After fifteen years It’s time I was honest with the World: I’m Gay

February 28, 2011 § 11 Comments

 Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

SO, IT’S my Birthday today, I turn 31!

Well, it’s kind of my birthday…you see I’m a Leap Year child, born on February 29th 1980.

Not sure if it’s the birthday adrenaline coursing through my veins, but I’ve decided the time has come to be true to myself and to be true to others.

Long since time to  ‘come out of the closet’ and tell the world that I’m gay.

It’s a shame, in one sense, that being gay is not seen as normal enough for people like me not to have to ‘come out’ like it’s some kind of circus performance.

However, I do so today not only because it’s time I was honest with the World about who I am, but also because I believe that the more of us homosexuals who stand up and tell people who and what we are, the more courage it will give to other people to do the same.

I’ve been blown away, in recent weeks, since I first ‘came out’ to my brilliant friend Daniel (who I thank for his friendship, integrity and advice) with how cool people have been when I’ve told them, how quick they’ve been to reassure me that this doesn’t change anything, and, in terms of my brother and father, how much they love me.

And, of course, it shouldn’t be something to get worked up about…and I know I should have done this years ago, but you just don’t know how people are going to react; it’s the fear of the unknown that is the key to this.

A friend of mine put it starkly to me when he noted that at 31, I could be nearing half-way through my life-span and that it’s time I lived my life how I wanted to.

I couldn’t do this without the support and love of countless friends; Daniel, Helen, James, Simon, Stuart, Andy, Harvey and others I’ve probably forgotten to mention; your support, in recent weeks, has been fantastic.

And, of course, to my family…to whom I owe more than I than I can easily express.

Of course, in many ways, this changes nothing: I’m still the same bloke; still a bit of a geek, still a Lib Dem, still a Christian, still a Republican, still pro-European, still love radio and current affairs, still think I can sing when really I can’t, and so on.

I could go on for longer, but I think I’ll leave it at for now.

It feels like a huge weight lifted from my shoulders.

Many thanks and much love.

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“This is the most phenomenal opportunity,” says Simon Hughes

February 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

Me with Bill Newton Dunn MEP at regional conference.

(Note: Sorry, have been meaning to post this all week, but have been just so busy it’s had to wait until now. Further to that, my blogging may be patchy for the next weeks-as a result of me campaigning all-out to be elected. Thanks.)

On Saturday (February 18th) I was fortunate to attend the East Midlands regional Spring Conference, which this year was held at Brooke Weston City Technology College in Corby, Northants.

It was a great day; wonderful to meet colleagues I haven’t seen in a while and an opportunity to meet some of my fellow Lib Dems for the first time.

It was only my second regional conference and it was made extra special by getting the chance to see and hear Simon Hughes, our Party’s Deputy Leader, in person.

Simon has long since been a hero of mine and one of my favourite Lib Dem MP’s.

Here’s some of the highlights of what he had to say:

* We’re at an important time internationally-new opportunities for the Middle East and North Africa.

* There’s been positive murmurs from the Government, re Europe-because Lib Dems are part of the Government.

* It’s great to have a Deputy Prime Minister that speaks so many foreign languages; it means, for example, that when Nick goes to Spain and gives a speech in Spanish, people really connect with him.

* Domestically, we’ve had a difficult first nine months; but so would have any Government. Labour would have had to make cuts.

* A minority Tory Government would have been a disaster and led, after a General Election which would have come shortly after, more than likely, to a majority Tory Government.

* Our achievements:

* Fair Taxes; pension link to earnings, increase in Capital Gains Tax, Banking levy/Banking Commission.

* A fair start for pupils/the Pupil Premium; schools budget protected.

* Political reform; the AV referendum-never before have been given a chance to vote on our voting system for the election of MP’s to Westminster.

* The ‘No’ campaign are bringing out all of the ‘old dinosaurs,’ the likes of Margaret Beckett and Lord John Prescott.

* Be passionate about Fairer Votes.

* After 100 years, 80% of the House of Lords will be elected-and by PR too!

* The Civil Liberties agenda.

* The Green agenda-we want to move to a more sustainable economy.

* We must support manufacturing.

* Of course there’s also been Bills we didn’t like, including on tuition fees and parts of the NHS Bill.

* On Welfare we need to give everyone an incentive to work.

* On the horizon, a universal pension and a universal tax system.

* Civil ceremonies can now take place in Churches.

* A great backdown on plans to sell off our forests.

* We must remind people that we’re paying off £120million per day on just the interest of the national debt.

* On FE, Simon is advising the Govt, re scholarship’s to university for kids from poorer backgrounds.

* And a better replacement for EMA hopefully.

* Summing up, for the first time, we can influence national Government policy.

* This is the most phenomenal opportunity, we need to be much more positive and bullish.

After he spoke Simon took questions and I was lucky enough to be called by Regional Chair Michael Mullaney.

I asked Mr Hughes the following: “I’m Mathew Hulbert, from Hinckley and Bosworth and a member of ‘Fairer Votes Leicestershire. I’d like to ask about the AV campaign. It was great to see Nick, yesterday, give his speech on why people need to vote yes. Then we saw David Cameron spouting utter nonsense for the ‘No’ lobby…can we, from Nick downwards, point out what rubbish Cameron is saying, and the BBC have decided they’re not going to use the phrase ‘voting reform’ because it sounds too positive, what can we do about this?”

I quote it verbatim, as this was the first time I’ve spoken on the conference floor of any political party conference of any kind, so a historic moment.

Simon said to me that it’s difficult for Clegg to come out and say Cameron is talking nonsense, but that Lib Dems will be using every opportunity to explain why people should support a change in the voting system, but also that this campaign must not be led by politicians, but by people.

On the BBC, Simon told me that Auntie does, indeed, have to be careful to ensure it remains impartial on these matters.

Later in the day, I asked Michael Payne, East Midlands Co-Ordinator of the ‘Yes to Fairer Votes’ campaign, who addressed conference, his take on the BBC situation re AV, and he said we must be strong and resolute to the BBC about why not using the phrase ‘voting reform’ is wrong and to challenge BBC presenters when they appear to give misinformed questions/comments on AV.

Also at conference was the Lib Dem MEP for the East Midlands, Bill Newton Dunn, who updated us on all things Europe and who I was fortunate to have my photo taken with (see pic above.)

All in all a great day for the regional conference, especially hearing from Simon Hughes who sent us off campaigning in renewed good heart, proud of our party, and hopeful of successes still to come.

Labour must come out and fully back AV

February 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

When will Miliband take a lead over AV?

I’ve not seen such lilly livered, cowardly custard, responses to something for a long time as that of Labour to the AV referendum.

Are they ‘for’ AV or ‘against’ it? It’s really difficult to know from the non-answers on the issue given by most of its Shadow Ministers and backbench MP’s.

Labour should be backing what would be a great leap forward towards a more proportional voting system.

You even get people like Lord John Prescott…who used to pour scorn on the House of Lords until someone put the red ermine over his own shoulders…opposing AV.

I can’t be the only one to notice the irony of a member of an unelected House opposing a measure to make votes fairer and put more power in the hands of the people

Labour are split asunder on this issue and it shows, yet again, why Ed Miliband is such a useless leader.

He doesn’t even have the strength of character to lead from the front on this issue; to make it explicitly clear that Labour is overwhelmingly in favour of a change to AV for Westminster election.

We Lib Dems, from our Leader Nick Clegg right the way down to the ‘lowliest’ leafleter, are behind AV and we’ll work as hard as possible to campaign for a ‘yes’ vote.

To be fair, many Labour people in Leicestershire have made it clear that they do support it and it’s good to work with them, but nationally Labour’s approach is less than coherent.

This is a chance for us progressives to unite in opposition to the ‘No’ campaign, which is mostly made up of conservatives (though, of course, there are a few Tories who do support AV-but not many.)

Ed Miliband has carped on time after time about wanting to work closer with Lib Dems, well now is the chance.

AV will mean candidates’ need to get the support of at least 50% of their electorates, unlike often only 30+% for many current MP’s. it’ll end the idea of ‘safe seats’ meaning MP’s have to work harder for their electorates, but AV also makes sure there will be stable Government (Australia, for example, has been using AV for around 90 years and, over that time, AV has resulted in only two ‘hung Parliaments.’)

So, Mr Miliband, over to you.

The time is right to create the Big Society!

February 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

An idea whose time has arrived.

Today I watched the live TV coverage of Prime Minister David Cameron in effect re-launching The Big Society.

As a believer in pluralist politics, I believe it is right to point out when other party’s have a good idea-whatever our other political differences them may be.

I believe Cameron has got it exactly right with this idea, whose aim is to give more power back to the people.

Who could argue with that?

Well, lots of people it would seem.

Since stating that I was in favour of it on Twitter I’ve received what feels like an avalanche of (mostly Labour) tweeters pouring scorn on the idea.

Well, shame on those people for not trusting in people to come together and run services which, otherwise, might be closed.

We in the Liberal Democrats trust local people and local communities, we always have.

We are, naturally, devolvers of power; from Central Government to local Government and from local Government to even more local communities.

Of course the Big Society must not be a replacement for the State; we will always need skilled professionals to run our schools and hospitals, etc.

But if, for example, a library is scheduled to close, then why not-if the man power and will is there-allow a community group to step in, step up and take over the running it, to ensure it remains open?

Of course the necessary training will be needed and a fair amount of organisation involved, but surely it’s better to retain services staffed by volunteers-or as part of a social enterprise-than to lose them altogether?

Last night I watched the latest edition of the brilliant Channel 4 series, ‘The People’s Supermarket’ where a community has taken over a derelict building and opened their own store, staffed by its members.

Though, of course, there are teething problems, it was really inspiring to see how they could be overcome and how a community can pull together to support such a project.

Arthur Potts Dawson and everyone else involved deserves tremendous credit for all that they’ve done so far.

I see the Prime Minister has visited The People’s Supermarket today.

This kind of venture is all about bringing people together, taking ownership of a project, working with local/central government-but not being micro-managed by them.

The media narrative may be that the Big Society has been halted before it’s even got going, is ‘not understood’ as a concept but, in the real world, people understand it perfectly well.

Here in my own village of Barwell in Leicestershire, we have a number of wonderful examples of The Big Society in action; from Churches providing soup and coffee morning’s, to our wonderful Carnival Association-with which I’m Press Officer- to a new volunteer-run committee we’re looking to set up, to help run big community events.

So, come on fellow Lib Dems and others, lets stop sniping from the sidelines, stop being so cynical, and instead let’s get behind an idea whose time is now.

The Big Society.

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