miss_s_b: (Mood: Liberal)
2015-11-24 05:00 pm

When you look at the older generation and are counting the years till you turn into them

Me: "Just think: in thirty years I'm going to be Shutty."
Him: "Nahhhhh... in thirty years you'll be Mick Taylor. Ten years after THAT you'll be Shutty*."
This little snippet of conversation I had recently with a LibDem activist from a neighbouring local party has been preying on my mind today, along with the maxim "all it takes to go from Liberal to Conservative is thirty years without changing a single opinion".

Both of the names mentioned above are people I would class as proper, dyed-in-the-wool Liberals. I also think it's fair to say that both of them have never stopped engaging with the world around them, with both younger and older people, and people from cultures not their own. They don't fit with the maxim because neither Mick not Shutty has ever stopped learning, growing, and changing. Neither of them has ever stopped paying attention. I'm not saying I agree with either of them on All Things, part of the point of this is that I don't**, but I know that any opinion either of them advances has been reached by deliberation, not a jerking knee.

There are people in the party, though, who aren't like that***. They only ever listen to people from their own cohort, and when they talk to people of different cohorts they talk at them not to them, and they start to become like the person in the maxim. They sit in their own little echo chamber, and if any person who doesn't agree with them in any way happens to come to their attention, they get very confused, scared and angry.
  • They start telling people that they aren't proper Liberals because they aren't doing as they are told****
  • They tell people who don't agree with their outdated views on x or y thing that they aren't proper Liberals.
  • Their war cry is "shut up and go deliver some leaflets"***** because people not of their cohort shouldn't contribute ideas, they should just be cannon fodder.
It's desperately, desperately sad. It drives people away from the party, and it hampers our campaigning ability, and it doesn't make anyone any happier, least of all the people who are confused, scared and angry and screaming about how nobody these days is a proper Liberal like wot they are.

So I hope that in thirty years I do turn into Mick, and then possibly after that Shutty, because the alternative is too awful and depressing to contemplate. But given my hatred of false binaries I'm hoping there's a middle way: when I grow up I think I'd like to be Pauline Nash. Or maybe Jeanette Sunderland.

* Shutty being Lord Shutt of Greetland, who has the most encyclopaedic knowledge of what has happened in Calderdale and it's predecessor areas in the Lib Dems and Liberals for the last fifty years. Mick Taylor being slightly younger and slightly more firebrandy.
** I've had political disagreements with both Mick and Shutty. Mostly, it was fun having a discussion with a person who genuinely wanted to actually discuss things and get to the truth of a matter, rather than shout down an opponent. Sometimes one of us will persuade the other, sometimes we'll agree to disagree. We always listen to each other, though.
*** thankfully not in Calderdale
**** which half a second's rational thought would tell them is a contradiction in terms
***** delivering leaflets, not canvassing, because we wouldn't want the people not of the echo chamber to actually talk to voters.
miss_s_b: (Default)
2015-10-17 01:30 pm

Repost: Why I am Against "Positive Discrimination"

(NB: this post has been going in various forms since '08 and was last posted in '13)

This list is presented in what I feel to be order of importance of the arguments.
  1. The argument from perpetuation. This is the big one as far as I am concerned. It's the practical argument. Positive Discrimination doesn't work, and worse than that, it makes the situation continue and can even make it worse. Using discrimination to fight discrimination is like fucking for virginity. It doesn't even stop specific instances, and it definitely doesn't get to the root cause. It's salving - no, not even salving, covering up - a symptom, while leaving the disease utterly intact. We need to fight discrimination, not perpetuate it.

  2. The argument from individuality. Positive Discrimination treats all women and all men (or all racial groups, or all LGBT+ folk, or whatever) as representatives of their group first, and individuals second. You don't have to have known me for very long to know how far I am from the average for women in many, many, many areas. I firmly believe that it is perfectly normal to deviate from the norm. I am an individual. I am not there to be a tick in the box of a diversity agenda, and I believe that each individual has experiences and needs which are individual to them and not predetermined by any visible physical factor.

  3. The argument from commonality. Just because someone has similar physical features to you does not mean that they will be of the same views as you, have the same experiences as you, or understand you any better. I believe that Julian Huppert understands me better and does a better job of representing my views than Nadine Dorries, for example.

  4. The argument from equality of opportunity. AKA two wrongs don't make a right. If you discriminate in favour of some groups, you necessarily discriminate against others. This is manifestly unfair, and unfairness is in fact, what we are arguing against here.

  5. The argument from mediocrity. If you discriminate in favour of one group, you are potentially promoting people who may not be as well-qualified or capable simply because they belong to the group in question; I thought this was what we were fighting against? For generations cis het white men have beaten better qualified women, black people and LGBT folk simply by being cis het white men. reversing this does not make it any less discriminatory.

  6. The argument from resentment. Linked to the above: every single person who gets a job due to positive discrimination has to fight the perception that they only got the job because of the group that they belong to, however well-qualified and good at the job they are. Sexists (or racists or homophobes etc) will assume that any woman (black person, LGBT+ person) who got any position where there is a positive discrimination policy in place got it because of the protected characteristic, not because they are actually qualified. The person getting the position is therefore hamstrung before they even begin, and face resentment that no person should face. You don't have to take my word for this, look at how affirmative action is discussed in the US.

  7. The "Sins of the Fathers" argument. Positive Discrimination means that some people will suffer through no fault of their own, but because they were born to a privileged group. This is manifestly unfair.

Really, it all boils down to the fact that if you use positive discrimination, you are accepting that the ends (greater diversity) justify the means. By that logic, you should also accept torture, pre-emptive invasion of other countries, etc. etc. This is not, in my view, how a good liberal should think.

I also hate the slippery euphemistic re-naming of it as "affirmative action" or "positive action", like that changes what it is. I don't think that one needs to have the same attributes as someone else to be able to have empathy with their situation, and I don't think that one needs to be a member of a marginalised group to understand that marginalising people is bad and wrong. I don't think a person's attributes qualify them to represent me, I think their brain does. Selecting women because only women can represent women is as bad, in my view, as suppressing women because only men are smart enough to decide what's good for us.

Diversity is not an end in itself. It's a means to an end of fairness and better governance.

Now, I'm not saying that women (and other marginalised groups) don't face structural and institutionalised inequalities; I know they do, and I rail against them regularly. But to say we can solve all that by using positive discrimination is like saying you can cover third degree burns with a bit of make-up. It might make things look better for a while, but in the long term it makes the problem worse by preventing actual solutions from being used, because look, we've solved it.

I want discrimination solved. I really really do. And at bottom, that is why I am against positive discrimination.
miss_s_b: (Mood: Facepalm)
2015-10-06 10:48 am
Entry tags:

What happens when politicians demonise each other

"What do you expect from Tories? They're evil!"
"What do you expect from The Left? They're so self-righteous!"
Liberals are up themselves, greens couldn't run a whelk stall, kippers are racist... You know what this relentless tide of assertion of stereotype does? It makes the public hate all of us. Because quite a lot of the public believe all the negative assertions. We're all nasty and selfish and incompetent and have no empathy and, and...

Now I'm not saying I've never done this. I'm as prone to groupthink and tribalism as the next politician, although I try very hard to avoid it. All I'm saying is that most people, the vast majority of the general public, don't feel like they belong to any of our tribes and view all of us with suspicion. If we treat each other with contempt, how can we blame the public for doing the same to all of us?

I think we all need to be reminded sometimes that while our political opponents might have wildly different ideas to us, the vast majority of them came into politics for the same reasons we did and do: to change the world for the better. We might argue with their ideas of better, or how to achieve those ends even if what we can agree on what the ends might be, but I've met very very few politicians who weren't in it for the best of reasons*.

Shall we have a nice chorus of Wouldn't It Be Nice If Everyone Was Nice now? ;)

* no, seriously. The stereotype of the money-grubbing snout-in-trough politico is so wrong it's laughable - most politicians lose vast sums of money on it. But that's a rant for another day.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
2015-08-17 05:20 pm

OMOV for Lib Dem Conference: a brief outline of the problems I have with it

OMOV is going to come up again at conference, and it's one of those ideas that superficially seductive, and, to be honest, I lean in favour of just from a simplicity point of view. However*, there are some arguments against which I think need to be answered before I'll consider voting for it. I'll outline them below, along with some ideas which could mitigate (although not necessarily solve) each one:

1, Entryism. Yeah, I know, we're the Lib Dems, who's going to bother? But the current system of conference reps does at least mean that someone who comes to conference with a voting pass has at least been given a cursory glance over by their local party. This could be mitigated by having a length of service clause (you can't vote till you've been a member for a given amount of time) but that wouldn't deter really determined entryists, and would mean that the one person you've thought of as a natural lib dem, who your local party has been courting for years, would also be denied a vote when under the current system they aren't. Also people who continually let their memberships lapse due to forgetfulness would be perpetually unable to vote. This could be mitigated by people signing up for direct debits.

2, Geographic concentration. This is already an issue - wherever conference is closest to supplies the majority of voting reps for that conference. I can't see OMOV making this any better, and I can see it potentially getting worse. A lot of policies we vote on have different applications in different regions. This could be mitigated by allowing online voting, but that opens up whole new vistas of cans of worms.

3, Tyranny of the Majority. Y'all just knew I was going to bring up John Stuart Mill at some point, didn't you? Dear old JS. If you have OMOV, and geographic concentration, and entryism, you run the risk of packing of policy votes. Now, arguably, this already happens. We've all** been in the hall for Julian and Evan's traditional "get rid of faith schools" motion/amendment, which it's quite clear the hall is going to vote for, and then the payroll vote come rolling in and vote it down. The payroll vote is smaller now, but that doesn't mean other packing factions won't emerge, and OMOV would make it lots easier for them. Packing of votes necessarily means smaller local parties/AOs/SAOs get less says, and I, for one, am in favour of diversity of opinion. This could be mitigated by retaining the current conference rep system.

4, Single Issue Pressure Groups. People would turn up en masse to vote on one motion. Can you imagine what 38 degrees would do to conference? This could be mitigated by retaining the current voting rep system, or by the long service requirement

5, Doesn't solve the problems it claims to solve. Becoming a conference rep is touted as a major barrier to participation in conference by proponents of OMOV. I have never known of a local party that does not have difficulty filling up all their available conference rep slots, even the ones that believe the emails that come from head office telling you you're entitled to less than you actually are. If turning up to your local party AGM and putting your hand up when the chair says "Who's going to conference, then?" is an insurmountable barrier to participation for a particular individual, I don't think that OMOV will make them more likely to participate. Maybe it will for a few, but not the majority. And yes, there IS a problem with moribund local parties in some areas, but OMOV doesn't suddenly invigorate them. No, the major thing that prevents people participating in conference is that it costs a small fortune, and again, OMOV does not solve this. This could be mitigated by not telling people a system is going to do something it demonstrably isn't and can't? IDK.

Now, I'm not actually dead set against OMOV. As I said at the beginning, it has a beguiling simplicity. But I would like to see genuine solutions to the problems I have with it before I vote for an unknown system over one that I know, and know works.

* up yours, Govey
** for a given definition of all
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
2015-07-20 09:22 am

On Corbyn: It seems the right-wing press have learned nothing from what happened with the SNP

You can't move these days for articles in the right wing press, and even in some Labour outlets, declaring how Labour will never get back in unless they stop demonising the right; I'd like to posit an equivalent theory: that right-wingers, especially those in charge of certain national newspapers, as well as those who have been in charge of the Labour party for the last 20 years or so, don't understand what motivates lefty voters.

Look at what happened with the SNP last general election. The more the rightwing press fulminated about what a disaster it would be if the SNP came close to the levers of power, the more the Scots voted for them, and the more the English said they wished they could. People in this country in general, but especially its lefties, do not like being told what to do. They don't like being told what to do by politicians they mostly detest, and they don't like being told what to do by journalists they trust even less than politicians.

The mood around Corbyn, and the reason his support is snowballing, is intrigued. Everybody who pays attention to politics had heard of Burnham and Cooper; few had heard of Corbyn. He's therefore new and interesting. The EDM about Pigeon bombs just makes him look like he has a sense of humour. He speaks human, unlike any of the other three Blairite clones. And the more the right-wing press and the right-wingers currently leading the labour party squeak about what a disaster he will be and how nobody should vote for him, the more people like him.

I have, actually, been wondering if it's some sort of deep dark reverse psychology in action. Like "we must say he'll be awful, that's the only way to get people to vote for him!" Because, of course, there is also the right wing view that if Corbyn wins, the Labour party are doomed.

I genuinely think that those who say he'll be an unelectable disaster if he wins are dead wrong. The received wisdom that you have to be either Tory or Tory Lite to win only has worked so far, sure. But it's done so by depressing turnout, not by converting vast numbers of voters. Normal People countrywide who haven't voted in years will vote Corbyn the same reason people in London voted Boris in the first mayoral election he stood in: they think it'll piss off the political elites, and they think that'll be funny. Lefties who haven't had anyone to positively vote for in decades will flock to him because he speaks the language of hope, not despair. And it'll almost certainly be the death of the Green party as all those watermelons roll home.

So yeah, if I was a Labour member, I'd probably vote Corbyn, and do it with a song in my heart. And I think all those rightwingers who are encouraging votes for Corbyn because they think it will kill that Labour party are in for a nasty shock if he actually does win. Lucky for all concerned, I'm not and never would be a member of that bunch of authoritarians, right?
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
2015-05-29 12:17 pm
Entry tags:

On the political use of wording.

One of the big successes the Labour party had in the last government was the creation of the term "bedroom tax" for something which is not even a tax, and the blaming of the coalition government for it when it is something they started*. Labour are really good at blaming other people for things they started and/or wholeheartedly embraced - tuition fees, privatising the NHS, etc. - but what I'm really interested in is the use of language to fight a perceived injustice.

One of the most consistent trends of the last ten years (again, started by Labour) is the punishment of the poor for being poor. Benefit caps, having to jump through arbitrary hoops to continue receiving a meagre JSA, ridiculous work capability assessments, all of these are equally embraced by both Labservative parties. I was working at the CAB under Blair, and a huge amount of time was taken up by appealing disability benefit decisions, etc. And part of the reason these things are accepted by the general public is that they have swallowed the Kool Aid that people on benefits are scroungers - to the extent that even people on benefits, while they assert their own right to receive benefits, will none-the-less think everyone else on benefits is a scrounger.

The problem is that most benefits don't actually benefit the person in nominal receipt of them. The claimant doesn't see any gain from soaring housing benefit because it goes into their landlord's pocket, not theirs. Tax credits mainly help employers who either can't or won't pay decent wages. JSA conditional on workfare benefits all those employers who get subsidised to "employ" a free workforce rather than people they actually have to pay and train. So I propose a change of wording.

Housing benefit is easy. Housing benefit is Landlord's benefit. When you refer to it as Landlord's benefit you are calling it what it is. Tax credits, I propose, should be called "Exploitative wage top up". There's a whole raft of disability benefits which should be called things like "paltry amount grudgingly given to try and keep you out of hospital" or something similar.

What benefits do you think should be renamed?

* yes, I am aware that the LHA has some differences from the private sector version, but it's the same concept.
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
2015-05-06 08:48 am

Politics is Show Business For Ugly People; press & politicians both collude to keep it that way

I am writing this as I listen to John Humphries pretend to interrogate the prime minister. Humphries asks questions in an aggressive way, he talks over Cameron, he words things provocatively... but he still lets Cameron avoid giving a single proper answer. Cameron is at this very second saying how he needs to address the big questions and not duck them while ducking Humphries' questions. It's show business for Cameron, because he gets to tell everyone he's submitted himself to a grueling Humphries interrogation; but it's also show business for Humphries because he gets to appear to be the fearless interviewer, speaking truth to power. It's all bollocks. Both Cameron and Humphries are dancing a choreographed dance around pre-determined limits, and neither of them strays for a nanosecond from the formal pattern.

David Cameron and George Osborne have both visited Calderdale more than once in this campaign. Nobody knew they were coming before they came except for the press and a select few in their own party and a few council officers. Each event was carefully stage managed. No ordinary people were to be allowed anywhere near. No inconvenient questions were to be asked. And it's not just the tories - Labour and my own party are as bad. Every top rank politician lives in abject terror of a Gillian Duffy Moment, so they allow the party machines to collude with the press in the Battle Bus culture in which pre-selected journos go to stage-managed photo calls in which only the most photogenic and meek ordinary people are even allowed into the building.

This isn't how politics should be. For a very few politicians it's not how it IS - people like Tessa Munt and David Ward haven't gone very far down this rabbit hole. But since being in government our leadership and leading figures have swallowed that this way of behaving is the way to do it - certainly it applied when Vince Cable came to Halifax. It's all so fake, and people can see it's fake, but when they tell politicians they detest the fakery politicians just stage-manage things all the harder.

And this, by the way, is yet another reason why Nicola Sturgeon is doing well this election - she has let the great unwashed come near, unlike any of the Westminster leaders.

Frankly, I don't care what either of the Labservative parties do because they are both as bad as each other, but I really really wish my party would stop doing this shit. And I swear to you, gentle reader, that I will do everything I can within the party to stop it happening.

If we can't have discussions with any ordinary member of the public, we don't deserve political success, and if a Gillian Duffy Moment happens, if we can't deal with THAT we don't deserve political success either. A politician who has to be insulated from people who disagree with him unless they are carefully stage managed is no politician at all.