Friday, 28 October 2011

How the Right began setting the agenda for LGBT rights

When opening a broadsheet newspaper in the last few weeks, you can’t have failed to see a disproportionate number of column inches devoted to a shift in policy from the UK Government towards LGBT rights. Making international aid conditional on a good track record on LGBT rights is now floated as a concrete policy, with countries such as Uganda and Ghana in the firing line for cancelled aid. On the face of it, we seem to be seeing a Conservative Party in power that has genuinely changed their tune on gay rights. Wrong.

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

Re-launching the LGBT Greens in England and Wales

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:

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

Piercing the white noise of party conference season

We hear all too frequently these days that party political conferences should be scrapped, but I have to disagree. I've spent the last three weeks knee-deep in policy announcements, soundings from fringe events and the shifting of political allegiances between key figures in their parties. For the Green Party, generally thrust in the media shadows around this time, this presents an ideal opportunity to view the platforms of our political competitors in forensic detail, enabling us to glean insight into the roads ahead and the pitfalls that threaten us.

Of our main two competitors, the Liberal Democrats and Labour, I sensed that they remained unable to cut through to the public mood. In both their embrace and impotent loss of power, these parties have turned dialogue inwards and focussed upon their internal concerns. As a consequence, the level of political debate felt muted and weak, oblivious to the economic precipice the country stands upon. The growth strategies of all parties remain unfinished and whilst they continue to shy away from putting meat on the bones of their philosophies, they will be ignored by the electorate.

However, I do think that the Green Party runs the risk of embracing the same level of complacency. In much the same way as the Liberal Democrats have had their heads turned, our recent modest electoral success has satiated some of the political hunger that has driven us for the last 20 years. My concern will be that the leadership of the party will find it easier to put all our eggs in the basket that Brighton and Hove Council represents, as well as our local MP, rather than force us to take risks and invest in new campaigns nationally. The "wasted vote" argument does hold sway still in vast swathes of the country and will only crumble under the sustained efforts of elected local Green councillors. I'm keen for us to focus less on parliamentary fights and more on capacity-building broadly across regions, such as the North-West (who narrowly missed electing a further Green MEP). Experience teaches us that the Green vote hardens when voters see us in action on their behalf.

The other bitter pill to swallow from party conferences is the realisation that party activists from Labour and the Liberal Democrats clearly look as if they have reserves of smart, competent and single-minded politicians ready to step into power. We still need to identify and nurture unique voices within Green ranks, individuals with a rich level of experience. Otherwise, we will stack our fortunes upon the shoulders of our party leader and the scant other national figures, which isn't sustainable in the longer term. At our recent national conference, I was excited to see so many young activists full of energy and ideas, but many less of my generation able to step up to the challenges ahead.

Our employment strategy needs work too. As much as I have been one of the strongest cheerleaders for the common-sense approach of our New Green Deal agenda, I am fearful that it remains a relevant strategy for certain sections of UK industry. Whilst the knock on effect of it's success would be pumping more consumer spending into the wider economy, it does feel like a partial approach to a global problem from within our environmental comfort zone. What do we have to say to the broader range of professions under threat and experiencing flatline growth and job losses?

It's quite a gauntlet to lay down to my own party, but times have never been as serious as this. None of the other parties have come up yet with a compelling argument, so there is an opening for us to cogently speak to the fears and aspirations of the electorate whilst they conduct a conversation amongst themselves.

I have been pretty uncompromising in this post, for which I make no apology. But I'm keen to hear - what do you think the Greens should learn from the other party conferences this year?