40 places in a parliamentary nursery doesn't seem alot to me, but it is a start and hopefully will make it easier for parents with young children, and particularly their mothers, to take a more proportionate part in our democracy and government.
It's a small step but an important step in the change of culture that we so desperately need in the practice of our politics. Hooray for Speaker Bercow and all the campaigners!
This is great news - there is no reason why we should have women's and young girls body image dictated by large multinational corporations. Twiggy looks great without retouching, as do many, many older women.
Plus, has anybody noticed that very few women don't die there hair now when they start to go grey. I think grey hair looks great on women! Why are women not allowed to be old and beautiful any more?
So, if you want to know more about the campaign for real women the take a look at the facebook group for a start!
It looks like it's going to be a debate over subscribed with speakers and there's at least 3 amendments and a separate vote!
Here are links to the policy paper itself and conference extra which has the amendment 2 to I speaking against.
I'm definitely in favour of the motion, and hoping to speak against Amendment 2 in particular - so here is my speech, just in case I don't get to give it!
I am delighted to support this innovative and practical policy paper, because it re affirms our commitment to freedom, choice and true liberal values.
But Amendment Two would undermine that commitment.
If we pass this amendment, we’ll be saying :
‘We see there’s a problem with media images, body image and eating disorders but we don’t want to do anything about it, except to cross our fingers and hope that the problem will go away all by itself’.
What sort of policy is that?
Let’s be clear: images of women are manipulated in advertising in order to make more sales and revenue for large corporations.
Where that harms people, liberals must take positive action.
Time and time again over the past decade, research has shown that from as early as age 5 young girls feel under pressure to be slim and have a perfect body.
The publication ‘Under ten and Under Pressure’ , put out by the Girl Guides Association – that bastion of radical feminism! - found that ‘Girls Between Seven and Ten Believe being Slim and Pretty Makes you Clever, Happy and Popular’
In research by Field et al in 1999, nearly 2 in 3 of 500 girls aged between 9 and 17 agreed with the statement “pictures of women in magazines influence what you think is the perfect shape”
And 1 in 2 of the girls agreed that “Pictures of women in magazines make you want to lose weight.
The policy paper addresses this harm in a thoroughly liberal way, by providing consumers with information on how much images have been digitally manipulated; so that people can know how real or fake they are.
We’ve supported this kind of consumer empowerment before.
To help mitigate the harm of climate change we have laws requiring manufacturers to provide us with information about how energy efficient their fridges are.
Yes, the issues are complicated but now there is a simple set of categories.
So we are all empowered to make an informed choice about energy efficiency.
Yes, the process of airbrushing may also be complex.
Yet, it is entirely possible to come up with some useful guidelines.
Commonsense would ensure that what was being regulated was the manipulation of body images, not the benign change of lighting or removal of shadows.
And, just as the labelling of fridges has changed the behaviour of fridge manufacturers, so the labelling of digitally manipulated images will change the behaviour of advertisers.
What we’re talking about here is cultural change ; changing behaviours.
One reason digital manipulation works is that we don’t always know when it's been done.
If we make sure that advertisers are open and honest about it, what company will want to admit that the only way it can sell it’s products is by using fake pictures?
But if you don’t require advertisers to provide the information in the first place, you don’t get the cultural change we need.
They will have no incentive to change.
As advertising drives the profitability of magazines, newspapers and television, where they go, editorial will follow.
We didn’t cross our fingers and hope for cultural change when it came to energy efficiency of fridges, why should we do it about the well-being and self-esteem of young women and girls?
Conference, this is a liberal approach to achieving cultural change!
Yes, if a five year old is reading Cosmo then she will see digitally manipulated photos.
but if her parents choose to protect her, they will know where the safe places are.
So, Cosmo Girl, aimed directly at the teen market should help young women feel good about themselves; they shouldn’t decide they’re fat at the age of 12!
Conference, let’s make a real difference to young girls and women’s lives:
Support the motion and reject amendment two.
I went to an excellent garden party at Hackney Liberal Democrats yesterday afternoon where I learnt that there is solid data that supports the notion that unequal societies are worse for everybody, whether the Lib Dems narrative does or doesn't support that and not to attempt to drive in London on a Sunday. Ever.
Geoffrey J Payne (as opposed to Geoff Payne) is very good at putting together the most interesting speaking events and he had invited Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, the author of 'the Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better' and my husband*, Neil Stockley, on the extent to which the Lib Dems current narrative is one of equality. Neil will be putting what he had to say about our narrative (the upshot being our narrative is not really one of equality, even though our policies support one) on his blog in the next few days.
If you haven't had a look a The Spirit Level yet, I thoroughly recommend you do you can buy it here (via the Lib Dem affinty scheme) or here: especially if you're of the persuasion that it's growth that counts and that as long as those at the top are continuing to get wealthier it will improve things for everybody (i.e. especially if you are a Tory).
In fact key things that I took from the talk were:
- Once you get past a certain amount of wealth (ie. where the richest, most developed countries already are) increased growth makes no difference to overall well being (life expectancy, imprisonment rates etc, etc).
- That increased equality means greater well being, not just for the poorest in society but for the richest. So the rich in more equal societies are better off (or rather, have increased levels of well being) than the rich in less equal societies, even though they may not have as much money or purchasing power as the rich in more unequal societies.
- The UK is doing really badly and massive increased expenditure hasn't made that much difference.
- So is New Zealand...
Don't just take my word for it - go and have a look at the Equality Trust and look at the stats - they're compelling, to say the least.
*novelty value of saying or writing 'my husband' has yet to wear off; perhaps it never will!!
Cameron jumped right in and said yes. Why wouldn't he? He comes over quite well on TV and certainly belies (I think) what most of the Tory parliamentary party are like. I think, because even though he tries to act like he's not, he really is awfully posh and he needs to take care that he doesn't come across as too pompous.
Nick, agreed on Sky News Sunrise programme this morning that he would. Again, why not - Nick is after becoming an increasingly polished media performer? And whilst it is prefectly possible to be a Liberal Democrat and pompous, Nick is definitely not! He's great (can you tell I'm a fan) - he just needs to make sure that he talks in stories rather than lists of policies.
And Gordon, he'll probably hide behind the lack of precedence in his attempts to avoid it. Because, let's face it; he's going to be rubbish! It's a shame because when he's really smiling, he has a lovely smile: but he's no good at putting it on and it just turns out like a grimace. What's really going to undo him is that he's a numbers man and in defensive mode he's just going to deafen us all with statistics and we will probably stop listening even before he's opened his mouth.
As Mark says on Lib Dem Voice - there's nothing to stop Sky going ahead even if Gordon Brown doesn't take part, but I think, in the end, even though he has nothing to gain from taking part in a TV debate, Labour still has quite a lot to lose by being the ones that refuse to play. And as for it being bad for democracy: pah! If that's the case, then TV is bad for democracy! It's true not all talented TV performers would make good leaders but good leaders need to be able to communicate with voters over the medium of the age; which is still, for most people of voting age the TV.
And yes, takling of TV, I'm on SkyNews.Com this evening; on the 'buzz' along with Jonathan Isaby from Conservative Home and a Labour bod (will say who, when I know) discussing the pros and cons!
Well, done Sky for just doing it!
I'm all for a velib type scheme, it was in fact a Lib Dem policy going into the last Mayoral elections but I do have some reservations about whether London is ready for such a scheme.
Firstly, it's due to start in central London only - which means that it, like most of the other city schemes across the world, will be used mostly by tourists, rather than Londoners (who will still have their travelcards and therefore have no financial incentive to use velib) but it will be paid for by Londoners.
Secondly, are the roads in central London ready for a few thousand wobbly tourists who are coming to terms with cycling on the left? I don't cycle in central Lonond because I find it far too scary. I'm not ging up there until they have proper cycle lanes, with phsical barriers (as in a raised curb) between me and the lorries; so what's it going to be like for the tourists. We don't have the wide boulevards of Paris, in London (obviously). So, in addition to the bike scheme, more money needs to be spent on improving cycle lanes.
And lastly, although most of these schemes have ended up going out into the suburbs, wouldn't it have been better to start there? After all the majority of the very short journeys that are made by car now, and that we want to stop are in outer London, not inner London. Getting people out of their cars and onto a bike for a trip to the butchers on Lordship Lane will surely make a greater difference to people's quality of life?
So, none of these problems I have raised are insurmountable, and I am in principle in favour of a velib type scheme - however, if it is going to benefit all Londoners and not just be a bit of fancy window dressing then it needs to be better thought through.
And I'm not the only one thinking about Afghanistan today, as Iain Dale has noticed, Sunny Hundal has done a very interesting post on the subject on Pickled Politics.
It was on the subject of Afghanistan and how despite 'so-called' democracy women are still treated abominably. In Herat on one day four women, in separate incidents, set themselves on fire to get away from their husbands.
They had a lady, whose teenage son had a British soldier killed in Afghanistan watch the film brought back from Afghanistan and ask her whether it's still right the the UK should be in Afghanistan - whether in fact, her son had dies in vain?
She said, that it was, that was important that we helped change Afghanistan given the treatment of women.
But that's the wrong thing to show her because we are not and never have been in Afghanistan to help the women who live there.
We're in Afghanistan for reasons of national security. The Taliban and Al Qaeda base themselves in that region on the Afghanistan/Pakistan borders (must I really call it AfPak?) and from there they plot and train people to bomb and harm British, American and other nationalities in their own countries and abroad.
It's right that the programme concentrates on the efficacy of aid going into Afghanistan and how much of it falls prey to corruption. But the only reason we give aid and the only reason we risk our soldiers lives is to shore up our own national security.
After all, we'd never gone near Basra if we really cared about women's rights and security in Iraq.
And nor would we be busy helping out British Aerospace continue to bribe and fund the decadent lifestyles of the Princes of Saud by dropping fraud enquiries.
Nope, the question of whether we pull our troops out of Afghanistan should be tested against the case for putting them in there in the first place. I foresee in the next few weeks some Lib Dem hand wringing about our role in Afghanistan, after all, everybody else is. Personally, I would prefer we sorted out Al Qaeda and the Taliban so they couldn't bomb us, and so, think we ought to keep the in there until they are incapacitated (I did International Relations at Uni not strategic studies, so I'm in no position to take a view on whether this is the best way to beat Al Qaeda - I get to define the end state without worrying about the military delivery of such an end state!).
Let's not kid ourselves that anything about UK foreign policy in central Asia or the middle east has anything to do with women's rights - it doesn't and never has.
Which is not to say that I think the that's the way it should be - I was really pleased when Labour came in in 1997 and Robin Cook put forward an ethical foreign policy and I have been very proud of Vince when he has challenged the decision to stop the investigation of the SFO into BAE by Tony Blair.
I just think we should be clear on whether UK foreign policy is working with an ethical dimension or not and our presence in Afghanistan has nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with National Security.
What a week – not just for me (as I got married on Monday) but also for British feminism.
As I have been on honeymoon since Tuesday, I have had the luxury of wafting around reading the newspapers everyday.
And what I've read is a lot of comment about Harriet Harman, her so-called feminist agenda and what the Mail, the Spectator and the Telegraph have made of it.
In short, Harriet Harman was put in charge and took the opportunity of a smidgen of power to talk about women’s rights, inequality in the boardroom, the horrendous rape conviction rates and other items that our roundly ignored most of the time, by most of the people.
Aghast at this, Rod Liddle at the Spectator decided that the best basis on which to judge the elected deputy leader of the Labour party on whether he would want to have sex with them. I mean, this is meant to political comment!! Don't anybody dare tell me that misogyny in British politics is not mainstream after this!
The pillock from the mail went on about Harriet and her ‘controversial’ proposal to teach kids about healthy family relationships (given how many women are subject to domestic violence during their lifetime, it would seem that many of them might need it).
If I had the patience to wait for my 3g card to load up Lib Dem Blogs I may well have noticed the outrage of all our Lib Dem Bloggers and Rod Liddle’s out and out misogyny, with his little acolyte at the Mail worrying about the introduction of a ‘controversial’ feminist agenda. As it was, before I left the world of wireless broadband connection (aka our hotel at Loch Lomond) I only really saw Rob on a comfortable place, Peter Black and I think Caron calling him and the Mail out for unacceptable sexism.
I have myself been wittering on about a lot of these things, on my blog, for nearly three years now. I haven’t had many misogynists coming onto my site – mainly it’s been the defining silence of my fellow bloggers and only recently do I feel that I am not a (consistently) lone feminist Liberal Democrat Blogger. So, it’s very nice this week, to discover that in the Times, Guardian, Observer and the Indy at least there may not be approval for everything that Harriet Harman is saying but there’s is definitely approval that there should be a strong feminist voice in our country and that is good for all of us: men, women and children.
So I say, Hooray for Harriet, for winding up the misogynists and getting a bit of sensible comment about feminism and women’s equality going! And I say well done the Times, Guardian, Indy, Observer, Caron, Rob and Peter for saying that it's not good enough.
Finally, time has been called on the casual misogyny that so many employ when talking about her and other female politicians, including many, many Lib Dem bloggers – that label and oh so funny (not) play on her name of Har-person! Many have voiced disgust and irritation at it’s use and I’ve never felt that party politics excused misogyny but I leave the best deconstruction of it to, Anton Vowl, at The Enemies of Reason blog.
Anyone who says 'Harperson' should die. Look, it might have provoked a mediocre snicker the first time. Oh yes, Harperson, hoho. Not really that funny, but yes I see what you're saying. That sort of thing. But if you're still using 'Harperson' then you should just be killed. There's no use in trying to keep you alive, because there is no point, because your life means nothing. Now I'm no defender of the woman herself - God alone knows the awfulness that New Labour have brought upon this country, and she's one of the leading players - but calling someone 'Harperson' isn't funny, clever or even approaching amusing. It's just pointless, lazy, boring shite, and you need to die. There is nothing good about it. Even if you think you're using it in a way that says "Oh well if it annoys the lefties then it's worth doing" you should still be killed, because it doesn't; because it just makes you, and every argument you have, look stupid.
OK, maybe, I wouldn't go so far to suggest anyone should die, but apart from that, I feel the same way.
On Friday, a perfectly good property chain, where all the buyers and vendors had (finally) agreed a price, that they could all afford, and everyone was excited about moving up and on to new homes where they would find more space for their books/children/lives (delete where appropriate), fell apart.
It fell apart because the mortgage company surveyor re- or devalued my property by £50,000. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but because he couldn't find anything comparable to have gone for that price in recent months. My feeling of the property market on that road is that nothing has gone for the last few months - every flat (comparable to mine) has come on and then quickly been taken off the market as they struggle to find buyers - all very strange for one of the most popular roads in the area that used to be littered to mailings from estate agents in the good old days.
So, say goodbye to the old axiom about the value of a house being what someone is prepared to pay for it!
Nowadays, not only do you have to find someone prepared to buy your house, but you have to make sure someone else has just done the same thing for the same prices before you - so really you need to find two buyers.
And if that's the case, I really don't understand how you are supposed to get an upturn in the market if you can only be valued at what the last house sold for or less.
Of course, it's no one's fault - not mine, not my buyer, not even the surveyor - who to be fair enough has to give some sort of evidence for his decision. In fact, from what I can gather the surveyor is as sorry about the whole thing as we are - well, nearly as sorry.
Of course, it would be easier if the banks were giving mortgages that didn't require a 25% deposit. A £50k reduction in our deposit means a £200k reduction in the mortgage we can take out - no matter that that mortgage is well below the standard income multiplier of 3 to 3.5! In one fell swoop they have made it pointless for us to move. And stopped 4 house sales going through. It's not just happening to me, the same thing happened to an old school friend of mine on Thursday.
So instead of being pioneers in the property market, we have decided to stick with this lovely flat that we live in, stick with our lifetime tracker mortgage rate of with a spread of just 1% (with no floor!!), instead of the 2.99% we would get for our new mortgage and get my partner's stuff out of storage, put a whole pile of other stuff on eBay to make room for it and buy some more bookshelves!!
We'll dig in and wait for the market to get more liquid - it was getting pretty hard to find a 3 or 4 bedroom house anyway - although the beautiful pick stucco Georgian number in Camberwell that we were going to move into probably won't be around when we next attempt to enter the market, but I feel sure that there'll be others!
But make no mistake - this is not about the market failing - we'd worked with the market and all agreed a deal - this is about the banks and their reluctance to lend, even though they have only survived with a big bailout from us, the taxpayer.
The problem is, they now all know they're invincible, that whatever they do, whatever mess they get into, they'll not suffer any of the downside of capitalism, only the good.
For sure, Netanyahu and his right wing coalition partners have rebuffed it - I wouldn't expect anything less. But it is vital that the proper behaviour is demanded of Israel, otherwise we are just negotiating with ourselves.
And in Obama's BBC interview today (done because the BBC has a middle east audience without comparison) although he doesn't repeat those requirements as forcibly as Clinton set them out, he makes it clear that he is not, unlike his predecessor, going to be leaving the Israelis to leave Palestine like the holes in a Swiss cheese.
Just by chance I'm reading the winner of the 2008 Orwell Prize: Palestinian Walks, Notes on a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh - this is truly political writing as art. But it is perhaps not the most relaxing bedtime read, as although the prose and the countryside that it invokes is sublime the insidiousness of Israeli colonisation and his legal battle against it (he is a property and land lawyer) leaves me so cross I end up having very unsatisfactory dreams!
However, it is well worth a read and I commend it to you!
So, here's a challenge to the Tories - if you're so reformist, then why not join the calls for reform in 100 days, real reform, not just tinkering around the edges like Cameron's plans do?
More later, no doubt but I've got to dash now....
If you live in south east London and rely on the overland train to get into central London you won't need telling how annoying and expensive not being able to use the Oystercard system is.
One of Boris' major promises was to just sort it out. Sort it out within the year! That means by now. But if you live in south east London, can you use your oystercard on the Train? No - neither can I!
In true Boris style (i.e. the bit where he thinks he can just waive a magic wand to get things done) he has failed to deliver on that promise! Thanks to Bridget for pointing out Caroline's work to raise this.
This stinks - not being able to us the Oyster card is expensive - especially for the most disadvantaged who don't need or can't afford to go and get a weekly travelcard.
Now it looks like it's slipping until 2010 - this is no good, no good at all! Come on Boris, just because I think you will, doesn't make it obligatory to be a rubbish Mayor who over promises and under achieves!!!!!!
Clearly there has been lots of shenanigans and as someone who is self employed and has to not just fill in expenses but put together accounts I know there are lots of ways that I can pay more or less tax. as someone is relatively well paid I take the view that if I don't pay my fair share how can I expect anyone else to. so, no more cries of 'I was in the rules' from the MPs please! being within the rules does not equate to being morally right.
However, can I comment this article by Martin Kettle on CiF to you - because it has to be said, personal morality apart it has been the lack of political will to pay MPs a decent, transparent wage for the work they do. And the vast majority of them do work very hard, about 80 to 90 hours a week from what I can guess.
They are also the first generation where it is expected that they will live both in their constituencies as well as London - MPs from previous generations weren't expected to do that. I've worked away from home during the week, and I hate it, it's miserable to be away from your family - in my case, at the time, my dog; so, I have no problem for them being recompensed for that requirement.
However, they should not seek to profit from it and that's where some of them have let themselves down.
On a more critical note: Gosh! How indignant some of them are at getting caught out! My advice is not to try and defend the indefensible, to shut up and keep a low profile. Not a character trait necessarily in great supply in parliament!
A family friend over from Auckland took his two nieces to the local newsagents in Kent yesterday and swore never to use that particular newsagent again because he was appalled by the covers of the men’s magazines, at child height that could not be avoided on the way to the counter.
‘Well, Bro’ said his brother, “Looks like you won’t be going in any more newsagents then, because there’s no choice. It’s like that in every one.”
I spend more time than is usual in the company of Kiwi’s these days. But it’s cool, because New Zealanders whether in NZ or in the UK don’t consider feminism to be a dirty word and don’t see why those wanting to access porn in their local newsagents whether hard core or the soft (but uber-misogynistic) type pedaled by weekly lads’ mags can’t just reach up to the top shelf.
I was struck on visiting New Zealand for the first time earlier on this year and Auckland in particular how family friendly the place seemed. In London, particularly if you don’t have children, you can forget that children exist. It is not a child friendly city.
But I do think it’s more than that; I beginning to come to the conclusion that it’s not a particularly female friendly city either. I’ve lived in London for 15 years now, so really can’t speak for other places but my kiwi friends all agreed that the UK is not a female friendly place to live – when compared to New Zealand – of course, I’d prefer it every time over, say, Saudi Arabia or Iran – obviously! But just because London is relatively free and equal for women doesn’t mean to say that it is free enough!
Yes, I find I’m getting more and more oppressed by the increasing sexualisation of women and young girls. It feels like, in London if you’re not walking past a lap dancing club, your walking past a poster for one or running the gauntlet of pneumatic young women all over each other on lads mags.
It is not, as I’ve said many times before that I want to ban anything or spoil consenting adults fun. As a consenting adult, I’m no stranger to fun, but I dare sy you wouldn’t want to know the details and I’m not telling anyway.
And I agreed with the Lib Dem stance on extreme pornography and believe that lap dancing clubs have a right to exist (although I think they need to be regulated more and the women working in them could do with proper employment protection). It may not be to my taste, but matters of taste are neither here nor there when it comes to banning things or censorship.
I do believe that the sexual objectification of women is harmful to both boys and girls (Caron has a great argument about this, in this post here); it encourages and rewards women for acting in an overly sexual way.
I think it harms the ability of young people to form, healthy relationships where they can be themselves and don’t feel pressure to act in just one way. And I accept it is currently difficult to prove the link.
But I do get to say how it makes me feel.
Sex and our sexuality is a vital part of our beings and humanity but it isn’t everything.
Increasingly, Londoners are getting duped into thinking that if we object to the pornographic norm, which only reflects one rather misogynistic view of human sexuality, spread all over our public spaces, then we are being somehow oppressive and impacting on freedom of expression.
But right now, I feel that it’s women and girls that are being oppressed and I don’t see why, just because the likes of John Grey or Peter Stringfellow want to maximize their profits, we should shut up and attempt to free up women from low paid jobs, and domestic violence and horrific rape conviction rates, whilst working around it.
The reaction of the Uncle to these two little girls from Auckland tells me that it’s not just me, and it’s not just women who can see the harm and that there is a different way.
You just wouldn’t have to put up with these things in New Zealand, a country where prostitution is legal and it so could be argued is more liberal than the UK. But in New Zealand, accessing pornography whether hardcore or soft is a choice and a place where if you want to be surrounded by sexualised images of women you can be but you can pop out to buy a Sunday newspaper with your nieces in tow without having to.
‘Last year, in the run up to the Mayoral election you wrote a post titled ‘Why Boris Johnson is a really, really bad idea’, do you still hold the same opinion?’
‘Oh yes!!’ said I!
And so I’m going to be on Ken Livingstone’s LBC show on Saturday morning to discuss Boris’ first year. Also on is Dave Hill from the Guardian (v excited about meeting him, I love his blog) and I think Iain Dale, but maybe not, maybe another Conservative blogger.
Just the other day I was musing to myself, as I was digging out the couch grass from what will be strawberry bed on the allotment, that with any luck we are 25% of the way through Boris’ tenure as London Mayor.
I reckon, that means we’re about a year away from beginning to uncover some of the big mistakes he will have made in the last year.
Yes, I’m sorry to still be so down on someone, whom undoubtedly I’d be delighted to sit next to at dinner, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of executive competence.
Has it all been awful? Well no, I suppose in retrospect the illiberal banning of alcohol on the tube and buses has led to an improvement (although, I’m too old and too much of an early bird to go on night buses nowadays) and I was wrong about that.
Boris’ inexperience in running teams showed up early in the multi resignations that took place over the summer. He has shown a crass lack of judgment in warning his Tory colleagues of police activity in the Damien Green affair – or is it that he thinks the rules don’t apply to him?
There’s two other problematic signs in this first year of his Mayoralty.
Firstly, it seems to me that he’s not the Mayor for all Londoners; he’s the Mayor for affluent Londoners. Most of the cuts he made affect those living in less affluent areas of London but would make a great difference to their regeneration, such as the cross river tram which would link Peckham to Camden, the extention of the DLR to Dagenham and the Croydon tram link extension to the lovely, wonderful Crystal Palace.
But Kensington & Chelsea get the congestion charge removed. For sure, I was never a fan of the K&C charge as it seemed to me it was a largely residential area but you get the drift – if you come from a Tory voting borough then Boris is definitely your man!
The second is this dislike of scrutiny that he has. Dave Hill has done a great blog on this but it’s obvious to anyone who saw this behaviour at the Transport select committee will see that he thinks he is above criticism.
It is the behaviour of a petulant child and I have mucho empathy for his mother who must have had the patience of a saint throughout his childhood.
As Dave Hill says, we don’t have free ranging press conference any more but themed announcements meaning that Boris and his hench men (for they are largely men) get to control what is talked about.
But the thing about our London Mayoral system is that he has all the power and all we have, those of us who are not Boris Johnson, is the ability to scrutinise. And Boris won’t let us scrutinise him and that’s just undemocratic.
Still, with any luck only another three years to go...
Funny, because I was under the impression that alcohol addiction had for some time now been considered by the medical establishment as a disease.
My father was an alcoholic. Whilst it sounds rather melodramatic, as I sit here typing in my lovely house, about to get married my lovely boyfriend and feeling rather happy and successful, my father's alcohol addition fairly ravaged it's way though my childhood and left my family exhausted and in tatters. Alcohol had a Jekyll & Hyde effect on my Dad, turning a brilliant, talented and generous man into a mean and nasty one, predictable only in the anger and poison that would flare up when he had been drinking.
Alcoholism, like other addictions, has an immediate effect on the entire family and often work colleagues. It is a sordid business and there is nothing to be romanticised about it. I really would have preferred that my father was not an alcoholic.
It is easy to get frustrated with addicts, especially when you're the one having to pick up the pieces. And I did get very frustrated with my father and was not always understanding. It can feel at times, as if the person with the alcohol addiction is not really trying and if they really, really loved you, if you really mattered, surely they would stop, wouldn't they? They would care, wouldn't they?
And so we have a government who has got really frustrated with all the addicts under it's care because they're not taking their medicine like the government wants them too. Is it churlish to point out that the government hasn't really been trying either and that services for addicts have been underfunded for year? No, I don't think so.
This government initiative, like the one for drug addicts, is both nonsensical and inhumane. It is the behaviour of bullies.
It is nonsensical because there is no evidence that taking away someone's basic income has any impact on their ability to 'recover' or go into remission. Addiction is not an illness that responds to logic. Thousands of people have destroyed families, friendships and careers because they are addicted to some sort of substance and taking away their ability to pay rent and buy food is not going to have any impact. I saw from my father's experience that they are very few depths to which an addict will not fall whilst in the grip of addiction.
People lie and steal, prostitute themselves and others in order to afford the substance to which they are addicted; removing benefits will just make them do those things sooner.
In fact, it could make the problem worse. Addiction is often tied up with depression and worry about food and shelter could jeopardise someone's ability to recover.
But as well as being wrong headed, it is also inhumane, because it codes into legislation the idea that drug and alcohol addition is not to be considered a disease, or an illness, and is instead a lifestyle choice. That people can choose to get better!
While wanting to get better is a requirement of getting better, it does not follow that if you want to get better that you necessarily can get better. I don't know how many times my father got hauled off to the local psychiatric hospital to 'dry out'; all voluntarily and not any sort of walk in a park!
So, from this government that seeks to blame people for their diseases? That we take money off those suffering from mental illness for not going to CBT sessions? Or, take benefits of those who have cancer because they are refusing treatment?
The nanny state has a nasty side, you know. If you don't at least make an effort to get better she'll send you to bed with no dinner; it doesn't take much to turn her into a bully. Or, him, as it is James Purnell that is the bully this week.
Am I being a little soft on addicts because my father was one? I don't think so, I have had plenty of time to reflect on my father's illness during my childhood, teenage years and into adulthood. I rather think being able to blame it all on him would make it easier frankly - trying to unpick the bits of him that were him and the bits of him that were down to his addiction is a complex and at times unsatisfying job.
And, for sure, I'm not suggesting that addicts should not be responsible for their own actions.
An addict that steals to buy drugs, or assaults someone because they are drunk should be dealt with like any thief or violent criminal (albeit with an awareness that they need treatment and that there are good ways and less good ways of aiding recovery). An important step on the road to recovery is to take responsibility for your own actions and the impact they have had on the people around you.
Punish them for their behaviour but do not punish a sufferer of addiction, by taking away the basic income on which to survive, because they are a sufferer of an addiction.
This is nasty populism and don't let the government dupe you into thinking that it's fair or just.
Now, I understand the strategic importance of Afghanistan and the impact that peace and security there can have on our own security. But really? Are there to be no principles in our international relations?
Also thanks to Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the head of NATO for speaking out as well; indeed, how is he supposed to get the Europeans to send more troops. He says:
And that's it, a very good point, our young women and men going over there, risking their lives, in some cases dying to prop up a government that is looking to remove the rights of half it's population.
"I have a problem to explain and President Karzai knows this, because I discussed it with him. I have a problem to explain to a critical public audience in Europe, be it the UK or elsewhere, why I'm sending the guys to the Hindu Kush."
If you want to find out more you can click through to the Women's Aid website here.
On the front page they lead with the horrifying news that Afghanistan is hurtling back into the dark ages (or at the very least, lets face it, the previous century) and bringing in laws to make marital rape legal and requiring women to ask the permission of their husbands before they do a job, get an education or go to the doctor!
Apparently this is Kharzai attempt to win votes from conservative Muslims.
Well, perhaps they should have just said conservative Afghans because none of that behaviour is less specifically religious but more cultural. However, whether is is backwards cultural or religious practices it further serves to undermine the idea that Karzai is the man to lead Afghani's, all Afghanis.
It seems international diplomacy is horrified but apart from strong words doesn't seem to feel there is much they can do.
However, over in the Sports section, I spy (and admittedly it's a major miracle that I spent that long on the section) in the top banner a sign post to an article on the success of the Afghan cricket team.
The Afghan cricket team has been on a very steep trajactory and have some very talented players. In fact, they struggle to find anywhere to play in Afghanistan and are often helped out by the cricket boards of Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.
Apparently, it's become really popular because they've started to win and the whole nation has taken to it.
Afghanistan are now set to do well in the world cup.
But I say, boycott them. Would we let Burma play cricket in the cricket world cup? No! So why are we writing jolly little articles about the loveliness of that nice (male) Afghani cricket team when their president is looking to remove human rights from half the country.
I say, hit them where it hurts and don't let them enjoy sports success if they're going to do this.
Am I the only one that doesn't wonder of the irony of these two pieces in the same paper today?
I went down there, a little nervous, as I know that my thoughts on this topic are sometimes a little radical for many Lib Dems (although not Shirley Williams); however, I was incredibly heartened by the response that I got and in particular the views of women who had actually been councillors, PPCs or were potential candiates etc. I wonder sometimes that this debate is often prematurely stifled by our collective horror at some of the implications of positive discrimination but in Horsham there was a very open debate and much of what I talked about seemed to resonate with them.
Of course, there may have been lots of people sitting there thinking 'what a load of rubbish' and to polite to say and there were people who challenged parts of what I was saying, but I did not get mauled! I met lots of lovely people and even sat opposite someone at dinner (in candlelight because of Earth Hour) that I had unwittingly been at school with!
I came away full of pride and affection for my home county of West Sussex!
So here is the speech - I also spoke in candlelight because of earth hour, which was a challenge, and added in the odd anecdote or exclamation! So it's not verbatim.
I don’t know how many of you managed to get to Harrogate at the beginning of the month but we had a great speech from Howard Dean. He talked about the Democratic party becoming once again a national party and he said:
“If wanted to be a national party, we had to look like a national party’
So how do we Lib Dems, do?
Only 9 out of our 63 MPs are women.
We have no ethnic minority MPs.
Only 2 out of our 16 MSP are women.
We do OK in Wales for women but in the last London Assembly elections, the first ethnic minority on the list was placed 9th! In a city where 30% of the population is born outside the UK!
40% of our members and conference goers are women but only 25% of our PPCs and Conference Speakers. We don’t yet know how many ethnic minority members we have.
We are a white, middle class party that tends to put men in positions of influence and power. We may have a female president but she, like Margaret Thatcher is the exception that proves the rule.
We cannot, in any shape of form, even in the most diverse parts of the country claim to be a diverse party.
Why in a party, that often defines itself by it's commitment to the individual do we need diversity?
Why does it matter?
Surely, what we need are the best people for the job?
Surely it's the policies that matter not the colour of their skin or their sex?
Well, there's two reasons.
Firstly diverse groups make better decisions for everyone because even the voices of the minority or less powerful groups can be heard.
And you don’t get ‘group-think’
We all like to think that we are compassionate enough, fair enough and objective enough to take every one's situation into account but experience shows that groups of white men, largely tend to create organisations that fit the modus operandi of groups of white men.
And as Lynne Featherstone says in an article on her blog , of her time as a London Assembly Member and the difficulties ensuing were there was a homogeneity of life experiences:
"Nowhere is this clearer than in the allocation of resources, where the macho boys culture so often summons up the massive project and neglects the important details. When I was chair of transport at London Assembly it was starkly clear. Why is it that an obsession with boys-toys – the macho game of who’s got the biggest airport or the longest train – delivers multi-billion pound budgets for massive transport infrastructure projects yet not even a fraction of those budgets were spent on so called ‘soft measures’, such as making sure you can fit a double buggy through the door of a bus and making sure that local shopping centres and services are easily accessible – really easily accessible - through using public transport?"
The benefit of diversity is not because someone has different coloured skin or a differently shaped body but the different life experiences that they gain because society treats us differently depending on what colour skin we have or what sex we are.
As long as women undertake the majority of childcare and the men making the decisions do not, women will be more likely to understand the need for these 'so called soft measures' that Lynne refers to.
Often, those in privileged positions do not even comprehend of the benefits explicit and implicit that that benefits gives them; in fact because the world is designed around them they find it the hardest to see the world from a different point of view.
Secondly, there is the issue of identity.
It is, as Zohra Moosa said in the Guardian a couple of months ago, when talking about business but can be just as easily translated into politics: a culture designed for one type of person that still insists that the rest of us have to be shoe horned into working the same way.
There in politics, as in business, a whole pile of accepted practices and ‘the right’ way to do things. These practices have built up around the lives of the people who are in power. They assume that they will be married, married to someone who will take off their shoulders the burned of domesticity and childcare.
For example, why are all jobs, particularly the well paid ones, deemed to be at least 35 hours a week.?
They also define how people must dress and what they must look like. All a man has to do is put on a suit to look like an MP.
And because the groups in power look so homogenous, they also have the effect of excluding everyone else from feeling that that path is for them or even that they are wanted.
Not just from taking part, but from actually voting for us. I think women who are interested in women’s equality and those of a progressive bent feel far more at home with Labour than they do with us, because of the simple fact that Labour has made more effort to be diverse than we are.
And of course, even if you are not convinced by the need for diversity for its own sake then you should be convinced that diversity or lack of it can have an impact on electability.
Oh, and before we get on to thinking that PR is the answer to all our problems, then we should look at the experience of diversity and PR in some other countries.
If you look over at New Zealand, you will see that the National Party did not start to achieve significant electoral success until their parliamentary party list started to look more diverse.
They undertook polling and the upshot of it was that people were not voting for them because they looked like a ‘bunch of honkies’.
It was not the introduction of PR that had happened years before but the fact they were not electable that made the National party change.
They now have not just ethnic Chinese but a Samoan and a ethnic Korean MP.
It is very easy to put the onus on the group that is under represented – oh but they don’t come forward! They don’t put cards in to speak at conference! Lets give them some extra training so that they can be more like us!
But why should they engage with us when it looks quite clear that you don’t get to the top unless you’re a white male – all but one of the Chief Officers Group is male and although it’s great that Kirsty Williams leads the party in Wales, she’s just not going to have any impact on what the rest of the country thinks we look like.
People often say how politics is a dirty game; not one for those without sharp elbows but is it right that we just shrug our shoulders and leave some of the most important decisions in our lives to those with the biggest egos and the sharpest elbows.
That is not equality.
Why not change the way politics is carried out? Why not make it an inclusive place? Why not make it more equal? Why not provide the environment to create diversity?
So, how do you do that?
Well, firstly you have to make the Liberal Democrats a place where women and ethnic minorities feel welcome and want to be decision makers.
This is more that just having nice policies or the right philosophical background.
We’ve already got those and that hasn’t made us diverse.
So, we have to change ourselves and the way we do things.
We have to make contact with community groups; we have to give new members not just a delivery round but to involve them in some of the more interesting jobs. We have to write about things of interest to them in our Focuses.
We have to hold sessions on the value of being a councillor.
We have to listen to them and their thoughts about how to do things.
We have to ring up those that we know and ask them to be involved not wait for them to volunteer.
These are some of the things that we have done in Lewisham.
If you are not doing these things then why should anybody who isn’t white, middle class and largely male want anything to do with us?
And when we get women and ethnic minorities in the right positions we should not assume that there is only one way of doing things- women stepping down as PPCs outnumber men by 4 to 1. There must be something in the way those local parties are behaving that creates that pattern.
Inequality does not just happen; it requires the exercise of power and Equality does not just happen; surely millennia of human civilisation has taught us that?
And even when we are successful, we still have to deal with prejudice or unwarranted concern that this or that particular electorate are not ‘ready’ for someone different.
But however effective and active we are at the grass roots, we will not encourage diverse members and activists until the public face of the party, those in leadership positions and in parliament, more fully reflect the population they seek to represent.
So I think, we will in the end, have to do more than just encourage and head hunt. I think, in the end ,we will need to use some sort of quotas in Westminster and local elections. We already do for every sort other kind of election, both internal and external.
To be honest, I cannot believe that anyone ever wants or desires positive discrimination as a first point of call.
But if you look around the world the only national parliaments which have at least 30% of their parliament as female are those who have some sort of quotas.
I do not think that we can ignore the only things that seem to work just because we deem them to be unfair to our male, white activists.
Interestingly, I don’t know if anyone saw the article about the Equality & Human Rights Commission in today’s guardian but there was a very interesting quote from an equality lawyer, they said:
"The problem is that 'fairness', unlike equality, has no basis in law. It's a much more nebulous concept. Fairness is not about protecting the rights of those who have experienced discrimination, it's about being fair to everyone, including businesses and white men."
And this is our dilemma as a party – which do we value more – fairness or equality?
I know that some would find an all women shortlists in their area very unfair. Like many men found the process of zipping.
But equality and diversity is going to mean that there will be fewer opportunities for men and white men that there were before.
But it will not mean that there will be fewer opportunities for them, than for women or ethnic minorities.
We cannot have a more diverse party and keep all those people who are currently in power in power.
We have to go forward with the assumption that it will be us and the way that we do things that will have to change not BME or women as a group who have to change to fit in.
Because if we don’t sort it out ourselves and soon, it will be taken out of our hands.
Either the Speakers Conference will come out with something to force our processes or, worse (but perhaps more likely)
we will become electorally irrelevant as we put up slates that do not reflect those whose votes we want and just fail to get voted in.
But if we do change and we do become a more diverse party then we really will have the opportunity to change Britain and build a bright future for Britain.
But I was very interested to read in the Guardian this morning, that some of the concerns are about a shift in focus aware from equaity to fairness. As an equality lawyer saying in the piece:
"The problem is that 'fairness', unlike equality, has no basis in law. It's a much more nebulous concept. Fairness is not about protecting the rights of those who have experienced discrimination, it's about being fair to everyone, including businesses and white men."And so it seems to me that is the Lib Dems problem with Diversity (and despite some interesting moves forward recently, we do have a problem with it) is because we actually value fairness above equality.
For example, the only way that any parliament has ever reached the key proportion of 30% women to men has been through use of quotas; in our westminster system as currently managed that would mean All Women Shortlists.
That is of course a very unfair state of affairs for the male activists that would like to stand in a seat which is AWL (or zipped with women in front as per our Euro lists used to be) is in place.
I'm not sure that equality can be 'fair' for everyone at all times but we have to decide which is more important to us.
Just a thought....
It's a 7pm and I'll try and make it with plenty of time, this time.
So, this is what we’re in for, as baby boomers become grandparents!
Was there ever such a fortunate generation? Was there ever such a self-centred generation? Ever a generation with such a strong sense of entitlement?
Baby Boomers are those born between roughly between 1946 and 1961 (pre 1946 they’re categorised as war babies, as my mother will tell you, but I challenge you to find a war baby who was unable to take advantage of the same economic and social conditions just as well as a baby boomer).
As a generation they have benefitted from a health service, social security, largely benign or indeed positive economic conditions, better educational choices and no war.
They are certainly more fortunate than the generation before them.
And they will rely on the generation below them to support them in their old age, like no other generation before or after them will be able to.
Just think of all that capital they’ve got tied up in their houses, whilst their children’s generation struggle with overwhelming debt.
Just think of all the fuss made last year or the 40th anniversary of 1968!
But is all this advantage enough?
Remember when forty became the new thirty? And fifty became the new forty? (Which of course was already the new thirty) That was baby boomers.
And as Baby Boomers become older and grandparents then we start to see demands for tax credits on their pensions and the right to flexible working. Pensions that their children’s generation are already paying for.
Did they do this for their own parents when they relied on them for child care help? You bet your bottom dollar they didn’t!
Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, George Bush. All Baby Boomers.
For Comic Relief I presume, thanks to Tom Harris MP, for the prompt....not that he needs traffic from my blog.
Friday afternoon at the Lib Dem’s Spring Conference and it's the Women's Policy Consultation session.
We went through a whole pile of topics, neatly titled in the consultation paper under such terms as 'Can we have it all?, Money, Sex, Love & Relationships and MEN!
One thing we got on to talking about in our group, towards the end of the session is the increasing sexualisation and objectification of young women, particularly in our public spaces.
It seems to me that the norms of pornography are seeping into our public spaces, and I don't just mean billboards in the centre of town, but the media and mainstream internet and the products we buy.
The liberal in me, reckons that pornography does not have to be degrading to women; I am largely a sex positive feminist. The liberal me, that lives in the real world, has to admit however that most of it is degrading to women
The pornographic norm is that women are ready to have sex at all times, they are happy to share their men with other women, that even when the pornography involves gang rape, the women in these scenes, though they may be unwilling to start with soon discover they really, really wanted it after all.
Above all, they must always make an effort to look attractive to men.
A 2005 review found that half of all children have logged on to a pornography website, whilst over 57% of children aged 9-19 had seen pornography online.
But they don’t have to go online; everywhere I look there are pictures and adverts involving women in sexual poses, scantily clad and often inferring some sort of lesbian relationship - but not the type that doesn't involve men, of course.
Even the Daily Mail is running articles looking at gratuitous use of sex to promote products!!
The defects that all of us have, including the models used, are airbrushed out creating a standard of perfection for young women to aspire to that actually does not exist.
Lap dancing clubs, able to operate on the same footing as cafes, have doubled across the UK in recent years. This involves naked and topless women dancing at close 'proximity' to men (often there after work or at lunch time). There is ostensibly a three feet rule but in practice this rule is not enforced.
Honest to god, I'm not a prude - I really, really don't mind what it is that people to get up to, as long as they're both consenting - but I do think that public space should not be given over to the lowest common denominator.
They even advertise lap dancing classes for women and my health club - just along from the crèche – when did the work of a sex worker become so aspirational?
I think public spaces should be available and safe places for children and young people; it's bad enough being a 37 year old woman in these times and being made to feel no good unless you're a size 10 (with at least D cup breast, of course) - who would be a 14 or 15 year old girl, trying to work out a sense of self?
Liberalism isn't just about freedom for people to be and do what they want - that's libertarianism - but is also about freedom from harm and I want to be and I want children and young people to be free from the pornographic norm that suggests that in order to be normal you have to be gagging for sex at all times (whether male or female) and that if you’re female or even just a little girl you primary aim is to look sexy and attractive to men!
As a friend of mine, over in Sydney, said recently when this subject came up at dinner - why should we let corporations and businesses (for it is they that run the lap dancing clubs, the porn sites and push the products with the highly sexual adverts) dictate to us what are public spaces feel like? Why should it always be the freedom of companies to make money through sex that wins out?
I am glad to see that today Jacqui Smith has ordered a fact-finding review into the increasing sexualisation of young women.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like this.
I’m not long back from New Zealand plus a long weekend in Sydney. Lucky me!
But lucky New Zealanders as well. Because one of the most striking differences I noticed between the UK and NZ was that there seemed no pressure on women to be sexual objects at all times – although there did seem to be a lot of excessive baking going on.
Perhaps, they’ve yet to catch up with us, but I don’t think that’s it. New Zealand is way ahead of us in many things and especially in terms of diversity, particularly in its parliament. It’s already had two female Prime Ministers and 33.6% of it’s current MPs are female.
In fact when I spoke about how worried I was about the sexualisation of young women in the UK, they were kind of mystified - it was clearly not as much a problem there.
It is hard to say which came first.
Does New Zealand have more female MPs and therefore any over sexualisation of women and girls in public spaces has been nipped in the bud; or do more women feel able to go forward into parliament and are taken more seriously when they get there because they don’t feel any pressure to come over like a sex object?
One New Zealander that I know well, is not sure how New Zealand women became free from the need to be a sex object at all times, but thinks that it may be because women get organised in NZ. Perhaps female MPs and groups would lobby companies that wanted to produce overtly sexist and sexualised adverts and products and therefore preserve their public space for everybody, not just those who want to use sex to make money from it.
In any case, the sexualisation of young women and the pornographication of our public spaces is not inevitable; we can stop it and we can say no to handing over our public spaces to those who would be happy with the lowest common denominator.
If you would like to contribute to the Liberal Democrat's Women's Policy Consultation, you can do so here.