David Cameron doggedly pursues his “big society”

The crowd at the Conservative party conference still seems unsure of the leader’s message.

David Cameron has just delivered his first speech to the Conservative conference as Prime Minister and the response in the conference centre has been muted.

Despite the excited buzz that preceded his speech -- with the main hall full to capacity over an hour before it began -- it seems that Cameron's central message is still failing to capture the excitement of his own party fully (and certainly not that of the country at large).

In many ways, this was a good speech, effectively delivered. It was essentially Cameron's attempt to frame the mission of his government: refiguring the relationship between individual and state; transferring power to the local level.

It's easy to be dismissive of the "big society" idea but there's no questioning Cameron's dedication to it. Even though it did not fare well during the election campaign (despite being launched to great aplomb) and many in the party believe that it should be dropped in the face of voter incomprehension, the Prime Minister has doggedly persisted in trying to explain what his vision means. Phrases such as "the big society spirit blasting through" will do little to clarify the meaning to the general public, however.

"Your country needs you," Cameron declared, channelling Kitchener. But this was a strange leader's speech: Cameron soon switched his message to that of Marvin Gaye -- "it takes two", government and public, to make his vision happen. At times, he sounded as if he was pleading with the country for acceptance and help. During the final section of the long address, when he turned his attention to this message of localism and "bottom-up, not top-down" change, the previously excited crowd seemed strangely muted, perhaps bemused.

In the conference hall, the most jubilant cheers were reserved for the Labour-bashing (at one point delivered in a staccato rap that is crying out for a YouTube remix), criticism of the EU and the revelation that Margaret Thatcher will celebrate her 85th birthday at No 10.

This was a sincere address but the "big society" message still hasn't caught the imagination of the party. You must wonder, then, how exactly the Prime Minister plans to convince the rest of the country of the need for self-reliance, particularly as spending cuts begin to hit.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Changing the Gender Recognition Act won't solve discrimination

There is an urgent need to re-establish the status quo, ensuring that transsexual people can be correctly identified and their rights supported and reinforced. 

The Government's recent announcement of a review to the current Gender Recognition Act - the right to legally change gender - has been given the full support of the the leader of the Labour Party with his proclamation that to comply with the act requires "invasive" medical treatment.

Like many people, Jeremy Corbyn has not read the 2004 Act nor understands its consequences, or the reason for its existence, particularly in relation to discrimination, which in essence the 2004 Gender Recognition Act does very little if nothing to fight. To clarify, there is absolutely no need whatsoever for any surgery or treatment, as some people are not fit nor able to undergo any form of medical intervention.

When we come to discrimination there is a blatant failure by organisations to educate their workforce about the rights of transsexual people. This is made worse by the perpetual use of the word "transgender" - originally a derogatory American slang word, which fails to differentiate between individuals who wear clothes of the opposite gender for whatever reason and those who genuinely feel they were born in the wrong bodies.

Close examination of any discrimination legislation reveals the only word used to describe people born in the wrong body, that is, "transsexual". So widespread is the use of the word transgender by the media, including the BBC, that the public, as well as parliament, insists on using it. Yet "transgender" is not in legislation for a very good reason. Transgender has no legal definition, even being used to describe people who are not transsexual but transvestite (people who wear the clothes of the opposite gender).

There is an urgent need to re-establish the status quo, ensuring that transsexual people can be correctly identified and their rights supported and reinforced. The public is confused, parliament is confused, the media is confused. All of them assign rights that belong specifically to a small minority of people, widely persecuted and discriminated against, to people who have no specific right to protection and do not suffer the same levels and degrees of discrimination a transsexual person does.This adds to the woes of a very small group whose voice is hardly heard, if it is listened to at all, instead being drowned out by cross-dressers, transvestites, drag kings and queens, gender queer and non-binary people and a plethora of others claiming all sorts of gender difference, which are difficult if not next to impossible to define.

The publication by the BBC of details of pay to the men and women it employs has highlighted a difference in our society that should not exist but does. The vote to leave the EU has also brought about a meteoric rise in racism, which everyone thought had been dealt with by legislation. It has not. Clear legislation needs to be reinforced by action. These are two examples where legislation has failed and has detrimental consequences for individuals.  The issue is no different for transsexual people; the law needs to be followed by actions.

The key mover in changing our society to accept difference is education, yet governments consistently fail to ensure either that a compulsory policy of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) is implemented. Discrimination at all levels is allowed to continue. Ofsted staff have no clear understanding of the nine protected characteristics in the 2010 Equality Act; like many organisations they confuse "gender" with "gender re-assignment" by omitting the latter entirely. In Wales the compulsory policy is not implemented because the Welsh Government is too afraid of parents' reaction to compulsory SRE.

If the Labour party and the governments in the UK want to effectively help transsexual people then they need to speak to those people directly, not organistions claiming to represent all and sundry about the issues transsexual people face in society. Politicians should also stop tinkering with something which successive governments are not effectively policing and supporting in the first place.

The writer is a transsexual woman living in Wales. A pseudonym has been used.