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All tomorrow’s parties (with apologies to The Velvet Underground)

5 Jul

 

And what customs plan shall the UK share

At all tomorrow’s parties?

 

A hand-me-down deal from who knows where

At all tomorrow’s parties

And where will we go, what will we be

When midnight comes around

Will we turn once more into Europe’s clown

And cry behind the door?

 

And what customs plan shall the UK share

At all tomorrow’s parties?

 

Which elements of yesterday’s deals

At all tomorrow’s parties?

And what will we do with Theresa’s fudge

When Brexit comes around?

Will we turn once more into Europe’s clown

And cry behind the door?

 

And what customs plan shall the UK share

At all tomorrow’s parties?

 

For Theresa’s fudge could be Europe’s clown

For whom none will go mourning

A hybrid fix, a hand-me-down deal

Of elements, a customs plan

Fit for one who sits outside

For all tomorrow’s parties

 

 

 

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Some ministries are more equal than others

1 May

Behind the headlines about Amber Rudd’s resignation from the office of Home Secretary, and the anointing of her successor in that role, Sajid Javid, there was a second, less well-attended announcement.  Rudd had recently taken on the Women and Equalities portfolio, following Justine Greening’s departure from government in the January reshuffle, and a new minister was therefore also required in this role. Penny Mordaunt is to be that person, balancing the Women and Equalities brief with her existing job of Secretary of State for International Development.

Mordaunt is the fourth person to hold the Women an Equalities brief in two years, and the seventh incumbent since 2010, when the Conservatives came to power, under David Cameron in the coalition government.  The minister for Women and Equalities is not a freestanding post, and has been held in conjunction with other ministerial positions.  Since 2010, the brief has been held alongside Home Office (twice) Culture (twice) Education (twice) and now International Development.  The eagle-eyed may have noticed that one of the spells in Culture was presided over by none other than Sajid Javid, who held the Equalities part of the brief while Culture secretary in 2014, partnering with Nicky Morgan who was then Minister for women, alongside her role as Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Eyebrows were raised as Morgan had only ‘attending’ status in Cabinet – such ministers only join Cabinet when issues concerning their remit are on the agenda. Some might say that gender and equalities issues are always there ….

So, has there been any shift in priorities since 2014? Well, in the sense that the Women and Equalities minister has been a full member of Cabinet, then yes. Nicky Morgan later took on the brief while Education Secretary, and Justine Greening held those two posts under Theresa May, before Amber Rudd’s brief sojourn while Home Secretary. There is now also a Women and Equalities Select Committee in parliament to provide scrutiny on relevant issues. But the frequent movement between departments and subsequent lack of continuity, is less positive. With Amber Rudd’s departure, the Cabinet has become even less gender-balanced than before – it could have presented an opportunity to make the post freestanding and promote another woman.

Mordaunt’s busy role as International Development Secretary currently involves developing new safeguarding standards in the aid sector, following the Oxfam scandal, on top of all the complexities of poverty reduction and humanitarian activity.  Arguably there is a good match between dealing with global and domestic inequalities, but the two ministerial roles have not been held together before, and the international development sector is currently having to work hard in these areas.  We will have to wait and see if this results in any new synergies, or further movement down an already crowded political agenda.

Meanwhile, over in Labour, the Shadow Women and Equalities minister is now a standalone post, indicating that the brief may have higher priority in any future Labour administration. How long we’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case is an open question…

 

 

 

Brexit Valentine (or It’s not EU, it’s me …)

14 Feb

 

You may not be the one,

But you are ‘a’ one

With whom I feel strongly aligned;

I love our deep and special relationship

(For details, read my mind…)

 

I have some issues with boundaries –

I like them fuzzy, not hard –

If you want to trade with me

I may play a Trump card …

 

I adore our rich exchanges,

Please don’t change a bit,

I like being in your club –

But not the membership….

 

We’re going through a transition –

It’s just a silly phase –

You’re my friend with all the benefits,

I’m the one who involuntarily pays …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A leaf from suffrage history

6 Feb

This is a picture of a flyer which hangs in my house. The campaign for Votes for Women was long, and fought on many fronts, and pamphleting was an important part of it.  One hundred years ago today, the first women (over 30, propertied) achieved the right to vote. You can see on this flyer that the President of the National Union of Suffrage Societies is listed as ‘Mrs Henry Fawcett’ – not as Millicent – who we have grown accustomed to hearing of, and to celebrating.  Soon there’ll be a statue in Parliament Square. Her listing here suggests that even for campaigning households, changing social norms in public could be a gradual process.

 

So how did I come by this little piece of social history? Probably not where you’d most likely expect.   A few years ago, I was up in the Highlands, and on a day when the weather was less than ideal for outdoor activities, we went to the book fair in the local town to pass a bit of time.  It was there that I found the flyer – under a few layers of unremarkable stuff, in a transparent pocket on an antiquarian’s stall.  I was intrigued and spent a bit of time reading through it – my kids came over to see what I was doing – ‘that’s so you’ they declared – finding something feminist in an unlikely venue.….

 

But should I have been surprised to find it in the Highlands, in a back-of-beyond kind of place? Turns out, not so much as you might have thought.  My artefact prompted me to find out a bit more about suffrage movements in Scotland, and what the word on the street, well North of Watford Gap, would have been.  I discovered that both suffragist and suffragette movements were, in fact, highly active North of the border. Edinburgh had one of the earliest suffrage societies, founded in the 1870s.  I’d not noticed before that Winston Churchill stood as an MP in Dundee, and was apparently regularly confronted by women campaigning for the right to vote in the early 1900s. Meanwhile, in comparatively provincial Perth there was a prison where women protestors were force-fed in the same brutal way as happened in London.  Scottish churches supported votes for women and spread the word, and women in Highland fishing communities were also activists. A bit of browsing online shows that there was a young female piper who played on marches for the Suffragettes, and a range of Scottish women who made their mark upon the movement – including Marion Wallace Dunlop, who was instrumental in the use of hunger strikes as protest.  My dip into the Scottish story shows that women everywhere in the UK played their part in giving us the vote.

 

On the flyer, the 14 reasons for supporting women’s suffrage make a vital connection between women’s experience and legislation – laws should be made by all those who abide by them, and reflecting the interests of all.  But the later reasons listed touch on something else as well – that women should have the vote because they desire it, and that objections to this are not based on reason.  The fight for votes for women put women’s agency on the agenda, and made the case for women’s place as full participants in public life.  One reason sums it up: ‘it is for the common good of all’. Representation really matters – on the pages of history, and in the corridors of power.

 

 

 

Shutting the door on 2017

18 Dec

A couple of weeks ago I read about a charity initiative to start a ‘reverse advent calendar’ – a great idea for donating food and household supplies to foodbanks. Instead of receiving a little gift from behind the date on your calendar each day, you pick something you can give away daily, and then pass your collection on to your local foodbank, to help people in need over Christmas.

I’ve always enjoyed the build-up to Christmas, so the concept of ‘reversing’ the calendar appealed to me.  I’m also old enough to remember when the excitement of advent calendars was simply in finding a new picture behind the flap – which star-strewn image would be revealed? Which winter wonderland would I enter today? This led me to think about another way of reversing the calendar. Instead of opening a door into a colourful new world, what would you like to shut the door on and put behind you, each day?

2017 has been another turbulent year, so the nominations come thick and fast.  Here are some suggestions from me, feel free to add your own …

 

I’d like to shut the door on:  Silencing women

It’s been a big year for women speaking out.  From the Women’s March following Trump’s inauguration, to the new openness in discussions of sexual harassment following the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, it has been a time for hearing long-neglected women’s voices. The tide turned sufficiently for Time magazine to name the ‘Silence breakers’, the women who spoke out about sexual harassment, as their Person(s) of the year.  But as Mary Beard reminds us, silencing  women has deep roots in our culture, with women in the public sphere facing constant pressures to shut up. Let’s keep talking.

 

I’d like to shut the door on: Non-apologies

2017 has proved a masterclass in the public utterances of ‘sorry not sorry’.  In response to revelations of sexual harassment, many high-profile men have abjectly failed to apologise properly. It’s nicely summed up in this piece for Vox. My own favourite example is Louis C.K.’s notion that he was ‘so admired’ that he didn’t realise that asking first didn’t make showing his private parts to colleagues ok ….

 

I’d like to shut the door on: Threatening language in politics

The Brexit juggernaut has rumbled on this year, with divisions of opinion running to the top of our political parties.  In the midst of heated debate, the atmosphere has sometimes turned nasty.  There have been headlines calling judges ‘enemies of the people’ and Conservative rebels ‘mutineers’.  Most recently, the vote to give parliament a meaningful say on the outcome of negotiations with the EU, has resulted in MPs being termed ‘traitors’.  Members of both the main political parties have now seen demands for de-selection from other members of their own parties.

The essence of a strong democracy is being able to express opposing views and argue the case in a civilised manner. Labelling those you disagree with stupid or ignorant, or worse, sliding into threatening discourse, does not help. In 2018 let’s have some calm.

 

I’d like to shut the door on: Fixing women, not systems

2017 has seen the gender pay gap highlighted as an issue, and gender inequality in sectors such as broadcasting and technology brought to the fore.  As the inequities in these industries have been exposed, there’s also been a repetition of arguments around how women’s ‘choices’ explain differences in outcomes between the sexes.

A fine example came up this week, in reporting of a study which apparently found that teenage girls aimed for lower-paying jobs than boys, so that girls’ aspirations were perpetuating the pay gap. This analysis pays no attention to the social forces underlying occupational choices, nor to lesser value often attached to ‘feminine’ or female-dominated jobs, irrespective of the actual skills and knowledge required to carry them out.

Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley it’s been a year of reckoning for gender inequality in technology. The infamous ‘Google memo’ (which I blogged about here) kickstarted the ongoing debate around diversity in tech, and the widespread failure of tech companies to recruit, retain and promote female and non-white staff.  Many voices support the notion that cultural issues in the sector are deep-rooted, and affect women and minorities at all stages of their career, rather than resulting simply from life choices such as area of study, or having children.  Issues of unconscious bias also affect investment decisions amongst venture capitalists who fund tech start-ups as shown here.

It’s time to address structural and cultural factors underlying inequality, rather than focussing relentlessly on individuals.

 

I’d like to shut the door on: Bad awards choices

I seemed to spend half of 2016 discussing poor choices in award winners (e.g. here and here) so I was hoping for better form this year.  2017 may indeed have risen above the dubiousness of making Bono a ‘Woman of the Year’ as really did occur last year, but at the close of play we have another clanger.  It’s been announced that Oxford Dictionaries has declared ‘youthquake’ Word of the Year. This news has attracted some raised eyebrows, as few would identify it as a commonly used piece of vocabulary. The rationale seems to be that usage did increase this year, and that it’s a ‘hopeful’ word in uncertain times.  Hmmm… a word that few use, to describe something that hasn’t quite happened – perhaps that sums up 2017 after all….

 

As someone who shares a house with teenagers can I also suggest that slamming doors becomes a thing of the past?   May the door of 2017 now close peacefully behind you.

 

 

Ushering in change…

18 Nov

It’s hard to think of an instance where shutting a door in a woman’s face represents progress, but in this week’s appointment of the first female Black Rod, we have one.  Every year Black Rod comes to public attention as part of the ceremony attached to the presentation of the Queen’s Speech to Parliament.  In accordance with tradition – representing the independence of the Commons from the monarchy – Black Rod arrives at the doors to the House of Commons, and is symbolically snubbed: the door is slammed shut, and Black Rod must knock three times with a lion-topped, ebony staff, in order for the door to be opened. MPs then accept the invitation to move to the House of Lords and hear the speech.

But the job has a wider remit than that.  Black Rod is essentially a kind of CEO of the House of Lords, and has the accompanying title of ‘Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod’. As the first woman to occupy the role in over 650 years, Sarah Clarke is to be styled ‘Lady Usher’ when she takes up her post early next year.  Historically, Black Rod has often been a military man, as was the current incumbent, David Leakey. Sarah Clarke’s background is more one of military precision – the kind required to organise Wimbledon, or to be a major cog in putting on the London Olympics.  Such a background seems suitable as it involves dealing with the needs of Royals, high-status professionals, and the public.  Among the many duties of Black Rod, is responsibility for the royal areas of parliament, such as the robing room, and organising the State visits of foreign luminaries.  Black Rod also has a meaty security portfolio, including major incident response and contingency planning, should the House of Lords become unusable.  As Big Ben stands covered in controversy-generating scaffolding, and the plans for renovation of parliament remain undecided and yet urgently required, this might become a more high-profile aspect of the job.

There are those who might say that Black Rod represents exactly the kind of anachronistic flummery Britain could well do without. But as the Republic seems some way off, and we have a surfeit of constitutional issues to resolve over the next few years as the UK leaves the EU, perhaps there is a little consolation in knowing that Black Rod’s duty of ‘fostering diversity and inclusion’ in the House of Lords will at last be performed by a woman…

Political shorthand – for men?

30 Sep

I’ve been intrigued by a conversation on Twitter about ‘Centrist Mum’.  If you’re politically inclined, you’d have to have been out of the country/under a rock not to have heard of the term ‘Centrist Dad’ which reached peak public awareness during the Labour Party Conference last week.  So who is ‘Centrist Dad’, and why, as in the online conversation, is there no apparent female equivalent?

 

Well, the ‘Centrist Dad’ label grew up in the Corbyn-inspired (younger) Left to describe the kind of (older) man who is not happy about the contemporary direction of the Labour Party.  Not only is he not happy, he takes it upon himself to speak up about it, and to provide Corbyn supporters (especially younger women) with the benefit of his experience.  The essence of ‘Centrist Dad’ is summed up here, where commentators point out that ‘condescension’ is a key element of the brand:  middle-aged men endeavouring to impose their opinions on the young. The article also points out that 25-44 year olds (a key parenting age group) are more likely to vote Labour than older age groups, and that women in this age bracket are even more likely to vote Labour than men.  Meanwhile, older age groups are more likely to vote Tory, and this piece shows how some Labour-voting children in their twenties and thirties converted their more right-wing mothers to Labour in the General Election.  I looked for a Dad equivalent, but have not found one*….

 

So, perhaps ‘Centrist Mum’ hasn’t caught on because Corbyn has a greater female following, and fewer women are in fact on the right of the Labour party (though of course the ‘raw’ Labour vote by gender does not tell us exactly which type of Labour male or female voters voted for….).  I realised that I had a vague memory of a group called ‘Mums for Corbyn’, whose existence would add ballast to the argument that women in the parenting demographic may be more likely to identify as Corbyn supporters.  A brief search established that there is indeed such a group, and that they attended the Momentum World Transformed event, in parallel to the main Labour conference.  A member of Mums for Corbyn is quoted in the Times as saying that the group grew up partly in response to ‘lad culture’ on the Left, to make a space for activists who are also mothers.

 

So we, have Centrist Dad who is at least in part defined through a patronising attitude to younger female Left-wingers, and Mums for Corbyn arising partly as an alternative to lad culture.  Meanwhile we have examples of mothers persuaded to vote Labour by their children, but fathers not so much …. Maybe we have the answer as to why there is no Centrist Mum:  political space is often male-dominated and not infrequently sexist. Why label women if they are not seen as having immutable opinions, or as integral to the culture?

 

 

* there are a couple of pre-election articles on persuading grandparents to vote Labour, presumably because over-60s are the most Conservative-inclined of all

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