Keynote speech – equalities

Here is my keynote speech from Conference – “Breaking New Ground”

Liberal Democrats.

I look around and I see the faces of so many friends, colleagues, Cabinet Members.

Yes – I did just say that – Liberal Democrat members of the Cabinet.

Now conference, I was pretty clear at the time as to just what I thought of having an all male all pale team sent to negotiate on our behalves in May

Often for some of us women we get frustrated when we see mediocrity promoted above us

But in this case, they weren’t mediocre – our negotiating team did one hell of a job and I thank them all for their dedication and hard-work …

……………… but guys, no excuses next time!

Anyway – that’s enough praise for the men …for the moment.

As we race towards the future, I am conscious of our Liberal past.

And I think of great female titans who are no longer with us.

Women like Nancy Seear, Margaret Wingfield, Laura Grimmond – who all held the torch of Liberalism for so long – through the darkest toughest days.

I just imagine what they would have done with this great privilege that I have been given.

To be a Minister in the new Coalition Government – and to fight every day to set people free from inequality.

I know that it is critical to all of you that this is not an opportunity wasted, but an opportunity celebrated.

Celebrated by the people we were elected to serve:

• The women to whom equality in the work place is still a pipe dream
• The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of our community – who still feel defined by that identity, not their personality
• The black and ethnic minority teenagers who are condemned daily by assumptions and prejudice
For these people my ambition is nothing short of a celebration.

A celebration of equality finally becoming a reality.

An reality that can only be realised with a new kind of politics.

And this is a new kind of politics, a new government, and a direct challenge – thank goodness – to the tired old ways.

We have created much confusion.

We have also created some alliances even stranger than our own.

When Jack Straw, Norman Tebbit and John Prescott are united against us, we know only one thing ….

We must be doing something right.

Neither Labour nor the media know what to do with us.

The media is obsessed with tensions and splits.

And Labour’s bitter scream of anger and entitlement is unimaginative and so predictable.

It’s a no-brainer that there are differences between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

We are two separate parties. Working in partnership.

A professional working relationship – a far cry from the early, heady days of the Blair Brown partnership – recently described by Tony Blair…

“Our minds moved fast and at that point in sync. When others were present, we felt the pace and power diminish, until, a bit like lovers desperate to get to love-making but disturbed by old friends dropping round, we would try to bustle them out, steering them doorwards with a hearty slap on the back.” …

…….Well anyone could have told them that wasn’t going to last

But perhaps I need to make something clear about my own working partnership.

Theresa May and I will work together. We will respect each other’s views. We will even sometimes agree to disagree.

But I am still a Liberal Democrat.

And one thing I can guarantee is there will be absolutely no merging of our shoe collections however extensive.

Indeed I can go further – I will be making no efforts to convert Theresa’s stylish taste in shoes for the much less fashionable socks and sandals, however comfortable.

So we will not always agree – but we will always do our best to work together for a fairer Britain.

And today I want to look forward

Forward to what that Britain will look like.

Forward to a Britain no longer suffocated by state intrusion.

Forward to a Britain where local and individual power is restored.

In this Britain of the future, individuals are empowered to live how they like, and to love anyone they choose.

The Labour party liked to claim that they were the party of equalities.

But where I come from

There is nothing equal about hoarding the DNA profiles of innocent people on a national database

There is nothing equal about high unemployment rates for people with disabilities.

There is nothing equal about a child’s life chances being determined by their parents’ wealth

No conference – after 13 years of a Labour government, this looks nothing like equality to me.

What Labour did was turn equalities into a burden.

It became a byword for bureaucracy and red-tape.

Less about liberation and more about frustration

And if ticking boxes and filling out forms led to equality, then Britain would be a utopia of fairness and optimism.

But it doesn’t. And it isn’t.

What Britain needs is a seismic cultural shift in the way people view and relate to each other.

Let’s be honest – people are still not free from the barriers of their place of birth, their sexuality, the colour of their skin.

But this will not be changed with lazy, short term thinking or shallow, headline-grabbing laws.

Nick Clegg told us that we must govern for the long-term.

In his words, “governing for the long term means recognising that the decisions of one generation profoundly influence the lives of the next.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And ensuring equality lasts for the long term means refusing to be sidelined and characterised as just “women’s issues” or “gay issues”.

Social mobility, education, work and pensions – these issues are at the heart of creating an equal society.

And conference, we are already making huge strides towards this goal.

Last month I launched a consultation on the public sector equality duty.

Public bodies have huge potential to create a fairer society through the way they deliver their services, the people they recruit, the training they offer.

But too often these bodies are sidetracked centralised targets – distracting them from the real goal –

serving their local community in the best possible way.

Under our plans, these organisations will be free.

Free to focus on the community they serve, not the Whitehall bureaucrat they fear.

But in return they must be transparent.

Public bodies will have to publish a whole range of equality data – about their staff – about their services.

Complete transparency, putting people in charge of the public bodies they pay for.

Because what really matters is not something complicated and expensive, but a service that is equal and fair.

One of my proudest moments so far in government was the launch at Number 10 of our action plan for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Civil partnerships were a great first step – but as we know, in the classic words often used at a Liberal Democrat conference…

This did not go far enough!

In schools, in the workplace, in family life and in public life – I am committed to tearing down barriers.

In schools, we will tackle homophobic bullying

In the workplace, we will fight to end discrimination.

In family life we will protect the rights of same-sex couples to raise children in stable and loving families.

We also recognise that transgender issues are often distinct and sometimes need to be addressed separately.

That is why this government will be the first ever to produce an Action Plan on transgender equality.

But the greatest shift is that this government sees gay rights not only as a domestic issue, but in an international context.

Homosexuality is still illegal in over 70 countries.

This is unacceptable.

And it is why we will use Britain’s influence to push for a unified EU stance on LGBT rights.

And we will go further and proactively question those countries who retain homophobic laws.

And while challenging homophobia abroad, we must get our own asylum laws in order.

I was delighted when the Home Secretary welcomed the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay asylum.

A ruling which vindicated our commitment to stop the return of asylum seekers to countries where their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or even death.

How can anything like that be tolerated in this day and age?

But as I said, conference, equalities is not an issue for one section of society only.

You must judge this government; indeed you must judge me, on whether we put equalities at the heart of every department.

And in this, I am so proud of the advances Liberal Democrats have already made in government.

Civil liberties – is an equalities issue.

So we have scrapped ID cards and are committed to ending the detention of child asylum seekers

Education – is an equalities issue.

So we are introducing a pupil premium to target support to children who need it most

Poverty – is an equalities issue.

So we have taken 900,000 people out of income tax altogether.

But I know there are still many challenges ahead.

And believe me, I won’t rest after one or two or ten achievements.

I will keep on fighting for fairness and equality where it doesn’t exist.

And I will always be looking to you, conference, to guide me.

We as party will not follow in the others’ footsteps. We are in Government but that will not stop our conference and our policy making from being as radical and robust as ever.

And I am proud this tradition continues with the motion you passed yesterday calling for equal marriage.

It is a sensitive matter, and while of course I absolutely respect the right to religious beliefs, I believe that equal rights should mean just that.

The same rights, not different rights.

Not an Orwellian Animal Farm where “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”.

So I am working with those with a key interest in this issue about what the next steps should be.

And I want to thank you, Liberal Democrats, for continuing to inspire me.

But perhaps the biggest challenge that we all face as I stand here today is to ensure that future generations are not burdened with mounting debt.

And that while we work to reduce this broken balance sheet left to us by Labour, we ensure that the most vulnerable members of this society are not hit the hardest.

A society where the gender pay gap still stands at twenty per cent.

Where women lose their jobs, or don’t get hired at all, because they have children.

Where we still have a mountain to climb to achieve fair and flexible working

I saw a film recently called ‘Made in Dagenham’.

It is a fantastic film coming to a cinema near you October 1st – go see!

Set in the sixties, it tells the story of brave women at the Ford factory in Essex, who walked out in protest against unequal pay.

Forty years later, it’s a tragedy and a travesty that we are still fighting the same battles.

But these women should be an inspiration to us all.

Like all of you here today, they refused to accept the status quo.

They refused to accept that the way things are, is the way things have to be.

And this is a principle that has always driven Liberals.

What these pioneers showed us was that government will take us only so far.

But it is you, the people, who have the power to demand change.

And how will you know that this change has finally happened?

When you walk into a boardroom and half the Directors are women.

When a man, other than Nick Clegg, dropping his kids at the school gates is considered the norm, not the exception.

And when Jeremy Clarkson ditches the career in telly to take up equalities training in Leeds.

But to see this change we need a cultural shift in Britain’s values.

Government can’t force people to change.

But it can enable them to change.

This is why Vince Cable is working so hard in the Department for Business to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.

It is why Sarah Teather is

It is why Nick Clegg announced last week that the government will refocus its aid efforts to put the lives of women in developing countries at its heart.

And there are many more issues that affect women’s – and for that matter men’s – confidence and ability to succeed.

Narrow ideas of beauty, distorted and propagated by the media, puts endless pressure onto young boys and girls that can lead to low self-esteem, depression and eating disorders.

This is why Jo Swinson and I co-founded the Campaign for Body Confidence – and I want to applaud Jo for working so tirelessly to champion this cause.

And we are already having an effect!

Debenhams is no longer using airbrushed models in any of its marketing materials, and Channel 4 has launched its own campaign against airbrushing.

I am hosting a government roundtable to drive forward these issues.

Whilst we’re on the subject of confident women – Miriam – can I thank you for doing us all proud during the election campaign.

You refused to take any nonsense – from the media or indeed (I suspect) from your husband!

You did what so many others have to do, you carried on with the day job and we salute you for it!

And so conference, this is a new politics which has equality at its heart.

An equality which sets people free, rather than imprisons them with rules.

An equality for the future, which is driven by our liberal principles of the past

And it is from the past, from another one of our very own titans, that I would like to end.

In 1945 Violet Bonham-Carter said “A Britain without Liberalism would be a Britain that has lost its soul.”

Well we’ve taken our time, but we are finally back.

But we must be back with a purpose – and that purpose is to put the soul back into Britain.

I can’t think of a greater challenge, or a finer reward, than the fight for equality for everyone in Britain.

For the child who deserves a better future

For the woman who demand equivalent pay

For the gay man who expects to be treated as an equal

For all the others who are left out by a society that needs to change

That is my goal

That is our shared vision

That is Liberal Democracy in action in Government

Thank you conference

0 thoughts on “Keynote speech – equalities

  1. I think you mean well, Ms Featherstone, but there are contradictions here. For example, you said you want to look forward to “a Britain no longer suffocated by state intrusion” and “where local and individual power is restored.”

    You don’t think Labour went far enough, which I reckon gives you three options:

    1) More Labour-style micromanaging of our lives and institutions through legislation and the fear of being seen as different in a way which is contrary to the equality and diversity Grand Plan, such as being a conscientious objector or a believer in traditional morals or even being a patriot.

    2) More conditioning via state “education” and the media to make us “willingly” compliant.

    3) Give money to bribe people into accepting the agenda.

    What you need to do is change attitudes, and after 13 years of Labour’s cajoling and sometimes downright bullying, this means adopting one of these three strategies, or a combination.

    You said you want less state intrusion, so that rules out no.1. There is not enough money for no.3 and it wouldn’t work anyway, therefore you are left with no.2, i.e. gently changing people’s beliefs through what you would consider education. But this isn’t how the rest of your speech reads and is wrong anyway.

    There can be no equality the way you want simply because most people don’t see the world the way you want them to.

    There are some things you *cannot* and must not change for the benefit of everyone. You said “There is nothing equal about a child’s life chances being determined by their parents’ wealth.”

    Of course there isn’t, but the alternative is a Soviet-style communism or probably something even worse, where people aren’t allowed to create wealth for themselves. Everyone would exist in equal poverty and serving the State.

    You cannot have equality in a fallen world, so when you say that organisations will be “free to focus on the community they serve, not the Whitehall bureaucrat they fear,” this cannot be because you then went on to say, “Public bodies will have to publish a whole range of equality data – about their staff – about their services.

    So there will be no sense of meritocracy; of fairness. The right person for the job will often be kept out to make way for someone who fills the quotas set by those Whitehall bureaucrats you wish to dismiss. Just as it is now: equality without fairness.

    The next section of your speech is frankly, scary, because it is yet more re-engineering of society. Clearly, Labour didn’t go far enough for your liking.

    Your mentioned “gay rights” more than anything else. You said, The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of our community…still feel defined by that identity, not their personality.

    The militant ones – the ones the government caves in to – make it everyone else’s business to make sure they are identified by their sexuality!

    “One of my proudest moments so far in government was the launch at Number 10 of our action plan for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.”

    I think many people are left wondering what supposed rights are left for them to win. Oh, I see,

    “Civil partnerships…did not go far enough!”

    I know you won’t be able to see that “gay marriage” is a great danger to society as normal families are the basic unit of a strong, healthy, safe society.

    “In schools, we will tackle homophobic bullying”

    This is just another of those microscopic issues which the gay lobby has blown out of all proportion in order to get its message across. If you really were concerned about “equality” then you would be dealing with *all* bullying and not just what Stonewall advise.

    (And a great place to start saving money is by cutting off government funding to these astroturfing fakecharities who exist to demand the loss of freedom to the rest of us. They don’t even speak for the many homosexuals who just want to get on with their lives without a constant fuss being made about their lifestyle.)

    “In the workplace, we will fight to end discrimination.”

    There will always be discrimination. It’s just that Government has changed the targets.

    “In family life we will protect the rights of same-sex couples to raise children in stable and loving families.”

    Or in other words you will discriminate against children by not placing them in a normal family setting, which has been proven to be best for their development. Children are not a “right” anyway!

    As if re-engineering your own society isn’t bad enough, you want to spread this unfair, immoral agenda across the globe.

    “Homosexuality is still illegal in over 70 countries. This is unacceptable.”

    Is it unacceptable to you that many countries have different cultures from ours? Isn’t this another flaw with “equality and diversity?” These countries, mainly in Africa, have in some cases learned from experience that homosexuality is best kept as a taboo. Natural human relationships strengthen society as a whole. They recognise this! Many people in the West would strongly agree. You have no mandate to change the social fabric in African nations.

    “Gay rights” has become such a powerful ideology that everything else must be sacrificed to it, even otherwise decent, happy and tolerant communities.

    Regarding religion and gay “marriage,” you say we cannot have “an Orwellian Animal Farm where “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others”.”

    I’m glad you used the word “Orwellian” because we all know we are well down the “1984” road already. This warped notion of equality is a major contributor, because it delivers enslavement.

    For example, you voted for narrowing the existing employment freedoms of churches and religious organisations in the “Equality Bill”.

    You have removed the genuine right of religious people to employ those who share their faith. How ridiculous is that? How anti-freedom is that? And you want more of the same until we are all “equal,” i.e. all without the freedom to live according to our own standards.

    “So I am working with those with a key interest in this issue about what the next steps should be.”

    I have a key interest in these things, because I care about what kind of society we live in and about my personal freedom. Nobody asks me!

    You release yourself from the clutches of “gay rights” and move onto feminism, with your vision of the future:

    “When you walk into a boardroom and half the Directors are women.

    “When a man, other than Nick Clegg, dropping his kids at the school gates is considered the norm, not the exception.

    “And when Jeremy Clarkson ditches the career in telly to take up equalities training in Leeds.”

    Now, you know that men and women are different. A man and a woman aren’t equal per se, they are complementary. This is why it is good and right and natural that a man marries a woman and not a man. Men and women have different skills, even different chemicals to enhance their job as parents.

    Oxytocin – the “cuddle chemical” – is normally released during social interactions and the child feels the benefit from mum and dad in different, important ways. Even nature tells us how wrong the equality agenda is!

    “But to see this change we need a cultural shift in Britain’s values.”

    We have seen this and it is a disaster. The key word is “values”. We need to see their return: family values; sexual morality; valuing of human life; patriotism; genuine freedom and fairness: all the things which have been compromised in order to, and let’s be honest, allow homosexual behaviour to be accepted and take women away from their children to work on a supermarket checkout or behind a desk.

    Has it been worth it?

    “Government can’t force people to change. But it can enable them to change.”

    Government is forcing people to change – change or lose your job – change or you won’t get to adopt – change or you’ll lose your business.

    You spoke about education and you spoke about the rich being able to give their children more.

    What you can do is go back to giving children a decent state education like they used to get before the system changed to prioritise filling their minds with all the dangerous socialist dogma they must endure today.

    Children are losing out in a major way. They are depressed. They are sexually promiscuous. They are drinking and taking drugs. They are becoming deep in debt.

    Please reverse this dangerous philosophy for their sake and everyone else’s.

    What you consider to be “equality” is not working and cannot work, unless everyone is equally poor, equally immoral and equally dumbed down.

    Only *fairness* has a chance of success and this is clearly contrary to the “equality” agenda. This isn’t to say that some animals are more equal than others, but that *all* animals deserve to be treated fairly and free to hold their own beliefs; even free to dislike someone else’s beliefs or lifestyle.

    Everyone is entitled to equal treatment in law where there is dispute, but the job of government is not to force people to believe or act in certain ways, but to support society through a moral code of law.

  2. Great to see Lynne belittling the efforts of men working in dirty, dangerous and life threatening jobs once again.

    It’s the lack of work done combined with supply and demand which explains the pay gap. Quite simply women work less hours, in easier and less risky jobs.

    More people want these jobs rather than say going down a coal mine and in the past we’ve quite rightly rewarded men with a higher salary for risking their lives, working unsociable hours and travelling long distances to work.

    There quite simply are no women working in the same jobs as men, doing the same amount of work and being paid less for it. If women genuinely could be employed on 80% of the salary as you so dishonestly suggest, then every man’s job would be at risk and companies would just employ women.

    Stop exaggerating pay gaps and start being a bit more honest about the real reasons behind them. And stop this stupid obsession with gender, tall people earn far more than short ones, are you going to take action on that too? The fact is that fair pay isn’t necessarily equal pay. All sorts of groups earn more/less than others. You;d be better of tackling all the genuine state sponsored discrimination out there rather than making it up.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with the last two posts.
    So tell me, how are you going to promote equality by ending discrimination that is non-sexual, non-gender generated or is that not within your remit?

    ‘Social mobility, education, work and pensions – these issues are at the heart of creating an equal society’

    Can you explain in non-politico speak exactly what this means?

    From where I am sitting I see a massive difference in the state retirement age between men and women, is this work and pensions equality?

    Cutting the schools building programme, is this education equality?

    Social mobility. What the heck is this?

    Your budget and the ongoing benefit reforms will hit the poorest families hardest. You are withdrawing support for the severely disabled and dying and expecting a recovery of Lazarus proportions, creating a veritable Dads army expected to rise up like the ‘Hydra’s teeth’ and compete for the same jobs as the able-bodied. Please explain in which direction this social mobility will flow.

  4. A couple of questions:

    1. You seem to be saying Labour failed as children’s life chances are determined by parent’s wealth. So, will your Govt be judged by the same terms: i.e. will children’s life chances no longer be determined by parent’s wealth? That would be utterly remarkable – how are you going to do it? Let me guess – pupil premium?

    2. You pledge to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. How? Specifically, how will you do this in a ‘free school’? Or an Academy?

    3. You make no mention of the fact the Budget effects women significantly more than men and the Fawcett Societies Judicial Review. Why?

  5. Sadly, I agree with those 4 very erudite comments. And add that encouraging the creation of more jobs, along with restricting immigration, is today much more important than legislation for more of the equalities that you work for – but ceasing the blocking of renewal of visas for immigrants in existing job creating and wealth creating positions is an equality that you, Lynne, must urgently fight for.

  6. Gosh, the “save the great white males” crowd are out in force in the comments on this one. Lynne, you are doing excellent work and it is very much appreciated.

  7. @Sarah: Eh? Not many comments yet.
    The Bank of England was yesterday encouraging those with savings to use some of that money to give the economy an uplift. By contrast, I saw nothing of that attitude of encouraging people to help each other in Lynne’s speech, and I was disappointed that she had nothing immediate to show which of her drives forward can be delivered now and in a manner that supports the wealth generating sector. Prioritise, please, Lynne, in partnership with advisers from other departmental teams who can show you what will deliver now for the economy.
    In one dysfunctional Whitehall Dept I hear that the pressure for cuts has forced people from different teams to talk to each other about how they can do better with less – that is after years of internal ignorance about what the team next to you does. So let us see the same between the Ministerial teams for different departments.

  8. Dear Dreaming

    I expect there are not many comments yet because it’s difficult to know what to comment on first.

    Should it be the flaky bits of the reproduced speech? As usual there is a lot to choose. My current fave amongst many is “Celebrated by the people we were elected to serve”. I missed the bit of the election result where the Libs Dems were elected rather than having a massively disappointing result and losing seats. I can scarcely wait for the response to the huge surge of Lib Dem populism coming at a polling station near you in May 2011.

    Or should it be the misogynstic and homophobic first response?

    I tend to think we should ignore the latter. Mind you having seen the analysis of Alan Johnson last week about how this is actually a Tory government and the Lib Dems are pretty irrelevant to the future of British politics it’s tempting to ignore both.

  9. Interesting watching Ed Miliband position himself just to the left of centre today, in the ground vacated by the LibDems.

    Reading Lynne’s conference speech, I wonder if her true home is in Ed’s optimistic opposition, rather than Cameron’s conservative coalition?

    Temporarily, her head has been turned by a sniff of power, but I cannot see her aspirations for equality being served by this government, which welcomed the misogynistic, gay-bashing, anti-secularist Pope so obsequiously.

  10. As a trans activist, community volunteer and campaigner, I can honestly say that no politician has stood up for trans rights more than Lynne Featherstone or Evan Harris of the Lib Dems. Tim Boswell from the Conservatives was also a staunch ally of the trans community during the passage if the Equality Bill. The Labour Government passed key trans equality legislation, absolutely, but Lynne, Evan and Tim wanted to go further and really made the effort to understand and champion trans issues. I am very grateful that Lynne has championed a trans rights action plan now that she is Equalities Minister.

  11. @Christina: as a totally hetero person, I suffer when observing and reading about the difficulties that you and yours have, and thus have no quarrel with Lynne’s activism. I simply missed any tie-in with other problem areas, i.e. a joined-up view showing how improving the position of minorities can deliver progress with our present larger predicament. Liberals should be about equality, as fact and as opportunity, but they are part of the government and need to work through what they can do now. Also, this is an inexperienced govt – we really need the kind of changeover period that there is in the USA when a new President is elected: a couple of months of learning and preparing, spread across a holiday period.

  12. “people are still not free from the barriers of their place of birth…”

    I’m pretty sure you weren’t referring here to overseas children born out of wedlock to British fathers with this comment, but I certainly hope we are a group that is on your mind. The Liberal Democrats did an excellent job last year of trying to completely remove citizenship discrimination against us in both the Lords and the Commons. Although it was without success, I certainly hope you haven’t given up on us, Lynne.

    It’s detrimental that the UK, once and for all, finally end citizenship discrimination and allow every child born to a unmarried British father a fair and just pathway to British citizenship. Every child has access to citizenship through at least one parent, except those of us born illegitimately to our fathers. Most of us are female, making this a women’s issue as well. A few have their lives in jeopardy, and some were actually born and raised in the UK, but can’t have citizenship due to this bigoted law.

    Lynne, you have your opportunity with the upcoming Freedom Bill. Please don’t let us down. We have been let down for far too long now. I know our cause isn’t “sexy”, but it’s an important step in rebuilding Britain’s human rights.

  13. “You said “There is nothing equal about a child’s life chances being determined by their parents’ wealth.”

    Of course there isn’t, but the alternative is Soviet-style”

    Balderdash. One alternative was proposed and supported by Andrew Carnegie (a 19th century “robber baron” capitalist for those who don’t know their history): confiscatory inheritance taxes, so that individuals can make wealth for themselves, but cannot pass it on to their children. You may or may not agree, but that is a fundamentally capitalist, free-market idea.

  14. To be clear, “Balderdash” was addressed to Mr. Stewart Cowan, who clearly has not studied his American history.