rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
From last weekend until 8th June is literally the busiest I will be all year: 2 OU courses with exams on 6th and 8th, and a third that just started and will run until September. I knew I was going to be stressed and overloaded and wrung out for about 8 weeks and had basically made my peace with it as the price for getting done this year rather than next.

And now 8th June is a general election, and I have no time to campaign, and have to fight the guilt gremlins that think I should surely be able to carve some time out magically, somehow, and funnily enough being even more stressed does not increase my productivity, or help me sleep.  This has not been the best week!

I've now logged out of Twitter and Facebook on my phone, so I can't take the stress with me everywhere.  I've devoted the weekend to resting and sorting out money (thus removing some other stress).  I'm behind on everything, but Facebook reminded me that I wrote this time last year about being behind on everything. While I'm still perpetually running too close to my limits, those limits have expanded in the last year.  I'm routinely working a 5-day rather than a 4-day week, I'm studying at a higher level, and my fitness has improved a little.

So I'm going to trust that if I take care of myself, I can get through this.  At least by 9th June some of my stressors are guaranteed to be gone.


rmc28: (glowy)
Today's new User Agreement which we had to sign to ever access the account again is the final straw.
  • no posting "political solicitation materials" without specific permission
  • no "perform[ing] any other actions contradictory to the laws of the Russian Federation". This one in particular comes to mind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_gay_propaganda_law
  • "non-authorized users will see advertisements on all LiveJournal pages" - one of the original reasons I bought a paid LJ account way back when was to remove adverts next to my own content
  • plus the whole coercion to sign an agreement at no notice to access one's account
So I am making my final backup to DW; this will be my final crosspost and I will delete my LJ in a few more days.
I'm pretty sad about it. I've had this LJ since 2003. I've made and sustained some of my strongest and most important friendships through it. I gave it up for a while and then came back. But I have already built up a lovely circle on Dreamwidth, and for a long time now that's been where the majority of my "social media" networking has taken place. LJ doesn't want people like me, so I'm going.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I opened a form letter from my children's school this morning, informing me that "Frederick"'s attendance is at 90%, significantly lower than the government target of 95%. It included this particularly threatening paragraph:

"You should be aware that regular attendance is a legal requirement and the Education Welfare Officer may become involved if there is no significant improvement in Frederick's attendance."

Now, I am absolutely a stroppy middle-class parent, whose response to bureaucratic threats like this is "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough". I am not at all concerned about seeing this off myself.  But that this is the system, that letters like this will be going out to parents without my resources and confidence, that the very first contact to parents on this issue contains implied threats of legal action and bureaucratic interference - that appalls me.

On closer inspection, it is not actually possible for me to "improve" my child's attendance in the remainder of the school year: they've calculated that 90% threshold assuming he has perfect attendance between now and July.  He cannot physically have any better attendance than he does now, the way they've calculated it.  So that threatening paragraph is also setting me up to fail.
ETA: I got that bit wrong - talking it through with my dad, I was getting confused between days-in-school-year and sessions-in-school year.  He's just completed 190 sessions, with an attendance rate of 90%; there's another 190 sessions to go, so if he achieves perfect attendance for the rest of the year, we'll get back up to that target 95%. Which together with the name thing makes me think this is some automated letter generation, because we've hit the halfway point.  It's still heavy-handed but it's not quite as awful as I first thought. /ETA

My child has a 90% attendance record, because I keep my children at home when they are ill, and he has been a bit more ill than usual this past school year.  It's stupid to pressurise parents to send ill children to school.  It doesn't benefit the sick child and it puts the rest of the school community at risk. Any children with lowered immunity will be much more at risk, and will then presumably have even worse attendance records. Lowered immunity is correlated with disability, chronic conditions, and poverty, so this is an access issue as well.

I know this is a system problem: government policy enforced under threat of poor Ofsted results.  I can't fix the system.  But I can try to make my local part better.  So I've got letters to write:
  • specific response about my child's attendance record 
  • letter to headteacher and governors about the wider issues of access, and the way parents are contacted
  • ... and then see what those result in, I suppose
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I lasted until 8:30am before accidentally finding out the result of the US presidential election (in that the people running the Economist app thought pushing a notification onto my phone was the best way to share such news).

I think I am less shocked and upset than I was by the Brexit result in June, but more scared. In June, I found it extremely helpful to follow my usual routine: take care of the children, go to work, fix things. My studying went off a cliff though, perhaps because it didn't immediately affect anyone but me, unlike my work and home obligations. Luckily the module concerned wasn't one I needed to do more than pass, so handing in one duff assignment didn't matter too much (and no, I wasn't going to ask for an extension or accommodation for "I am deeply upset by Brexit").

"Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on." For me that means sticking to my ongoing efforts to recover my health and effectiveness, take care of my family and finish my degree. Do the job in front of me, as best I can, and (re)build my capacity to do more in the long term.



rmc28: Charles facepalming eloquently (facepalm)
At least I managed to sleep.

And now on with the daily routine, because work, school and nursery haven't stopped.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I did absolutely nothing for the local elections last month, apart from go and vote. 

A couple of weeks ago I decided to volunteer a very limited amount of time for today's referendum (for my local LibDems, who are campaigning for Remain) and took the day off work, as part of my ongoing "burn leave to keep effectively working part-time" plan.  So I have done two shifts of telling today: the first was in muggy but dry weather; the second was in pouring rain, including a very nearby lightning strike at which I screamed rather embarrassingly.

I am now back in bed and would rather like to sleep from now until the result is clear tomorrow.  At best tomorrow I will feel a faint sense of relief rather than anything actually positive about the whole exercise, and at worst I will feel extremely worried and miserable.  (And then I'll pick myself up and carry on because I still have Stuff To Get Done no matter what happens.)


Today's bird: Coot



rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I managed to take N to nursery by bike 4 out of 5 days this week. On Friday, we were running later than usual, and I had a nutrition course to get to at the Maggie's Wallace centre at the hospital at 10. There was no way I would get there on time by bus, so I was slightly courageous and cycled it. I went very slowly when compared to Before Cancer, and got very wet but I had time on arrival to change clothes and tweet a humblebrag before the course started.

I got home again in the afternoon without major incident, though I was very tired, and I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon in bed resting. This left me in good shape to cycle up to Girton for Matthew's singstar party which was most excellent fun. Cycling home about 1am was rather lovely - I pointed the bike homeward and didn't rush, and it was well above freezing so I didn't even need gloves.

The only downside was that the cycle ride woke me back up without wearing me out enough to sleep, so I accidentally started looking up Hamilton videos on YouTube following [livejournal.com profile] siderea's very helpful review explaining what all the fuss is about. The official cast recording isn't available on YouTube from the UK (sigh) but enough unofficial videos were available to convince me to buy the cast recording. I got as far as The Room Where It Happens before turning it off so I might actually sleep. (Actually, for other UK people, the video of Lin-Manuel Miranda performing the opening song at the White House in 2009 is available and that pretty nearly sold me all by itself.)


rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
This is articulating a lot of stuff I've been thinking over, especially the last month or so, about my priorities as I start getting "back to normal".


1. Health and fitness
(content note: exercise, weight, mental health)
Read more... )

2. Immediate family

The children have coped admirably with all the disruption and uncertainty, but they're both showing reaction in different ways. I want to give them lots of security and support and attention and stability. I plan to take a good look at our daily and weekly and seasonal routines with that in mind. 

I suspect some additional goals and tasks will come out of couples counselling.


3. Work

The cliché is that a brush with death provides revelation and motivation to chuck in the job and go follow a long-held dream etc.  My revelation from being ill so long is that I really like my work and I miss my job and my colleagues very much, and I want to go back as soon as I feel able.  Probably in a phased-return way so I don't go from zero to full time immediately.  Anyway, the time to start that conversation with work is probably a week or two into next year when this chemo cycle should be finished.


4. Studying

I'm studying with the OU under transitional fees and the qualification I'm working towards will be discontinued at the end of 2017. It is just possible for me to finish on time if I work hard from now until September 2017, and especially hard for the nine months Sep 16 - Jun 17. I've decided to give that plan a try but drop the workload if it's too much.   If I don't manage to complete by September 2017 much of my course credit is transferable to the replacement qualification anyway.


5. Family, friends and community

The care and support I've received while ill has been amazing and much appreciated.    I've found it too easy to let connections slide, especially when busy.  So I'm going to put some time and effort into maintaining connections (socialising, letters, emails, calls, blogs, even dratted Facebook), and into making that work part of my daily and weekly routines.



Two things notably absent from the list above:

1. Reading.

I won't stop reading entirely, it's too much part of me to read whenever I can. But studying will take up much of the time and effort I'd otherwise spend reading, and that seems a fair trade-off for now.


2. Politics

I'm finding it very hard to engage with politics at the moment: anything more than the most superficial attention to current events leaves me emotionally drained and exhausted.  Maybe that'll improve as I recover, but I don't think the five things I am choosing to prioritise will leave me much time over anyway.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
 And I had a lot of misc thoughts I was going to write up today, but then my reading page clued me in to the horrible news about Paris, and it seems too tone-deaf to write about fantasy violence when the real thing is so close.

From Cambridge I can get to Paris quicker than to much of my own country, including my mother's home town in Yorkshire and my aunt's place in Wales. Except I can't actually get to any of them right now because I'm stuck in hospital wired up to an antibiotic drip, and there is literally nothing I can do about nearby terrorism and the prospect of scary responses to it, except be upset and scared, and I've had too much of that lately.

This is why I try not to read news in hospital :-(

I think I'll go back to streaming Dr Who episodes from when I still liked it (first season with Matt Smith).


rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
We're on a  minibreak for the start of the summer holidays and ate lunch at a chain restaurant, and had an illuminating chat with the waitress about tips and how they get allocated, which prompted more discussion later because C had questions.

And I hate the culture of tipping for food service. I hate that collectively we're ok with poorly paid food service staff and "having" to tip. I hate that almost nowhere I might want to eat out is transparent about staff pay or how tips are divided among staff, but opting out of this secretive game is massively socially disapproved (and of course does screw over the individual server).

And [livejournal.com profile] fanf said it ought to be publicly displayed like hygiene ratings are, and I said YES and tweeted about it a bit.

So my idea is a banding rating, 3 would be enough to start with:
  • at least minimum wage
  • at least living wage
  • at least 10% above living wage.

Plus a tip policy:
  • no tips
  • tips to server
  • tips distributed to all staff
% of tips retained by business for any reason

This standard info should be in the window and ideally on the menu and the website too. Who do I need to convince to campaign for this?
rmc28: Rachel speaking at a lectern with microphone and part of the slogan "Stronger Economy Fairer Society" in shot (libdem)
From the Federal Party constitution (full document in PDF available at that page):

10.5 Nominations must be of a Member of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons, who must be proposed by at least ten percent of other members of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons and supported by 200 members in aggregate in not less than 20 Local Parties (including, for this purpose, the Specified Associated Organisations representing youth and students as provided by Article 13.8) and must indicate acceptance of nomination.

The 8 LibDem MPs are:
Tom Brake
Alistair Carmichael
Nick Clegg
Tim Farron
Norman Lamb
Greg Mulholland
John Pugh
Mark Williams

10% of other members is 0.7 of an MP. So a leadership candidate needs to persuade one other MP to propose him (they are all white men over 40) and then another 200 members from around the country to support him.


From the Leadership Election Regulations (in the same document as above):

2. The electorate for the purpose of the election shall be those members with current membership of the Liberal Democrats on the closing date for nominations, including those members whose subscriptions were due not more than three months before the closing date.

Want to vote in this one? Want to be part of the discussion of the party's future?

http://www.libdems.org.uk/join

You'll be welcome.

rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I'm noting that I have simultaneously:

- a very intellectual/analytical political nerd almost gleeful fascination about how uncertain this election is and how likely it is that the next government will be some kind of confidence+supply arrangement or possibly a coalition, and parties will have to cooperate and there are so many possibilities

- a very visceral/wordless rollercoaster of excitement and nervousness and hope and fear, both for my specific constituency, and for my country as a whole


Also I am clearly not falling asleep, and yet I have to be awake and coherent at 9am for C's class assembly. 
rmc28: (OMG)
I was ill over the BH weekend with yet another cough, resulting in rather less leafletting and rather more curling up in bed feeling miserable than I had planned.

Today I've had to give up door-knocking and come home because of a stomach upset.  I am now making phone calls at intervals, which I dislike even more than door-knocking.

On the bright side, I had a lovely email from someone who'd googled to find out why people ask for numbers outside the polling station and found this post from ten years ago, which apparently remains useful (and highly google-ranked) to this day.  That absolutely made my day.




Also posted at http://rmc28.dreamwidth.org/580592.html with comment count unavailable comments.
rmc28: (OMG)
I write the kind of exciting stories I want to read.
You keep bringing politics into your stories.
They churn out tedious message fiction.

(inspired by reading the comments on George RR Martin's thoughtful set of posts about The Hugo Mess)


There also seems to be some confusion between noting a political thing a book does (that pleases me) and only liking that book for the political thing that pleases me.   Not realising it is additive: here is a good book and it does this cool thing.  

And often that "cool thing" is merely refraining from treating non-straight-ablebodied-white-men horribly: the Bechdel test is a really low bar and yet so few things pass it, let alone if you also look at ethnicity or disability or sexuality etc.  It's not "come and read this politically correct yet tedious book" it's "come and read this cool book that won't kick you in the teeth, at least on this axis".

rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I woke up a bit after 4am to find both children had come into my bed during the night, despite neither starting the night that way.  I snuck downstairs to watch the end of the Scottish referendum results.  No more than 15 minutes later, Nico turned up next to my chair looking very sleepy.  About 15 minutes after that Charles turned up looking worried and very sleepy.

I've spent the next hour or so fielding questions about the election from Charles e.g.
"What does 'united' mean?" 
"Why wouldn't Scotland want to be independent?"
"What's a nation?"

Meanwhile Nico is playing with wooden blocks and ignoring the tv.


ETA: well, that was a disappointment
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
(The whole guide is here: http://guide.loncon3.org/  I am currently failing at reading it, but I've got a few weeks.  I also think I have some reading and rereading to do in preparation.)

"We have always fought": warriors vs llamas

Sunday 16:30 - 18:00, Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL)

In a Hugo-nominated essay published on Aidan Moher's blog A Dribble of Ink in 2013, Kameron Hurley argued that in order to challenge prevailing narratives of women as passive adjuncts to men, we must write more stories that reflect the genuine history of women's involvement in war and conflict. (How) is this being pursued in contemporary SFF? What are the strategies being used by writers to turn the stories we tell about women into stories about warriors, rather than - as Hurley put it - llamas?

Jeanne Gomoll (M), Rachel Coleman, Kristina Knaving, Liesel Schwarz, Rebecca Levene

The Politics of the Culture

Monday 11:00 - 12:00, Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL)

In her review of Look to Windward, Abigail Nussbaum suggests that the central paradox of Iain M Banks' Culture is that it is "both a force for goodness, freedom, and happiness in the galaxy, and an engine of its citizens' selfish, childish needs to imbue their lives with meaning, to which end they will cause any amount of suffering ... both are true, and both are reductive." To what extent is the Culture, as a political entity, built around this unresolvable duality? How do the Culture novels grapple with the contradictions at the heart of this utopia? And how do the actions of the Culture connect with the more immediate political choices we face in the present world?

David Dingwall (M), Rachel Coleman, Ken MacLeod, Gemma Thomson, Lalith Vipulananthan Lal


rmc28: Rachel speaking at a lectern with microphone and part of the slogan "Stronger Economy Fairer Society" in shot (speaking)
Yesterday I went to the Cambridge LibDems Special General Meeting where we discussed and then voted on whether our local party should call for a leadership election. 

Spoiler - the vote was lost 32 to 45 and Cambridge LibDems the local party are not calling for a leadership election. (Although a number of individual Cambridge LibDems have done so).  That's not really what I'm trying to talk about though, but more about my emotional reaction to this meeting.

Read more... )
Short version: I really care about a lot of people in the party, and even when we are talking about really hard stuff, spending time with them makes me happy.

That's what gets me out of the house leafletting or canvassing on a miserable day or making phone calls (and I hate making phone calls to strangers). Principles and organisations are necessary but a bit too cold, it's the warmth of people I need.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
So far today I have:
  • got the children out to nursery and school as usual
  • taken a precious precious 30 minutes by myself where I didn't talk to anyone and no-one wanted me for anything
  • voted
And now I am off to spend the day talking to people about going to vote, until it is time to pick N up from nursery and do the usual evening routine.

[personal profile] nanila is voting for the first time and [personal profile] hollymath can't vote, and they've both written more eloquent requests than mine to go out and vote.

Decisions are made by those who show up; this is a time we can all show up.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
Same-sex marriages can take place in the UK from today, and the first ones have already happened! (Midnight weddings! Makes midnight cinema screenings look a bit boring.) Congratulations to all today's newlyweds :-)

On the topic of marriage, I was reminded this week of a recent blog post by Rebecca Taylor MEP about titles, names and marriage, and in particular how our European neighbours have already got over the Miss / Mrs distinction.

(Apologies - I had to recreate post this due to technical difficulties i.e. my inability to correctly drive the poll creator)

Poll #15154 Marriage, names, titles
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 36


Marking marital status by title?

View Answers

The status quo: Miss, Mrs and Ms if you must
5 (13.9%)

Mrs for all adult women
4 (11.1%)

Ms for all adult women
17 (47.2%)

Miss for adult women
1 (2.8%)

Mx for everyone (why mark gender either?)
18 (50.0%)

Something else which I will expand in comments
11 (30.6%)

Tickybox
11 (30.6%)

Arguments over titles ruined my grandparents' marriage, you heartless blockhead
3 (8.3%)

I am

View Answers

married and I changed my name
2 (5.9%)

married and I changed my title
3 (8.8%)

not married but would not change my name if I did
13 (38.2%)

not married but would not change my title if I did
13 (38.2%)

not married and fed up of smug marrieds going on about it
1 (2.9%)

divorced
2 (5.9%)

against the whole institution of marriage
1 (2.9%)

uninterested in the whole irrelevant discussion
1 (2.9%)

other
17 (50.0%)

tickybox
9 (26.5%)

rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I know I'm days behind on this, but there was a wee bit of furore on a LibDemVoice article, where Jo Swinson used the launch of some size-16 mannequins to promote the government body confidence campaign and there were a number of commenters who were very concerned that this might mean fat women think it's ok to be fat.

If feeling miserable and ashamed of my body achieved anything, I'd have been toned and slender long ago. So I've tried to give up body-hatred and focus on what I can do. My body has grown two enormous babies, and fed each of them for years. I rack up 10,000+ steps a day on my pedometer, and I cycle-commute around north Cambridge every weekday. At the end of September last year, 12 weeks post-partum, I took up running with Couch-to-5k, and after a couple of gaps this year (flu in February, and the hot summer), I've re-established a habit of running three times a week and am dreaming of running a marathon next year.

Twice a week I run in my lunch hour at work. I am a fat woman and my running gear does nothing to hide this, because it is comfortable and functional. I've been enjoying seeing some of my friends making Clovember posts, and so today I snapped a couple of photos of me in my running gear before I set out. Photos and numbers are behind the cut.

Read more... )
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
DWCon next August had sold out by the time we had a month where we hadn't overspent our budget on other things.  So we'll not be going.  We did book Loncon3 the previous time we had a surplus; so I booked us hotel rooms for that in the nearby Travelodge (which put us back into overspend, but means next August will be less expensive).

I feel a bit weird about this: Tony & I met because of mutual friends made at the DWCons and online Pratchett fandom, I've been to every UK DWCon so far, and there are good and dear friends we would normally see there. But it can't be helped and maybe this will be an incentive to do some smaller-scale meeting-up with some of those friends in between now and then.

LibDem Spring Conference next year clashes with a friend's wedding.  So I'll be at the wedding and not in York.  I don't feel at all weird about that!  Yay weddings.

I tried to sign up to Yuletide before the deadline but blocked on actually asking for things.   I've signed up to the pinch-hit list and may try writing treat(s) anyway.  It amuses me how far I've come since this time last year when Actually Writing And Publishing A Fanfic was a huge scary thing and now I'm like "sure, let me turn out 1000+ words for you in my copious free time".  I find I like writing gift fics, even if my free time isn't all that copious.

rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
Last Thursday we had local elections, and the weather was so nice, I managed to get sunburned after spending most of the day outside delivering, telling & knocking up. Such a contrast to last year, where I shivered in multiple layers and had changed clothes three times by lunchtime.

I took Charles with me to vote on the way to school, and we met one of his friends and her mother doing the same thing.  I cast a proxy vote for the first time, which meant they sent me round once with my friend's ballot paper, and once with my own.

I paced myself fairly well with the day's campaigning but by the time I picked up the children from nursery and kidsclub and got them home, I was worn out and unable to face speaking to strangers, even by phone knock-up.  So I got the children fed with Jonny's help, and put them to bed, and dozed with them for a bit before my father rang to catch up and make arrangements for the weekend.

(For those that are interested in the election results, Phil Rodgers again has good coverage on his blog, with a quick results-in-Cambridge post and a much more detailed follow-up.)

I had a quiet day at home on Friday, before we travelled to the west country to see my father for the long weekend.  We used the Travelodge in Swindon as a base, and took the bus to Cirencester on Saturday, and to Avebury on Sunday.   The weather was lovely on both days, and I realised at the end of our time at Avebury that I had sunburned again and more thoroughly.  Everyone else was fine: the baby had sunscreen & the others are either more sunproof or better at staying covered and in the shade.

The bonus extra of our little trip was a couple of hours in the pub with my dad's wife and her children on Sunday evening. It has literally been years since we got to spend time together with them all and it was a real pleasure to do so.

rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
A group I am part of is faced with accusations of sexual harassment by a prominent and powerful member of the group, who has recently been making a return to positions of influence after retiring a few years ago.  

I cannot help but view it in the context of similar recent discussions: the harassment of a Readercon guest last year; the Captain Awkward post on "My friend group has a case of the creepy dude"; the entire geek feminism Timeline of Incidents; the need for conference codes of conduct and their enforcement; the flaming of Rebecca Watson for asking not to be hit on in a lift at 3am; and Harriet J on the social pressures on women not to enforce boundaries

Yes, that's a lot of background reading. It should be read anyway, ideally before commenting with the same things that get said so often about sexual harassment and rape that people start making bingo cards in self-defence.

We have bingo-card defence 1: "no-one ever made a complaint".  Lots of women never report sexual harassment and rape to anyone.  Why would they, if they have no confidence the report will be taken seriously. Summary of statistics from the Child & Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Met.

Bingo-card defence 2: "one of the people carried on working with me for years". The implication here is that sexual assault is So Terrible that it would have driven away anyone who suffered it.  It ignores completely the possibility that someone might decide they would rather keep a job they were good at, and not grant their assaulter any more control over their life.

People want to think that people they like couldn't possibly do bad things. There is huge resistance to changing your view of someone from "amazing person who has done many good things and is so easy to get on with" to "amazing person who has done many good things and is so easy to get on with and has sexually harrassed people".  It questions your judgement - if you are wrong about person X, what else are you wrong about.  It means you have to start doing some difficult and awkward things, stripping person X of power and access to people they can assault, stopping them doing all the good work they've been doing. 

It's so much easier to just decide the accusers are wrong instead, or must have somehow misinterpreted things, or it can't be that serious, or they must have ulterior motives. 

There are a lot of people on twitter right now implying the accusations are a smear campaign and/or badly timed because of the Eastleigh by-election.  As if there would be a good time to make these accusations!  After Eastleigh there is conference; after that there are council elections; there would never have been a good day to bury this bad news.  I've been impressed by [twitter.com profile] AliFionaSmith (one of the women making the allegations) engaging with these kinds of responses.

Good people can do bad things.  The world is not divided into Evil Rapists and Good Normal People.  But if people never suffer any consequences within a group for doing bad things, they have no reason to stop.  The consequences fall on the people harassed and driven away; they also fall on the group as a whole, which is diminished by the lost contributions from people harassed and driven away.

I am angry and shocked and upset by the allegations; like Stephen Tall posted on Friday, I think the party has to do better, although yesterday's post from the Chief Executive is an improvement; unlike Stephen I had no years of hearing rumours to prepare the ground.  Four or five years ago I would have been one of the people desperately trying to minimise the allegations and make them not be true or not matter; now after all the context linked above, I see an awfully plausible iteration of a depressingly familiar pattern.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
My paternal grandmother Cecillie had two older brothers, Vincent and Theo, and they grew up together in Toronto.  Cecillie was doing a PhD at Imperial College when she met my grandfather and, as women did then, gave up her PhD to marry him and have children.

Theo had an amazing adventurous life, from the stories my aunt tells me, but I only remember meeting him once. He and his partner Bob were living in California and my parents took four-year-old me and my baby brother Daniel out to see them.  I have two strong memories of that holiday: meeting Snow White in Disneyland, and being taught to eat corn-on-the-cob by Uncle Theo.

Theo died of cancer when I was twelve.  When I was twenty-two, just graduated from Cambridge, I took my grandmother to see Vincent, now living in Washington State with children and grandchildren, and Bob, now living in Toronto.  Cecillie had early-stage Alzheimer's and needed someone to drive, to remind her to take her medicine and make sure she ate regularly. 

We spent a week in Bob's house in Toronto, mostly being tourists and meeting up with some of Cecillie's schoolfriends.  Our schedule and Bob's usually matched over breakfast.  Bob was dying of cancer, and refusing treatment after nursing Theo through it a decade earlier.  I knew this, but we hadn't told Cecillie to save putting her repeatedly through the distress each time she forgot.  The house was full of photograhs of Theo and Bob, their love for each other evident in every one. I spent a lot of time listening to my grandmother and Bob telling "do you remember" stories.

Bob said he was writing a story of Theo's life because it had been so exciting. One of the days we were there I fixed his computer and rescued the latest draft of the book, because that's what family elders ask 22-year-old computer science graduates to do.

I told Bob about being taught how to eat corn-on-the-cob and he told me what he remembered of four-year-old me:

Four-year-old me met Bob for the first time and did nothing but stare at him.  Bob was not very used to children and looked back a bit disconcerted.  Eventually I said "You're really old".  Bob said "Er yes, and one day you will be old too.  Everyone gets old."

I thought for a bit and said "When I'm old, you'll be dead."

Bob thought this was a) hilarious and b) a fine example of deductive reasoning.  I was embarrassed and sad, because we knew he was dying.  I forgot to take a photo of him to remember him by before Cecillie & I left.  He died less than a year later.

I gathered from our stay that his birth family had never approved of his relationship with Theo, but had reconciled with him after Theo's death.  They certainly didn't want to come and meet Cecillie or me.  They never told us when he died - Vincent found an obituary in an internet search when he couldn't get hold of Bob. We don't know what happened to the photos of him and Theo, or the book Bob had been writing. 

Bob was part of our family but it seems his birth family didn't see it that way.

They should have been able to marry.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
My brother & I wrote this for LibDemVoice and it's just been published there.

Rachel writes:
Every time I hear the phrase “a life on benefits”, it’s like a slap in the face to my brother, who lives in my spare room while looking for a job. He’s not lazy or a scrounger, he just can’t find a job. As Sarah Teather said two weeks ago

the term “scroungers” has become so pervasive in social consciousness that even those on benefits do not attempt to debunk the entire category, only to excuse themselves from the label.

I asked my brother if he was willing to share what his life on benefits was like:


Jonny writes:

I have been on benefits for over three years. I apply to two or three jobs each week, making a proper effort to sell myself as best as I can with each one. It’s a very discouraging task: every role is oversubscribed, and the rare times I get as far as interviews I am always beaten by someone with more recent experience. It’s hard to convince myself each application isn’t just a waste of time.

I have volunteered at a charity shop for over two years, and though this varied and challenging work experience has not led to employment, it is emotionally rewarding and one of the few reasons I have to get up each day.

For food, I buy the cheapest healthy food I can, only getting nicer food when it is sufficiently reduced. For entertainment, I have the computer I use for job applications and the broadband in my sister’s house. I only buy myself clothes from the cheapest shops. I try to save a little from each month, against unexpected expenses such as bike or computer repairs.

I’m always conscious of my restrictions:

  • I can’t go on holiday.
  • I can’t drink with friends in the pub: if I do go I stick to tap water.
  • I can’t eat out more than once a month, and then only in cheap places.
  • I can’t afford train tickets to see distant friends.
  • I can’t go to see shows or films more than a few times a year.
  • I can’t join any club that requires a subscription.
  • I always feel guilty if I spend more than £5 on anything.

Though I do manage a life on benefits, it’s not a good life and it’s not my choice to be unemployed.


Rachel writes:

I admire my brother’s care with money and his resilience under the constant grind of jobhunting. Even so, I worry for him now that the Benefits Uprating Bill has passed its third reading. A 1% rise in his JSA is not comparable to the 1% rise my salary will see this year, because my starting point is so much better. We’ll both have to absorb a real-terms cut in income, but what I will hardly notice, he will struggle with.

rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I share looking after our house and our children with someone I love very much. I make sure there is enough food for all of us, and that the house stays warm, and that the money we have pays for all the things we want to have and do. I make sure that we all have time to do fun things, and that each grown-up has time when they don't have to do any work or looking after children. I make sure that there is always someone to look after the children when the grown-ups are at their jobs or doing fun things.

When we want to visit friends or family or new places, I plan when we can go, and how much we can spend, and how we will get there, and where we will stay. I share the food-making and house-cleaning and all the other work of looking after a house but I think I do less of all of these than the other grown-up, because I do more of the planning and money things.

One of our children is only a baby and I do more of the looking after him because of the way he eats right now, but as he gets older, it will be easier to share looking after him, as we do with his older brother.

I don't get paid for any of this, and it used to be expected that women would do this work for free and never do any other sort of job. Some people still seem to expect this. I would be very sad if this was the only job I did but I think I am good at it when I don't have to do it all the time.

It takes a lot of money to pay for people to look after other people's children and sometimes that means it is hard for both parents to work in a paid job when their children are small. Sometimes one of the parents is happy to stop paid work and look after the children, but sometimes both of them want to stay in their paid work, but one of them has to stop anyway. Sometimes it is the one who is less sad who stops but usually it is the one who gets less money, whether they are sad about it or not, and whether or not the job they do is important and they are good at it.

Parents who stop doing a paid job to look after small children usually find it hard to get as good or well-paid a job again when the children are older, and they and their family usually have less money for the whole of their life than families where both parents were able to stay in paid jobs. Those parents may never do the things they are good at again.

Sometimes people who run businesses try to keep the parents who work for them in their paid jobs, so that the business can use the things they are good at. Some businesses pay for looking after children, or let parents work less for a while until the children are older.

The people-who-run-the-place-where-we-live say that parents have to be able to ask to work less until their children are older, and they help pay for some looking after children while parents are in paid jobs. This helps the parents who want to keep their paid jobs and it helps their families have more money, but it also helps everyone because the parents are happier and are doing jobs they are good at rather than being sad at home.

I used to think this was a boring thing to talk about until I had children and saw how many parents stop their paid jobs who would like to keep them, and learned how much money parents with low-paid jobs lose over their whole life when they stop working to look after children.

Now I think maybe everyone would be happier if all parents had enough money to pay for looking after children, so that they could really be free to decide whether to stay in paid work and how much to work. Parents who decided to stay home should still get the money because their work is important. I think it would take a lot of money to start with but I think in the end it would save a lot of money, make a lot more jobs, and stop a lot of people being sad.

[Written with the Up-Goer Five Text Editor http://splasho.com/upgoer5/ 
This started with me trying to describe the unpaid work that I do but then the personal became political.]
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I have been reminded, by a bad-tempered comment I made on the Liberator blog, just how much I dislike the "playing devil's advocate" game. 

Both my father and father-in-law have a bad habit (which I think Tony & I have managed to break) of getting me into a heartfelt discussion about something I felt strongly about (e.g. smoking around small children, ID cards, sexist clothes for children) and then when I reach the point of being visibly upset, saying "oh of course I agree with you, I just wanted to see how good your argument was".

If I'm providing entertainment, I'd rather tell some good stories than get into an argument.  Especially a fake argument because the other person already agrees but is pretending not to.   Especially with people I respect and am disappointed to find seem to hold unpleasant views.   Especially when I didn't know it was a game and they did.

I have enough too many real disagreements and arguments with the world to need to make up fake ones or argue with people who basically agree with me just to "hone my argument".  There are plenty of real people that I'd like to convince to think differently and the internet makes it really easy for us to find each other.  Having arguments to mark them out of ten rather than to actually try to convince people is something I just don't understand.

I run into things every day where my disagreement is not a game, and not a performance I'm carrying out to be awarded marks for style. Maybe when we achieve the world where none are enslaved by poverty, ignorance and conformity, I'll learn to enjoy argument-as-performance-art.  But not now.



(Edited 10 Oct 2014 to correct meaning of first sentence of fourth paragraph)

rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
[I wrote this for LibDemVoice, where it was published yesterday]

A baby in a sling makes an amazing Conference icebreaker. Over the five days I lost count of the number of people who stopped to admire my darling and ask questions, to the point where occasionally I gave the answers without being asked ("11 weeks", "Nicholas", "no, not after the Leader, after his father's uncle). During the day when I wasn't carrying him, I frequently got stopped and asked "where's your baby?".

"In the crèche," I would reply, and almost always got the response "There's a crèche?"

Yes, there is a crèche at conference, on site inside the secure area and just a few minutes walk from the auditorium. It runs from 8:30am to 6pm and the cost is subsidised by the party to ensure access for all parents. The staff are qualified professional childcare workers. They were wonderful, asking me about my son's routine and adapting to my preferred parenting approach. We managed breastfeeding-on-demand via text message most of the time, but I was also able to block out times when I needed to be completely uninterrupted, such as when I had a speaker's card in for a debate.

The crèche allowed me to fully participate in the business of conference: debates, votes, speeches, lunchtime fringes and at one point a campaign meeting. Without it, I could not have attended at all. With the crèche, I had the best of both worlds: regular cuddles with my son grounding me in between policy debates & ministerial Q&As.

My mother tells me that as a baby I was part of a protest at Liberal Party conference about the lack of crèche. The front row was filled with activists and their babies for the Leader's speech. The following conference had a crèche. It remains vital for keeping activists included and involved after they have children.

This week I return to work part-time, while my husband reduces his working hours to cover the days I am working. I realised during conference that if I had similar close good-quality childcare at work, I would happily be returning full-time, able to fit in my eight hours a day around three or four "baby breaks". Sadly there isn't any such childcare available, so part-time it is for now. 

I am glad and grateful that party conference has set such a high standard for keeping parents included.  Nico and I will be back in the spring.
rmc28: (babysitter)
I went to sleep on Wednesday night listening to rain drumming on my roof and hoping that it would have eased by the morning.  But I woke to my 5am alarm with the drumming still there.  By 6am I was out delivering Good Morning leaflets.  I discovered very quickly that my waterproof was merely showerproof and useless against the solidly heavy rain then falling.  It was windproof enough that I didn't get too cold, so long as I kept moving.

Back at home I peeled off my no-longer-waterproof, and then changed my saturated clothes for dry ones.  Plan A was for me and Tony to vote together with Charles, before Tony took him off to school and I took up my telling shift at the local polling station.  However, Charles was uncooperative about being ready in time, so after breakfast I just went straight to the polling station, leaving Tony with the school run.

Telling is probably my favourite part of election campaigning, because it's the one time for cross-party co-operation.  Most local activists regardless of party are there because they care about their local community and it's usually possible to have friendly conversations in between asking voters nicely for their numbers.  We had a friendly person in charge of the polling station too, who at one point was explaining in detail how they make voting accessible to blind people.

The rain had stopped, thankfully, but it was still very cold sitting outside.  (The other thing I normally like about telling is the chance to sit outdoors in the nice May sunshine ... not so this year!) After my shift I voted and then went home to try to warm up.  Two hot drinks later, and a third set of clothes (more layers), I felt able to face my next telling shift, over in a different ward.  I packed a blanket  this time but was relieved to discover that the new polling station had a large porch area and the party political people were allowed to sit in it. 

Even so, after this shift I opted for a hot takeaway lunch and then needed some time in the warm at the committee room before I could face going outside again.  Eventually I went out for a round of knocking up, but in my own knocked-up condition needed to sit down three times on the way around.  So after that I alternated my time between telling and resting at the committee room until I ran out of steam about 8:30pm.  My last telling shift was shared with an amazing lovely lady, who had clearly lived in the area for years, greeted half the voters walking in by name and in between times told me anecdotes about her extended family and gave me lots of well-meant encouragement for my pregnancy.  (There was also the highlight of seeing [livejournal.com profile] angua on her way in to vote, and to catch up a bit on her way out.)

Back at home, Charles had been allowed to stay up to say goodnight to me, and then Tony & I vegged in front of Goldeneye for the rest of the evening.  I had forgotten how much I like the film, especially the tank sequence.  Things I hadn't noticed before were the rubbishness of the incidental music apart from the big theme tune, and the last line which sounds rather more sinister these days than it did in the late 1990s: "Why don't you two debrief each other in Guantanamo?"

As for the results, the LibDems had lost 3 of the 7 seats they were defending, and gained none. The Labour party gained the one Green seat being defended, and the other Green councillor (not up for re-election until 2014) announced his defection to Labour on the morning of polling day.  The LibDems retain control of Cambridge City Council for the next two years, with the Mayor's casting vote.  (For more details, see Phil Rodgers' excellent political/data visualisation blog posts on vote swings, vote shares and the new balance of power on the council.)

Overall, I did much better at pacing myself throughout the campaign than I managed last year, and I knew better than to even try to go to the count. This year was also immensely better than last in that I didn't have to authorise a cat being put to sleep 36 hours after close of polls.

rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
Last week, Mark Pack posted an interesting graph showing the percentage of the UK's wealth going to the top 1% over the last century. It shows a clear upturn in that share from 1979, but nothing in 1997. Unfortunately it stops in 2000, and I'd really like to see what if any difference was made when Labour stopped sticking to Conservative spending plans after 2001.

Also in that post, Mark reminded me of research he discussed earlier in the year indicating that the richer you are, the less rich you estimate yourself to be. I remember Terry Pratchett talking about this once, about how the gradient of richness went up so steeply that even as a multimillionaire, there were people who made you feel poor. It was too easy to look up the slope at the person above, than remind oneself of all the people below.

"Most people would describe a dollar millionaire as rich, yet many millionaires would disagree. They do not compare themselves with teachers or shop assistants but with the other parents at their children’s private schools." - from an Economist special report on the global super-rich.

The IFS has produced a handy tool: Where do you fit in? which allows those in Great Britain to find out how relatively rich or poor they are compared to the rest of the country.

When I took this in 2009, I would have put our household (me, Tony & Charles) at about 70% - in fact we were "in the 9th decile", thus rather proving Mark's point. I have been trying hard to change my thinking to accommodate this since then.

I retook the IFS test this year after being reminded by Mark Pack's article. It's been updated with more recent figures, and we are now in the 10th decile, and richer than 96% of the population. We might not feel 'rich' but that has a lot to do with looking up the slope at those richer than us (and no doubt also a lot to do with choosing to buy an oversized house in a housing boom in an expensive part of the country.)

There is a big chunk of me that is squirming about 'boasting' about being rich here. I'm deeply uncomfortable 'flashing my cash'. But I think rich people not realising how exceptional they are is pernicious, especially when it comes to their reactions to suggested changes in tax and benefits.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I know LibDem Conference is so last week (literally), but I wanted to talk about the drugs debate there, and usefully the entirety of it is on YouTube. I felt it was an impressive, nuanced, mature debate: neither "war on drugs is the only option" nor "spliffs are ok man", and focusing on the harm caused by drug abuse and exacerbated by current policy.

If you care about the topic and have 75 minutes, please watch the debate. Even if you can just get through the first 7.5 minutes of Ewan Hoyle "moving the motion", I think his words are worth listening to.



The motion was passed, which means it is now LibDem policy to set up an independent panel to review current drug laws, with an emphasis on scientific and economic evidence, particularly the experience of Portugal in successfully decriminalising drug possession. I felt proud of my party and fellow members during the debate and when the votes were taken.

One of my tweets during the debate prompted that rare thing - a constructive exchange of views via Twitter, which also connected with my OU social sciences study last night. I've tried capturing it using Storify.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I'm at LibDem conference Sat-Wed. My laptop has zero battery life and no internet; my iphone keyboard is a disincentive to lengthy typing. So I've been tweeting quite a lot at [twitter.com profile] rmc28.

I gave my first conference speech yesterday, on the vetting process, and later I asked a question on social mobility. I gather these were both televised on BBC Parliament.

At 4pm we're debating the IT & IP policy I've been involved with, and I've written another speech in support of it - I'll have about 4 minutes warning if I'm going to be called again.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
From LibDemVoice

LibDem MPs who voted for Nadine Dorries' amendment on abortion:
Alan Beith, Gordon Birtwistle and Greg Mulholland.

LibDem MPs who rebelled against the NHS Bill:
Andrew George, Julian Huppert, Greg Mulholland and Adrian Sanders

I think I'm just glad I don't live in Leeds North West, because Greg Mulholland presents a bit of a dilemma there.

I haven't formed a strong opinion on the NHS Bill yet. I think it breaks the Coalition Agreement because it's blatantly a top-down reorganisation of the NHS. I'm annoyed that the LibDems felt they had to keep the coalition agreement on tuition fees, but are joining in breaking it on the NHS.

That said, I'm getting seriously fed up with people shouting that the bill is the end of the world as we know it and insulting anyone who dares to disagree. (I'm also fed up with the automatic demonisation of all Conservatives, because the ones I know are generally-decent human beings, who I just disagree with on some matters. Most people I know disagree with me on some matters, it doesn't make them evil!)

Sion writes a post here with which I can entirely identify. I've not blogged much about my mother's health, because that's for her to decide to put up on the internet or not, but I don't think it invades her privacy to say I am not happy with the way she's been treated since last November, and I think the NHS is not covering itself with glory its management of her case.

I haven't been able to form a strong opinion on the Bill because it's a complex subject and I've not made time to study it. However, to paraphrase [personal profile] djm4, if Julian Huppert thought it was worth rebelling over, then I think I should be worried.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I have great admiration for the Speaker of the House of Commons. The latest edition of Prospect has a profile on him which includes new (to me) reasons to admire him:

* he does the morning school run (like the PM and Deputy PM - hurrah for powerful men doing parenting as though it were an unremarkable thing)

* he started the first parliamentary nursery

* .. and made it open to staff as well as MPs

* he got a licence for civil partnerships to take place on the parliamentary estate after being approached by Chris Bryant MP (also interesting and admirable from what I've seen, follow @chrisbryantmp)

* he does educational outreach to schools and charities about parliament

* he dismisses people attacking him for the opinions/actions of his wife and rightly points out the implicit sexism: 'They are married, he points out, “not joined at the hip” and “the premise upon which this argument is based is that the wife isn’t an independent person at all; she is just an extension of her husband.”'


For more admiration and praise for John Bercow, there is always http://fyjohnbercow.tumblr.com/
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I wrote a blog post which was accepted for and published on LibDemVoice today. Here's what I wrote (behind the cut):

Read more... )

I did a quick check-and-response to comments at LDV at lunchtime; I'll do more this evening (there and here).
rmc28: (glowy)
Election time is over. Between the local LibDem candidate and the Yes campaign I worked to the point, but no further I hope, of making myself ill. I have a family and a job which come higher on my priorities than politics. I crashed at about 3pm yesterday, which was 7 hours earlier than I would have liked, but unavoidable.

By 10pm I was up to dragging myself to the count to do my promised observer duty for the Yes campaign, which I managed until about 2am. Then I went to work as usual today and left at 4pm to observe (most of) the count for Cambridge.

I'm pleased Yes won in Cambridge and gutted, if not actually surprised, by the national result.

I'm too tired to really feel it today, it'll probably hit me hard tomorrow. So, when I got home from the count, Tony helped me take all the Yes stuff off the bikes and down from the windows. I've put it away in a folder; I think I'll want to have it to look back on in future, but right now I don't want to see it. My campaign tshirts need a wash before I can put them away out of sight too.

My local LibDem candidate won as hoped and though we lost 4 seats, Cambridge is still LibDem-run. My dad won a seat on Cotswold District Council, standing there for the first time. I haven't figured out if his seat was one of the 7 LibDem gains there or "just" a hold, but I'm pleased for him and his return to being a councillor.

And now as welcome distraction I've a TTBA article to write and a party to go to tomorrow. And my beloved husband and son who have been sadly neglected these past few weeks.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I tried out home-dying my hair photo and tedious detail behind cut )

The children at nursery are impressed anyway. Speaking of which, Charles continues the Campaign for a New Baby Sister or CaNBS.

C: "And Mummy, Z's mummy has a BABY BUMP"
R: "That's nice"
C: "But Mummy, look at your tummy!"
R: "There's no baby in my tummy"
C: "But look, your tummy is very big, Mummy"
R: "Yes, that's because I'm fat"
C: "What?"
R: "I am a chubby mummy,that is why my tummy is big, not a baby bump"
C: *bouncing on bed* "Chubby mummy, chubby mummy, chubby mummy"

And finally I made a silly photo blog for the AV referendum: http://yes2avbike.blogspot.com/ and am keeping it updated daily with [livejournal.com profile] fanf's help.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
(Yes, it's 2 weeks late, but I half-wrote it on the way home and it seemed a shame to throw it away rather than finish it.)

I found myself sitting next to the Guardian's liveblogger for an hour or so in the morning. We didn't chat as he was head-down working all the time. From his blog he was feeling sensitive about all the conference digs at the Guardian, as if the Guardian had done nothing to alienate LibDems in the last 8 months.

Stephen Woolley from Operation Black Vote had a 15 minute speech officially on the AV referendum, but actually an impressive and inspiring speech on the need for diversity and inclusion throughout our politics, and winning the referendum as part of that.

The policy motion on Access to Justice had not one person speak against it. Looking over the whole weekend, none of the policy motions were controversial within the party: they were all issues where disagreement is coming externally, from our coalition partners, the Opposition, the tabloid media. This all led to a fluffy warm consensus and identity-affirming feeling but part of what LibDems do well is allowing discussion, disagreement and debate without catastrophe ensuing. I hope for a bit more of that in the Autumn Conference.

The grand finale was of course Nick's speech which you can watch and read should you so wish. As with the Rally at the start of the conference, he had a standing ovation just coming on stage. The Telegraph said he was getting a lukewarm response at Conference; that's not what it felt like to me.

I found plenty to applaud in the speech, though I probably enjoyed his Q&As on Saturday more. "Alarm Clock Britain" doused my enthusiasm each time it was used: I think it's like "hard-working families" without the narrow focus on families, and I swear the first time I heard it I thought it was a spoof. But he does keep using it (more on that from Caron's Musings after the Budget). And he made me cross with bashing Oxbridge admissions again after doing so during his Q&As, and I didn't really get back into the rhythm of the speech after that until the very end. Followed of course by another standing ovation.

And then it was all over and I met [livejournal.com profile] feanelwa for lunch and some welcome not-party-politics conversation. During lunch I got a text to say I'd won the LGBT LibDems raffle and arranged to collect my bottle of nice champagne before collecting my bag from the hotel and getting on the train home to my much-missed family.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
Unlike Andrew Rawnsley (and quite a few of my friends) my tolerance for endless discussion of different voting systems is pretty low. I'm also not that keen on discussing hypotheticals rather than actual situations. I strongly feel that voting No in May because Alternative Vote isn't some other preferred alternative to First Past The Post, is making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Twitter's rubbish for discussion, so this is partly an attempt to sensibly expand on my recent exchange with @planetxanna about "why does no-one like AV?". My long answer is:

1. Most people don't think much about electoral systems and therefore neither like or dislike AV.

2. Of those that do think about voting systems, those who really prefer FPTP don't like AV at all. Those who want to get rid of FPTP electoral reform tend to favour systems that go even further than AV and deliver rather more proportionality. AV is a compromise1: it addresses some of the concerns of FPTP supporters: a clear winner, one MP per constituency, keeping the small fringe parties out of power. It addresses some of the concerns of electoral-reform supporters, in particular allowing voters to express preferences honestly.

1 Possibly even a miserable little one.

I like AV, and here are the two main reasons why:

1. The voter can be honest about what they want, rather than tactically voting based on guessing what everyone else in their constituency will do. Maybe for some people only one party will do, but most people have a second and third preference. Existing campaigning implicitly acknowledges this, whenever there's an effort to squeeze the third-party vote. "It's a Two-Horse Race" only works if people have more than one preference. AV lets people make their preferences explicit.

2. The 50% threshold will force candidates to appeal outside their core party vote, wherever a constituency isn't either solidly one-party or divided roughly evenly between two parties. At the moment only a third of MPs were chosen by more than 50% of the people who voted (and that's not addressing turnout issues). The current system encourages negative campaigning, especially in marginal seats and wherever more than two parties are in serious contention. "Vote for A to keep B out" is a depressingly common message. Under AV, there's far more incentive to campaign positively and to avoid pissing off supporters of your opponents with slurs, innuendo and insults.

I think these are desirable changes, and that's why I'm voting Yes in May.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
The Yes To Fairer Votes made this little film the morning after the bill authorising the AV referendum finally got through parliament:


(I really like the music; you can find more by the band here: http://www.myspace.com/edwardsharpe. I love the internet.)

Nick Clegg and David Cameron gave separate speeches, respectively supporting and opposing the voting system change. The BBC compare and contrast the arguments, while the Economist's Bagehot blog picks out the best and worst arguments from each speech.

Ed Miliband writes in the Guardian about why he's campaigning for a Yes vote. I don't often agree with Ed, but here I do: "AV will also force parties to admit where there is agreement between them ... Exaggerating disagreement in order to create false black-and-white choices under first-past-the-post has only added to a particular style of politics that turns off the electorate."

Andrew Rawnsley in today's Observer charmingly admits to "belong[ing] to that tragically nerdish minority who are fascinated by electoral systems" and then goes on to discuss David Cameron's speech which "was not among his best. Those in his party who are paranoid about Mr Cameron's long-term intentions will rumble that this is because his heart really isn't in it ... I think the speech wasn't that good because the case for retaining first past the post is so uncompelling."

This twitter exchange gave me the giggles:
@Conorpope: So AV delivers more or possibly fewer coalitions, depending on if you support AV and whether you think coalitions are a good or bad thing?
@dhothersall: @Conorpope Excellent, let's put that on a banner and take to the streets demanding gradual change in due course.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
Iron-deficiency is not something you get just for being a lady: an anthropology professor debunks the idea that menstruation makes women anaemic.

James Blunt rises considerably in my estimation (from an admittedly low starting point) for this excellent Sesame Street appearance spoofing his own song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DagYQ3q7FVw

Liz Williams writes about living under a "socialised healthcare system" i.e. the UK's NHS. I have my own stories: Charles's c-section; my mother's breast-cancer treatment (now well past the 5-year survival point, hurrah!); my migraine; Tony's depression. I think that healthcare is vital infrastructure for a society, along with schools, libraries, transport links, power and water supplies and (increasingly) information connectivity. It's good for the economy to have a healthy, educated and mobile population.

My parents divorced when I was in my mid-twenties; Tony's when he was in his teens. My feelings about divorce are complex, and I find the idea of a tax break for getting/staying married pretty insulting. However, I find it hard to argue with providing more support for relationship counselling, and I'm pleased to see the Conservative "support marriage" rhetoric won't exclude unmarried couples with children from the service.

Spotify is second only to iTunes as a source of digital music revenue in Europe.

Defra's recruiting members of its Science Advisory Council, to "support ... the use of evidence in policy-making." Essental Criterion 1: "A sound and broad basis of expertise across the natural, economic or social sciences of relevance to Defra’s portfolio of work ... experience of working on an interdisciplinary committee or project."

Bagehot writes a long and thoughtful post on prisoner voting rights and what the debate exposes of the wider discussion around UK sovereignity. "[T]his debate has also made it embarrassingly obvious that the whole question of removing the vote from prisoners has more to do with emotion and arbitrary ideas of punishment, than any coherent theory of citizenship. This newspaper (and this blogger) support voting rights for prisoners." As do I, and as does my MP

"I am desperate, scared, guilt-ridden and sometimes ill-informed. I am vulnerable, not stupid." The mother of an autistic child talks about how (not) to comnunicate about the uselessness of most alternative therapies. Unfortunately the comments1 immediately show examples of people not getting it.

A fascinating account of how the first occupation of Tahrir Square on January 25th was planned and executed to get past the fearsome expertise of Egyptian riot police.

And finally, how the Karate Kid ruined the modern world by giving people unrealistic expectations of the effort required to succeed. Altogether now: we need a montage.

1Never Read The Comments.
rmc28: (books2010)
This is a fascinating account of the coalition negotiations in May of this year, put together from interviews with key players on all sides. It is structured chronologically: a chapter on Preparations, then a chapter for each day (Friday 7th May to Tuesday 11 May), ending with the acceptance by LibDems of the coalition agreement, and the appointment of a new Cabinet. A Postscript provides a longer-term view of the implications of the coalition for all parties and the country.

The author, though a serving Conservative MP, has made a good effort to report rather than opine, and to distinguish between the two (he gets most opinionated in the Postscript). He has the advantage of telling a story which is intrinsically exciting. It's filled with quotes and little details: texts flying back and forth between and across party lines, biscuits and coffees in the negotiating rooms, aides running back and forth hand-delivering draft documents, culture clashes and back-channel communications.

As well as the basics of what-happened-when, it serves as a good example of selective memory and spin, with different people telling things different ways. Accounts of meetings between Conservatives and LibDems are generally in agreement, accounts of meetings between Labour and LibDems often diverge, especially the accounts of the three meetings between each party's negotiation teams. This of course mirrors the relative leakiness of each set of negotiations at the time, with Lib-Con negotiations staying tightly under wraps, while Lib-Lab talks were being briefed against almost from the start.

On the Lib-Lab talks, Mandelson, Balls, et al insist Labour were being constructive and the LibDems sabotaged the talks by being arrogant and pushy, strongly suggesting the negotiating team were ideologically opposed to Labour. Laws, Alexander et al insist they were constructive, Labour were ill-prepared, divided, and not taking negotiations seriously. Of course the spin is to the benefit of current party positions, and possibly even reflects internal party jockeying. Where you can't reconcile two versions, I think it has to come down to who you are more inclined to believe.

I can't help thinking that the very serious, prepared approach of the Conservatives may have led the LibDem team to expect something similar from Labour, and act accordingly. I can see how that could be taken as being arrogant and pushy by an unprepared team which had expected LibDems to want to support Labour. The Conservative decision to take the LibDems seriously didn't just benefit their own negotiations: it set a bar which the Labour team just couldn't meet. The LibDems had a negotiating team appointed by Nick Clegg in late 2009; Osborne put together a "just in case" Conservative team about 2 weeks before the election; meanwhile Ed Balls found out there was a Labour negotiating team and he was in it late on Saturday morning, with the first secret meeting at 3pm that day.

Though generally well-written and accessible, the book has a few flaws. Sometimes information is repeated within the same page, occasionally even the same paragraph. There's a lot of dwelling on the merits and flaws of the statements released by each party, especially on the Friday, but no text of these statements to refer to. An appendix of the public statements and speeches would have been invaluable to provide context. Though the author has tried to remain neutral, his opinions do leak out: most of his critical comments are for Gordon Brown, with a few digs at Nick Clegg. I failed to notice any criticism of David Cameron at all, or indeed any Conservatives.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
.. which is a nice change. In no particular order, things that have made me happy recently:

No 3rd runway at Heathrow, or 2nd runway at Stansted
ID cards to be scrapped "within 100 days"
My new MP has made his first Early Day Motion about repealing the worst bits of the Digital Economy Act.
(I'd add "ending child detention for immigration purposes" but I can't find confirmation of it happening yet outside the party websites/coalition agreement documents.)

On the downside, I'm not finding the News Quiz as funny as usual, but I expect Jeremy Hardy will get over reflexively hating the coalition eventually. It does makes me wonder about my biases - perhaps he's never been as funny as I thought, because mostly I've agreed with him in disliking his targets.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
I am not very surprised that there is Cameron/Clegg slash on the internet - there seems to be slash about anything you could think of somewhere on the internet. I'm more surprised when it starts turning up in the Guardian, or the closing credits on The Politics Show. And after yesterday's press conference, most of the mainstream media can't resist the comparison to marriage. I've found most of it hilarious, but also I'm starting to wonder.

What does it say about our expectations of politicians that for two of them to be friendly and co-operative while presenting a joint agenda is such a shock? Is it all because they're on different teams, or is it a legacy of the years of Blair/Brown antagonism? This morning I realised the mass media marriage-fest reminded me of playground teasing: "You really like him, I bet you want to marry him. Ew, you're going to catch boy-cooties".

I like the new happy atmosphere we saw yesterday: it beats the more typical yahboo House of Commons exchanges. And I hope it lasts: friendliness and positivity is far from sufficient to overcome all the problems facing our new coalition government, but it's better than the alternatives.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
Well, the LibDems and Conservatives have met, and today the LibDem MPs, Lords and federal executive are going to meet and discuss what was offered. The graphic here shows the numbers quite well, I think. To me it looks like the options for a stable government are:

1. Conservative minority government, with agreement from LibDems on a case-by-case basis Edit a "supply and confidence" agreement with the LibDems is apparently the term for what I was thinking of.

2. Formal Conservative/LibDem coalition, which would give a majority over all others combined of 38 - room for some dissension.

this got long )

Whatever happens over the weekend, the government that emerges is going to have to start doing something serious about the public finances as soon as possible, and they are going to upset people. Because we definitely have to cut spending and we almost certainly have to raise taxes. The Labour government outspent its income and made no provision for hard times. What I hope is that the LibDems can moderate the Conservative ideas of how to spread the pain fairly (no marriage tax breaks or inheritance tax cuts for millionaires, thank you), and that Labour supporters don't forget too quickly just who was responsible for running up the debt in the first place.

I wouldn't be surprised if we have another general election next year. I will be surprised and delighted if it is under a proportional electoral system.
rmc28: (glowy)
I slept from about 21:30 to 01:30, waking up to discover that in some constituencies people have been disenfranchised by poor organisation. Obviously as a LibDem I'm very disappointed that the recent poll results haven't translated into actual votes. The loss of Evan Harris in Oxford is particularly upsetting for anyone who favours science and evidence as a basis for policy-making, but I'm also sorry the party has lost Susan Kramer and Lembit Opik.

I was delighted to see Simon Wright win Norwich South for the LibDems, evicting Charles Clarke, and personally pleased that my friend Julian Huppert is now the LibDem MP for Cambridge. Although it's a bit weird to have a university contemporary in the House of Commons. I'm clearly getting old(er).

I'm a bit scared by the number of votes the BNP seem to be racking up across the country, but delighted to see Nick Griffin utterly fail to win in DagenhamBarking. Yes, I'm alright in their eyes, but the BNP threaten my best friend and his sister, my brother's partner and her family, several of my friends and colleagues, and countless others across the UK.

More positively, I was pleased to see Caroline Lucas win Brighton for the Green party - a historic first parliamentary seat for them.

Hopefully we'll know who's running the country by the end of the weekend. There are 20 seats still to start counting, and presumably some challenges in some seats where people were unable to vote. I'd love to see electoral reform as a result of this very strange night, but we shall see ...

I have to go to work in a couple of hours and it's already past my usual wakeup time. A nap might be sensible if I can manage it, but I'm not sure I can drag myself away - BBC coverage is already overrunning the usual morning breakfast tv.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
Party duty done: good-morning leaflets delivered at 6:30am (with Charles on my back, and Tony doing his own set).

Civic duty done: voted on the way to work.

Now I'm left with employee duty (get some work done) and parental duty this evening. Charles is too young/unpredictable to help get the vote out, though he has loved helping me deliver leaflets over the last few weeks.

Very sadly I have to work tomorrow, so I'm not sure how late I will stay up tonight. I may even nap for a couple of hours once Charles is asleep and set an alarm to wake me up in time to see Leeds Central & Leeds West declared, and I want to be awake for the result in Cambridge. This is the most interested I've been in a general election since my first (1997), but I don't think I can quite pull the allnighter to 6am that I did then.
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)

Take the Who Should You Vote For? England quiz

Green54
Liberal Democrat54
UK Independence13
Conservative-4
Labour-24

You expected: LIB

Your recommendation: Green/Liberal Democrat

Click here for more details about these results

Quite a few of the questions were of a form where I had to neither agree nor disagree because the options given were ALL WRONG (ahem) which I think I blame on the manifestos from which the questions were taken. I'm mildly surprised at just how Green I've come up, though when I last looked, their policies had rather improved, at least in science areas. It won't change my vote in Cambridge, where I really want Julian Huppert to win, but if I were living in Brighton it might ...

rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)

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Rachel Coleman

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