Monday, 25 May 2015

Tripe and onions

    It's about 18 months since my mother died. It's funny, the way sometimes you'll happen upon something she left behind and it'll be so typically her to be as though she never went away.
    My mother came from the north of England. Yorkshire. God's Own County. And in a sense she never really left it. Yorkshire people are like that, they have a lot to be proud of. She impressed Yorkshire on me and my sisters as we grew up, my sister confided in me after the memorial service that she was in her twenties before she came to terms with the fact that she was from southern England and not Yorkshire. Funnily enough I had a colleague at my previous employer with a similar story, growing up in Germany with her German dad and Sheffield-born mother.
    So we grew up with Wensleydale as the King of Cheeses, heather honey and Whitby kippers. It didn't bother me in the way it did my sister, going to university up there allowed me to be at peace with it all. I know Yorkshire from all four corners, I've walked its fells and moors, bathed in its seas, sailed its rivers and driven its roads. But I'm at home in the lower greener hills of my own county.
    My mother's Northern tastes appeared yesterday, in the form of a pack of tripe I found in the bottom of the freezer. Dated 2011, but frozen solid and still good. Another taste from childhood, tripe and onions. My dad doesn't like it, so yesterday I was alone with my tripe and onions on toast. Probably not something I'll have that often these days.
    There we are then, another little piece my mother left behind, gone. It's stupid, being sentimental about a pack of tripe, of all things.

Monday, 11 May 2015


    Last week amid all the election excitement I took one of my periodic trips to the gender clinic in West London.
    To my surprise, I was discharged.
    This might sound like something of a disaster, but it isn't. You go there at my stage in transition for two reasons: psychological monitoring to ensure you're living in your assumed role and nothing's gone awry, and to see the endocrinologist. I get my endocrinology from a doctor at my local hospital whose experience in the field eclipses theirs so the second reason is redundant. 
    Unexpectedly then it seems my getting on with life has been such a success that I'm deemed not in need of their psychological monitoring. I must be sane, or something! As the psych said, there's no point my making the trip to London every six months just to tell them I'm OK.
    I was concerned lest I lose my place and be expected to start from scratch with them on my eventual return. It turns out that this only applies to the psychs, at the point at which I may consider surgery I have only to ask my doctor to refer me back to them and off I'll go. Let's see whether that turns out to be the truth.
    Behind the scenes I wonder whether health cuts are making them reduce their patient numbers by whatever means. It doesn't bother me as I don't feel I need their support at the moment, but I hope it'll still be there for me when I return.
    So, life. It's an important thing to recognise in this sphere, that not all your problems have their root in being transgender.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Morning After the Night Before

    So, Britain has voted, and unexpectedly elected a Conservative government with a wafer-thin majority. The Liberal Democrats have been reduced to the point of nearly fitting in a taxi again, and Labour has been all but wiped out in Scotland by the SNP.
    I spent all Thursday night in front of the TV. Watching the results come in and seeing Liberal Democrats and Labour MPs falling like ninepins, Conservatives winning in marginal seats, sometimes to their obvious surprise. Fascinating stuff to a news junkie like me, one of the most exciting elections of my lifetime. By the time I fell into bed at about half past eight all the predictions had been confounded and David Cameron was only waiting for the last few seats to see how narrow his majority would turn out.
    In my safe seat constituency the Conservative was elected with an increased majority thanks to the Lib Dem collapse. As I have explained before I am a tactical voter with the intention of ensuring as small a majority as possible for whoever is elected so while I did my bit it is only a matter of small personal satisfaction that by voting for the nearest challenger I reduced her majority by two.
    There are understandably a lot of long faces on the left of British politics. I join them in that I don't think this is the best outcome, but I don't join them in that I think it could have been a huge amount worse. It is true that David Cameron has an outright majority, but unlike his days under the coalition he will now have to fight for every vote. John Major, who had nearly twice Cameron's majority, once described his rebellious back-benchers as "bastards" for confounding his every move, and this will be Cameron's daily reality. As the inevitable by-elections erode the Conservative majority they will find themselves with very little room for manoeuvre. There are tales of James Calaghan's administration wheeling in MPs to vote in hospital beds, we're likely to see that repeated as desperation sets in.
    So no, the Conservatives won't have the freedom to enact some of their more barmy ideology any more than they or the Lib Dems did under the coalition. I'm sure they will do things that will cause consternation on the left, but every Conservative MP whose seat is in any way precarious will now have an eye towards how his or her record will be examined at the next election.
    If this election did anything, it highlighted the unfairness inherent  in the First Past the Post election system. Under FPTP the SNP have over 50 MPs from a fraction of the popular vote that the Liberal Democrats had with 8 seats, or UKIP and the Greens had with 1 seat each. We've got a Government elected by a minority of the people, and Opposition benches filled with MPs elected by a tiny percentage of the people. We will never get proportional representation from a FPTP elected government because, well, turkeys don't vote for Christmas, but FPTP has never looked more unrepresentative.
    Of course, PR would have delivered a significant number of UKIP members from Thursday's polling, making today's government likely to be a Conservative minority government propped up by UKIP on a vote-by-vote basis. One of the nightmare scenarios bandied about before the election. But I suspect under PR the result would have been significantly different, because FPTP encourages the protest vote. People in FPTP safe seats who know their vote is meaningless vote to send a message rather than to elect someone. Under a PR system since few votes are meaningless it is probable that this lack of a protest vote would have produced a significant difference in second and third-placed parties.
    So here we are, with (thanks to David Cameron's Parliament Act) a fixed five more years of Conservative government on a wafer-thin majority. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Democracy, we trust

    It's election time again here in Blighty, and it's all looking a bit messy.

    Just for fun I took a look at my post from five years ago before the last election. Back then I took  the line of a plague on all their houses, and I can't say a lot's changed.
    So let's recap. In 2010 the election resulted in a hung parliament. The Conservatives had a few more seats than Labour, but neither party had enough to govern outright. The previous Prime Minister tried and failed to form a minority government by tempting the Liberal Democrats and a mixture of smaller parties, so our Government became David Cameron's Conservatives in coalition with Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats.
   Since then we've had a lot of economic turmoil and a lot of austerity. Savage cuts to Government services, some of which have been very unpopular. The Liberal Democrats have been blamed by everybody for the mess - from the Left for letting the Conservatives in, and from the Right by not letting them go far enough.

    Would you believe it, in a post-banking-crisis world, the above represents one of the more stable and prosperous European countries.

    So the result is that if last time was one of the most significant elections of my lifetime, this one's going to be a real nail-biter. The Conservatives are under attack on the right from a resurgent UKIP, while Labour are under attack in their Scottish heartland from a rampant SNP led by one of the UK's most capable politicians. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrat vote is set to collapse, as all their supporters vent their fury over the coalition.
    I can't say I join the chorus blaming the Liberal Democrats for the mess. They weren't in power when its seeds were sown, and as for governing with the Conservatives I think Nick Clegg had no choice but to go with the party holding the most seats. He would have been pilloried for propping up an unpopular minority Brown Labour government. To anyone blaming the Lib Dems for Tory excesses I simply say this: imagine Cameron without the Lib Dems.
   That said though, I can't say I want to choose the Lib Dems. I feel that some of their policies are dangerous and unpalatable. Take a mansion tax for example, a policy they share with Labour. Sounds wonderful, bash the rich! And it would be so, were it not that it is a wealth tax with a fixed threshold. This means that like inheritance tax which was originally introduced for the super-rich but now applies to most people whose parents own a house, they won't change that threshold and within a generation we'll all be paying it. Regressive taxes are a definite no-no when it comes to my vote.
    So, what about Labour? Yet again, that regressive tax. Sorry Ed, you just don't get it. If you want to tax the rich, close all the tax loopholes and really get tough with tax dodgers, don't just make stirring sounding speeches and sneak in taxes that'll catch everyone!
    To be fair to Ed Miliband, I have more time for him than his predecessor. He's been portrayed disgracefully by the gutter press, and I think the world wouldn't end if he gained the keys to Number Ten. I just don't think it would get much better. Behind him are still the same bunch of idiots who stood behind Tony Blair as he took us into the Iraq war and waged a devastating attack on our civil liberties. Not something I want to spend my vote on.
    As for the Conservatives under David Cameron, last time I talked about them in terms of 'them' and 'us'. The Conservatives of Margaret Thatcher and John Major were elected trying a lot harder to be about 'us' rather than 'them', in Cameron's case the priorities seem to be entirely reversed. Critics will say they've gone after the poor and needy to pay for the disastrous mistakes of the super-rich banks, and to be honest it isn't hard to agree. David Cameron isn't a Prime Minister for the likes of me, he's one for his rich mates.
    Which leaves me as an English voter with the National Health Action Party, the Greens, and UKIP. The NHA party look ever so reasonable in their leaflet, but perhaps fortunately they'll never be given the opportunity to show just how badly their plans might work in practice. The Greens meanwhile are just as nutty and dangerous as ever. Having lived in a city with Green councilors I've seen this first-hand, they are a clueless and spiteful disaster when given any power.
    So, Nigel Farage's UKIP, nestling somewhere in the mid-teens in the polls and expected to have a few MPs. Somewhere to the right of the Conservatives, having hoovered up most of the former Thatcherite wing of that party along with assorted fringe members of the political spectrum. Prone to constant gaffes as candidates reveal their racism, homophobia and ignorance, anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-lots of things it seems. As a mild Eurosceptic I should be interested, but they're just far too nutty for my liking. Dangerous, even.
    All the pundits predict a parliament more hung than last time. Fewer Conservatives, the Lib Dems fitting in a minibus, and Labour decimated by losing most of its Scottish seats to the SNP. The so-called nightmare scenarios include a Conservative government propped up by UKIP and the right-wing Northern Irish parties, or Labour propped up by the SNP. Tomorrow night's going to be interesting.

    So what about me? I vote in a safe seat. So-called because in our first-past-the-post electoral system the majority of seats never change hands even if far more people vote against the sitting MP than for them because the vote against the incumbent party is split between other parties. So in effect my vote is pretty meaningless even in this closely fought poll, the best I can hope for is a significant dent in the incumbent party's majority. All I can do is vote for the party most likely to come second, for then the first-past-the-post majority is effectively reduced by two.

    Other than to say that I won't be voting Green or UKIP, it's safe to say then given the above that I'll be holding my nose as I do it.