"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."
We all know about the recent 'Real Women' campaign that lays down clearly policies that will help achieve greater equality between men and women. There are important policies that will attempt to tackle the gender pay gap, which is an engrained inequality in society and shows how little progress has been made since the 1970 Equal Pay Act. Ideas for promoting equality in terms of image ideals, where men are never really pressured to the extent women are around what they should look like, what they should wear form a key part of the policy document. There are no real expectations for men formed by the media and industries (e.g pornography), as there are for women. Furthermore, the childcare polices such as providing paternity/maternity leave equality, also helps tackle the unequal divisions there are for men and women. This shows how even an inequality for men, aka paternity leave, is an inequality for women, as women are the most likely to sacrifice a career to look after the kids due to societal pressures and the like.
This shows how the Liberal Democrat's ideas for tackling the divisions amongst women and men are about promoting equality. However, we have to consider the practical implications. Something that has turned into a bit of a controversy of late, is my dislike in Lembit Opik and the way he talks about women. This is a key example of how even though in principle we stand for better rights and more equality for women, in practice, what people such as Opik do is undermine this claim, and make us out to be like everyone else. How can we be seen as promoting equality for women with Opik writing degrading comments about women in a degrading newspaper towards women?
This is something we have promoted as a cornerstone of our equality vision, but again a key example of the dis-juncture within our party's goals and actions. A key policy example within this umbrella framework would be that of tuition fees. This is something that as a party we have rightly used to show how we promote equality in education for the mass not the few. However, our recent apparent downgrading of tuition fees to being mere 'ambitions' by the leadership seems to have shown how we are not always true to this goal in practice. There is little point in having pupil premiums helping disadvantaged kids at school, if they are just going to end up with a massive lump of debt when they are older anyway. How is that promoting equality? We need to make sure that central policies such as that are maintained to make sure that our equality vision is not lost from the public's consciousness.
I have addressed our failure of maintaining principles of equality in terms of the environment before, with Trident. I find it slightly odd that as the environment is seen as a central plank in our vision of a better and more equal future, that we have failed to capitalise on the economic crisis in the sense of promoting our green vision with a great deal of momentum. We have failed to advocate our underlying view that Trident is wrong morally, for example. It is wrong to think that Trident would help us achieve our goal of an equal society. Simply focusing on the economic reasons for and against the scheme as we have done has failed to allow us get across our message of equality. Instead, we have fallen back on the green debate. This shows that our goal and one that many hope to achieve in politics that of equality between economic and environmental growth is not being met in practice. I wrote a blog post recently addressing how the whole political spectrum have failed to really get to grips on this vision of economic and environmental growth, and that commission after commission is failing to mobilise our political elite into doing anything to tackle the true scale of environmental problems.
Whilst I do believe we are the party with the strongest claim to equality, we are not without faults. There needs to be more concentration on the implementation of our equality vision, to narrow the gap between principles and practice.