Friday, 28 April 2017

A Bold & Wide-Ranging LGBTQIA+ Manifesto: My Thoughts on the Green Party GE2017 LGBTQIA+ Manifesto

This morning in Camden, the Green Party became the first political party in the 2017 UK General Election to unveil specific policies to help LGBTQIA+ people in the UK (you can read it for yourself here: https://lgbtiqa.greenparty.org.uk/resources/lgbtiqagreens/downloads/LGBTIQAManifesto2017.pdf). Having gone through it, I must say that I find the policy platform absolutely fantastic, with the Greens keen to take action in areas such as Trans Health, Intersex rights and protecting LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers. It's pretty much exactly the bold kind of reform I want to see take place within the next 5 years and other political parties should take note: the Equality Act 2010, Gender Recognition Act 2004 & Same Sex Marriage may have marked a great step forward LGBT equality wise but it's time to make the necessary legal changes we need to improve the lives of non-binary, intersex, aromantic and asexual people in the UK. Aimee Challenor, LGBTQIA+ Greens Chair and Equalities Spokesperson has done a tremendous job of facilitating and developing the policy platform along with Green Party members. So it's only fair and proper that I outline my thoughts on some of the updated and new policies below.

  • The Greens realise that when the economy isn't growing as strongly as expected or when austerity measures have been implemented, LGBTQIA+ services are particularly impacted by usually sharp reductions in local government budgets and health budgets. So I'm really pleased to see a commitment to provide local authorities with funding to be able to protect specialised services. Sexual health clinics in particular need to receive funding so that specific advice and guidance can continue to be offered to young people embarking on same-sex experiences for the first time. As someone who wants to see domestic violence service provision improve and become more accessible to LGBTQIA+ survivors, funding to help facilitate this beyond the current earmarked £20m Conservative fund would be welcome indeed.
  • The Civil Partnership Act 2004 does need to amended so that heterosexual couples can have the choice as to whether they have a Civil Partnership ceremony or a marriage ceremony. 
  • The Human Rights Act 1998 would be protected in its entirety allowing LGBTQIA+ to continue to express themselves openly in public without fear of being regulated.
  • I approve of the idea to pardon 50,000 to 100,000 people who engaged in consensual same-sex activity when anti-sodomy laws were in place; the anti-sodomy laws have now been repealed so it makes perfect sense to pardon those who did absolutely nothing wrong. 
  • Improved hate-crime legislation is imperative; we need to look at equalising the length of sentence given to perpetrators so that it sends out a clear message that hate crime of any type will not be tolerated. That includes hate crimes committed against intersex people. The Greens would also improve public awareness of non-binary identities and intersex people to reduce instances of hate crime through education programmes and strengthening HR training in public sector workplaces. 
  • We need to look at how to reduce waiting times on the NHS for trans and non-binary people to see specialists at Gender Identity Clinics. This means conducting a review into the effectiveness of NHS services including looking into the viability of expanding the number of GICs across the UK and recruiting more nurses into trans healthcare, including trans and non-binary nurses. 
  • Removal of the dreaded Spousal Veto component of the Gender Recognition Act has been a long time coming and I'm glad the Greens have committed to its removal so openly. No married trans person should have to obtain consent from a partner to attain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC); the current system is also open to female and male DVA perpetrators who can use the Spousal Veto as a form of Coercive Control.
  • Self-declaration of gender is what I'd like to see adopted in the UK as standard form of practice. If you can do it in Norway, if our neighbours can do it in Ireland, there is no reason why we can't do it in the UK. Non-binary people shouldn't have to go through a "proof" process just to obtain recognition of their gender identity and obtain a GRC which they cannot do anyway at the moment.  
  • The Greens have joined the Lib Dems in calling for X gender markers to be an available option on passports so that non-binary and intersex individuals can use the marker to indicate their gender status. Such a policy is commonsense to me and doesn't lead to any watering down of gender identity as fearmongerers would have voters believe.
  • Intersex people deserve to have legal recognition, including within the Equality Act. It makes no sense that trans people who have indicated they may or will go through Gender Reassignment Surgery are protected but intersex people are not. Therefore I welcome the Green Party's suggestion that intersex should be included as a specific protected characteristic.
  • Unnecessary sex assignment surgeries conducted on a infant or child which isn't done for valid health reasons should be made a criminal offence. Young people have the right to decide their gender identity and whether they wish to undergo a sex assignment procedure. Young intersex people have the right to receive appropriate information to make an informed decision. So I welcome the Green Party's pledge to make it illegal for a doctor to decide a person's gender identity when it is inappropriate to do so.
  • NHS professionals may need more HR training on how to help intersex patients so it's important that intersex activists work with GPs, nurses and mental health providers as to how individual trusts can deliver the highest quality of patient care and avoiding discriminatory practices.
  • I'm incredibly pleased to see that the Green Party wants to see asexuality taught as part of a LGBTQIA+ inclusive Sex and Relationships Education programme which the Greens want to see implemented in an age-appropriate manner from primary school age onwards. Young people need to know that it's not "weird" to have little or no sexual attraction and that the contributions they can make to society are just as valid as anyone else's. Introducing legislation to protect asexual and aromantic people from discrimination and harassment is a must and I look forward to seeing how such proposals would develop and whether any other political parties are prepared to help facilitate development of the legislation regardless of which party ends up in Government on June 9th.
  • The Greens want to bring forward the consultation on reducing the blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men (currently 12 months). All evidence should be reviewed and a decision should be made within the next two years.
  • HIV campaigners and organisations such as the Terrance Higgins Trust have pressed the Conservative Government to provide PrEP pills (which help prevent HIV) to everyone who has a high risk of contracting HIV on the NHS for months. NHS Scotland decided to provide PrEP on the 10th April so the NHS in England is lagging embarrassingly behind. I agree with the Greens that PrEP should be made available on the NHS and I'd suggest this should happen within the next 6 months.
  • HIV should be taught about in all schools so that students remain aware of the risks of engaging in sex without condoms.
  • Whilst the Conservative Government has committed to tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying in schools across the UK by engaging third party organisations to deliver lessons, especially in state schools, it isn't really enough of a positive step forward. Requiring EVERY school to adopt an anti bullying programme that tackles HBT bullying, including faith schools as the Greens has suggested would help to foster a culture of tolerance and compassion towards students and staff, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. 
  • Teachers should have the knowledge and skills they need to fully support their LGBTQIA+ students. This could be provided by creating specific training modules to be delivered during PGCE courses and updates courses for qualified teachers from qualified HR and L&D professionals  would help teachers feel able to provide support to LGBTQIA+ students in a compassionate way.
  • Sports organisations need to continue towards making sport more accessible for LGBTQIA+ people, especially at grassroots level. That includes looking at changing facility provision, addressing HBT verbal bullying and investing in HR training for all sports club staff. 
  • As I've argued in previous blogposts, we need to do more to help protect LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers and refugees in the UK. The Conservatives haven't really addressed the issue satisfactorily whilst they've been in Government and I believe that change to the asylum system is needed now so that it is truly fair to LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers. I welcome the Greens' suggestion that "a moratorium on deportation for LGBTQIA+ refugees" is necessary; it's not fair to deport them whilst a review of the system is taking place. I also agree that refugees shouldn't have to be accommodated in detention centres whilst their claims go through processing procedures and should be able to find work during that time period. Why deny someone the opportunity to find work if they have skills that could be used to help benefit the UK economy? 
  • Refugees should have access to legal aid and the legal aid system needs to be properly funded anyways and protected from further cuts. 
  • Border control systems definitely need to be reformed and I welcome the Greens' suggestion that the next Government should fully implement the recommendations made by John Vine (former Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration). Border agents do need equality training so they avoid asking sexually-explicit questions that could cause more distress to refugees and asylum seekers who may have been subjected to rape before fleeing their home or during their journey to the UK. 
  • The Conservatives continue to claim that they have continued to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights abroad. It's true that British Consulates have been used as venues for couples who wish to have a same-sex marriage (notably in Australia) but Theresa May hasn't publicly condemned the actions of Kaydrov in Chechnya (where openly gay and bi men are being illegally detained, tortured and murdered). The Greens believe that we need to continue sending a strong message of tolerance and acceptance to countries around the world. That's why I think that the UK should be bold enough to use the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court to prosecute the Chechen regime for human rights abuses and prosecute other regimes for willful discrimination against their LGBTQIA+ citizens. I'd like to see the UK work with its international partners and defy Russia by asking for specific sanctions against the Chechen regime and the Russian Government for failing to take position action to prevent further atrocities from being committed. We should also urge all Commonwealth countries to follow the UK's lead and decriminalise homosexuality and bring in anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQIA+ people.
The Green Party has set down the gauntlet for other political parties in this General Election cycle when it comes to improving LGBTQIA+ rights. It's time for positive, substantive change, especially in relation to establishing the first comprehensive legal rights for intersex and asexual and aromantic people. The plan will help LGBTQIA+ people regardless of their social background, including their legal status to remain in the UK, something that those on the right (especially the populist far right) seem adamant not to address. They may show concern for gay people being thrown off buildings in Syria but should they dare come to the UK seeking asylum and their first response is to deport them. That's not type of response that I want to see as part of a compassionate, progressive, liberal UK. One that recognises that we need to change cultural attitudes to help others live more fulfilling, positive lives. Making LGBTQIA+ SRE compulsory in schools, making PrEP avaliable to help prevent new cases of HIV, being able to take strong action on Chechnya. Those are the sorts of policy actions needed to fulfill a vision of the UK I envisage for us, regardless of whether Brexit ends up happening or not. 

I can't wait to see what LGBTQIA+ policies will be proposed by Labour and the Lib Dems but I wonder whether they will be as bold as the policy platform laid out by Aimee and the Green Party today. I give this Green Party manifesto 2 very big thumbs up. 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Some Current Lib Dem Views to be aware of this General Election 2017

The Lib Dems hit their 100,000 membership target on Monday whilst at a campaign event in Vauxhall. Current Labour Brexiteer MP Kate Hoey is being challenged by Lib Dem candidate, ex Simon Hughes staffer and half Brit, half Croatian journalist George Turner. At first glance you'd think it'd be a daunting task, with Hoey having a 12,000 majority and a relative amount of celebrity recognition but throw in the fact that the constituency voted to Remain in the EU by a whopping 78% and you can see that there's a real chance for an election upset here. As a Remain Independent voter (who's currently leaning towards Labour), it'd be quite satisfying to see the seat switch hands, especially as Hoey hasn't been exactly clear on whether she approves of the Labour party's current policy platform, including on Brexit.

Whilst it's obviously a big plus to vote for Turner if you want to reduce the chances of Hard Brexit and make it clear that Vauxhall still favours remaining in the EU, it's important to be aware of Lib Dem views on the key issues that may sway undecided voters to mark the X firmly in the Lib Dem column, at least in Vauxhall. I've already covered Education in some depth and you can access that blogpost here: http://sassysvensknorsk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/a-short-analysis-of-lib-dems-education.html.

Welfare State:
    • The Lib Dems would reverse the Universal Credit cut, allowing those on the National Living Wage or just above to keep more from the income they work so hard to earn.
    • The Lib Dems would remove the Benefit Cap whilst addressing high-level payments to households by looking at ways of reducing housing costs. (Passed Motion F31/Policy Paper 124 "Mending the Safety Net" Autumn Conference 2016 http://www.libdems.org.uk/conference-autumn-16-f31-social-security).
    • The Lib Dems would abolish the Bedroom Tax and replace it with "incentives to downsize"(F31). 
    • The Lib Dems would increase Jobseekers Allowance and Universal Credit (UC) payments to 18-24 year olds in line with National Living Wage and Apprenticeship Wage increases (F31). 
    • The Lib Dems are considering introducing a Second Earner's Work Allowance to help families who are working hard to support their children.  The Lib Dems would reverse the "Two Child" tax credit and UC limit, remove the disgusting rape clause and reverse cuts to the family element of UC. The Lib Dems would give an extra £5 a week in Child Benefit for the first child to families on UC. All these policies would be funded through abolishing the Marriage Tax Allowance and ending universal entitlement to winter fuel allowances and free TV licences for wealthy pensioners (F31). 
    • The Lib Dems would abolish the Work Capability Assessment for those who are long term sick or disabled and then create a system that was fair, so that nobody would be forced to do a job that they are unable to do.
    • The Lib Dems would help disabled people into work by expanding the Access to Work Programme so that those with mental health conditions could be given access to reasonable adjustments. The Lib Dems would also encourage employers to take part in the "Two Ticks" scheme and to improve their HR policies towards disabled employees (F31). 
    • The Lib Dems are committed to helping carers, increasing the amount a carer can earn before the Carer's Allowance can be taken away to £150 and reducing the number of hours of caring to qualify to 20 (F31). 
    • The Lib Dems would provide a "decent, generous" State Pension and encourage young and middle aged people to save more towards their retirement.
Environment:
    • The Lib Dems admit that more action needs to be taken at a governmental level to help reduce carbon emissions so as to meet targets set out in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The Lib Dems would reform planning framework so that local authorities can adopt a consistent and positive approach "to zero and low carbon installation applications across the domestic, non-domestic, public and community sphere"(Passed Motion F29: "Investing in the Green Economy", Autumn Conference 2016 http://www.libdems.org.uk/conference-autumn-16-f29-green-economy). 
    • The Lib Dems have set an ambitious target to reduce net UK carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
    • The Lib Dems understand that there needs to be more funding for wind and solar power-i.e. "real investment in renewables" to turn the UK into a green economy. 
    • The Lib Dems would retain the 5p charge on plastic bags.
    • The Lib Dems would invest in electric vehicles and phase out diesel vehicles (Passed Motion F40: "Future Transport" Autumn Conference 2016). 
    • The Lib Dems continue to support HS2 and would approve plans for HS3 (F40). 
    • The Lib Dems want to work closely with local authorities to establish "innovation hubs" which link universities with local businesses to "promote mutual learning and encourage exchange of ideas" (F29).
    • The Lib Dems would retain all EU environmental legislation and targets. 
    • The Lib Dems believe that agricultural policy needs to be upgraded. There would be a positive approach to helping farmers and processing factories to expand and grow their businesses and there would be funding and investment available to support new entrants into the food industry. The Lib Dems would also provide funding for agricultural research and development.
    • The Lib Dems want to stop the illegal importing of pets and require all puppy breeders to have a mandatory licence before they can start their breeding programs. 
    • Animal testing must be minimised, with the Lib Dems working with researchers to help them change their practices. 
Housing:
    • The Lib Dems want to build 300,000 houses a year, with financial help given to encourage housing associations and councils to build more homes.
    • The Lib Dems would build 10 new garden cities.
    • The Lib Dems want to create a Housing Investment Bank, which would generate new funding for housebuilding and ensure that the construction industry can hire enough staff and create apprenticeships to be able to help build the housing.
    • All housing built under a Lib Dem Government would be to high quality standards and would be sustainable. That would include making sure they are insulated to Standard B or C. 
    • The Lib Dems want to make sure that letting fees are banned and want to introduce stronger measures to hold private landlords to account when they provide substandard housing to low and middle income earners.
    • The Lib Dems would restore Housing Benefit fully to 18-21 year olds (F31). 
    • The Lib Dems want to tackle the issue of homelessness. A suggestion was made at the 2016 Autumn Conference to establish a £60m fund to be made available to local councils so that they could provide emergency accommodation for those who find themselves on the street (for at least 28 days) and early intervention finance for those at risk of losing their home. The Lib Dems would also extend the period that someone is "threatened with homelessness" from 28 days to 56 days. 
    • The Lib Dems seek an end to the Vagrancy Act, so that sleeping rough is no longer an criminal offence. 
    • The Lib Dems would end the Government policy forcing local authorities to sell off high value council houses.
Justice:
    • The Lib Dems believe that immigration has been positive for the UK and would continue to make the case that closing our borders would not be beneficial to the UK economy or culture.
    • The Lib Dems would work with national and international agencies including the Refugee Council to do more to help refugees fleeing persecution and conflict.
    • The Lib Dems would protect the Human Rights Act 1998.
    • The Lib Dems would conduct a review into the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, including introducing simpler procedures for legal aid in domestic violence cases and making legal aid available to children and vulnerable youngsters (Passed Motion F23: "Restoring Access to Justice" Autumn Conference 2016 http://www.libdems.org.uk/conference-autumn-16-f23-justice ). 
    • The Lib Dems want to introduce basic legal education in all schools which would be delivered as part of existing Citizenship lessons (F23). 
    • The Lib Dems would create and fund a national online site to provide legal education resources, which would be backed up by a telephony service for "signposting and clarification" (F23). 
    • The Lib Dems are looking at streamlining and simplifying all court and tribunal procedures "using accessible digital technology where appropriate" (F23). 
    • The Lib Dems would scrap surveillance legislation, so that billions would not be wasted on storing personal web and email histories that do not need to be collected. Monies saved would be spent on improving community policing, getting more bobbies on the beat.
    • The Lib Dems would focus on getting prison numbers down by reducing the amount of short sentences given to low level offenders. 
    • The Lib Dems would stand up for the judicial system and their right to rule independently on cases free from political bias.
Constitutional Reform: 
    • The Lib Dems are very much in favour of reforming the voting system. The First-Past-The-Post system is unfair and allows parties to win power based on relatively small vote shares. In 2015, for example, they point out that the Tories "won only 37% of the vote but 50% of seats", giving them a majority in Parliament. The Lib Dems want to introduce a proportional representation system where parties win seats based on the number of votes cast for them, regardless of where those votes are cast. That would mean that every vote would really count which could motivate more constituents to go out and vote.
    • The Lib Dems want to reduce the voting age to 16. If you can start work or an apprenticeship at 16, if you can get married at 16 or consent at 16, then you should have the right to go and vote for the party of your choice at 16. 
    • The Lib Dems have argued for decades for House of Lords reform, long before the Conservatives and UKIP. They contend that the HofL should be an entirely democratically elected chamber and that no politician should "have a job for life". Bishop and hereditary peers places would therefore be abolished under Lib Dem proposals.
    • The Lib Dems are committed to making the Houses of Parliament more representative of 21st century UK society and are introducing all women shortlists in the future and encourage more LGBTQIA+ people, BAME people and disabled people to stand for national and local elections. 
Health and Social Care:
    • The Lib Dems want to ensure that the NHS and Social Care system are protected for future generations. They recognise that there are particular funding and capacity issues that need to be urgently addressed. Tim Farron at the 2016 Autumn Conference suggested integrating NHS and Social Care into one system, calling it the "National Health and Care Service". Social Care would be provided freely whenever elderly or short or long term disabled patients required it. (See https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/20/lib-dems-will-turn-nhs-into-national-health-and-care-service-says-farron). At the conference Farron announced that an expert panel "The Beveridge Commission" would report back to the party regarding the funding that would be needed to make the National Health and Care Service a reality within six months. The commission set up by Norman Lamb is independent of the Lib Dem party and released their Interim Report released in March 2017. The report found that the Tory Government's funding provisions for the NHS and Social Care are woefully inadequate, with a projected funding shortfall of £20bn in the NHS by 2020/21 and a funding gap of £6n in social care. 
    • The recommendations within the report include:
      • raising additional revenue through taxation, either through raising Income Tax, raising National Insurance or introducing a dedicated NHS and Social Care Tax and  
      • establishing an independent body to make health and social care budget recommendations to Government (similar to the Office of Budget Responsibility).
    • The Lib Dems would continue campaigning to improve mental health care provision within the NHS, including improving standards and providing sufficient funding to hire more specialist mental health nurses.
    • The Lib Dems want to treat drug use as a "health issue" rather than as "criminal issue" and are in favour of establishing a regulated cannabis market. 
Whilst the majority of the views and policies laid out in the blogpost come from passed Conference Motions and press releases, there is a strong likelihood that a number of these policies may appear in the Lib Dems upcoming manifesto; for example, the pledge to lower the voting age to 16 or the complete retention of EU environmental protection in UK law post Brexit are bound to feature prominently. What's certain is that the ideas and views espoused by the party that I've outlined here should be enough to provoke constructive discussion and to persuade those who may be hesitant to switch their vote away from Kate Hoey. There are a number of policy similarities with Labour, not least the idea to scrap the Benefit Cap and to restore Housing Benefit to 18-21 year olds. Ultimately, the success or failure of Lib Dem challengers standing against Brexit MPs will depend on the individual likability factor of the candidate, whether they can persuade swing voters on local issues and whether they can fight a positive campaign. So I wish George Turner the best of luck in his campaign in Vauxhall and wait to see the result on June 9th with much anticipation. 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Keir Starmer's Brexit Speech Mark II: Is It Enough To Persuade Floating Voters? Some thoughts.

This morning was really the morning I've been waiting for in terms of the General Election. This was the morning where I was going to get a sense of what Brexit would look like under a Labour Government and whether Brexit would actually happen if Corbyn became Prime Minister. I had high hopes for a U-turn, being not entirely comfortable with the prospect of leaving the EU but of course that was very wishful thinking indeed. However Sir Keir Starmer did a relatively good job of setting out Labour's 6 key tests last time and so I listened keenly and looked for a smoother, much less harsh Brexit approach. Did we get it? Well..

  • Labour wants to scrap the Conservatives' White Paper; that means that Labour wouldn't immediately consider leaving the EU Single Market and Customs Union without discussion in Brussels.
  • Labour wants a deal that "retains the benefits" of the Single Market and Customs Union...I'm guessing this means retaining the common external tariff (where imported goods are given the same tariff regardless of where they enter the Customs Union and then subject to no further tariffs when in the Customs Union). Exporters to the EU would then face no tariffs when they sell and consumers wouldn't pay for import tariffs through higher prices in the supermarkets. Brexiteers wouldn't be happy with us staying in the Customs Union because it means we can't do free trade deals ourselves with countries that are outside of the Customs Union. Labour have put the option of staying in the Single Market and Customs Union on the table and that would mean accepting that the European Court of Justice would have the ability to interpret and apply common rules relating to the Customs Union. 
  • Labour would get rid of the "Great Repeal Bill", removing the power for the Government to change laws after the scrapping of the 1972 European Communities Act and would create an EU Rights and Protections Bill. I think this means that Labour wouldn't want to transpose EU directives into domestic law and would incorporate all of their directives in their current state. Labour's reason for doing this is to ensure that employment protections, environmental and consumer standards can't be watered down. There would be no "sunset clauses" which would limit the amount of time an EU directive could be applied in UK law. Very few environmentalists want to see a sunset clause on the Habitats Directive or Birds Directive and trade unions do want to retain the Working Time Directive. 
  • Labour would offer "a meaningful vote" on the Brexit deal to Parliament but it remains unclear whether a rejection of the deal would mean the UK would leave the EU without a deal or whether there would be an attempt to regig the deal in Brussels. 
  • Labour's ruled out a 2nd EU referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal. Starmer said that the reason for this was because there would need to be transitional arrangements in place by the end of the 2 year Article 50 negotiation which means that effects of a final deal might not be seen for around 6 years. Whilst I understand that transitional deals need to be in place, the desire for a 2nd EU Referendum isn't for when the deal has been voted through, it's to actually allow voters scrutinise the deal and have their say. To many Remain voters who have not been won round by the Brexit plan, the Lib Dem approach of having a 2nd referendum on the nature of the deal is appealing. I personally feel that is a mistake but Keir Starmer was convinced that offering such a referendum wouldn't be in the best interest.
  • Labour admits that contingency plans and emergency plans need to be in place just in case agreements on transitional arrangements fail. This seems to indicate to me that Labour aren't keen to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules but at the same time aren't sure whether EU membership could be extended for 6 months whilst further negotiations take place. 
  • Labour says that on Day 1 of their Government, they would unilaterally guarantee the right to remain and employment rights of all 3 million EU citizens currently living in the UK before the negotiations start in earnest in Brussels. There would be no mass EU deportations of prisoners as some UKIP members want to see. I think this is welcome relief to hear because EU citizens are not bargaining chips and this part of the Brexit policy does differentiate them from the heartless attitude of Tories who still refuse to guarantee EU national rights. 
  • Labour would press for a guarantee for 1.2 UK citizens to have the right to remain in their EU country. 
  • Labour would look into negotiating the final Brexit payment to the EU but clearly membership of organisations is going to come at a cost. We have to "comply with international obligations",whether UKIP Brexiteers like it or not.  
  • Labour would seek to retain their membership of the Erasmus student exchange scheme.
  • Immigration is not the priority when it comes to negotiating the EU deal but Starmer reiterated that Freedom of Movement would not be part of any deal to have access to the Single Market. A Norway style deal for the UK, where free movement has been accepted in exchange for access to the Single Market has been ruled out but I do think it might be optimistic to believe that the UK could get a entirely bespoke deal. Starmer did muddy the waters in an interview with the BBC's John Pienaar a bit by suggesting Labour are willing to discuss free movement of labour between the EU and UK (which would please agricultural businesses and NHS trusts) so that workers can come to the UK when offered a job. This sits slightly more comfortably with me but it should have been made crystal clear in the main speech. Instead, Starmer in the speech said Labour had to "listen to what the people are telling us about immigration" and design a managed migration system that would work for businesses and communities. We're still yet to see what such a system would look like. 


I believe that it is important that we retain an excellent relationship with the EU. OK, there is the trade factor (44% of our exports go to the EU) but we need to retain membership of EU organisations so that we can continue collaborating on matters of security (retain the European Arrest Warrant and membership of Eurojust and Europol) and medical research ( retaining membership of the European Medicines Agency). Labour's position is certainly nuanced, with pledges to unilaterally guarantee the right to remain to EU nationals and scrapping the "Great Repeal Bill", which really wasn't that great anyways. These measures do appeal to me as a Remain voter. However, the promise to get rid of Freedom of Movement will ultimately mean we will have no membership of the Single Market, despite it still being seen as "an option" for Labour and I find that rather odd. Equally the idea that MPs could reject Labour's deal and then go back for further negotiations is overly optimistic. Do we really think that the 27 EU member states would go through the process of approving amendments to the deal in their Parliaments and for it to be completed by the Article 50 deadline of 29th March 2019? Free movement of labour seems to be an option being discussed as part of Labour's immigration policy so as to appeal to business owners who are afraid that they would be unable to recruit enough staff post Brexit but there remains the question of whether EU member states would be happy with immigration laws in the UK being restricted purely to those looking for work in the UK. Would their wives and kids be allowed to join them? What happens if an EU national loses their job within a year or two of being in a post Brexit UK if their child/children are already settled in school here? Mind you, farmers in Lincolnshire are already trying to adapt to life post Brexit by buying in farm robots (https://www.ft.com/content/beed97d2-28ff-11e7-bc4b-5528796fe35c). So perhaps some farmers are less concerned about labour shortages in the long term and may in fact vote Conservative again in June. 

Keir Starmer gave it a good go today. He outlined some key policies and attempted to address questions put to him in an insightful and engaging way. There's no doubt that Brexit is an extremely complex issue and trying to provide binary answers which commit Labour one way or the other (Remain or Leave) could result in hemorrhaging of votes in some constituencies. I do wonder whether there are enough policies to persuade Remain voters who have left the Labour party to come back and support Labour candidates in Tory marginal seats like Lincoln (for reasons other than Karl McCartney is a staunch Brexiteer who's being investigated for Electoral Fraud) but I do give Labour credit on three areas. Firstly that they wouldn't use EU nationals like bargaining chips if they were to win the election (although Mr Corbyn should have stopped passage of the Article 50 Bill at its first reading to get Harriet Harman's amendment through). Secondly, they are keen to retain membership of key research and security organisations, something PM May hasn't sworn to do post Brexit. Finally, Labour wouldn't try to water down EU directives or try to restrict their life through sunset clauses. It's vital that the protections we currently have cannot be eroded by hard line Tory Brexiteers who are chomping at the bit to reduce environmental and employment protections in the name of "free trade at any cost". As has been said before, I do not want the UK to become a bargain basement tax-haven and that's something I do really fear might happen if PM May and the Conservatives were to secure a massive majority on June 9th. That's why I'll be supporting a Labour or Lib Dem candidate for Lincoln on June 8th. Labour's Brexit policy platform is far from perfect but at least it has bright parts to it. I just hope Labour's immigration policy platform is progressive and outward looking; it could determine whether Labour can really be trusted to take an open and tolerant approach to those born outside of the UK in a post Brexit UK. 

"Pride, Not Prejudice": A Trans and Non-Binary Anthology For Our Time

Trans and non-binary people in the UK have become more visible over the past few years. Whilst we've always existed (look at the example of eunuchs as gender non-conformists), there's been an attempt to erase our identities out of history, mainly because we dare to challenge the traditional social norms governing gender identity. Most historians have been adherents to a rock solid socialised belief that "God made man and woman only" even though the actual Genesis 1:27 quote is that "God created mankind in his own Image, in the Image of God he created them; male and female he created them"...he never went on to define what masculinity or femininity entailed in the Garden of Eden because acts such as childbirth didn't happen until after the "Fall of Man" incident.....you know the one where Eve got blamed for wanting to find out more about the world from a seductive snake....still have no idea how that story can be proved! For the past thousand years or so most Christian (Catholic and Protestant) denominational interpretations of gender which see gender wedded indiscriminately to biological sex characteristics alone has dominated the socio-historical narrative. It's been preached in every pulpit across the country, along with the idea that adultery was a sin and love of money was "the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10) and yet wealthy male parishioners got away with indulging in adulterous affairs and became incredibly materialistic. At the same time, it's perfectly reasonable to assume that there were parishioners who innately felt they were a man rather than a woman or didn't believe they belonged to one gender or the other. Working class parishioners especially would have faced many barriers towards openly expressing their beliefs and because most weren't given the tools to write "in an academic manner" (because they didn't get access to the grammar school/public school education they needed to be able to attend university), their stories were very rarely recorded.

In fact, there are few biographies of historical gender non-conformists around. One of the most interesting historical figures that received contemporary attention was the enigmatic Chevalier D' Eon, a solider who fought in the Seven Years War and who spent time working as a spy for the French court, having successfully infiltrated the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia dressed and presenting as a maid of honour. The Chevalier spent the last 33 years of their life presenting and identifying solely as a woman. D'Eon actually insisted at the time they were assigned female at birth, and were forced to dress as a man in order for their father to inherit money from their relations. King Louis XVI granted D'Eon their request to be recognised as a woman, on the condition that they wear women's clothing for the rest of their lives. There was no real fairytale ending for the Chevalier; they ended up impoverished and living in London following the French Revolution.

Very few students in state schools in the UK, let alone trans and non-binary ones know of D'Eon's fascinating story. I've always felt that the lack of trans and non-binary role models being taught about as part of the National Curriculum has meant that it's been difficult to encourage acceptance and empathy for gender non-conforming identities which would help to tackle instances of street harassment and transphobic hate crime. LGBTQIA+ inclusive Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) will help to introduce Key Stage 3 and 4 students to the basics of trans and non-binary identities (i.e. definitions), but exploring biographies and ideas that have originated from trans and non-binary people would help challenge the narrative that trans people are "a trend" or that non-binary people didn't exist until Judith Butler's Queer Theory came along. Judith Butler may have challenged traditional gender stereotyping head-on academically but the view that gender identity is something that can be changed or is fluid has existed far longer than Queer Theory has been taught in A-Level English Literature.

Here are a few examples of historical trans and non-binary people who could be discussed in schools:
  • Elagabalus, a Roman Emperor who was known to be outrageously bohemian, having been married 5 times to both men and women. Elagabalus does seem to have been gender-fluid, as it was documented by contemporary historians that they wore women's cosmetics and dressed in the latest female fashions of the era. It's also recorded that Elagabalus offered a huge reward for any doctor who could give them female genitalia
  • Albert Cashier, a trans man who served in the Union army during the American Civil War and took part in 40 battles; he was so dedicated to the Unionist cause that he overpowered a prison guard so he could return to his regiment
  • Laurence Michael Dillon was the first trans man to undergo a phalloplasty and wrote the first book about transitioning and trans identity: "Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics"in 1946. Dillon believed gender identity was innate and unaffected by conversion therapies or psychotherapy and concluded that hormone therapy and surgery was the best way to help trans people. Dillon took part in the first gender reassignment surgery (GRS) in the UK, an orchidectomy (removal of the testes) operating on Roberta Cowell, a trans woman.
  • Roberta was a British fighter pilot during WWII who was taken prisoner by the Germans after crash landing in Bochtolt, Germany. She was kept in solitary confinement for weeks at an interrogation centre before being imprisoned at Stalag Luft I. She had a vaginaplasty on the 15th May 1951, after presenting as intersex to a private gynecologist following her secret orchidectomy. Her story was published in Picture Post and her biography was published soon afterwards, which brought her attention from international media, especially in the US. Cowell did continue stating she was intersex for the rest of her life and unfortunately spoke out derogatorily against trans people who had XY chromosomes in a 1972 interview with Michael Bateman of The Sunday Times, calling them "freaks".
  • Alan L. Hart was one of the first Americans to undergo a hysterectomy in order to have GRS. Hart was an X-ray technology pioneer, having developed techniques for tuberculosis screening and his research helped to save thousands of lives.
It's important that trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, genderqueer people know that there were people before them who dared to challenge the dual gender binary norms. That's why an Unbound anthology "Trans: A British History", was crowdfunded. Unbound, are an innovative publishing team that allows books of all types to be published with the help of Crowdfunding campaigns.  Over 113,658 people have supported an Unbound project and the company has published 218 books to date (https://unbound.com/about) including the groundbreaking and timely anthology of 21st century authentic voices from the British BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community, edited by Nikesh Shukla, author of the 2010 Costa First Novel Award shortlisted "Coconut Unlimited". "Trans: A British History is being edited by  Christine Burns MBE who helped to build up the trans activist organisation "Press For Change" and took part in the process to create the Gender Recognition Act 2004 will be important to read. I actually suggested Philip Davies and Richard Littlejohn go and get themselves a copy of the anthology to help inform their understanding of the history of trans activism in the UK and read the words of trans activists who have fought hard to allow people like me to be protected from discrimination in the workplace (protected characteristic in the Equality Act).

However, it's imperative that we challenge the assumption made by those on the right who adhere to conservative doctrines on gender identity that trans and non-binary people think, believe or act in the same way. Trans people do not all believe that SRE should be LGBTQIA+ inclusive (unfortunately) and there are activists who believe that trans people are judged too much on how "alike" they look to "normal" cis men and women and are accepted the more "aesthetically pleasing" they appear. Representation in the mainstream media has been rather tokenistic, with trans people being required to offer their view "as a trans person" on controversial topics in a debate structure that's designed to look for stark differences in opinion than focusing on similarities. Destructive rather than constructive. Trans and non-binary people aren't always prepared to just sit there and wait to be cordially invited onto another diversity panel where they can give their opinion to those who may already be allies. Wouldn't it be nice for a trans person to present a BBC politics or debate programme or a non-binary person to win a prize for their photography or painting or play based on the merit of their work, not just because they'd be the "first" to do it? Wouldn't it be nice for a trans non-binary person to be to contribute their view on any topic, regardless of their own gender identity?

You might think therefore that it would be counterproductive to be excited at being asked to contribute an essay to a new Unbound anthology project that features trans and non-binary voices. However the anthology is ambitious and aims to explore the intersectional issues that affect trans and non-binary and cis peoples' lives in the UK. The anthology will contain essays covering a wide range of issues that affect trans and non-binary people, from the nature of passing (and the unnecessary amount of gatekeeping that takes place based on superficial aesthetic definitions), trans feminism and feminism within the trans community (whether trans people can really take their place advocating for gender equality within an inclusive, intersectional feminist movement and why it's important to allow non-binary people their space to advocate freely too) and the relationship between gender identity and religious faith (the challenge of being a believer and defying denominational interpretations of gender and why religious texts help in this respect). The essays will also touch on issues that are debated by the population at large from a trans and non-binary standpoint, including mental health, education, disability, socialisation/class and representation in the mainstream media. Because you know trans and non-binary people talk about a lot more in their daily lives than just their gender identity or sexuality. We have multiple interests and multiple types and levels of expertise which should hopefully be laid bare in this comprehensive, challenging set of essays. Plus, there's also going to be an essay which shall be exploring the "origin of trans identities in Victorian London" which I must personally say I'm looking forward to reading.

"Pride, Not Prejudice" will be edited by Helen Belcher, current Lib Dem Parliamentary Party Candidate for Chippenham, businesswoman and author who has been "recognised by the Independent on Sunday as one of the most influential British LGBT people three years in a row"(.https://unbound.com/books/pride-not-prejudice).  Helen is also co-founder and co-director of Trans Media Watch, which campaigns for a change in mainstream press attitudes towards trans, non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer people. 

"Pride, Not Prejudice", will contain essays from 21 trans and non-binary people from across the UK who come from all walks of life. Some contributors you'll have heard of before whilst others are writing professionally and/or being published for the very first time.
Contributors include:
  • Seasoned, passionate trans activists and all round fabulous trans non-binary Youtube vid producing couple Fox Fisher and Owl https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvhxR6fuRcl9EeZrvKOEhiA (Fox also co-founded My Genderation, making 50 films exploring contemporary trans and non-binary issues and speaking to trans and non-binary people, including trans teenagers)
  • accomplished comic actress and the UK's "only goth, lesbian trans comedian" Bethany Black
  • awesome Maria Munir who has the envious brag that they came out first to President Barack O B A M A who has written for the Huffington Post (equally enviable)
  • superb writer, (I adored the 2015 "Tiny Pieces of Skull") writer, critic and founding member of Feminists Against Censorship, Roz Kaveney who appeared in a 1988 After Dark episode featuring radical feminist Andrea Dworkin
  • talented photographer J Jackson (see their non-binary photo project on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/nonbinaryportraits/) 
  • author of the powerful and incredible moving "Trans: A Memoir", Juliet Jacques who began chronicling her transition on her blog in 2010
  • roving reporter and all round funkster Sarah O'Connell, who has produced a YouTube show introducing novices to trans issues: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHjm1cByr7oYs15Z9dOzWcA
  • passionate writer, founder of https://aetherandichor.wordpress.com/ a publisher of short fantasy stories and future critic to watch out for Eris Young (you can access Eris's blog here: https://apiomancy.wordpress.com/)
  • the phenomenal Surat-Shaan Knan who founded and manages Rainbow Jews, Twilight People (a project exploring faith and gender beyond the dual binary distinction) and Rainbow Pilgrims (a project that aims to uncover the "hidden history" of LGBTI migrants of faith who settled in the UK, from the Jewish Kindergarten Transport (1938-1940) to the present Syrian refugee crisis)
  • trans role model and IT engineer Justine Smithies who attended Jeremy Corbyn's (and one of my fav MPs, Shadow Secretary for Equalities Sarah Champion's) LGBT History Month reception: http://justine.smithies.me.uk/
  • diversity guru for Sainsbury's and fellow dyslexic Leng Montgomery 
  • amazing musician and campaigner Kate Hutchinson, currently director of Wipe Out Transphobia, co-founder of TELI and working with Pathways Training  (you can access her insightful blog here: http://katiekhaos.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1) 
  • then of course there's someone like me....a working class, dyspraxic, non-denominational blogger just grateful to be in such esteemed company!
The trans and non-binary voices you'll be reading will be authentic and from the heart. They will be explaining how they see 21st century British society and how 21st century British society perceives and evaluates them as individuals and as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. The words that you'll read may make you uncomfortable at times but only because those words may be exposing examples of blatant hypocrisy that exists at every level of British society when it comes to discussing gender, especially the eagerness of some who claim to be critical of gender stereotyping to resort to trans-misogyny and cissexism to justify their separation arguments. There's no doubt there will be essays critiquing viewpoints such as "trans people are seeking to erase homosexuality" or "trans women are wanting to invade the ladies loos" or "trans people are a threat to the traditional family unit" or as the current supposedly "diversity friendly" Catholic Pope Francis puts it trans people are declaring "global war on marriage". These viewpoints do need to be questioned and stereotypes need to be broken down, not reinforced.

At the same time, I hope the essays will explore the similarities in views between those critical of gender and trans and non-binary people who want to be seen authentically as themselves and be valued for who they are. Challenging outdated gender stereotypes and roles should be a common goal. Do gender critical feminists really think trans people transition so they adopt the role of homemaker or want to be subservient as part of some weird "fetish" that some far-right Conservative men would love to see come back into the mainstream? Why do we want to live in a world where we're all het up about insisting on men wearing suits to work and women having to wear high heeled shoes to stand at reception just to "make a good impression to clients?" Surely it's better to question those gender norm policies and change mindsets, so we get to the point where we don't batter an eyelid when even a cisgender guy comes into work wearing a dress!

When I engage with people I don't particularly care what make-up they are wearing or what shoes they have on their feet. I care about their ideas, their opinions and views and empowering people whose voices are rarely heard to share them with the world. I want to hear their views on how to make HR policies fairer to trans and non-binary employees or to help disabled people who are losing access to benefits that they need to maintain a dignified and healthy life. I care about listening to people who have ideas about how to engage our young people in the political system or folks who just want to extend the hand of compassion to Syrian refugees fleeing the horrendous conflict between dictator President Assad, rebel forces and ISIS. Trans and non-binary people across the UK have such ideas yet they hardly get the chance to discuss them. Instead, the mainstream media outlets want to rehash discussions that stagnate, salivating over which trans women will deny they are real women and which non-binary people will be shouted at by those who engage in hate discourse rather than offering constructive criticism. I can't believe we're still at the stage where we are debating the very existence of trans and non-binary identities. Could you imagine constant mainstream debating of homosexual identity on a weekly basis in 2017 in the UK? It's bad enough watching the disturbing events unfolding in Chechyna, where a radical Muslim authoritarian President has publicly declared he's going to massacre innocent people before Ramadan on the basis of their sexuality.

Trans and non-binary activists, politicians, journalists, painters, architects, musicians, lawyers, healthcare professionals, aid workers, teachers and yes, even satirists are using their platforms to debate, discuss and critique issues that affect all of us in 21st century UK albeit with their unique perspective gained through individual life experiences . The "Pride, Not Prejudice" anthology will offer a valuable, vital window into such debate, discussion and critique. For that reason alone I believe that it deserves to be published. So if you want to help get it printed, published, promoted and disseminated and if you want your own copy, you can pledge your donation on the Unbound website here:
https://unbound.com/books/pride-not-prejudice. Every pledge counts and will be appreciated.

(Thanks to Eris for designing this!!!) 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Women's Equality Party Policies that Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens should take note of this General Election 2017

The Women's Equality Party (WE) may be one of the newest political parties on the UK block but it's one that's creating policies that give much room for thought, especially in terms of advancing gender equality. You can read the policy document here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/womensequality/pages/279/attachments/original/1487934933/WEP_policy_document_2017.pdf?1487934933 but I thought I'd give my thoughts on a few of the key policies that Labour, Lib Dem and Green voters could be interested in considering to help advance gender equality further.

Equal Pay:
  • WE want to adopt a "comprehensive approach" to gender reporting, including mandating companies that have more than 250 employees to publish an annual report that examines the numbers of employees by gender and by ethnicity and disability. The report would include every employee at every level of the organisation and with information on pay, hours worked and employment status. WE also wants to see data published on retention figures of employees during and after parental leave. WE would extend this regulation to companies with more than 50 employees and any company that procures or wishes to procure government contracts. This policy is great in terms of furthering corporate transparency and can help to identify organisations, especially those who supply products or services to government departments who are not doing enough to help tackle the issue of equal pay. 
  • WE recognise that employees who have faced workplace discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, gender/sex, disability, race etc also currently face barriers to justice in the form of increased tribunal fees. It's vital to help these employees by proposing to lower the employment tribunal issuing fee from £250 to £50 and to scrap the hearing fee of £950. This sounds very practical and fair and it's good to see that WE would keep current fee remissions in place for those earning the National Living Wage or slightly above. 
  • Employment tribunal judges should also be able to advise employers directly on how to improve their HR policies when found guilty of discrimination.
  • It's right to allow new parents a longer period to bring a maternity discrimination or parental leave discrimination case against employers as they face the challenge of adapting to life with a baby whilst sorting out legal issues. I think that the proposal to increase the "grace period from 3 to 9 months" is a sound one and easy to implement. 
  • WE are aligned with Labour policy which is to reintroduce the concept of "dual discrimination" so that a disabled BAME woman can bring one case to the employment tribunal if the discrimination occurred on the basis of her disability and race (or race and gender). 
  • The issue of childcare matters greatly to parents who are wishing to go out to work but may not be able to afford the cost of putting their child in a creche or nursery place, especially in the first few years of their child's life. The Tory Government has committed to providing 30 hours of  free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds but haven't provided enough funding for nurseries so they can hire the staff they need to provide cover for those 30 hours a week. Also, parents have to do or are expected to do 16 hours of work paid at the National Living Wage over the next 3 months (whether employed or self-employed) and not earn more than £100,000 a year. WE are more ambitious, claiming that childcare should be available to all parents from the end of paid parental leave...i.e. at 9 months. They would provide the first 15 hours free but then ask for a £1 per hour contribution from parents (which has been deemed affordable by the Resolution Foundation's Commission on Living Standards). WE's proposal does at least encourage parents to contribute towards half of the 30 hours a week childcare but it remains to be seen whether nurseries would have enough funds to facilitate the increase in demand. 
  • The idea to incentivise companies to establish on-site childcare facilities for their employees is an interesting one, with WE arguing that exempting facilities from business rates is the best way forward. The incentive would be paid for by raising business rates on large buildings such as department stores and supermarkets. 
  • It'd be good to see pre- and after-school clubs established in all schools between 8am and 6pm but there needs to be funds available to hire teaching assistants or volunteers who are brought in to facilitate this. Teachers may have the time to establish a breakfast club pre-school but may not always have the time to run a debating society after-school.
  • The next government should definitely look into reviewing how workplaces can better support employees going through the menopause and help to reduce stigma by challenging stereotypes. HR professionals can be at the forefront of the consultation process and help come up with policies that can make a real difference in the workplace.
Equal Parenting and Caregiving: 
  • WE wants to review Shared Parental Leave to ensure that it is balanced. Fathers at the moment are only statutorily guaranteed two weeks of leave and are paid £140.98 a week (the statutory level) whereas most mothers in the UK are guaranteed six weeks and paid 90% of their salary. WE wants to ensure that all parents, including those in same-sex relationships, pansexual relationships and adoptive parents can access six weeks of leave with 90% of their pay. WE want to go further in the future and legislate for an additional 10 months of leave which is paid at the statutory level which can be shared between parents.
  • WE wants to protect women who are on zero-hours contracts, in low-paid temporary work and women who are struggling to find work whilst pregnant by making state funded Statutory Maternity Pay and the 6 week entitlement available to all mothers including those who have only been in the same job for a few days (due to temping).
  • Employers need to take measures to make their companies and organisations more parental friendly. That means looking at ways of improving flexible working schemes. WE have suggested that job adverts, including those on the DWP's own Universal Jobmatch website and adverts created by companies with more than 250 employees should state what types of flexible working schemes are available via a checklist. This includes job sharing, teleworking and flexible hours schemes. I think it's right that a business should have to justify why they opt out of offering flexible working schemes rather than asking businesses to opt in.
  • Employees should definitely be able to ask for flexible working changes to their job, especially if they end up becoming long-term disabled and requiring time off for hospital appointments and therapy or if they need to change their hours to act as a carer for their partner. HR must get back to employees within a reasonable time frame and if they don't, employees should be given the power to "submit a claim for unreasonable refusal of a request" or "unreasonable refusal to offer a trial period" to employment tribunals . Employers should look after their employees and listen to their concerns and facilitate changing needs wherever it's possible to do so.
  • Internship programmes or returner programmes for women who want to work part-time after having a baby are a fantastic idea. DWP should fund these programmes directly and the schemes must be delivered in a high quality manner by qualified personnel. 
  • Making baby changing spaces gender-neutral in public spaces so that all parents can participate in looking after their child does make sense as we now have more single Dads and gay couples in the UK.
  • The idea of ensuring both parents (and their partners if applicable) are present at the registering of the birth with them having separate interviews in case any concerns need to be raised by the birth-mother is a sound one. 
  • We need to do more to help our carers. They are far from being "economically inactive" and I agree with WE that this derogatory label should be removed from the Labor Force Survey. Labour's current proposal to increase the Carer's Allowance by £10 is OK but it doesn't go far enough. WE believes that carers deserve to be paid National Insurance credits and want to try to reform the system to see whether they can be awarded by default to those who register as carers.
Equality in Education:
  • Challenging gendered assumptions in the education system is a vital part of the WE platform. WE believes that the National Curriculum and curricula delivered in Academies and Free Schools need to be reformed so that role models are promoted who did help to challenge stereotypes in a positive way. This includes studying Marie Curie in Chemistry, Grace Hopper and trans woman Lynn Conway in IT and the first woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery, Lile Elbe in History. Role models should be promoted at every opportunity, including through wall displays, assemblies and even school plays. WE would ensure every school carries out a gender audit as a way of improving representation.
  • WE wants to see the introduction of gender neutral uniforms so non-binary, trans and other students do not feel discriminated against on the basis of clothing preferences. Independent single-sex schools should be encouraged not to discriminate students on the basis of them wanting to wear a skirt or trousers. 
  • WE will also be working with the Let Toys be Toys and Let Clothes Be Clothes campaigns to find ways of encouraging companies and marketing agencies to abandon unnecessary gender-biased advertising. 
  • I like the idea of the next government promoting schemes that allow fathers to become more directly involved in their child's education. One of the most important schemes is the Fathers Reading Every Day (FRED) scheme that has already been successfully introduced by the Fatherhood Institute in nurseries and primary schools across the UK. 
  • The Tories have failed to reform the Careers Advice system in schools, meaning that thousands of young people are leaving school without having talked through their future options. WE believes that independent careers advice should be made compulsory in all secondary schools across the UK with the advice monitored and delivered by external experts who avoid gender biased advice. 
  • WE also wants to see compulsory work experience introduced back into secondary schools. I must say that I benefited enormously from undertaking my work experience in Year 10 as a teacher and archivist and it helped fill me with the confidence I needed to choose academic A-Levels to then go on and study English and Philosophy at York. High quality work experience can help improve confidence levels in disabled, LGBTQIA+, working class students and expand their horizons far beyond previous expectations. 
  • I believe the suggestion of getting students to "study English or a STEM (Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering) subject up to the age of 18"is excellent. Those who may have failed GCSE Science can retake the subject alongside their A-Levels choices and those who are studying Arts subject A-Levels may be more tempted to try a STEM subject like AS Accounting or AS Economics.
  • Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) has been made compulsory in all schools under Theresa May's Tory Government but I'm worried that it won't include lessons to increase awareness of LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships. Whilst it is important to talk about consent, domestic violence and abuse and Coercive Control (CC), there should be an awareness of the differing dynamics in same-sex relationships and when a person decides to transition and are with a partner that could lead to domestic abuse, violence and CC. WE haven't mentioned this in their manifesto but as a trans non-binary person it does matter to me. Students at Key Stage 3 and 4 should be aware of intersex and asexuality in addition to trans and non-binary gender identity so that they understand that although their peers' gender identity and sexual preferences may differ from their own, they should still be respected. 
  • WE want to make sure universities and colleges challenge sexual harassment head on and I contend that they are correct to call for compulsory classes on "respect, equality and consent" and to get university managers to design formal sexual harassment policies which have mechanisms in place to support victims, provided that support is given free from gendered bias.
Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (and anyone):
  • I do believe that the Married Couples Tax Allowance is unfair and the money saved from scrapping the Allowance could be used in a better way. WE posits that the money should be used to create a fund which allows women who have faced domestic violence and abuse to access legal aid and have access to counselling (although this should be accessible to all DVA survivors) and to extend the Respect-accredited perpetrator programmes for survivors who want to stay with their partner. DVA shelters should be expanded and exempted from the draconian Housing Benefit Cap. 
  • Front-line staff do need to be trained appropriately on how to support all survivors of DVA, regardless of their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, disability or religious belief. Police officers also to be trained to understand cultural differences to be able to do more to help survivors of honour based abuse and violence, including gay men who are forced by their relatives into marriage. 
  • I agree that "Claire's Law" (the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme) does need to be improved but the awareness programme must include making potential male and non-binary victims aware of "Claire's Law" and making their loved ones aware of accessing "Claire's Law" too. 
  • Improving awareness of DVA for jurors via an online programme to help them overcome bias before participating in a jury is a good WE suggestion and would be relatively easy to implement. 
  • WE continue to support the anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) movement and want to see a system established that would monitor instances of forced marriage, FGM and honour-based violence. Teachers should be given advice and guidance as to how to potential signs of abuse relating to FGM in areas where the risk of young girls being taken abroad for FGM is high. 
  • I'd like to see the end to detention centres as a whole but I welcome WE's suggestion that pregnant asylum seekers should not be held in detention centres. Access to domestic violence and abuse counselling should be freely available to all asylum seeker survivors regardless of their gender or immigration status.
  • Women and girls should be empowered to report instances of Everyday Sexism, including acts of street harassment to the police. SRE lessons should include segments on hate crime so that students understand that street harassment and Everyday Sexism is unacceptable.
  • The UK Government has adopted the Istanbul Convention but we need to look at ways of helping women and girls  who have been trafficked into the sex industry. WE believes that women should never be prosecuted for selling sex and would change the law "with immediate effect" and work towards getting trafficked survivors an automatic right to remain in the UK. 
  • WE think that purchasing sex should be criminalised. WE would first provide sex workers with help and support services funded by the government to get out of the sex industry and then criminalise the purchase of sex within 2 years to "remove the demand". I think there needs to be a national debate on the nature of the sex industry and decide whether its better to criminalise the purchase of sex as has been suggested by WE or regulate the sex industry with sex workers having to register to be able to participate. Every voice should be heard and then decisive action taken. Perhaps the next government can facilitate that discussion.

Equality in the Media:
  • It is time to challenge gender stereotypes that we see on a daily basis in our media platforms. Actions to address this that can be taken at government level include:
    • Making it compulsory to teach students in all schools, including faith ones, how to surf the Internet responsibly, including talking about the dangers of Internet Chatrooms and becoming addicted to online pornography. 
    • Updating the Advertising Standards Authority guidelines on airbrushing so that disclaimers are given which explain why the person has been airbrushed by the publication in question. I believe that airbrushing of childrens' bodies is entirely unnecessary so I agree with WE that it should be made illegal.
    • Requiring media outlets to publish data on air time given to men and women (and non-binary people) in each programme across their schedule on a regular basis.
    • Encouraging media outlets to set out in their diversity guidelines how their organisation would help promote positive and diverse female role models, including BAME, trans women and disabled women. WE believes this should be made a requirement in the BBC's renewed Charter. 
    • Ofcom and the Independent Press Standards Organisation should monitor gender data published by media outlets and take action whenever they believe media outlets are falling short of their responsibility to improve gender representation. 
  • WE wants to hold social media providers accountable who allow users to post and then refuse to remove revenge porn. Revenge porn victims should be able to get prosecution against perpetrators, trolls and website providers and they should be granted immunity whilst going through the judicial process.
  • I do believe that police officers do need more guidance as to how to handle evidence of online abuse so getting the Crown Prosecution Service to produce guidelines that can be easily accessible is key to improving awareness within police forces.
  • Report buttons that are easily accessible are a good idea for social media providers and I agree with WE that the providers must publish data that shows how they are tackling the issue of online abuse. 
Equal Representation:
  • I am sympathetic to WE's suggestion that 66% of candidates replacing retiring MPs should be women but this may be difficult to implement in practice. The current suggestion by the Women and Equalities Committee seems to be that we should aim for a target of 45% of MPs in Parliament being women by 2030 and I believe this should include queer and trans women. It's frustrating to see that trans people have no representation at the moment. Maria Miller was right to suggest that fines should be levied against the Government if political parties do not take action to address the "democratic deficit". Encouraging more women to stand for Parliament in marginal constituencies would be one way of increasing representation at the next General Election and "all women shortlists" do serve a purpose in this respect. 
  • I like the suggestion that there should be "a balanced board in all listed companies by 2025" but I do wonder if the target will be reached at the current rate. We certainly have a lot of talent in the corporate world but it's a matter of businesses buying into the vision that a gender balanced board is the best kind of board to have in place. The WE pamphlet says that board performance would improve by 8.5% if they became more gender diverse. That's something to shout out about.
  • There needs to be a culture change in Local Enterprise Partnerships across the UK. It's shocking to hear that only 15% of board members are women. The next government should work towards encouraging LEPs to get to 50:50 representation by the end of the next parliamentary term and encourage local plans to be drawn up to help women who want to start up their own businesses. That includes trans women.
  • The suggestion that all-male board companies should not be made a government supplier at any level is a bold one and should hopefully shock those board members into instituting policies to help change their business gender-make up to avoid losing revenue.

Equal Healthcare:

WE care strongly about improving access to healthcare for women and the quality of female healthcare in the UK. Evidence from the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women report "Women's Equality in the UK" suggested that women face poorer health, not just because of their "physiological differences" but also because of "social experiences that negatively impact on their physical and mental health". Examples of this include women facing more of a likelihood of abuse and violence from partners and women being more likely to be care workers (which is a physically demanding profession). WE believes that needs to be a cultural change to challenge gender healthcare inequalities including:
  • Challenging assumptions on pain; women are more likely to be given less help by GPs to deal with pain, with some being given sedatives rather than pain relief
  • Challenging the way biomedical research is conducted by moving away from "male as default" findings
  • Commissioning more research into the menopause so as to find effective ways to alleviate symptoms
  • Finding ways to help women who experience mental health issues (63% of women in the UK have experienced mental health issues in their lifetime).
Conclusion:

As you can see, WE offer a lot of bold policy ideas that aim to improve opportunities for women in the UK. I may not agree with every policy as laid out in the platform but it is one that can be built on, especially if there is collaboration between different political parties to change legislation so that negative impacts are reduced on women, including mandating corporate businesses to publish comprehensive gender pay plans and encouraging businesses to make their jobs more accessible to women who require flexible working. I doubt many parents would be upset at the idea of Careers Advice services being improved so students can make academic and vocational decisions in a fully informed manner and reforming Shared Parental Leave so that all parents are entitled to be paid 6 weeks at 90% of their salary regardless of their gender is a bold policy idea that even Labour should be wanting to include in their platform offering.

Reading the WE policy statement has been an education in itself and I suggest any voter who currently considers themselves "politically homeless" give it a read and raise your own questions from it. WE may not be a party you have considered before, but may be a party that you consider supporting in the future, either as a full member or as an affiliate. The youngest political party on the scene may not have received much attention before...is it time to change that?

Saturday, 22 April 2017

UK General Election 2017: Let's Talk About Labour's Current Energy and Environment Policy Platform

One of the issues that forms part of my framework for helping me to choose which party to vote for on June 8th is Energy and the Environment. I must confess up until a few days ago I had not much of an idea about Labour's current approach to Energy policy other than Corbyn was keen to look into the feasibility of renationalising the utilities industries and investing in low emission buses which would be done once bus service provision is brought back under local authority control. So I was pleased to find that Labour has produced a comprehensive policy platform (http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/energy) aimed at helping to turn the UK into a "low carbon economy" so that we can protect the Earth for future generations and act in the interests of "the 60 million, not the Big 6 energy companies". Here are some of my thoughts on key policies from the plan:
  • Labour wants to ensure that the UK plays a leading role in ensuring there is real action on climate change. For them, that means committing to cutting carbon emissions and honouring the Paris 2015 Agreement on Climate Change in full. The Paris Agreement commits every signee country to creating policies that reduce global temperatures to "well below 2C above pre-industrial levels". The EU as a whole are committed to reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 and Labour wants to keep this target in place post-Brexit. I am very pleased to see this firm commitment to retaining the Paris Climate Change Agreement and EU targets as they are key to shaping the future direction of the UK. 
  • Labour have pledged to get local community action groups and schools involved with climate change action by funding the Woodland Trust plan to "plant 64 million native broadleaf trees in 10 years". The broadleaf trees would help to reduce flood risk in Lincolnshire towns such as Boston and provide homes for native and migrating wildlife. 
  • Labour will reinstate the Department of Energy and Climate Change within the first month of coming into office; that means that a new team would need to be in place by the middle of July 2017. Having a dedicated Department should help speed up the planning and drafting of future energy and environment policies. 
  • Labour wants to preside over a "green revolution". They will produce an Industrial Strategy that is comprehensive and bold. Proposals include the creation of a £500bn National Investment Bank and regional development banks which Labour claims will help to facilitate the creation of 300,000 new jobs in the UK renewables sector as well as investing in renewable energy and low carbon research and development projects designed to "push down technology costs" in the longer term. 
  • It's unfortunate the Conservative Government has committed to privatising the existing Green Investment Bank (established in 2012 under the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Government to fund green projects by selling it to Macquarie for £2.3bn), with even the Lib Dem's Vince Cable (who founded the bank) commenting that UK taxpayers may be ripped off because green assets which will be worth more in the future are being sold cheaply. Labour has criticised the privatisation process and has questioned Macquarie's commitment to green energy projects alongside the Lib Dems and Greens. According to the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/19/green-investment-bank-to-be-sold-off-in-23bn-deal-reports) the Green Investment Bank currently funds directly or via third party management 85 projects in the UK, including "an energy efficient street lighting project in Barking and Dagenham...a wind farm in Dumfries and Galloway and a biomass plant at Port Talbot". Labour believes such projects should remain in public hands and to use the creation of new banks to fund new green energy projects.
  • Labour is committed to setting a UK target on electricity, boldly promising that the UK will get 65% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In order to achieve this target, there would need to be not only a massive expansion of wind and solar power companies and wind and solar farms but also hydroelectric power plants, biomass plants and looking into the potential of geothermal energy and hydrogen and fuel cells. 
  • Labour understands that transitioning to a low-carbon economy will hit certain businesses hard. So they have committed to funding "decarbonising strategies for energy-intensive industries" like ceramics and steel. The amount hasn't been stated in this plan (I'm guessing it would come in part from National Investment Bank funding) but this may be made clearer in Labour's upcoming election Manifesto. 
  • Labour wants to upskill and reskill people at a local level in order to allow them to have the best chance of getting jobs in the renewables sector and low-carbon industries. They will introduce new college courses and apprenticeships and ensure they are accessible to women, people from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community and disabled people. I'm hoping that some of the courses could be delivered in the evening so as to allow workers to retrain if they wish and that the courses will be state-funded, at least in part, under the plans for a National Education Service. 
  • Labour contends that the Infrastructure Act (IA) 2015 does not contain suitable provisions to help the UK to transition to a low-carbon economy. The IA committed the UK to maximising the recovery of North Sea oil and gas reserves but research conducted by Nature has suggested that 80% of fossil fuel reserves need to stay underground if nations are to reduce global temperatures by at least 1.5C.  There's an indication in the policy document that a future Labour Government would attempt to repeal the law on the basis that more fossil fuel extraction in the North Sea would lead to the UK missing its Paris Climate Change agreed targets. Labour wants to end fossil fuel extraction by phasing out coal power stations (by the early 2020s- i.e. 2022) and banning fracking schemes across the UK. 
  • I like Labour's suggestion of engaging in discussion with trade union representatives from declining fossil fuel industries so they can be encouraged to look at ways of contributing to the renewables sector. Oil and gas engineers could work as wind turbine engineers after a period of re-training and administrative staff can transfer over to renewable sector firms relatively easily. Firms should be encouraged to set up in areas where there is a pool of potential talent- e.g. the North East. 
  • Labour wants to empower decision making on energy projects at a local level, allowing communities to have a greater say in the planning system. The policy document points out that the Conservatives have introduced acts such as the Housing and Planning Act 2016 that have "eroded protections for the natural environment and for local communities." Labour believes that it would be better to scrap the review of judicial costs so that communities have "greater access to justice when governments make unlawful decisions"- e.g. on failure to take action to meet air pollution targets. 
  • Labour will "democratise" the energy market by encouraging "the growth of over 200 local energy companies" within the next 5 years. Consumers could save money by choosing companies that generate energy in a more efficient way (as renewable energy schemes expand and evolve, production costs generally reduce). Labour would endorse the creation of "not for profit, public companies", making them central to a transformative energy plan. Labour also supports the development of 1000 community energy co-operatives, who will be able to sell energy generated directly to local communities with their regional development bank available to assist with grid connection costs. This sounds good in theory but will all of the funding come from the National Investment Bank as is suggested in this policy document or would additional revenue streams need to be found- e.g. raising taxes on the Big 6 energy firms?
  • Labour wants to reform the energy storage market by investing in new clean-energy storage technologies and introduce a "Clean Power Mechanism" to replace the Capacity Market Mechanism. This would look at placing low carbon energy resource capacity before high carbon energy resource capacity. Labour believes that creating Smart Electricity Grids for example could save the UK taxpayer between £2.5bn and £12bn! 
  • Labour wants to place the emphasis back on home insulation to help reduce household energy use. They plan to do this by fully funding a "National Home Insulation Programme" to bring 4 million homes up to energy efficient standard B or C by 2022. Labour claim the overall cost of the NHI programme will be between £1.8bn and £2.5bn yet the total saving by 4 million households is estimated to be £4.9bn. Labour also promise to upgrade all rented housing to Standard B or C by 2022. I believe it's a good idea to replace and upgrade insulation in social housing, housing occupied by those over 65 and families with young children in the private rented sector and if the NHI programme helps to provide employment and apprenticeship opportunities for more working class young people, even better.  
  • Labour's 1 million homes promise includes a commitment to ensuring they are built to the "passive-haus" standards  The cost per semi-detached house would be around £5,000 (Zero Carbon Trust 2014 report). 
  • Labour will "clean up the transport system", believing that air pollution deaths can be halved by 2030 if there are more public electric and hydrogen buses and cars on the road. Labour would also encourage town and city councils to improve their cycle lines and fund more cycle hiring schemes. 
  • Labour is committed to fully protecting and implementing EU directives, including the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive. As 80% of our environmental protections are derived from the EU, this is an important commitment to keep. Nobody would want to see native bird species endangered or endangered heathland eroded unnecessarily.
  • Labour's "corridors of nature" proposal to help "better connect protected nature sites" does sound very interesting but voters need to see concrete evidence as to how it could be enacted and what the cost of establishing and protecting these corridors would be to local authorities already struggling with cuts to their funding from central government. 
  • Labour wants to ban neonictotinoid pesticides (currently the most commonly used insecticide in the world) to help protect native bee species and encourage bee numbers to recover by planting bee-friendly plants such as China Asters, Cornflowers, Sunflowers, Wallflowers and Burdocks in parks, urban spaces and in wild meadows across the UK. 
The Labour platform on Energy and the Environment posited in the policy document is pretty comprehensive. Certain proposals sound very pleasing on paper such as the commitment to create 300,000 jobs in the renewables sector over the course of the next Parliament or establishing "corridors of nature" to help protect our native bats and butterflies but I'm sceptical as to whether those policies can be achieved in practice. It may take longer than a five year term to foster the level of growth needed in the renewables sector to create anywhere near 100,000 jobs let alone 300,000. Local authorities will need more funding from central government to increase their own spending on parks and green spaces. At the moment, Lincolnshire County Council only receives £88 per head, making us the third lowest funded county in the country, whereas our neighbouring Nottinghamshire County Council gets £119 per head. So it's easier for Notts CC to spend more money on green spaces and wildlife corridors than Lincs CC.

Other policy proposals, such as the creation of the National Home Insulation Programme and the planting of 64 million broadleaf trees appear to be much easier to deliver in practice and would be broadly speaking, popular. The Woodland Trust have already put time and money into designing the 64 million broadleaf trees planting project proposal and all Labour needs to do is to provide funding to the Woodland Trust to make it happen. I do believe that Labour are right to focus on aiming to turn the UK economy into a low-carbon one and using the National Investment Bank and regional development banks funding mechanisms is the right way to encourage the growth of the renewable energy sector in the UK, The proposal to help create 200 local energy companies and 1000 community energy co-operatives across the UK could possibly lead to more jobs being created in regions which have experienced economic decline, such as the North East. That's nothing to be sniffed at.

Labour's fight to tackle Air Pollution: 

There are indications from SERA, Labour's Environment campaign (and the only group officially affiliated with Labour) that Corbyn wants to go further than the policies outlined already by the Energy and Environment policy document. SERA has a history of holding governments to account for their failure to take action on air pollution; in 2013 SERA managed to stop the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition government from abandoning the National Air Quality Monitoring Network. Now they're lobbying the Government to help establish a new "Clean Air Act" and have created the "A Breath of Fresh Air" campaign to facilitate this. With more than 40,000 people in the UK dying as a result of polluted air, mostly in cities and the economic cost being £54bn, action does need to be taken and taken soon. The Clean Air Act would enshrine EU Directives on air pollution, including the 2008 Air Quality Directive, into UK law so that air quality can continue to be monitored and that any future government can be fully held to account legally for failing to meet air pollution targets post-Brexit. You can get more information on how you can get involved with the "A Breath of Fresh Air" campaign here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/uksera/pages/20/attachments/original/1475887129/a-breath-of-fresh-air-a-clean-air-act-for-the-21st-century.pdf?1475887129.

Geraint Davies, MP for Swansea West introduced a private members Clean Air Bill on April 19th 2017.  The bill is designed to help the UK reach World Health Organisation standards on air quality by tackling pollution in cities, ports and airports. It includes proposals to recall and refit diesel cars and fiscal incentives and scrappage schemes for diesel cars that cannot be adapted. These particular proposals would be funded in large part by car manufacturers. Davies' bill also includes a proposal to create "a national electric and hydrogen refuelling network" and make local authorities responsible for measuring and monitoring air quality levels, which should be made available to the public. Local authorities would also be given the power to introduce pollution charges. You can learn more about the Clean Air Bill here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/cleanair.html.

The Tories have decided to apply to the high court to delay publication of their air pollution plans and that's after judges mandated ministers to amend their plan so that the measures contained within it were tougher to tackle "illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution" (read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/21/government-attempts-to-shelve-air-quality-plan-until-after-election?CMP=twt_gu). I think the Government's delaying tactics are shameful and voters should be allowed to see the air pollution plans in their entirety before making their decision at the ballot box. However, as usual, the Tories aren't being particularly helpful. I suspect the measures are not going to be robust enough for us not to fall foul of EU standards once again. Hmm...

Improvements/Clarifications Needed?

In order to clarify/improve Labour's policy offering, I'd like to see policy actions which will help to strengthen environmental protections in the UK should Brexit happen in 2019. Would Labour protect heathland and other endangered habitats near conurbations completely from housing developers? From perusing Mary Creagh's MP for Wakefield and Chair of the Environment Audit Committee's article (http://www.sera.org.uk/brexit_a_new_environmental_protection_act) it seems to me that Labour may be in favour of creating a new Environmental Protection Act to safeguard existing protections but what additional protections would need to be included any future bill?

There needs to be clarification on how Labour can help rural and coastal businesses to thrive in a post Brexit environment at the same time as putting measures forward to develop the low-carbon economy. Farmers and fishermen alike do need to be given full guidance so they can make appropriate business decisions- e,g. whether subsidies will be maintained post 2020 or what kind of catch allowances will be negotiated with EU and non-EU neighbours. There's also currently a question over whether fish processing workers in coastal constituencies such as Grimsby will be subject to visa restrictions or lose any employment protections (50% of them come from the EU). Labour are against any erosion of employment protections so it should be a no-brainer to come out and say that EU citizens currently working in the UK will retain the same employment protections as their British citizen counterparts post Brexit and it'd be good to make it crystal clear that it would be the case for all non-EU citizens too.

Will EU citizens and businesses and non EU, non British Citizens and businesses be available to access any research and development funding given to the renewables sector? Will there be any funding avaliable for PhD and fellowship positions in renewable energy research and development units at British universities, something that the Conservatives seem to have committed to more broadly in their Industrial Strategy?

I suspect that a number of these questions will be answered in Labour's forthcoming Election Manifesto, which I shall be reading with interest. For now, I can say that I'm impressed with Labour's renewed commitment to protecting and fully implementing EU environmental directives and respecting the Paris Agreement on Climate Change targets. The National Home Insulation Programme would directly benefit households and the commitment to banning fracking is popular with environmental activists and homeowners in rural areas alike. I'm pleased to see many well thought-out policy proposals which will help the UK transition to the low-carbon economy it needs to be in the future. Change can sometimes be chaotic but in this case may be for the best. Let's hope that these policies receive public attention. It's time to discuss the future of energy production in this country and it's time to look at ways of safeguarding our endangered habitats and animal and plant species further. The fundamental question is this: are we brave enough as a country to consider implementation of some of these policies?