When I’m not doing politics, I work in IT as a systems and network administrator. This involves dealing with the Internet Protocol (IP) a lot. This is basically the thing that makes the Internet (and hence the Web, which is a subset of the Internet) work. Trouble is, it’s based on an assumption that everything directly connected to the Internet (like your BT HomeHub, Virgin box or whatever) can have a unique identifier called an IP address. But there’s so much stuff connected to the Internet these days from smartphones to lamp-posts that we’re running out of unique identifiers allowed by the current version of the Internet Protocol.
Networking geeks basically solved this problem over 15 years ago in 1998 with a new version of the Internet Protocol, but we’re still using the old one because there’s no real incentive for anybody to switch before anybody else does. It’s a classic tragedy of the commons, so wearing my political hat I think there’s a case for the Government to lean on the industries.
I’ve drafted a policy motion on mandating rollout of IPv6 to end users for Lib Dem Conference in Glasgow. It’s aimed at a non-technical audience, so I’ve elided or hinted at some of the problems of address space exhaustion such as route fragmentation. I’ve had a couple of non-technical people read it, and they can grasp the gist: “There is a problem. There is a solution, but nobody’s doing anything about it. The Government should make them.” Note that I’m only addressing the ISP side; hosting and content providers are largely based outside the UK, particularly cloud-based ones, and it’s a business with tight profit margins; I think that if everybody has the ability to reach you on IPv6, then increasing IPv4 prices (and policies of IPv4 allocators such as RIPE) will encourage those providers to implement IPv6 of their own accord.
I’ll be encouraging my local party to support it, but the more LPs we get behind it (and individual conference reps) the better. Let me know if you have any suggested alterations to the text, or whether you or your local party would like to support the motion.
Maybe in 10 years I’ll be proposing a motion to deprecate IPv4…
As you no doubt will have noticed if you’ve looked at a newspaper in the last few months, the Lib Dems are currently being ravaged by scandals concerning sexual harrassment, largely revolving around Lord Chris Rennard and Mike Hancock MP. I’m not going to comment on those particular allegations – I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said before. All I will say is that it’s a shame that some in the media and at the grassroots of other parties are trying to frame this as a Lib Dem specific problem. A culture of sexism and abuse of power exists across all major parties, and what I’ve heard about other parties in private is far worse than anything that’s now public about the Lib Dems. The other party leaders aren’t seeking to make political capital out of the allegations because they know they could rapidly find themselves hoisted on the petard of any criticism they make.
LDHQ is making changes – bringing policies and procedures up to date (which doesn’t affect any of the cases in progress as they can’t be applied retroactively), and appointing a pastoral care officer who can be a point of contact for all party members and staff. That appointment was one of the recommendations of the Morrissey Report commissioned by the party. The Report seems to have filtered into party culture – most people I talk to are aware of its existence, broadly aware of its content, and actively mention it in conversations.
Rock The Boat is putting pressure on the leadership from the grassroots, to make sure that the overarching problem isn’t ignored. However, as a party we’re naturally resistant to top-down edicts from the Leader or President about how we should behave, and that’s a good thing. For everybody complaining that Nick as leader doesn’t have the ability to impose his will on the membership on this issue, imagine how it would be if he had the ability to do so on other issues! Some people may be resistant to change because they themselves have skeletons in their closet – many of our members have been around for decades, since a time when it was more culturally acceptable (though obviously not morally OK) to behave in certain ways towards subordinates, women etc. and are concerned that their past behaviour will be judged by modern standards. Still, we should look at ways we can improve awareness from the grassroots of the party and reduce the risk of harrassment within our ranks.
One thing that’s clear is that the cases currently in the public eye have one thing in common – that complaints were made early on, but either ignored or not handled correctly. As a local party officer, I’ve not had training in how to recognise problems or handle complaints, and I believe this is common for volunteers across parties. I’m hoping that up-to-date training will become available post-Morrissey Report, but if it’s run only as a voluntary effort at Federal Conference, then only the people with the time and money to attend Conference, and the will to attend the training. The latter part is crucial – the kind of person who would voluntarily attend such training is probably the kind of person who doesn’t need to. Unfortunately, the Federal Party has no ability to mandate officers to attend training.
At the North West Lib Dems executive yesterday, I made a proposal which was accepted by the rest of the Executive. I think it combines the best of carrot and stick – making training on harrassment part of a wider package to increase its overall value, and providing an incentive to attend / disincentive not to. I also think that regional parties are close enough to local parties for this to work without seeming like a diktat from on high. In outline, we agreed that the region should:
- Create a package of training for local party officers focussed on:
- Dealing with complaints and recognising harrassment
- Valuing and improving diversity
- Local party officer roles and responsibilities
- Work with party trainers throughout the region to make it available as locally as possible
- Advertise the package to local party execs and invite them to attend it (not until after the Euros this year; in Jan/Feb in future years)
- Consider the local party’s attendance on the training when it comes to allocating support and resources from the Regional Party to local parties
- Work with the party’s national Pastoral Care Officer and Training Officer on the above
I’m not sure how this’ll work in other regions – I get the impression that the NW regional party is particularly effective compared to others. But it’d be good to see other regions be proactive on this as well, and by working with LDHQ we can include whatever they’re doing in our work. I have offered to lead on this for the regional party and will make sure I monitor progress, and I hope we can begin to offer the training after the European elections and as ongoing work in future years. Everybody has a responsibility to challenge the harm done to our fellow party members by abuse of power – whether it’s the particular power afforded by elected office or employment, or the general power imbalance of the patriarchy. We must make sure that all party members, particularly those in positions of responsibility, have the tools they need to meet that responsibility.
The Liberal Democrats have a very visible problem with diversity. If you look at our MPs, they don’t reflect the population of this country – particularly when it comes to ethnicity. None of our major political parties do, but the Lib Dems don’t have any BME faces on the front benches, and are noticeably under-represented on gender balance too.
I’m going to suggest some things that grassroots members can do to improve diversity in the party so feel free to skip to the end, but first a quick overview and some background:
Does the lack of visible diversity mean that the Lib Dems are “worse” on diversity than other parties? Not necessarily – other parties have chosen to tackle the symptom of visible diversity. However, it doesn’t seem like they’re particularly egalitarian as a result; there seems to be a lot of rancour and unhappiness in their grassroots at measures like all-women shortlists, and some of the stories I’ve heard of common, unchallenged discrimination have startled me.
There is an argument that it’s a matter of demographics – that we selected women and BME candidates in 2010 who weren’t elected as we lost seats rather than gained. I’ve heard tell that there’s a smooth diversity gradient from party members to approved candidates to selected candidates to elected MPs. But the statistics are not forthcoming.
The Lib Dems have repeatedly decided at our conference that the techniques used by other parties are illiberal and don’t address the root problems. Some argue that making our party more visibly diverse would make us more attractive to a more diverse potential membership. However, I’m going to look at what the party is and could do to improve diversity in keeping with Conference’s opposition to measures such as enforced shortlists.
Some people will ask why this is a problem and why it’s something we should put effort into; it’s not like we forbid anybody from joining the party or getting approved as a candidate, after all. However, if we believe as liberals that everybody has the same potential regardless of background, and that there should be no barriers to achieving that background, then measurable achievement in the party (membership, approved candidates, councillors, elected MPs) should end up pretty much resembling the general population. Of course as the pools of people get smaller the statistics get woolier, but it’s still clear that we’re a way off.
So either we’re wrong in our assumption about people’s potential, in which case we should pack up and forget about this liberalism lark, or there are some barriers to diversity within the party. I’ll assume in good faith that those barriers are not deliberate or conscious, but they are present. They are also problematic, because they mean that there are liberal people from a wide range of backgrounds whose potential we’re not making use of as a party, and that means we’re all losing out.
If we’re going to grow a more diverse party from the grassroots, we need to take action. We’ve decided on what action we don’t want to take as a party, but we need a better idea of what we do.
The party’s main project to improve diversity is the Leadership Programme – targetted training and support for people seeking candidate approval from under-represented demographics. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but it’s poorly advertised, heavily centralised and relatively small scale.
Here are things that you, as an ordinary party member, can do to play your part. It’ll take actual effort, but a more diverse party is a stronger party, a bigger party, a more active party and a more successful party – and most of them aren’t hard. Importantly, none of them are things you wouldn’t do anyway; this is about focus, not special treatment. I don’t do brilliantly at all the things I’m going to talk about here, but I try to do some of them, and that’s a good starting point…
Learn About Diversity
As somebody who’s been on the exec of a national diversity SAO since 2007, I didn’t think that there was much I could learn about diversity. The party’s training proved me wrong. The paragraphs above about how visible diversity should be used as evidence of structural barriers rather than as a target to hit, and why a lack of diversity is a problem for all of us, are what I took away from Issan Ghazni’s diversity training at party conference. There’s a general acceptance in the party that we are liberals and don’t discriminate, and that diversity is good, but relatively little understanding of why it’s good and how to encourage it.
Local party officers (particularly Chair and Membership Development) should be encouraged to go through the party’s diversity training, by LDHQ and regional parties. As a local party member, ask your MDO about making the training available to the local party exec, possibly at a regional conference which can be easier to attend than Federal.
Reach Out to Diversity
Our party’s membership is increasing, and we all need to do our part to encourage that. We should all be canvassing support and trying to recruit supporters as members – we can’t rely on people joining the party without talking to us any more. This is an ideal opportunity for us to improve our diversity. Make sure you’re putting effort into recruiting people who will improve diversity in your local party. As an ordinary member, make sure this is on your membership development officer’s radar.
Lib Dems do community politics, which often involves working with existing community groups such as business associations, faith organisations et al. Make sure that your campaigners are engaging with diverse organisations rather than just the ones that are perhaps easier for less diverse campaigners to reach.
Welcome Diversity in your Membership
There’s a natural tendency for people to associate with people like ourselves. This makes improving diversity harder. We need to make a conscious effort to overcome this subconscious bias.
Think about your local party’s activities – are they biased towards a particular demographic? A lot of Lib Dem local parties meet in pubs; they’re convenient community facilities, but can put off some women and certain faiths including Islam. Is there somewhere more neutral you could meet? This can be hard, particularly on a budget if you have to pay for use of a village / church hall, but consider the occasions (such as General Meetings and policy debates) where it’ll have most effect. Perhaps you could occasionally go for a coffee after a canvas session rather than a pint. As an ordinary member, make sure your local party secretary or events person is thinking about this.
Not every event needs to be appealing to every member, but there does need to be something for everyone – if a member doesn’t feel welcome at any events, why stay engaged with the local party?
Empower a Diverse Executive
Having a diverse membership who feel welcome in your local party is a fantastic step, and if your local party can achieve this then you should be proud. However, we need to make sure that their voices are being heard – a diverse membership will provide different perspectives and ideas which will benefit your local party as a whole. There are many ways to achieve this but one is through making sure your local party exec is diverse – far too many in my experience consist almost exclusively of old white men.
This post is a couple of months too late for AGM season and elections, but your new exec should have some spaces available for co-option. Identify members who can bring wider perspective to your campaigning, and encourage them to be co-opted onto the executive.
Engage with Diversity Groups
The party has groups dedicated to most diversity strands under the umbrella of the Diversity Engagement Group (DEG). From LGBT+ Lib Dems to Lib Dem Women to EMLD, BUILD and Chinese Liberal Democrats to LDDA and others, there are expert groups out there who can provide advice and assistance to help you improve diversity. One of my 2014 goals for LGBT+ Lib Dems is to finish our Local Government Guide and create a training module on engaging with LGBT+ communities.
Each regional party should have an identified diversity officer – make sure your local party exec knows who this is and ask what they’re doing to help local parties promote diversity.
Talk and Think about Diversity!
This is something we can all do easily – make sure that the conversation about diversity is not lost. In everything you do as a Lib Dem, think about diversity and how you can improve it. Challenge yourself and others in your blog posts, on Twitter, in local party meetings.
And remember that diversity is probably more complicated than you think it is; a cisgendered man, gay or otherwise, may not have a great grasp of the full spectrum of LGBT+ diversity. Individuals can be diverse in multiple ways – BME women have a different life experience to white women, or disabled LGBT+ people compared to able-bodied.
Private Eye has lamely tried to imply that Lib Dem policy supports paedophilia by linking Conference’s decision to refer back motion F17, to the investigation into Sir Cyril Smith. The piece on P5 of Eye 1349 begins:
Last Sunday, as the Lib Dem conference voted against toughening up controls to protect children from online pornography, little thought was given to the party’s own record on protecting childhood innocence
This is pretty sloppy reporting from Private Eye, an organ which generally does a good and diligent job. F17 was not voted down, it was referred back for further discussion. It was referred back because it did little to protect children from online pornography and had some major side-effects and drawbacks. I am writing the following response to the Eye‘s editor:
You recently claimed that the Lib Dem conference had voted against toughening up controls to protect children from online pornography. This is untrue. The policy motion was not voted down; it was referred back for redrafting as it was not fit for purpose. The motion presented to conference introduced the kind of web filtering and snooping the Eye has opposed on many occasions, would do little to protect children, and would deny them access to educational resources.
The Lib Dems who spoke in the debate, including many technology experts and young people, made a clear case for educating children about healthy relationships and good sex education to protect them against the unrealistic expectations set by pornography far better than web censorship can. This became Lib Dem policy in a later conference motion.
Not only was your reporting factually inaccurate, the attempt to conflate this conference debate with paedophilia was cheap and crass. Please return to your usual high standard so I can encourage you to keep up the good work.
As one of the people who campaigned for a reference back on F17, including sacrificing my Friday night to designing flyers for Liberal Youth and LGBT+ Lib Dems to distribute, and organising an all-member mailing for Plus to vote to refer the motion back, I am particularly annoyed by this sloppy reporting and shameful attempt to correlate genuine concern for childrens’ welfare with child abuse. Teaching our children about healthy relationships, rather than pretending we can solve this problem with web filtering, will protect them from abusers.
We do need to continue the #TalkNotTech conversation; it’s something I’ve been thinking about particularly since this F17 debate, and I suspect we may want to pursue a wide-ranging liberal policy on relationships, respect and consent which I’m nominally naming “Destroy the Heteronormative Patriarchy”.
There are many people interested in getting this right, from the anti-F17 agitators James Shaddock and Alisdair Calder McGregor, through excellent speakers including Jezz Palmer and Sophie Bridger, super-blogger Caron Lindsay and many, many others. LGBT+ Lib Dems and Liberal Youth are interested, and I’m hoping this is something Lib Dem Women will want to contribute to as well. Hopefully by Spring Conference 2014 we’ll have a motion we can put to the Conference floor which is truly radical, concentrating on the root causes of sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, rape culture etc. without being too unwieldy to ever implement.
In the meantime, get writing to Lord Gnome!
UPDATE: Sadly, the Eye‘s response leaves a lot to be desired:
Thank you for your letter, however we stand by the fact that conference did actually vote against motion F17 (and rightly so). A “reference back” is a rejection of the motion, even if, as mentioned elsewhere in coverage of the vote, it’s a polite lib dem way of doing so. Nick Clegg even acknowledged as much in his joke about the Syria vote.
It’s a shame you choose to nit-pick over conference semantics rather than acknowledging that the party’s handling of the Cyril Smith situation and failure to apologise to his victims.
The Eye‘s assertion ignores party procedure, the terms of the reference back, and the speeches given by members in the debate, which clearly demonstrate that the party is very keen on finding a good way to protect children from any potential harm from exposure to porn – and indeed the fact that the party voted for more comprehensive sex and relationship advice for children later in the very same Conference. The motion as presented did not protect children from harm and may have caused worse harm in other ways.
The Cyril Smith “situation” is indeed very serious and worrying. It deserves better treatment from the Eye than being juxtaposed with tawdry and baseless assertions that the party is opposed to the protection of children. Better education for our children about the risks they face, and healthy and appropriate relationships, will help protect them from abuse from adults, whether or not they’re Liberal MPs.
September 23rd every year is Bisexual Visibility Day. This day attempts to highlight the existence of bi people, what bisexuality is, and raise awareness.
It’s needed because most people assume everybody’s either gay or straight. In the Lib Dems, people tend to assume I’m gay because I’m heavily involved with LGBT+ Lib Dems and most of the men who do that are gay. When I’m out with my female partner, people tend to assume we’re straight because most male-female couples are straight; when I’ve been out with a guy, people have tended to assume we’re both gay.
It’s needed because some people get upset or feel betrayed when their assumption about my sexuality turns out to be wrong, and blame me rather than themselves. It’s needed because some people get uncomfortable around bisexuals, as if we’re some different species it’s hard to relate to, rather than people who generally feel the same about gender as most people do about hair colour – we might have a preference, but it’s not a deciding factor in who we find attractive.
It’s needed because when a celebrity comes out as bi, people assume they’re doing it to be trendy or for attention, whereas they’re celebrated for their bravery when they come out as gay. It’s needed because there are a load of damaging stereotypes about bisexuals being nymphomaniac, untrustworthy, greedy, prone to cheating, or even psychotically violent. Many of these stereotypes even come from the gay and lesbian communities, even though a good number of gay and lesbian people have slept with different-gendered people while still identifying as gay or lesbian – peoples’ sexual identities being a damn sight more complicated than what they’ve been doing with their genitals recently.
It’s needed because even most organisations that refer to themselves as LGB or LGBT tend to concentrate almost exclusively on lesbian and gay people; bisexuals are tacked on as an afterthought, or bundled in with L&G people, while 2012′s ground-breaking Bi Report clearly demonstrates that bi people have different needs and outcomes than L&G people do. Stonewall have a very poor record of support for bi people and described mixed-sex civil partnerships as “a matter for heterosexuals” rather than something which affected a bunch of people they invite donations to support; most of their bi work was a direct response to a heavy “Some People Are Bi” community lobbying effort.
I’m proud that in LGBT+ Lib Dems we make serious conscious efforts to include all sexual and gender minorities. I did a “Queer Question Time” event on Gaydio last year in which the Labour and Tory representatives (Manchester City Council’s lead member for gay men, and the chairman of LGBTory) described bisexuals as “the grey area of the gay movement” and complained that “nobody knows what they want”. On this topic in particular, we advertised Bi Visibility Day at our party conference stall last week complete with some back issues of Bi Community News. One of our reasons for opposing web filtering in motion F17 at conference was that the word “bisexual” is seen as a porn term rather than an identity even by Google which blocks access to educational resources (including our SAO’s own website). We avoid using terms like “gay marriage” in favour of “same-sex marriage” – it’s not as glib, but it doesn’t contribute to the erasure of bisexual and other identities. We haven’t quite gotten this message through to the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech-writers yet, but we’ll keep trying.
Most of my audience is political – think about your last Pride press release, or your council’s non-discrimination policies, and whether they’re inclusive of people who aren’t lesbian or gay (Manchester City Council used to claim that bi people were, at any given moment, either “being gay” and protected by their policies, or “being straight” and in no need of protection). Is your local Pride actually inclusive? A couple of years ago, a bisexual friend left her first Manchester Pride in disgust because the opening ceremony had biphobic vitriol spewed onstage from the compére, an incident which was not deemed serious by the organisers who assured us it was “just a joke”. If one of the UK’s biggest LGBT Pride events isn’t a safe space for bisexuals, where is?
On Bisexual Visibility Day, which happens to affect me personally, I’m highlighting the way that sexuality can be political, and public policy affects different sexualities differently. Read the links in this post – particularly the Bi Report – and reflect on how you, and the institutions you’re involved with, relate to and think about bi people.
A quick reminder to those at Conference that this is a great opportunity to invest in a Lib Dem table flag, which is all you need to organise simple socials to engage your local membership.
There are also a lot of AGMs on the fringe today for you to get involved with party organisations.
I believe that it’s important for the Liberal Democrats and its members that more people get more involved more widely in the party. I’ve been trickling out posts about background and procedure, but it’s time to flip around the Kolb learning cycle from Abstract to Active, and encourage you to do something. Mostly, I’ve been talking here about local parties because it’s the most obvious and geographically proximate way for people to get involved.
For this post I’m going to talk about party interest groups, because it’s Conference now (it wasn’t when I started this post a week ago, but I’ve been busy) and most party interest groups have their AGMs at Autumn Conference. The Lib Dems has a wide, eclectic, federal structure. There are many ways to get involved, if you know about them. Unfortunately, few people do know about them and it’s not easy to find out. New members get details about Specified Associated Organisations in their member packs now, which is a vast improvement; there’s a horrible hard to navigate list of party bodies on the party website. But if you’re at Conference, go look around the Exhibitions to find party bodies which are at least organised and funded enough for a stall.
If there’s an area of Lib Dem policy you’re interested in, stand for election to the executive committee that runs the interest group – pretty much all of them are elected democratically at each autumn conference, either at the AGM or by postal ballot shortly afterwards. If you can’t get elected, ask the executive to co-opt you to any vacant spaces. Get involved and become part of a team – rope in a friend to stand with you, for moral support. If you’re not sure what to do, I’d make sure the following are happening:
- The organisation knows who its members are and chases up renewals
- The organisation communicates with its members through some combination of post, email or social networking
- The organisation asks for feedback and input from its members
- The organisation advertises its existence and actively seeks new members
- The organisation is creating, sponsoring or supporting policy motions to achieve its goals within the Party
- The organisation’s executive communicates effectively, regularly and frequently
In my experience, an executive list on the party list server or another mailing list provider is very helpful for the last point.
This is the bare minimum that an organisation needs to do to self-sustain. It’s not enough to make it an effective and useful organisation, but it’s a way of getting more people more involved and engaged to achieve that. People can’t do everything themselves, and organisations need to encourage strong teams of diverse talents. Once those requirements are being addressed – not necessarily perfectly, but things are moving in the right direction, think about:
- The organisation is promoting the party’s action on its policies and goals outside the Party
- The organisation is campaigning on its policies and goals outside the Party
Party bodies don’t exist just to sell the party to outsiders – that’s why these external goals are secondary. But they should exist to make the Lib Dems do the right thing (in their opinion) and to engage the public with these issues. Organisations need to be inward-facing to sustain themselves and grow, but they also need to look outward for fresh ideas, and to make sure we’re either representing or persuading the public in liberal directions.
This guide is nearly short enough for a Lib Dem Voice article (and following LDV is not a bad way to find out about some of the things happening in the party, particularly in its member-only forum). I hope it sets out how you can get involved in an SAO and what you can do. Getting more involved in the party can be frustrating at times, and can involve a lot of work if you haven’t got a strong team pulling together – or if you’re trying to bite off more than you can chew. But it can also be incredibly rewarding, from the small victories to the big ones. It can teach you skills, and lessons, and talents you can put to use in the rest of your life. It’s worth it for you, and it’s worth it for the cause of Liberal Democracy.