Thursday, 23 November 2017

The transgender question

Yesterday, on LBC radio, I listened to an interview with a woman who is involved in helping schools to deal with the question of transgender students. I began listening after the interview had started so, unfortunately, I don’t know who she was. Apparently, she has recently been vilified by the Daily Mail for “telling teachers not to use the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’”. The reality, as she explained, was that she advises teachers to address large groups of students as “people” rather than by using gender specific terms, since there might be some present who would feel excluded by such terms.

The presenter (James O’Brien, of course) opened up the phone lines to callers who might have questions they wished to put to this woman about her field of expertise, or areas of confusion she might be able to clarify for them. Unfortunately, I was listening from work so was not able to call the show, but had I been at home I would have been very tempted to call, since transgenderism is an area that I do have some confusion about and I would appreciate being able to discuss my questions with someone who knows more about it than I do. In the event, I had to tweet my question, which was, “If there were no socially prescribed gender roles, would there still be people who felt they were trapped in the wrong body?” Unfortunately, JO’B did not read out my question, but I did receive a number of “likes” and “retweets”. On investigating the twitter sites of my likers and retweeters I found that the majority of them were women who identified as feminists and considered transgenderism as a threat to the safety, privacy and rights of women. My tweet, however, was not meant to be a condemnation of transgenderism. It was a genuine question which I have never heard properly addressed and would very much like to know the answer to so that I can formulate my own stance on transgender issues, particularly now that such issues have become so topical and politically relevant, with the government considering making it easier for people to legally change their gender.

If the answer to my question is 'yes, there would still be people who felt they were trapped in the wrong body even in the absence of socially prescribed gender roles' - in other words, if the reasons for people being transgender are not predominantly related to their identification (or lack of identification) with societal expectations of masculine or feminine behaviour - then what that would appear to indicate is that transgenderism is not actually about 'gender' at all. Rather, it is about biological sex and the straightforward desire to have a body of the opposite biological sex to that with which one was born. If that is the case, then what does it mean to be a man trapped in a woman's body, or vice versa? Wouldn't that seem to imply that being male or female is an ontological reality that goes beyond mere physical 'plumbing'? That there is something like a male or female 'soul' - a kind of gendered "ghost in the machine" - completely unrelated to either socially defined gender roles or ones biological reproductive equipment, that resides within each one of us and occasionally finds itself residing in a body of the 'wrong' sex?

Like I said, I'm confused about this issue, and I'm reluctant to choose a side in the developing debate about transgenderism until I can get some kind of clarification about, well - what it actually is.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

On finding one's 'political home'

I listen to LBC Radio a lot, mainly to the shows of James O’Brien, Maajid Nawaz and Iain Dale. One thing I’ve noticed that crops up in a lot of calls lately is the idea of people searching for a political home. Many callers are essentially socially or economically conservative but are not comfortable with the Tories’ approach to Brexit, or feel that austerity has ‘gone too far’. Others may be of a centre left political stance but might not feel very enamoured of Jeremy Corbyn or the more ‘hard left’ elements which seem now to have become the mainstream of the Labour party. Then there are the hard core Brexiteers who are angry at the perceived dithering of the government over the issue of the UK leaving the European Union. And, equally, the unrepentant Remainers who don’t feel that the Labour party, as the official opposition, are doing enough to fight for the pro-EU position. These people often say that they feel they have no political home. But, sometimes, a caller will announce, like an enthusiastic religious convert, that he or she has, at last, found his/her political home, perhaps in the Liberal Democrat party or, more often, as a member or supporter of UKIP.
This idea of needing to find one’s political home seems rather pointless and, to be honest, somewhat self-indulgent to me. Political parties exist essentially for the purpose of gaining power in order to enact the policies that they promote. I don’t see the point in joining a political party in order to be amongst people who have views that are as near as possible to one’s own, if there is no real prospect of getting a chance to put those views into practice. For some people, it even seems as if their party affiliation is worn as a kind of intellectual fashion accessory, in order to let people know at a glance - particularly on social media - what type of views they hold and what viewpoints they disdain, which politicians they feel an affinity for and which ones they hold in contempt.
I am a member of the Labour party, not because I believe in everything that party stands for - in fact they are not even the party whose basic views are most similar to my own at the moment – but because, of the two parties which have any real chance of coming to power in Britain at the moment, they are the one I would most like to see in government. Their policies in regard to funding the NHS and lifting the public sector pay cap, and their concerns about the cost of living and, in particular, of housing, are more in accord with my own, and relevant to the life circumstances of myself and my family, than those of the Conservatives. But politics is not sport and should not operate on the basis of tribal loyalties. Should the day come when it makes more sense to vote, say, Liberal Democrat (as I have done in more than one general election in the past) in order for more of the policies that I believe in to have a better chance of being implemented, then I will gladly jump ship and support the Lib Dems. That is the only way in which the idea of finding one’s ‘political home’ makes any sense to me.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Trump's stance on Afghanistan could prove counterproductive

President Trump - who seems to have abandoned the isolationist stance he appeared to adopt during his election campaign - announced last night that there will be a further 4000 American troops sent into Afghanistan, and he has called on the UK and other NATO countries to follow suit. This time, though, the remit of the US forces will not involve any attempt at 'nation building'. Their purpose, he says, is simply to kill terrorists.
There is a real danger, in my opinion, that this will turn out to be an extremely counterproductive move. With the US military mission being told specifically to not concern itself with 'nation building', there is a potential to slip into an attitude of disregard for the safety and well being of afghan civil society and, indeed, afghan civilians, altogether. Consequently, the US could end up making a lot more enemies in the region than it already has, thus ultimately increasing the threat to American interests and American security far beyond its current level.

Friday, 9 June 2017

First thoughts on the election result

This is a good outcome for those of us (like myself) who are opposed to a 'hard brexit'. A weakened Theresa May will be presiding over a Tory parliamentary party many of whom are surely opposed to the headlong rush to leave the single market that has been May's policy up until now, and facing a strengthened Labour/SNP/Libdem opposition. At this point I think there is hope for the possibility of the UK remaining within the European Economic Area. Indeed, that would surely be the only sensible thing to do, when the alternative is to be recklessly led out of the single market by a demonstrably weak and wobbly Tory administration in charge of negotiating an acceptable 'divorce' settlement in a limited time frame, beginning in 11 days time. Also, in terms of things like the future of the NHS, social care, workers' rights etc, it's obviously less scary to have a Tory minority government than one with an unassailable five year mandate to wreak as much havoc as it likes.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Council tenants contribute to social care too

I don't agree with the Tory policy of making home owners pay for social care by having to pay all but £100 thousand pounds of the value of their homes to the local authority after they die. However, I have heard several people, both on the radio and on the doorstep while canvassing (for Labour), complain about the policy in something like the following words:
"Why should I, when I've worked hard all my life to be able to own my own home and have something to pass on to my children, have to sell my house and give most of the money to the government in order to pay for my care, while someone who lives in a council house will get the same care completely free of charge?"
As someone who lives in a council house, I find this view very annoying, because it is based on a complete misunderstanding of the situation. Let me demonstrate with some simple calculations. I realise rents and house prices have been lower in the past than they are today, and they may be higher in the future, but for the sake of simplicity I'll do the calculations in today's money.
My rent is currently £620 per month. I first moved in to a council house when I was 22, but I spent some time unemployed and some in private rented accommodation, so I'll write off three years and start my calculations from the age of 25. So someone, such as myself, who moves into council accommodation at a cost of £620 per month and pays full rent from the age of 25 until the age of 67 (the retirement age for people, such as myself, who are reliant on a state pension and who will not retire before 2028) will, by the time they retire, have paid a total of £312,480 in rent - all of which goes back to the local authority (the very body which is responsible for social care). This is the equivalent of what someone who owns a home worth £412,480 would have to pay. Like the home owner, the council house tenant will have no home of their own left to pass on to their children, in spite of all that money they have paid throughout their lives. But unlike the home owner, they won't have £100 thousand pounds of assets left over. Furthermore, this will be the case whether or not they require social care.
I don't agree with the Tory policy, because I believe health and social care should be integrated and free at the point of delivery for everyone, but I hope I have demonstrated that just because someone lives in a council house does not mean that they are somehow free-riding at the expense of homeowners when it comes to paying towards the care that we may all, some day, come to rely on.

Saturday, 13 May 2017


Obviously, everything I wrote in my previous post about how I intended to respond to the outcome of the County Council elections is now completely null and void, since we are now in a General Election campaign. I intend to campaign as fully as possible for a Labour victory in that General Election. Issues of party leadership will, no doubt, take care of themselves after 8th June.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Leaving Labour? My plans regarding party membership

For some weeks now, I have been on the verge of leaving the Labour party. I became a registered Labour supporter through Unison in 2015, before the general election and rejoined the party (I had previously been a member in the late 80s/early 90s) as a full member at the beginning of 2016. I got involved with the party again because I felt that they were the only party that had a chance of defeating the Conservatives – who, in my opinion, were guilty of unfair and unnecessary systematic and ideologically based underfunding of essential public services - and until fairly recently I still believed Labour were the only party that could stop the Tories in the next general election, whether it comes in 2020 or sooner. However, it is now pretty clear that Labour have no chance of winning the next general election under Jeremy Corbyn who, while very good at Labour leadership campaigns, seems to be quite inept at being leader of the opposition. Labour have consistently been a long way behind the Tories in the polls (the two most recent ones, here and here, put them 18 percentage points behind, with the one on 29th March putting Corbyn’s personal popularity 40 points behind that of Theresa May).
Rather than leave now, however, I have decided to remain in the party and to take part in the campaigning for the County Council elections which are due to take place on 4th May. If Labour defy expectations and do well in these elections then I shall take it as a sign that the tide is turning and that Labour still stand a chance of clawing their way back to a position of being able to mount a serious challenge to the Tories by the time the next general election comes around. If, however, as seems much more likely, Labour suffer serious losses then, unless Mr Corbyn resigns his position as leader, I shall resign from the party. Corbyn failing to stand aside after a disastrous performance in these elections will be, to my mind, a clear sign that he puts his loyalty to that large majority of Labour members and registered supporters who twice elected him as leader of the party, before his loyalty to that far larger number of people who rely on the Labour Party to be in a position to effectively oppose the Conservative government and to be able to take power themselves at the soonest available opportunity.
If Jeremy Corbyn does stand down in the wake of a drubbing on 4th May then I shall, for the time being, remain a member of the Labour Party. His most likely replacement, according to most commentators, will be either Clive Lewis or Keir Starmer. I would prefer Starmer, but even if Clive Lewis takes over I will stick around and see how things go under his leadership. It’s hard to imagine that the situation for the party can get much worse than it is now. Should Labour’s share of the vote tank in the elections next month and Mr Corbyn do the decent thing and resign then hopefully, whoever succeeds him, to quote a song once popular with a previous Labour leader, "things can only get better!"

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Has Brexit brought a united Ireland closer?

According to Wikipedia the population of Northern Ireland is 45.6% protestant and 40.2% Roman Catholic. I realise that not all protestants are unionists and not all Catholics are nationalists, but the history of each of those two communities is deeply intertwined with those respective political traditions. An Ipsos MORI poll in 2013 found that 38% of Catholics wanted Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, compared to 35% who supported a united Ireland.
In the EU referendum, the electorate in Northern Ireland voted by 56% to 44% to remain in the European Union.
In Thurday's Northern Ireland assembly elections, the results of which were announced last night and in which the turnout was 65% compared to only 54% last year, the Democratic Unionist Party's majority over Sinn Fein was reduced from ten seats to only one seat, with Sinn Fein's over all vote increased by 4%.
I don't live in Northern Ireland and neither am I particularly informed about Northern Ireland politics but, taking the above facts into account, I can't help but wonder whether the looming 'hard Brexit' has made the prospect of a United Ireland (and hence the six counties that currently comprise Northern Ireland being able to stay in the EU) more palatable to voters, particularly those from among that 38% of Roman Catholics who, in 2013, supported remaining a part of the United Kingdom. In other words, could it be that the UK vote to leave the European Union has brought the prospect of a United Ireland a lot closer than it was before June 23rd 2016.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

My reluctant conclusion: Jeremy must go

It's now been five months since Jeremy Corbyn won his second Labour leadership contest. The dissenters within the PLP have been pretty quiet, but still Labour's dire opinion poll rankings refuse to shift (at least not upwards) and Corbyn's personal ratings are even worse than the party's. I voted for him twice (pretty reluctantly the second time) and have tried to stay positive about his leadership (my post of 31st December was written more to try and convince myself than anyone else) but I have finally come to the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn has to go, or Labour will have absolutely no chance of winning the next general election and we will be condemned to five more years of the Conservatives, this time with a vastly increased majority.