Sunday, 26 February 2012

Workfare a step up not a hand out

What happens when you give a small group of people a megaphone, access to social networking and the media? You get the claim "they speak for everyone in the uk", that's exactly the situation we have got over "workfare".

Workfare is a classic case of mountain out of a mole hill but where there wasn't even a mole in the first place. The scheme which is designed to give unemployed people a chance to gain work experience and something to place on their cv thus increasing their chances of getting a job has been jumped on and labelled as "slave labour" by the rent a megaphone bandwagon.

Whether its in final years of secondary school or placements during many educational courses from time in parliament with labour and conservative MPs, journalism, mini pupilages in barristers chambers and vacation schemes in solicitors the concept of "gaining" experience to improve your chances of getting on the career ladder is a well established one, yet a concept the critics of workfare have conveniently ignored.

At a time when the job market is as competitive as ever at all levels young people need every opportunity they can to improve their chances of getting a job and many are grateful of the opportunity available through workfare. But even when due to a challenge jobs market where we need to encourage more people into work the campaign against workfare is taking those vital opportunities away from our next generation, damaging their prospects and continuing the "benefits dependency culture" we saw grow under the last labour government.

The argument we have seen thrown at the workfare scheme is "well if people drop out they face benefit sanctions and then "can't buy food or have money to live" well news flash we all have responsibilities and life choices if I don't go to work on monday morning then I won't be able to buy food or live. Just because you are on benefits doesn't mean you shouldn't have to take responsibility for your actions and face the life choices the rest of us face, in fact its important you do so the transition back into work is a smooth one. Its the same discussion that was had over the benefits cap and living in expensive houses but expecting the state to subsidise even thou if those people were in work they wouldn't be able to afford to live there, the benefits cap helps instil that culture of "life choice and responsibility" and workfare is doing exactly the same thing.

Could workfare be improved? Yes I'd like to see more community third sector organisations involved and experience offered within projects that benefit the whole community too and we need to communicate the scheme effectively to the public and to job centre staff implementing it but is the scheme fundamentally wrong? No quite the opposite in fact, its exactly what is needed to give people the experience they need to get that first foot on the jobs ladder.

As conservatives we are constantly looking to help give people the "step up" to help themselves into work and give them the dignity and self respect they deserve, whilst the left would prefer to pull away that ladder and give people handouts to live instead removing their dignity aspirations and prospects in the process too.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Same sex marriage - freedom and choice not right and wrong

One of the big topics of conversations on the "diversity agenda" in politics at the moment is same sex marriage.

The debate that we often see from the left is the same old "this is right" and "this is wrong". Ironically this is the same debate we have seen from some religions over the years to "morally" justify certain positions or practice. I've also seen people in the pro gay marriage camp labelling all catholics "homophobic" and bigots...

My position is this is a completely unhelpful and the wrong starting point for a fair and "free" world.

We have seen some rather positive commentary from prominent conservatives pointing out the value of marriage in society and the importance it plays in day to day life and how opening it up to all would only add further to the benefit we all receive and for its place in wider society. We need to be sending this message out when we discuss same sex marriage rather than the negative divisive campaigning I often hear when the issue is discussed.

I don't want a society where we force the catholic church to marry gay people I'm not catholic and so its for catholics to have that debate within their own religion rather than the government to legislate religious belief...but equally its not the catholic churches place to tell other religions who want to carry out same sex marriage and are open to it that they shouldn't be allowed.

Put simply we need to move this debate on from one of "right and wrong" to one around "freedom and choice" as conservatives we agree legislation should be about protecting freedoms not micro managing the economy and day to day life that's a message I support fully and we need to follow here.

Let's legislate for freedom and leave religions to sort out the choice...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Community conservativism the answer to winning in the north?

This week I've seen several debates and discussions around the make up of the conservative party, the "southern focus" and lack of break through in the UK's big northern cities.

A lot of the reasons for the party having no councillors or MPs in cities like liverpool are historic, built through lack of trust resulting from the last economic crisis where the local economy was hit harder than most due to the need for economic restructuring and the reality of the distribution of manufacturing and other industries in the north. This led to years of resulting tribal labour and socialist liberal administrations that have continued to push the myth "tories don't care" and you "can't trust a tory". That historic scaremongering and lack of opposition due to the collapse of our votes here during the early 90s has left the party with very little voice and thousands of voters out of touch with our messages.

In recent times we have been pragmatic focusing on small target areas and single candidates issues rather than offering a real alternative for the region because the task seems so vast on the parties grass roots have not been as organised as they now are.

I am here to say that times have changed, the party has changed and its time to put up a real vision of change for the north and in our northern cities. Instead of focusing on individual areas and a single candidate we need to come together with a serious alternative for the administrations running cities LIke Liverpool. We need to run local community forums opening up decisions on themes to our local communities helping them set our agenda celebrating our strengths of transparency and community focus.

Once we have set the themes our selected candidates need to help shape the agenda on every policy area we need a clear vision for a "conservative alternative" so that on the door step we can give voters a proper choice and a set of policies to get behind in a time where some councils are still raising council taxes and wasting money on inefficient services and pet projects that deliver little for local residents.

I wouldn't just stop there. Where we have really struggled to break through over last decade like my home city of Liverpool, we need to open up more, we need to go to the people and go:

"ok we understand you haven't trusted us in the past but we are listening and we want you to have a say in the future of local conservatives in their community."

How we do this should be through the trial of open primaries in these key under engaged areas. Let's take candidates out into these communities and have them decide who they think is best, let them have their say and feel part of the parties future in their own community.

We have seen big society in action and pushed hard on our localism agenda, it is now time to take things a step further and develop truly "community led conservativism" in the north.

Small tweeks and pokes is not what will deliver results for the party here its this type of complete re focus that we need if we are to truly make these historic cities blue again.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

"Think green think local"

Over the last decade we have seen the green agenda blow up and be a big issue on the national and international stage and parties have struggled to make themselves "look the most green". Our coalition partners like to be seen as the friends of the planet and labour like to see themselves as world ambassadors on the "climate change agenda". But at the same time we have seen people polarised by a subject which has had little in objective outcomes, despite the billions invested and the time spent on discussing it by our national politicians.

The debate is often about:

does climate change exist?
- I say we can measure and see it happening so yes.

Are we its cause?
- I say we need more evidence to have a positive assertion that we do, but we are likely to be a significant contributor to it.

What do we do about it?
- I say let's tear up the agenda and start again!

As Conservatives we need to make this issue our own we are not the "protectors of the world" or "world ambassadors for climate change" like the lib dems and labour. We are leading the UK government and local uk councils in the face of some significant economic and local challenges here. The debate about cause or effect is a "moot point" we as a nation can not make a significant impact on preventing or reducing climate change even if we turned out the lights tomorrow. So the question is why in a period of economic turmoil should we continue to pour billions into pet projects and feel good global conferences on the issue?

I want to see a conservative party making green "local" we need to talk about clean rivers not clean wind power, we need to discuss waste management and landfill not how we manage global carbon emissions and we need to look at our local wildlife and nature reserves not what's happening in far off nations that we have very little impact on. As a party we have pushed the "Big society" and localism agenda, now is the time to take up the baton and make this issue a truly local and conservative led campaign.

When people say "think green" I want the response to be "think local" this needs to be our mantra up and down the uk adding it to the fantastic social action projects local conservatives are already involved in.

I know I've joined a party with a truly local focus now I'm asking is it time we made green the big local issue too...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Conservative Women and the Future

This week I start my induction into the conservative party with a bang by attending the launch of "Conservative Future Women" hosted by the Home Secretary Theresa May in London. It is one of the traditional glitzy political events that you find on all the main parties political calenders along side formal dinners, parties and drinks receptions and are ruled out by some as "all glitz and no substance". However I feel those people are missing their point and there worth.

We live in an age where men still dominate the top levels of the political and business world and where women still have to work harder to achieve the same as their male counterparts. Often the answer from the left is short term quick "wins" in the form of quotas, all women shortlists, positive discrimination all designed to bring women to the top quickly often regardless of the merit of the people involved.

The mistake supporters of tick box equality measures make is they misunderstand the fundamental reasons for the imbalance in 2012.

I will argue with anyone that women can achieve and be as good as if not better than anyone else and that we don't need "special treatment" "legs up" and positive discrimination to be successful in life and the very idea itself is oppressive and counter productive. The problems facing women are often based on the social environment we find ourselves in. Contry to popular belief when I and many other young people joined or join a political party we haven't planned out our route to number 10 or a career path to be Home Secretary, we get involved because we care about our local communities or want to make a small difference nationally. Once in the party we meet other like minded people, leaders, inspirational people and those who have already been successful and some may inspire us to look to get that "little bit more involved" and maybe get us to consider standing to become a cllr, take up a position in the party or even as an MP.

Here comes the first barrier women face. In a male dominated environment we can often feel isolated or lack the role models or inspiration to encourage us to make that next step, not through choice or any "direct discrimination" but just the informal social situations that happen around all grass roots political parties and the availability of people we relate to who can encourage us to get more involved. You add this too the fact that wanting to stand for public office isn't as easy as filling in a student election nomination form, you have selection panels, candidate applications, campaign planning, finances, local politics, winning over members all before you get anywhere near an election yourself. Often it will seem like an overwhelming task and getting the appropriate support to help push you on and over the barriers is so important. Traditionally men have often gained that support and advice informally over a pint in a pub or in close conversations with friends in the party they have made. Now with fewer visible women who have achieved success in politics and their "availability" across the country to guide and support women following in their footsteps being limited it is not surprising that many women may be stopped early on by these barriers and challenges.

What women need to help develop a parliament where the gender make up is more balanced are more visible successful women in those sectors to inspire and encourage the next generation of leaders to follow them, we need more opportunities to network and develop individual contacts that can help guide us on what can often be a tricky and complicated path to success and we need mentors and role models locally that develop our young leaders men and women to help them aspire and achieve their goals.

This brings me back to the start of my post where people claim these "party launches" and dinners and events are "all glitz and no substance" I'd argue the networking, inspirational people you meet, individual contacts you make to help support you in achieving your goals do more than all of the legislative positive discrimination measures labour introduced and their all women shortlists and quotas. We need to support our young people to achieve themselves not select those we want to artificially through un fair processes and tick box selections.

Conservative Future Women I believe stands for the values I've outlined above and I'm looking forward to meeting a room full of inspirational people tomorrow and sharing our experiences and support on our future journeys.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

We are People NOT boxes

As a Diversity consultant I believe passionately in a fair and people centred society. What you might be shocked to hear is I don't fit my self into a box and I don't like equality "boxes" either.

People are individuals and should be treat as such and not pigeon holed into stereotypical boxes to define their needs.

When we are looking at "Diversity" within the public sector we shouldn't be looking to constantly running women, lgbt, bme and disabled events because we believe all these people are "in need" we should be looking at our local communities and asking are we meeting the demand or wants of our local residents? If the answers no like any good business focus resources and service developments to better meet that demand.

If we deliver truly "personalised" people centred healthcare and public services then the inequalities that exist disappear, people have a fair opportunity to receive services that meet their needs and we save money by not needing to deliver extra "tick box equality processes"

Sounds all very simple and a lot like common sense but unfortunately some people don't see it like that.

Through my work I engage with various individuals from different sectors and backgrounds and all too often when talking about personal services, fairness and localised demand the response is "we do something for the gays" or we run a bme working group" or we have leaflets on "how to deliver a service to a muslim" its as if people actually enjoy "juggling boxes" without delivering improvements to services or outcomes for the local community.

I'm a young women that happens to to have a disability, my sexual orientation is bisexual and I have a trans history too. If I went into a hospital and they had a "manual on delivering care to a disabled trans women" with lists of what I will like and what I won't like I'd tell them to BIN IT

What I want in hospital is to be treat based on my individual needs not what some book or leaflet says all these "trans people" want my sexuality and medical history doesn't define me and shouldn't define the care that I receive. What next leaflets on "how to treat blondes with a broken arm" make sure u talk slowly to them because they are all stupid...

Its common sense that a directly of guides on exactly what "trans and gay people" want is not the answer. The answer is well trained staff, nurses, police officers who are able to meet an individual's needs based on their professional approach. We need to encourage understanding of different people and choices available in local communities so that people can be referred to different services if as an individual they need or want it.

In health care we need to be talking about personalised care not equality protocols, in workforces we need to encourage leaders mentors people who inspire from across an organisation not use positive discrimination to replace one wrong with another.

Knowledge of your local community, ability to meet peoples needs by understanding people are different and having the flexibility to be able to respond to those needs is the language we need to be talking the sooner we do that the sooner we get people on board and move away from the baggage of labours tick box generation.