Tim Farron MP writes… Exemptions to accreditation for Transgender colleagues

Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron MP writes to update members on the accreditation process for Autumn Conference:

Dear friends,

I am instinctively against accreditation. As a liberal, the whole notion unsettles me, although FCC and the FE have accepted FFAC’s advice that there is a serious financial threat to the Party if we were to disregard police advice.

I want to thank everyone for getting in touch in the last week to share their views on the accreditation issue. Whether it was via email or twitter, or even those who have commented on the Lib Dem Voice article (I did read all 106 comments).

Firstly let me say sorry for the tone of the original Lib Dem Voice article – reading it back last night and reading everyone’s comments for the second time in a week (I have to say I like reading but not commenting myself!) it really did strike me that the tone was very off; so let me apologise for that.

I really do appreciate your views and comments and I have taken them all on board. I also appreciate the time people have taken to speak to me on the phone and let me know their concerns.

Amongst the many calls I made this week were a number to Adrian Trett, the chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems, with whom I discussed the very genuine concerns of some of our transgender colleagues. Can I just pay tribute to Adrian; he has stood up for his members and made sure the party understands the consequences of this decision. I just want to put on record my thanks to him.

I’m also grateful to other members of the LGBT+ executive with whom I’ve discussed this. The genuine practical concerns that transgender colleagues have about accreditation is something we must acknowledge and act upon so I have been working over the last few days to try and come up with a solution that works.

As a result of all this, I have proposed that we should make exemptions to the accreditation process solely for those transgender colleagues (and potentially for others with identity-related concerns, i.e. those who have suffered domestic abuse).

I know that this will not solve all of the problems with accreditation. I understand and share these concerns, but I accept the Party’s view that the financial risk is too great to allow us to dump accreditation entirely.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone for getting in touch with me. It is really important to me as your President that I do all I can to make sure your views are heard loudly and clearly in the party.

Cheers,
Tim

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Refugees and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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63 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 26th May '12 - 3:46pm

    Given that the concern of transgender people is that (I think) any accreditation process runs the risk of revealing they used to be of a different gender and may put their life at risk, would not a process which exempts them , and presumably would mean they had to identify themselves as transgender have the same problem?

  • Jennie Treen 26th May '12 - 3:50pm

    I have just left the Liberal Democrats over the accreditation mess alongside many other issues, but this just popped up in my twitter feed. It means so much that there are still Lib Dems that care enough to go against what others think are impassable objects in the pursuit of liberalism and the protection of the minorities that need a party like this one to let their voices be heard. I hope so much that this option can be available for those with identity-related concerns, especially members of the transgender community, and I applaud LGBT+ and you, Tim, for standing up to the undemocratic FCC and FE resolution against the passed motion at conference about accreditation. Just, thank you. So much. My thanks might not mean much as a non-member, but you should know you have it.

  • Tim,

    Thanks for that. While I don’t agree that accepting accreditation was the right thing to do, I appreciate that you have put such effort into finding a solution for those people who would be most adversely affected by it.

    I also appreciate & accept your apology for the tone of the last article. You don’t often see people acknowledging & trying to make up for a mistake. Thank you.

  • Jennie Treen 26th May '12 - 3:54pm

    @Simon McGrath

    I note here I am not transgender, but I am part of the LGBT+ community and think it should be noted there is a huge difference between informing, say, a party chair, a member of LGBT+ Lib Dems or a member of the FCC/FE that you are transgender and wish to be left out of accreditation and having the police run a thorough background check on you.

  • Andrew Suffield 26th May '12 - 4:03pm

    the undemocratic FCC and FE resolution

    Oh come on now, they are largely comprised of the democratically elected representatives of the party. There is no shortage of democracy here.

  • “As a liberal, the whole notion unsettles me, although FCC and the FE have accepted FFAC’s advice that there is a serious financial threat to the Party if we were to disregard police advice.”

    So really the party doesn’t want the police to be given this information, and doesn’t consider it is necessary, but the police are effectively forcing the party to agree to it?

  • Jennie Treen 26th May '12 - 4:44pm

    @Andrew Suffield

    Okay, let’s put it this way. My vote , which was against the accreditation process, was overthrown by the exec. I find that undemocratic. Which is why I left.

    Also @ Simon McGrath I wish to rephrase my comment to delete it entirely – I realise now I was speaking with an incredible amount of cis-privilege and wish I had never assumed the feelings of the transgender community. I apologise profusely.

  • Andrew Suffield 26th May '12 - 5:55pm

    My vote , which was against the accreditation process, was overthrown by the exec. I find that undemocratic.

    It’s not.

    I assume you’re referring to the vote at Autumn 2011. There were two amendments to the motion: one endorsed accreditation and one called for it to be scrapped. Both amendments were defeated – a majority of conference representatives disagreed with them. Conference instead chose to pass the motion which called for certain bodies within the party to make their best effort to see that certain things were done. (This equivocation was fairly frustrating for everybody)

    The FCC have clearly and certainly been making an effort here. They’ve failed to deliver the outcome you wanted, but the amendment that demanded they deliver was democratically and fairly defeated. Assuming that you in favour of the final motion, then it rather looks like the FCC have done what you voted for on every vote where you won. They cannot be criticised on democratic grounds for not doing what you voted for on the “scrap accreditation” vote which you lost.

    It still isn’t over here, because if party members don’t think the FCC make enough of an effort then they will shortly have the opportunity – entirely democratically – to replace them with people that they think will do a better job of it. Of course, you personally have already chosen not to be involved in this decision, but you knew that when you made your choice.

    There is nothing remotely undemocratic here. You could make a case for it being unfortunate, unwanted, or illiberal, but the situation is positively overflowing with democracy.

  • Jennifer Liddle 26th May '12 - 6:23pm

    “The FCC have clearly and certainly been making an effort here.”

    It’s possible that the FCC have been making an effort, but it is not by any definition clear or certain. It is equally possible that they made at most a half hearted effort then said “Oh dear, well we’ll just have to have accreditation again”.

  • David Jones 26th May '12 - 6:29pm

    Can I just firstly thank Tim (who obviously does read these pages) for him taking on board the concerns and actually acting on them. For a second can I ask does anyone know any other senior politician from any party who would sit on twitter for hours answering questions, listening to people and then letting us know what he’s done. I can’t think of any Lib Dem in recent years who has been so open and approachable.

    Many people have flagged up concerns on twitter with Tim about this who has said he will continue to work with LGBT Lib Dems and the police to make a system that works.

    So I just want to thank Tim for what he’s done. I don’t think we thank our politicians enough sometimes – he listened and acted, Thank you Tim.

  • Richard Dean 26th May '12 - 6:48pm

    This seems like a vey practical, sensible compromise. People who have a genuine need for secrecy are being protected, and practical and responsible decisions have been made about finances. I say Well done!

    There can be differing views on almost everything, even core principles and identity, so liberal and democratic politics involves compromise almost by definition. Compromise means some people don’t get everything they want, but hey, we’re not spoilt brats are we? – that’s life! There’s usually a bright side. In this case, those who might have decided not to attend if accreditation had been withdrawn will now be re-assured.

  • David Jones 26th May '12 - 6:57pm

    I totally agree Richard!

  • Dave Laneham 26th May '12 - 9:08pm

    Can someone please explain to me how potentially outing transgender people can lead to their murder?

    And if transgender people secure an exemption from the party (and so will not have to undergo police accreditation), the n I would have thought that this would invalidate the accreditaton process with regard to insurance etc? Seems like rather a big loophole that a criminal intent on carnage at conference would almost certainly exploit.

    The real mistake here is conference passing a motion opposing a sensible accreditation process. If conference had been sensible this would have been resolved. Now there is a clear conflict between the democratic will of conference and a the only sensible way forward. It’s this kind of nonsense that brings criticism that the Lib Dems cannot be a grown-up party of government.

  • David Jones 26th May '12 - 9:44pm

    @ Dave Page – it was announced because FCC met today I believe and agreed to Tim’s proposal.

  • Andrew Suffield 26th May '12 - 11:14pm

    Can someone please explain to me how potentially outing transgender people can lead to their murder?

    Angry lunatics might hunt them down.

    Same thing’s true of non-transgender people, of course, angry lunatics being unpredictable. They would presumably argue that it’s more likely for trans people. It’s certainly true that the overall murder rate is higher for them, but as far as “being outed causes a higher risk of murder” goes, I’ve not seen any evidence one way or the other so I can’t judge the weight of that argument.

  • Christine Headley 27th May '12 - 12:05am

    I don’t understand why accreditation wasn’t necessary for Gateshead, but is necessary for Brighton. Surely it either is or it isn’t, whatever the individual sites claim. Furthermore, the most potentially vulnerable part at Gateshead was the very, very long queue to get into the protected area at all. It’s all very well for the agenda to say to allow time for queuing at busy periods, but if there are scores of reps waiting to get as far as the ID checks, some idiot with a grudge could cut quite a swathe through them. Nor do I see what a Bad Person who has infiltrated the party could do that doesn’t involve getting something into the conference area, which would thus be brought to light by the bag check. Why was Gateshead’s insurance out of step with the rest of the country? Why isn’t it a pilot scheme waiting to be rolled out nationally?

  • Richard Dean 27th May '12 - 12:59am

    Warning! Sensitive people might find this comment rude …. but it is not meant that way.

    If this decision ignores the concerns of the trans community, then it looks like the fault is with that community. There really has been a lot of debate during which trans and non-trans people could express their concerns, without revealing their nature, and Tim Farron and others are clearly wanting to do the right thing and are clearly receptive to people’s concerns. So why has the trans community not expressed its concerns in terms that others can understand?

    The long term solution for trans people is presumably to have their existence accepted by everyone just as non-trans people are accepted. That solution requires political action, and probably requires that trans people come out during the process. It seems to me that the present decision rightly accepts that trans people should themselves choose when to start such action, and that in the meantime they have every right to participate in safety in other aspects of politics.

    The short-term solution seems to be secrecy, which seems to itself be a compromise since it does not advance the long-term solution. I look forward to being heavily criticized. My previous attempts at finding out what the problem is do not seem to have been successful, so the only way I have of finding out more is to be my usual insensitive self and have someone tell me why I am wrong, I apologize in advance!

    I do have another question – why should the needs of what appears to be a small group within the LibDems dominate? The needs of minorioes are of course important, but the idea that a minority should dominate a majoruty is debatable unless therer are no important consequences or if there are exceptional circumstances. The present solution seems to resolve the exceptional issues of safety. Are there some other issues that have not yet been mentioned?

    I apologize again, just in case your forgot that I already did!

  • Richard Dean 27th May '12 - 1:11am

    @Sarah Browm. Your comment appeared while I was writing mine, so I did not see it before. Surely the special process is not going to be public is it? That would of course defeat its object. There must be plenty of ways of doing it without creating a significant danger of outing by association?

  • Jennie Rigg 27th May '12 - 2:24am

    Richard, I appreciate that you are trying to learn and that you are doing so with your heart in the right place. With that in mind, and with the caveat that I am not trans myself, I would ask you bear in mind a couple of things.

    1, John Stuart Mill’s thoughts about the tyranny of the majority very much apply here. Trans folk might be a small group within the party, but are you really saying that they deserved to have their very lives threatened because of this?
    2, There is a probability that for trans folk there are 5 breaches of the ECHR involved in this proposal (and a couple for those of us who aren’t trans too – see here http://magister.dreamwidth.org/10253.html)
    3, The language you are using is, to put it kindly, insensitive. You’re not alone in this by any means, the comment thread here has a couple of people using dehumanising turns of phrase towards people who ARE ACTUAL PEOPLE and it makes me very sad. I realise that you are being asked to learn a lot of new concepts the last few days, but is it really too much to ask that you try to couch things in unhurtful ways?

  • Jennie Rigg 27th May '12 - 2:26am

    Oh yes, and I’d like to echo Caron’s comments too. Tim, as a member of the exec of LGBT+ Lib Dems, I’d like to state publicly that this is not good enough for me, and I won’t be coming to conference unless and until accrediation is removed for all members. But I, too, appreciate your apology and your hard work.

  • David Jones 27th May '12 - 2:32am

    @Jennie -accreditation cant be removed!!! at least tim is trying to help!

  • Richard Dean 27th May '12 - 10:16am

    @Sarah Brown. I’m glad that you realised that you misread my earlier comment. On the issue of imagining a huge secret, I’d just point out that you have other choices. One of them is to fight for your rights. A political conference isn’t just a fun day out. One of its functions is to be part of that kind of fight against injustice,. Fights need fighters. Staying at home won’t do anything to help.

    There are other reasons why accreditation is unwelcome, and I think it can be helpful not to use the issue of trans people as a way to hide them. One of the other choices available to the conference would be to increase attendence fees to cover the increased cost of insurance if accreditation is not done.

  • Simon McGrath 27th May '12 - 11:02am

    The key issue here is whether it being discovered that someone was born a different gender puts their life at risk. @Zoe – not sure you have actually supplied any evidence of this as opposed to stating it as a fact. The BBC article is about several women working as prostitute who were murdered but does not give any reason to think that their murder (which of course is dreadful) was to do with them being ‘outed’ .

    Can you tell us what evidence you base your assertion on ?

  • Tim – to whom have you proposed these alterations and when will they be considering those proposals.

    How and to whom will transgender people be required to identify themselves? What, for the purpose of this process will constitute “being transgender”? Who will take the decision as to who qualifies?

    Why did you not make such proposals at an earlier stage when these issues were well know about (AIUI Adrian and Sarah met with FCC/FE/Some important committee to discuss the issue in detail).

    As regards “potentially for others with identity-related concerns, i.e. those who have suffered domestic abuse” how will these categories be defined. Who and how will people who think they fall into such categories have to satisfy.

    Why is there an assumption that a transgender person or a victim of domestic abuse would not represent a security risk in the way an “ordinary” attendee may?

    This strikes me that you’ve realised you made a boob in allowing your name to be associated with this and are now trying to recoup some popularity by make some vague generalisations.

  • Richard Dean 27th May '12 - 1:22pm

    @Sarah Brown. No worries. I stood beside Martin Luther King when he waa shot for fighting for black civil rights. I was in Red Square in 1917, and later with Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag. I am with the men, women and children in Homs and Houla. I know it’s tough to fight for rights, and I applaud your decision to do so.

    We do need to ensure that the accreditation procedure is not used to suppress people on spurious grounds, and that the special procedure is secure, fair, and safe. I suggest that Tim Farron and others have every reason to ensure this is so, and enough sense to do it . But it would be nice to know the costs involved in not accrediting.

  • You were with MLK, and in Red Square, and with Solzhenitsyn? Who are you, The Doctor?

  • Andrew Tennant 27th May '12 - 3:48pm

    Incase there is any doubt Tim, this proposed compromise is, to me, far from satisfactory. There is no need for accreditation for anyone, as the Gateshead conference and numerous regional conferences have demonstrated – nothing short of the complete rejection of such a process is adequate.

  • I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the accreditation process, but more uncomfortable with this exemption in particular. As liberals, we should reject the idea that “it’s okay if you’ve nothing to hide” and go for the presumption of privacy anyway. I’m lucky enough that going through accreditation wouldn’t raise up any flags at all (if I went to Conference), but it still doesn’t mean I’d want to go through it just so the party could save a few bob on insurance. I think the principled liberal would be willing to shoulder the extra cost to conference fees as a result of rejecting such an illiberal idea.

    Worse still, it presents a massive catch-22 for our trans members: either out yourself to the party to bypass accreditation, or out yourself to the police when you choose not to bypass accreditation. And though we’re all given assurances of confidentiality, we know that it does leak out. Consider if it was the 1970s, and we had a way of bypassing accreditation for homosexuals with convictions for buggery: would we support this invasion of their privacy? I don’t think so.

    And, as Zoe and Sarah have pointed out, what exactly is to stop people claiming they’re trans to bypass the accreditation, just to cause trouble? I know not to question someone’s trans status because it’s extremely invasive and insensitive to do so, and we would have to apply a benefit of the doubt standard, because who are we do otherwise? I think people need to raise the blinders of their cis privilege and actually listen to the trans community.

    Oh, and yes, trans people are easy targets. Look at the case of CeCe McDonald in the States: she was threatened with 40 years for killing one of her transphobic, homophobic, and racist attackers in self-defence. At around the same time of the Trayvon Martin case too…

  • Richard Dean 27th May '12 - 4:35pm

    @AJ McKenna . Like my friend Wat Tyler used to say, you gotta be there

  • Andrew Suffield 27th May '12 - 5:35pm

    And though we’re all given assurances of confidentiality, we know that it does leak out.

    Let’s not overstate things. We know that it has occasionally leaked out, specifically in that there have been a few cases where a police officer who was processing CRB checks committed the crime of passing this information to other people. It’s not something that happens often, and if a complaint is filed then it’s probably a career-ending move for the officer responsible.

    Small risk of very bad things happening to a handful of people versus small risk of financial disaster for the party. Hard decision. I wouldn’t want to have to make that call.

  • Andrew Emmerson 27th May '12 - 5:35pm

    I’d say well done to Tim for securing this concession. It is an important first step. We however must not let this rest. I urge all to go to conference this time, we have a chance to get rid of the commitees which supported such an awful illiberal idea, and that only comes about once every so often.

    We should only be happy when accreditation is removed entirely.

  • Andrew – am I misreading this. As I read it, Tim hasn’t secured any concessions – he’s just proposing a course of action.

  • Simon McGrath 27th May '12 - 6:06pm

    @Zoe -thanks, i will look at them

  • @Andrew: a healthy suspicion of the police is always a good idea. We definitely know from the various scandals surrounding the Sun that we can’t trust the MPS as far as we can throw them. And I don’t think half the party would trust themselves with confidential information either.

    It also stinks of keeping tabs on our trans members by noting that they skipped accreditation somewhere in a computer in HQ, especially if this is the only reason one can skip accreditation. And given how much they’ve given to the fight for transgender equality (some risking their own personal safety), don’t you think they deserve something better than what Labour would have a wet dream about?

  • Andrew Suffield 27th May '12 - 10:09pm

    We definitely know from the various scandals surrounding the Sun that we can’t trust the MPS as far as we can throw them.

    That’s also unfair. We know that, if somebody goes looking, they can find a few corrupt police officers. That doesn’t mean the majority of them are corrupt.

    (Also the Met don’t process conference accreditation)

  • I know the Met don’t process them as it’s not in London, but there comes a time when it stops being a few bad apples and becomes a systemic problem.

  • Andrew Suffield 28th May '12 - 2:47am

    Please can we have some assurances from FCC that future locations for the federal conference will be selected based on the absolute requirement that the venue’s insurer make no demands for accreditation?

    I would like to emphasise that the number of candidate locations for an Autumn conference is somewhat less than ten, and in any given year is probably less than five (some venues being unavailable) – the main limitations being:

    – located within the UK
    – a large enough conference centre (already we’re down to the major cities, there just aren’t that many buildings which will support thousands of people)
    – sufficient nearby hotel capacity for all the people coming
    – support and subvention from the local government (this is the one which knocks a few sites off the list each year)

    Hence, your proposal needs to be qualified with what you expect the FCC to do if all possible venues say no.

  • Tracy Connell 28th May '12 - 8:33am

    My initial concern is, how will you determine who is transgender? Surely there will have to be a process for people to say they are so they didn’t have to go through accreditation. But it would have to be a system where it wasn’t open to abuse of people saying they are when they are not. How will that work?

  • Richard Dean 28th May '12 - 10:58am

    Do you need accreditation to go to a football match or a music concert? There must be plenty of possible venues – why be restricted solely to conference centres? A large cinema complex might have enough space, and we could always have a conference somewhere in the Euro area – Greece might like the income. A farmer’s field endowed with tents might even be fun as well as feasible, and certainly newsworthy.

  • @Simon – Very empowering for those members without broadband, webcams computers or who don’t know how to use such things (about 25% of the population haven’t used the internet – let alone more complex things like webcams)

    @Andrew – on subventions if local authorities are in effect cutting their prices to attract party conferences doesn’t that suggest that some need us more than we need them? (certainly conventional economic theory would suggest that)

  • Andrew Suffield 28th May '12 - 7:37pm

    on subventions if local authorities are in effect cutting their prices to attract party conferences doesn’t that suggest that some need us more than we need them?

    Certainly suggests that – and they do love it when conference visits (“just not every year, thanks”). But we still need them, and I don’t think the local authority has got anything to do with insurance or accreditation.

    I want the FCC to make our conferences 90% virtual, with remote participation.

    Are you aware that Autumn conference is one of the party’s major fund-raising opportunities, with all the commercial observers and exhibition space bringing in a lot of revenue? I don’t see how a smaller, “virtual” conference could possibly achieve this.

    There must be plenty of possible venues

    Really aren’t. Conference is huge.

    why be restricted solely to conference centres?

    We need a big enough auditorium for debates that can fit in all voting representatives and media, exhibition space, and fringes.

    A large cinema complex might have enough space

    Not remotely close.

  • “Are you aware that Autumn conference is one of the party’s major fund-raising opportunities, with all the commercial observers and exhibition space bringing in a lot of revenue? I don’t see how a smaller, “virtual” conference could possibly achieve this.”

    Interesting display of priorities …

  • It’s a fair point though.

    We could do a conference of, if not 20,000 then 1,000 people standing in a field to vote on motions. But as a party we also require other things from our conference – fundraising being one (also media, party training etc) . There are a significant number of conference representatives who spend little time in debates.

  • It’s just that it sometimes strikes me that some people see winning elections as an end in itself, without giving very much thought about why you are trying to win them or what you should do when you have. And paradoxically, it’s that kind of attitude that has paved the way for electoral disaster.

  • @christine headley, 27th at 12:05am

    It obvious why. Brighton is on Live TV. Gateshead was not, hardly got mentioned AFAIK

  • “Gateshead was not, hardly got mentioned AFAIK”

    I bet it would have got mentioned if someone had blown it up, though.

    It’s worth remembering that anyone can step on to a commuter train/tube/bus without any kind of search or identity check any day of the week – and then blow it to kingdom come at will. But for some reason no one has done that in the UK for the last seven years.

    A sense of proportion would be a useful thing to have.

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera 1st Jun '12 - 8:55am

    I am pleased that Tim has acknowledged the contribution of Adrian Trett, the chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems regarding raising the awareness of the Party about concerns for our transgender colleagues, friends and members, but as a Party, if were already undertaking Equality Impact Assessments regarding our services (functions)/policies/procedures, as a number of us have suggested before, then we would have picked up on these and other issues, such as the concerns of some Muslim members as to why accreditation is very un-Liberal Democrat.

    By undertaking an equality impact assessment in the future, we will be able to:

    • Identify the real and possible inequalities people would have otherwise experienced

    • Take into account the needs, circumstances and experiences of those groups of people who will be affected by our services (functions)/policies/procedures

    • Increase transparency in the things that we do and improve the public’s confidence in our equitable approach to running our organisation and how we formulate our policies, that are full of laudable words, but lack measurable outcomes.

    As a former police officer and someone that has been involved in advising on similar issues in the past, I feel that some members of the Federal Conference Committee were too easily won over by the argument presented by the police who naturally desire to acquire the intrusive personal details of our members who will be attending ‘our’ members only event. Without wishing to be alarmists, remember that one of the roles of the police service is to be the uniformed arm of the security services.

    Personally, I have no issue in the police and security services having my details (as they have them already), but I fear that accreditation will lead to concerns from members that aspects of their lives will ‘get out’, and as a result will choose not to attend. I would like to know, what assurance the Party and FCC have obtained that the intrusive information that members may have to will not be shared with security service agencies beyond Sussex Police?

    A question that all of this raises for me is:

    “How incisive is Conference really?”

    Is it for many members rather exclusive? and if we are the Party of ‘Fairness’, then perhaps we should be seeking more democratic ways for the Party membership to be able to directly influence the policy making process without treking around the country twice a year at a considerable expense?

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera 1st Jun '12 - 8:56am

    Apologies but “How incisive is Conference really?” should read as “How inclusive is Conference really”.

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