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Monday, 22 June 2015

Politics is Brutal!

WOW! It's been a while. Can't believe how quickly a year flies by. While I've been poor at keeping this Blog this doesn't mean to say I haven't been writing! Local politics has been taking up lots of my time recently. Frustrated at my lack of 'a voice' I've been seeing whether getting involved in local politics and trying to become a local Councillor - sitting on the Plymouth City Council would make me feel that my voice as a mature, talented, organised, disabled woman would be listened to. Sadly I haven't managed to get elected yet. Two years in a row I've pounded the streets of two different Wards. Here are the letters I wrote to my local newspaper after each election.

Letters to Herald Newspaper 2014

A few weeks ago I was delighted to be a candidate at the count of votes in the Guildhall in Plymouth. There was a great buzz around especially as the ballot boxes began to be tipped on the tables and the fierce counting began. It was also exciting to be watching as each ward was declared but I noticed something very striking. As the Ward candidates stood waiting to hear the results one after the other I couldn’t help but notice the disproportionate number of white, middle aged or elderly men. Yes, ‘male, pale and stale’ muttered the woman I was standing next to. Yesterday that balance was redressed when I attended the South West Women’s Manifesto for political change at Exeter University. Here I witnessed the amazing passion and strength of women like Finn Mackay from Bristol University and Joanne Kaye from UNISON arguing the need for a change in our political culture and the need for 50:50 representation in Parliament and on decision making Boards. There were plenty of powerful women in the room who would do a brilliant job in Parliament and I came away utterly convinced that we need to continue and push for more all women shortlists and quotas to ensure these talented and powerful women are selected. Many argue that these methods are divisive and people don’t like them. It’s men who don’t like them and women who don’t understand that without them it will be another hundred years before we have the equality that will bring about lasting political change.

As Labour’s local candidate in Eggbuckland I would like to thank the 1,129 people who voted for me in the recent elections. As a first time candidate it was a great experience for me meeting many interested and committed voters. It was easy to canvass on behalf of our present Plymouth City Council because there are so many brilliant and exciting projects planned for the city, not least the New Deal and of course the most recent History Centre. I was however, disappointed by the number of people who chose not to vote at all. Many people I spoke to very honestly told me ‘I don’t know what it’s all about’. They listened attentively when I explained my view of the ethos behind the main parties. We need to do a much better job of educating the general public about why their vote is so important and with better political education more people would vote. I was also very discouraged by people who placed votes to ‘teach the main parties a lesson’ or to ‘protest ’. The local elections are not a classroom exercise where selecting a personality or a single issue cause merely ‘shakes things up’. Our city councillors have a huge (albeit ever decreasing) budget to spend. We need people who are willing to take the role seriously, represent everyone within the Ward and  collectively help make vital economic decisions. Of course this is also the case when it comes to electing MPs. I sincerely hope that before the general election next year the people of Plymouth will take time to properly evaluate the quality and experience of the candidate they chose, check their understanding of all pertinent issues both locally and nationally and crucially their ethos and commitment to equality, which for me is the most important measure of a party’s worth.

Letters to Herald Newspaper 2014

I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to the 1,912 residents of Moor View Ward who voted for me the Labour candidate in the local Council elections. I’m sorry that more people were persuaded that the Conservatives will provide better opportunities for our country over the coming five years. Many of us are feeling worried and immensely unsure about the future, not least those who rely on benefits because they have children, are in low paid work, have a disability, or can’t find a job. While I sincerely hope that our fears are unfounded I can’t help feeling the outlook is bleak because the last five years have already seen many deaths of sick and vulnerable people waiting to receive benefits. We have also witnessed immoral and illegal ‘sanctions’ applied to people who have been unable to defend themselves, leaving them destitute and forced into food banks and the hands of loan sharks. Many people in Moor View Constituency have been helped over the last 10 years by the dedication and work of Alison Seabeck. I know that she has helped many people across the Ward because I met you on the door steps and you sang her praises. In the hands of Johnny Mercer now, I hope you will be helped in the same way. However, no one could have been impressed by his first great error of judgement on polling day. Agreeing to the illegal plastering of the Moor View Constituency with hundreds of posters and banners was ill judged and unethical. No doubt he will expect his residents to uphold the law – what a shame he set such a terrible example on the day he came to office and hopefully we will hear about the meting out of justice, ideally within this newspaper which has so far been silent on this issue.

Politics is Brutal

You can imagine the feelings of the Labour camp in the Guildhall on the night of the election when Alison Seabeck MP lost her Plymouth Moorview seat. Only to be followed a few hours later with the devastating news that Luke had failed to win Plymouth Sutton and Devonport. The next day was better for Plymouth when we retained all our Council seats bar one. However we did not win the Moor View ward which I had been fighting. All those weeks and months of canvassing on the door step and speaking to hundreds of people on the telephone were for nothing?

However this was all overshadowed by my feelings of sheer terror and disbelief at the prospect of another five years of Tory rule.

It has been a struggle over the last few weeks to come to terms with it all. I thought I had done with politics because it was too bruising, callous and unfair but I guess like everyone I’m getting over the shock, picking myself up and looking for the next way forward.

They say politics is in the blood and I guess it must be because why else would activists like myself and so many other hard working, loyal Labour Party members put themselves through this? The answer I guess is clear. We have to keep fighting; renew and recharge our vision of a fairer more equal society and offer an alternative to the mirage that the Tories present.

Here’s hoping that you are feeling incensed and ready to begin campaigning again and doing everything we can to stop the Tory march to see the vulnerable and poor in our society back in the workhouse! Come and join us! We need your energy, belief and help! 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

South West Women's Manifesto for Political Change

Report Back of Fair Play South West Meeting 6.6.14 Manifesto for Political Change

What an incredible meeting!

Rarely do I attend meetings where the time flies by, the topics and speakers are inspiring and informative, communicating directly to me about the most pertinent political issues that affect and matter to me; this event bucked the trend!

Chaired by Jackie Longworth a feminist activist and retired engineer, there were four main speakers: Sarah Payne, Professor in Health Policy and Gender from Bristol University, Finn Mackay, feminist researcher at Bristol University’s Centre for Gender and Violence Research, Harriet Bradley, Professor of Women’s Employment at the University of the West of England and Joanne Kaye, Regional Secretary of UNISON South West. These four powerful women oozed passionate determination and shared their in depth knowledge and experience inspiring us to contribute to and then ratify the South West Women’s Manifesto for political change.

The audience of feminist public servants, trade union members, voluntary sector workers and political activists were witnessing with great sadness and anger the backward slide of many equality initiatives across all areas of our lives.  However there was a great deal of energy, power and positivity for change in the room! For me the highlight of the meeting was remembering the awesomeness and strength of women and why making alliances with other women is crucial. Seeking and nurturing other women has to be the starting point.  Change comes about by finding women who are co- operative, empathic, supportive and who are ready to share that solidarity to encourage each other to move forward. The very act of coming together makes great things happen and the meeting and Manifesto were testimony to that. Anita Copley from the National Assembly for Wales was also hugely inspiring reporting the appetite for equality in the Welsh Assembly. Their experience of organising a mentoring network amongst women across all sectors of public life to motivate and nurture other women resonated very strongly for me.

There was a heartfelt commitment to share the Manifesto in our work places, social settings and community groups and to target our future political representatives in Parliament and local government. Laws such as the Gender Equality Duty exist to aid equal treatment for women but our political representatives must make Gender Equality a priority and argue vociferously to keep and improve the mechanisms that exist. We need political change to bring about cultural change so that Gender Equality is no longer seen as a luxury but the right of all women and men. 

Read the Manifesto at 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

No More Page Three

No More Page Three

A few weeks ago I attended ‘The Naked Debate’ at Plymouth University and was lucky enough to witness Lucy Holmes, founder of the 'No More Page Three' campaign, wipe the floor with her  opponents! Ably assisted by Jessica Horner a student at Plymouth University, it was a lively discussion. I was fascinated to watch Lucy use a technique called ‘flipping’ which I had read about only that day. It is the art of taking a common stereotyped presentation of women and ‘flipping’ it putting men at the centre of the image instead. This helps to point out the absurdity of the image and adds humour which of course is one of the best ways to tackle and subvert sexism. A brilliant example of this is how she began by talking about ‘scrotums’. Of course with a debate about page three you would have thought it inevitable that mention of ‘breasts’ or ‘tits’ would ensue. But Lucy ‘flipped’ this and challenged us to imagine being confronted with ‘scrotums’ in our daily newspaper. ‘Scrotums at the family breakfast table, scrotums on the bus, scrotums everywhere for our impressionable young people to see’.

Her fellow debaters supporting page three, Charlie Green a student representative on the Student Union and Phil Ives writer for the university magazine did their best to raise arguments but they really struggled! A member of the audience suggested that the debate was uneven because the supporters of page three knew less about the subject whereas Lucy has been campaigning for months and is more knowledgeable. In reality, of course because the use of semi naked women in our daily newspapers is indefensible there are no stronger arguments they could have used!

I managed to speak to Lucy after the event and we discussed how the whole issue can be narrowed down to equal treatment. If men and women were treated the same the debate would change completely. I told Lucy of this lesson I ran when I was teaching English in a Comprehensive in Milton Keynes about 20 years ago!

I was teaching a unit of an English Language GCSE which required us to compare and analyse broadsheet and tabloid newspapers. I was being asked to bring in a copy of ‘The Sun’ to discuss in small mixed gender groups 14 year old teenagers and I wasn’t happy about it! Without permission (if anyone had found out I would have been in great trouble) I purchased a soft porn magazine with pictures of naked men in various ‘tasteful’ poses and suggestive positions. I removed some of the pages and placed them inside ‘The Sun’ newspapers, I then placed them in the middle of the table and I wish I had videoed the response. The poor lads nearly died of embarrassment. The more confident ones in the class tried to brazen it out making jokes and the atmosphere became very animated. The girls found it hilarious and started laughing and there was a huge amount of nervous, uncomfortable laughter. Some boys got angry and took the images out, trying to cover them out or get them away. The girls got angry too and snatched the pictures back until one boy snatched up a picture and tore it to pieces so it wasn’t visible anymore.  At this stage I intervened and we then had a brilliant discussion because we talked about how they felt. The boys admitted to their feelings of embarrassment and insecurity because they didn’t look like the men in the images. The girls explained that that’s how they also felt when they saw the images plastered over newspapers and other media. It was probably the best lesson I ever taught.

Who would have believed that 20 years on, yes 20 years on we are still having this debate. I’m ready to run this session again – let me know what you think?

Letter to the Plymouth Herald Newspaper October 2013 -

As the subject of Page 3 has come again here's a copy of the letter I sent to the Herald last year.

I’m afraid I remain very unconvinced by Courtnie’s defence of her ‘career’ as a page 3 topless model. Courtnie argues that many of the women who are against page 3 don’t buy the Sun, and asks why a minority has ‘so much power’. Firstly I’m not so sure they do as we have been trying to get rid of page 3 for many, many years! 

The reason why so many women and thankfully more and more men want to see it banned is because strong evidence shows there is a link between media representations of partially naked/naked women and a growing disrespect for all women. We still have a massive problem with women experiencing horrific levels of sexual and domestic abuse and violence and presenting images of women in these titillating poses demeans women and breeds an underlying culture of disrespect. 

Many people who want page 3 banned are also looking at this from the perspective of our young people, both boys and girls. Exactly what messages are we giving out to them about respecting their own bodies and that of their peers when our daily newspapers carry this kind of image? What sort of role model is this? Do parents really believe that a career in this business is something to aspire too? Would you want your daughter doing this? I wouldn’t. It cuts no ice with those who despise the Sun’s page 3 models that they are ‘natural’. So what! Courtnie please answer this ‘If you were able to earn the same money that you earn as a model , in any other professional, would you still take your clothes off for money? 

Courtnie mentions her qualifications and it’s brilliant to see that she has had a good education. In reality it is only a tiny few in the sex industry who earn high salaries. Many more women experience fear and intimidation and turn to this kind of work out of desperation because they feel they have no choice. The education Courtnie is sorely missing is gender equality education – this isn’t unusual as there is a complete lack of it in most schools. I would like to see the University offering this gender equality education and then have the debate about banning page 3, I think you would get a very well informed debate once the audience were properly informed. 

If the Sun continues to refuse to lose the Page 3 images I suggest in the name of equality we introduce a page 4 which includes a semi naked man. The images need to be exactly in the same vein, titillating and with these ridiculous supposedly sexy poses. Of course it would be difficult to achieve equality because a man topless isn’t the same but we could have plenty of scanty, bulging pants. Very quickly we would see that when equal treatment of the sexes if applied page 3 is ludicrous and totally unacceptable in a daily newspaper in the 21st Century.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Don't let the Tories finish us off for good.

In last week's Plympton, Plymstock and Ivybridge News, our local MP Gary Streeter asked to be allowed to ‘finish the job’. I, for one, don’t want the Tories to ‘finish the country off for good’ for that’s where we are headed.

Gary Streeter was celebrating the news of unemployment being down but in reality many local people have little to celebrate. He proudly details 42 fewer claimants for unemployment benefit since November. It would be very interesting to know the story behind these statistics. Have these 42 people found full time jobs with good pay and working conditions, like sick pay, holiday pay and maternity rights?  The sort of work everyone is entitled to and our unions have been fighting for since their conception.

There are a number of reasons why these figures may look so good but the story behind them is usually showing a widening gap between the haves and the have nots. Thousands of disabled people across the country have been forced off benefits into destitution as a result of the despicable ATOS tests which carry out the government's benefit reduction agenda. This is evidenced by  the huge increase in homelessness and food banks.

Another way these figures are brought down is by sanctioning people for not doing enough to find work. Badly trained, insensitive, often young and inexperienced people make decisions about the most vulnerable job seekers in our society who find it almost impossible to access work and record their efforts within this incredibly hostile environment. But maybe those 42 have been ‘lucky enough’ to find a job with the many zero hours contract employers out there. These contracts mean that ‘employees’ have no set hours and only get paid when they are called in. They live a miserable existence on irregular hours worrying about whether they can pay their bills each month.

Gary Streeter praises the wealth creators who lie awake at night worrying about business decisions – surely he should also be praising the other true wealth creators who work hard every single day in these businesses but still often have to claim working tax credits because their wages are so low. I urge you to seek the truth behind the rhetoric. Gary Streeter makes it clear who he favours in his article. He stands for a Party which rewards and protects the wealthy and in reality prefers greater unemployment because desperately unemployed people are too busy trying to survive to worry about who they vote for.