Tag Archives: lynne featherstone interview march 2017

Lynne Featherstone interview part 3: Same sex marriage and life as a Minister

In the hours following the icy gales of Storm Doris, I caught up with Lynne at Taunton’s most distinguished hotel, The Castle. This is the final instalment of our chat. You can read the others here.

You were and still are a campaigner against important issues such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child abuse and violence against women. However, perhaps your greatest achievement is being the originator and architect of the equal marriage act, which was passed into law in 2013. No party had equal marriage in their 2010 manifestos nor was it part of the coalition agreement. Why did you take this issue on and why is it important to you?

When we entered into coalition, 20 ministerial posts had to be filled. After two days, I received a call from Nick Clegg offering me the post of Equalities Minister. In fact, I ended up with three-quarters of me as a Home Office minister and one-quarter as Equalities Minister. So I’m a minister in the coalition, we have Liberal Democrats in government, and I’m thinking to myself ‘I’ve got to do something to make sure everyone knows that there are Liberals in this government’. It never crossed my mind that it wasn’t in the manifestos or portfolio because to me it was an obvious piece of equalities work that needed doing. Labour were great with civil partnerships, but I thought they were a kind of apartheid – one rule for gay people and one rule for straight people. My view is that you should have marriage and civil partnerships for both gay and straight, both for both. The state’s job is to facilitate that union, not to judge if one is good or one is bad.

We were all new Liberal Democrat ministers and didn’t have a clue what we were doing, so the Institute for Government put on a morning instruction for newbie Liberal ministers. They invited Michael Heseltine and Andrew Adonis to advise us. Heseltine said ‘you are going to be really busy. You do not understand the tsunami of work that will hit you when you become a minister. You will have debates, orals, speeches, correspondence and endless other things. Your diary will be full from morning to night. If you do not ruthlessly prioritise one or two things you want to get done in your time in the sun, you will not achieve it. You will be a very good minister doing very important things but you won’t have done anything you went into politics for’. Adonis encouraged us to trust our civil servants. He said it wasn’t like The Thick of It or Yes Minister, although, I have to say, I thought it was quite like Yes Minister! He told us  ‘If you don’t direct your civil servants, they will fill your diary from first thing in the morning until midnight, all with very worthy things but you’ll just be executing what they want you to do. If you trust your civil servants, you have to direct them. They will go to the ends of the earth for you’. As I walked back from the Institute for Government to the Home Office, it just crystallised in my brain that I wanted to do same sex marriage because it was a piece of equalities legislation that needed doing. I came back into my office and said to one of my assistant private secretaries ‘I want to do same sex marriage, what do I do?’ That is literally how it started.

If I hadn’t had that morning, we would not have same sex marriage. It’s really strange how things happen.

Can you explain the process? What did you have to do?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 8 Comments

Lynne Featherstone interview Part 2: The future

In the hours following the icy gales of Storm Doris, I caught up with Lynne at Taunton’s most distinguished hotel, The Castle. This is the second instalment of our chat. You can read the others here. A more detailed discussion of the path to same sex marriage will appear tomorrow.

Of your achievements in politics, where would you put the equal marriage bill? 

Oh, right at the top. It is the most public. It is the most clear cut and obvious. But it shares with others. Clearly the FGM campaign wouldn’t have happened. I am incredibly proud of it because I find it extraordinary that we allow a practice such as this to go on in this country and around the world. I always say that if they were chopping off half a boy’s willy, this practice would not have lasted four seconds let alone four thousand years. This is because we don’t rate women and girls.

The one that people don’t know about is the disability in the developing world campaign, which I’m incredibly proud of. I changed the structure on how we give money. I refused to give any money to any educational charity working in the developing world unless they had totally accessible schools. That made a huge difference.

That is the thrill of politics – you can use it to try to make the world a better place. It sounds terribly naive, but that’s what I went into politics for. I was one of the very few lucky people who managed to do some big things. I got a lot of satisfaction at every level, but there’s nothing like being a minister.

Along with many other Lib Dem MPs, you lost your seat in 2015. What are you up to now?

Yes, I did lose my seat. For the first two weeks, I laid on the sofa eating chocolate and drinking alcohol while watching every episode of 24 and all the Harry Potter films. That was an excellent start to my new life!

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Lynne Featherstone interview Part 1: Early life and influences

As Minister for Equalities in the recent coalition government, Lynne Featherstone was the originator and architect of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. She has received various accolades and awards for her work on equalities. In his book Gay Shorts (2015), the former Conservative Party politician turned broadcaster and member of the LGBT community, Iain Dale said that:

Same-sex marriage will be associated with Lynne Featherstone in the same way that we associate David Steel with the 1967 Abortion Act and Roy Jenkins with the legalisation of homosexuality.

In the hours following the icy gales of Storm Doris, I caught up with Lynne at Taunton’s most distinguished hotel, The Castle. The previous evening, she spoke at a party fundraiser in East Devon. After our interview, she was heading off to another commitment,as the guest speaker at the Bridgwater and West Somerset Liberal Democrats annual dinner. She is certainly a woman in demand! Among the bustling crowd of Saturday night revellers, who were making good use of the historic hotel’s bar and restaurant, Lynne and I managed to find a table and a couple of chairs, tucked away in a reasonably quiet corner.

In the hour that I had with the Lib Dem peer, I wanted to cover a lot of ground. Obviously, the subject of her new book Equal Ever After was going to dominate much of the conversation. Besides the same sex marriage bill, I wanted to find out more about the former MP and her life before  and after her time as Minister.

You are a north London girl, could you tell me a bit about your childhood?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 1 Comment
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