The True Cost of Proroguing Parliament By Kelly Grehan

Brexit has brought much harm to this country: it has brought to light divisions that we always hoped were not there, it has somehow legitimised hatred and it has, (for reasons I am not sure I will ever understand) led to circumstances which have caused us to have Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

It has also led to the numerous other harmful policies of the government to escape scrutiny by the media and therefore the members of the public whom are not directly impacted by them miss knowing they exist.

Now we must add another tragedy to the list of consequences: prorogation has damaged Parliament’s ability to fulfil its primary purpose: to bring about legislation -all laws going through Parliament were automatically dropped when Parliament in effect, shut down on Monday.

I saw the impact of bad government legislation first hand earlier this year. I was privileged to join campaigners from the Motor Neuro Disease Association at an event in Parliament marking the publication of a damning report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Terminal Illness. The report found the current rule – that a person must have a life expectancy of six months or less to get fast access to benefits – is ‘outdated, overly-time consuming and demeaning.’ 60 MPs attended the event so it seemed Madeleine Moon’s MP’s Private Members’ Bill to #Scrap6Months could become law, but the proroguing of parliament means it has officially fallen. This means the hope that those diagnosed with a terminal illness would no longer have to prove they had under 6 months left to live is over. This is cruel for any person facing up to terminal illness and particularly gruelling in the case of anyone with an illness like motor neuro disease, which has no cure or treatment and for which the decline in health is rapid.

My heart breaks for the campaigners I met who worked so hard to bring attention to this situation.

Other scrapped bills include:

– The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which would have allowed people to divorce without needing to accuse their spouse of wrongdoing or wait several years.

– The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which would have increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years.

And

– The Domestic Abuse Bill which would have made it illegal for abuse suspects to cross-examine their victims in court.

With no idea if and when these bills will now come before Parliament there is now a real risk that they will be lost forever.

When people think about Boris Johnson’s first 6 weeks as Prime Minister, no doubt his losing 6 votes out of 6 will always be the main memory, but we must also, always remember the harm his cowardice in prorogating Parliament has caused by preventing progression in stopping important legislation progressing which would have improved lives.

80 Years Ago Parents Said Goodbye To Their Children To Keep Them Safe – Today Many Face The Same Awful Choice By Kelly Grehan

“They were so brave.”
“It must have been awful sending them away knowing you might not see them again.
“It would have been painful, but you would have done it; it was the best way of keeping them safe.
80 years ago Operation Pied Piper saw children voluntarily sent by their parents to live with strangers. Over 3,000,000 people, mostly children were moved from the cities where they lived to the countryside towns which were thought to be safe from the bombing campaigns which were sure to begin with the outbreak of the second world war.

The evacuation of Britain’s cities at the start of World War Two was the biggest and most concentrated mass movement of people in Britain’s history. It seems probably some people living in the places where the evacuees were taken to felt ‘swamped,’ worried for their way of life and about the impact on the schools and services they used with such an influx of people.
The children, labelled like luggage, were taken from everything they knew to places so alien they may as well have been in another country. Life in different regions was markedly different across 1930s Britain, with accents so pronounced they could be difficult for outsiders to understand and diets full of food that was unfamiliar and a way of life that was far removed from anything they had experienced.
When children did arrive in their new destination they were lined up and waited to be chosen by someone to take them home.
The thought of sending your children away to an alien land, to strangers you know nothing about sounds traumatic doesn’t it?
Then there is the thought of the ongoing suffering the parents must have endured with, sometimes, years of contact only through letter, no real control of how they are raised, no idea how they are changing physically and emotionally as they were not there to see it.
70 years on we hear stories of evacuees and their parents and it’s impossible not to feel empathy for every family split up by a war they had no control over.
…… it’s impossible not to feel empathy for every family split up by a war they had no control over.
That sentence I just wrote isn’t true is it?
Because where as I hear the sentences from the top of the page when people discuss the World War 2 evacuees I hear very different comments about those who try to get their children out of war zones around the world into safety.
“They should stay where they are and fight.”
“Any parent who would send their child somewhere they cannot protect them doesn’t deserve children.”
“Freeloaders coming here to scrounge.”
The pain of giving your child away, of sending them away from everything they know, including your love and protection cannot be imagined.
It’s a decision someone should never have to make.
Unaccompanied refugee children will have seen horrors that cannot be imagined: they have seen their homes destroyed, loved ones killed, been tortured or trafficked. They have taken long, terrifying journeys to reach safety and they will probably never see those who love them again.
Unicef say worldwide there are nearly 31 million children who have been forcibly displaced. Children under the age of 18 made up about half of the global refugee population in 2018, including many that were unaccompanied or separated from their parents – and, as such, at risk from abuse and exploitation.
But it often seems that people view these children with hatred and greet any attempts by others to help them with outright revulsion. Indeed I expect to receive some nasty messages once this article is published because every time I have commented in support of refugees abuse has followed.

The Dubs Amendment, passed in May 2016 required the government to act “as soon as possible” to relocate and support unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. Britain promised to take 3,000 refugee children. So far it’s taken 220

Currently, unaccompanied minors in Europe who have relatives in the UK can apply to join them.
It is a lengthy process, with children often waiting months or even years to be moved to Britain after submitting their applications, There are currently an estimated 30 children in Northern France and 25 children in Greece known to have been approved for protection under, the Dubs Scheme who have been waiting more than 2 months to be transferred.
Why does the thought of those children alone and displaced not fill people with horror or sympathy?
The current system of transferring asylum-seeking children in the EU to join family members in Britain is set to come to an end in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
I don’t see any outrage about this.
Paddington Bear begins with Aunt Lucy telling Paddington “Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the country side where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers.”
Sadly, I don’t think that is true.

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.

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.

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

Let’s Judge Our Second Female Prime Minister on Her Policies Not Her Clothing By Kelly Grehan 

As her premiership came to an abrupt end yesterday, Theresa May said:

 

“I am proud to have served the country as the second female Prime Minister but certainly not the last” 

 

Now, I’m not a fan of Theresa May, I despair about many of the policies brought in by her government and the legacy she leaves across the country is, in my opinion, one of toxicity and division. 

 

However, as a feminist, I also despair about the misogynistic undercurrent they runs through the way stories are written about Theresa May.

 

 Take this front page from The Metro

 

The insinuation is hard to miss: that a woman needs a man to tell what to do, even  when when she holds the highest office in the land, that it’s about time her husband puts his foot down and takes control of his wife. Can you imagine a similar headline about David Cameron or Tony Blair?

 

It brought to mind this Daily Mail front page from the week before Article 50 was triggered.

 

 

 

Now, I’ve had a good search and I cannot find a single article about David Cameron’s legs. Just think what could have been reported about a meeting between two female leaders who met to discuss the future of our nation. With this kind of news reporting is it any wonder so many people appear without a grasp of the complexities of our political system. Is it too much to expect some content about what they actually said at the press conference from which this phot was taken?

 

 

The other thing very notable about news stories about Theresa May’s Prime Minister is how many centre around her clothing.

 

For example, not long after she became PM, in 2016, The Guardian wrote a story called ‘Theresa May sidesteps question about £995 leather trousers.’ In a country used to reading about politicians sidestepping questions about offshore tax havens and dodgy business deals, this seemed a particularly weak scandal.

 

Similarly, the 2018 budget caused then to publish a story called ‘What is the meaning of Theresa May’s £750 ‘twofer’ coat?’

 

In January 2017 the Evening Standard, edited by former Tory Chancellor George Osborne, printed an article entitled ‘Theresa May’s finest footwear: 30 memorable looks from parliament’s most talked about shoe closet’

 

Even last week, days before the EU election The Telegraph printed a story called ‘Theresa May’s Greatest Shoe Hits.’

 

I’m sure I could go on, but you get the point. This ridiculous, trivial analysis would simply not be applied to a man holding the same office, and it’s very triviality demeans the person it is applied to. We should be debating Theresa May’s decisions, policies and principles, if for no other reason they they impact on all our lives.

 

But for as long as women are assessed based on their shoes, coats and marital relationships women will be put off entering politics and equality will remain out of our reach.

 

 

 

 

Why Abuse Of Women In Politics Hinders Democracy By Kelly Grehan

100 years on from some women gaining the vote in the UK and 99 years from the same action in the US you would think women’s participation in the political process would be accepted, if not completely ordinary and unworthy of comment.  However, far from being the case, women in politics remain viewed as interlopers and unwelcome by many.  

 

Let’s look at the evidence for why I say this: 

 

This week, 29 year old Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is described as a rising star in the American Democrat Party, faced the seemingly inevitable abuse that comes with being a woman in politics.

A right wing website published an image showing a woman’s bare feet in the bath, under the headline: “Here’s the photo some people described as a nude selfie of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”  

The photo was, as it happens, not of the Congresswoman, but that’s not really the point.  

 As Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter the actions of the Daily Caller were “just a matter of time” as “women in leadership face more scrutiny [than men]. Period.” She went on to say :

 

Last week attempts to shame the same Congresswoman by releasing a video of her dancing from a few years before backfired when she responded with a new video of her dancing:

 https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1081234130841600000

Over 80% of women in politics, globally have experinced sexist or sexually humiliating remarks, gestures or threats and harassment which fell outside the normal political debate.  

Then there is the bizarre judgement of any women in fertility being, as former Australian Prime Minister said Even before becoming prime minister, I had observed that if you are a woman politician, it is impossible to win on the question of family.

If you do not have children then you are characterised as out of touch with ‘mainstream lives’. If you do have children then, heavens, who is looking after them?I had already been chided by a senior conservative Senator for being ‘deliberately barren.’

 

Men just do not face this kind of commentary of their circumstances.  

  

Seeking to humiliate women in politics is just the tip of the iceberg: last year a global survey of women in politics, found that 44% had faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault.  As  SNP MP,  Mhairi Black said ‘”I’m bored of gender. I’m bored of being told I should be raped and bored of being told I’m too ugly to be raped.”

 

Jess Phillips, who, lest we forget, lost her friend, MP Jo Cox to murder by a member of the far right tweeted this week:

 

With about a 50% chance of threats of violence and sexual assault hanging over them, is it any wonder so few women want to get involved in politics?

 

Globally more than 10,500 women served as national parliamentarians in 2017, accounting for around 23 percent of total parliamentarians worldwide. In the UK, over the last century there have been just 491 female MPs and more than 4,000 male MPs.

 

A Report, Violence Against Women In Politics, published last year found that reports that ‘growing acts of violence serve as a strong barrier to women accessing their right to participate fully and equally in politics and public life.’

 

Normalising the abuse of public figures – and dismissing sexism and misogyny in the political world – as simply the ‘cost of doing politics’ has devastating consequences for the quality of democracy – Around one third of female politicians who have threatened with violence online stopped expressing their opinions there or withdrew from public conversations as a result. We cannot know the number of brilliant women who are deterred from entering politics because of fear of bringing violence upon themselves and their families, but there can be no doubt there are many.

Let us be in no doubt, the  abuse of women is pushed by those who believe women have no place in politics and so must be shamed, smeared and harassed until they give up.

 It is for all good people to stand up against those with this agenda.