Back in 2009, Labour tried to mothball the Territorial Army in order to save just 20 million pounds. To put that in context, over 10% of the total regular and volunteer manning of the British Armed forces was threatened for a saving of around 0.05% of the total military budget.

The situation was dire, with military out of control and with a budget “black hole” of £36 billion. Even without a huge deficit to worry about, something had to be done – but the choice of cuts was bizarre and displayed a fundamental lack of understanding of how the military, and volunteer reservists in particular, worked.

Labour did a partial U-Turn, but the damage was done: training was reduced and people left, in part simply because there was nothing to do any more. This wasn’t the only event that got me active in politics: I’d previously written letters to MPs as long ago as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, (As it then was) but it was only a few months after this that I stopped being a “mere” leaflet deliverer and joined the Liberal Democrats, so defence is something I still keep a close eye on.

The government is dealing with the black hole by cutting £5 billion from the budget, with just over 20,000 posts going – less than the total size of the Territorial Army. No, it’s not great and not something I welcome. And of course there is discussion and criticism from those who still have some credibility left on the issue. I’d be amazed if that was not the case.

But it’s hardly surprising that given what happened in 2009 and a complete failure to control military spending, Labour haven’t been as loud as they could be in their condemnation of the cuts – they lack the credibility to do so. The shadow defence secretary has trotted out the usual “too far, too fast” rhetoric but with little substance, as usual, to back it up.

Dear Eric Pickles,

You seem a little confused this morning. I notice you are quoted in several places stating that “Weekly rubbish collections are the most visible of all frontline services…“. Fair enough, if the council did not collect the rubbish at all there would be uproar, so I can’t disagree with you there. But then you go on “…I believe every household in England has a basic right to have their rubbish collected every week“.

I’ve had a quick look at Liberty’s guide to human rights and oddly, bin collections are not listed. Right to marry is, so perhaps you were confused on the way to an equal marriage consultation and went into the wrong room.

There’s also the right to vote, something I know your Conservative colleagues have had trouble with understanding recently when it comes to prisoners. But I just thought I’d point these out, because if you are on a “basic rights” crusade, I felt you might want directing towards some more fundamental matters than weekly bin collections.

Hope this helps,


Following the recent controversy with Liberal Democrat conference accreditation, I have been doing some research into the Criminal Record Bureau’s (CRB) own procedures into dealing with Trans folk. The procedure has been recognised as problematic by the CRB themselves as a recently published equalities impact assessment, dated October 2010, hilighted the issues with the current system. (PDF Link)

From the CRB’s own research in 2010, (PDF Link) there is evidence people are being put off – 91% of people overall would be “willing to to be CRB checked” for either voluntary or paid work, versus 65% for trans folk. It’s noted that the findings are from a “small sample size”, but Intersex folk had a similar response and it is also broadly in line with the general rate of applications revealed in previous FoI requests. Other marginalised groups have similar findings – the Lesbian/Gay (But not Bisexual, oddly) community, Hindus and to a lesser extent those identifying as Asian also reported they were less likely to be willing to be CRB checked.

On the topic of the overall procedures the civil service Trans group, a:gender, responded to the internal EqIA consultation with the two primary concerns with the process:

  • That previous name details should be removed from completed Disclosures, as currently the name of the applicant at the time of each conviction is recorded.
  • That a form of words is added to the front of the new CRB Disclosure Application Form to highlight to customers that there is no requirement for them to enter names from a previous gender on the application

The plan by the Home Office as a result was…

  • To explore options for not revealing previous identities on CRB Disclosures
  • To explore options for amending the CRB application form to include reference to inform applicants of the alternative process

On the first issue, not revealing previous identities, there has been some progress but it is questionable in it’s utility and probably not much use at all given it’s unadvertised. I contacted the CRB for the detail and was told that you can contact the data protection office at your local police force (Once you have a Gender Recognition Certificate) and ask them to update the Police National Computer with your new details, so any CRB printout would show the new details.

If you do not yet have a GRC, I’m told you can contact the CRB who can “look into” producing a manual certificate.

It’s something at least, and they deserve credit for recognising the problem.

They seem not to have made an progress in the year since the EqIA was produced on the second point. The latest CRB application form guidance (PDF Link) is dated February 2011 and makes no mention of the Transgender application process. It seems you need to know it exists to use it, or happen to visit the right part of the CRB web site – not good, given that less than half of Trans people said they knew something about the CRB when asked.

Overall, it’s progress. But this new system, particularly given it appears to be completely unpublicised, does not (yet) fill me with confidence.

The Daily Mail ran it, and I ignored it. After all, it’s the Mail. But Pink Paper just ran it too, so I’m going to have a pop at it because the headlines are plain wrong.

Here’s the document that’s creating the fuss. (PDF Link) Quoting from “Key Findings” on page page 28: (The Daily Mail quoted this bit too)

…the majority of British people now accept the concept of same-sex couples as being
‘rarely wrong’ or ‘not wrong at all’…

That’s somewhat different from the Daily Mail headline, isn’t it? Well, they cherry-picked one particular statistic from the document for their headline, which was a separate 2006 EU study. If we look at answers to more recent studies, in 2007 about 48-49% of people thought same-sex relationships were “Rarely” or “Not at all” wrong, with about 37% thinking it was “Mostly” or “Always” wrong. (The remainder expressed no overall opinion – I’m ignoring the 2006 drop in those that think it’s wrong as a blip)

Notably, it’s also increasing in favour at a rate of nearly 2% per year. Remember that, it’s important.

So it’s clear that the public are in favour of same-sex couples, but marriage is a little different.

Their anti-marriage headline is based on five-year-old EU data and only quotes gives figures for the number of people who approve, without giving figures for the number of people giving a neutral (“Don’t know”) answer, because they are comparing attitudes across Europe. So, it’s off to the original source data. (PDF Link – 10MB) Page 43 is the relevant section, with an EU-wide “Don’t know” rate is 7%. This would mean that if 46% agree that it’s OK, about 47% are against – it’s a wafer thin margin. Given only 100 people were interviewed, that’s well within any statistical margin of error.

Updated:It’s been pointed out by a Pink Paper commenter, that the full figures are on page 80 of this document. The UK figures are that 46% agree, 9% don’t know and 45% disagree with equal marriage. There were also 1,308 interviewees, so this falls within the margin of error for the survey. Update ends

And that was 5 years ago.

And attitudes have shifted in favour.

I think it’s pretty safe to conclude that the public is probably, by now, in support of equal marriage overall. It’s certainly wrong to conclude that they’re against it, based on the sources given.

Chatting to my friendly Federal Conference Committee representative after a typically raucous Glee Club at conference, it transpired that much of the reason for the establishment of the Iron Curtain is the presence of General Secretary Clegg at the event.

Given that all members are equal, would it not make most sense for the FCC to use its unconstitutionally ordained right to exclude just one member, comrade Clegg, from future conferences, rather than randomly selected members of the public drawn out of a hat the terrorists who also happen to be party members?

Unless some members are more equal than others?

I’m currently at conference, so I have limited internet to do some research on this and it’s come as a complete surprise. I’m pleased to hear that the Home Office is planning to consult on passport gender markers. (Warning: Daily Mail link, but it surprisingly includes some good content.) There’s also this article from the Telegraph, if you’re allergic to Daily Mail content.

I have not seen anything official yet, but the summary seems to be that it’s a “wide ranging” consultation, not just gender markers and the options being considered are allowing “X” for Unspecified as a marker, or just scrapping markers for everyone and using X across the board. (You have to have a gender field on a passport, it’s in the international standard)

I would be stunned if the latter option passed but it’s good that it is being considered. Of course, there is also the chance to allow people to put the point that a doctors letter should not be required for a gender marker change on a passport and one should just be able to do it.

There is quite a bit of misreporting over the situation with “X”/Unspecified markers on Australian passports that has recently been announced. To clear up the situation, there’s a very good post here, on Global Comment. The short version is that there are two options:

Transgender people can now get a gender-appropriate (“M”/”F”) marker without having gone through surgery, as was previously the case. Hormones still seem to be required which still isn’t perfect but it’s very good news for Australians and removes “genital essentialism” – the erroneous link between genitals and gender.

Intersex folk can get an “X”/Unspecified marker with a doctors letter. (I’ve not seen any confirmation that this is truly optional and might not be forced on people – an “X” marker could get you in a lot of trouble in some countries)

And to clear up the confusion:

Transgender folk CAN NOT get an “X” marker. You must be Intersex to get that. (And no, going all Harry-Benjamin-Syndrome on your GP and claiming that being Trans is an Intersex issue isn’t likely to work here)

As for the UK situation, there are no current plans to introduce an “X” marker for anyone, and no “X” passports have ever been issued. Apparently there have been previous discussions with the Trans community and the community “didn’t see a need for it”, but that appears to have been some time ago and likely before the non-gender-binary community was quite so prominent in terms of campaigning.

What we’ve pushed for recently is for government organisations in general to have to justify use of storing and using gender at all as part of their Equality Impact Assessments. It has come up in discussion with the Government Equalities Office and may be in the Trans Action Plan when they publish it. This isn’t just a transgender issue but can also be a wider feminism issue, if you look at the position of organisations like the DVLA who can’t see why printing “Mrs” or “Miss” on a driving licence is an issue, when they don’t print titles for blokes at all by default. (“Ms” is available only as a write-in option)

A while ago, someone commented to me that, in general, blokes tend to do better at anything that requires self-promotion, whereas women do better at collaborative tasks. This seemed to ring true to me at the time, as I’m certainly less confident at blatant self-promotion now than I was in the before time.

Of course, that’s hard to test but there are occasional sources where one might be able to test this. The Total Politics Blog Awards published their Liberal Democrat blog list this morning, based on votes. In comparison, we have the Wikio top Liberal Democrat bloggers list that Mark Pack posts every month which is based on some magic algorithm involving number of links.

Now, this is completely unscientific – covering different timespans and definite confirmation bias in having written this blog post, but it’s interesting none the less.

Wikio Total Politics
1 Liberal Democrat Voice Liberal Democrat Voice
2 Jack of Kent Caron’s Musings
3 Caron’s Musings Liberal England
4 Liberal England Andrew Reeves’ Running Blog
5 Mark Pack Stephen’s Liberal Journal
6 Craig Murray Mark Pack
7 Mark Thompson Liberal Vision (=7th)
8 Liberal Vision A Scottish Liberal (=7th)
9 Spiderplant Land Cllr Fraser Macpherson
10 Paul Walter Mark Reckons
11 Peter Black Peter Black (=11th)
12 Lynne Featherstone The Potter Blogger (=11th)
13 Miss S B Jack of Kent
14 Liberal Bureaucracy Spider Plant Land
15 Nick Thornsby Living on Words Alone
M: 9, F: 4 (69% male) M: 11, F: 2 (85% male)

You would think that high profile awards – the kind that can afford posh locations like The Savoy, London – would do some basic research and Google their potential nominees before publishing them. Particularly if they’re sponsored by Google. (For bonus points, you could read their Wikipedia page too!)

Well, you’d think wrong. Either that or they just don’t care.

So, without further comment, the European Diversity Awards shortlist for “Journalist of the Year”. The emphasis is mine.

Cast Media Group – Journalist of the Year

Recognising the outstanding contribution of journalists in the field of equality, diversity and inclusion, the award is open to journalists in the broadcast, print and online media from across Europe.

  • Julie Bindel
  • Paul Burston
  • Frank Gardner
  • Rasa Navickaite
  • Edith Meinhart

For those politically inclined in the LGBT equality sphere, you may also spot a couple of other perhaps slightly controversial names in the full shortlists.

First of all, it’s not a gay blood donation ban! No, I’m not ranting about Trans exclusion this time, but a wider issue – it banned bisexual men too, but lesbians are OK. It’s a ban on donations from men who have had sex with men. Or MSM, for short, because that’s a bit of a mouthful.

The reasons for the old rules were that men who have sex with other men are at a slightly higher risk for HIV. And yet other significantly higher risk groups, such as anyone engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners or who comes from certain parts of Africa, were not excluded. Why not? In the latter case, it would be “racist” to discriminate, apparently.

The message this sends to other people – who see the questions on the forms when they themselves give blood – is that gay men are somehow dirty, reinforcing the fallacy that gay men pretty much all have HIV. In reality, most HIV positive people in the UK are straight and the vast majority of gay men do not have HIV.

But we’ve just heard the rules have been changed! That’s good, isn’t it? Yes, that it’s a one year ban rather than a lifetime ban is definitely a step in the right direction that those involved in campaigning can be very pleased with. We’re not there yet though, as most men are going to have had sex in the past year, which if you’re gay rules you out.

Bisexual, not gay, men are most likely to gain from this. If you happen to currently be in a monogamous relationship with a woman, you’re OK. (It’s not mentioned but one presumes that a woman in a relationship with a bi man who hasn’t had sex with another man for over a year is now also able to give blood)

Ah, sex with women… now we get on to the Trans angle. For once, this is an area in which transwomen are all fabulous and wonderful and our blood is pure and comes from wonderful mythical beasts, like Unicorns. Transition cures us of any of those nasty gay diseases that the blood service is worried about as the ban only applies to men who have had sex with men. If you’re a woman who has had sex with a man (Even if no vaginas were used or even present in the room at the time you had sex) you’re OK. Yes, it’s social transition that seems to make the difference here. Hormones and surgery don’t turn your blood into magic glittery goodness, it’s all those dresses and high heels.

For the transmen… sorry. Oral sex with another bloke gets you a ban. Even if no penises were involved.

And finally… straight or bi women, think you’re safe? You can’t give blood if in the last year you’ve had sex with a bloke who has ever had oral or anal sex with another bloke. Because that’s the sort of thing that you always find out from a bloke before you take him to bed, right?