a waste of money and time and it symbolises everything that is wrong about the EU. Find something to placate French feeling about the loss of prestige involved.

Invite every single EU country leader here on a rolling programme over the next two and a half years to explore concerns and mutual interests.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 109 Comments

I want to stay in the EU

 

There has been a bit of a sea change in British politics in the last couple of weeks.

Since June 23rd Remainers have had to put up with their lot, accept the referendum result as if it were a binding expression of democratic will and start preparing for a post Brexit world, or face howls of outrage. I guess that is still the likely outcome, despite today’s court ruling.

But it has become more possible than it has at any time since the referendum to say publicly that I want to stay in the EU, and I hope very much that we find a way to get out of the fix that the vote for Brexit has put us in. Partly it is a matter of courage. Any expression of dismay with the result has been met with a explosive mixture of nastiness, aggression, scorn and abuse ever since. The level has not abated but I have begun to summon up the courage to take it on. Partly that comes from having worked out more firmly the reasons why I stand where I stand:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 59 Comments

We need to focus on things which tangibly improve lives

Terraced housingAre we barking up the wrong tree?

I have wondered for a while if we are focussing on the wrong things, particularly where the EU is concerned. For the record, I want to remain in the EU. I see it as a flawed institution, run by the same cadre of neoliberal capitalists as those who run this country and most of the other countries in Europe. It has, however, two things going for it. The first is the possibility of deeper co-operation across national boundaries. The second is that it has woven into it a thick texture of human rights which the neoliberals, despite their best efforts, have been unable to unwind – it was after all woven in before they came along.

But when I look at this country’s biggest problems, the EU is neither the problem nor the solution. The media cacophony remains completely confusing as to why people voted to leave. The people who voted leave are equally confusing, and there are massive attempts to shut down debate by taking offence if suggestions are made that, for instance, cutting immigration will not solve any problems other than the fragility of some people’s sense of national identity. Taking back control does not take back control, but meely hands it to different members of the neoliberal elite. We still need to identify and solve the problems which have caused such disaffection with the political process.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 65 Comments

The Establishment

In a couple of previous posts I have looked at the effects of Brexit and possibilities for LibDem positioning and policy that may emerge. In many ways the EU is a distraction from the key political battles we face. The most pressing problem we have is inequality in its many manifestations and an economic and social system that works very hard to maintain and increase inequality while we try to redress the balance. That is the case whether we are in the EU or out of it. This is an opportunity to consider some key parameters of our policies without having to look at everything through the prism of the EU debate.

One constant in the debate is the thing called the establishment, a word as much misused as used. I cannot think of anyone more “establishment” than Nigel Farage, who has managed to make a career out of selling the lie that he is anti-establishment. Like many insurgent politicians he has no intention of changing the way the system works. He just wants to change the personnel at the top.

The nature and function of the establishment remains the same though its form has changed in recent decades. Whatever it is, it needs to be a focus of LibDem policy making so we need to consider clearly what it is, what it does and how to deal with it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 16 Comments

Lib Dem policy now

 

In a way the recent focus on the EU has been a distraction from the things we ought to be talking about and campaigning on. There are many good reasons to want to be inside rather than outside, but there are also many good things to work for whether in or out.

Our political and economic elites are almost entirely neoliberal in heart and doctrine, determined to reduce the power of the state and increase that of corporations, despite the world, with the end of the Soviet empire a generation ago, having moved beyond the phase that made that an attractive proposition for stability. Thus we find ourselves with a choice between being beholden to a neoliberal elite on a European scale, or a neoliberal elite on a countrywide scale (the size of the country yet to be determined). Put in these terms, the choice is unappealing, but, all other things aside, given the option, I would still plump for being in the EU, as human rights were woven into its institutions and practices before the neoliberals came along, and woven in so firmly that they have been unable to do winkle them out.

But, in or out, we find ourselves in a fundamentally divided world, in which inequality grows by the minute. Not just inequality in income but in security, worth, identity and a whole host of other fundamental criteria.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

The referendum: What were people voting about?

Two articles give much food for thought about the referendum. The Independent’s “Austerity and class divide likely factors behind Brexit vote” finds that 60% of the country self identfy as working class and have strong views on immigration, benefits and the unemployed. The report also mentions anti-establishment feelings towards bureacracy and government. The social mobility of the second half of the twentieth century, which saw many working class people move into middle class jobs has all but ended so the possibility of social mobility as a route to security is no longer available. The article also notes short terms changes in that in the years immediately following the 2008 crash there was high approval for austerity, but that has now lessened, with views on related issues, such as the proper rate for benefits, being confused. There is also a mixed pattern with regard to stress and freedom at work and also towards the ideas of coalition and voting reform.

The Guardian’s “Meet 10 Britons who voted to leave the EU” outlines a series of views from leave voters about what they were voting for and against.

The views expressed resonate with the idea that people were voting against the EU as representing the interests of the elite and not the interests of ordinary people. This quote sums up that view:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 30 Comments

Agenda 2020 Essay #3 What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today

Editor’s Note: The party is currently running an essay competition for members of the Liberal Democrats, to submit 1000 words on the theme “What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.” The deadline for contributions is 2nd November. If you would like us to publish your submission, send it to [email protected] 

I am a Liberal Democrat because I have a sense of justice. Justice means everybody getting a fair chance without the playing field being tilted against them throughout their lives. Justice does not mean everyone being treated the same all the time. Equality before the law is a sine qua non, but equality …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 2 Comments

Opinion: Time to consider all-women shortlists?

I find myself changing my mind on the subject of all-women shortlists. I’ve always been somewhere between agnostic and sceptical on the basis that it’s fairer to have open candidacies in which the best person gets chosen. If the playing ground needs to be levelled, it is best to do it in training and support rather than fixing the rules for appointments. I based this partly on my now shaken belief that, whatever happens in the other parties, the Lib Dems are nice, our hearts are in the right place, so self evidently good choices will be made.

But three things have shaken that belief. Firstly the Rennard affair, and not just the issue itself but the number of people vigorously defending the status quo; secondly, the endemic sexism still visible in society at large, catalogued in visceral detail at Everyday Sexism; and thirdly, the two separate reports published recently on the shape of the elite in our society – still overwhelmingly male. Patriarchy remains alive and in rude good health, in the party as well as in society at large. The playing field remains permanently tilted against women (as well as against BAME people), and the only way in which we can be fair about that situation is to tilt it back. And niceness won’t cut it. All women shortlisting seems a crude tool but I know of no better one at the moment.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 58 Comments

Opinion: TTIP: What could possibly go wrong?

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is an agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and the USA to allow for freer trade between the two. We received an upbeat assessment of its progress and potential from Nick Thornsby a couple of weeks ago. It is currently Liberal Democrat policy to support it, but I have serious reservations about whether we are doing either liberalism or democracy any favours in this instance.

A trade agreement that reduced barriers and increased access to markets, thus lowering prices for customers, and increasing quality would be a great thing. However, this is not …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 33 Comments

Opinion: The male voice on Female Genital Mutilation

Please note that the second paragraph of this article contains some graphic details of the procedure of FGM which some people might find distressing.

I’m very glad to see Liberal Democrats at the forefront of the drive to rid this country and the world of female genital mutilation (FGM), one of the most horrible expressions of male power over the female. The debate about it, around the world, as well as in this country, is often blurred by comparisons with male circumcision, which many people also campaign against actively (and in my view rightly). When the topic of FGM comes …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 77 Comments

Opinion: Managing the NHS

nhs sign lrgI agree with Norman Tebbit. There, I’ve said it. The antique rottweiler was writing in the Telegraph in response to a number of intemperate comments made on another column about the service received from staff at the NHS. He said, among other things, “when things go wrong, as they have often done in the NHS, I believe it is right to blame the officers, especially the more senior ones, rather than the troops”. I agree with him whole heartedly on that point, though not on …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 7 Comments

Opinion: 2013’s banana skin?

Banana skin - Some rights reserved by purplemattfishThe LibDem Voice end of year survey gives us, as usual, much food for thought.

Net approval of the coalition’s record is down to 14% from 41% a year before. “Three big hits seem to have been responsible: first, the row over the NHS Bill; secondly, the omnishambolic March budget; and thirdly, the collapse of Lords reform”.

What issues might derail us this year? One is slowly poisoning our society, and with it the claims of the Liberal Democrats to be a party of fairness.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 37 Comments
Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarAndrew Tampion 27th May - 11:52am
    Going off on a slight tangent it seems to me that the mistake that most pro EU commentators make is the implicit assumption that all...
  • User AvatarAndrew Daer 27th May - 11:49am
    There is no average leave voter, but one substantial group includes those like Farage, who can't stand the idea that little countries like Belgium get...
  • User AvatarPeter Hirst 27th May - 10:45am
    I think the phrase, " if you're going there, I wouldn't start from here" is appropriate. We got off on the wrong foot. We should...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 27th May - 10:27am
    @nvelope2003, You obviously don't read the Guardian! We are shortly due to fall off the economic cliff according to them! https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/10/brexit-cliff-edge-eu-hardline-thatcherism-uk-economy PS I wasn't being...
  • User Avatarexpats 27th May - 9:59am
    imon Shaw 26th May '18 - 9:58pm.....As I understand it someone on (say) 30K who has had a student loan will pay #450 a year...
  • User AvatarDavid Becket 27th May - 9:43am
    Spot on John. However there are contributors to this site who wish us ill, and they will keep prodding the termites nest. Best to ignore...