Monday, 28 November 2011
Monday, 21 November 2011
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Friday, 28 October 2011
Of course it is important for LGBT rights to play a greater role in our foreign policy outlook. There has been lobbying for years from UK activists to achieve this and steady progress under the Labour Government. However, this isn’t an area you just blunder into with a sledgehammer. The cracks in this new approach are already beginning to show – earlier this week a coalition of all the major African LGBT and human rights organisations released a strong statement illustrating their disquiet over the UK Government’s stance and calling for a more nuanced approach. Additionally, the UK approach to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting taking place this week has ignored the efforts and undermined years of lobbying from LGBT groups in the global South, whilst stepping forward to speak for others without any sense of history... or irony.
Once again, these UK activists and politicians are ignoring rule number one of working on international development, which is to start by listening to the lived experience of those you are campaigning to support. The truth is that activists in other countries have a more sophisticated sense of their own political contexts, know what strategies will work best and where to apply pressure. For those of us who want to see a more just and equal world, this means we must listen, pledge solidarity and apply pressure as and when requested. We are running the risk of being viewed as arrogant amateurs who think they know best: the worst kind of colonialism repackaged for the 21st century.
We are already seeing the unintended results of this policy strategy. In a number of African countries, homosexuality is portrayed by a hostile media and political elite as an imported cultural abomination. Reduction of international aid, (still desperately needed in severely poor countries) will be blamed upon Western imperialism and LGBT communities in these states will be convenient scapegoats. This can already be seen in Malawi, where this is another stick with which to demonise communities already under siege.
A cynic might wonder whether this threat to reduce UK aid to homophobic states is a progressive sheen to a longer-term policy of reducing aid levels. Why isn’t the UK Government pledging to provide aid directly to those NGOs with a proven track-record in extending human rights to LGBT citizens? The Department for International Development (DfID) gives virtually no financial support to the inspiring, frontline work these groups are undertaking under the harshest circumstances. Behind their progressive headlines, are we seeing the limits of Compassionate Conservatism?
Sunday, 23 October 2011
In the last few weeks, my blog posts have been a little bit less frequent than I would have liked. Other commitments have made their bid for my attention, so apologies for the radio silence from me. With the political ground shifting under our feet on an almost weekly basis, you’ll be hearing more from me in the coming weeks!
One of the most exciting things I am working on at the moment is the new team leading on the national LGBT work for the Green Party. At our recent AGM at autumn conference, I was elected as Chair for the coming year and the existing team has been joined by a number of fresh, enthusiastic activists I’m hoping you’ll hear more from over the next year.
We are talking about our aspirations at the moment and are hoping to publish a strategy for the coming year fairly soon. As some of these aims will be around improving our ability to get out our message and activities to the broadest audience possible, I thought I might cheekily use this space to highlight ways you can help us hit our targets and keep in touch!
- Visit our website, which contains details on our LGBT-specific manifesto commitments, as well as news, activities and glamorous photos of the LGBT Greens Officers!
- Follow us on Twitter to keep up to the minute on our work and our response to news as it happens.
- For Green Party members, we would appreciate you subscribing to the LGBT Greens section of the Member’s Website, where we are providing reports, minutes and campaign resources.
- For Green Party members, we hope you’ll provide your email address so that you can be subscribed to our moderate-traffic LGBT Greens email list. Contact Nigel Tart to be added: firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re not an exclusive group either, so support and interest from anybody committed to equality and building diversity in politics is equally welcome. Please encourage anyone you think might be interested in our work to get in touch or start following us!
Monday, 3 October 2011
Sunday, 11 September 2011
Saturday, 10 September 2011
Thursday, 8 September 2011
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Thursday, 11 August 2011
Tuesday, 2 August 2011
Whilst there have been some notable obvious successes to our name, most prominently the formation of the first ever Green Council in Brighton and Hove, I am keen to hear from regular readers with their thoughts on the advances we have made in less publicised parts of the country, as well as views on the problems we have to face up to in 2011-2012. More than ever, we need to having a constructive yet critical look in the mirror at our performance.
Monday, 1 August 2011
Just before I head off on my summer holiday, I wanted to come back and discuss the upcoming Brighton and Hove LGBT Pride festival, which will be taking place on Saturday 13th August. I recently asked you for feedback on the decision this year to charge for entry. Thanks to all who contributed, although I wasn't ready for either the volume of responses or the polarized views I received! Whilst it was evenly-balanced, it was hard not to detect an underlying anger amongst some that the principle of free entry had been undermined.
LGBT Pride in the city has been a politically charged issue for many years, which isn't surprising considering the impact our particular festival has on the community. The weekend itself brings hundreds of thousands of people into the city, spending a vast amount of money with local businesses, both within and without the Preston Park party itself. As a result, the successful governance and running of the festival is monitored by many interested parties across the city, not necessarily just those known for their LGBT rights advocacy.
Unsurprisingly, the cost for running pride continues to rise. In the last year or two a great deal of concern has been raised by the statutory authorities and the Fire Service about public safety at the park event, as attendee numbers have steadily grown. Without agreement to fence the park (at a cost of around £100,000), it was made plain that licenses might not be granted this year. Alongside this additional cost, clean-up costs and community policing are needed to preserve the quality of Preston Park, tackle anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking over the weekend. For the last two years, Pride has operated at a significant loss, meaning that profits haven't been available to plow back into local LGBT organisations, who are now operating in a harsh financial climate and desperate for support.
On a personal note, I'll be honest and say that charging for Pride is something I have always been exceptionally uncomfortable with. During the mid-1990s living in London, I have vivid memories of Pride being the centrepoint of my yearly calendar, a chance to show some visible political muscle against rampant homophobia and a place where we could come together to party, regardless of whether we could afford to pay. When financial problems meant our celebration was taken over and business brought in to run the event, transforming it into a ticketed "Mardi Gras" with a "parade" through central London instead of a march, I walked away aghast. Regardless of the gains we've made legally over the years, I believe more strongly than ever that there is a political element to our experience of being LGBT that we risk losing when commercial realities come to bear in guiding these community events.
Paradoxically though, I find myself angry that in spite of nearly 100 volunteers collecting donations with buckets last year, that it translated to approximately 13p donated per attendee. This means that a majority of people enjoying Pride didn't pay a contribution towards the running costs of the festival last year. I wonder how many of these are amongst those people who are railing against the introduction of a charge. Retaining a "free" festival can only work with contributions from the Council, the businesses who will make a profit out of their participation and from a community prepared to back up their wish for Pride to continue with practical support. Sponsorship monies are declining, especially for local businesses squeezed hard by the recession. The new Green Council, as I've written about elsewhere, is struggling with a diminished central Government grant and needs to prioritise public services for the elderly, vulnerable and children. That they are still contributing a donation, providing soft loans to Pride and stepping in to cover some of the costs of running the St James St after-Pride street party is to be welcomed.
More so than ever at this time of tightened belts, we need as a community (and as a city) to take individual responsibility for making sure Pride remains viable and reflective of it's values of inclusion, campaigning spirit and celebration of diversity. This isn't just in financial terms. In the new climate of the "big society", we need to accept that if we want to retain public goods, it will mean giving our time and political support to protect them.
This isn't to say the new system is perfect. I can already see a number of elements that could be improved upon:
- We need clearer mechanisms to ensure that the low-paid, disabled and students are able to access reduced admissions similar to under-18s and to communicate the ticketing system more clearly.
- A more robust approach is needed to ensure that those businesses (especially the gay bars) who benefit from the festival and the post-Pride drinks in St James St contribute a fairer amount financially and play a role in managing the event.
- After criticisms from the local community, we need to bring a plurality of different voices to the management of Pride, allowing individuals from the black and ethnic minority, youth and disabled LGBT groups more influence in the planning of future events. We must ensure that the voices of private profit do not dominate and that prices are kept as low as possible.
- We need a public demonstration that raising a profit for Brighton & Hove Pride means investment in our struggling community groups all year round, not just fattened the wallets of businesses. The benefits of buying a ticket need to be underlined.
Some voices are calling for a boycott of this year's Brighton & Hove Pride and calling for an alternative celebration on the beach. Whilst I would never argue with someone exercising choice, if anything is going to kill Pride and the benefits it brings to the city, it will be significant numbers staying away. As somebody who has happily contributed a significant donation to the buckets at Brighton Pride for the last 13 years, I'm saddened that it has come to mandatory ticketing - but I will be there on the day, ticket in hand to show my support in Pride's efforts to invest in the essential work being quietly undertaken by community LGBT organisations all year round. I hope I will see some of you there, either passing by the Green Party stall or in the dance-tents.
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
In the last few weeks, we have had some real cause for celebration. The Council is now intending to bring forward the introduction of a living wage for it's own workers and establishing a Living Wage Commission for Brighton & Hove to examine the opportunties and challenges in rolling this out across the public, private and third sector in the city. With rising inequality hitting women and the vulnerable more savagely as the national cuts bite, this is a discernable step forward and a rallying call for what Greens can achieve if given political authority.
Work is moving forward on a number of other crucial fronts, such as a new city-wide climate change plan, an increase in house building and a re-examination of our strategy for the South Downs. The latter change could be one of the more lasting achievements of the Green Council and I would encourage the Cabinet not to take their eye off the ball here. Alongside good governance, it will be essential for us to have flagship, visible and lasting policy successes to our name by 2015. Linking up our new National Park more robustly with the city has the potential for expanding our attractiveness as a tourist destination for new audiences away from the city centre, bringing revenue and jobs to the outer wards. Broadening accessibility, infrastructure and communicating this well are essential pre-requisites for making this work, but could serve to secure our reputation as the green capital of the UK.
The other positive improvement we are already seeing to the work of our Council is that consultation and participation are now definitely key elements to our work. With each announcement from the Green Cabinet, we are hearing a great deal about how we will be consuting more widely with community groups, unions, business and third sector organisations. If we are to achieve policy changes in Brighton that stick, we need to be basing our decisions on informed debate with the community. So far our record has not been without it's missteps, but there does seem to be a sea-change from the approach taken by our precedessors. As a new administration with limited experience in running a Council, this strategy doesn't hurt us either, because the process will throw up potential political problems at quite an early stage of discussion.
So, where are the problems? We are now at the mercy of our manifesto and public statements before the local elections. The realities of holding power mean that with the best intention in the world, there will be times when we need to take a different route to that publicised earlier. The charge that we will continue to hear, at least for the next 12 months or so, is that we fought on a platform of resisting all cuts. I'm seeing this regularly thrown back in the face of the Cabinet during meetings as the detail starts to emerge of how the Council budget is balanced. The truth is very clear. In our city-wide GreenLeaf newspaper, we explicitly promised to "Resist to the greatest extent possible, Government cuts" and talked of areas that we could cut without hitting front-line services. This was echoed in our Alternative Budget, which clearly laid out areas where funding would need to cut in order to protect front-line services for children, older people and the vulnerable.
We need to challenge this distortion every time it is uttered by our opponents. Common sense, let alone the written evidence, dictates that we need to still balance a budget with more limited resources. We have our local MP, Caroline Lucas, fighting the cuts on the national stage - the Green Council needs to blunt the impact from voters as much as we can. Two areas that we haven't started tackling yet are our pledges to cut £0.7M of management costs from senior Council Officer roles (especially as this funding was earmarked to go back into Connexions) and the cutting of Councillor allowances. Whilst I personally support decent Councillor allowances, so that running for these elected positions are practical options to more than just the independently wealthy, I am nervous that a lack of movement on these points is leaving us open to charges of acting in self-interest once in power. Politically, this is especially dangerous right now.
I've been impressed with the leadership shown by our new Council Leader, Bill Randall and the command of detail shown by Jason Kitcat as Cabinet Member for Finance and Central Services. In these initial months, it has been essential to have credible figures fronting the Cabinet during a difficult transition. That they have managed to do so with grace and good humour is to their credit. Whilst other members of the Cabinet have taken to their new roles with real confidence and energy, there is the impression from some that they are still finding their feet and are uncertain in their portfolios.
The summer break will give a short respite, but we need everyone firing on all cylinders by autumn, because I have no doubt a savvy opposition will start targeting weaker performers once they have had time to regroup. The Conservatives are already going for the jugular in a particularly unsubtle way, with regular digs at our naivety or lapsed pledges. Labour are playing a better, more dangerous game. Gill Mitchell is taking a consensual, team-player attitude and raising opposition to our policies without rancour, always putting the low paid first. Taken together, this will be a potent mix and could cause problems for the unwary.
Overall then, a strong beginning from the Green Council, with several of our key manifesto pledges inching closer to being fulfilled and the outlines of a strong distinctive policy offer to the public. This is tempered with a need to keep mindful of our flank on some lesser manifesto pledges and internal support to less confident Cabinet members. Yet that said, there has never been a more exciting time to be a Green Party member!
Monday, 25 July 2011
- Act as an advocate for equalities and diversity across our activities and bring that perspective explicitly to GPEX deliberations.
- Improve transparency in the role by providing regular reports to members, including using the Members website to communicate.
- Ensure that all activities and achievements are publicised regularly to the membership and demonstrate clear ways to get involved.
- Undertake an assessment of our membership application process to ensure we are collecting useful information on our members.
- Conduct regular analysis of our monitoring data and report progress to the membership.
- Consult with key stakeholders across the party and integrate these perspectives into a formal E&D strategy for the next two years.
- Build a robust network of activists across our local parties who will champion equalities and diversity work and feed ideas back to me.
- Investigate potential funding opportunities to support this programme of work, both from within and external to the Green Party.
Working with members:
- Meet regularly with the self-organised groups such as Green Women, Young Greens and LGBT Greens to ensure that their priorities are being communicated to GPEX.
- Build knowledge and capacity amongst self-organised groups to ensure that they are able to integrate their issues into the policy-making process.
- Work with self-organised groups to assist in making their activities and decision-making processes are transparent and accessible to members.
- Facilitate the creation of self-organisation for those groups of members currently under-represented in the Green Party.
- Facilitate working links between the various self-0rganised groups across the party, so that their outputs complement each other.
- Organise fringe events at the Green Party Conference to share best practice and raise the priority of equality and diversity within the membership.
- Work with Green Party Conference organisers to build upon recent improvements in accessibility and engagement for disabled members.
Outreach beyond the Green Party:
- Follow up on the excellent report undertaken by members into BME engagement with the Green Party and try to roll out some of their findings more widely.
- Make links with national organisations campaigning on equalities issues and build formal partnerships around key policy issues.
- Encourage external organisations to attend Green Party Conference and participate in fringe events.
- Support members conducting outreach work to under-represented groups, such as ethnic minority and disabled communities.
I hope this is a representative example of the work I hope to take forward over the next two years. I'm keen that this isn't a one-man band, so hope that some of this programme of action excites you into getting involved. If you think I've missed something fundamental out, please get in touch (email@example.com).