Tales from the Webinar: Lynne Featherstone on equalities and international development

When Lynne Featherstone first agreed to do an online webinar for party members, she was Equalities Minister. Then the reshuffle happened and now she is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of International Development. Last night she took questions for three quarters of an hour on both roles in an informative and lively session.

“Most of us never question our gender”

Lynne spoke with great passion about her work as Equalities Minister. She said we now had the best equalities law in the world. Her last act, at about 4:30pm on the afternoon of the reshuffle was to sign off a Statutory Instrument which ensured equal treatment for old people.

She said her proudest achievement was Equal Marriage, a “hugely significant” step that will mean “absolute equality for same sex marriages.”  She was also proud to have completed the first Transgender Action Plan as transgender people are among the most marginalised in society, how they suffer routine hate crime. She said that most of us never question our gender for a second but asked us to think about how that would feel.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has had its funding cut while Lynne has been in office. She said that Labour had basically thrown three equalities organisations together without much thought about how it would all work. The resulting chaos led to, among other things, poor financial management, with the accounts being qualified every year until now. She praised the new CEO Mark Hammond who, she said was an amazing miracle worker.

It’s taking 3 people to do my job

Where did Jo Swinson fit in as Equalities Minister given that there were already two Tories sharing the job? Lynne joked that it was going to take 3 people to do her old job. Jo is going to look after issues relating to women such as shared parenting, parental leave, flexible working and body confidence. Helen Grant at Justice will do equal marriage and LGBT issues. Lynne thinks Grant’s role at the Department of Justice is ideal given that the next stage is “very legalistic”.

Asked why it took so long to finalise Jo’s role, she gave a mysterious look and said simply “negotiations.” I’m even more certain there’s a story in there.

We are one world

The conversation moved to Lynne’s new role at International Development. She said that a key priority was to improve life for women and girls. Every solution to the problems of the developing world required women’s rights to be front and centre. Violence against women across the world is horrendous and it’s just not possible to progress if you’re being beaten.

One feature of the webinars that I like are the mini polls. Only just over three quarters of those present backed the Government’s aid target. The 26% against seemed high. Lynne was unequivocal that that target should stay:

We are one world. We won’t find a way out of our economic situation by saying we’re not going to give any more.

She said that one of her priorities was to work with other countries have to get better at mobilising to tackle drought. Water shortage doesn’t come out of nowhere and we shouldn’t let people get to the point of terrible suffering before taking action.

Another good feature were when questions came up that weren’t Lynne’s brief. Helen Duffett stepped in to say that if people emailed her, she would find the right person to send them an answer.

I always learn something from these sessions, and the technology to get into them is really easy – only the press of a button. If you haven’t attended one before, try out the next one.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Martin Frost 20th Sep '12 - 11:46am

    It is extraordinary how in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, Lynne still clings to the belief that her record as Equalities Minister was a good one.

    She says that Labour had basically thrown three equalities organisations together without much thought about how it would all work’ and yet Lynn fully supported the merger and said at time that its funding was not enough. The cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission are extreme. £70m to £18m. The organisation can barely function now, its independence is gone , the equalities legislation is under attack. and 40 years of progress has been thrown away .

    Lynne, if you really believe all of this, why not justify your record and actions in front of an independent forum where your rose tinted view of reality can be challenged. The damage that has been done to Equalities and human rights is almost incalculable.

    One thing I can guarantee, you will never agree to do so. Have a nice time in International Development

  • So nobody is in charge of race or disability issues after the reshuffle? And Lynne has nothing to say about her track record on those issues either. Extraordinary. Lynne was a huge supporter of the Equality Act 2006 which created the EHRC and, as Martin Frost has commented, she demanded more powers and resources for the EHRC w hen the bill was going through Parliament. As did all the lib dem shadow ministers who participated in those debates. The EHRC may have had problems with regards to its financial accounts but this is not unusual in govt. The Home Office had similar problems, as does the DWP. What is remarkable is the fact that the last two sets of EHRC accounts were approved by the Comptroller and Auditor General so those previous problems have been put to bed. Yet Lynne and others still use theses historic problems to dismantle the EHRC and the Equality Act via Clause 51 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. Clause 51 will remove the EHRC’s general duty to promote equality and eliminate discrimination. Professor Bob Hepple QC says its removal will leave equality law rudderless. The Liberal Democrat party were the party of equality and human rights in opposition. Its time for the party to stand up for what they truly believe in and tell their Tory cohorts to take their tanks off their lawn. Strong equality law and a strong equality body would be a proud legacy to leave behind after the coalition disbands.

  • Curiously, does Lynne’s departure from the equalities field not strengthen our hand wrt May’s assault on the EHRC/Equalities Act. Lib Dems can now attack May’s regressive position without catching one of our own in the crossfire. Making an unsustainable promise on tuition fees is a mistake. Allowing fifty years of campaigning by Liberals, Labour, Social Democrats and others (including some Tories) to be dismantled is dereliction of duty to our heritage and those whom the law protects.

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