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 ‘Theresa May’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th March, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th August, 2015
The British Home Secretary, Theresa May, set out in an article in today’s Sunday Times changes she would like to see made to the principle of freedom of movement within the European Union. This is one of the central planks of the European single market, which was largely put in place by the Conservative peer and European Commissioner Lord Cockfield and endorsed by Margaret Thatcher. Lord Cockfield, at least, must be spinning in his grave at Ms May’s outrageous demand that freedom of movement should be restricted to people who already have jobs, unlike the situation now, in which EU citizens can seek work in other EU member states, settle or retire there, study or simply make their lives more interesting by experiencing different European cultures, rather than spending their entire existence (apart from holidays) in an increasingly insular Tory Britain. One can only assume Ms May has set out her stall against free movement as part of a bid to outflank Boris Johnson in the next Conservative Party leadership contest, but if that is true then it is shamelessly self-centered and against the true interests of Britain.
One of the reasons that the UK has emerged more strongly from the post-2008 recession was because of the talented EU migrants who came here to work or set up businesses. The revolting Daily Express and at times the Daily Mail would have us believe that all EU migrants are benefit scroungers, which is a gross misrepresentation of the reality. The CBI, farmers and other groups of UK employers acknowledge the contribution EU migrants have made and I trust they will stand up and be counted against Ms May’s mean call. If David Cameron were to heed it and try to push for such a radical change to free movement with our EU partners it is certain that they would reject it, as the whole European project would start to unravel if it went through. Of course, that is what a disturbingly large number of Conservative MPs actually want to happen, not to mention UKIP. But the issue, if handled as badly as Ms May has done, could make it more likely that Britain would leave the EU, even though a “Brexit” would have serious consequences for our national economy. However, there is a more optimistic scenario following this new development which is that all those people who have benefited from the freedom of movement — the 2million+ Brits on the continent and the other EU citizens resident here — as well as young people who fancy studying or working abroad and older people who want to have the option to retire somewhere warmer will all gang up together to shout down this attempt to undermine their rights. And, one hopes, vote out this awful Tory government at the next election.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st December, 2014
Theresa May has the unenviable task of trying to make irreconcilables add up when it comes to implementing the Conservatives’ rash promise to reduce net immigration to the UK to “tens of thousands”. But her latest idea of making international students leave the country after they graduate is wrong on do many levels. International students make a huge contribution to the UK economy, both with their fees and living costs, and those who then use their enhanced skills to stay on and work give added value. As far as I can see, May’s plan to force them to leave and then apply for a new visa back home is yet another short-sighted Tory attempt to appeal to UKIP voters. The problem is that it risks killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Britain has become a less welcoming place to foreign talent, including students, with the Conservatives in power, despite the strong efforts by LibDems such as Vince Cable to state the opposite case. Education is a global market and if international students decide the UK is now a less attractive option, they will go elsewhere and we in Britain will be all the poorer for it.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 31st May, 2014
One of the joys of living in a big city like London (not that anywhere else is quite like London) is the constant discovery of new people, new place, new organisations. My latest new discovery, thanks to a presentation by Suran Dickson at a gathering of Gay Professionals Network, to which I was invited, is Diversity Role Models, whose mission is to give young people the confidence to be who they are and allow others to do the same. Britain has made great strides in gender and LGBT+ awareness in recent years, but homophobic bullying in schools is still a problem in some instances, which is why Diversity Role Models’ work is so important. The organisation sends both LGBT and straight role models into schools (with the school’s cooperation, of course) to speak directly to the pupils about their own experiences. The youngsters are then able to ask questions or make comments and through this experience they gain a greater understanding of the impact of homophobia and transphobia as well as of the positive contribution that they can make. I’m pleased that the Coalition Government (including Home Secretary Theresa May) have backed Diversity Role Models, but it is a charity and therefore relies heavily on donations. Hearing Suran talking about her work and reading some of the anonymous post-it questions that schoolchildren had written, I couldn’t help think back to my own school, where we never got even the most basic sex education, let alone any introduction to diversity. Not surprising, ignorance, confusion and prejudice reigned.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th June, 2013
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its associated Court in Strasbourg is a favourite Aunt Sally of right-wing Conservative MPs and Britain’s tabloid Press (which these days, alas, includes the broadsheet Daily Telegraph), but unjustly so. The Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as it is more formally known, has since its drafting in 1950 and later adoption by the Council or Europe done a huge amount of useful work in promoting the Rule of Law throughout Europe (including Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey; only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the fold), as well as providing individuals who feel their rights have been violated by their own State to seek redress. Despite the fact that the Court is a separate institution from the European Union it still gets tarred with the Brussels brush by virulent Europhobes, who seem to believe that the United Kingdom has completely abandoned its national sovereignty to foreigners — not that many of these anti-Europeans seem particularly worried about the fact that US influence is far more marked in various aspects of British public and foreign policy, not to mention our culture. Two things have been like juicy bones to these frothing xenophobic hounds. First, the Court’s ruling that it was wrong for the UK to deprive all prisoners of their rights to vote, no matter how short their sentence or trivial their offence. Theresa May could easily have got round that issue by accepting that prisoners with a sentence of less than six months should still retain their vote, but others not — a compromise that would have satisfied Strasbourg. The other even more famous ECHR “outrage”, of course, relates to the prolonged delay in the expulsion of the vile Islamist extremist Abu Qatada because there has not been up till now a credible assurance from his home country, Jordan, that evidence that might be used against him in any trial in Amman would not have been obtained by torture. Now I, like almost everyone in this country, long to see the back of Abu Qatada, who has milked the system here, including claiming benefits. But we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying, oh well, as he is so wicked it does not matter if witnesses against him have been tortured. When we accept that, then we surrender our commitment to human rights (as the last Labour government alas did, with respect to extraordinary rendition). Moreover, it is utter nonsense for Theresa May to float the idea — seized on by relish by some of her backbench MPs and the right-wing Press — that Britain could temporarily withdraw from ECHR so it can expel Abu Qatada, then reapply once he is out of the way. Anyone who knows anything about International Law and diplomacy knows that is shamelessly playing to the gallery while undermining the very foundations of our credibility as a nation. What is really lacking, I believe, is a concerted campaign in Britain to champion what the ECHR actually achieves, in which politicians, NGOs and the enlightened media should participate. It is not just the future of our involvement with the Strasbourg Court that is at stake but our values as well.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th November, 2012
During her two years at the Home Office, Lynne Featherstone did great things to promote the equalities agenda, even if she and Theresa May did not always see eye to eye. The Equal Marriage consultation was a real win for the LibDems within the Coalition, and to his credit David Cameron “got” the issue, even if some of his backbench headbangers didn’t. So there was initially some disquiet among LibDems when Lynne was moved in the ministerial reshuffle earier this year to the Department for International Development (DfID). However, as Lynne made clear at an informal briefing to the International Relations Committee (IRC) of the Liberal Democrat Party in Westminster this evening, she has taken equality issues along with her (with the PM’s blessing), and it is especially important that she is able to champion the central role of women in development. She has just returned from a mission to South Sudan, which was rather jumping in at the deep end, though other states she has visited this year include Kenya and Uganda, and Africa is now central to her remit. DfID has of course been directed to phase down its involvement in India (now one of the BRICs) but Africa remains a main area of concern, not only for the traditional problems of famine and disease (including HIV/AIDS) but also for the way that women are excluded and often oppressed within many African societies, including through the persistence of female genital mutilation (FGM). It was interesting that FGM was a major topic in the discussion after Lynne’s presentation at the IRC, but then it is a quintissentially Liberal issue, relating to human rights and gender matters as well as to health. Lynne was a shadow International Development Minister some years ago, so she is not entirely fresh to the field. But it is clear that Africa is offering her a steep learning curve, from which both she and Africa’s development should ultimately benefit.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th July, 2010
Lynne Featherstone, LibDem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and now the Minister of State for Equalities and Criminal Information (sic), was the guest of honour at Sutton Liberal Democrats’ annual garden party this afternoon, in the spacious garden of perennial host Jayanta Chatterjee. In keeping with the Coalition Government’s new age of austerity, she arrived not in a chauffeur-driven limousine, but by train, like me. And from her description of life in the Home Office (up at 5.30am and only to bed at midnight, day after day) her tasks are demanding, despite the assiduousness of her civil servants. Far from being under the kitten heels of Home Secretary Theresa May, Lynne has been doing her best to stamp a LibDem tinge on her department’s policies; bilateral relations with her boss are in fact very cordial. Lynne was suitably prominent in last Saturday’s Gay Pride March — seemingly part of a new girl band, half-dancing alongside London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, Party President Ros Scott and London’s LibDem MEP Sarah Ludford. Lynne said that the only thing that impressed her children about her new status in life was the arrival of the first lead-lined wooden red ministerial box. The civil servants will be making sure those ministerial papers keep coming.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th May, 2010
About a hundred Liberal Democrats from across South East London gathered at the St John’s Church Hall in Downham (Lewisham) this evening, to hear and ask questions about the agreement the party has made to enter into government with the Conservatives. Originally, Simon Hughes was scheduled to speak, but he was reportedly asked onto the BBC’s Any Questions programme at short notice, so his fellow MP Tom Brake ably took his place. I was expecting some unhappy voices among party members and activists, but actually the tone of the discussion was very positive and Tom’s argument that a full deal with the Conservatives was really the only viable option, particularly given Labour’s lack of genuine interest in a deal, was persuasive. One questioner expressed dismay at the appointment of Theresa May as Home Secretary, given her record on equality issues, but I was able to share today’s news that LibDem Lynne Featherstone has been appointed Minister of State at the Home Office, with special responsiblity for Equalities, which is a much more reassuring prospect. The big question, really, is how William Hague will behave as Foreign Secretary, but even on Europe, it looks as though the Tories have been tamed somewhat by the LibDems. There are issues (such as Trident replacement) on which there was no agreement between the two sides, so LibDem MPs will have to abstain on any related vote, but Tom Brake assured us that that won’t stop us arguing the case against, both in parliament and in the country.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th July, 2008
Today’s ‘Observer’ has the story already highlighted by Mark Pack on Liberal Democrat Voice that the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Watford, Ian Oakley (who is a councillor for Northwood in the London Borough of Hilingdon), has resigned his candidature, following his arrest on Friday in connection with a prolonged campaign of harassment against Liberal Democrats in Watford, including criminal damage. The first-rate LibDem PPC for Watford Sal Brinton has been amongst those who have received poison pen letters and worse, in this marginal seat. In this country, of course, someone is innocent until proved guilty, so I shall say no more about the particular case of Cllr Oakley, who has been released on bail, and I will wait for the outcome of the police enquiries. However, as LibDem activists in various parts of the country are well aware, there are indeed certain individuals and groups within the Conservative Party that haven’t yet embraced David Cameron’s campaign to rid the Tories of their reputation of being the ‘nasty party’ (an astute epithet, for which we have to thank the Conservative MP for Maidenhead, Theresa May). In recent years, there have been useful groups calling themselves things like ‘Militant Watch’ and ‘Fascist Watch’, monitoring and exposing extremist political activists. Perhaps we should establish a ‘Nasty Tory Watch’ group doing the same sort of thing. I am sure David Cameron would be most grateful.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Conservative Party, David Cameron, Ian Oakley, Liberal Democrat Voice, London Borough of Hillingdon, Mark Pack, nasty party, Observer, Sal Brinton, Theresa May, Watford | 1 Comment »