Boycotting the World Cup & Alternative Ways to get your Beautiful Game Fix

The Men’s Football World Cup kicks off today in Qatar, starting one of the most controversial tournaments in history. As a football fan, the build-up to a major tournament is normally one of excitement, sweepstakes and pinning up a wall chart to follow the progress of the teams. The feeling this year is certainly very different.

Since the tournament was awarded to Qatar back in 2010, the issues that surround this World Cup have been well documented. This includes the death of migrant workers that have built the stadiums, Qatar’s human rights record against the LGBTQ+ community, the alleged corruption in how they won the bid and the environmental impact of the tournament.

Football currently is trying to promote itself as a game welcoming for all, but after a World Cup in Russia last time and now in Qatar, it certainly has not been a welcoming place for fans from the LGBTQ+ community. This has also led me to question more about my support from home.

I have to admit, last time when the tournament was in Russia, I did watch the tournament, but it was more of a welcome distraction following major heart surgery. This time, I will not be watching the tournament.

This does not mean that I am not praying that England does well in the tournament. The current England team have shown their commitment to a more inclusive world through their actions over the last few years. It is not their choice as to where the World Cup is held and it is unfair to punish them for decisions taken by the FIFA committee.

I have been thinking about how to get my football fix during the next few weeks. This is the perfect chance to head along to your local non-league, women’s or LGBTQ+ inclusive side to show your support for the game. Let’s strip away the money in football this winter and get back to the grassroots of football and remember why we love the beautiful game.

Bygone Family

Sometimes you don’t know what you have missed until it is no longer there. I have certainly felt that a bit recently, especially with regards to my Dad who passed away just over five years ago. I have started to develop a big regret about not listening to stories about the family and his childhood, and now it is too late to listen.

With this firmly in my mind, and after watching the recent episodes of the BBC series ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, I have decided to jump into looking into my family tree.

One thing my Dad did for me was to start a book on the family tree of the Peppers. Incredibly, there is a line back to my xx times great grandfather born in 1815. My Dad did this in the time before the internet and the websites like and co. It is astonishing to think that he was able to go back nearly 200 years as it then was without the aid of the net!

With a solid line established for my Dad’s paternal line, I have my Dad’s maternal line to look into and the Middleton family. You never know, there may be a connection between me and the Duchess of Cambridge! But joking aside, I am looking forward to researching this line of the family hailing from Nottingham and the lace trade (or so I am led to believe).

I also want to investigate my Mum’s family as I do not know much about the family other than my Nan. Again, it is another regret that I didn’t spend the time asking questions before. After some initial searches, I cannot get past my great grandmother on my Mum’s maternal line so that will be an interesting search to uncover.

One thing is for certain during my digging into my family trees, I am going to visit my family on both sides and find out as much as I can from those who might be able to help and fill me in on some of the stories from by-gone days.

I will post updates from my search here as I find things out.

My Speech to Conference on Europe

Here is a transcript of my speech to the Liberal Democrat 2020 Autumn Conference on the Europe motion debated on 27th September.

Good Evening Conference and hello from a chilly Lincolnshire

Some of you might have got to know Lincolnshire a little better during the 2016 Sleaford & North Hykeham by-election in which I had the pleasure to represent the party here in my home county.

 In the campaign, we were the only party fighting for our place in Europe. Labour plummeted into fourth place in that election due to their muddled message over Europe. Labour finishing behind us made the headlines that night, and we narrowly missed out on a second place to UKIP in one of the strongest Leave areas in the country.

 I was proud to be flying the flag for our party and Remain during that election.

But looking at the motion as it stands currently, it is a similar kind of fudge to that ambiguous Labour position.

Lines 47-50 would leave us in constant limbo and open to continuous questions as to what we will do and when is the right time. I mean – How long would we actually wait for the circumstances to be right?

It is a far cry for our clear and simple rallying call of Stop Brexit in 2019 European Elections which stood out and helped us to our best ever European election results.

Screenshot of my speech to the virtual conference (thanks to Leon Duveen for the image)

I despair that we are not brave enough to take the lead on Re-join and give hope to those who have had their lives turned upside down by the UK withdrawal. We know the impact it already has had on people’s lives and we know that is only going to get worse. We also know we are better together and better inside the European family.

We have never been shy in the past to take unpopular stances when it was the right thing to do.

 Whether it was Charles Kennedy’s stance against the Iraq invasion in the face of opposition from politicians, the press and public opinion. Despite the protests against the invasion, the majority were in favour – but Charles held firm.

 The party also has a long history of supporting LGBT+ Rights going back to the 1960s- long before it became a mainstream issue because it was the right thing to do.

 Conference, without amending this motion it seems to be responding to headline writers rather than seeing us do the right thing now.

 Europe is in our DNA as a party.

 I agree Europe is not the number one priority at this moment, but that does not mean we should turn our back on our principles to appease the right-wing press. Passing Amendment 1 does not mean we have to make it front and centre of our campaigns – it means we have it in our arsenal.

I urge you to support Re-join- vote for Amendment 1 and be ready to lead on this and to keep us as the true European party.

Thank you

Oh, I do like to be beside the virtual seaside

This weekend is vastly different from the one I was planning nine months ago. The annual pilgrimage to the Liberal Democrat Conference has been much shorter than the usual trek for me down to the south coast to the resorts of Brighton or Bournemouth.

After the planned Spring Conference in York was cancelled at the last minute in March just a few days before the country went into lockdown, I turned my focus to looking forward to the annual big seaside gathering which this year was to be held in Brighton.

With the effects of the pandemic continuing, it was announced that the Autumn Conference was also off. The Party said that alternatives were being looked at to allow a sort of conference to be held.

Brighton Pavillion - Brighton would have hosted Lib Dem Conference this Autumn
Brighton would have hosted the Lib Dem Autumn Conference this year

My colleagues within the Party managed to find the solution – going Virtual. This has allowed the Party to keep the most important part of a Liberal Democrat Conference up and running – making policy. The debates and voting can now be all done from our home offices, at kitchen tables or, if you prefer, still in bed! There is a kind of nosiness about seeing everyone in their own homes and seeing what speakers have on their bookshelves behind them (a bit like we have been doing with celebrities during interviews on the TV over the last six months!)

There is also a jam-packed training programme, which is especially great as we have so many new conference attendees this year which the conference being so accessible this year.

Despite being at home, the conference timings have still meant grabbing food at odd times, or late at night after the conference programme is over, although the benefit is the food is more healthy and cheaper (the same with the coffee prices!)

The one thing the virtual conference cannot replicate is the togetherness. I am missing seeing those friends who you only see at conference time and the late-night discussions on motions being discussed the next day. The buzz that you also normally get from so many like-minded people in one place is also missing. I have not yet tried the networking facility on the platform being used which has been likened to ‘speed-dating’ – where you get to talk to a fellow networking member at conference randomly for a short time.

The Lib Dem Conference Hall where the debates, voting and set-speeches are usually held

However, saying that, whether we must have a full virtual conference again in Spring is unknown, but it is so important that we have a sense of normality even if there is a modern twist on it.

I hope that when we can meet again at a conference venue, that an element of the virtual conference is continued, maybe a hybrid version like the House of Commons currently. This would allow those who are not able to access a traditional conference for whatever reason to attend, to vote on our policies and have a taste of the conference experience.

Conference to me has always been an important part of the year, and I have missed very few since my first conference back in Brighton in 2007. I look forward to the time when we can all be back together again as a big Lib Dem family, but until then, it is great to know that the usual Lib Dem quirks of conference with procedural motions and fringe events (minus the curly sandwiches and warm wine) continues – even if we are not together in person.

The Gay Footballer Dream

You might have heard about the twitter account which was set up by a footballer to pave the way for a breakthrough in English football that would likely give hope and encouragement to so many. When the account @Footballer Gay was set up, the individual behind it said they were a professional footballer playing in the English Football Championship. They were set in motion the process of publicly coming out, liaising with the manager and owner, to be the first professional player in the UK to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990. The date of the announcement had even been set – 24 July 2019.

As a gay man who loves football, the prospect of having an openly gay man playing in the English league filled me with hope and encouragement that things maybe, at last, changing in football, and what seems to be the last stronghold where homosexuality is not welcome might finally be breaking.

However, on the eve of the announcement, a post was put up saying “I thought I was stronger. I was wrong.” A more detailed tweet followed shortly after. The account was later closed.

Because of the sense of optimism, I had, I was following the account and check back for updates from the time I first discovered the account until its deletion. There were many who were supportive of this individual, some who thought it a hoax because of the way the announcement was being dragged out, and some were outright vile. There are also some details around saying that death threats had been made towards this individual.

During the time @FootballerGay was posting, another account claiming to be a Premier League footballer at Norwich City appeared, and was later confirmed a hoax, and since the closure of @FootballerGay’s account, several other accounts have appeared, one even naming a player.

Whether or not the original account was a hoax, and I for one am not making the judgement, it showed that there is still a homophobic element within both the fans and the country. It also confirms that social media has a dark underbelly. The faceless interaction where you can say something with the protection of relative anonymity and not have to be witness to the impact of your comments.

The question also needs to be looked at to see if football is ready for an openly gay or bi man to come out. With football being a worldwide sport, larger clubs might be keeping one eye on the commercial aspect and how it could impact on the club’s fortunes aboard. On the flip side, there could be a commercial gain to have an openly gay or bi man at the club that creates additional revenue streams. The worldwide aspect in larger clubs might also come into play with the broad range of nationalities that are in the dressing rooms, and how tensions may arise from cultural or religious beliefs between teammates on the issue of a gay player.

However, the biggest concern is still a small minority of fans. With there still a deep-rooted issue with racism, highlighted by the testimonies of players such as Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling, as well as being witnessed by TV cameras at away international matches, what sort of reaction would a gay or bi player get? Despite campaigns such as the Rainbow Laces campaign, homophobia is still present on the terraces, directed at players and fans.

The men’s game is in sharp contrast to the women’s game. At the recent 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, there were 41 out LGBT competitors, 5 of whom played for England.

The Anfield Kop lit up for Pride (photo from Pride in Liverpool Facebook)

However, I don’t want to be too negative as there are green shoots. As a Liverpool fan, I am incredibly proud that Liverpool FC was the first Premier League team to take part in a Pride march back in 2012. This weekend sees LFC’s CEO, club staff and families join Kop Outs, the LFC LGBT+ fan group, on the march. Anfield’s famous Kop is also being bathed in rainbow colours each night this week in the lead up to Pride. Clubs are engaging more with their LGBT+ fans, with Kop Outs being just one example of LGBT+ supporter groups through the English League.

My hope is that lessons are learnt from this, from clubs, teammates, managers, clubs and most important gay and bi players. I really hope that what has happened will help the process to give young lads who are growing up questioning who they are another role model to look up to. As a football fan, I would love to see an openly gay or bi man play for either of my teams or even against them – and I would still be cheering if they score! If this episode has delayed that for any reason, then the quest goes on for the Gay Footballer dream.

Trying to look on the bright side of life

Today must be one of the darkest days I have personally felt in my political career. Only the morning after the 2016 referendum result and the day following the 2015 General Election have left me feeling much lower. However, there may be a glint of something on the horizon that is driving me forward despite this fear.

The prospect of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (to give him his full name) becoming the 77th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom tomorrow fills me with complete dread. My biggest concern is his main ‘do or die’ policy on leaving the EU on October 31st come what may. Anyone prepared to play fast and loose with the economy, and in turn, people’s livelihoods, has no business entering Number 10.

Now people may say that I am a doom-mongering for believing that the economy will crash if we leave the EU with or without a deal. I do tend to prefer listening to the experts who have a far great grasp on economics than I do, and with the majority predicting such an event, then I will continue to say that staying in the EU is best for the economy.

As a Liberal Democrat, I have always believed in international co-operation, and that is why I am proud that my party took on the mantle to be the voice to Remain. The day after the vote in 2016, the speech by the then leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, called on the party to become the beacon of remain. This speech made me realise the fight was not over:

“Young people voted to remain by a considerable margin but were outvoted. They were voting for their future, yet it has been taken from them.

Even though the result was close, there is no doubt that the majority of British people want us to leave.

Our fight for an open, optimistic, hopeful, diverse and tolerant Britain is needed now more than ever.

Together we can still make the case for Britain’s future with Europe, as millions of people voted for it. Together we cannot afford to let that vision to die.”

(extract from Tim Farron’s speech on 24th June 2016)

Similarly in back in 2015, following the night when I was at my first count as a Parliamentary candidate in Lincoln and saw many of the inspirational colleagues that I looked up to losing their seats as MPs, through the darkness of the events unravelling there were chinks of light. The first was the fantastic team I had around me at the count. Most were in their first General Election, and they were young and committed liberals who were ready to begin the fightback. The energy they had to right the wrong of the night got me through.

The next part of the 2015 story happened up and down the country. The resignation speech of Nick Clegg began the tidal wave of new members. This influx, combined with the strength of the team from election night felt like I was plugged back in the mains electric supply.

The new Lib Dem leader, Jo Swinson, with former leader, Sir Vince Cable

As for what is the glint keeping me from complete and utter despair, that is Jo Swinson. I have long admired Jo as a politician and her commitment to fighting injustice. Her speech that she gave on becoming leader gave me the drive I need to help her and the party I love to succeed. You can read or listen to Jo’s speech in full at Lib Dem Voice here. (For those of you who are looking to listen/watch it move the video to 28 minutes in for the start of the coverage of the results or 34 minutes in for the start of the speech itself)

So yes, I may be glum and annoyed at the self-obsessed, blithering fool that is Boris is now hours away from becoming Prime Minister, but there is a leader who has my full support to ensure that Britain has a true alternative to the self-righteous and nationalist approach of Johnson and Farage, and the party that is led by man is so ineffective he cannot decide what his view is on the most important issue of the day. Thank you, Jo, for being a beacon of hope, decency and inspiration in this darkening world and I am on this fight with you for a better Britain and to stop Brexit!

Affairs of my Heart

Someone said writing down your feelings and thoughts can help – so here we are – one month on.

I never thought that a month ago today, my life would change in the way it did. It was completely out of the blue and unexpected. From a moment of celebration came a wake-up call that will live with me forever.

One of my closest friend’s hen party took place on Saturday 21st April. The warm spring weather was the perfect day for the celebrations, although maybe not to be in a kitchen in a cookery class baking gingerbread and icing a cake for the groom. This was followed by a lovely meal and a couple of cocktails in the evening sunshine. It was perfect way to enjoy the upcoming nuptials.

However, the next day was not so rosy. I felt achy and very tired. All my joints were sore, and I had back pain and a slight ache in my chest. I thought that because I had not had a drink at all since the New Year, I was feeling the affects of the cocktails more than normal. So, I proceeded to flush out the alcohol with as much water as possible. I also noticed that I had been bit by a couple of insects that night, and thought that they were reacting to the alcohol, so continued to flush out my system with water.

By the early hours of Monday, I was still feeling unwell and decided to phone 111 to ask some advice. They said I should go to A&E, so with dawn only just breaking, I was on my way to Lincoln County A&E in a taxi.

After some tests, I was just waiting for the results of an x-ray, but they were confident that I could go once they had seen the x-ray. However, things on the x-ray were not as they should be, and the consultant said they wanted to do a CT scan of my heart as they thought it was enlarged.

Mild panic set in for me. The CT was completed, and I awaited the results. The consultant called me back through, this time not to the room as before, but to the area where the cubicles were, past those and into Resus – more panic was setting in. I was told by the consultant that the was an issue with my heart and they had spoken to the specialist centre at Nottingham City Hospital, and that I was to be transferred there immediately and have an operation.  

At this point, my brain kind of shut down at taking anymore information in. From feeling fine a couple of days before to a small amount of discomfort, I was now looking at surgery.

The ambulance arrived, and after a very uncomfortable journey on the stretcher travelling between the hospitals, I was greeted by a full team at Nottingham City Hospital, who were in a sense ready to take me straight down to surgery if needed.

Luckily, my condition was very stable, so the consultant, Mr Ian Mitchell, was able to explain the situation to me. My aorta was enlarged and, in essence, was a balloon ready to burst. That could happen at any point, in 5 minutes or 5 years. Not having the surgery was not an option – but what type of replacement aortic valve they used was up for discussion. The pig valve meant I could live a normal life but have it replaced again in 8-12 years (and then again in another 8-12 years after that and so on) or go on blood thinning medication for my lifetime and take a mechanical valve.

I didn’t really fancy having to face another operation in another decade, so the mechanical valve sounded the best fit at my age. The downside apart from the medication was the mechanical valve ticks – so I am like the human version of the crocodile in Peter Pan!

The day of the operation came around – less than two days after I was admitted. After 6.5 hours in theatre, I was back in ICU and ready for recovery (or at least that what I have been told!).

Since that Wednesday back in April, I have been recovering from the operation that not only saved my life, but gave me a future too. There is a long road to recovery from the surgery that I had. It is not easy when the surgeon breaks your breastbone to open your chest – there is a lot of repairing to be done.

I know that I was absent from the local election count because of this, and that I am taking time off from my Lib Dem and my Parish Councillor commitments for a time until I am strong enough to return – but I will never stop being there when people need me. If I can help, I will do. If I cannot, I will find a colleague who can.

Thank you to my fantastic boss and colleagues for their support and also to all my family and friends, thank you for your amazing support too!

Without having the heart condition spotted at Lincoln, I do not know how long I would have been around. Sometimes the strangest things happen, this time for me it was love – the love that unites two people in wedlock. A hen-do might have just saved my life.

Mental Health Matters

Last Thursday saw ‘Time to Talk Day’, a day where we were encouraged to spend 5 minutes talking about mental health. It also saw the story emerge that ex-footballer Clarke Carlisle’s attempted suicide in December was a result of his mental health issues.
With one in four people suffering from mental health issues at some point in their lives, it is something that will touch many of us personally through our family, or our own mental health. Yet despite its prevalence, it is a subject too many people are hesitant to discuss.

With mental health issues affecting so many, until recently there has been a gap in funding for mental health in the NHS. John Lucas, from the charity Mind, sums it up perfectly: “Why does the NHS pull out all the stops to stop me dying of physical health problems, but does not care if I die of mental health problems?”

Therefore I was pleased to hear that Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health minister, made a commitment last October that mental health will have additional funding to ensure it will receive an equal footing as physical health by 2020. For the first time, waiting times for mental health treatments are being introduced in April this year. To put this into context, patients needing talking therapies for conditions like depression will mostly be seen within 6 weeks and have to wait no longer than 18 weeks for treatment, and those patients who have experienced their first episode of psychosis will be seen within 2 weeks.

By putting mental health on an equal footing as physical health, it is also hoped that the stigma of talking about mental health will be removed. If you knew someone who had just had an operation, none of us would think twice about asking how they were. But people feel nervous about talking about mental health. Sometimes just doing the little things, like asking someone how they are, is all it takes to let someone know you’re still thinking about them and make a big difference to how they’re feeling.

‘Time to Change’ is a organisation, made up of the Department for Health, Mind and Comic Relief, that is informing people about mental health and asking people to talk more about mental health. The website offers everyone the chance to pledge to end the stigma of mental health. So far nearly 80,000 people have signed up to this aim. I would urge everyone to visit their website, find about more about the affects of mental health on people’s lives and to sign up to this pledge to help end this stigma.
Article for my Lincolnite column – posted by The Lincolnite 10th February

The reasons why I am a Liberal Democrat

Standing for Parliament is similar to a job interview. The only thing different is that instead of a panel of three or four people watching how you perform and interact, this has nearly 73,000 people watching how you do. Also, with just less than 100 days to go until the election, it is a very long interview.

My own political views were shaped during my teens with the backdrop of Tony Blair’s government and the Iraq invasion in 2003. The Liberal Democrats’ stance against the Iraq war led me to join the party during Freshers’ Fair when I started Lincoln University, but it was not the only thing that attracted me to the party.

One of the principles the Lib Dems were founded on is that no-on shall be “enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.

For me this is the most important aspect of being a Lib Dem – allowing someone to achieve their full potential no matter what their background.

I have not had a privileged up-bringing but my parents believed in helping me to reach the goals I aspired to. My Dad worked as a carpenter in the building trade and my Mum has worked both as a dinner lady and in retail. They worked hard and I never could ask for anything more they have done for me.  I studied hard and, with the help of my parents and the staff at my old school of St Peter & St Paul’s, got good grades and became the first in my family to go to University.

I now want to help others reach their goals, dreams and ambitions; that is why I am a Liberal Democrat.

The other core principles the Lib Dems were built on are the “fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”.

The Lib Dems, and the Liberals before, have been at the forefront of issues such as human rights, the environment, devolution, social justice and many more, long before they have been taken seriously by the other main parties, often being ridiculed by them for raising these issues that affect so many people’s lives. It never stopped us and our resolve grew stronger.

Personally, the Lib Dems long history in supporting LGBT rights is another key element for me. As someone who has experienced homophobia and had friends attacked for being themselves shows that there is still a long way to go in the journey. Equal Marriage was a fantastic step by the coalition, but there is lots still to do especially we need to look at the way in which LGBT asylum seekers are treated.

Looking back over the last five years of coalition, I am proud that the Liberal Democrats have been able to implement policies that follow these principles – the increased numbers of apprenticeships and the Pupil Premium to help children from the poorest backgrounds, to scrapping ID cards and ending child detention, and giving an £800 tax cut to millions of workers.

If you believe in a society in which people have the freedom to be themselves and live without fear, a country which keeps its citizens’ privacy and human rights, a promise to preserve our planet for generations to come and a nation that helps an supports everyone from whatever background to achieve their potential in life then you are also a Liberal Democrat.

Article for my Lincolnite column – posted by The Lincolnite 28th January

The Importance of Pride

With Lincoln hosting its Pride festival for the LGBT community this last weekend, it is important to remember why the LGBT community still holds these events, not only up and down the country, but across the world.

Although LGBT rights have come a long way since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 across England and Wales; such as the end of Section 28, Civil Partnership and now Equal Marriage, adoption rights for LGBT couples, being openly gay in the British forces and an the right to legally change your gender; there are still some areas that need to be tackled.

Lincoln Pride flag in 2009
Lincoln Pride in 2009

The LGBT community still faces opposition and discrimination in many forms. It was reported by The Lincolnite last week that many homes within the city received a leaflet through their door condemning homosexuality. This comes after similar events in Leicester and Brighton. I respect people’s right to have an opinion and to express it; however the leaflets residents received pushed the bounds of decency and locals never requested to receive such opinions through their letterboxes. It has caused offence to many members of the community whether they are gay or straight and I am pleased the police are taking this matter seriously.

There are also still large numbers of incidents of members of the LGBT community who are attacked simply for being who they are. In 2011/2012, the UK saw over 4,000 incidents of ‘gay bashing’ with some police forces showing a rise of up to 40%. A survey, published in 2013, showed that a quarter of gay people had been attacked at some point in their lives across the European Union.

Lib Dems marching at Brighton Pride in 2010
LGBT+ Lib Dems at Brighton Pride in 2010

We need to head abroad for the biggest challenges in the fight for LGBT rights. Across the world, 81 countries still have laws that make homosexuality illegal; from Algeria through Egypt and Morocco to Zimbabwe in Africa, Afghanistan and India to Singapore and Yemen in Asia and the Middle East, Barbados to Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean. But 38 of these countries have laws that make homosexuality punishable by death. I find the possibility of someone being punished by death for being gay intolerable.

We have also seen an anti-gay propaganda law in Russia passed by President Putin which has led to a number of attacks and arrests through the country on members of the LGBT community.

London Pride March 2010
London Pride March in 2010

I am pleased to see that that Lincoln Pride is continuing to grow from strength to strength over the last couple of years. The LGBT community is part of a diverse and growing city, and I am happy that so many people supported the event, even though I could not make the event myself. The comments from The Lincolnite‘s coverage of Lincoln Pride also show that many people still do not understand the true meaning of why Pride takes place. More education should take place in our schools as to equality and diversity to help people understand the need for such an event.

We do need to remember that many of the LGBT community across the global are not so lucky. By the LGBT coming together to celebrate, it gives us time to reflect that this country, despite coming a long way since the 1960s, we have a long way to go before true equality here and a duty to help other LGBT communities across the world.