It’s my duty to vote Tory

4 October 2008

apparently.

Prospective parliamentary candidate Margot James believes the Conservative Party really has changed its attitude to homosexuality… An “astonishing” number of target seats have picked gay candidates, she told a Stonewall fringe meeting at the party conference in Birmingham. “I have yet to meet another (gay) woman I regret to say – but we do have a marvellous number of gay men.”

Going on to talk about how, because gay people are less likely to have children they get less out of the taxes they pay she says we should have angst with Labour’s waste of our taxes. “There is so much wrong with this government’s policy, gay people should not just vote Conservative, they have a duty to vote Conservative”.

How dare this millionaire Tory lesbian, who has been heard saying that she hoped her partner’s name, Jay, would be mistaken for that of a man by reporters, tell me what my duty is. Her party responsible for some of the most homophobic, damaging legislation of recent times, which it can’t quite shake off. But she says they’ve changed. On the face of it they may have. But what of the blue-rinse brigade?

But my anger isn’t just directed to damage her party’s done in the past. It’s the narrow-minded blinkered view that, just because I don’t have children, it’s my duty to vote for a party that would spend my tax more wisely? I’m not going to pretend this thought hasn’t crossed my mind before but there’s something bigger than the individual isn’t there? There’s something more important about all these people on this island living together…

Some important things to consider: This country spends 0.5% of it’s GDP on the under 5’s, half as much as France who spend 1%, and Denmark spend 2% – helping children in their formative years to develop the skills that they’ll need as they go through to school and into work (it’s proven that these years are vital to development) to end cycles of poverty. And it’s not just the under 5’s, it’s wider spending too, schemes helping people get back to work, schemes giving kids something to do and some purpose. And what about Labour’s pledge to end child poverty, which is slowly succeeding?

It has been estimated that the UK Government needs to invest an extra £3bn a year in tax and benefits to meet the 2010 target of halving child poverty. Three billion sounds like a lot, but it is the equivalent of just 0.5% of total Government expenditure. In 2007, City bonuses totalled £14bn; BP made £3.44bn in three months this year while thousands up and down the country are plunged into fuel poverty… It’s not just about morals either. We cannot afford to not make this extra investment. The long-term costs of doing nothing are much greater with the TUC estimating that £40bn a year is wasted on tackling the consequences of child poverty. Child poverty limits children’s future life chances for employment, training, positive family and social relationships, good physical and mental health and longevity and it affects their childhood experiences profoundly.

Does she think this doesn’t affect my life? These are the people around me, these are the people who I share the street with when I walk along, these are the people I will rely on to contribute to society when I’m older, even contribute to my pension. It’ will cost me dearly, and society even more, if I – as a citizen (rather than a gay, childless man) choose to take the same individualistic narrow minded point of view as she does.

It will never be my duty to vote for any party – it will certainly never be my duty to vote for a party because of my sexuality. Especially one that has such a dubious homophobic history and tells me my duty is based on such a narrow minded opinion of life.

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Tory Boyz?

31 August 2008

I’d heard a lot of good things about Tory Boyz before I went to see it last night and I can’t deny it is a good play. The acting and the performance (including some very cleverly choreographed scene changes) were particularly impressive and the funny well-written script was performed well by the National Youth Theatre.

The Play is essentially about a young Tory researcher, Sam, quietly gay. It links his struggle to express his sexuality with Ted Heath and the recently re-asked question, “have we already had our first gay prime minister?” – to succeed it’s necessary to suppress ones sexuality.

But it is difficult to connect with any of the play’s characters. It didn’t make me feel emotion for any of the characters – I neither despised nor particularly felt for any of them. I was neither repulsed by their views on politics or sexuality nor inspired by them. And, on the face of it, there were elements of the play that could have been wholly erased with little consequence allowing more time for the titled subject matter (there were far fewer of the Tory boyz than I expected).

Following the play I decided to look up a couple of reviews and articles. The play was developed after the director of the National Youth Theatre asked playwright James Graham to write a play about Ted Heath. This goes some way to explaining the large cast and multiple story-line strands which – I imagine – a play not in this context may trim. The play is also seen as quite an accurate portrayal of the way parliamentary offices work. Like Michael Billington in the Guardian, however, I’m not sure I agree with the premise – the need to hide sexuality to succeed in politics.

Perhaps I’m to blame for the faults I found. I was expecting something which confirms my perception of gay Tories, from the ones I’ve met. And they’re not quite as quietly contemplative as Sam. A play specifically about gay boyz in the Tory party would have been quite different to this if it was based in reality. As I imagine it would in any political party. But this wasn’t the premise of the play.

Right-wing sympathising theatre is rare. I think I was expecting something which showed the spectrum of gay Tories as I know them, reaffirming my opinions of the lines in the play that “If it is wrong, I can guarantee that somewhere there is a Tory doing it . . .” – but it didn’t. And while Sam’s explanation of why a working class, northern gay man can be Tory is eloquent and thoughtful it didn’t make me sympathise with him any more. But maybe that was the point. Maybe the fact that it didn’t conform to my expectations and prejudices is exactly what the play’s all about. In an interview with the Pink Paper, playwright James Graham said:

‘When I was commissioned to write the play, everyone assumed that it would be a satire. I’m from an ex-mining town near Manchester. I saw my community dismantled in the early 1990s, but I still came to this play with an open mind. Everyone assumed that I would draw the conclusion in the play that the part hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Actually, it’s more interesting than that. It’s boring to just bash the Tories, that’s been done. It’s far more interesting to challenge the liberal perception of conservatives.’

…and, while, from my experience I’m not sure my liberal perceptions are as unfounded as Tory Boyz would suggest, I’d expected to be more enraged, but maybe that means Graham succeeded. Maybe somewhere in my mind it did challenge my liberal perceptions.


Northern Scum

15 August 2008

I haven’t finished reading the Policy Exchange’s latest gem, Cities Unlimited. This is the report this week which – despite the PX being “the tories favourite thinktank” – David Cameron called insane. It’s the report that, and I’m paraphrasing here, said “let them move south” like Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake” – ignorant of reality.

It’s a shame I haven’t finished reading it yet – I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it when I do. The idea that, because “northern” towns and cities have had money poured into them and are still not doing as well as thriving places in the south we should help more people move south to work and live, is an interesting one. It’s based on pure geographic principles (our northern cities are in the wrong place – no more is cotton and shipping an economic driving force), but a rather ignorant and arrogant suggestion nonetheless.

But for a rather intelligent academic with a supposedly switched-on political mind, it’s a rather odd assertion to make. They say:

The reality turns out to be pretty stark. Margaret Thatcher famously declared that “you can’t buck the market”, we find that you can’t buck geography either. Cities such as Liverpool and Hull, for example, were perfectly placed for economic success in 1875 when Britain was a maritime nation, and imports, exports and even trade within Britain often went by sea. But today air, road and rail transport dominate, and suddenly places like Reading and Milton Keynes – awful locations in 1875 for business – beat our coastal cities hands down. No amount of regeneration spending can alter that basic reality.

It’s a rather stupid assertion to say that just because northern cities haven’t grown as fast as more advantageously-places southern ones means we shouldn’t seek to regenerate them (actually they don’t say this per se, but surely they should realise how it comes across). It would be much better, not to benchmark them about how they’ve improved in comparison to the south, but against how much they wouldn’t have improved if regeneration money hadn’t been ploughed in! But their craziest suggestions appear to be reserved for the south, and here I am talking as a town planner.

“We must stop reserving land in the south-east for low productivity industrial use” – I have some sympathy with this argument. But it’s overly simplistic. What about industrial land which is needed here – warehousing (where will our goods come from to get the the many more shops we’ll need?), recycling (we need to have space for this – not ship it all north) and the grotty uses people rely on (even now people have difficult finding a mechanic or car breakers yard in London) are just some examples.

Slightly more crazy is the idea that – assuming by the time you reach the outskirts of London you’re driving at 70 miles per hour, it would only add a minute of congestion onto your journey to expand London by a mile abd you’d have space for 400,000 houses. What about the services people need, what about public transport, what about green space, what about types of homes people (without cars? god forbid!) may want to live in? Is this a child’s approach to urban geography?

John Prescott (Labour’s newest and rather prolific blogger), however, has some interesting words on the “abandon the north” theory, and I’ll leave the last words of this post to him:

It reminds me of what my mother had to do. Daughter of a welsh mining family, she had to work in service in the wealthy homes of the Wirral when she wanted to stay with her family in north Wales.

The same policy was echoed later by Norman Tebbit in the Thatcher regime when he said “get on your bike and look for work.” And that was against the background of over 2 million unemployed. This gave us the highest level of unemployment in the cities they talk about, like Liverpool, Hull and Bradford. And what was their answer then? In Liverpool it was for Heseltine to take a bus-load of bankers up to the city and establish what they called Garden Festivals. Go there now, the Garden festival has been demolished, the city is rebuilt, public services improved and a new confidence, particularly as Europe’s capital of culture.

England’s cities are now better placed than at any time since the end of the 19th century to become motors of national advance. The years of decline and decay have been overcome.


Labouring under a misaprehension

3 August 2008

David Milliband’s comment article for the Guardian this week was an excellent outline of the only way Labour could be brought back from the state of internal negativity they’re in right now.

He said a lot which needed to be said:

When people hear exaggerated claims, either about failure or success, they switch off. That is why politicians across all parties fail to connect. To get our message across, we must be more humble about our shortcomings but more compelling about our achievements.

He outlines where he things things have gone wrong with the NHS (not soon enough), Iraq (better planning), devolving of power to more local levels (more), and that a low-carbon, energy efficient economy is where we should be driving. He said:

The Tories overclaim for what they are against because they don’t know what they are for. I disagreed with Margaret Thatcher, but at least it was clear what she stood for. She sat uncomfortably within the Tory party because she was a radical, not a conservative. She wanted change and was prepared to take unpopular decisions to achieve it.

The problem with David Cameron is the reverse. His problem is he is a conservative, not a radical. He doesn’t share a restlessness for change. He may be likable and sometimes hard to disagree with, but he is empty. He is a politician of the status quo — even a status quo he consistently voted against — not change…

…But in government, unless you choose sides, you get found out.
New Labour won three elections by offering real change, not just in policy but in the way we do politics. We must do so again. So let’s stop feeling sorry for ourselves, enjoy a break, and then find the confidence to make our case afresh.

The British public, as a whole, has an obsession with centre politics – neither radically left nor radically right. But the blandness of the centre ground can have unexpected consequences and lead to vacuous policies of the Cameronites being more popular than less ambiguous Labour alternatives when people think they’re bored of eleven years of the same. Some people go further and believe it’s not just the lack of change but arrogant out of touch policies that fuel the thriving alternative.

But the fact is it’s easy to bash the other side when you’re in opposition. In government you cannot afford this luxury. Milliband lists some of the populist claims and the reality: a broken society – but crime is falling (but recognising the need to deal with serious crime); more single parents living off the state – but employment for lone parents has risen; more asylum seekers – simply untrue.

The Daily Mailism of politics drives a downward spiral of self-perpetuating depression about the perceived inability of politicians to do anything.

This leads to a whole other argument about politics in a globalised world where the state is stripped of its key roles and multinational corporations drive direction – but that’s not for here… In this context it’s the change that’s required, it’s the drive, momentum and movement that are required… and that’s what Milliband’s article called for.

The main problem – and here the point of this post’s title – is that the press have pursued the Daily-Mailist self-destructive argument. They’re obsessed by the potential for self-destructiveness (“he didn’t mention Gordon Brown once”) rather than the fact that what he said needed to be said – and to more people than internally… Whether Gordon Brown can lead them through this change is for him to prove. He’s not a glamour politician, he’s gruff, steadfast and sturdy… when he took over leadership of the party there was hope of change, and that’s what he needs to go for now. If he can’t then Labour will need to think about how they go forward. But only then. Milliband’s article was a challenge to the Tories, but a kick start for Labour and they can’t allow it to stall.


Tamworth Manifesto

13 June 2008

Watching Question Time last night Tony McNulty talked of David Davies resignation, and the “Tamworth Manifesto” he’ll be using to re-stand. He also said he’d been told not to use that phrase because nobody would know what it meant. So I looked it up on Wikipedia and it relates to having to re-stand for election – it also happens to be the a key founding document of the modern Conservative party. Although this particular Davies has denied that this is his Clapham Common (trite link i know!, “moment of madness”) I’m not sure he’s made it clear why he’s doing this or how it will prove anything… and it’s not clear how it will pan out

So there you go – a history lesson for me. If you want to know more on the Tamworth Manifesto click here.


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