Arguments best left for down the pub not conference…

I was very frustrated not to get called in the Conference debate on Transport today; my speech, which I've published below, was a good few hours of effort, not to mention the effort putting into looking presentable for the conference goers. I even put my contact lenses in!

I was arguing in favour of the WLD amendment to take into account the experiences of women and vulnerable people when creating transport policy. Two people spoke against the amendment but only the mover and summator got to speak for.

It was pretty frustrating, as the vote was close enough for the show of hands to be made twice, so it missed getting passed . I am disappointed not to have been called but otherwise the debate was reasonably well balanced.

I suspect that I was just one too many female Londoners who wanted to speak and I was neither elected to the London Assembly, nor was it my first time, like some others. Still, given the closeness of the vote I can't help feeling that just one argument from the floor in favour of the amendment might have been enough to get it passed.

This was the amendment:

d) Improving the safety of local transport for women and vulnerable individuals by requiring all

Local Transport Authorities and local councils with responsibility for transport services to:

i) Undertake an audit of public spaces and transport networks with a view to designing

and modifying them with the safety of women and vulnerable individuals specifically in


ii) Ensure the availability of emergency telephones at transport stations and stops.

iii) Review the position and design of bus stops to ensure they are visible and well lit.

iv) Pilot schemes which allow women and vulnerable individuals off the bus between stops

at night.

And this was my speech in support of the motion:

The motion says that the Liberal Democrats are the champions of the passenger.

It also says that freedom should be one of the guiding principles of our transport policy.

That we should try to minimise danger to public safety.

I agree with all of that.

But this motion does not explain how we would make people safer.

And it does not recognise how men and women have different experiences of using transport services.

The champions of the passenger?

The Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds has found that women and men travel by different means, at different times, to different patterns of locations over different distances, with different people, for different purposes and journeys take on different meanings.

Women are slightly more likely than men to travel by public transport, especially to work, and they use buses more than men.

It also found that these differences in travel are not addressed systematically by current transport policy and provision.

I fear this motion as drafted falls into the same trap.

Professor Julian Hine has found that women are one of the most transport disadvantaged groups in the UK.

That 's especially women with children, Lone parents, older women, who use buses more, and women in public sector housing.

Younger and older women experience exclusion as a result of poor public transport .

And what about freedom?

Women perceive they are at risk of personal danger.

That fear can curtail our freedom.

Women are more likely than men to have worries about their own safety on buses, trains and trams.

The Fawcett Society has found that around four in ten women have some fears when using public transport.

Personal safety is a key concern amongst the types of women I talked about before.

They fear walking in the dark.

They avoid making trips.

They fear using bus and train stations at off-peak periods.

Other people have fears on behalf of women too.

I wonder how many times women in this hall have been told that it is 'common sense' or 'for their own good 'not to go out late at night or take a particular way home?

I know that's happened to me. And more than once.

A few months ago, Labour's home secretary Jacqui Smith said that that walking on streets at night wasn't "a thing that people do"

As liberals we cannot stand for any of that.

Why should we curtail our freedoms to accommodate those who indulge in criminal or anti social behaviour?

Why should we be invisible in society, just because transport links and infrastructure have not been planned with people in mind?

I support the measures set out in Amendment Two

An audit of public spaces and transport networks or reviewing the position and design of bus stops are key to making sure that our transport policies champion all passengers and protect all citizens from personal danger.

But the most irritating aspect was the argument from a young woman from the Wirral (or at least I think it was the Wirral), whose name I can't remember (which is very rude of me but I was more interested in what she was saying). She spoke well and with passion but she was completely wrong headed in everything she said – the Lib Dems are clearly a very 'broad church' if both she and I are in the same organisation. When the conference website publishes that she spoke I will tell you her name but they haven't yet.

She used to devastating effect the two frames that the amendment was bureaucratic and discriminatory.

She first of all made the argument that undertaking audits of public spaces and transport interchanges to see if there were improvements that could be made would be overly bureaucratic and expensive. She's wrong in fact but also wrong in principle. Because something is hard is not a reason to do it…providing for minority, under represented and vulnerable groups is often hard. If it were easy, it would probably already been done but it is not a good enough reason to not to bother.

Then she went on to make what she called an ideological argument, which is fine if you base your ideology on the sort of conversation that is more suitable to be had in the pub than a conference debating hall.

Her argument was that because she had never been mugged but that a couple of male friends of hers were mugged in Hackney (when she had lived there) that what the amendment was doing was unfairly stereotyping women. Because it is young men that actually are the most likely to be victims of crime (which is true) then we don't need to do anything about making women feel safer. That, because she herself felt fine, the 4 out of 10 women who do feel unsafe should be ignored. They are not a stereotype, they are a fact.

I like my policy and my arguments to be based on evidence and not just on the basis of my own experience.

Many, many of the things that I write about and campaign for are not dear to my heart because of my own personal experience. Some are, but I would say most are not. I too have never been attacked in a public place, I have never been raped, I run my own business and am probably in the top 1-2% of earners in the UK. But that doesn't mean I rubbish the experiences or feelings of others, or ignore the work of academics and researchers who actually gather evidence of what is happening.

Which is why when I hear, that social inequality is rising I vote to give tax back to those on the lowest incomes, or that only 5% of reported rapes end in am conviction I campaign for something to be done. And, when I know that four out of 10 women have some fears when using public transport, even if that is not my own experience, I use that evidence as the basis of how to make up my mind what to do.

Norman Baker was happy for the amendment to be included but the conference hall was just swayed by an effective but intellectually vapid speech from the Wirral. My suspicions are that it will make it into the manifesto anyway.

Still: this, together with the lack of female speakers in the Make it Happen debate yesterday, tells me that we still have a long way to go as a party when it comes to gender issues.


Tristan said...
16 Sep 2008, 17:05:00

I'd argue against the whole proposal on the basis that it is not government's place to be doing this.

I want society and communities to deal with these problems, but government is not society and its not community.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
16 Sep 2008, 18:38:00

Thank you least you're not suggesting that there isn't a problem with women and vulnerable people on public transport!

However, you libertarian thing you, exactly how are you going to get society and the community to change things?

Tell me that and I'll take your critique of the amendment more seriously.

Anonymous said...
16 Sep 2008, 22:31:00

I liked this story (second quote) from San Francisco, as an anecdote in favour of the amendment's spirit...

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