Why Ousting This Conservative Government Is A Matter Of Life Or Death for Millions in The U.K. By Lisa Mulholland

It’s been a while since I’ve written. I edit and publish blogs for the Avenger but I lacked the headspace I needed to write. Editing is one thing but to actually formulate something and put it out into an article yourself takes a lot. And I just haven’t been able to sift through the overwhelming political material that has been hitting us left right and centre

Because anger without being mentally or physically able to take action for me is just wasted energy and it leads to frustration. I didn’t have the capacity for that.

However some things cannot be ignored.

Some things rip you out of your hiatus and put fire in your belly. And I can’t switch off any longer and really neither should any of us. That fire needs to go somewhere. For many in poverty this is now a matter of life or death.

So here I am. Writing. Putting my energy somewhere.

What pulled me out of it? Well that’s an interesting question because let’s face it we have a whole treasure chest of things to choose from: Brexit, The Government in contempt of Parliament, Brexit again, Theresa May facing a vote of no confidence, the absolute mess of negotiations and oh wait…

The. United Nations Report on Extreme Poverty. Here. In the UNITED KINGDOM!!!

Yes. The U.K. ‘Great’ Britain. Blighty.

Our wonderful little island… has been investigated for its ‘cruel’ austerity policies. The UN has gone so far as to call it “social engineering”.

Up until now, I knew we had a poverty problem caused by austerity. I’ve seen the statistics. I know that 1 in 4 children in the U.K. now live in poverty. I’ve seen the figures for foodbank usage. I also know that there are 130,000 homeless children in the U.K. and there are so many more depressing figures to report on. Each statistic is worthy of its own dedicated blog. The Trussell Trust and Shelter are awash with depressing facts and figures.

I’ve seen commons debates over the universal credit roll out. I’ve seen Corbyn trying desperately to halt that rollout. He’s managed to delay it quite a bit but the inevitable has happened and we are now almost peak rollout.

So with baited breath I forced myself to read the report. I delayed it slightly because I knew that once I read it there would be no going back for me and that I wouldn’t be able to shut off from it any longer. My ‘red pill/ blue pill Matrix’ moment has arrived.

The special rapporteur of extreme poverty and human rights Professor Philip Alston, conducted an investigation spanning a few months.

He traveled the length and breadth of the U.K. interviewing, those in poverty, from a wide range of backgrounds. He went on a fact finding mission, along with in depth analysis of our benefit system and austerity measures, interviews with ministers, local councils and charities to name but a few.

He did not hold back on what he had to say. The report was scathing and harshly worded and rightly so. I have summarised his report statement below:

• U.K. is the fifth largest economy with a system of government that is the envy of many countries.

• So it is therefore unjust and contrary to British values that so many are in poverty.

• He highlights the growth in homelessness, including rough sleepers and foodbank usage. It’s exponential rise has been since 2010, when austerity measures were introduced by the Conservative government.

• Local councils have been “gutted” with library closures in record numbers, which compounds the breakdown of community

• 14 million people in the U.K. are now in poverty.

• 4 million of those in poverty live 50% below the poverty line.

• 1.5 million of those are destitute. Meaning they can not afford basics such as food, or shelter.

• An estimated 40% of children live in poverty although the official amount is 1 in 4.

• He calls it “social calamity” and an “economic disaster”.

• He calls the government a “lone stubborn actor” in this mess. Councils, charities and other organisations have tried to step in.

• He says the government are in a “determinedly state of denial”.

• He uses words like “callous” and “social engineering” to describe our government.

The full statement and official summary of his report is here https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23881&LangID=E

These are strong words. This is a damning report. He makes no bones when he says that “austerity inflicted on people” is “unnecessary because it hasn’t saved any money but it has cost a significant amount to implement these policies”.

He admits that the government are overturning the Beveridge report, which is what preceded the implementation of the welfare state.

But he did commend the work of charities and local councils who try to do their best and be creative under terrible circumstances, as well as local communities.

Worryingly though, he said that, overall the British nature of being “compassionate towards those who are suffering is now being replaced with a mean spirited approach to those less fortunate than themselves.”

A sorry state of affairs.

Not only are people in this country being subjected to the cruelty of Universal Credit, which he states is the “ultimate embodiment of the promotion of austerity and the dismantling of the welfare state”. But the very nature of us as a nation, once known for our compassionate nature, is being worn down by a callous government.

So what is next for us a nation?

Well Professor Alston predicts that if things carry on the way they are that the economic uncertainty around Brexit and the continual fall of the pound, coupled with the continuation of the Universal Credit rollout will lead to a 7% increase in child poverty by 2022. That’s on top of the staggering figures we’ve seen in the present day.

He does say that as a nation these problems and the extreme poverty could “easily be reversed” if the government follows a set of recommendations that he makes. They are pretty clear and prescriptive.

Will this conservative government implement his changes?

Did the British media react with the outrage that this report deserves?

The simple answer is no.

While lots of media outlets touched on this report, many did not give it the attention it deserves.

Whether or not that is because they are preoccupied with Brexit and the Conservative party currently imploding, remains to be seen.

My personal view is a lot more cynical than that.

When this report was presented to Amber Rudd, the DWP Secretary she reacted with complete denial, and disgust.

Not towards the figures.

Not towards the plight of millions of people that she is supposed to represent.

Not towards the fact that money was available to the treasury to avoid and stop this problem.

No; she was disgusted that this report was even written!!!

So even with the vote of no confidence tonight… even with the government being held in contempt of parliament, and the complete pantomime that has occurred in this last week in the House Of Commons… all since this report was published, even with all that the conservatives still haven’t learned.

There is no ounce of shame. No ounce of humility. No sign of remorse .

Even if Theresa May loses this vote tonight; she will be replaced by someone in her party who will not give any regard to the abject poverty and suffering of so many people in this nation.

People have died, with no food in their stomachs. People would starve if it were not for British people donating food. Children are entering foodbanks and vomiting when they finally have the chance to eat.

So, for many, unless this conservative Government is ousted, it will be a matter of life or death.

We now have it in writing from a completely independent well respected source. One that is not politically motivated.

These words are not from the opposition. But from a well respected United Nations Professor, who is politically neutral. And Australian. He has no political points to score. He said “Austerity and the rise of poverty since 2010 is a political choice” made by the government. The Conservatives. Fact.

Owen Jones said “when the next Election comes it will be the fight of our lives” and he is absolutely right.

So when that time comes we absolutely have to do everything in our power to fight against this. Because it could be our friends, our family, our neighbour. And one day it could be you.

Sources

The Trussell Trust

Shelter

United Nations Special Report on Poverty in the U.K.

Mandatory Reselection Aids Representation By Lily Madigan

For the uninitiated, mandatory reselection is the idea that Labour MPs should have to convince their local members to reselect them to run for parliament before every general election.

For some this is controversial but being an MP is an important role with a lot of responsibility and a big pay cheque to match. This shouldn’t be a factional issue, as it is so often framed, but a reflection of the very party these MPs claim to represent.

It is about meritocracy, democracy and the fundamental truth that we should have the best Labour members on our benches.

I hope I’m not alone in assuming these ‘best Labour members’ might just so happen to not be a group for the most part; comprised of old, white, cis straight men.

Young people are a perfect place to start.

Labour’s membership has surged since Corbyn became leader, bringing a new focus to the political power young people possess.

We are the activists on the ground doing door-to-door canvassing and leafleting, making a difference in marginal seats and university towns.

We saw ourselves represented in Labour’s 2017 manifesto that promised to abolish our tuition fees, fund our mental health services and create housing that we would have a hope of affording.

The political landscape has undoubtedly changed in our favour so why shouldn’t the makeup of our MPs?

The average age of an MP is 50, with only 14 (2%) aged 18–29, and the Labour Party having the most MPs over the age of 60.

It’s unsurprising just how badly we’ve had it politically when the reality is we are horribly outmatched. It’s essential the value we bring to our Party is recognised.

We will suffer most from the depredation capitalism has caused our environment.

It’s us who must endure the mistakes of the financial sector, rescued by mortgaging our future.

It’s the young who will live harder lives than our parents because of the neo-liberalism pedalled by the Tories and the last Labour government. We are disproportionately likely to be in unpaid internships, zero hours jobs, and when we can get a job we are paid less than older people for the same work.

We see a similar phenomena across other minority groups as well; women; those with disabilities; BAME and LGBT people, all suffer from a lack of representation in Parliament and would benefit from mandatory reselection.

The reality is the most secure seats will continue to be held by the same people unless something changes.

This lack of representation hinders the policies we create.

For example, a massive issue facing LGBT people is homelessness but without an adequate amount of LGBT people with voting privileges and a voice in Parliament, we receive inadequate consideration. This is worse at the intersections of groups, for example, disabled trans people suffer both from inadequate access to housing period, as well as a lack of accessible housing.

The reason we must fight so hard for tuition fees; affordable housing; decent jobs; and things like adequately funded mental health services, is because we are systematically underrepresented in the House of Commons.

Minority representation will transform British society, but we need to be on the benches and we need the chance to compete with other members for the limited number of seats within our party.

Mandatory reselection should be a priority for anyone passionate about increasing representation, not simply to meet a numbers game, but because with it the political priorities of this country will shift markedly in our favour — and ultimately, they will shift left.

The Normalisation of Nastiness: Where Will It Lead? By Kelly Grehan

A few years ago it seemed the UK was well on the way to becoming a country where difference was celebrated (rather than tolerated).

If I think back to Summer 2012 posters for the Paralympics proclaimed disabled people as ‘superhumans,’ Mo Farah, a muslim who came to the UK as a child refugee, spoke movingly about how he is British.

A few months later the Equal Marriage Act was passed.

Today, the UK feels a very different place.  

Hate crime is on the rise;

Poverty among the disabled has increased;

Homelessness has risen by a shocking 168%;

Brexit has caused a division that does not appear easy to mend …

I could go on

But, in summary this country feels a much less kind place to be than it did just a few years ago.

A bizarre and frankly quite nasty culture has developed, masquerading as free speech in which the belittling of others is celebrated and a good way to get attention.

I could discuss a number of commentators continually wheeled out by the mainstream media to discuss topics they have no knowledge or expertise in purely because they will say something nasty – think former reality show contestant Katie Hopkins or Milo Yiannopoulos.

But the best example of this is agitator-in-chief, Boris Johnson.  

Last week, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London wrote an article in which he said Burqas made the women who wore them look like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘postboxes.’

Supporters of Johnson claim that as the article was arguing against a burqa ban his other comments are acceptable.  But if Johnson wanted to write in defence of women to dress however they damn well like then he should have done just that.

But anyone who has had the misfortune to follow Johnson’s career knows he was not interested in the rights and wrongs of symbols of religion or dress choices but is only interested in the headlines he can generate.

He wrote those words in the full knowledge they would bring him what he craves most: attention.

He might play the bumbling idiot, but he knows exactly what he is doing, playing into the hands of dangerous people who hold deep seated hatred to anyone who is different to them.

He knew that his words would serve to legitimise the vile beliefs of far right groups who share them and that inevitably this would lead to an increase into the hostility felt by those wearing burqas and (as idiots often are unable to distinguish between them) over minority groups.

Now some may argue that women wearing burqas are oppressed. Let us just, for a second, assume that to be true (and I’m not for a second suggesting it is).  

In what way would calling people ‘bank robbers’ help empower them to fight back?

How would being compared to an inanimate object like a postbox make a person feel worthy enough to seek help?

It wouldn’t; more likely it will lead to further oppression, and of course, Johnson knew that too.

Boris Johnson is a man, who specialises in causing offence for offences sake.  

For example in 2004, in similar fashion to his current grab for the headlines he wrote an article in which he accused people from Liverpool of ‘wallowing in victim status’ and referring to the ‘more than 50 fans who died’ as ‘having fought their way into the ground’ at Hillsborough.

How crass to make such a claim without even having the decency to google the number of people who died before writing such rubbish, although I struggle to believe the number 96 is not known to him as it is to everyone else.

Like the burqa column, he wrote this knowing it would cause upset to people who had already suffered terribly, but carried on, knowing it would get him attention.

Is a man like this really fit to be a politician?

All of this feeds into a culture of nastiness. All of us are familiar with the phrase ‘political correctness.’ What does this actually mean?

As far as I can see it is a derogatory phrase rolled out for anyone wishing to act to make life easier for anyone from a minority group. Look at where those whose who use the phrase ‘political correctness’ and its bed fellow ‘political correctness gone mad.’

In my experience they never have a serious argument as to why whatever they deem ‘politically correct’ is wrong, just a desire to stop it, and to continue with their bigotry against one group or another.

I’m not arguing for a curtailing of free speech at all, I’m saying we need to stop giving a platform to people merely because they have something offensive to say, which is not based on fact when we know it legitimises the hatred others act upon.

We need to stop a culture where the best way for public figures to gain a platform is to say something nasty – let us not forget the hundreds of columns written by other politicians on any number of issues, which are well researched and are on very important matters – none generate the coverage of a column with something nasty in it.

Hatred breeds hatred.  We need to stop celebrating those who spread it.

Why I’ll Be Marching Against Donald Trump Today By Kelly Grehan

Edward Burke famously said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

In many respects that could be the strapline for the apathetic times we live in where ‘it doesn’t affect me, so I am not bothered’ seems to be the mantra of most people.

I remember the first time I heard someone say they were not signing a petition because the cause did not affect them.  It was about education cuts, affecting the university I attended and I had been explaining what was happening to a lady who had passed by.  She listened for about a minute and then said those fateful words ‘well it doesn’t really affect me’ and off she went.  Aged 19, and having been on the streets protesting at third world debt only weeks before, her words shocked me – not wanting to spare 10 seconds to sign a piece of paper unless it was something that directly impacted on her!

Of course, since then, as an active member of the community and as a political activist, I’ve learnt that apathy and ignorance are the greatest weapons that discrimination, oppression and unfairness have.

Apathy has allowed the government and the wealthy to portray immigrants as the cause of other people’s poverty – rather than low wages paid by multi-million profit corporations. The belief that public servants, rather than bankers greed caused the issues in the UK economy, that young people are some sort of feral generation and that England is the envy of the world; only allows the government to continue to get away with whatever cruel policy they wish to impose on the people.

People often remark that, had they been in nazi Germany they would not have stood by as their neighbours were dragged off to concentration camp.  But I think this is to ignore the nature of how injustice occurs: it does not begin with concentration camps.

Things chip away at the public consciousness – one idea at a time – the nazi’s started with the idea Jews held too many privileges compared to the rest of the German population and were to blame for the mass poverty that accompanied the end of the first world war.

People were only too pleased to blame someone else and gradually accepted more and more laws that stopped Jewish people owning property, owning telephones, sitting on benches and so on!

Drip, drip, drip until it led to gas chambers.

The idea this could not happen again or happen here is at odds with everything we see on a daily basis.

People have accepted a 169% rise in homelessness since 2010 with barely more than a shrug.

People hear that 17% of women’s refuges closed between 2010 and 2014 and council funding for refuges across England dropped from £31.2m in 2010/11 to just £23.9m in 2016/17, with 2 women being murdered by partners every week and do not give it a second thought.

Schools have faced cuts of 8%.

Are most people incensed by this? No.

Conversation in the UK continues to be dominated by outrage at the weather, bin collections and parking spaces.

Would anyone notice if the population were being systematically poisoned against a specific group?

Well I fear it has already happened.  The radio today was full of people welcoming Trump and applauding his anti-immigration rhetoric and expressing a belief that we should not ‘disownersnthe office of American President’ and should remember America was our ally in the Second World War.

Let’s remind ourselves that Trump is a misogynist, a racist, a man who mocks disabled people, brags about sexually assaulting women and presides over a system which separates children from their parents, locks them in cages and leaves them, at ages as young as 1 representing themselves in Court.

It is him that disowners the office he holds.

But let us not forget he also the embodiment of a dangerous global movement that poses a real risk of a return of fascism in the West.

Austria now have a far right government, a similar party are threatening to become the opposition in Germany, Italy have a hard right party in power.

Closer to home we are now seeing a normalisation of racist language that just a few years ago I genuinely thought was about to be consigned to  history.

Last year hate crime rose by almost a third. Britons who came here as children in the 1950s and 1960s recently were treated as criminals, with some even deported in the Windrush Scandal as the government set to bring a ‘hostile environment’ against migrants.

The truth is none of these things affect me.  I’m a middle class, healthy white woman.

To some degree I’m insulated from a lot of the cruelty of the world.  But I never want to look back and say while other humans were the victims of such cruelty I sat back as it wasn’t my problem.

By speaking out we can at least show those affected that there are people on their side, we can stop this rhetoric being normalised and maybe, just maybe we can stop the march of the far right.

Remember, the rise of Trump and the rest of his far right cronies is far from over, and all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.

Enough of the ‘Special Relationship’.  We Have Made Ourselves Complicit in Child Abuse By Kelly Grehan

Desmond Tutu once said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

And what side have we shown ourselves to be on as our great friends, the US, have began openly committing systematic child abuse?

As everyone now knows; last week it emerged that families crossing the Mexican Border are being seperated, with the adults receiving criminal charges and any minors accompanying them, including babies, placed in child detention camps.

The rhetoric around this has been softened, with Trump signing an Executive Order meaning families could be detailed together indefinitely,  but the fate of 2,300 children who had already been seized remains unclear.

United Nations human rights experts said Trump’s policy of detaining children “may amount to torture”.

The sight of children, covered by metallic blankets, crying for their parents, whilst locked in cages is one which haunts me and should haunt any person with any decency at all.  Before anyone starts to make excuses for the US, think, if you heard your neighbours toddler was sleeping in a cage with just a metal blanket would you call the authorities?

I think the answer is yes.  

Sadly, I think the dehumanisation that has been targeted at anyone with the word ‘immigrant’ associated with their life; has meant too many people are apathetic to the plight of these children.

History shows that the first action of governments seeking to abuse and oppress a group of people is to demonise that group so that the public cease to see this group as deserving as the same rights they hold.

On Friday Trump held an event with 14 people whose relatives were killed by immigrants (including in car accidents) saying this was the “human toll of illegal immigration”, repeating his campaign messages linking undocumented immigration to crime.

Of course, this rhetoric is not even vaguely related to fact: studies have repeatedly contradicted the president’s claims: undocumented immigrants are actually less likely to commit serious crimes than US-born people.

Research has also found that cities with sanctuary policies have lower crime rates than comparable municipalities. Considering that there were an estimated 17,250 murders in the United States in 2016, of which 11,000 were committed with firearms; you might think gun control was the best way to reduce the murder rate… But as we all know this simply not of interest to the president or, indeed the majority of American leaders.

The impact of taking children from parents is well known, as are the consequences of institutionalising children: social behavior and interaction, emotional attachments, cognitive performance and language skills are all impacted in the long term – in short children never recover.

Of course, it would be easy to claim that the cruelty of the current US government is solely the responsibility of Trump, and that once he has gone we can resume our friendship and see this period as a blip.

But let us look honestly at the US’ other actions.  

For example, 30 years after the UN passed the Convention of the Rights of The Child (the most comprehensive framework on the rights of children) the US remain one of only three countries yet to ratify it (alongside South Sudan and Somalia).

The US remains the only developed country not to offer paid maternity leave to new mothers. It is the one country in the world that sentences offenders under the age of 18 to life in prison without parole!!

Until 2005 the death penalty could be used in some states for those under 18 when they committed their crime, and 31 states still have the death penalty.  

Earlier this century, I along with countless others spent time protesting against the invasion of Iraq.  The arguments against the war and the horrific consequences are well documented so I won’t reiterate them here.

One reason I voted to remain in the EU was because I felt we would benefit from emulating the values of European countries like Germany and Holland, rather than America: my concerns at the way the UK appeared to be prepared to blindly follow America wherever it went have not been availed.

Currently Theresa May continues to appear desperate to win Trump’s approval. For example as he left the G7 Summit early in order to meet with Kim Jong-Un last week she sought to defend him, saying “We work closely with President Trump, and the UK has a very good relationship with the United States.”

His comments about her were less complimentary, in fact he omitted her from a list of G7 leaders saying “I’d say the level of relationship is a 10. We have a great relationship. Angela [Merkel], and Emmanuel [Macron] and Justin [Trudeau] … I would say the relationship is a 10.”

Having publicly ignored the situation involving the plight of detained families; Theresa May finally spoke out last week when asked for her reaction by SNP leader Ian Blackford.

The Prime Minister told him: ‘I clearly and wholly, unequivocally said that that was wrong.”

Referring to our ‘special relationship she said “… when we disagree with what they [the US] are doing, we say so.”

You know what? If we have friends committing child abuse I don’t think it is enough to mention you disagree then continue enjoying a cup of tea together.  

Taking no action ensures the abuse continues and makes you complicit in the abuse, and the same applies here.

Taking no action makes us complicit.  

We should stop sucking up to the US at every stage.

We are always being told about our wonderful British values, well talk is cheap!

We should be condemning this in the strongest terms.

We should be threatening to walk away from any deals we have with them and we should, immediately be retracting Donald Trump’s invite to the UK next month.

All it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing.

Democracy Denied By Kelly Grehan

On Friday, as on so many other occasions, we saw evidence that our democracy does not function properly.  As is now well known a tory MP, Sir Christopher Chope was, singlehandedly able to stop a bill which would have made taking photographs up womens skirts a crime in its own right from progressing.

According to Gina Martin, a campaigner to bring about this new law, Chope told her shortly afterwards he did not know much about ‘upskirting’ but objected to it ‘on principle that it had not been debated.’

So Parliament’s archaic procedures have allowed one man to prevent progress in protecting women, despite his having no real knowledge on what it was about.

Whilst the upskirting bill got all the headlines yesterday, he and his gang also blocked bills making tyres more than 10 years old on a public hire bus or coach an offence, stopping paid for parking in Hospitals and extending FOI requests to public contractors and Housing Associations – a successful days work for them then.

Chope, who has been awarded a Knighthood for services to Politics, has a long history of sabotaging Private Members’ Bills – sometimes by talking at length, known as filibustering, and other times by shouting his opposition as the bill is called.

Other indefensible political decisions he has made include:

Raising an eleventh-hour objection to the Hillsborough debate taking place because he believed a debate about MPs’ pensions was more important;

Objecting to the second reading of the Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill in the House of Commons – causing the Government to use the royal prerogative of mercy instead;

And blocking revenge evictions being made illegal.

Sir Christopher Chope has tried to claim his actions represent some kind of moral crusade against private members bills.  I think this is nonsense.

If he disagrees with private members bills why did he support one attempting to give employers the right to opt out of paying the minimum wage?

It is apparent that Sir Christopher Chope is a vile man, and it is very unfortunate that by representing the safe Tory seat of Christchurch it is unlikely he will ever be held accountable for his voting record, despite experiencing the wrath of his fellow tory MPs on Friday.

But what is surely ridiculous is that all MPs present at the second hearing of a bill are allowed to block the progress of a bill, simply by shouting ‘object’.

This debacle is just the latest of numerous examples of one or two MPs being able to prevent bills that would make life better for ordinary people.

For example in  2015 Labour MP Karen Buck introduced the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill intended to ensure residential rented accommodation would have to be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation.  The bill was ‘talked out’ meaning that it was not put to a vote and dropped.  In fairness the proposals were reintroduced in 2016 as an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill when 312 tory MPs voted against it and the amendment was defeated.

Then there is that beacon of non-democracy – the House of Lords.  

Now, I’m in favour of a revising chamber, but the House of Lords needs reform.  It  is the largest parliamentary chamber in any democracy, surpassed in size only by China’s National People’s Congress (2987 members).

Following 13 new peers being appointed in May there are now 785 peers, none of whom have been elected by the public – they are there either because of the family into which they are born (92 hereditary peers), or because they have been appointed.

It is therefore another area of our ‘democracy’ ripe for undemocratic processes.  

It also costs £93 million per year, of which £20 million is paid direct to the Lords themselves.  It is also noted that the chamber only seats 500!

Despite half of Britain’s now following no religion, 26 places in the House of Lords are reserved for Church of England Bishops – the UK being the only democratic country in the world to give seats in its legislature to religious representatives as a right.

The presence of the Church of England in the House of Lords entrenches a privileged position for one particular branch of one particular religion.

The House of Lords Appointment Commission was established in 2000, to appoint non political peers, but most of the life peers were appointed by Prime Ministers – so inevitably we end up with career politicians continuing their career – often after being rejected by voters not long before.

Then we have the ridiculous situation of the UK government being propped up by the DUP; a party whose values are so at odds with the majority of UK citizens that it is hard to fathom that they exist at all.

In a ludicrous twist of fate, their measly 10 seats have left them as Kingmaker of the UK Parliament, with power over our democracy not deserved by their voting share.

Further threats to democracy come from the fact the arrangement between the tories and DUP mean that the potential of favouritism towards one Northern Ireland party is sufficient to undermine the government’s insistence that it is impartial and  it appears to introduce a political bias which may breach the terms of the Good Friday agreement.

No one in England, Scotland or Wales voted for the DUP, but yet they now take centre stage in deciding what bill will be successful in the House of Commons in return for Northern Ireland receiving an extra £1 billion over 2 years (So there is a Magic Money Tree).

Then we have the strange situation brought about by privatisation of various industries which mean corporations keep any profit they make, but any losses are bailed out by the taxpayer – who had no say in the decisions that led to the loss in the first place – the railways are a prime example.

The UK is already one of the least regulated economies in the developed world, with little or no scrutiny or democratic debate, the policy-making process has been brought under an unprecedented level of control by private economic interests.

The very essence of democracy is that all decisions should be in the interests of the common good.

Private companies primary purpose is to generate profit for shareholders and this is often in conflict with the common good, so companies, often receiving money from the taxpayer such as those running the railways, care contracts, health contracts, refuse services and countless others often act contrary to the public good.

Up until recently the public were fed the nonsensical line that ‘regulation was bad for democracy’ and those being paid by public money (Serco, Carillion etc) acted pretty much as they liked despite their profits coming from the tax coffers.

Where will this all end, who will draw a line in the sand to protect the principles of democracy: ‘for the people, of the people, by the people.’

So all in all, our democracy needs some amendment as power spreads further and further away from the people, undermining the very principle of it.

Women’s Contributions In History is Under Represented… Even In Stone Statues By Kelly Grehan

Today Millicent Fawcett made history as her statue joined the 11 others already at Parliament Square and she became the first woman to feature there.

That it has taken 100 years since some women got the vote for her to be included perhaps, speaks volumes about the contempt women’s roles in history are viewed with.

Millicent Fawcett was a British feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer.

She is primarily known for her work as a campaigner for women to have the vote, having led the nonviolent suffrage organisation, the NUWSS from 1890-1919, and therefore played a key role in gaining women the vote.

She also engaged in other political activities such as supporting worker rights and overcoming laws which were based on a dual morality for men and women.

Parliament Square is not the only place where women have been overlooked for commemoration.  

Research by feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez revealed; of the 925 statues listed in the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association database, only 158 are of a woman as a lone standing statue.

Included in this figure are numerous statues of Queen Victoria and numerous nameless sculptures, typically rendered as naked, curvaceous and reclining.

Criado-Perez commented that if you are a woman “ your best chance of becoming a statue is to be a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude.”

The need for female representation was recognised as long ago as 1952 when a correspondent wrote to the Times about women being neglected in statues and memorials. The piece was entitled : “A Man’s World Even in Stone”.

Sadly there does not seem to have been a great deal of progress in the intervening years.  

It is not that women’s roles in history were minor, it is that they have not been celebrated enough to become common knowledge.

Many key women have not been recognised in stone… here are just a few;

Virginia Woolf,

Matchgirl strike leaders Mary Driscoll and Sarah Chapman (who’s pauper’s grave is at risk being moulded over),

Suffragettes including; Jessie Kenney, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst (there is a plaque for the latter on the statue of their mother),

Family planning pioneer Marie Stopes,

Social reformer Octavia Hill,

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson –  the first woman to train to be a Doctor (the rules at the time designed to keep woman from doing so),

Rosalind Franklin – whose x-ray work eventually led to the discovery of the DNA double helix and

The first British astronaut Helen Sharman.

Hard to believe that none of these women have a statue to commemorate them isn’t it?

A campaign for a statue of  Mary Wollstonecraft to be put on Newington Green  has been started.

Wollstonecraft was the author of the 1792 text  “Vindication of the Rights of Women” which was the first book in English arguing for the equality of women and men.

She is also notable as an early human rights advocate, educational pioneer, icon of social mobility, key Enlightenment philosopher, first female war correspondent and mother of Mary Shelley – let us hope this campaign proves successful.

You may ask why this matters, well in my view it matters because history matters.

Much of our cultural identity comes from the people and events we choose to celebrate.

Could a reason why women make up only 32% of the MPs in the House of Commons and local authority councillors be because we are socialised from birth into expecting those in such roles to be men?

I think one reason I have always been so drawn to the stories of the suffragettes is that learning about them  is the only time at school I that I can recall learning about females in history who were not Queens!

Another question is does the nature of many of the male statues being war related lead to a culture where we celebrate achievements in battle high above those in say medicine, or education?

I would say the evidence that we do this is all around us.

So let us celebrate our new statue of Millicent Fawcett, but let the real celebration be when the number of statues of women matches that of men and the number of women inside Parliament does the same.

Donate to the Mary Wollstonecraft statue here https://www.maryonthegreen.org/project.shtml

Petition to save Sarah Chapman’s grave is here https://www.change.org/p/minister-of-justice-save-sarah-chapman-s-grave-a-leader-of-the-1888-matchgirls-strike-trade-union-heroine?recruiter=109957635&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

Petition for 50:50 parlaiment here: https://www.change.org/p/50-50-want-to-build-an-inclusive-modern-and-gender-balanced-parliament-it-would-lead-to-more-responsive-and-informed-decision-making-so-everyone-would-benefit-50-50-are-asking-those-in-power-for-solutions-and-taking-action-join-us-5050parliament

Information of some statues that are of women in London http://www.secret-london.co.uk/Women_2.html