Inverdale comments insulting? Yes. But it’s Sharapova who should be more offended

So a lot has been said about John Inverdale’s comments on Marion Bartoli after winning Wimbledon at the weekend. Inverdale’s comment was as follows:

“I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, “listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a (Maria) Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5ft 11in, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that.”

While people should be rightly upset that Inverdale is making disparaging comments about Bartoli’s appearance, the person who has really been maligned in this comment is Maria Sharapova. The insinuation is that Sharapova’s success has not come through the same level of hard work that Bartoli has had to put in. It takes no account that Sharapova left her homeland with her father at the age of 8 to move to America to train professionally, or the years of solid graft that led her to winning all four of the major Grand Slam events, or rise to World Number 1 or to 3rd on the all-time prize money list.

Sure, her looks and long legs may well have helped her make more from sponsorship deals, but just like Bartoli, the Williams sisters, Federer, Murray, Djokovic or Nadal, I sincerely doubt this was her goal growing up. Winning was, regardless of the immense sacrifices needed to do so.

And, by contrast, look at the career of Anna Kournikova, blessed with the same looks but not the same drive, focus or ability as Sharapova, and you see the difference. However good a sports star looks, it’s their passion, determination and ability which make them champions, and nothing else.

Anti-community attack needs community response

So the Islamic Centre in Muswell Hill that was burned down last night is about 3 roads away from my house. It’s one of the loveliest areas in London, and you can hardly imagine that it’s an area of deep intolerance and conflict.

It would be great if the local community can gather round and find a community venue for the Muslims to use, until their own centre is rebuilt. That would really show those responsible what the values of tolerance, friendship and citizenship are all about.

Oppose my views? Fine, but don’t take it out on my family

So I wasn’t going to write about this, but in light of some of the things which have been said today around politics and the invasion into the privacy of politicians’ families, I thought I would bring it up and highlight that it permeates all levels of politics, right to the grass roots.

A few weeks ago, I got my first piece of hate mail, which I can only assume was as a cause of me being publicly very supportive of equal marriage. It was anonymous (typed on a typewriter – how archaic!) and put through my mother’s door addressed directly to her accusing me of being in a relationship with a well known local gay politician. It read:

“Congratulations to Glyn and [politician] on their ‘relationship’.”

So, firstly, to correct a couple of fun inaccuracies…

1) Er, I’m not gay
I can only assume the letter is worded as it is because the author thinks I must be gay if I support equal marriage. Er, no. I don’t support equal marriage out of self interest, I support it because it’s right. Although actually there is some self interest here, because marriage as it currently stands is devalued for me as my gay friends are prohibited from entering into an institution to which I am able. I do not wish to join a group to which my friends, peers and betters do not have the same access.

(Incidentally, I’m single because of sheer incompetence (lack of confidence?) with women. If I were gay, I’d be equally incompetent with men)

2) The insinuation that I might be gay doesn’t offend me
Because, seriously, what’s there to be offended about?

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Rugby Union clubs and their MPs

Yesterday Richard Morris pointed out on Twitter that only two Conservative MPs have a Premier League football team in their constituency. I had a few minutes spare so I thought I’d check out Rugby Union’s Aviva Premiership. Not quite the same result there:

Total scores are (out of 12 clubs): Conservatives 8, Lib Dems 2, Labour 2.

Here’s the detailed list below:

Bath: Lib Dem (Bath – Don Foster)
Exeter Chiefs: Conservative (East Devon – Hugo Swire)
Gloucester: Conservative (Gloucester – Richard Graham)
Harlequins: Lib Dem (Twickenham – Vince Cable)
Leicester Tigers: Labour (Leicester South – Jon Ashworth)
London irish: Conservative (Reading West – Alok Sharma)
London Wasps: Conservative (Wycombe – Steven Baker)
London Welsh: Conservative: (Richmond Park – Zac Goldsmith)
Northampton Saints: Conservative: (Northampton South – Brian Binley)
Sale Sharks: Labour (Wythenshawe and Sale East – Paul Goggins)
Saracens: Conservative (Watford – Richard Harrington)
Worcester Warriors: Conservative (Worcester – Robin Walker)

It should be noted that this is the location of their ground, and may not represent their fanbase. For instance, Exeter Chiefs’ ground is just in the Tory East Devon constituency, but its fanbase would be Exeter, which would be Labour.

Lib Dem Autumn Conference: Day 5

So, the final day of Autumn Conference this year. The final day is largely taken up by the party awards and the leader’s speech. In a funny twist I found myself sitting in the front row on the stage behind Nick Clegg for his speech (I’m writing this on the train home, so have yet to find myself on the TV)!

Leader’s Speech

I thought Nick did well. It was clearly a speech aimed at the viewing public rather than those sitting in the auditorium, but then Conference speeches always are. Really, it’s the classic case of “it’s the economy, stupid!”. It will of course be the key issue of the next General Election. But it was of good to see him point to green policies as an essential part of Lib Dem involvement in Government, and key to creating growth .

You do get a very different perspective of the speech from being behind and very close. When Clegg finished and went for the usual handshake with key Ministers, the mass of photographers was incredible, both in numbers and sheer aggression; almost trampling each other to get in the right place for the shot.

Elsewhere

Earlier in the day, the Lib Dems passed three motions. The first, ‘Addressing Underprovision in Mental Health’, built on excellent work by now former Care Services Minister Paul Burstow, and was passed unanimously by the hall.

The second, an emergency motion (where members get to choose two from a list of four topical motions to be debated), saw members overwhelmingly vote in favour of calling on the Government to scrap Conservative plans to unnecessarily loosen planning laws.

This motion was brought by the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) and is a good example of how members or groups within the party can bring their own motions to challenge a leadership decision (or in this case Coalition partner’s) if they feel it incorrect. This also happened on Tuesday with the Secret Courts motion.

Thirdly, the members approved a new housing policy, drawn up by the policy working group over the last year, which called for, amongst other things, a house building programme to build 300,000 houses a year, give local authorities more powers to target rogue landlords, and promote longer tenancies to give renters more security.

Three very worthwhile motions, and three areas where Liberal ideals on localism and equality of opportunity can take a lead, although it was rightly pointed out that good work on mental health provision started under the last Government.

Back to work

So back to office work now, helping local constituents with personal problems. It’s satisfying and worthwhile work, but also good to approach it with the renewed wave of optimism and motivation which Conference always brings.

Lib Dem Autumn Conference, Day 4 – secret courts and civil liberties

Day 4 was possibly the most interesting day yet.

Secret Courts
I’m sure, if you’re reading this, that you’ll have also read that the Lib Dem members battled the leadership by supporting a motion calling for proposals for secret courts in the Justice & Security Bill to be dropped. I fully agreed with this motion and voted with it on the hall, and against the amendment put by Parliamentarians.

But the portrayal of the debate as members versus MPs is not wholly accurate. In fact, supporting the motion were Lord Paul Strasburger, who voted against the Bill in the House of Lords, and Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, both spoke in favour of the motion, reaffirming the liberal value of fair justice and wider civil liberties which for many is a key reason for their membership of the party. Sarah Ludford, in particular, called this an issue we should die in the ditch for.

Shami Chakrabarti
Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, who have been spearheading the campaign against secret courts, had apparently asked the Conference organisers if she could address the Conference before the vote, which was refused. This has been reported as ‘Lib Dems block Chakrabarti’, in a way which suggests leadership suppressing opposition. This isn’t the case.

I am a proud member of Liberty and a big fan of Chakrabarti, as are many people within the party. But she is not a Liberal Democrat party member, and our policy is created, debated and voted on by members of the party. She had not been denied a right to address members at all – I had seen her four hours before in a well-attended fringe event, her second of the Conference. All members have had a chance to listen to her. Liberty were also handing out leaflets throughout the Conference highlighting their viewpoint and advising delegates how to vote in the debate.

Shami was absolutely within her right to ask, but I think it was correct that she was able to speak in the motion.

I will write another time about civil liberties issues and their effect on future coalitions. Right now, I am about to go into a motion and vote on a new Liberal Democrat housing policy (PDF). The motion itself is on page 55 of the Agenda, with an amendment in the daily update here.

Lib Dem Autumn Conference, Day 3

Excellent day 3 at Lib Dem Conference. The day started with the Lib Dems adopting a policy pushing for greater funding into scientific research, unanimously backed by the entire conference (actually, in fairness, I think one person voted against). After that, another policy motion passed promoting mutuals and employee ownership . A very liberal sart to the morning – reaffirming our beliefs in evidence-based policy and greater employee participation in the running, and success of, their companies.

Fringe-wise, I went to two interesting fringes. The first was with Paddy Ashdown, discussing the relationship between the party and the voters, digging a bit deeper into opinion polls and people’s attitudes. The second, on a similar theme, focused on the US elections, led by Robert Worcester, the founder of MORI. The insight he provided into American polling data and the differences of depth between people’s opinions, attitudes and values as fascinating.

Afterwards, South West region drinks, getting to listen to some of our local Ministers – Pensions Minister Steve Webb and David Heath, our first Agriculture Minister since 1915, as well as Party President and former leader PAddy Ashdown.

Then an hour and a half long conversation with a stranger on regional action days which I won’t go into here.

Today (Tuesday) kicking off for me with a policy motion on the rehabilitation revolution, looking at restorative justice, and some other things I haven’t quite timetabled in yet.

Back later!