Friday, 27 September 2013

On The Touchline

Guest article by:

Robert Douglas Griffiths
Deputy Chairman Political West Cheshire Conservative Future

So the scores are being chalked up and conference season is now in its last innings. Up at the crease we have Dave Cameron, who’s having a rather better time of it recently given the weak pitching by Ed Miliband and crew. No sixes as yet, but we’ll have to see what he’s like on the final day of play. That’s enough cricketing (I’m no sportsman, the analogies would soon wear thin pretty quick). It’s politics and the commentary thereon that are my forte and why I’ve been asked to guest-write on this blog. However, I do think that with conference season closing, it’s as good a time as any to compare what’s gone on over the past couple of weeks and give a little speculation as to what we’d certainly like to hear on 2nd October. 

So we’ll start with the Lib Dems, who kicked off in Glasgow last Sunday. I’m betting that most of us were simply only paying attention to it via the headlines and interviews, rather than the blow-by-blow stuff on BBC Parliament. Nevertheless, the one theme that emanated from their few days was that they’d like to be in coalition again and it apparently doesn't matter with whom. My guess is that secretly Nick would quite like another round with us. Vince Cable on the other hand would of course like to see the bird roost in the rose bush. Either way the message was loud and clear “we’re here (we think), we’ here! Get used to it!” Whether or not the average Briton believes that coalition is now to become a norm in political life, it’s certainly now not entirely fashionable to rule it out. How exactly this will manifest itself in 2015 is anyone’s guess. I’m a fan of the long game, so we’ll see. 

Sidestepping the UKIP sideshow that they claim was a conference (here read The Godfrey Bloom Show); we’ll head to Brighton where Labour has recently vacated. Much has been made of Red Ed’s pithy proclamation claiming a desire to re-introduce socialism. As I said in my own blog post, and indeed in the wider blogosphere, this may be popular with the voters right now, but what will they prefer when May 2015 rolls round? The only credible Tory offer right now seems to be tax breaks and indeed that’s what we should be offering. Having more money to spend on what one wants or needs on a personal level rather than give it to the collective for it to be misspent and frittered away is a much more attractive option. 

So then we come to Manchester and we’re on the starting grid come Sunday. I’d certainly like to see some consolidation this year. We are now just over a year away from the general election and it’s time to start taking stock of our record in government and begin to think about where we want to go. Certainly a harder line on immigration, the welfare and education reforms to be further entrenched and taxes to be cut further. It must be made clear to the Prime Minister that he has to re-stamp his authority harder than ever before on the party. We must think about being tougher on the EU and actually putting up a fight to repatriate powers lost to Brussels. Better investment in our health services is vital and this must be stressed by Jeremy Hunt. That said, we’ve an awful lot to be proud of. Theresa May will be coming with the victory earlier this year of deporting Abu Qatada back to Jordan. George Osborne has just stood up to Brussels when they tried to make us cap bankers’ bonuses. William Hague has had a marvellous three years as Foreign Secretary, re-affirming our principles abroad and giving us a broadly dignified foreign policy.

I look forward to the Conservative Party Conference each year with excitement and trepidation. Usually the latter dissipates rather quickly and I’m hoping this year to be no exception.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Gay Abused Russian? Dont Worry Because The Olympic Charter Wont Be Broken

"Everything is really magnificent" - The Words of the International Co-ordination Olympic Committee Chairman J
ean-Claude Killy as he describes the up and coming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia.

Well I have a message for the IOC speak to the teenage Gay boy too scared to come out at school and is contemplating suicide, Speak to the Gay Man beat up and forced to drink urine by neo nazis, Speak to the Bisexual Man abused in the street as Russian Police walk on by. I'm sure "magnificent" isn't the word that would be on the top of their list to describe the situation in Russia right now.

Whats worse is the claim by the IOC president that despite all this people regardless of Sexual Orientation are "Welcome in Russia" well if that's what a Russian welcome looks like I'd rather stay at home thank you.

in 1936 the Olympics was taken to Nazi Germany despite widespread antisemitism racism and the rise of the fascist state. in 2014 the world is going to hand that flame to Russia and the shame of the cruelty delivered to LGBT people will be on the hands of all of those not willing to stand up and condemn the abuse and recognise that allowing a nation that abuses its own people to be the flag bearer for an institution that claims to stand for freedom and peace is beyond parody and blackens the name of all those involved.

I certainly wont be watching the Olympics in 2014 and I hope my friends and allies of the LGBT community will join me in refusing to support the continued abuse of LGBT people through the promotion of one of the worlds largest sporting events being gift wrapped to their abusers.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Red, Red Lines

Guest Article by 
Julie Lenarz  Executive Directior Humanitarian Intervention Centre
Simon Schofield - Senior Fellow Humanitarian Intervention Centre

Washington wants to stay out of Syria at any cost. With his inaction, Obama is betraying the core principles of American benevolence.  He is belittling his country’s power and influence in the world and empowering dictatorships and crime regimes. Our allies are left out in the cold, whilst our enemies are stronger than ever. Moreover, the administration’s lack of leadership and credibility is putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians at risk, and further risks emboldening Assad, who may decide that America’s moving red lines allow him to act with impunity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a genius offer to President Obama with his proposal to have Syria withdraw and destroy all of their chemical weapons. This plan allows Obama to stick to what appears to be his current foreign policy position of determined inaction, whilst saving face on the international stage. As Obama’s ‘red line’ only covered chemical weapons, the USA backing Russia’s plan allows Obama to enforce the red line without honouring his moral responsibility to protect Syrian citizens from the murderous butcher they are forced to call ‘President’. One would have thought that over 100,000 deaths through conventional weapons would constitute a red line in and of itself.

Russia’s proposal, as well as ignoring the root cause of the issue, which is the senseless murder of well over 110,000 civilians, is ridiculous on a practical level too. For starters, Russia cannot be trusted with its own WMD arsenals, let alone anybody else’s. Russia announced in 2009 that it was dismantling a large part of its chemical weapons arsenal and required around $1bn in support from the USA through the Nunn-Lugar programme in order to do this.

Given the chaotic nature of the battlefield in Syria, quite how this transfer is going to be done securely is completely impossible to ascertain. When UN inspectors were recently in Syria to investigate the chemical weapons attacks they were fired on by as-yet-unidentified snipers. At present there is no evidence of rebels having possession of chemical weapons, but this proposal would pose a good opportunity for them to remedy that. If, by some small miracle, 99% of the chemical weapons were securely withdrawn and destroyed this could still leave ten tonnes of weapons unaccounted for. This would include the Sarin nerve agent used in Ghouta and the world’s deadliest compound, VX, which could well resurface on the streets of London or New York in a terror attack.

American dithering will, in turn, send signals to Iran that US red lines are not necessarily as defined as might be stated initially. Many inside and outside Iran will now be questioning Obama’s declared commitment to preventing the country from developing nuclear weapons capability. If his red lines for Syria become flexible whenever it looks as though he may be expected to order military intervention, why would they be any less so for Iran?

The use of Sarin gas in Ghouta constitutes yet another attempt by Assad to test out his boundaries. We have seen a similar policy before, when Assad slowly increased his air campaign to await the West’s response. When it eventually turned out that the establishment of a no-fly zone was out of the question, the regime shifted its modus operandi accordingly.

It is not the first time that the Obama administration widened the definition of its “red line” concept. In the earlier stages of the conflict, the President declared that “a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around” would lead to US action. He then shifted his position to the point where the US will only get involved if Assad uses chemical weapons on his own people. That point has now been reached, yet the consequences are as unclear and undefined as ever.

Taking the classic Clinton option of doing nothing whilst looking like doing something by ordering Tomahawk cruise missile strikes should be considered a half-hearted strategy at best. Such a tactic is likely to embolden rebels, provoke the regime and give false hope to suffering Syrians, whilst making no meaningful contribution to reduce human suffering.

The Syrian problem is not going away and the longer we wait, the uglier it will become. As Tony Blair pointed out: “Intervention can be uncertain, expensive and bloody. But history has taught us that inaction can merely postpone the reckoning. 

We haven't paid the bill for Syria yet. But we will.” Or as one Syrian woman put it:  ‘We will not forget that you forgot about us.’

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Stigma Kills

Earlier this week I was shocked to read the mocking of people suffering depression by the current chairman of Exeter Conservatives Association. In reference to a campaign ran by local young people helping to combat depression asking for Ruth Smith's support she responded with "Dont talk about depression" - "Go away and do something creative like making quilts".

Mental Health Issues will effect 1 in 4 people in their life times and the impact of self harm, isolation and in extreme cases suicide can be far reaching on friends, family and the wider community. In recent years we have come along way from the outdated attitudes of the past where "man up" and "just get on with it" were common language even from your GP or local doctor however sadly it appears for some the seriousness and importance of supporting those with mental health issues doesnt seem to have sunken in.

I myself am very aware of the effect mental health conditions can have on both your life and those around you having in the past have made attempts to take my own life and suffered spouts of depression leading to self harm and periods of deep sadness in my life. This can put a huge strain on friendships, family relationships and your judgement, which can have far reaching consequences long into your career and future life as people fail to understand the context in which you were making decisions and living at a particular period of your life. Often people are not aware that trans people in particular face suicide rates of upward of 40% and self harm rates of 80% or higher and when looking at the broader Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual community you see equally shocking rates of self harm and attempted suicide. Research carried out by Stonewall UK shows this in more shocking detail.

Depression and Mental health can be a lonely place where often you burn your bridges quite fast and make yourself more vulnerable through self imposed isolation and internalised emotions, which is why support groups and campaigns showing that young people and all those with depression are not alone and that there is support available for them is all so important.

In a society where talking about self harm suicide and mental health issues is still met with deep breathes, sounds of "awww" and shock at how open someone is being, the continued stigma and ignorance around mental health is a barrier to a more engaging and open world that empowers survivors and encourages open support for all those that are facing mental health challenges in their lives.

I'm a Conservative and I believe very much in the values of celebrating those that overcome challenges and barriers to succeed and empowering others to do so. I know this is the message most in my party share and I hope the comments made by this one party officer were merely mis placed and un thought through rather than part of the stigma and ignorance that still perpetuates too much of our society when it comes to mental health.