As The Only Main Political Party To Have Never Had A Female Leader, It’s Time The Labour Party Take A Look At Itself By Kelly Grehan

With the election of Jo Swinson as Liberal Democrat Leader two weeks ago, the Labour Party now finds itself behind the Conservative, Green Party, Plaid , SNP, Sinn Fein, Independent Group and even the DUP in never having had a substantive female leader.

It is unfortunate, that as the party of devolution, we can not point to having had a female Scottish or Welsh First Minister or London Mayor either. Chancellor positions have also only been held by males.

So why in, over 119 years of existence has the Labour Party failed to have a female leader? It is not as if the Labour Party has a lack of talented women, across all wings of the party.

As a party, Labour has contributed 57.8% of all women MPs elected to parliament since 1918; it champions all-women shortlists; 45% of Labour MPs currently in government are women. So why, after all this time, have we still never had a female Labour leader?

All Women Shortlists have undoubtedly been the reason for our success in getting women into Parliament. Without AWS I think it is fair to say we would not have got many of our excellent female MPs into Parliament; these women include Angela Rayner, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Sue Hayman, Cat Smith, Valerie Vaz, Chi Onwurah, Christina Rees, Barbara Keeley and Nia Griffith, Gloria de Piero, Paula Sherriff, Stella Creasy, Rachel Maskell, Jess Phillips, Tulip Siddiq, Holly Lynch, Heidi Alexander, Rupa Huq, Melanie Onn, Thangam Debbonnaire, Maria Eagle, Lilian Greenwood, Kerry McCarthy, Rachel Reeves, Shabana Mahmood and Lisa Nandy. This list makes the dull argument that AWS would lead to mediocre women being selected to make up the numbers hard to support, instead demonstrating that amazing women are often overlooked. In any case there is no shortage of mediocre men in the Commons! It is hard to avoid the argument we would have lost out on this talent without AWS.

If given a choice between a man and a woman members almost always choice a man. Why? An unconscious bias towards men remains within the party membership which must be explored and owned if we are ever to overcome it. If we are truly the party of equality we need to prove it, and be honest about what we are doing wrong.

We can see what happens without AWS in my own constituency. The last time a female candidate was selected was in 1938. Jennie Adamson won the Dartford seat too, that means that almost no one in our town has any memory of it having a female Labour election candidate!

The two women who have come closest to leading he party are Margaret Beckett and Hariet Harman, who were both Deputy Leaders and acting leaders.

Looking at their histories it is hard to see any argument that either were not suitably qualified. Beckett is actually the longest serving female MP ever. She was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party in 1992 under John Smith and when he died in 1994 she became, temporarily, the leader. She then stood for both leader and deputy leader and while Gordon Brown backed her for deputy leader in 1994, she lost out to John Prescott. She held great offices, including Foreign Secretary, but this did not stop her being labelled as a ‘Blair Babe.’ Harman is a QC and served as Shadow Employment Secretary, Shadow Health Secretary and Shadow Social Security Secretary. Despite being leader after Gordon Brown’s resignation she never stood for leader.

Writing for International Women’s Day back in March Harriet Harman summed up the experience of those who speak out about the situation:

‘If you argue for positive action, which the women’s movement in the Labour Party has, then that will be and has been resisted. If you are always pushing at barriers, you’re a productive force, but not necessarily a popular one. Those leading that charge can come to be considered too unpopular for the top job. That is an explanation, but it’s not an excuse.’

There are still men in the party who remain against women in Parliament. For example Veteran MP Austin Mitchell used the occasion of the announcement of his retirement in 2015 to complain that the influx of women MPs had ‘weakened parliament’. The fact a man thought it ok to voice such nonsense in public makes me wonder what else in being said under cover!

However, I do not think Mitchell’s view is typical of that in the party, I think the problem is more that the concept of what a candidate is in intrinsically tied up with imagery of a male for most people. It is easy for women who argue against this to be wanting special treatment.

Now is the time for the decent men in the party to be champions of gender equality, and supporters of the feminist cause. It is no longer enough to leave it to women to fight for equality. It is time for us to look at what processes can ensure this is the last time Leader, Deputy Leader and Chancellor/Shadow Chancellor are all held by men.

I think the time has come to introduce rules that make having three people of the same gender in the three top roles impossible.

100 Years On From The Addison Act and Housing Still Creates Poverty and Misery By Kelly Grehan

Today marks 100 years since the Housing Act, commonly known as the Addison Act (after the Minister Of Housing, Christopher Addison) came into force. It was, in part, a response to the shocking lack of fitness amongst many recruits during World War One, attributed to poor living conditions.

Today, we find ourselves in a new crisis where by housing creates poverty, misery and both physical and mental health problems.

Things did not have to be like this, none of these problems are inevitable. In fact, if the opportunities afforded by the Addison Act had been realised I am sure we would be living in a more equal, happy and healthy society now.

The Addison Act made housing a national responsibility, and local authorities were given the task of developing new housing and rented accommodation where it was needed by working people. The idea of that working people should be able to live in decent accommodation is an idea, I think we should revitalise.

Further Acts during the 1920s extended the duty of local councils to make housing available as a social service. The Housing Act of 1924 gave substantial grants to local authorities in response to the acute housing shortages of these years.

A fresh Housing Act of 1930 obliged local councils to clear all remaining slum housing, and provided further subsidies to re-house inhabitants. This single Act led to the clearance of more slums than at any time previously, and the building of 700,000 new homes.

In the Attlee Government, Aneurin Bevan was the Minister for Health and Housing, recognition, surely, of how closely aligned the two are. He promoted a vision of new estates where “the working man, the doctor and the clergyman will live in close proximity to each other”.

Surely the divided society we now have is marked our more by housing than any other thing.

Social housing, was a great state asset, giving the state the ability to ensure a general standard of living for the population, a safety net which no one would fall below and a means of ensuring that people had shared interests and mixed together.

Of course, it was not perfect, but it help promise and opportunity for a better world – good housing makes good health more likely (poor housing is, for example, linked to increased risk of meningitis, asthma, and slow growth, which is linked to coronary heart disease) and makes participation in eduction and leisure activities more likely.

The beginning of the decline in social housing began in 1980, with a new Housing Act forming the flagship policy of Margaret Thatcher’s first term in office. Council tenants were given the right to buy the property they lived in, at a significantly discounted price than that of the market.

One million properties were sold in the first 7 years alone. Under the Act , councils were prevented from reinvesting the proceeds of these sales in new housing, and so the total available stock, particularly of more desirable homes, declined.

Homes lost under the scheme have not been replaced in any adequate number.

The Resolution Foundation reports that English local authorities and housing associations have built only one home for every two sold under the scheme.

40 percent of council houses once sold under right-to-buy terms to their tenants are now being privately rented out. have spent £22 million yearly simply renting back the buildings they had once owned as temporary housing. has facilitated an enormous transfer of wealth from the public to private sector.

This is, in effect an enormous transfer of wealth from the public to private sector. It also sees a massive strain added to the public purse as housing benefit is paid to private landlords for the properties built by tax payers money.

The rental market, fuelled by a lack of social rents now operates like the wild west, with renters, or consumers as you might call them, forced to pay rents which have grown far in excess with the rise in wages.

The National Housing Federation says that in England, just under a fifth of households are in relative poverty after housing costs. Over half of those in poverty in the private rented sector were not in poverty before paying their rent.

Standards in the private sector are often poor, despite the high rent: 2018 study found that more than 1.3 million homes rented from private landlords failed to meet the national Decent Homes Standard. Conditions were found to get worse the longer tenants remained in their property, suggesting poor property management rather than old housing stock was the cause of despair.

A little discussed problem which is caused by the decline of the supply of social housing is the social division it has caused.

As demand for social housing grows, scrutiny of those who are awarded it grows. There is a feeling that those in social housing, with rents below market rate and stable tencies have hit some kind of jackpot. I regularly hear reports from those in social housing that they are told ‘if you don’t like it go private, if they complain about any aspect of their property. At the same time stigma remains attached to those living in social housing, as if only their address defines them.

With the risk of eviction always hanging over those in the private rented sector as well as often poor conditions it is no wonder mental health suffers.

According to the charity Shelter, one fifth of people report a housing issue has negatively impacted on their mental health in the last five years. Studies have also isolated a clear ‘housing effect’ in relation to important aspects of children’s well-being and future life chances.Poor housing conditions increase the risk of severe ill-health or disability by up to 25 per cent during childhood and early adulthood.

Were this a better country, one that had pursued policies which had led to the overwhelming majority of people living in secure, fit accommodation which remained a state asset we might well be celebrating today, as a national holiday, a day of celebration of the Housing Act of 1919 and the prosperity and security it bought to generations of citizens.

Sadly it was not to be.

Progress Is In Danger With Boris Johnson’s Cabinet By Kelly Grehan

Born in 1980, I came of age not long after the 1997 Labour government swept to power. Clause 28 was quickly abolished, civil partnerships, adoption by gay people, The Good Friday Agreement, the introduction of the Equality and Human Rights Commission,giving all full time workers the right to 24 days paid holiday and the introduction of 2 weeks paternity leave quickly followed. It seemed it was just a matter of waiting for all these changes to become the norm and the more equal society we craved would follow.

Sadly, the naivety of such a time now seems wistful. After a decade of cuts we have seen a decline in our quality of life for the overwhelming majority of us and divisions between people are at the highest I’ve ever seen. Now with Boris Johnson and his morally bankrupt cabinet in charge I”m genuinely fearful that the rights we thought we had taken for granted are under threat.

I simply haven’t the space or time to list all the things Boris Johnson has done to demonstrate he is unfit for public office, but suffice to say a man who described homosexuals as ‘tank top wearing bum boys’ and compared Muslim women to ‘letter boxes’ is very unlikely to stand up for the rights of either group.

I’ve heard people defend Johnson, saying it’s ‘just banter,’ or ‘his sense of humour.’ In my opinion these Johnson apologists need to takea look at themselves – an extremely privileged straight, white man mocking members of groups known to suffer from massive discrimination and who are recipients of high amounts of hate crime can not be defended.

It’s logical to assume that, if the person leading our country engages in such nasty rhetoric without consequence then others will follow. This is devastating.

As if it’s not bad enough our children are growing up with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister their education is under the control of Gavin Williamson, named Education Secretary just 85 days after his sacking over a National Security Council leak (which he denied). Can anyone imagine a situation where you would be welcomed back into a job in these circumstances?

Then we have Priti Patel as Home Secretary.

She was forced to resign from Theresa May’s government after revelations she had conducted secret meetings with the Israeli government. She is also a supporter of the death penalty. She was slammed in December for suggesting the government could use possible Brexit food shortages in Ireland as “leverage”.

New Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab appeared to have spent most of his period as Brexit Secretary in a state of confusion; famously admitting he had not “understood the significance of the Dover-Calais crossing.” he also admitted to not having read the The Good Friday Agreement.

In 2011 Mr Raab said “feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots” and said it was time for men to start “burning their briefs”.

In 2017 he said most food bank users were not “languishing in poverty” but were instead had “cash flow” problems and has branded Brits “the worst idlers in the world”.

Chief Whip Mark Spencer is best known for comments he made in 2015 when he suggesting a “dying” benefit claimant, sanctioned after he turned up four minutes late, should “learn the discipline of timekeeping”.

Although ,surely an improvement on Chris Grayling, new Transport Minister Grant Shapps is another appointment to the cabinet with a dubious history. He was demoted by David Cameron from his job as party co-chairman and Minister without Portfolio after revelations about his second job and use of the assumed names “Michael Green” and “Sebastian Fox.”

Esther McVey, is the tories 9th Housing Minister in as many years. Ms McVey told the House of Commons in December 2013: “In the UK it is right that, you know, more people are visiting – which you’d expect – going to foodbanks.’

She also claimed reports of cuts to benefits were fake news.

I read the profiles of these “characters” Boris Johnson has seen fit to appoint and I feel genuinely afraid as to what policies they may pursue. The lack of compassion, adherence to facts and history of defence of rights and libraries is chilling.

I wish us all luck.

Living With A Narcissist By Naina Ramavrat

*** Trigger ⚠️ warning ***

“Her once home sweet home, the place she re-treated to for solace, comfort, and serenity soon changed into a pit of chaos, torture, and mental torment. Her soul in chains, her heart fresh and ripe in danger, attacked by a powerful parasite that slowly rotted away at her deep from the core bruising her within. Even burning sage could not cleanse this type of monster”

-Hidden Hurt.

Home sweet home at last I thought after a tough day, I sat watching the news hearing about a landmark case that looked into Georgina Challan’s (known as Sally) murder conviction being overturned under new domestic abuse law.

A woman who killed her husband in a hammer attack after 40 years of being ‘controlled’ and ‘humiliated’ by him. This case has increased our growing understanding of domestic abuse and in particular the mechanism and impact of ‘coercive’ and ‘controlling behaviour’. Emotionally I could relate as I know of a ‘Sally’ who pretty much went through similar experiences. Luckily enough, she managed to escape the clutches of such cruelty and abuse.

However I must admit, it could have been very different if she had not freed herself from bondage, meaning she was on the cusp of either ending her life or that of her perpetrator. I remember speaking to the ‘Sally’ I know after her ordeal, she perfectly picked lines from one of her favourite songs by Sade sung I believe during the 80’s:

“He’s laughing with another girl and playing with another heart,  

Placing high stakes, and making hearts ache. No place for beginners or sensitive hearts.

His eyes are like angels, his heart is cold. He’s a smooth operator.”

I knew exactly what she meant.

Unlike Sally Challan she wasn’t married, neither had children, only in a what she thought was a civil relationship. They were introduced by a mutual friend where things became very serious very quick. He was exceptionally charming, made her laugh, was protective and shared similar views about general facets of life. They both were in their early twenties with so much going for them, both were in employment and had somewhere to live.

They fell in love very quickly, experiencing life to the fullest by making plans amongst themselves without seeing friends. Within 5 months of dating they starting living together.

She was and still is kind hearted always giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, she was vulnerable in many ways she just didn’t know that. She focused greatly on her job that was important to her as well as her home, it was her ‘sanctuary of peace.’

That ‘sanctuary of peace’ soon became a place of hell for her. She would find out that her home would become a torture chamber where the secrets of what happened would remain only behind closed doors.

The cracks started to show, after a hard day at work the routine would be to wind down not having to go out every night nor to have a drink. That was something her partner then enjoyed doing and seemed never to tire from it. He would stroll in at whatever time he wanted banging and clanging around, demanding affection on his terms to the extent of refusing NO as an answer not wanting to understand that it was inappropriate.

Arguments would unfold where she would be blamed for every little thing that went wrong.

He lost his job – it was her fault,

He was stressed- something she did, she was not affectionate enough- as she shouldn’t be tired.  

If she was not compliant, she would face all night torment of questioning and interrogation with no resolve, having to prove her whereabouts through providing access to all her passwords and codes for social networking sites where he would vigilantly monitor her.

This caused great isolation with her privacy being taken she fell victim to shame and guilt. (something many abuse victims feel).

The love that was once felt was lost and she wanted the relationship to terminate. The events that followed after, no one should ever go through. Not everyone knows about domestic abuse, they sometimes are in a trance not really knowing what is happening to them or why – many place blames on themselves as they are conditioned to feel that way. It is paralysing.

The ‘Sally’ I know suffered, as we know that one thing Narcissists loathe is ‘rejection’ .

He followed her to work, threatened to cause scenes wherever she went if she did not agree oncile. Non-stop messaged and called her, sat outside her house waiting. She refused trying desperately to stay strong using many masks to hide her bleeding heart.

Being forced against your will is terrible.

He never was remorseful for his behaviour and lacked empathy. I remember her going to the doctors once for a check-up, as she waited before being called, she looked around the sterile waiting room, her attention fixed on a poster, that described exactly what she was going through – it was ‘the cycle of abuse’ and it listed the following:

. Power & control

. Using Intimidation

. Emotional Abuse

. Humiliation

. Possessiveness

. Threats

. Coercive behaviour

. Manipulation

“I knew then my situation was abuse, I needed to break free, I needed to get out! all of those points were what was happening to me” said my friend ‘Sally’.

She became brave and confided in her doctor thankfully, who reassured her that help was available and to access it.

“I was told to seek help immediately, things won’t get better, they will only get worse”… those words are chilling.

She had supportive friends, even though she had not confided nor kept in contact always making excuses. There was enough evidence to show harassment and controlling behaviour.

On many occasions she reported her perpetrator to the police it made no difference as he still found a way to bother her.

That night she made it clear, she did not want anything to do with him and just wanted to get on with her life, he refused to leave, verbally abused her, threatened her, blocked her way so she could not escape.

She had no choice but to take the punishment the monster had to offer. He was unleashed, she begged and pleaded for him to let her go, she covered her ears, as the screaming and torment was too much, crouched in a foetal position she buried her head, tears flooding her ability to breath properly.

He took her phone so she could not contact the authorities.  This torture went on for what seemed hours, she knew from prior experience he would not stop, there was no one to help, no one heard her plea for help or could hear her cries. She wanted to escape but there was no way out!

Until she gave up “my mind shut off I could no longer take it I wanted out, and I said there is only one way”.

She got up drained and weary walked to the drawer where the knives were, picked one up stood toe to toe with him, her eyes solemn and said “You choose me or you? I cannot take this anymore if you do not let me go and stop, I will finish you, but if you persist, I will finish myself -now let me go!”

“I had never been more serious about anything in my life until that point, I was willing to kill, and willing to die at the same time, not because I wanted to kill or die, I wanted the torment to stop”

The monster released her. He took it up onto himself to leave and reported her to the authorities, she was arrested provided her reasons with proof it was evident she was a victim of domestic abuse, she needed support and the perpetrator needed to be punished. A court order was issued protecting her it has been so precious as it has allowed her to live freely.

“I’ve got my life back, I still have issues with self-confidence, but I am working on being kind to me, I’m doing well and know I will get there. I am happy to feel secure in my own home, it feels amazing to come back to a peaceful calm home again”

Her situation could have easily ended up just as Sally Challan’s. The truth is there are many ‘Sally’s’ out there who are going through domestic abuse usually only receiving help when it becomes too late. Many victims have died by committing suicide, have murdered, or have been murdered by the hands of their perpetrator.

I have read many stories where victims could and should have been saved but their cries were not heard clearly.

Many live with domestic abuse for years just as Sally Challan did as they do not see any way out and are in love so in essence put up with the hurt more so for the sake of their children. We all know that is not right or conducive to one’s health and wellbeing.

Many are afraid of living independently alone as they have developed security by being co-dependant with their abuser.

“ The narcissist creates a dynamic abuser victim relationship through a cycle of abuse resulting in traumatic bonding that makes it hard for their partner to leave the increasingly abusive relationship”.

“What was so disturbing was the fact that he could lie to the extent where he believed his own lies, making others believe him too. He was arrogant, cocky, and so self-assured, he would act one way with others and another with me. As if I didn’t deserve the respect he gave out to others. I’ve have never met anyone who could lie as he did and get away with it, he did that so I would lose myself and be totally dependant on him, his game of control, felling powerless a ‘puppet on strings’.”

Even though she felt free, she still had the dark cloud hanging over her a big contrast to when they first met.

She recalls the early days as, “during that time I use to feel the sun was hung out in the sky only for me, the sky would be the colour of love & happiness. A wonderful feeling and now an unwanted dark cloud just hovers wherever I go.”

“It is not the bruises on the body that hurt. It is the wounds of the heart and the scars on the mind.”

Recovery takes time, it is a slow process.

Knowing that the right support and care is available only speeds up the healing process, your soul can be restored!

Along the way you learn so much as she did, she learned about abuse, love, and self-love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong.”

Along her road to recovery she started learning more about her experience by researching as a form of therapy also to appease her curiosity. She came across a woman based in America; Dr Ramani Durvasula (Ph.D.) is a licensed clinical psychologist who has specialised in the field of narcissism and has published a self-help guide for those who are in abusive relationships, marriages, or who are just wanting to know more.  

It is called ‘Should I stay, or should I go?’ Please recommend to others or have a look.

I read this myself and became hooked on this lady, her videos on YouTube are amazing! She really hits the nail on the head with Narcissistic abusers – please check her out!!

“A relationship with a narcissist is a gradual indoctrination. You slowly become inured to their lack of empathy, their rage, insults, entitlement, lies, and challenges to your reality. Their insulting words slowly become your self-talk and before you know it, your new mantra becomes ‘I am not good enough’ “- Dr Ramani

Good old Dr Ramani really helped with her healing process.

She says “I count myself lucky now, to think there are so many who are going through what I did is unbearable and not only women suffer but men do too, we can unlock the chains that keep us imprisoned especially within our own homes, we have the key, we must be strong we must speak! The more silent we are the more the chains become entangled around us. No one should ever be a prisoner in their own home, we need to speak against abuse.”

“The abhorrent crime has no place in the UK”- Theresa May

The Prime Minister this year has pledged a new legal duty for local authorities to provide secure homes for those affected by domestic abuse/violence. Councils in England are currently under no statutory obligation to house those fleeing violent or abusive relationships, meaning that victims and their families face varying levels of help depending on where they live.

However, in a statement she said “we are ending the postcode lottery by placing on local authorities a legal duty to deliver support, including secure housing, to survivors of domestic abuse and their children.  

‘whoever you are, wherever you live and whatever the abuse you face, you will have access to the services you need to be safe”

The new duty would be backed by government funding to ensure the councils have the resources to deliver.

We need to make sure victims and their families are being supported appropriately. When the ‘Sally’ I know of was going through her horrendous situation she was referred to a charity within her borough that helped women who experienced domestic abuse, they were very accommodating and helpful.

There is more awareness, but we must use that awareness to help properly without many victims falling through the net or becoming lost within loopholes in the system.

Help is available and we must not suffer in silence.

Narcissists are empty hollow individuals hence lack empathy, nothing can or will ever fill that hole they have within.  

Do not suffer in silence remember love doesn’t hurt.

On Fatness… By Lisa Bullock

About four years ago, I got off a train and walked past a smart looking man, who leaned toward me and whispered in my ear:

“God, you are fat”

Now, reader, be under no illusion, I am fat. He was merely reporting fact. My usual suite of excellent witty ripostes deserted me in that second. I stood and stared at his departing back letting the venom seep right into my heart. Then I cried. 

I cried all the way back to Glasgow, and I was still crying when I got back to my cold little flat, miles from my family and partner, at 12.10am.

As a fat woman, I’m used to having insults hurled at me, usually from cars inhabited by late teenage boys, of seemingly both sub -par intelligence and taste in tracksuits. I take this on the chin, with a cheerful flick of the fingers – there isn’t actually much malice in what they are saying – Its just something else to yell, something to pass the time for them – they’ve forgotten me by the time they pass an attractive woman, or old person, or anyone that isn’t them.

But the guy in St Pancras really meant it. He wanted to hurt me.

He didn’t say it to make himself look funny, or clever. He wanted to hurt me, a stranger, someone who hadn’t taken up any of his space, or interacted with him in any way, for being bigger that he deemed acceptable.

I sometimes wonder if he thinks he was trying to help. Perhaps he thought that his brave intervention might shock me into action, and that in a year or two’s time, I’d be strolling through St Pancras, slim and lithe, see him, and thank him for saving my life. Instead, I did what I always do in times of deep sadness: I went back to my flat in Glasgow and ate my feelings in cake form.

I’m engaged in a constant battle with my body. It is able and willing and does all the things I ask it to do, almost without complaint, yet still I treat it with contempt.

Recently, I noted the new Nike mannequin launched in London, showcasing their plus size range. They had dared to display the clothes, designed for fat bodies, on a fat body.

The reaction was baffling. This piece from Tanya Gold, for the Telegraph, was particularly myopic:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/obese-mannequins-selling-women-dangerous-lie/

The idea that fat people can barely stir their stumps to movement is laughable. I am fat – really fat – and I have witnesses over 30 in number who can personally attest that I have stood In front/behind/beside them every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday wobbling energetically away, shedding sweat and hair ties and  mostly looking like a chunky Animal from the Muppets. I love exercise. I’m still not slim, because I still eat too much. 

I consider myself incredibly lucky. I am blessed with a supportive family network and friends. Some of these friends have supported me in my quest to become fitter.

From Sam, who puts up with my bitching every Saturday morning, and she helps me to become stronger and stronger to Chantal and Chloe, who came with me to my first ever Clubbercise class, when I was too embarrassed to look anyone, even the instructor, in the eye.

3 years later, I was at that instructors baby shower, now able to count her as a friend (thank you Hannah!). Sharon, who I smiled at nervously through the dark, and who I am now planning a weekend away with.

Sara, Clare, Alison, Denise, Sam, Maxine, Julie, Judi, Sarah,Kim, Sabrina, Louise, Natasha, Rachel and Chrissy…just some of the women I have met at classes who have given me confidence and enriched my life.

I’m fortunate really.

I don’t face concern trolling on a daily basis, and I have never been turned down for a job for being too fat. I’ve never faced fatphobia in a professional environment.

My white, solvent privilege allows me to more easily navigate the difficulties of being fat. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that there is overwhelming evidence that obesity is a symptom of poverty, both in the UK and US. The cheapest foods, which keep well, tending to be higher in fats and sugars, with little to no nutritional density, have to be staple diets for many simply to exist.

Anyone who has tried to lose weight will know how expensive it is to buy fresh, unprocessed foods – usually prohibitively so for families on low incomes. In turn, their obesity is weaponised against them, denied opportunities on the basis of size, often conflated with health concerns, even if they are not actually present. 

When fat people politely ask for the right to exist, dress themselves and not be verbally abused in the street, through the fat acceptance movement, pearls are clutched, and we are accused of ‘glamorising’ obesity.

I do not believe that anyone sees a fat person on the cover of a magazine and says “Yes! I must immediately take steps to become fatter!”; inclusion of fat bodies in main stream media is just that: Inclusion.

We aren’t asking you to be us, just that you treat us with the same human kindness you would show a slim person.

My quest to lose fat continues.

I won’t deny that I’d like to move through the world as a smaller entity. I try my best everyday, to be a good daughter, a good friend, a kind stranger, yet still I am fat.

Is that really so bad? 

 

Me (right) being fat and sort of fit.

Is The Pen Mightier Than The Sword? Maybe…. By Kelly Grehan

It’s National Writing Day.

Lisa and I, started The Avenger, after meeting through blogging for another page and quickly discovering we had lots in common. We both believed in the power of words, both for the writer and the reader.

Of course when we started our own page, we knew the internet was crowded with blogs and we would never be able to reach audiences of millions, but we both passionately about giving it a try.

We feel so proud of some of the blogs we have published, many anonymously, by people who usually do not get the opportunity to tell their story: stories of mental health workers, domestic abuse survivors and carers.

In the last two weeks I have written blogs on two of the subjects dearest to my heart: living with grief and women’s representation.

The first one was very difficult to write and I thought about keeping it as a piece of person writing. I showed it to a few close friends and three said it made them cry. I then felt that, if I could provoke such a reaction with words then maybe I was duty bound to publish it.

I waited a few days and put it up.

I was aware of the potential for criticism and accusations of attention seeking, but I felt strongly I had been true to myself in writing it and so if that was the case then so be it. I also realised that getting the truth out of my head and on the screen had been good for me.

In the event, I received lots of private messages from people who knew my mum, who I wrote about, and from people also affected by grief who wanted to say they identified with what I said.

This was humbling and touching and really made me think about the power of words.

Last week I wrote something more traditional, in terms of what I usually write about; politics, and specifically women in politics. All my writing is from the heart and is only ever about things I feel strongly about.

Again, I received reactions, including private messages of support from prominent people in politics, and from others who identified with what I had said. Others disagreed.

That’s fine too as the words are my truth.

So, on National Writing Day, I really just want to acknowledge that writing is important.

It brings opportunity for truth and reflection and I would encourage everyone to give it a go.

Women Will Remain Poorly Represented While We Fail to Accommodate The Realities of Women’s Lives By Kelly Grehan

“Women are not interested politics Kelly, that’s why I voted against it.”

So said a member of my CLP, when explaining why he voted against an AWS (All Women’s Shortlist) motion.  Of course, this comment was no surprise to me. Years as a political activist have shown me time and time again that, for many, the idea that women do not belong in politics persists.

The failure to bring about gender equality in any part of our political system is used by some as proof women are not interested or not ‘cut out’ for politics.
Of course, the truth is that, 101 years on from some women gaining the vote, the infrastructures of our political systems continue to conspire to exclude women.

When the first women entered Parliament, beginning with Nancy Astor in 1919, The Palace of Westminster was not designed for women at all.  The only women’s toilet was a quarter of a mile from the debating chamber and a small staff room in the basement, known as ‘the dungeon’ was designated The Lady’s Members Room.  

Women were expected to use this as an office, changing room and everything else. Meanwhile men had access to baths, dining rooms and a smoking room. Things have largely continued in the same vein- with women expected to adapt to the political system, as it is, with little thought given to how it could change to incorporate the realities of womens’ lives.  

This surely, is one main reason why women remain so underrepresented in all layers of government.

Take maternity: in 1976 Labour MP Helene Hayman became the first sitting MP to give birth. When her son was 10 days old she asked the Conservative Whip if she could be paired in order to miss a vote, and received a negative response.  Labour Whips refused her the time off so she came, baby in tow, forced to breastfeed the child in the only suitable place, which happened to be Shirley Williams office. A senior Conservative called the police when she left the baby with his nanny in the Ladies Members room while she voted.

And so things continued like this until last year, Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson was ‘furious’ after Tory Barndon Lewis, who she was paired with, voted in a Brexit vote while she was on maternity leave. This led to Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, delaying a planned caesarean, in case the same thing happened to her.  The outcry over this led to a temporary standing order being introduced to allow new parents to vote by proxy, with Tulip making history when Vicky Foxworthy voted in her behalf in January.

In 2010 a nursery was put in the Palace of Westminster.  Predictably, a complaint followed – about the loss of the bar, about the ‘waste of money’ and, of course, that this was a ‘perk for women.’

The numerous bars which adorn the building are apparently not a perk worthy of comment.  The fact is the changeable nature of Parliamentary debates, with urgent questions and the like, make planning childcare incredibly difficult, for staff as well as Members and a nursery helps.

Last week Parliament debated making the place more family friendly and accessible.

Ellie Reeves said:

“If Parliament is to be truly representative of these we seek to serve, we must continue to look at ways to break down barriers for those who might consider putting themselves forward for public office.”

Why have we not done this already?  

This week MP Stella Creasy announced her pregnancy.  At the same time she bravely told of her experiences of suffering miscarriages and having to continue with her work as an MP while bleeding and in pain. MPs from all parties have commented in support of her campaign for maternity leave for MPs.  

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) regulates the pay of MPs and authorised the budgets they claim for their work. It does not ‘recognise’ that MPs may go on maternity leave and so bears no responsibility to make provision for any paid cover for what they do outside the parliamentary chamber like campaigns and constituency casework.

In Denmark a member of the national parliament would have a substitute MP appointed.  Stella said she felt “forced to choose between being a mum and an MP.”

How many great people are we missing out on because Parliament does not account for the simple fact women have babies?

Why is all the responsibility on the mother, rather than on the structure which is oppressive in penalising parents who wish to serve?

Then there is council, where women and people under 60 continue to be poorly represented, which is a shame because councils should be representative of all groups within the community.

I know that when my children were under 5 I knew much more about local provisions for preschoolers, what was available and what was missing than I do now. That’s not to say I don’t try to be an effective voice for mums battling with services I no longer use, as I will for anyone,  but there is no doubt that councils benefit from people with a broad range of experiences – and at the moment that is rare.

I could not have dreamt of standing for council when my children (now ages 12 and 9) were younger as I could not possibly have been attending committees within days of their births, or managed bath time routines around late meetings, or canvassed while breastfeeding.  

Being a councillor and a mum is difficult: late meetings, casework, reports to read, but I love it. Representing my community is what I always wanted and I am sure there are many other women like me who dare not put themselves forward because the systems are not in place to support them.

It may surprise people to learn that there is no expectation of time off for anyone who has recently given birth, from council work. Only around 5% of councils have baby leave policies.  I’ve heard female councillors being told they must attend meetings within weeks of giving birth and feeling shamed for not ‘pulling their weight.’ This is not good for them, and frankly it is not good for our society.  

Until we act to change things we will continue to exclude people from standing and will not get the representation we need.

Petition for Maternity Leave for MPs:

https://www.change.org/p/marcial-boo-chief-executive-of-the-independent-parliamentary-standards-authority-give-mps-six-months-parental-leave?signed=true&fbclid=IwAR0IlkD_xjnQ4sRPZ-LoQJTWtQA-D6MQiMJ8uGkD–L_1Ow9bmbZNaFbUkI