Monday, 18 May 2015

Tim Farron And Same-Sex Marriage

If I had been an MP in the last Parliament (stop thanking deities I wasn't back there!) I'd have had many second thoughts about voting for the same-sex marriage bill. I went over my reasons for that repeatedly during the debates but they are summed up here.

I state that as a way of saying I'm open-minded (a rare state for me, as you well know Dear Constant Reader) about those who may have had similar concerns about a very flawed bill and even those who abstained (but I'm far less open-minded about those who voted against it as it was clearly a step in the right direction and not worthy of total rejection!). Cheerleaders who hold the same-sex marriage act up as some amazing piece of progressive legislation will not get much of a warm reception from me.

Tim Farron, in the midst of a Lib Dem leadership campaign, has come under fire from his opponent Norman Lamb on the issue of same-sex marriage. I've seen some less well-informed Tweeple (especially non-LDs) claiming Tim Farron was against same-sex marriage. That is absolutely not true.

Farron voted for the same-sex marriage bill in its early stages. He abstained from voting during it's Third Reading. He states this was because of his concerns over protections for some religious communities and conscientious objectors.

I've expressed a great deal of concern regarding Farron's actions regarding some issues around religion in the past. So I'm no Tim Farron fanboy (though, for full disclosure, I am currently planning to vote for him). But, to give him his due, he has been unfailingly consistent in framing his stances on very clear individual liberty grounds. Some of his positions have made me feel uncomfortable but, I admit, have often made me consider whether I'm holding a position from the point of view of consistency or because of some prejudice I may have. And whenever I've engaged with him he has been willing to listen, to respond politely and to appear to consider other points of view.

Farron has made it clear he regrets that his abstention may be taken as a lack of support for same-sex marriage in principle and that he very much supports it and will defend it should it come under attack from the new Tory Government. We can't really ask for more than that now can we?

Well he could champion some of my concerns with regards to the act, of course... ;)

Friday, 8 May 2015

Let's Stick Together And Get To Work

What a bitter, bitter night for the Liberal Democrats, for the Union and for our future as a member of the European Union. And though it is easy for us to blame 5 years of unrelenting misplaced mud-slinging from Labour and the left, I think it is important that those of us who believe in liberal values take stock of what has happened more carefully.

After the defeat of Labour at the 2010 election they immediately moved into questioning the legitimacy of coalitions and into navel-gazing as they fought the leadership contest that gave them Ed Miliband. They did not engage in a period of proper reflection on the causes of defeat and moved straight back into an oppositional “OH MY GOD LOOK AT THE EVIL TORIES AND FIB DEMS” mode which they hoped would easily see them through the next election.

This sort of brazen disregard for understanding why the electorate didn’t re-elect the Brown Government in 2010 has led the Labour party to an even greater defeat this time. We must learn from their mistakes, the main learning of which is… learn from our mistakes!!! Bitter recriminations or, worse, a warming up of the ongoing cold war between “social liberals” and “Orange bookers” will not be useful in terms of coming to terms with what has happened and why. We must stand together, determined but humble and ask "Why?"

And it is a little unseemly to engage in any sort of recriminations when so many amazing MPs and their teams have just lost their jobs. Lynne Featherstone, a wonderful MP by all accounts, who spearheaded same-sex marriage and made a real liberal mark on the Coalition. Charles Kennedy who is not only one of the nicest guys about but a fantastic MP and my first leader. Danny Alexander and David Laws were instrumental in making the Lib Dems work within the Coalition. All have fallen to the electorates will. We must respect that will but we can still feel a little sad.

And Nick Clegg. Oh Nick Clegg. A man whose mere mention divides the party in half and who is the subject of a great deal of derision from the general public. I didn't vote for Nick Clegg for leader. If you think that's my way of distancing myself from his actions, you'd be very wrong. He won me over. His intelligence, his personality and his ability to convince are certainly something to behold. Yes, his actions may ultimate be seen to be the cause of our downfall BUT you'll never convince me he didn't join the Coalition and throw himself into making it work for anything other than the most decent and respectable reasons. He tried. He succeeded in many things. And ultimately when the judgement of the public was made clear at the ballot box, he conceded. I shall always hold him in the highest regard and thank him for giving our party and our country stability in a trying time.

We should mourn the loss of some great MPs and one great leader. And then we should pragmatically and scientifically breakdown what went wrong and what we need to do to make things better.... Onwards, always.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Steadying Ourselves For The #GE2015 Results

Remember those minutes leading up to 10pm on 6 May 2010? The excitement for Liberal Democrats was palpable. As I took my seat in my then local pub to watch the results, I was so filled with naive optimism. Not too many days before, and only a mile away, I'd witnessed a massive Lib Dem rally and a #IAgreeWithNick flashmob in Trafalgar Square. How could we not make massive gains?

Of course, on the night, despite every poll except the exit poll... we lost seats. Sure we managed to get into Government for the first time (as Lib Dems) but it was deflating and depressing. Yes, I was very naive.

Now we are a couple of days away from the 2015 general election. And I'm struck by a mixture of high excitement, extreme trepidation and a general expectation that the results will ultimately confound all expectations and be utterly dull.

The excitement comes from the fact that there are a lot of angles. The rise of UKIP, the Green "surge" (a huge percentage increase in their vote means they will be struggling even to beat us but still...), the collapse of the Lib Dems, the mediocre performance of the Labservatives and, most thrilling of all, the SNP explosion. These things could make for some exciting moments... Scottish Lib Dem and Labour big fish being taken out by the SNP (see Douglas Alexander, Danny Alexander or Charles Kennedy), Nick Clegg's knife-edge election night, will George Galloway and Caroline Lucas keep their seats? We just have little idea of what awaits us, which makes it possibly the most exciting election since 1997.

The trepidation comes from what lies in store for the Lib Dems. I hope that we can save a fair number of seats, I think anything more than 20 would be marvellous. But we just don't know how it will go. It'll be very depressing to see the party behind the introduction of same-sex marriage lose so many good people (especially sad to see people like Lynne Featherstone be defeated for example). We can hope for a miracle but...

And the thing truly making me worried is the rise of the SNP. Nationalism should be a philosophy consigned to the waste basket of history. Alas. Now we sit at the point where the SNP may form part of a coalition government or offer some sort of deal to prop up a minority government. This is worrying for the future of our union and as a unionist I'm thus not best pleased.

And then we come to the ultimate truth of British elections... the result is likely to be boring. We'll get all excited, expecting some interesting things to happen and then Labour will probably just squeak through and won't we all look silly? An exit poll of depressing blandness awaits us on Thursday evening I'm sure of it, but we can keep our hopes up for something different until those last few minutes before 10pm...