This is a post that I should have written long ago.
About a month or so back, I posted a link to an xkcd cartoon. It was inspired by an incident around that I was going to write about. However every time I tried to write the article another incident came back to my mind, and threatened to swamp the piece I was trying to write. It’s obviously something I need to get out of my system. I keep alluding to this incident time and time again, so I think it’s time I got this off my chest.
I’m going back ten years now. I was a member of an association within the Liberal Democrats aimed at improving the use of information technology and the internet. A key committee member of this group was a problem. The person would respond to any perceived slight against people who lacked IT skills with a level of aggression that was totally inappropriate and out of proportion to what he was responding to. In addition he would be incredibly snide about technically skilled people, seemingly thinking clever people needed taking down a peg or two. I put up with it for a while, but the constant sniping got too much.
Firstly, I tried politeness. I sent a kind and friendly email, pointing out that he was being a bit over the top. I received an unexpected response, “Are you always this nasty”. Shocked that my tone had been so badly misinterpreted, I pointed out, that no, I wasn’t being nasty, I was trying to be helpful. More aggression. I called him publicly on the group mailing list over his behaviour. I was threatened with legal action for standing up to him!
I tried to address the problems directly by writing a philosophical article addressing people’s perspectives toward technology. This was met with public aggression and my conduct was falsely described as abusive.
So I wrote to the chairman of the group, expressing my concerns about the culture of aggression, and disrespect. And was ignored. Friends and acquaintances promised that the problematic behaviour that I was concerned about would be brought up at the next committee meeting. However I never found out if this happened or what action, if any, was taken. I tried to find if there was a complaints procedure for low-level bullying within the Liberal Democrats. There wasn’t.
By now I had a thing about low-level online bullying. I championed the case of a slightly autistic acquaintance who was being given a bad time on a private members forum. Again, the mods I messaged didn’t even acknowledge that I’d contacted them or reassure me that they were on the case.
Things have, thankfully, changed. The Liberal Democrats have introduced new codes of conduct. Not because of me, or anything I have written about here, I hasten to add, but because of more serious incidents of an altogether different nature that have come to light. While the seriousness and the nature of these incidents and complaints was far different to what I was dealing with, the new code of conduct is broad enough to define the sorts of things that I, and those I stood up for, as unacceptable. It also makes it clear that complaints and concerns like mine should not have been simply ignored.
Was the behaviour I stood up to that serious? No, not really. But even though the problem behaviour I experienced wasn’t a serious, it was a real and genuine problem, and I was right to stand up to it. While it was ultimately futile, and has remained with me for far too long, I remain proud of taking a stand.
I had intended this to be “getting the issue out of my system” and to an extent it has. This week I have refreshed my safeguarding training with the Scout Association, and was pleased to see their robust policies regarding bullying. It also confirmed that the behaviours I highlighted in the Lib Dems back in 2005 that went unacknowledged do constitute bullying, at least according to the definitions uses by the Scout Association.
I may come up with a less psuedy title if I can think of one.
Most of the people or organisations I am involved with are interested in people being nice to each other in some way. The Lib Dems believe in a society where we balance the values of liberty, equality and community, and where no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance and conformity.  Which basically boils down to lets all get along and be nice to one another and encourage people to improve and grow. The Scout Association believes in encouraging the physical, spiritual and mental development of young people , and the ways it does this is by encouraging them to help others, be aware of the world around them, and to understand other cultures. This seems to boil down to more or less the same thing.
Sometimes I wonder though, whether I’m reading my own values into the stated values of both organisations and imagining stuff that isn’t there. It is true to say that there are many in both who don’t fully subscribe to the values of the organisations they are members of. Some Lib Dems who are really socialists not liberals, or indeed join the party because it’s nicer than the others. Some Scout Leaders are just in it for the outdoor activities and look down at those who provide a broader programme at the expense of the summer expedition to Mount Everest. In Scouting I will sometimes see leaders with a severe right wing outlook and wonder how they get on with the whole “helping others” ethos behind the movement that takes up most of their free time. And I wonder if my own view of what the association stands for is filtered by my own values.
A notable deviation from the official line of the Scout Association’s message of inclusiveness is that it doesn’t quite stretch to atheists, although it includes just about everyone else. And given this I’m sure that Britain being Britain there are one or two Scout Leaders and Commissioners who are culturally Christian, but are really closet atheists. Indeed there are probably many members of the association who told the right kind of truth in the warrant interview.
Because of my beliefs I often find I’m the one pushing the global and environmental side of the Scout Programme to make sure they are adequately represented. This has been dismissed as “hippy cr*p” by some of the leaders I have worked with. Recently a quick review of the unit programmes locally showed that the programme our unit was running was a lot closer to the values and ideals of Scouting as promoted in the literature and training materials, than the programmes of the ambitious types in the district. And yet these ambitious types, with their unbalanced programmes, were the ones sneering at the quality of ours.
I tend to look on politics as service to community through other channels, and feel that gaining control of any public office is no good if you make no effort to help others through it. It does worry me to see people who lose focus on why they want to win in order to concentrate on winning. It jars with me when more extreme political types have bad things to say about Scouting when fundamentally it is trying to achieve similar ideals through different means. Yes, I can see that it’s fair that some have an image of Scouting as a white middle-class Christian club, even though that is not accurate. The truth is one in three members of the world Scout Movement is Muslim, and the representation in this country fares well when compared to the population as a whole. As a liberal I don’t believe there should be any law against having such prejudices, it’s what you do about them that really matters.
I often question whether I am confusing my sets of values when I hear an argument from a member of the movement beginning “I’m not racist, because…” or speak to Lib Dems who would rather take pictures of piles of litter to shame their opponents, than put on some gloves and clear it up.
It could be that for all the waffle the fundamental values of both organisations are quite generic Good Things that most people would subscribe to, and that many of us see more than is actually there. Both organistaions are in their own way a broad Church in which the members do their best to make the world a better place.
Oh hang it all I’ll just try and do the right thing.
 Preamble to the federal constitution
 Not a direct quote of POR
 The leader who said this is now a born again Christian. That’s probably not relevant.
There’s one niggling little detail of the punitive parking charges story I have a problem with. Green taxes- love them. You want big useless things- you pay for the privilege, no problem with that. There are ways of doing it though. Tiered road fund license- good idea so long as its not too disproportionate. Fuel duty, good idea also, can we get other countries not to set theirs so irresponsibly low though.
It’s right that people are penalized for driving needlessly large vehicles. My problem is the notion that the council are charging for residents to use something that’s already theirs. Bear with me I’ll explain. The council do not (usually) own the street outside your house. They are just managing it for you, and the management charge is part of your council tax. It’s perfectly fair that the additional administrative cost of a scheme to protect parking places for residents is passed on. But does it really cost more than a tenner to log a registration in a computer and issue a paper disk?
Got to hand it to David Cameron, he knows a good idea when he sees one.
Two recent examples are him following not so hot on the heels of the Lib Dem webcasts with Webcameron. Essentially Webcameron is the ideas we pioneerd only with added spin and fakery.
The other being taking on our green tax agenda, only perhaps a bit more luke warmly. Still luke warm, saving energy, good for the planet y’know.
I’m the sort of person who supports the lib dems because I think they want to run things the way they should be run. My main desire is to see the world becoming as good a place as possible, so it’s pleasing when others begin to “get it”. OK I have nagging doubts that the substance of Cameron matches the style, but praise where praise is due.
Which shows that I too can nick a good idea…
I missed this last night for various reasons, not least of which was the fact I hadn’t gone to Brighton for the conference. But on the today programme this morning I caught it, and an interview with Stephen Tall, the winner, and Iain Dale, an ex-bookseller from Norfolk who the BBC seem to think is something big in political blogging. Iain did make a good joke about Tom Watson though, so he can’t be that bad.
Strangely enough he seems to think I’m something in Lib Dem blogging as he’s ranked me 59th out of the top 100 Lib Dem bloggers, which given my recent lack of activity on the political front is both strange and flattering.
Yesterday I also missed the LDO AGM, which is a shame as I may have motivated me to stand for the exec, or at least speak at the meeting. However I probably would not have been able to do much to justify the position, given my commitments outside the party.
The Today programme, asking Hunter Davis what “4000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire” was about brought me back to the subject of general knowledge. It struck me as an odd question, for surely it is common knowledge that it was taken from a newspaper article, and anyone who doesn’t know, probably doesn’t care. Hunter skillfully turned this inane question into one about which particular newspaper article inspired the verse.
This reminded me of the weakest Link, in particular an edition when all the men had been voted off with 3 female contestants left. Before I get accused of sexism, I will say that was probably a coincidence. Anyway, they were asked several general knowledge questions, about song lyrics, TV shows and politics as I recall. After getting each one wrong, the contestants would roll their eyes as if to say “how do you expect me to know a stupid bit of trivia like that.” It seems knowing things has ceased to be something to be proud of. Or even expected. Heaven forefend that on a quiz programme your ability to remember facts is tested. It also reminded me of an episode of the Golden Girls, where Bea Arthur’s character failed a game show audition for being bright. I’ve heard this about UK game shows too, which is surely a sad indictment of human attitudes.
This also reminded me of a conversation I had with someone who was giving me a lift once, about the Reflecting Britain project. My chaufeuse (one of two people I would nominate for a diamond but for the fact neither is a member of the Lib Dems), opined that few women went into Engineering because few kids knew what it really was, and few women go into politics, because they don’t feel the need to be right. *
Anyway, I am firmly of the opinion that knowledge and intelligence is to be respected, certainly more than surgically enhanced looks or a forceful personality.
* I was writing an article about gender balance in Engineering and politics, but it’s trapped on the hard drive of my old PC.