One of the greatest achievements of the 2010-2015 Coalition government in the UK was the legalisation of same-sex marriage, thus underlining the fact that despite the country’s periodic embrace of conservatism, Britain today is an essentially liberal country. A large part of the credit for the safe passage of the Bill that enabled equal marriage (as many of its supporters prefer to call it) must go to Lynne Featherstone, former Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and a junior Minister at the Home Office under Theresa May for the first period of the Coalition. Lynne pushed it as her pet project, but of course with the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron and the LibDem leader, Nick Clegg. A rainbow coalition of NGOs and MPs of different parties rallied to the cause, while ranged against them were predominantly Tory politicians who wished to defend ‘traditional marriage’ between a man and a woman, as well as major religious communities (though not, I am pleased to say, the Quakers, Unitarians or Liberal and Reform Jews. The story of how the Bill became law makes gripping reading, in the book about it, Equal Ever After (Biteback, £14.99) that Lynne has taken the opportunity of writing following her defeat, along with most of the other LibDem MPs in last May’s general election. It’s a very personal story, passionately recounted, but also drawing on the speeches of parliamentarians on both sides of the argument, in both the House of Commons and in the House of Lords, plus extracts from anonymised correspondence (some of it vituperative) that Lynne received over the issue. For many people who did not follow the cause of equal marriage closely, perhaps the two biggest shocks will be the fact that for a long time the Labour-leaning Stonewall LGBT+ Rights group actually opposed equal marriage, and Mr Cameron refused to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, threatening to scupper the whole deal unless this part of the package was dropped. As someone who is forthright in her views, Lynne pulls no punches in her criticism where she feels criticism is due. Fortunately, she is now in the House of Lords, so as long as that anachronistic institution exists, she can use it as a platform to promote causes still dear to her heart, including LGBT rights in Africa and elsewhere, and curbing violence against women.
Posts Tagged ‘Lynne Featherstone’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th March, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th November, 2015
There were many tragic aspects to the Liberal Democrat rout in May’s UK general election, but perhaps the most tragic of all was that not a single female MP was returned. Although there are many fine, strong women on the LibDem benches in the House of Lords, our House of Commons contingent is uniformly male (and pale). Something obviously has to be done about this, which means that not only do we need to have good women candidates in place soon in winnable seats but also that they are aided, as necessary, to fulfill the role. The challenges facing women in politics (including child care) formed the core of a presentation this evening to Islington Liberal Democrats (and some friends, including myself) from Lynne Featherstone, who was successively a local councillor in Haringey, then a GLA member, then a backbench MP and finally a Minister in the last Coalition government, before being swept away in the electoral tsunami. Unlike most of her former female LibDem MP colleagues, however, she will be returning to Parliament soon when she is inducted into the House of Lords.
I am one of those who believe that an unelected House of Lords is a grotesque anachronism, but so long as it exists, it is good that there are people of Lynne’s calibre to sit in it. In her speech tonight, Lynne chided Nick Clegg fairly for not appointing a single woman LibDem MP to the Cabinet during the whole five years of government, though Lynne herself was fortunate in being given a ministerial post (at DFID) which she really loved. But the main thrust of her remarks was really a checklist of things that women in politics need to do in order to succeed. That includes not being shy about putting themselves forward and similarly not being afraid to stand up first to speak. Team-building is crucial she argued (as it is indeed for male candidates as well), as is serious fundraising. But in the House of Commmons, as in industry and so many other spheres of British public life, women are grossly under-represented. It was good to see some in the audience tonight who have been councillors or stood for Parliament. But the Party has to do far more to support women like them, and to make damned sure we actually get some elected in 2020. In the meantime, I am delighted that we have a first class woman candidate, Jane Brophy, in the Oldham West and Royton by-election. And if a more promising opportunity arises over the next four-and-a-half years we should try to ensure that it is a woman who fights that seat as well.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th July, 2015
There is a certain satisfaction, not necessarily smug, among Liberal Democrats that we have got our leadership election over while the Labour Party is still facing a summer of grueling conflict between their various contenders. Actually, there was very little ‘conflict’ or indeed major difference between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, despite their varying experience and style, as they are both Liberals to their core, so although I put Norman first on my ballot paper I am very happy to campaign with Tim, who is a brilliant communicator. Anyway, now the Leader is in place, what do the LibDems actually stand for? This is an important question for the electorate, given that the identity of the Party got blurred within the Coalition. And as a result, as Lynne Featherstone, formerly MP for Hornsey & Wood Green and Minister at DFID (and the Home Office) said at a garden party discussion put on by Hackney LibDems this afternoon on the theme ‘Future Directions for the Liberal Demorats’, the LibDems got toxified by the Tories while the Tories got semi-detoxified by us. Hence, in part, our electoral disaster, which saw Lynne and so many superb colleagues swept away. But as she pointed out, we did get through key LibDem policies while she was in office, such as Equal Marriage and the campaign against FGM. For such things we can be truly proud. Evan Harris, who unexpectedly got narrowly booted out of Oxford West & Abingdon in 2010 and was also a guest speaker at today’s Hackney event, issues of civil liberties were at the fore. After all, he has been at the forefront of the Hacked Off campaign since he lost his seat. Interestingly, the members present (who included several newbies from the post-election influx) highlighted the issue of BaME under-representation in the Party, something I wrote about after the recent Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) leadership hustings a while back. There is no denying the fact that we now have just eight MPs, all of whom are straight white males, though in fairness the candidates standing in many held and target seats this May were far more diverse than that. In London, especially, this is a major issue we have to face, perhaps the biggest issue of all; if we do not look like the city we aspire to represent, how can we expect people to vote for us? Knowing the candidates in the running for the London elections next year (Mayor and GLA members) I am confident that we are going to be putting forward a wonderfully diverse list, whoever finally gets selected. But can we then persuade the voters of London to back them? That is the question we need to ask if we are going to chart the direction of the Party henceforth.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: diversity, EMLD, equal marriage, Evan Harris, FGM, GLA, Hackney Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrats, London, Lynne Featherstone, Norman Lamb, Tim Farron | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th June, 2015
Nearly 1,200 Liberal Democrat members (many of them newbies) gathered in the Institute of Education’s Logan Hall in Bloomsbury this evening for the London regional party’s hustings for the party leadership, compered by Party President (Baroness) Sal Brinton. Having had quite a lot of contact with both candidates over the years, and being aware of their very different characters and styles, I was curious to see how they would go down. It was all very gentlemanly, of course — not least because Tim Farron admitted right at the beginning that Norman Lamb had been his mentor when he first entered Parliament. Both have dug themselves in impressively in their respective constituencies of Westmoreland & Lonsdale and Norfolk North and thus did not get swept away by last month’s tsumani, which removed five of London’s six sitting MPs (only one of whom, Lynne Featherstone, appeared to be present this evening). Intriguingly, given that Tim is seen as being on the “left” of the Party, famously voting against tuition fees and not having any role in the Coalition Government, he was the one who paid the most fulsome tribute to Nick Clegg and the LibDem wins in government 2010-2015. But both men stressed the need for a reassertion of Liberal values. Tim has the advantage of being a born communicator and a bit of a cheeky chappie, whereas Norman has the gravitas not only of having had ministerial responsibility but also having thought through very deeply issues relating to significant subjects, not least mental health. If one asks the question, “Which one would make the more convincing Prime Minister?”, Norman would win hands down. But if the Party is currently basically looking for someone who can boost morale and rebuild the party from the bottom up, then Tim has the edge. Tim has also been doing the rubber chicken circuit for several years, as probably the most energetic Party President we have ever seen. This means that although I personally shall opt for gravitas, I will be extremely happy to work with whichever one of them wins the all-member vote and I can only be thankful that given that the Liberal Democrats have only eight MPs left — all men, alas — it’s tremendous that we have two such talented but different candidates to choose from. And I do believe the contest will help enthuse our recent intake of 16,000+ new members.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th March, 2014
At one minute past midnight last night the first same-sex marriages took place in England and Wales and today the sun is shining on many such ceremonies. What a long way this country has come since 1967, when Home Secretary Roy Jenkins oversaw the decriminalisation of consensual homosexual relations between adult men, helping end nearly a century of persecution, prosecution, imprisonment and blackmail, not to mention countless suicides. It is to the credit of the Coalition government — not least the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, for pressing ahead with legislation on equal marriage despite opposition from traditionalists and some religious groups. There have been heroes in all the political parties in this struggle, both inside and outside the Houses of Parliament, including men such as Peter Tatchell, who was vilified when he first championed the cause. Special mention should go to LibDems Lynne Featherstone in the Commons and Liz Barker in the Lords, who did so much to further the legislative process. This morning, Lynne was a guest at a same sex wedding party (see picture) in Haringey, which for me sums up the brilliance of Britain’s modern diversity. Brilliant, too, has been the wave of enthusiasm and congratulation from heterosexual, as well as bi and gay, Britons. There is a festive air in England and Wales today, and surely it can’t be long before Scotland and maybe even Northern Ireland follow suit. As a teenager I lived in dread of being a “criminal” in the eyes of English law. But today I can truly say how proud I am to be British.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th September, 2013
So quickly has public opinion moved that it seems almost unbelievable that the last Labour government shied away from upgrading same-sex civil partnerships to ‘marriage’ because of the fear of a backlash (including from some of their MPs). But it is a tribute to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (strongly and admirably supported by PM David Cameron) that he oversaw the relatively smooth transition into law of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act this summer. In an appropriately informal speech at a reception in Admiralty House, Westminster, this evening, he paid just tribute to Lynne Featherstone as the then Equalities Minister (subsequently replaced by Jo Swinson) and Baroness (Liz) Barker, who made a moving and heartfelt personal act of testimony in a speech in the House of Lords. As a Quaker (and therefore part of a religious group which has recognised the validity of loving same-sex relationships for several decades) I have been saddened by how far behind most of the mainstream Churches are on this. It was also heartening that some of the supportive luvvies, including my old friend Stephen Fry and Hugh Grant, turned out tonight, as did hardcore campaigners such as the truly noble Peter Tatchell (who has been a beacon for the LGBT+ community in Russia). Of course there was a good sprinkling of LibDem MPs and Lords, but this was not an occasion for narrow party politics. We were one big happy group, straight, gay and bi/trans +, celebrating the fact that we had won, and in doing so had proved what an open and tolerant society Britain has become, even if a minority still can’t quite get their heads around it.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th September, 2013
BBC Newsnight last night ran a feature on female genital mutilation (FGM), which is still a huge problem in Africa and some parts of the Arab world. It was clear from Sue Lloyd-Roberts’ interviews in the field that there is still great cultural resistance to ending the practice in traditional societies, and not only among the men. The report mentioned that although there have been prosecutions in France against people involved in FGM there have been no such cases in Britain, despite the large numbers of girls potentially at risk in the UK. I know I wasn’t the only person startled at the end of the item when presenter Jeremy Paxman said that Newsnight had approached the Home Secretary Theresa May and International Development Secretary Justine Greening, as well as her deputy Lynne Featherstone, but that none of these ladies (as he rather sneeringly called them) had been available to come on the programme. Knowing how much work on the subject that Lynne has been doing on FGM in Africa — including publicising the abuse — I suspected there must be something wrong somewhere. Sure enough, Lynne’s office got in touch to say that as the issue directly concerned related to the UK Border Agency, a Home Office Minister would have been the personal responsible to appear on the programme (assuming they were available at short notice), i.e. Theresa May or Jeremy Browne. By coincidence I sat next to Lynne at a meeting this afternoon, and I can well understand while she felt browned off by the way Jeremy Paxman had handled the situation, not only implying that she did not care enough about the subject to come on to the programme, but also by his sneer about the “ladies”. I shall have words with him next time we meet!
Link: Ending Female Geneital Cutting in a Generation, by Lynne Featherstone: www.http://t.co/ZCzBI3tVUt
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd March, 2013
If there was a magic formula to win elections it would have been patented and sold to the highest bidder long ago. Nonetheless, there are many practical tips from which a political campaigner can learn, from the late David Penhaligon’s “if you have something to say, put it on a piece of paper and shove it through the letterbox” to much more recent advice on how best to use social media. It is no surprise that many of the best tips have come from Liberal Democrats (or Liberals before them) as the third party in British politics has always had to fight harder and more imaginatively than the big two in order to win seats. It was no coincidence that Trevor “Jones the Vote” in Liverpool largely invented community politics and exported it down south via the 1973 Sutton and Cheam by-election. Now, one of the Party’s campaigning gurus, Mark Pack — no longer working for the Party but still acknowledged as the mastermind behind much of Lynne Featherstone’s successful activities in Hornsey and Wood Green — has teamed up with former colleague Ed Maxfield to write an Everyman’s guide to successful campaigning: 101 Ways to Win an Election (Biteback, £12.99). It could all too easily have fallen into the trap of the Pippa Middleton school of How To books, i.e. stating the obvious as if it were a huge secret, but in fact the book is packed with very astute and useful advice, held together with an occasionally tongue-in-cheek commentary. The book is conveniently divided into 101 bite-sized chunks or chapters, each about the length of a BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day. Grouped under five headings — A Good Message, The Team, The Resources, Communicating the Message, and Leadership — they offer an A to Z of sensible guidelines as well as pointers to disaster avoidance. Reading the book carefully, ideally in small sections, won’t necessarily deliver victory to any aspirant candidate or campaign, but it will make it more likely. And as the authors say in the final chapter, the book can be usefully stored away to be referred to repeatedly when the need arises.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: 101 Ways to Win an Election, Biteback, David Penhaligon, Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrats, Lynne Featherstone, Mark Pack, Pippa Middleton, Trevor Jones | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th December, 2012
Sutton is rightly hailed as London Liberal Democrats’ flagship council but of course the borough was put on the map politically some years before the (then) Liberal-SDP Alliance actually won control (on the Mayor’s casting vote). Indeed, 40 years ago the parliamentary constituency of Sutton and Cheam hit the headlines when young Graham Tope — at that time characterised by his cruel glasses and wicked sideburns — seized the seat from the Tories in a by-election on at 32.6% swing. I was in my final year at university at the time but remember the subsequent Liberal euphoria well. As was rightly recognised at a 40th anniversary buffet dinner at the Sutton Life Centre last evening, the Sutton & Cheam by-election was the first time Trevor Jones from Liverpool put into practice his concept of community politics — which meant pounding the streets to identify local issues and then trumpeting them in regular Focus leaflets — including the scary example illustrated here. Focuses are such old hat these days that it’s hard to imagine the huge impact this technique had. The Conservatives didn’t know what had hit them and Graham became not just a local celebrity but a national one too. Alas he was unable to hold the seat in the February 1974 general election, but he went on to become Leader of Sutton Council, a Member of theHouse of Lords, a London Assembly member and one of the Liberal Democrat representatives on the EU’s Committee of the Regions, at one time simultaneously. Apparently he can, like Margaret Thatcher, get by on very little sleep — though there the similarities end. Anyway, it was a splendid occasion last night, free of pomp but full of good humour and enlivened with tributes to Graham from a variety of people who have served with him in various guises, including Lynne Featherstone MP, (Baroness) Sally Hamwee, (Baroness) Sarah Ludford MEP and former Sutton Council leader Sean Brennan. There was even some audio-visual entertainment, including a replay of the 1974 election night TV coverage, which included a nice potted portrait of the man.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Focus leaflets, Graham Tope, Liberal Democrats, Lynne Featherstone, Sally Hamwee, Sarah Ludford, Sean Brennan, Sutton and Cheam, Sutton Council, Sutton Life Centre, Trevor Jones | Leave a Comment »