Monday, 15 December 2014

Dichotomy of Honesty

I just saw a post on Facebook from an anxiety sufferer. It was shared by Time to Change, and the headline quote mentioned that despite years of living with mental health issues the individual still worried about the reaction of other people.

It made me think about my own experience, as it relates to explaining my giving up alcohol. When I focused fully on getting well, after allowing myself a year to recover from working at Canterbury College and making very little headway, I was told to give up drinking.

The reason for this, aside from the fact that you're not really meant to drink with Sertraline, was a flippant remark made during a consultation. The person asking the questions asked me if I could do various things, including not drink for a period. I flippantly said, "I dunno about that".

I'm not sure if it was a get out clause for them, but within minutes I'd been bumped from the mental health team to a substance misuse support charity. Realising that this could be a barrier to me getting future support I promptly gave up drinking completely.

After this I had various meetings with the charity in question, who were very helpful, but ultimately they referred me on to another group, which I never quite got round to contacting, and I eventually disappeared from the mental health radar altogether (bar repeat prescriptions).

Leaving aside the fact that somebody with mental ill health probably should be chased up somewhat more aggressively by the support services, and the fact that I am broadly coping these days, my somewhat rambling point here relates to my reactions to other people.

I met up with some former colleagues on Friday, and a number commented on my not drinking. Despite the fact that I've been pretty honest about my situation online, I found myself dissembling when it came to explaining my new found sobriety.

I don't know if it was a residual need to be liked by my former colleagues or just general embarrassment, but I only really told the truth to one person, and he already knew my circumstances. In retrospect this was a somewhat strange stance.

Admittedly a Christmas party is probably not the place to hold a mental health support group, but feeling like I had to hide a part of myself in such a public setting when I feel able to open up online is pretty nonsensical really.

It does make me think though. Part of the difficulty in breaking the stigma around mental health is going to be getting people to feel comfortable in opening up about their circumstance, as well as doing so in the right ways of course.

When I worked in FE for example I became so stressed that, when put in a totally inappropriate situation by a manager, I actually opened up in the worst way possible (in front of students whilst extremely angry). The result was a demotion and redundancy.

That's a far from ideal experience and was probably totally preventable, but on the plus side it did eventually get me out of a situation that was causing me a great deal of harm. That said though, it certainly was not something that should have happened in the way it did.

In retrospect I often wonder if I could have changed that situation for the better, not least by leaving the room earlier (when I was told to leave the room I did so and promptly smashed a window and got ten stitches for my troubles).

Anyway, I'll get back to my point. Ending the stigma around mental health is going to require changing the mindset of the sufferer as well as everyone else. It can no longer be acceptable to keep things bottled up to the point of being a danger.

I do wonder how many people keep quiet about their mental ill health, even when being treated, to the point that they do eventually explode with the truth in a way that doesn't help them. Maybe an end to stigma will have a knock on effect in this scenario too.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Letter: Lib Dems hail Thatcher’s EU destiny - My Comment

So I cleverly added my name to a letter about the positives of Europe, which you can read at

As you'd expect, it got a few comments (mostly taking the mick), but I decided to throw in my comment for good measure:

"Interesting way of putting it by the Telegraph. I read it as, "even a PM as damaging as Maggie saw the importance of Europe", hence signing the letter. Yeah I'm one of those Limp Dims or whatever other nickname you want to use.

It's a nice little attempt at myth busting, but there is a wider issue. People are pissed off about a lot of things, most of which involve being or feeling poorer or feeling threatened. I don't take any issue with that. I feel it too.

My wages have literally halved since 2010 and I come from a family of carpenters, taxi drivers, handy men and teachers, so I know what hard graft is. I know what being skint is too. I know we are being dumped on by the rich as well.

I also know that arguing about crumbs while some fat cat gets to stuff his face full of cake is just plain stupid. Europe has problems, immigration may not be the cure for all our ills, but it's the rich that are really shafting us, through our own MPs.

So yeah, I want my fellow human beings to be able to move to where they like and get paid. I want some stuff handled locally, and some handled by the EU or the UN. But most of all I want people to recognise that they're attacking the wrong target.

So I say get a grip of your humanity people and stop letting the media and UKIP trick you with some fake boogeyman in Europe or Asia. Recognise that the Devil is already on your doorstep, and he's already taken almost everything you have."

Update: After a response that actually sort to engage in a debate I posted this follow up.

"We're facing the biggest threat to the wellbeing of the whole world since World War 2, and you're completely off about the source.

The undercutting you talk about is only possible because of big business, poor Government, and the acceptance of greed as a creed in the 80's. It has nothing to do with where someone was lucky/unlucky enough to be born and whether they get to move.

The 1% have got rich off the back of every workforce in the world, and our "fair working conditions" are a cosy little myth. What's fair in anyone earning hundreds of times what their employees do? Absolutely nothing! And it didn't start with New Labour.

We can sit here and argue over whether we want to share the ever smaller crumbs we get, or we can deal with the actual problem. The world needs to recognise that everyone has the right to a decent living, and it won't happen while we turn out backs on people.

Having a history of shooting first and handing back the slaves later doesn't give us divine right. The fact that the West invented a game involving trading bits of paper and stacked the odds against everyone else doesn't make us better people.

We can fight to keep what little we have from those who have even less than we do through a simple trick of fate, or we can fight to make sure everyone has their fair share. I choose the latter."

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

I've witnessed a few interesting discussions about discrimination, and the odd example of it, over the past few weeks and it has me feeling reflective. Specifically the discussions have centred around the Lib Dems, Gamers, and a Tory PPC, but they've made me ponder the wider context.

Discrimination for me relates to the perception of three things with regards to individuals and/or groups. These three things are capability, responsibility, and homogeneity. I believe it is our beliefs about relative levels of these three, as they apply to others, that affects how we discriminate.

To be clear though, when I say discrimination, I'm talking in a wider context than the protected characteristics of the Equality Act. I'm talking about everything from how we treat other people through to how we analyse the behaviour of others as we observe it.

I'm also talking about discrimination in a very unemotional sense, I hope. I'm talking about both positive and negative discrimination, but I'm also talking about discrimination from a standpoint of practical necessity as well, such that it allows us to behave as society expects us to.

Use of language offers us some great examples of discrimination through necessity, casual discrimination through current social norms, and also the active expression of prejudice. Challenging it can also be the thing that causes the most controversy among those on the defensive.

Take the concept of a bad idea. It's a necessity that we use some form of discrimination for defining it. It's acceptable to call a bad idea stupid, which casually discriminates against those with a lower IQ. It's also ok to call a bad idea insane, which reinforces the prejudicial stigma around mental health.

Now I expect there will be some rolling of the eyes at this example. I doubt anyone who calls a bad idea stupid or insane does so with the express intention of discriminating against anyone. That's not the point though. The point is that these minor norms serve to underpin greater discrimination.

Our use of language is both a reflection of, and a schema for, our perception of the world around us. If we hear and/or use the term stupid to describe things we view negatively, it follows that we will begin to relate this perception to the very characteristic of intelligence, despite the obvious flaws.

Within the context of the terms I coined above, this view of relative intelligence, as reinforced by language, is then applied to all three, and thus affects our very behaviour. We begin to see the less intelligent as less capable, more responsible for being so, and different to our perceived norm. 

I'll grant that my analysis may be lacking, but I honestly believe that this is the very foundation of all discrimination. The question therefore is which, if any, of this triumvirate is fundamental to the negative forms of discrimination within society? I have my view, but that can wait.


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Let's have Health and Safety for Mad...

I welcomed the announcement that mental health would have equal parity with physical health in the NHS. I also welcomed the Lib Dem policy of ensuring that this extends to equal treatment via waiting times, funding, and levels of available care. I do however feel that there is a massive hole in mental health strategy in this country, which no party is adequately addressing. I do think that my own party, the Lib Dems, could address it however.

During the industrial revolution there were a great many injuries/deaths in the workplace due to lax health and safety standards. One of the really positive outcomes of industrialisation has been the focus on improved health and safety in the workplace, in my view. There were also many deaths due to holes in medical knowledge, which have since been addressed through ongoing research and through the creation of the NHS, and also through improvements in things like hygiene.

Lib Dem policy on mental health is beginning to address the fact that mental health treatment is years behind physical health treatment in terms of research, priority, and access. What no party is really doing is addressing the other side of this equation, which is prevention. No party seems to me to be looking at how we can genuinely improve our overall wellbeing, and thus reduce the need for people to be treated for mental ill health in the first place.

This isn't entirely the case, of course. There is research into the causes of mental ill health taking place, and this helps with prevention. This has led to things like highlighting the danger of drugs and alcohol, as well as advice on diet and lifestyle. Diet and lifestyle certainly play a big part in physical health, and research has shown they play a part in mental health. Work around ending the stigma around mental health is also helping with recovery, reducing severity, and reducing recurrence.

These positive moves still leave a massive issue to be addressed, however, which is the interaction between the workplace and our mental health. Just as factories harboured many physical dangers during the industrial revolution, so do offices harbour many psychological dangers in the present day. Be it long hours, lack of sufficient down time, bullying, harassment, or stress, the culture of our workplaces can have a huge effect on our mental wellbeing and likelihood of ill health.

Many workplaces have begun to skate around the edges of this through stress management policies, and the odd billionaire has made headline grabbing changes that serve to empower workers to take control of their free time, but Government and the political parties have been far too silent on the subject of making the workplace psychologically safe for the employee in my view. This is perhaps because it may involve a level of intervention that would enrage millionaire donors.

A starting point for me would be to make Mental Health a protected characteristic in its own right within the Equality Act, but there's so much more that can and should be done. I want to see politicians looking at the whole culture of work and the workplace, at hours, at down time, at shift patterns, at workplace/office design, at the daily commute, at managerial structures, even at the strategic aims of companies, because all of these can affect our wellbeing.

Ironically, I suspect that doing this would be very popular with employees, but would horrify those who bankroll politicians, including the trade unions (who rely on continuing issues with employers to exist). Failing to truly look at the contribution of the workplace to mental health however will simply leave us in a situation where we steadily increase spending on treating the problem while barely reducing its prevalence, which for me is completely unsustainable in the long term.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Kent Online Reporting on Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers - My comment

Kent Online has published a story about unaccompanied asylum seekers in their 20s being "allowed" into Kent's schools. Local charity Kent Refugee Help highlighted the article to their mailing list and is in the process of penning their response. In the meantime, I decided to add my voice to the heated debate on the site. The article is here. My comment is below. Make of both what you will.

"As somebody who has actually taught unaccompanied asylum seekers in a Further Education college, stories like this make me really sad. I've taught asylum seekers and I've taught English kids. Given the choice I'd teach asylum seekers every time. They're respectful, polite, willing to learn, hard working, and all of this despite (often) having experienced things that would make grown men weep with despair.

There are cultural differences, yes. There are problems with damaged young people being dropped into an ill-prepared state education system, totally. There are a few "bad apples" seeking to play a system that is put in place solely to assist our fellow human beings, of course. But all this sensationalist nonsense does is appeal to the lowest common denominator. Get a grip Kent Online, and remember your humanity!"

Friday, 10 October 2014

UKIP? Expect a Nightmare Wakeup Call.

So UKIP have managed to bag themselves their first MP in a Tory area, while almost giving Labour the surprise of a lifetime to boot. All of this off of the back of claiming to be something new and exciting in British politics, while they quietly mop up (and prop up) failed politicians and angry opportunists by the bucket load.

The biggest irony of UKIP is just how old they really are. Their ideas come from Thatcher, with extra Euro scepticism, their candidates come from the Conservatives, with a smattering of ex-BNP, and their message of protest comes from the Lib Dems, with added scapegoating of the weak and the foreign (and less leaflets).

Their leadership and their donors are more representative of a trading floor than a housing estate, and their penchant for real ale is more trendy than traditional. They could (and should) be viewed as a misfit love child of the Young Ones and Upstairs Downstairs, Bottom for millionaires with an upper class Alf Garnet at the helm.

Instead, though, we find ourselves wringing our hands as they make gain after gain, unable to stop a tide of protest that has been hijacked by the very vested interests that it is aimed at railing against. Even the high intensity lense that is the nation's media can't fry these ants in our political school yard, as they nibble and make off with our picnic of power.

The answer? I see no evidence of a credible solution to the problem so far. The polished turd of anger and hatred that UKIP are currently serving up to the public isn't going to be smothered by the silk handkerchief of privilege that is the root cause and effect of our current political and financial woes as a nation. 

The greatest trick that UKIP has pulled is to convince the public that being rich, entitled, and a little bit racist is fine as long as you didn't go to the "right" school, or study PPE at Oxford, even if you are happy to make money off of the backs the poor and the weak, while blaming it all on... the poor and the weak (but less White and/or British so it's fine).

So the nightmare scenario? A 2015 in which UKIP and the Tories go into coalition, and austerity becomes a lost pipe dream of yesteryear as they gleefully destroy not just our human rights, but the last of our dwindling safety net, while they gut our public services for their buddies in big business. Who would live in a nation like this I ask you?

Monday, 15 September 2014

The simple joys of working with images

It's never ceases to amaze me how enjoyable the most simple tasks can be if you've got the right tools. A classic example is the two screenshots below. These screenshots are the result of a request for help and about two hours work.

The first picture is how this website looked in 2013. It was using a stock skin that probably hadn't been changed since 2010. The skin, while in no way ugly, had begun to look and feel a bit dated. This was mainly due to the lack of big images in my view.

Fast forward to today and things are a different . Through the simple expedient of selecting a new skin, adding some CSS overrides to various elements, and sourcing the right image for the job, this website looks totally different.

Design wise it may not win any awards, but the site now looks and feels like it has an emphasis on the local area. I've made sure that a large image is at the centre of the design, and the local party have helped by using large images within their content.

I really enjoyed the couple of hours it took to give this site a face-lift, and the site administrator seemed very grateful for the effort. You don't always have to enjoy your day job, but when you do it's quite a special thing.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

How to solve a problem like inertia

For a party that prides itself for being level headed in nature with a predilection for calm and open discourse, we Lib Dems aren't doing very well at the moment. It can't have been easy for all those candidates and Cllrs that lost on Thursday. It was difficult enough watching the vitriolic glee on Twitter throughout the past few days. Our response thus far seems to be to grab the nearest knife and reach for the net.

At this point you'll be assuming I'm about to launch into a lengthy diatribe on the fate of Nick Clegg, but frankly I don't care that much either way at the moment. We have a far bigger problem to deal with. The party has always had its various wings. Being a party that believes in liberalism will do that to you. It's a difficult concept to pin down to a single definition or outcome. But at the moment we have two wings that seem determined to tear us asunder, and I think most of us are stuck in the middle.

On one side we have the idealists. "We should never have entered the Coalition. Clegg and the Orange Bookers are dragging us inexorably to electoral suicide. UKIP are stealing our votes because of tuition fees. We need a new leader now, or better yet yesterday. Stop blaming us."

On the other side we have the pragmatists. "The Coalition was a marriage of necessity. We need to be grown up about this. Parties in Government lose Cllrs. Accept it. Only we can change it by working harder. Put your knives away and fire up your Risos. Stop blaming everyone else."

Both arguments have some merit. HQ does seem to have lost the ear of a lot of activists, not least because it is kind of obvious that being grown up works for the larger parties because they can better afford to take the electoral hits. The coalition may well have been the only way to get as much done as we have, it isn't that difficult to see there have been some real successes if you're looking. There's plenty more they're both right on. Ultimately though, the two sides of the argument appear so extreme at the moment that they risk tearing the party asunder and creating chaos among those caught in the middle.

I'm not entirely sure where I stand personally. Looking on social media, I can tell I'm not alone in this. Some of the discussion feels pretty personal though, a fact that worries me. Whether the ultimate outcome of the next few weeks is more of the same, or a new leader, the most important thing is that we mend fences with ourselves, or better yet we don't break them in the first place.

Being discontent with HQ or the leader isn't a sign of laziness or childishness, and supporting them isn't a sign of being delusional or a closet Tory. Ultimately it's really very difficult to know what to do for the best at the moment. Many activists are resilient enough to be able to carry on regardless, but many more are feeling completely demotivated and without hope. Instead of attacking each other for being in either camp, we need to be looking for the happy medium. That is after all what we're allegedly good at.

So I would encourage everyone to give the net and the knives a rest for a few days and spend some time doing something other than internal party politics. The problems will still be there when we get back, but maybe the perspective will be too. It isn't as if this hasn't been bubbling below the surface since 2010, so a few days away from it probably won't hurt. There may or may not be a solution to our current electoral nose dive, but we won't have a chance to find it if we tear ourselves asunder.


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Eurovision, Conchita, and What if...

Firstly, I find Eurovision to be a boring waste of time. I signal this by not watching it. Lot's of people watch it and do enjoy it, which is in no way surprising (or offensive) to me. It's one of the many signs that we're not all one homogeneous mass of consumers. Apparently though it became more interesting this year because the winner prefers to be referred to as a woman. 

Strangely this particular event didn't really grab my attention at first. It isn't the first time that somebody who has crossed the gender divide has won, and I have no idea if the tune that won it was any good (which is what matters). In fact the whole thing would probably have passed me by were it not for a tweet I saw this morning and the link that I followed as a result.

The link lead me to an Australian man seemingly venting about the horror of being asked to refer to someone who has a penis and a beard as a woman. His diatribe about objective reality, and the heinousness of pandering to the individual as he saw it, was probably more a reflection upon him than anything else, but it did make me think. In fact it made me wonder "what if...".

When I look at another human being my brain assigns them to a multitude of categories. Most of those categories relate to what evolutionary scientists call phenotype, namely the observable outcomes of our unique genetic structures. These include things like, hair colour, eye colour, skin colour, and possession of specific genitalia (I wasn't staring, honest).

The article I read this morning was making an interesting argument therefore, though not perhaps the one the writer intended to make. His analogy about "feeling black" was perhaps the most pertinent to this argument. The argument he inadvertently advanced for me is that it is time for us to completely disconnect our many identities from our phenotype.

The article in question, which can be found here, is actually worth a read if you approach it with the mindset above. It manages to completely conflate the possession of male genitalia with being a man, or not being a woman for that matter. It shows some understanding of the social construction of gender, but then manages to completely fail to understand its extent.

Back to the "what if...". In a world where we completely separate identity from phenotype some interesting things could occur. There might be a lot more black people, for example (I'm stereotyping). Assuming that the shared identity of black people is that of the fight to overcome enforced servitude to rich Caucasians, most of the population of the world is black.

In terms of gender, we could go down a variety of routes. The language helps here through a triumvirate of terms. Being a female might denote the phenotype of possessing a vagina and breasts, being a lady might denote a preference for dresses, the colour pink and specific mannerisms, and being a woman might denote being part of the struggle to overcome patriarchy.

I think it's probably patently obvious that my definitions are incredibly imprecise, perhaps to the point of being insulting, but I hope the underlying point is clear. The point being that in a world where we break the link between phenotype and identities, we can also break the link between phenotype and circumstances, in the form of life chances and our treatment by others.

In a world where the identity that is womanhood is entirely separated from having a vagina, for example, it is that much easier to break the link between desiring intercourse (including dominance fantasies) involving a vagina and seeing a woman as an object of purely sexual means. It's a damn sight harder to see all women as sex objects if a percentage of women have penises.

In a world where being "camp" or being a "lady" become defined as similar identities, it's completely nonsensical to conflate these with the sexual drive for a male to have sex with another male. It also makes no sense to conflate our sexual drives with our relationship desires, but that's probably something that is obvious when we deconstruct gender and sexual organs anyway.

I think, for me, this is the crux of where we should be going. I think it offers us a more sophisticated understanding of inequality, as well as forcing us to move beyond easy and simplistic judgements that often cause a great deal of pain. Having said that though, my offensively imprecise definitions show that it is something we must put a lot of real thought into.  

Monday, 12 May 2014

Punishment for the right reasons

Labour are spending a great deal of time and effort reminding us all about the "broken promises" of the ineffectual Lib Dems at the moment. Gleefully pointing out that our faeces stinks just like everyone else's, aside from being deeply cynical, is setting up yet another generation of voters for complete disillusionment with politics. And that's ignoring the fact that it's a little bit contradictory.  

Voters have every right to punish the Lib Dems in Westminster for the evils of the Coalition. The fact that we've failed to deliver on tuition fees, that we've allowed the Tories to deliver things like the Bedroom Tax (even if us private renters already suffered a version of it) and Workfare (which I personally believe is tantamount to slavery), and that our MPs have appeared so unrepentant in doing so is certainly deeply shaming.

One problem I have though is that the Lib Dems are being lambasted for being a minor party in a coalition that failed to deliver on a percentage of manifesto pledges and (spectacularly) failed to deliver on a separate pledge signed by a lot of its candidates (without a wider party vote on it I believe). It's as if we've somehow been afforded the power and responsibility of a ruling party, without any of the actual clout.

I do appreciate that it was both naive to sign the pledge and then deeply cynical of some of our MPs to choose to to break that pledge, but for me this isn't functionally much different from failing to deliver on any of the Party's manifesto pledges. And for me this is the crux of the issue I have with Labour's smug love in with students and the wider electorate, and the hypocrisy it represents, not least because they originally introduced fees.

Ultimately, whatever happens in 2015, the Lib Dems won't be punished for being the nasty party, or for breaking a pledge and delivering only part of our manifesto, we'll be punished for being just the same as everyone else. The Party will be punished for the fact that a bunch of career politicians, well versed in semantics and honesty averse, are standing for parliament and will probably bin much of the manifesto on their first day in office.

The Party and its MPs shouldn't really (though we will) be blamed for this. We're simply replicating a culture that has seen successive Tory and Labour Governments fail miserably to pay even lip service to delivering on their supposed core beliefs and manifesto pledges once the Westminster machine has its greasy mitts on them. They say children will be children, unfortunately Governments will be Governments too, a fact that UKIP is playing on magnificently at the moment.

There are of course notable exceptions amongst MPs, always good for a sound bite when the chips are down, but ultimately the culture at Westminster says it is better to play semantic tennis with questions than to admit you're wrong, or God forbid that you disagree with the Government line (especially if you're in on the cabinet meetings). It's no coincidence that dissent, descent and decent sound very much the same where Westminster is concerned.

It would be naive to think that we haven't brought this upon ourselves to a degree mind you. Being the conscientious objectors in Parliament is one thing, but we as a Party are perhaps guilty of implying that we are somehow a cut above the rest, which our time in Government has patently shown to be false. Being a party of compromise isn't a bad thing mind you, but reveling in it when it results in people suffering doesn't win you any friends.

People don't like the fact that our MPs are agreeing to the enacting of Tory policies in Government, but they really hate the fact that they're seeking to justify many of those policies and almost completely failing to voice their intense dislike for the policies they don't agree with. I suspect people would be a lot more inclined to accept that ours is a marriage of convenience if the Party spent more time saying what we find to be inconvenient.

But what has this to do with new voters you ask? Unfortunately, a generation of new voters is potentially going to throw their lot in with Labour in 2015. They won't be fooled by Farage's every man road show, but they may be fooled by Labour's holier than thou cost of living crusade. A crusade that will ultimately I believe prove to be a great sound bite, but nothing more than that as soon as Miliband gets into Number 10.

Ultimately 2015 isn't going to be about policy for me, it is going to be about who gets judged and to what moral standard. I'm hopeful that people will see through Farage, who in reality represents the working poor about as much as I represent the pinnacle of evolution, but I'm disturbed that the Lib Dems could be destroyed for not living up to a set of ideals that Labour and the Tories have never bothered to pay more than lip service to.

I'm also concerned that a generation of young people will offer their support to a Labour party that will ultimately show itself to be nothing more than New Labour lite, which in turn was nothing more than Thatcherism with a Blairite grin and a woeful attitude to civil liberties. As a result I fear that yet again young people will be betrayed by politicians, but that their only option will now be complete disengagement or, even worse, Farage.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Why I disagree with Jeremy

I'm not an economic Liberal by nature. That much is probably obvious from my initial reaction to the Coalition. To say I was mildly disturbed by going into Government with the Tories is to put it extremely mildly.

I'm from an old Labour background, and I tend towards the Social Liberal wing of the Party. When I took a silly quiz about policies around the time of the election, the answers suggested that I should be in the Green Party.

So it will come as no surprise that I disagree with Jeremy Browne on both the direction of the party and also on quite a few policy areas. That however is not our substantive area of disagreement as of today.

Jeremy Browne has, it seems, questioned the need for the current form of the Liberal Democrats. His argument that a moderating centrist party isn't needed in British politics fails to capture for me the reason why the Party exists.

Circumstances may have forced us to mitigate the worst excesses of the Conservatives, and may well have made our message as a Party less resonant, but that's a practical and not an ideological consideration. For me, that's why he's wrong.

Nobody should join a political party solely on the basis of practical considerations. The Liberal Democrats, and every other Party, exist as a reflection of an ideological standpoint on how we approach the big questions in society.

The presence of an ideological standpoint, that for me is routed in the famous quote by John Stuart Mill (see below), is the sole reason why the Liberal Democrats should exist and would be invented were they not already in existence. 

Admittedly there are plenty of people who join a Party because of its current policies, and that's fine. They're the people who jump ship at the drop of a proverbial hat, whether it's because they disagree with policy or find a closer fit elsewhere.

In our first past the post, winner takes all system, they are the life's blood of politics. As party members, or as voters, they allow the country to shift gently from left to right to suit the current prevailing winds of change. 

The Liberal Democrats are part of that system, and that gentle shift, but we're about more than that. We're about the framing of the question, the framing of every question. That's why, like all the major parties, we exist.

So Jeremy Browne is wrong. We are needed, we would be invented, and we will continue to exist, not matter how much the prevailing political winds may batter us. We are the ideological home of maximum freedom for individuals at minimum cost to others.  

So don't despair, simply read the preamble to our constitution and remember this quote:

"The only part of the conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."

We may disagree on the answers, and that may make political life difficult, but one thing we can all agree on is how to frame the questions. That's why we're relevant, why we're needed, why we exist, and why Jeremy Browne is wrong.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Wealth Creation

There's a term that has been bothering me on and off of late. It's one that the Tories and, to a lesser degree, my own party has been throwing around to describe successful business people. It is the term "Wealth Creators".

My issue with the term is simple. It isn't possible for an individual to create wealth in the way that is being suggested. Every individual within a business or within the economy is engaged in, and responsible for, the process of wealth creation. This includes those whose only contribution is the spending of benefits payments in their local retail outlets, thus contributing to their profits and cycling money back to Government via VAT.

The super rich, and leading business people might better be described as wealth moons. It seems silly, but consider this. The moon does not create the sea (wealth), but it does control its ebb and flow. It can drag it from one shore to another without any moral imperative in what it does. That certainly sounds like big business, and successful business people, to me. One should also say we don't necessarily judge the moon for its part in this cycle of life.

Of course in this scenario, I can't help but feel the rest of us are like the pebbles on the beach. When the tide is in we are protected from the harsh rays of the sun, but the consequence is we're battered against the shore and worn down to nothing. We may also end up cast adrift or be washed up onto another shore. And, of course, we can be thrown far up the beach where the sea no longer coats us and we're exposed to the harsh glare of the sun. It's an analogy that interests me.