Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Stop Boris, Vote for Ken

A vote against this effete and frivolous Tory is a no-brainer by Polly Toynbee, The Guardian, Tuesday April 29 2008
Ken Livingstone has relentlessly worked to improve London’s lot. Boris Johnson is running only for fun and fame.

Vote for Ken

Monday, 28 April 2008

Gordon Brown's Gay Unfriendly Budget

With the current debate raging in the media and in Parliament around Alistair Darling's budget and his decision to remove the 10p rate on income tax, I thought I would resuscitate this post I originally published on 27 march 2007 as an interesting angle on the controversy.

Last week, with the approval by both Houses of Parliament of the Sexual Orientation Regulations was of course a very important and much publicised time for the LGB community. That same week might however have other less obvious and less auspicious consequences for at least some members of our community.

The big news for the Country, last week also came from Parliament. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister in waiting and current Chancellor of the Exchequer was delivering his budget for 2008 and to some extend two to three years beyond that. The big headline, widely reported in the media, for what everybody assumes to be Brown's last budget, was the announcement by Brown at the end of his speech of a cut of 2p in the basic income tax rate.

However, Brown had also made clear right from the start of this same speech that the budget would be a balanced one: ie no cuts. This prompted commentators to say that Brown was giving from one hand and taking from the other. And indeed, along with the 2p cut, came the dissappearance of the "10p starter rate".

Although fairly few figures are available, it is often claimed that members of the LGB community earn on average more than straight people. According to a 2006 survey of 1,118 readers of Diva and Gay Times by the marketing consultancy Out Now:
Men had spent on average £626 and women £519 on holidays and mini-breaks. Gay men also spent more than lesbians on clothing, £374 compared with £249, as well as furniture and fittings, where they typically spent £300 to women's £263.

That reflects the fact that the typical gay man working full-time earns an average £34,168, compared to £24,783 for a lesbian. Both figures, though, are much higher than the salaries earned by the average male and female British worker of £24,236 and £18,531 respectively.

Among the respondents, 40 per cent of the women and 25 per cent of the men were professionals; 11 per cent of the women and 13 per cent of the men were managers; five per cent of the women and six per cent of the men were senior managers; and eight per cent of both sexes were clerical and office workers.
(source: the Guardian).
Moving away from the headlines of the high earning capabilities of the community, we learn here that 8% of our community (identified as clerical and office workers) are likely to have a low income. Perhaps it was conducted on a very specific segment of the population (readers of magazines who can be expected to be from the higher and more affluent stratas of society), the survey does not mention manual workers and people with little qualification or the unemployed and the retired who are also all likely to be at the lower end of the pay ladder.

The limitation of the population polled may also provide ground to dispute that fact that LGB people generally earn more than their heterosexual counterparts.

A 1995 study (Poverty - Lesbians and Gay Men: The Economic and Social Effects of Discrimination) found that 21% of respondents were living in poverty and over half (57%) of respondents said they found it difficult to make ends meet. In her 2001 book Money, Myths, and Change: The Economic Lives of Lesbians and Gay men, University of Massachusetts economics professor Lee Badgett finds that "Gay/bisexal men [...] earn 17 percent less than heterosexual men with the same education, race, location, and occupation."
From December 5th 2005, LGB people who receive benefits, and live with their partner are treated in the same way as heterosexual people. They have been re-assessed as a consequence of their relationship. This has affected a significant number of people, who have been vocal in their objections to this joint income-assessment. This has indicated that there are LGB people in the UK who come from low-income backgrounds (Poverty and social exclusion, Stonewall).
On the whole most people will find themselves better off as a result of Gordon Brown's exercise in juggling with the figures. However, the Institute of Fiscal Studies said that about 2 million people on lower wages - such as single people with no children earning between £12,000 and £18,500 - would lose out, as they would be harder hit by the abolition of the 10p starting rate.

In view of what I discussed above, "single people with no children earning between £12,000 and £18,500" sounds worryingly like that might include a not insignificant part of the LGB population. I am myself one of these people.

If we consider that there are an estimated 3.6 million gay and lesbian people in the UK, this change in the budget will affect several hundred thousand people in our community.

Even the optimistic Out Now survey, cited above, only mentions 64% of the lesbian and 52% of gay men responding; some of whom, as we have seen, will be low earners. It is therefore, I think not, unreasonable to think that that could affect up to 1/3 of our population. That would be about 1 million people. Half of the people the IFS estimates will be hit by the new measure.

Of course, across the whole community, an increasing number of people are getting civilly partnered (more than 15000 couples so far with another 28,000 ceremonies set to happen over the next year). This move may soften the fiscal blow somewhat for those.

Regardless of whether many members of the LGB community are affected or not, it is rather worrying, to say the least, that a Labour government should put itself in a position where it actually penalises the vulnerable and members of minorities, for what could very easily be percieved as a PR exercise for the impending Prime Minister.

And that is not mentioning how we will suffer through so-called stealth tax.

Sunday, 27 April 2008


Comments on the Evening Standard website regarding Boris last week:
We should stand up for Boris. So what if he has no grasp of detail and his management experience is limited to editing the Spectator magazine. He is a jolly funny chap and will be an inspiring ambassador for London.

- Martin Clerkenwell, London

I’d rather he spent £100M on new Routemasters than another penny on minority ethnic interests.

- Squiz, Islington

Doesn’t matter, I would much rather Boris spend the money on Routemasters unlike Ken who squanders our taxes on ‘focus groups’ for immigrants or visits to third world dictators.

- Kyle, London

So what if Boris got his sums wrong, I’d take someone who admits his error over someone who gets his team to lie for him so he doesn’t have to come clean…

- St, London

Boris all the way. He is funny and not politically correct which is great.

- David, Lincoln
Johnson - or to give him his full name, Boris LOL!!!! what a legernd!! Johnson!!! - is a TV character loved by millions for his cheeky, bumbling persona. Unlike the cartoon MP, he's magnetically prone to scandal, but this somehow only makes him more adorable each time. Tee hee! Boris has had an affair! Arf! Now he's offended the whole of Liverpool! Crumbs! He used the word "picaninnies"! Yuk yuk! He's been caught on tape agreeing to give the address of a reporter to a friend who wants him beaten up! Ho ho! Look at his funny blond hair! HA HA BORIS LOL!!!! WHAT A LEGERND!!!!!!
I don't care what Ken Livingstone does - I'll still vote for him if it stops Boris Johnson becoming mayor - Charlie Brooker, The Guardian

Friday, 25 April 2008

The Beeb Replies

The BBC's (very quick) response to my complaint about that comedy programme the other day:
Dear [Zefrog]

Thank you for your e-mail regarding [sic]

I am sorry if you were offended by the content of 'Happy Mondays: The Don't Watch with Mother Sketchbook'.

I can assure you it's never our intention to deliberately upset its audience.

As you're no doubt aware and the programme title itself suggests the content often 'sails close to the wind'. However we can assure you the programme isn't intended to gratuitously shock and the humour contains no malice.

As a public service financed by the licence fee we must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour. We believe that there's no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it is inevitable that programmes which are acceptable to some will occasionally strike others as distasteful.

The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they are catered for at least some of the time.

Nevertheless we appreciate that you felt this edition was in very poor taste and I'd like to assure you that we've registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thanks again for taking the trouble to contact us with your concerns.


[name removed]
BBC Complaints

Thursday, 24 April 2008


"If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or disfigured them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them, and that custom, respect and tyranny support them."

Baron D’Holbach, Système de la nature, 1770

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Unhappy Mondays

Last week, BBC Radio four premiered a new late night comedy programme entitled Happy Mondays, meant to be "showcasing new ideas in comedy". The first episode was reasonably good featuring a diverse array of comedian including the black gay comedian Stephen K Amos.

This week's episode, The Don't Watch with Mother Sketchbook, "a celebration of the 30th anniversary of an imaginary sketch show", was sadly not at all as funny as last week's. If I am honest I even found it rather offensive. There was a sketch meant to be the only surviving copy of an old sketch from this imaginary show dubbed in Zulu, featuring a man and woman hopefully really talking Zulu must as likely as night just making things up on a background of canned laughter. Nothing very funny there at all.

The most offensive part, in my view, however, was found right at the beginning of the show during the introductory speech where a former member of the imaginary team, Peter Wellet, was said to have died of a "gay related disease", "the silly poof". We were then informed that the show was dedicated to him and that fees and proceeds from the show would "NOT be going to AIDS charities worldwide".

This assimilation of AIDS as a gay disease, completely out of context and unnecessary in the show, is not only unfunny, it is also redolent of the worst moments of bigotry that were witnessed at the beginning of the epidemic. I thought these had gone for ever; how mistaken I was! The same goes for the "Zulu sketch" which had nothing intrinsically funny and seemed only there to poke xenophobic or racist fun at a "funny" (read ridiculous) foreign language.

The clip is available to listen for the next week by clicking on the link above. I have also saved a copy of the offending segment.

The programme was written by Rhys Thomas, Lucy Montgomery, Tony Way, Stephen Burge and Glynne Wiley. And the cast went as follows:

Tom Rhys-Griffiths ...... Rhys Thomas
Tracey Anderson ...... Lucy Montgomery
John Girling ...... Waen Shepherd
Roger Mills ...... Tony Way
Peter Wellet (deceased) ...... John W Hopkins

I have used some of the above post as a basis for a complaint to the BBC. Let's see what sort of response they come up with.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

London Mayoral Elections and Gay Hustings

The local elections are only a few couple of weeks away now and the debate is slowly heating up. It's time for people to finally make there choice as to who they vote for. Londoners have to choose between no less than 10 candidates, although it is widely predicted that the election will be played out between the candidates of the three main political parties; all three of whom are rather strong personalities.

Although I already pretty much knew already who I was going to vote for, I took a short online quiz a few days ago. The results (as reproduced below) given to me by Vote Match didn't yield many surprises (if any):

Ken Livingstone (Labour)
Siân Berry (Green Party)
Lindsey German (Left List)
Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrats)
Boris Johnson (Conservatives)
Alan Craig (Christian Peoples Alliance / Christian Party)
Matt O’Connor (English Democrats)
Winston Mckenzie
Gerrard Batten (UKIP)
Richard Barnbrook (BNP)

In order to help voters make up their minds, many interest groups have been organising hustings around the capital, allowing people to meet the candidates and ask questions.

I am just back from one such hustings. Organised by Stonewall in collaboration with Pink News and taking place in the main auditorium of the British Film Institute, the event brought together what can probably be considered the 5 major candidates for this election and a roomful of LGBT people.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how young the audience was. From my seat on the last row, I spotted a few familiar faces: Peter Tatchell, Kirsten Hearn, the Mayor's LGBT advisor: Neil Young, someone from Kairos, someone, I think, from Imaan and a couple local people I have met at Network events. I am sure there were others.

The two hours that the event lasted were both very interesting and entertaining and felt altogether too short. The candidates present in the panel chaired by Tony Crew, editor of PinkNews, were (left to right on stage) Lindsey German, Sian Berry, Boris Johnson, Ken Livingston and Brian Paddick. After 5 minutes statements by the candidates, the floor started to ask questions varying from the status of older LGBT people, Ken's team members' recent financial problems and his own welcome of muslim cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi at City Hall, homophobia in schools and elsewhere, cycling, the funding of voluntary associations, public transport and disabled people or Boris' apparently changed attitude towards LGBT people and whether he ever had any gay experiences. On the whole the debate was very civilised and good natured.

Boris proved is renowned bumbling self and as such much fun for the gallery. He seemed however to have little substance (as expected) and, as Paddick put it, didn’t seem to have much of a clue. His ideas (often unrealistic) seemed to be focused on rather trivial subjects like bringing back a routemaster. He lost his cool once, banging his fist on the table in front of him and declaring that he had indeed voted in favour of the repeal of Section 28 (after having supported the section in writing for years) and that people should stop saying he hadn't (Checking the public whip, it seems that he voted against the repeal first and then for it, in two votes within about half an hour of each other). When pushed further on his past attitude towards LGBT people and Section 28, he repeatedly said that he was in favour of freedom and refused to see the government dictating school what they should teach to children (Lindsey German was quick to point that that was exactly what Section 28 was doing). At the same time he claimed to have gone against the party whip, despite the fact that the Tory party had a free vote on this occasion.

He also ignored a suggestion from the chair that he might want to apology for saying in 2002 about Civil Partnerships that "If gay marriage was OK - and I was uncertain on the issue - then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog." A quote from one of Boris' books that Ken had used in his opening statement. When responding to the first question, he seemed to stamble on the term LGBT, which made everyone laugh in unsurprised frustration; at which he turned to the chair and asked: "I got that right, didn't I?" More laughter ensued. This seemed to be the most common reaction to him in the audience. There were also a few hisses and some clapping at some points.

Paddick was thankfully not as arrogant as he was the last time I saw him speak. He remained however lackluster and vague. Agreeing in response to questions that things were terrible and or needed to be changed but without apparently offering any concrete solutions to the problems. This was of course a gay hustings and possibly Paddick's core constituency but I felt he was too much the professional gay focusing too much on gay issues and not widening his answer enough to the whole of London. He made a few gratuitous personal attacks (saying for example that Ken had "lost the plot" in the past four years and that Boris would be a disaster for London while not acknowledging the existence of other candidates it seems).

Siân Berry was good. She obviously knew what she was talking but I think she still lacks clout. She is my age and I think this is probably too young to be running such a big and complicated city. She probably needs to relax a little more and gain that assurance that only comes with experience. The green party have asked for people to choose Ken as their supplementary vote.

Lindsey German, the other female candidate, was great. I felt she said the right things in the right way. Although if I had to criticise, I would say that her opening statement focused too much on government policy which is not that relevant to this election, although this is also a sign that she can see the bigger picture. In a repeated attack against developers, she also suggested a moratorium on the building of non-affordable housing (currently 50% of new builds) in favour of affordable housing, which in my view is unrealistic since developer would then loose any incentive to build at all. Together with Ken, she was, I think, the only person to actually mention trans people. On the whole however she certainly knows her stuff and makes sensible and pragmatic propositions. The Left List asked for people to choose Ken as their supplementary vote.

As for Ken, the incumbent, he was, I thought, the most impressive speaker. His opening statement got by far the biggest ovation. He appeared both relaxed and completely in charge of his material and the situation. I think on that occasion he was very much the statesman. In response to a question about the attendance by Yusuf Al-Qaradawi at a City Hall conference, Ken said that he wasn't aware of what tabloid newspapers said where Al-Qaradawi's view on homosexuality but that when he met him he asked him and that he received the answer that Al-Qaradawi condemns the killing of gay people and the beating of a wife by her husband. Ken added that no leader of any of the major religion is actively in support of gay right and that we should therefore not expect Al-Qaradawi to be any different but that it was also important to engage with the more moderate parties in Islam. Ken received the support of Lindsey German in this.

With respect to the charges of corruptions thrown at him, Ken said he had himself dealt with these as soon as he knew about a problem, asking the police to investigate, and contacting a lawyer to check that nothing inappropriate had taken place, let alone anything illegal. In his view this is a right-wing witch hunt conducted by the Evening Standard only. The other candidates present, with the exception of Boris, seemed to support him in this view.

Of course the man doesn't come without a certain whiff of sulfur but nobody is perfect and this is compensated by a really positive record. In my view, he has done some great things for the LGBT community in London and for the city as a whole. I don't think any of his opponents can pretend to be better than him and from that rather motley bunch, he seems to me to be the only one capable of leading a world capital. His plans seem to be to carry on how he started and to focus more on the green and environmental issues.

The event was very useful although it slightly muddled my views as to who would be my first choice. I was going to vote for Siân Berry but having seen Lindsey German for the first time, I am not wondering if I should not be voting for her instead. It might be interest to attend a different hustings not aimed at the LGBT community; somewhere a little more neutral to see how people fare. What I will retain from this however is that whereas I don't think it would be a good thing for higher offices, personality is quite important when it comes to decide who will be in charge of such a big and important city.

See also:
* Video: PinkNews editor takes Boris Johnson to task - footage of the hustings
London Mayoral Election 2008
- Wikipedia
* London Elect - Official guide
* Who's who in the race for City Hall - The Independent

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Enough Religion

"We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another."

Jonathan Swift