djm4: (Default)
Friday, March 9th, 2012 08:27 am
I'm not going to have time to to do much posting during the Lib Dem Party's Spring Conference this weekend in Gateshead, for which many of you will probably breathe a huge sigh of relief. If I weren't busy enough, I'm now potentially going to have to do some reading up on both the Communications Capability Directorate and the Welfare Reform Bill (yes, I've downloaded the Spartacus Report), because I may have to talk intelligently on both of them later this weekend. Eep.

So, any posting is going to have a strict half-hour curfew. Apologies in advance for any terseness and lack of polish as a result (I'm not sure what my usual excuse is, though).

Anyway, later today, Nick Clegg and Tim Farron are going to urge Liberal Democrats to stop apologising and start celebrating. Nick will (I gather) say:

"And now it is time to move on. To stop justifying being in Government and start advertising being in Government. To stop lamenting what might have been and start celebrating what is. To stop defending our decisions and start shouting our achievements from the rooftops."

And Tim's going to point out:

"We got three quarters of our manifesto into Government policy, so I hereby allow you to stop saying sorry for the quarter we didn't get. And if people wanted that missing quarter, well they should have flipping voted for us shouldn’t they?"

I presume that Tim, like me, was brought up on Grange Hill. He's used the word 'flipping' for as long as I've known him - over twenty years - and it's futile to try to get him to stop now.

Both of those have some good points. It frustrates me when people talk as though Lib Dems have achieved nothing in Government, because from our point of view we have achieved a lot; much of it in areas we really care about. Mark Pack has a handy infographics showing Lib Dem achievements in Government here. The graphics may look a little twee - although I personally like them - but the bigger point is that these are things that most Lib Dems really care about.

This often comes as a surprise to people who aren't Lib Dems and who haven't followed the party closely. They (and many of them are my friends and generally clueful politically, so this is less critical than it sounds) tended to assume that with the AV Referendum lost, that was it for the Lib Dems. But that's not the case; you'll notice that the AV Referendum and Electoral Reform isn't even on Mark's list, even though just delivering the referendum was itself a major achievement, even though we lost it (badly). But electoral reform isn't the be-all and end-all of the Lib Dems, and in many other policy areas we've punched well above our weight. In a Government that's over 80% Conservative, the Lib Dems have delivered (and continue to deliver) a far more Liberal programme than could have been expected.

For that, they deserve unqualified credit, and I don't always give it to them.

Where I part company with Tim and Nick is in the idea that we should stop apologising or defending our decisions. Later on, Nick's speech continues:

"So: no more looking back. You can't drive if you’re only looking in the rear-view mirror ... So let's tear off that rear view mirror and look straight ahead. Let's get on with the job that we all came into politics to do. Making this a more liberal nation."

I'm not sure I want to get in a car driven by Nick Clegg. Sure, you can't drive if you're only looking in the rear view mirror, but the thing's there for a reason. It's not: "Cross fingers, signal, manoeuvre." Tearing the mirror off because you don't like the view in it won't stop you getting run over by a lorry, or knocking a motorcyclist into the road. There's a phrase for people who drive with the attitude Nick Clegg is expressing here, and that phrase is 'hit and run driver'. I'm not well disposed to them; one of them broke my arm three years ago as I was cycling home from work. That driver ignored his rear view mirror and focussed on doing whatever job he had ahead of him, too. I was off work for two months, and my hand has never fully recovered.

In our rear view mirror are, among others, the bodies of disabled people left reeling from the impact of the Welfare Reform Act. I don't want to forget them, and leave them lying in the road. I don't think that's a free or fair thing to do; it's not Liberal, it's not British, and it's not acceptable. We need (among the many other things we do) to look back, stop the car, and go back and help those people. Otherwise, we're not responsible drivers, however many other people we deliver to where they want to go.
djm4: (Default)
Thursday, September 15th, 2011 11:32 am
Taking a voluntary break from LJ/DJ/DW for a while. This is not a result of any one event directly, but is an acknowledgement that I currently simply don't have time/spoons/bandwidth to engage on-line in a consistently constructive or intelligent manner.

I'm randomising my password, so I won't even be able to log-in to reply to comments. Please don't expect me to.
djm4: (Default)
Thursday, April 28th, 2011 07:26 am
Next week, I get to vote in a UK referendum for the first time ever; hardly surprising, as there's only been one before in 1975, and I'm not that old. I'll be voting in favour of AV [1]; I don't like it much, but I like it more than I like our current FPTP [2], and I do like being able to express small, nuanced preferences. Incidentally, in another first for me I'm getting to cast two votes, because I have a proxy vote for [personal profile] sashajwolf, who will be on a pilgrimage to Spain on polling day.
Cut for length )
Anyway: TL:DR - I'm firmly voting 'yes' on the 5th, but there are better voting systems I'd prefer to have been voting for. And I've pimped it before, but the AV guide on Britain Votes is an excellent guide to AV and the issues around it.

[1] Alternative Vote - also known as 'Instant Runoff Voting' or 'Single Transferable Vote in single member constituencies'.

[2] First Past The Post - which is AV where nobody gets to express a second preference. No, that's not how it's usually described, but it's true. ;-)

[3] These claims are discussed in this PDF from the Political Studies Association, among other places.
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Thursday, January 13th, 2011 07:56 pm
When I was a young Liberal, my friends and I regularly used to do sketches at post-election parties to entertain the troops. Most of these are (mercifully) lost to history, but for some reason I can remember all the lyrics that I wrote to this parody in around 1984. It is sung to the tune of First and Second Law by Flanders and Swann, and is very much of its time, with references to the 'Alliance' and the perceived threat of nuclear war. It came at the end of a longer sketch set in a Conservative committee room for an actual by-election that had made the news at the time where a Conservative loss had resulted in some spectacular and amusing mud-slinging between the agent, his staff, and the candidate.

I don't claim that there's any great craft in the writing, and one or two of the lines test the scansion a little, but it amused [personal profile] sashajwolf when I recited it spontaneously in Liverpool, and I thought it might amuse some of you.
The First and Second Laws of Voting Dynamics )
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Thursday, November 25th, 2010 07:37 pm
Sometimes, messages from Lib Dem HQ have a timing that's ... unfortunate. For example, yesterday, I received an e-mail from Sarah Teather entitled 'Delivering a fair start for every child' at around the same time that I was reading tweets from Laurie Penny about the fair start the Met were giving to children in Whitehall.

Today, I received an e-mail imploring me to come and help in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election:


Dear David,

This Christmas, you can give Parliament a new Liberal Democrat MP.



Well, that does sound rather shiny, certainly, and I'm sure Parliament would appreciate a gift from Santa of this form. The MP in question would be Elwyn Watkins. During the election, Elwyn Watkins was reported (on politics.co.uk and in the Saddleworth News) as saying that he'd be prepared to 'rip up' both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention (for clarity, that's the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, not any other Geneva Convention you might have heard of).

To quote from the first article:


Mr Woolas has dealt with these problems in government since October 2008 as immigration minister. He replied that, in his experience, the Human Rights Act was the biggest obstacle to removing failed asylum seekers.

"The biggest problem I have day in and day out is the representation from those who claim civil liberties on behalf of such people," he explained.

Mr Watkins replied: "So we need to change it." When asked by Mr Woolas whether he wanted to change the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention, he added: "Sure, I'd rip it up."



Ripping up the either of those conventions is not exactly Lib Dem policy so, in fairness to Elwyn Watkins, I did e-mail him to see whether he could clarify this. Hot on the heels of the e-mail asking me to help in Oldham East and Saddleworth came Elwyn Watkins's reply, which I quote below in full:


Dear David
Thank you for getting in touch with me to ask my views on human rights issues.

As a Liberal Democrat, I am committed to fairness and justice at home and around the world. I find the last Labour Government’s record on these issues nothing less than shameful.

It was a disgrace that Labour knowingly allowed people to be handed over for torture. I don’t condone murder or torture, and never will. I was appalled that former Immigration Minister Phil Woolas allowed the detention of children, and am delighted that the Lib Dems in government are taking steps to end it.

On the specific issue you raised, it is right in my view that, in general, immigrants who abuse the system or commit serious crimes in this country can be deported, as the law currently allows.

Clearly there are other considerations in the case of people who have been granted asylum because it is likely their lives would be seriously endangered if they return to their home country.

Nonetheless, the position of the minority who abuse asylum is a genuine concern for local people, many of whom have raised it repeatedly with politicians of all parties.

It is not good enough to sweep these concerns under the carpet as Labour have done for 13 years. To not discuss these issues openly when they are of genuine concern to many local people allows extremist parties to get a foot in the door, and that’s something none of us want.

I welcome the coalition government’s commitment to a Commission to investigate a British Bill of Rights, with the express intention of clarifying how our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other international agreements best operate within British law and to ‘promote a better understanding of the scope of these obligations and liberties’.

This is a complex issue and I will fight for the right of everyone to have their views heard as well as, as a Liberal Democrat, for the rights of those individuals who are forced to flee their countries under threat of persecution.

For all of us Liberal Democrats, it is important to make sure that the kind of divisive election campaign run by Phil Woolas’ Labour Party in May is never repeated. For the Immigration Minister to knowingly stir up racial tensions, with a strategy his team described as a way to “get the white folk angry”, in a desperate attempt to hold his seat is a damning indictment. Only a Lib Dem win in Oldham East and Saddleworth will send that message.

I very much look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail over the next few weeks.

With best wishes

Elwyn Watkins



I'm ... not sure that's a retraction. Parts of it could be read to be incompatible with what he's claimed to have said at hustings, but threatening to tear up the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention concerning refugees is such a big deal that I want a more definite explanation of his views.

So if, based on that, you think Elwyn Watkins would be a good Christmas present for Parliament, Elwyn Watkins of Oldham East and Saddleworth would very much like to hear from you.
djm4: (Default)
Wednesday, November 24th, 2010 06:53 pm
I'm getting increasingly frustrated with Nick Clegg's statements on tuition fees (and that starts from a fairly high level of frustration with him for singling them out as one of our long-term policies that might have to go in 2009).

Look, the point is not that the Lib Dem manifesto said that we'd phase tuition fees out. Everyone understands that we didn't win the election, so aren't in a position to implement everything in the manifesto. What we compromise about - and whether we compromise at all or just stay out of government - is up for debate, of course, but it's not a betrayal of principles to fail to implement a manifesto commitment if you lose an election.

No, the point is this pledge that Nick Clegg and all other Lib Dem MPs signed back in February. This is what it says:

"I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative."

Here's the problem: nothing in that pledge becomes impossible just because we lost the election. Nick's still an MP, he still gets a vote, and that vote can still be against an increase in tuition fees.

Yes, I understand that Nick Clegg now doesn't want to. I get that he now thinks that the Browne Report offers a progressive fairness premium or something - I'm sorry, I'm losing track of the jargon these days. I also understand that under the terms of the coalition agreement, MPs agreed to abstain at worst on tuition fee rises (that was noted at the time as being a hostage to fortune, but with everything that was going on then, I can genuinely forgive that slip up). But Nick Clegg's not even going to abstain, apparently; he's going to vote in favour.

A pledge, though, is a pledge. It's a serious commitment that should not be lightly broken, and people will be quite reasonably angry with you when you do. Menzies Campbell understands this. Vince Cable appears not to. It might be seen to be OK to break a pledge if unforeseeable circumstances made keeping the pledge impossible, but it's not OK to break it because it's now politically inconvenient.

And it's really not OK to act as though the pledge were a manifesto commitment that the Lib Dems could only stick to if we won a majority government. It was a pledge to vote against a policy, not a pledge to ensure the policy didn't get passed. Nick, Vince and the rest can still vote against the policy and, IMO, should. Alternatively, they can 'fess up to voluntarily going back on the pledge, and plead changed circumstances; it'll still make people angry, but it's better than falsely claiming that being in a coalition now makes the pledge impossible to keep.

And all MPs should probably be a lot more careful about making pledges that they don't really mean. They might get called on them one day.
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Sunday, October 31st, 2010 07:18 am
As I reported on Twitter yesterday, Stephen Fry - broadcaster, writer, polymath and Great British Institution - has patiently explained to all us straight men that our unfortunate situation is due to the fact that women don't like sex as much as men.

Edit: According to Stephen 'So some fucking paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I'm the Antichrist. I give up.'. Hmmm. end of edit

Edit 2: video of him saying much the same. So, possibly not all that misquoted, eh? end of edit 2

What's his evidence for this? Some groundbreaking psychology paper? A longitudinal study of sexual mores in a variety of cultures, attempting to control for social pressures and the problems of truly assessing private behaviour? No. According to Stephen Fry: "If women liked sex as much as men, there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas. Women would go and hang around in churchyards thinking: 'God, I've got to get my fucking rocks off', or they'd go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush. It doesn't happen. Why? Because the only women you can have sex with like that wish to be paid for it ... Of course, a lot of women will deny this and say, 'Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!' But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?"

I could probably write about what's wrong with this for hours - but I have to be at Heathrow Airport for 9:45 and don't really have time. I'll leave it to my friends who have sex with men to let me know whether willingness to go cruising in Hampstead Heath is a fair assessment of men's sexuality. I have a hunch that it's not, but I don't have a lot of experience in the area. However, using that as evidence that women don't like sex is highly suspect.

It would be like me saying: 'If same-sex couples liked physical affection as much as opposite-sex couples, then you'd see them being physically affectionate in public. Same-sex couples would hold hands in the street, cuddle on buses and drunkenly snog on trains home from nightclubs as much as opposite-sex couples do.' I hope everyone reading this will recognise that as a fallacious argument, but in case you don't, one big reason that rarely happens outside a few, well-known safe spaces, is that for a same-sex couple to show physical affection in public is to risk abuse, ridicule and violence. Yes, even today, and even if it were completely safe today, it would take a generation for the fear to go away.

Similarly, a woman who openly admits to liking sex is leaving herself open to being called a slut, being disrespected, and being raped. This study, in 2005 (and I know there have been others, but this makes the point) found that '...26 per cent of adults believed that a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing. Some 22 per cent held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners.' Although the question was not asked, I suspect that figure would be even higher for 'a woman who was known to go out onto Hampstead Heath for indiscriminate sex'.

It's slightly off the point, but I'd also like to state that I have a number of women friends who don't have sex with me, and I don't feel that my life is impoverished by that. Anyone who has someone like Clare or Natalya as a friend and who thinks 'I'm so annoyed that I don't get to have sex with them' rather than 'I'm so lucky that this awesome person is in my life' doesn't deserve that sort of luck.

Stephen Fry took over Douglas Adams's role in the second series of Last Chance To See. It was mostly a great series, but there were times when the comparison was revealing. With Douglas, the more strange he found a culture or behaviour (human or animal), the more he tried to understand it, and the more familiar it was, the more he picked at it suspiciously. With Stephen, he was very much the Englishman abroad, missing his home comforts and gently mocking the odd habits of Johnny Foreigner. There was nothing in Stephen's version that came close to Douglas's elegant exploration of how it might feel to be a rhinoceros, getting the bulk of one's sensory information from smell rather than sight.

I think this is another manifestation of this same problem. Women do not behave like Stephen Frys, and Stephen is quicker to mock and criticise the difference than he is to understand it.
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Thursday, October 21st, 2010 03:08 am
There's a scene in Babylon Five, in which Vir Cotto finds himself unexpectedly in a lift with G'Kar. Vir Cotto's people, the Centauri, have just launched a devastating attack on G'Kar's people, the Narn, bombing the Narn homeworld from orbit with asteroids in contravention of pretty much every rule of engagement in the B5 universe and killing millions. Vir, who is profoudly unhappy with the actions of his people, attempts to apologise. G'Kar gives a graphic demonstration of why an apology is, at that point, futile.

It's here, if you want to watch it (warning, contains blood, and is probably triggering for self-harm):



As a Lib Dem, trying to write about the spending review and it's effect upon the most vulnerable and least wealthy members of our society, I find myself reminded strongly of Vir. I want to apologise for what I think's going to happen, and for the fact that people who are already struggling to cope are going to need to struggle that bit more, and - unless a miracle happens - some of them are going to be unable to cope. Many of these people are my friends. Some live on the same street as me. (It shouldn't matter if they weren't, of course, but I do suspect that none of them live on the same street as George Osborne, nor Nick Clegg.)

I want to apologise but, really, what use is an apology in this situation? I'll make one anyway, mind you; I'm sorry about what my party (in coalition, yes, but still my party) is doing to welfare. I'm especially sorry as the manifesto contained a far more enlightened attitude both to supporting people who could be helped to find work and to continuing to support those who couldn't. I don't need the apology to be accepted, and I'm aware it may not be, but I'm sorry, and I'll continue to argue both within the party and outside it for the importance of having a strong welfare state. And I'll continue to question my support for the party as a whole.

Because, I'm proud of the welfare state. I'm not, I hasten to add, proud of the fact that we need it, but given that we do need it, I'm proud that it's there. I'm also aware that, as a rule, it sucks to be on welfare. I'm not speaking from direct experience here - although I was claiming JSA for the past six months, I was doing it in the context of a family who could support me anyway, so I don't for a moment think I have a significant personal insight into it - but everything I read from those who are in that situation leads me to think this.

I possibly know the wrong people, but by and large, the people I know who are in receipt of some welfare payments are among the hardest working people I know. Circumstances, one way and another, have put them in a position where they need some help from the state to get by, but they are not lazy, and they are not work-shy, and they have not chosen 'living off the state' as a 'lifestyle'. I don't want that help to be removed; it's one of the last things (yes, even after the sainted BBC) that we should be cutting. Times are going to be tough ahead, and there are going to be more people who need state support to get by, and I don't think there's any excuse for reducing that support at a time when it's going to be most needed.

In fact, I think it's wrongheaded to look at welfare as 'something we can take money from to balance the budget', which from recent speeches seems to be how both Nick Clegg and George Osborne are looking at it. The welfare budget is there to help the vulnerable. Sure, if there are suddenly fewer vulnerable people, or they each need less support, the welfare budget will go down. But to aim to cut the budget without either of those things being true, as we are doing, is to say to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society 'sorry, but we can't give you as much support as we used to, whether or not you need it'. I simply don't think the country's finances are that dire.

(I realise that I'm treating a complex set of issues as somewhat monolithic here, but I feel I've got the overall picture right. I also realise that this may all look different in the morning, but the spending review, and my Vir-like reaction to it, was keeping me awake, and so I thought I may as well write about it.)
djm4: (Default)
Tuesday, September 21st, 2010 07:48 am
I missed what was apparently the highlight of Conference yesterday. Not Nick Clegg's speech (which was IMO good, if perhaps understandably serious and businesslike), but Ben Summerskill of Stonewall's assertion, at the DELGA fringe meeting, that marriage equality for same- and different-sex marriages would cost £5 billion to implement, and therefore we shouldn't do it. (I wasn't at the fringe, so this isn't an eye-witness report, but apart from the Pink News article I had a long chat with a friend who had come directly from the fringe and told me exactly the same thing.)

His reasons - that heterosexual couples might take up civil partnerships for increased pension payments and that same-sex platonic friends might get marries for tax breaks - are worthy of The Daily Mail. But let's just for a moment assume, for the sake of argument, that he's right. Let's assume that giving marriages and civil partnerships equal footing would cost £5 billion. Suddenly civil partnerships and marriages don't sound so equal any more, do they?

Edit: it strikes me that, as his examples involved different-sex couples supposedly gaining extra benefits under civil partnerships, he might have been trying to make a point to privileged people about how discrimination looks. If so, I think he was making it badly and, actually, I don't really believe he was being that subtle.

Edit 2: it occurs to me that the figure I heard last night was £5 million - I don't think it makes a difference to my basic point, but it's possible that Pink News's report has the wrong figure (but equally likely that the figure I heard last night was wrong).

Out of interest, the text of DELGA's motion (which both [personal profile] sashajwolf and I will be supporting today) is under the cut:

Read more... )
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Sunday, September 19th, 2010 07:23 pm
There was a consultative session this morning about 'Strategy' based on this document (clear print or plain text). Essentially, it was a discussion of how the party should proceed now that it's part of a coalition government; particularly how it should continue to make distinct policy, and how that policy should be presented. I managed to miss most of it, although I'm hoping to be able to iPlayer it at some point, because based on accounts from it, and from Ros Scott's summation which I did catch, it sounds very interesting. One point that did come up was that it would be great if we stopped seeing Liberal Democrats in the coalition defending policies the obviously disagreed with.

This point was put to Nick Clegg in the afternoon Q and A session, and he quite reasonably asked us to picture the scene at a press conference where he stood up and said 'here's a new policy, which I'm not particularly happy about'. He has a point. For the sake of good government, there comes a point when everyone needs to at least try to make the policies work, whether you agree with them or not (or break up the government, but I'll assume we're not at that point now). That goes double for economic policy, where part of the point is to convince the international financial community that we know what we're doing. Much as he might like to, I don't expect Danny Alexander to stand up and say: 'Vince and I think this policy's going to push us back in recession, but George Osborne assures us he thinks it'll work *snigger*', and I think it would be even worse for the economy if he did.

All this will come back to haunt us at the 2015 election, though. It's not just that at that point, both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are going to claim credit for everything that went right, and blame the others for everything that didn't, but our 2015 election manifesto is likely to contain a lot of policies that work against much of what we did as part of the coalition. I see that as an inevitable part of governing as a coalition, but I'm not sure the bulk of the electorate will; there's already a perception of the Lib Dems as people who will flip-flop on policy at the drop of a hat, and I don't see that having gone away by 2015. Not that I think we can do anything about it - it's just another in a long list of 'sucks to be us' things about how things worked out after the last election.
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Sunday, September 19th, 2010 01:30 pm
A few days ago, Nick Clegg wrote an article for The Times (reproduced for free on his site here), in which he talked about the need for reform of the welfare system. In The Times, this attracted the headline "Poor must accept cuts in benefit, says Clegg", which itself attracted much understandable criticism.

Except, as you can see by reading the article, he didn't say that.

Except, as far as I can tell, he all-but did.

At least, he didn't give any other mechanism by which what he said made sense. The article says (a) that the welfare budget is too big and must be cut and (b) that we need to give people incentives to move off long-term benefit dependency. At first sight, those two objectives seem to line up, but at second sight there's something a little odd going on; if it were that easy to do get people off benefits, Labour would have done it. Nick Clegg himself acknowledges that this was a long-term objective of Labour's, and attacking supposed benefit scroungers was very much a feature of the last government. As Nick Clegg points out, this failed to achieve savings in the welfare budget.

So how is the coalition going to do it? I'm not denying that they might have a plan, but Nick's article is completely free of one. The vague rhetorical stuff at the end, about putting power in the hands of the welfare recipients and reshaping the State are all well and good, but contain no proposals that will clearly save money. Possibly it's just assumed they will. Call me a cynic, but if Labour's rhetoric didn't do it, I'm not at all convinced that ours will, either. Initiatives to get people back into work usually cost money. For that matter, greater scrutiny of benefit claimants to try to weed out those who are claiming falsely costs money. It's the flip-side of all that 'red tape' we're supposed to be saving money by eliminating; cut the red tape, and you'll catch fewer benefit cheats.

(Incidentally, I'm not at all convinced that there's much money to be saved by going after benefit cheats, or those who have supposedly opted for a 'lifestyle on benefits'. I take on trust that such people exist, because people tell me they know some, but I don't think there are that many of them. I don't think that vein can be mined for £4 billion, as George Osborne claims he can do, or more than a tiny fraction of that amount. What's more, I suspect that if you try to do it, the people you will actually hit are those who are bad at gaming the system, or who have trouble filling in forms - in other words, some of the most vulnerable even of those on welfare. But because of all this talk of the £4 billion coming from benefit cheats, the public at large will assume that anyone who gets their benefit cut must have somehow deserved it, and will think the cuts are fair.)

I don't see a cut in the number of people who need welfare happening, somehow. And if you cut the welfare budget without cutting the number of people on welfare, then you are, indeed, going to cut benefits to the poor.

I've just heard a speech by Danny Alexander in which he made much the same points as Nick Clegg but, again, without the linking jigsaw piece of how you get people off benefit while cutting the welfare budget. This is worrying. One game to play at Conference is to see which phrases and themes are repeated by all the on-message MPs, because those are the ones that the leadership wants conference to absorb, accept and repeat. This - 'we will cut the welfare bill and we will incentivise people to get back to work' is clearly one of them, which makes it worrying that, as stated, it has no mechanism to make it happen other than making the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society poorer and more vulnerable.

Danny Alexander also talked about going after taxpayers; both by closing loopholes that people currently exploit legally, and by going after tax evaders. This is welcome news, and appears to have been agreed with George Osborne. My worry, though, is that it will be hard to do; with taxpayers, the government is usually trying to claw back money from someone who already has it. With people on benefits, the government is trying to not pay someone who doesn't yet have the money. The latter is easier to do; what's more, if you do it unfairly, the taxpayer is in a much better position to mount a legal challenge than the person on benefits.

A repeated refrain in Danny Alexander's speech was that we were doing things 'not because they were easy, but because they were right'. My worry is that we (as Liberals in the coalition government) will cut benefits from the most vulnerable not because it is right, but because it is easy. I hope I'm wrong.
djm4: (Default)
Sunday, September 19th, 2010 08:12 am
...in praising Nick Clegg's speech last night, I should point out that jokes about Eric Pickles being the only Cabinet Minister you can see from space are:

a) unpleasantly sizeist.
b) technologically illiterate. Google Earth easily has the resolution to spot someone Clegg's size.
djm4: (Default)
Sunday, September 19th, 2010 12:40 am
(Fair warning; these aren't going to be in-depth. I write relatively slowly for a blogger, and I'm likely to only get an hour here and there to do them.)
Read more... )
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Thursday, June 24th, 2010 11:23 am
Most of what I could write here has already been written, so in lieu of financial analysis of the budget I offer you Millennium Dome, Elephant's take on it, and Mark Thompson covers most of the points I wanted to make about whether or not this is a 'betrayal' of Liberal Democrat principles.

This budget was always going to be a problem for Liberal Democrat supporters. People expect the Conservatives to tax the poor and let the rich off, so a budget that largely does the reverse comes as a pleasant surprise, and Lib-Dem-minded people like them for it. Conversely, the Liberal Democrats have always argued that early spending cuts and VAT rises are bad ideas, so when we end up supporting both of those things, it risks making us look hypocritical, indecisive and a bit weak. To people who broadly supported us during the election and liked what we were saying, this budget has had the effect of making us look as thought we've moved away from our position, while the Conservatives have moved towards it. And so they like us a bit less, and the Conservatives a bit more. In the short-term-memory arena of UK politics, that can be fatal. (I'm not saying that it's completely unreasonable; I think the effect is exaggerated, but if you voted for party X because of a particular policy, and then party X gets into government and doesn't implement that policy, you might well re-think your support for that party, depending on the reasons, and on whether there are other parties around that promise the same thing.)

However, that's an inevitable quality of coalition politics. It's not a surprise; I voted for the coalition expecting and accepting it. For the coalition to work, there are going to have to be occasions where Liberal Democrat MPs are going to have to vote for policies they'd vote against if they were solely in charge and, indeed, occasions where Conservative MPs are going to have to vote for policies that they'd vote against if they were solely in charge. With only a fifth of the MPs of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are probably going to have to do it more often than the Conservatives, and probably more often than we'd like.

That doesn't mean that the Liberal Democrats will have to vote for everything they don't like. Coalition isn't about agreeing on everything, it's about finding a programme that you can both support enough of to make it worthwhile, and which doesn't contain any red-line policies that you can't support. The programme may contain policies that the Liberal Democrats (or Conservatives) pledge to repeal or reverse at the earliest opportunity; it shouldn't contain any that either party is so unhappy with that it won't live with the policies for the next five years. (As a rule of thumb.)

It also doesn't mean I have to be happy when I get an e-mail from Nick Clegg in support of the budget that's weakly-worded, self-congratulatory, and strangely silent on the issue of welfare cuts or the VAT rise. I expect better. I realise that a letter to the membership is effectively public but ... well, we're not stupid. The Lib Dem membership can spot issues that are simply being avoided a mile off, and I think we deserve more respect than that.

There are things in that budget that come close to a red line issue for me; many of the benefit proposals will, inevitably, hit some of the most vulnerable members of our society who are exactly the people that the government should be protecting, and that's simply not something I want us to be doing at all. In a 'three strikes and you're out' view of my support for the coalition, this counts as ... well, less than a whole strike, but more than half of one. I'll be watching very closely to see what happens next. Ultimately, though, like Millennium Dome, I will support the budget with extreme reluctance, and an acknowledgement that my support for it carries responsibility for the damage it does.

Trailers for Channel Four's alternative election night coverage included, at one point, David Mitchell asserting that while most election coverage expressed the results in a series of meaningless statistics, on Channel 4 they were going to express them in terms of the number of people that would be likely to die as a result. As a result of this budget, people are likely to die. The combination of the benefit cuts (especially to housing benefit), the extra test for DLA and the VAT rise will cause a lot of vulnerable people to be financially worse off; if none of those die as a consequence, it will be a minor miracle. The only reason I can support the budget at all is the belief that more vulnerable people would die as a result of a Conservative-only budget, or from the instability that having no viable government at all would bring. That's not a comfortable conclusion; apart from anything else, it may be incorrect.

In conference motion terms, than, what I feel amounts to this:

Conference recognises that the emergency budget of 22 June was a compromise. Conference applauds the Liberal Democrat parliamentary team for implementing many Liberal Democrat policies in the budget, while also regretting that more measures did not make it, and that some that did were implemented less fully than Liberal Democrat policy would have wanted.

Conference deplores the many measures in the budget that go against Liberal Democrat policy. Conference accepts that the presence of those policies in a compromise budget did not cause the parliamentary team to reject the budget as a whole, and Liberal Democrat MPs who voted for the budget should rightly attract no censure for voting for those measures as part of the overall package.

Nonetheless, conference re-affirms its support for Liberal Democrat policy, and urges the Federal Policy Committee to include in any policy statements it makes a commitment to repeal those parts of the budget that go against Liberal Democrat policy.

Furthermore, as a more general point, conference recognises that as part of the coalition, the parliamentary party may be called upon to support measures that go against Liberal Democrat policy. Conference expects the parliamentary party to argue strongly for Liberal Democrat policy, and would not wish the parliamentary party to feel free to ignore all policy, but accepts that not all battles will be won, and that many compromises will be made. It does not believe this view is inconsistent with arguing strongly for all Liberal Democrat policy as a party, and urges all Liberal Democrats to do just that.


I'd vote for that.
djm4: (Default)
Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 12:21 pm
There's a room.
Cut, because I suspect it's triggering for depression and the like. )
[Note: this is distilled, concentrated, and almost certainly sounds worse than it it. And I feel a lot better for writing it. I really just wanted to share, because I'm interested if it rings any bells for anyone else.]
djm4: (Default)
Friday, May 7th, 2010 01:08 pm
Disclaimer: this is a complex subject, in which the outcome depends on a huge number of factors. I know a little about some of those factors, but that's about it, and people's stated positions on this are changing almost hourly. Therefore, what I write here shouldn't be taken with any confidence at all, nor thought of as a prediction. At best, it's a vague mapping out of a few of the potholes on the road ahead. At worst, most of it will turn out to be wrong or irrelevant, and will be contradicted by events, quite possibly before I've even had a chance to hit 'Post'.

Observation one: fifty-something MPs is a very small number from which to demand far-reaching concessions with long-term consequences. So no coalition with the Lib Dems is going to deliver full-blown electoral reform. The very best we can hope for is the promise of a referendum, but with much of the press and both the major parties backing FPTP, while that would be fun, it would also be expensive and pointless. I can see (and would approve of) us doing much sabre-rattling about Proportional Representation while quietly obtaining concessions on civil liberties, banking reform, the £10,000 tax threshold and education. These are all shorter term things that our coalition partners can overturn as soon as they get a majority. Note that 'as soon as they get a majority' pretty much relies on not bringing in a proportional voting system which is why, I say again, I don't think PR will happen. Tory and Labour MPs alike will not support a system that means they're never likely to have a majority again.

Observation two: we may not be talking about a coalition, but a minority government. A minority government has worked well in Scotland for the past three years. Note, though, that there the party in power is the SNP, which has no particular aversion to the idea of a hung or balanced parliament. Whichever of Labour or the Tories forms a minority government in the UK, it will be a party used to having a majority government, and with a vested interest in making a hung parliament look very, very bad indeed.

Expect a couple of years of every last painful decision to be blamed on a hung parliament (the Tories have already laid the groundwork for this in their infamous Hung Parliament Party broadcast). Expect announcements of the form: 'and we'll to shut a third of all hospitals; we were hoping not to have to do this, but the UK's economic recovery has been worse than forecast because of the hung parliament', and 'yes, soldiers are still dying in Afghanistan for a mission that no-one's properly defined yet, it's because of the paralysis caused by the hung parliament'.

After a couple of years of this, expect that party nominally in charge to hold an election and ask the voters to deliver a real mandate to govern by giving them a majority. If they time it really well, they'll be able to get a majority just as the economy is starting to recover as a natural part of the cycle, and be able to point to hung parliaments as a sign of economic disaster for a generation to come. (Actually, that holds just as well for a coalition as for a hung parliament).

Observation three: as that party with both the largest number of votes and the largest number of seats, the momentum is with the Tory party. When Nick Clegg said: "If a party with no majority has the strongest mandate, we accept the principle that that party has the right to govern either on its own or to reach out to others," he didn't spell out what he meant by a mandate. However, I can't see any reading that doesn't currently have the Tories as the single party with the strongest mandate. So by his own reasoning, Nick Clegg should accept the Tories' right to be the first party to try to form a government. That doesn't mean a Tory/Lib coalition is at all inevitable, though, nor does it rule out a Lib/Lab one if the Tories don't turn out to be able or willing to govern on their own. And bear in mind that I still think a minority government rather than a formal coalition is likely.

Observation four: it's a bloody good thing that their historical antipathy makes it almost impossible that the Tories and Labour should form a coalition. In many of their actual policies, they're a lot closer to each other than they are to the Lib Dems, even if the political zeitgeist hasn't quite caught up to this yet and still thinks of the Lib Dems as mid-way between them on everything. Fortunately, I think such a coalition would be literally unthinkable to most people in both parties.
djm4: (Default)
Sunday, May 2nd, 2010 05:36 pm
'If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and one, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind' – John Stuart Mill On Liberty

One important test of a political party is how well it stands up for its principles, even when those principles may cost it votes. I'd be the first to admit the the the Liberal Democrats do not have a 100% record on this, particularly in some local councils and election literature. But we also have some notable successes, and I feel that it's worth celebrating them.

I've already mentioned that we, both as a party and as individual activists, were deeply concerned with 'green' issues way before they hit the wider consciousness. The same goes for gay rights, as part of a wider commitment to equality, and it's easy to forget how far we've come in the last ten years, let alone the last twenty. In our 1992 manifesto, we included the following commitment: 'Guarantee equal rights for gay men and lesbians through changes to criminal law, anti-discrimination legislation and police practices. We will repeal Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act. We will create a common age of consent regardless of gender or sexual orientation.' Yes, there's a missing 'b' word there, but for 1992 this was remarkable, and Jeremy Paxman indeed mocked Paddy Ashdown for including such an obviously unpalatable clause in the manifesto.

But we stayed firm on that. Here, in 1999, is the vote to ban workplace discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Even just over ten years ago, this was considered a sufficiently tricky subject for the government to block it, but the Lib Dems were solid in their support for it. Here is Dr Evan Harris, almost ten years ago, being awesome on the subject of gay, lesbian and bisexual students being bullied as a result of the continued existence of Section 28. Even today, there are still battles to be fought, and here Nick Clegg is still fighting them (although, yes, I'd prefer it if he included 'bisexual' and talked in terms of 'same-sex' rather than 'gay' marriage).

Nick Clegg's support for the Gurkha cause is now well known, but Lib Dems have been campaigning for justice for the Gurkhas for over five years now, led initially by Peter Carroll, a Lib Dem activist in Maidstone. Again, it may be hard to see this as an unpopular cause now, but it was only just over a year ago when we were being warned of the supposed dangers of 100,000 Gurkhas and their dependents flooding into this country. Most of the credit for the victory belongs to Joanna Lumley and the many Gurkhas who tirelessly camapigned for justice, and I would never want this to be seen as mainly a Lib Dem victory, but it was a victory in which we gave strong, principled support.

Just over a year ago, there was a large protest planned in the City of London against the G-20 summit. Worried about the possibilities of police violence – based on the policing of similar protests earlier – the Lib Dems sent along several independent parliamentary observers, with the specific remit of monitoring the behaviour of the police, not the protesters. This was not a particularly popular move – this article by Daniel Finkelstein in The Times accurately reflected the view among much of white middle-class England that the protesters were a bunch of dangerous anarchists out looking for a fight, and that the the police were justified in using whatever tactics they needed to in order to stop them doing damage to valuable property. This view is still depressingly common even a year on, although I'm pleased to see that Daniel Finkelstein no longer shares it.

I have no idea to what extent Shirley Williams, David Howarth, Tom Brake et al shared the views of the protesters; I suspect that they were sympathetic to many of the concerns, but would probably disagree about how to address them, but I may be wrong. There was, in any case, no single message coming from the protesters. But as Liberal Democrats, they all had a genuine commitment to the rights of the protesters to protest.

As it turned out, it's a good thing they were there. Tom Brake's report from within the kettle was one of the key ones highlighting the problems with the police tactics, all the more powerful by coming from an MP. His convincingly-argued claim that the crowd was infiltrated by police agent provocateurs trying to goad the protesters into attacking the police has never, as far as I can tell, been satisfactorally addressed.

But it could have been very different. When the Liberal Democrats decided to monitor the protests, they had no idea how the day was going to go. The publicity for us, if we had been seen to be supporting violent protesters against a police presence trying to contain them, could have been very bad indeed. In fact, that's how the protests were reported for about 24 hours afterwards, until it emerged that no, the protesters hadn't been bombarding police trying to help Ian Tomlinson, and that the mysterious absence of any CCTV footage didn't stop there being plenty recorded on the ground on camcorders and mobile phones. However, our observers weren't there to get good publicity. They were there to defend the rights of the protesters against the police, and they'd be there again whatever the outcome.

We also, as I've mentioned before, have a manifesto commitment to scrap control orders and reduce pre-charge detention to a maximum of 14 days. In this, we are standing up for the rights of terrorist suspects, not a well liked section of society (and, therefore, a section with the greatest need of protection).

The principle of evidence-based policy making scored a recent victory in the Science and Technology Committee's recent recommendation that the MHRA should stop licensing homoeopathic remedies and that the NHS should stop funding them. Dr Evan Harris's contribution to this debate has been so widely recognised that it's often missed that the Committee's chair, Phil Willis, is another Liberal Democrat MP who was instrumental in asking searching questions of those giving evidence in favour of homeopathy. Phil is retiring at this election, and will be sadly missed. Evidence-based policy making may not seem like an unpopular cause to many people reading this, but in the wider community, threatening to stop funding homoeopathy did not go down well.

I should probably mention the Real Women campaign, launched by Jo Swinson at our Autumn conference last year. This has been the subject of some derision – the positive body image aspect of it was mocked by Anthony Jay's Yes Minister segment on the Lib Dem manifesto on Newsnight – but is something we're campaigning on because we feel that it's vitally important for the welfare of women in our society. The issue that's got most attention is that of labelling adverts that use airbrushed images – and note that it is labelling not banning, as many critics of the campaign would have you believe – but the paper has also contributed policy on name blanking on job applications to the manifesto. Whether or not you feel that the Real Women campaign is an unpopular cause will probably depend on your familiarity with the issues, but it is a grass-roots campaign that arises out of principle and attempts to persuade others that it's right, rather than being an obvious vote winner.

I like being in a party where I have at least some hope that if our principles are unpopular, we'll stick to our principles and try to change public opinion.
djm4: (Default)
Saturday, May 1st, 2010 10:20 pm
Sorry, life has caught up with me and I haven't had time to finish it. I'll try to get at least a couple more out between now and the election, but they are taking up a good part of the day when I write them, and it's just possible that I should be doing something a bit less self-indulgent like going out and actually delivering some leaflets. ;-)
djm4: (Default)
Friday, April 30th, 2010 09:48 pm
[Note - I've been running all of these past [personal profile] sashajwolf before posting them, and she's been doing fantastic work in picking up on typos, misspellings and areas where I'm not clear. But this post in particular is much improved on my first draft as a result of her input, and I thank her greatly for it.]

'Frankly, I think the odds are slightly in your favour at hand fighting.'
'It's not my fault being the biggest and the strongest. I don't even exercise.' - Westley and Fezzik, The Princess Bride

This wasn't the post I was expecting to make. However, when I wrote my first post on the subject of the Freedom Bill, I wrote a long section on the slipperiness of the word 'fair' (contrasting it with the supposedly hard-to-explain 'free'). In the end, I decided that it broke up the flow of the piece and stuck it in a footnote. Then I decided that even the footnote was superfluous.

And yet … fairness is a word we use a lot in our manifesto. So possibly I should consider what it means. To do that, I need to set out some of what's meant by 'fair'. It may seem intuitively obvious what fairness means, but intuition can trip us up on this one.

A 6-sided die is fair. A pack of cards is also fair, but they're both fair in very different ways. (I'm ignoring, for the sake of argument, trick cards and a loaded die.)

Initially, they're similar. If you roll a die once, you have an equal 1/6 chance of any particular number showing. If you deal a single card, you have an equal 1/52 chance of any particular card turning up. Aside from the numbers, that's the same. If that's hard to see because of the numbers, let's consider a much-reduced pack of cards where you only have Ace to 6 of hearts. Now when you deal, you have an equal 1/6 chance of any given card showing, just as with the die.

It's what happens next that's interesting. When you roll the die again, you still have a 1/6 equal chance of any particular number showing. But with the cards (assuming your first card is still on the table and hasn't been shuffled back into the pack), you only have five remaining cards, so you only have a 1/5 chance of any given card showing.

Let's say you've done this five times. And let's say that with the die, you've (by chance) thrown every number but a five. What are the chances of throwing a five on the next throw? 1/6, just as they always will be. But with the cards, if you've so far laid down every card except the five of hearts, the next card is certain to be the five.

So they're both fair, but they're a different sort of fair. A die is fair in the sense that every time you roll it, you've got an even chance of throwing the number you want. A pack of cards is 'fair' in the sense that the card you want will always come up at some point if you deal for long enough, and that it will come up exactly as many times as any other card (i.e. once) for each deal of the pack.

This may be trivially obvious if you're a gamer – in fact the most recent rules I saw for Settlers of Catan included a suggestion to use cards rather than dice to get round just this problem – in which case I apologise. But I have found that many people don't find the difference intuitively obvious. I realise that someone who insists that they are 'due' a six when rolling a die may be perfectly aware that a die has no memory, but I think many people have trouble with more complex scenarios in the real world.

The real world, as a whole, is very 'fair-like-dice'. Generally speaking, if you're having a run of bad luck in your life, you are not due some good luck soon as a result. But that's not what the stories tell us, with their happy endings, and their just deserts, and their tying up of loose ends in a satisfying manner. It's not what the notion of karma would have us believe. In fact, in life, 'fair-like-dice' often looks the very opposite of fair: 'why do bad things happen to good people? It's so unfair!' we cry. Well, bad things happen to good people because bad things have a (roughly) equal chance of happening to everyone. That's fair, in its way, but it's unpalatable.

Actually, and I thank [personal profile] sashajwolf for pointing this out, it's a good deal worse than that. The overall processes of the world may be 'fair-like-dice' in principle, but at the level of human society, the rich, powerful and privileged generally play with dice that history has already loaded strongly in their favour. Most of the stories, and karma, suggest that this loading of the dice will inevitable have a penalty later. It won't, by itself. Brecht, for one, knew this, and his stories tend to turn out very differently as a result.

When Liberal Democrats talk about making things fairer, then, we are frequently talking about redressing the inequalities of life. We are basically talking about (temporarily) loading a few specific dice ourselves to create a fairer outcome, or at least giving the dice a memory and a conscience. I should point out that I have no problem at all with 'fair' being used in this way; it's a perfectly legitimate use of the word 'fair'. I just feel that it's important to keep straight what sort of 'fair' we mean.

As often as not, we think we mean 'fair' as synonymous with 'equal', although as I point out in the next paragraph, that may be a mistake. Not everyone equates the two. To some people, equality is unfair, because it may mean giving up advantages that people feel that they've 'earned'. 'Privilege' is usually unearned, but that doesn't stop privileged people from squealing if you try to redress the inequality that privilege confers and remove the privilege.

Part of the problem is that even a concept as apparently simple as 'equality' can be complex. How do you achieve equality, in a world where inequality indelibly stains the fabric of our society? Is it enough just to provide a 'level playing field'? Sometimes, yes, but you also have to consider the teams that will play on that field. If only one team is composed of players who can afford the best equipment, who have been trained to play the game by the best coaches, who have spent their entire lives watching people of their race, gender, class, accent or body shape excel at the very game they're about to play, then the levelness of the playing field becomes an irrelevance.

This is why fairness is as crucial to liberalism as freedom is. Without fairness – a pro-active, interventionist fairness – freedom tends simply to increase existing inequalities. Without fairness, freedom of speech gives a voice only to those who can shout loudest. Of course, without freedom, fairness becomes imposed conformity. A liberal society needs both.

Take schools, and our policy of giving every child a fair start in life. Of course we don't mean 'fair' in the sense of 'stuck with whatever chances they were given when they were born'. We mean 'fair' in the sense of 'as equal a chance as possible with their fellow children'. It's not enough to supposedly level the playing field by making sure every child enters a nominally similar school at the same age, although that's a good aim in its own right. We also have to help those children who have already fallen behind; to take those who have thrown ones and twos all their life, and throw them a couple of sixes. And yes, those children who've had a string of sixes so far may well have to accept some ones and twos for a while to redress the balance. All people are not created equal with respect to opportunity in the real world, and I believe it's one of the key roles of government to redress that inequality in a fair way.

Liberals should be mistrustful of any call for the government to intervene in this way. We should set high standards for agreeing to it, and constantly review whether it's still needed. But to try to build a fair society without any intervention at all seems to me impossible (although I have the greatest respect for my anarchist friends who feel differently). And we should remember that the people in power will probably be poor judges of whether it's needed, so we shouldn't dismiss the call for intervention simply because we can't immediately see a need for it.

When we talk of fair votes, the situation's a little more complex. One person: one vote sounds the very essence of fairness, but the devil's in the details. In this case, as my blog entry of a couple of days ago points out, it's easy for 'one person: one vote' to produce an intuitively very unfair result, and not even necessarily obvious what a completely 'fair' result would look like. All voting systems have edge cases where the result is clearly unfair; the aim must be to have in place a system that gives reasonably fair results given the conditions. Given current voting patterns, First Past The Post is blatantly not fair.

Society – particularly looked at in terms of 'fairness' - is a dynamic system. I studied dynamic systems when doing control systems engineering for my degree, and one of the key features of them is that they're very hard to control or stabilise simply from taking a snapshot in time of the system. You need to consider the known past states of the system and the predicted future states, and you will almost certainly need to adjust your strategy constantly over time to respond to the change in state of the system.

So if (for example) we're trying to address gender inequality, then we may need to take actions that redress disadvantages for women. Seen in a snapshot of time, they may look as though they give women an advantage, but looked at in a longer-term context, they're (often barely) addressing an underlying inequality. Take the Campaign for Gender Balance within the Lib Dems – an organisation which among other things offers training, support and mentoring for women candidates. If everything else were equal, the lack of an equivalent organisation for men would seem unfair, but everything else is very far indeed from equal. The equivalent organisation for men is 'the party in general', both historically and currently.

No liberal should be comfortable with policies like that as an indefinite solution, nor would we want to keep them in a (hypothetical and possibly unattainable) world where gender inequality has disappeared, but if we don't use them in our current state, things will tend to the status quo. It's not simply that gender equality will not improve, it may well get worse, as (for example) higher-paid jobs appeal less and less to women, who don't think of them as the sort of jobs women do. Over time, positive feedback restores the system to an equilibrium, and we need to constantly push to stop that happening.

In this case, equilibrium - despite lexical similarity - does not mean equality for all. If anything, it means an inequality that will continue to re-assert itself without effort.

Another approach, of course, is to encourage people to see their identity differently, so that a woman can look at a well-paid man and think 'that person is like me; I could see myself in that job', where 'like me' is based not on gender (nor for that matter on race, religion, age or any other marker) but solely on being someone who is fulfilled by doing the job in question. That, too, is an extremely liberal goal, to try to free people from the constraints of conformity, and we can enthusiastically work towards it alongside other approaches. But I expect it's a very long-term solution, and may well take generations to achieve.

This is my concept of fairness, and I find it resonates well with how fairness is understood in the Liberal Democrats, and expressed in our manifesto. I'll return to the theme in at least a couple of my upcoming blog entries, but felt that the concept itself deserved its own entry.