COVID-19: What It Means For My Family As A Young, But Vulnerable Group By Lisa Mulholland

The media is saturated with scientific talk, statistics and projections regarding the Coronavirus COVID-19. It’s enough to give any reasonable person some anxiety at least.

The panic buying of hand sanitizer, toilet roll, cleaning products, tinned foods is out of control, with queues outside of shops before they open. Which is a major inconvenience for me as someone who needs these products in abundance due to being a carer for my 6 year old who is disabled and incontinent who myself has diabetes and needs to test my blood sugar levels when out and about.

We are constantly hearing about other countries going on lockdown. Which becomes scarier when it becomes our European neighbours; Italy, France, Spain, Ireland … as the fear intensifies we look to our leaders and the authorities for reassurance.

But instead we get the complete opposite.

Boris Johnson said “ Many of YOUR loved ones will die before their time”…..

I mean, have you ever heard anything like this?

Then he went on to discuss herd immunity. As if the numbers and statistics of the people that are going to die are just that. But the vulnerable and the elderly are real people.

And right now, I , along with millions more, feel like my life doesn’t really matter. I have diabetes, several heart conditions, a disability ( Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) that can sometimes trigger autoimmune responses called mast cell activation disorder and I have 3 children that have various disabilities.

I am considered a ‘high risk group’ when it comes to most things. I have routine flu jabs, I have medical exemption from prescription charges, but I do not know whether I am a high risk group for this new virus.

I have received zero instruction. Zero advice.

When I search for the advice ( as of today , this could change very quickly) it is very flimsy indeed. I kind of feel like the decision is being left up to me about how to proceed. I am not a medical expert and I think we as a nation, especially the vulnerable groups should be given more direction.

If I get a basic cold, my body can do really strange things. My mast cells( the cells that detect a threat or a virus and are meant to protect us) go into overdrive and start attacking everything. Once I had dry eyes, I rubbed it slightly. Within an hour I couldn’t see out of my left eye. I went to my GP who sent me to the emergency eye department. After a series of tests they said my body had gone into overdrive and given me an ulcer on my cornea! I didn’t even know this was possible. But this is how strange my condition is.

What could an unknown virus do?

Let alone the impact on the diabetes or my heart…

My 6 year old has autism, global delay and suspected epilepsy and he goes to a specialist school where some of the children have conditions like cystic fibrosis that mean they’re on oxygen tanks/ tube fed. Most of the children there (700 of them as it is from age 2-19) will have underlying health issues. They’ve not sent out any information as yet because our leadership, our government have clearly not thought about them in their containment or delay ‘strategy’.

And when the media states this virus doesn’t affect children, do they mean all children? My children have the same condition as me. My 10 year old gets a cold and then the next minute he has an infected hand or limb. What would be the implications for him?

Or did they think about them and decide that they are one of the “many loved ones” that we will “lose”.

My eldest autistic son’s specialist school has children with autism but a lot of them have comorbid underlying health issues and they have taken matters into their own hands advising us to keep the children home if they are anxious or have underlying health conditions. They said they won’t mark any absences during this period.

Part of me wants to be safe, then another part of me thinks if this is going to go on for months then I’m not sure what to do. Do I send them in now before the real danger hits? Or has it already hit but we don’t know because we aren’t routinely testing? These are rhetorical questions but the governments’ lack of direction is shocking and dangerous.

We are people and we have value. We matter and we want guidance now.

Project Hope By I.R Sandford

I’ve never really been one for discussing politics with members of the public face-to-face. During the last election campaign, I spent a day helping out the local Labour Party but that’s about all I have ever done, though anyone who knows me, knows how frequently I post about politics on Facebook.

I am well aware of the fact that posting about politics on Facebook is a bit like shouting in a box – not many people are likely to hear you and those that are listening tend to be those already in your social circle and many will broadly agree with your politics anyway. So, to try and counter this limitation, I have decided to try a different tact and actually engage with people face-to-face. Sometimes it might be a conversation with a colleague, sometimes it might be an opportunity that presents itself in everyday life.

I have to say that my actions haven’t really got me very far. The most common argument that I have encountered was “what’s the point of voting? They’re all the bloody same.”

Once a guy I was talking to, a taxi driver, used this argument, claiming that all politicians were corrupt and only in it for themselves. When I tried to counter him by telling him that Jeremy Corbyn was different and that he had one of the lowest expenses claims of all MP, he replied that he was a ‘mug’ for not claiming more. “You can’t have it both ways”, I thought to myself, “you’re either complicit in corruption or you stand against it”, but there seemed little point in arguing this point. The taxi driver’s argument, like those of everyone else who claims that they are ‘all the bloody same’ shows that they haven’t really been paying attention to this election.

Until recently, you couldn’t really blame people for saying “they’re all the bloody same”.

I’ve spoken these words myself more than once before. I had utterly given up on following politics – it just depressed me. New Labour had essentially become ‘Tory-lite’, as it moved away from its traditional working-class roots to more central ground.

However, over the past few years, since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, The Labour Party has transformed itself into a political party more attuned to their working-class roots. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have moved further to the right and seek only serve the interests of themselves and their billionaire backers. The Conservatives are bankrolled by billionaires, supported and protected by a media owned by billionaire.

As Labour’s Barry Gardiner said of Boris Johnson – “This is not a One Nation Prime Minister. This is a 1% of the nation Prime Minister.”

After nearly ten years of Conservative power, it feels as if we are no-longer moving forward, that all progress has stopped and that we are slipping rapidly backwards.

Recent data from UNICEF shows that the UK has dropped dramatically in the global rankings for child rights within a year – falling from 11th to 156th, whilst the charity Action for Children recently estimated that nearly 1 million children under the age of 11 will spend Christmas this year without a warm home or fresh food.

Meanwhile, it was reported earlier this year that £3.5 million given by the EU to help alleviate child poverty and homelessness in the UK is in danger of being lost, due to our government failing to use this money. Food Bank use has skyrocketed in the UK over the past ten years, with one recent article pointing out that the UK now has more food banks than McDonald’s branches.

Life for people with disabilities has also got harder over the past decade, due to the government’s cruel austerity measures. It was reported earlier this year that more than 17,000 sick and disabled people have died while waiting for welfare benefits.

This level of fatality should not be unacceptable in one of the richest nations in the world.

I recently read an article about a 58 year old Kevin Donnellon, who was born with no limbs, and has needlessly had to complete an “intrusive” 24-page DWP booklet 3 times this year, in order to keep receiving benefits “It’s not like my arms and legs have grown,” he remarks, highlighting the absurdity of this process.

Just a few years ago the UK was a torchbearer for disability rights, now it feels as if we are heading back to the days of workhouses.

A few days ago, Sally-Ann Hart, the Conservative candidate for Hastings and Rye remarked that people with learning difficulties should be paid less than the minimum wage because they do not understand money.

This exploitative attitude toward people with disabilities reminds me of a story somebody once told me about their experience of working with people with disabilities in the 1970s. In those days, the people that she supported were working in a match factory where they all suffered from burns on their fingers. It concerns me that we are slipping back to these days, or perhaps even further back in time. With Victorian attitudes still prevalent amongst the Tories, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the reintroduction of workhouses of the kind we had in the 19th Century.

This isn’t progress. 

The ‘Oven-ready’ Brexit, that Boris Johnson is offering has been revealed to be nothing more than a farce. Like the chlorinated chicken we will soon be expected to eat – it comes without a health warning. As the leaked documents highlight, Boris Johnson’s promises to protect our NHS from a trade deal has been revealed to be yet another lie. 

The leaked papers show that the US wants sweeping liberalisation, based on a so-called ‘negative list’ – unless you specifically list it, assume it will be opened up to US corporate penetration.

As one commentator remarked “Far from taking back control, Britain has clearly entered into a relationship where we hold none of the cards”. 

I’ve heard it said, many times that all politicians are liars, and with good reason, but there was a time when the lifespan of a lie at least lasted until after the election. These days the lifespan of a lie is much shorter in the minds of some, but linger in the minds of others. Many of you may have heard the joke or seen the meme about how we are breeding a strain of fact-resistant humans, but the truth is we are all creatures of habit and tend to stick rigidly to our beliefs.

Brexit, and those avidly devoted to its cause is a case in point.

Before continuing, I should state that I voted to remain in the EU back in 2016, although I did consider voting leave at the time. The whole shit-show Brexit has become demonstrates to me that it was an ill-conceived idea in the first place. It’s all very well saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘Leave means Leave’, but you wouldn’t ‘leave’ your house without having some destination in mind, why would you leave a trade pact with your closest neighbours without having some realistic idea of what you want instead?

Many of those seeking to leave the EU seem to think that the spectacle we have seen over the last few years have been delaying tactics by those who don’t really believe in the cause, but this seems a rather weak argument.

What seems clear to me, is that the term Brexit itself is very vague and is ultimately meaningless.

Yes, you can say that it means the UK leaving the EU, but what has become obvious is that there is more than one way to go about doing this. Various options have been laid out in parliament, but none have been accepted because nobody has been able to agree on what the alternative to being in the EU should be.

The endless embarrassing mess that the nation has dragged itself through over the past few years, could have been avoided if we had gone into the referendum with what Brexit was supposed to look like. It was all very well for Nigel Farage and the like to promote Brexit, but with no real power to make real on the promises that were made, how could anybody be expected to achieve something workable?

There are many Brexiteers that choose not to believe the grim forecasts for Britain’s future when we leave the EU, but I would take the word over experts over the groundless optimism offered by Brexiteers.

We have had warnings of a 500% rise in customs processing from the boss of one of the UK’s largest customs brokers, warnings of civil unrest and food shortages from local councils, warnings about shortages of medicine from medical experts and, warnings that Brexit will damage the economy from the Bank of England, but all these expert opinions are dismissed as ‘scaremongering’ by people with no-expertise in these fields.

They dismiss these expert warnings as being ‘project fear’, but I can’t honestly see anything to be optimistic about – especially if we were to make a deal with Donald Trump.

Of all the tactics used by the Leave faction, the use of language has been the most effective.

I have already talked about the term ‘Brexit’ itself – a word that uses a great economy of letters that makes it sound catchy, but when you strip it back, its meaning is ultimately vague. Perhaps the cleverest use of language by the Leave camp, however, is the idea of ‘Project Fear’ – the very idea that any argument that portrays the Brexit as being a bad idea is shown to be a conspiracy, by those who disagree with them.

In truth, the very forces that helped to shape the nations consciousness during the referendum campaign was the ‘real project fear’.

The poster showing the huge crowd of dark faces supposedly walking toward our nation, the targeted Facebook ads that peddled lies about Turkey and Syria joining the EU, the continued drip drip of the “fake-news” memes from Britain First and the misinformation printed in the right-wing press each day – This is the real project fear.

During the referendum, it was noted that there was a spike in hate crime, and given the hysteria that seemed to be breaking out Nationally the tragic murder of the MP Jo Cox by a right-wing extremist could have been predicted.

Fear is like a virus – those with the resolve to fight it off can resist it, but those whose resolve is weak can become infected.

Those who have fallen on hard times due to the Conservatives austerity measures, those marginalised by society because they are at odds with the changing rules of polite social conduct, proclaiming “Its political correctness gone mad” and those who are growing older and are suspicious of the rapidly changing world – these are the people that are most vulnerable to the effects of fear.

You can be infected by this fear and be oblivious to the fact.

It’s like having a cold for so long that you forget that it is there, fogging your senses and making you feel run down and groggy. 

Fear is like a ghost that whispers in your ear.

It haunts you when you walk down the street at night and hear nothing but voices in an unfamiliar tongue.

It tells you that the bag left by the bench is a bomb and that the loud crash of a falling sign in a shopping mall is a terrorist attack or that the face behind the niqab is the face of evil.

Boris Johnson and the Conservatives seek to manipulate people’s fears of terrorism and this has been extremely effective, but I suspect that many of them are haunted by the same fears that they’re projecting outwards.

I read recently about an unearthed Boris Johnson article in which he said that he would ‘turn-tail’ if he encountered a group of black youths in a park. The article indicated that this was evidence of his racist attitude, but I read this more of a sign of his fear of that what he is unable to understand. Granted, it is this kind of reaction that promotes ignorance, racism and bigotry, but I also recognise in this response, a human being who is scared. Though I am able to feel this empathy for him, I don’t think this is enough to forgive him however, for it is this fear and ignorance that also makes Boris Johnson so dangerous.

The spectre of fear whispers that the world is changing too fast and that the old days were better.

Maybe this is so, but change is inevitable.

Like King Cnut’s futile attempts to stop the tide – nobody is able to prevent what will come to be. I remember speaking to a successful business man a few years ago who was a keen UKIP supporter. He fondly recalled his youth knocking about London’s West End in the 1950s and how he knew everyone. The population of London at that time would have been much lower than it is today, and it would have been possible to know many people. He then described how much the area had changed since those times – so many foreign faces. It is doubtful though, that he was ever took the time to talk to these people. Had he done, so he may have found that he had more in common with these people than he thought.

Most people essentially want the same things as us – work, security, family, but fear whispers that we shouldn’t mix with other cultures. 

Statistics show that many of the places with the highest percent of leave voters during the referendum were in places where immigration levels were actually quite low.

This suggests that those who fear immigration most are those who have had the least experience of interacting with others from ethnic groups.

Here, in Gravesend, Kent, the pattern was different. Gravesend has had a large Sikh community for years and according to 2015 data released by the Office of National Statistics, has the highest percentage in the country of people born outside the UK, yet Gravesend voted overwhelming in favour of leaving the EU.

Though I do not know the exact reasons for why so many people voted leave locally, I suspect that this may be to do with immigration. Much has changed in the town over the past 20 years or so, as the London sprawl has spread out. The population has grown – bringing in greater ethnic diversity. Having been to university I am no stranger to socialising with people from many ethnic backgrounds and had made friends from all over the world.

I welcomed this influx into Gravesend, as I felt it might make the town a more colourful and cosmopolitan place, but others are not so convinced. At the time of the Office of National Statistic’s report, the local Conservative MP, Adam Holloway, expressed his concerns. “In Gravesend I have noticed huge changes over the last 10 years with people arriving from all over the world as well as the European Union. The UK has thrived on immigration, but when is enough, enough?”

Whilst I do not see this rise in non-UK born citizens as an issue, I do understand how this rapid change may cause concern to some, especially amongst older generations, who tend to be those most resistant to change.

However, are these concerns really justified, or is it just fear whispering in people’s ears?

Fear shouts out from the news-stands every day – it tells us that the immigrants are the ones who are taking our homes, our jobs, our money.

It tells us that we are being Islamified, that we have to adopt Sharia Law, that mistletoe is being banned, that the word Easter is being removed from Easter Eggs and that our traditions are being eroded away. When you dig beneath the surface though, these stories turn out to be mostly untrue. 

The media plays on our fears for the loss of our traditions and we accept what they tell us is the truth.

Traditions are important. We cling on to traditions because they give us a sense of identity. We believe we are who we are because we live in the same way our ancestors lived.

However, is this really the case?

Life has changed so much in the UK over the past few hundred years, as we have become increasingly urbanised. Amongst other things, we have experienced the industrial revolution and two world wars that have reshaped much of the world, affecting the way in which we live our lives, from the way that we travel through to the food that we eat.

As we grow older, it is easy to convince ourselves that the time that we grew-up in were halcyon days, but this is merely an illusion – Time moves forever onwards and traditions change. As I approach half a centry in age, I too look back with a fondness for the past and a sadness at its passing, but I am also aware that I cannot change things and there is little point in trying.

I have studied the history of science and I am well aware that new ideas often taken years to gain acceptance. Ideas, like Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, were once seen as radical and were not accepted overnight. When these ideas were finally accepted, it wasn’t necessarily because those who supported his ideas had better scientific evidence – it was mostly because the old-guard had passed away and the new blood coming through were more open to the new way of viewing things.

The historian of science Thomas Kuhn put forward the idea that science goes through periodic ‘paradigm shifts’, which he defines as “universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners”.

Darwin’s theory, for example relied on the earlier work of Geologist James Hutton (another scientist whose theories challenged the accepted view). Hutton was the first person to calculate the true age of the Earth. Without, this advancement, Darwin would not have been able to envisage the length of time needed for evolution to occur. Analogous to the concept of ‘paradigm shifts’ is the idea from German philosophy of each time period having a ‘zeitgeist’, or ‘spirit of the age’ that dominates its characteristics.

I mention these ideas here because they are relevant to what is happening in the UK today.

As was noted during the last general election, there is a clear voting pattern, with young people tending to favour The Labour Party whilst the old tend to favour The Conservatives. It has been recognised that support for the Tories drops away by 2% each year as their core support from older generations pass away. Whilst this gradual slip away from the Conservative past should be welcome news to many on the left, I can’t help but look on this creeping change in the demographics with a sense of sadness.

I distinctly remember a TV show from my childhood called “The Good Old Days”. The programme was a recreation of the MusicHall entertainment from the days of the British Empire. I didn’t like the show – it was too old-fashioned. It was always one of those programmes that we would switch over. However, when I look back on this TV show, I also feel a sense of sadness. It had clearly been intended to entertain the older generation, but as these people passed away the show had lost its relevance and was cancelled in 1983. Now we are seeing the gradual disappearance of the generations that followed them as WWII and the last days of the British Empire disappear from living memory.

The shockwave caused by WWII, sent ripples that have stretched across the past seventy years or so and are only now beginning to subside.

We are not the same people that we once were, and though we may mourn the passing of what went before, we cannot resurrect the past. The memories of the Empire are finally disappearing with the sunset, and with them the attitude of superiority that colonialism promoted.

I wonder sometimes if the recent rise in the popular far-right is just is just the agonal gasps of the passing of the old zeitgeist. The racist, misogynistic, homophobic attitudes of our ancestors is dying out. Young people, on the whole, tend to be more open-minded and accepting of ethnicity. They also tend to have a more fluid understanding of gender and sexuality. This is in stark contrast to the older worldview, and this frightens the older generations.

The young are still hopeful, they see Labour’s manifesto as offering them the kind of chances that have been denied to them at a time where social mobilisation has practically drawn to a stand-still.

Older people, do not seem to recognise that life is not as easy for young people as it was for them, when unemployment levels were as low as 3%. I have seen many attempts to promote Labour’s manifesto as a fairy-tale for gullible students, but when the policy has the backing of 163 economists and academics that recognise the need for “a serious injection of public investment” it can’t be that far fetched.

Labour’s manifesto offers hope, whilst the Conservatives talk of nothing but ‘getting Brexit done’, which, from the sounds of the leaked trade talks, is nothing more than the selling off of what is left of our nation’s assets. Whether it be through the gradual selling off of our NHS or allowing the dangerous practice of fracking, the UK is up for sale – This is not the sovereignty that Brexit promised us, this is where ‘project fear’ takes us.

Labour’s manifesto, on the other hand, can be looked on as ‘project hope’.

Labour are promising to build thousands of new homes, they are promising to renationalise key industries, to properly fund the NHS and to introduce a National Care Service. These policies and others are aimed at making life better for you, not the Billionaires that fund the Conservatives or the newspapers that would have you vote against your own interests.

A vote for Labour is a vote for hope. A chance to step away from the narrative of fear that has dominated the last decade.

Over the past few months politics has been more and more depressing as the no-deal Brexit loomed over us. It felt to me that our nation was doomed as we have sunk further and further into the Brexit mess.

Now there is an election, there is a chance for hope. Should Labour win, I have every faith that Jeremy Corbyn will stick to his word and will negotiate a deal with the EU that protects workers’ rights and our economic stability. Should he manage this, and such a deal should win in a second referendum, I would be more than happy to accept this eventually. Better that, than to live a life eating substandard US food, before eventually dying penniless from a curable disease because I couldn’t afford my medication.

You might like to kid yourself, that this couldn’t happen here, but what proof can you offer me that it won’t?

When you go to the polling station this Thursday, do not dwell on your fears – look to the future with hope.

When you enter the polling booth do not cling on to a fading past. Do not vote because you fear the passing of our traditions. Vote for the needs of future generations, not your own, but above all vote for the party that offers hope, not for those who have shrouded you in fear.

Why The Similarity In These Headlines Could Be A Good Thing For Labour By Lisa Mulholland

The election is less than 3 weeks away.

Labour are significantly behind in the polls and the mainstream media are doing their usual tactics of ridiculing Corbyn, and painting the tories in a glorious light; despite two disastrous performances by Johnson on the leaders debates. Not to mention a week full of fake news skulduggery by the tories.

It’s enough to make you want to give up hope.

9 years of austerity, services stretched to beyond their limit, with the final nail in the privatisation coffin of the NHS hanging over us.

The U.K. electorate should be fired up. We should be ready to kick the tories out. In normal times we probably would be. But in the last 4 years have seen an extraordinary rollercoaster. We are now on our third election, not to mention the big referendum, and third Prime Minister. The public are saturated with politics.

A December election is unusual, and inconvenient.

The media are resorting to hostile tactics.

They call Corbyn a ‘Marxist’, a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, a ‘Russian spy’. The list is endless and the media are relentless.

Here we have a radical Labour manifesto published yesterday. Built on hope. The light at the end of this dark political tunnel. It speaks of ambitious but realistic plans of not just ending austerity but of smashing it to pieces with large investment and nationalisation in public services.

Surely this is what people want? But the media have convinced people that it’s laughable and ‘communist.’ And they can vote for ‘ anyone but Corbyn’. He’s so weak and unelectable, so much s that the BBC has to mute the chants of his supporters outside the studios tonight…

I have really felt like giving up hope. 2017 offered a glimmer of something but the constant media smears and the headbanging frustration of Brexit has worn me down.

I told myself not to get my hopes up with this election. And just to hide away from all coverage of the election.

But then I remembered something. I spotted an old newspaper front page and it reminded me that isn’t the first time a potential Labour government proposed something radical, and it’s not the first time the media laughed it off.

It happened right before Labour were elected on a landslide and started the construction of the very “socialist, radical” idea of the NHS and welfare state. The media states that people were terrified of the prospect of the NHS, as it would “bankrupt us”, “never work”, and that state ownership would mean “controlling everything we do”.

Does this sound familiar?

The similarities don’t end there.

The Labour government of 1945 with its’ Keynesian economics and The Beveridge Report of 1942, painted a picture of radical change to post-war Britain. It set out plans for the Welfare State, something which the Tories clearly opposed, favouring instead austerity over grand public spending. This, even after 14 years of events starting with the Great Depression of 1931, austerity and a World War that plunged many of the poor into even worse conditions, proves that the Tories were out of touch then with the public desire for a change and are still out of touch now, over 70 years later. Back then the media called them ‘ gestapos’, ‘ socialists’ and opposed Labour’s plans at every single opportunity.

A similar turn of events has happened in recent times with the Global Crash of 2008 and subsequent recession led to the conservatives excuse for the introduction of crippling austerity in 2010.

Since then homelessness has doubled, use of food banks increased daily, wages stagnated and many public services are in crisis, National Debt has increased to the trillions and we still have a deficit, with Tory deadlines to clear it off being extended and extended.

Following the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Crash, Keynesian economics was brought up again with many saying that if it had been followed throughout the last 40 years, the Crash could have been avoided.

But it was caused by the over inflation and free market economics, much like 1931. Keynesian economics would have controlled the over inflation that preceded the 2008 crash and would have opposed austerity measures that followed. Keynesianism works on the belief that economic demand determines economic output, in other words the more the public are willing and able to spend, the better the economy will perform; which is the opposite of Neoliberalism.

Today we see that austerity has not reduced the debt. The UN even called austerity a political choice and found it to be ‘ cruel’ and yet the government were quite happy to continue with it while spending generously when it suited them with the £1 billion DUP deal, and promoting a Halloween Brexit that never happened. So how long can the notion of austerity and neoliberalism limp on for?

After the rollercoaster year we have had in UK politics, with Brexit looming and then delayed, we now have the manifesto of hope and an opportunity to implement it . With its vision of an end to austerity; a universal social care system, free education for adults and grand ideas of reinvestment into public services we are being given that glimmer of hope in the same way that the Beveridge Report of 1942 probably gave the public all those years ago.

The creation of NHS and the Welfare State provided an antidote to years of austerity and changed the social and economic landscape of the UK for the better, and I’m certain that if given the chance, Corbyn’s vision would do the same for generations to come.

So, what comes next? Are we heading for a similar fate we did all those years ago when Labour were ridiculed by the press and then shocked them with a landslide.

At face value when I look around me I think ‘no chance’. How can we ever come up against that amount of hostility.

But the optimist in me however, would like to think that we are on the brink of a radical change for the better, not just with this election but for the future to come and that it is only matter of time before Neoliberalism is finally exposed for what it really is – greed under the guise of economic philosophy.

And maybe, just maybe we could take the right path at this enormous crossroads.

 

Job Share MPs – A Realistic Proposal? By Anya Sizer

If we have learnt anything over the last few years (in this post referendum era) it must be that our political structures urgently need review. We need change in how we represent the people of the UK and indeed in who should be representing us.

Small signs of these changes have begun to crop up: from professor Sarah Child’s “Good Parliament” report, to the introduction of Proxy voting and Stella Creasey’s call for a Locum MP to cover her maternity leave.

It is within this context that yours truly, (CotL member Anya Sizer) and my Labour party colleague Charlotte Carson, have launched a campaign to allow MPs to be able to job share.


Just like many Labour Party policies, this is in some ways a radical concept but in others an obvious move. Allowing for a more diverse group of people to be able to represent us within the chamber, whilst making parliament truly democratic and fit for purpose.

The idea for me personally grew out of my experiences in politics over the last few years.

Let me explain. I have worked for three different MPs and received incredible training from both Labour Women’s Network and Fabian Women’s Network and I would really love to stand as a Labour candidate.

However, the reality of my life is I am a mother of three, one of whom is adopted with significant additional needs. Whilst I have the capability, skills and the drive to represent my constituency, that just doesn’t match my availability, especially when you consider the 50+ hours a week that many MPs put in.

A throw away comment to a colleague that “what I would really love is a job share” soon led to a journey of discoveries…


Much work has already been done on this issue: from John McDonnel’s 2012 private members bill to the Fawcett societies “Open House” report and even a court case on behalf of the Green Party.

Reassuringly, these people had already come to the same conclusions we had; job sharing the role would increase the diversity of citizens eligible to be an MP, it would help alleviate some of the enormous pressures individual MP’s are under and ultimately it could mean even more scope to better serve their constituencies.


#JobShareMP Charlotte Carson, Sadiq Khan Mayor of London and Anya Sizer, Member of Christians on the LeftThe main arguments against the idea fall into two categories:

Firstly, the practicalities.Many people wonder how the role would or could be divided. For example, would one person mainly focus on constituency casework and another one on parliamentary work?

For myself and prospective “running partner” Charlotte, the way we would divide the role would be to follow a one-week-on one-week-off model, in order that both partners would undertake all aspects of an MP’s schedule. There are valid alternatives such as 3 days each a week, or working different hours more flexibly, but the underlying intention should always be to equally split all responsibilities.

The other practical major obstacle to overcome is the issue of voting intentions in parliament and what to do should there be disagreements within the partnership.

Charlotte and I have tested this personally by looking at several months of actual votes and issues from the commons, secretly assessing how we would individually vote and then sharing the results with each other. I am pleased to share that every single voting decision we made would have been the same.

However, there would of course need to be a formal mechanism for when this breaks down. Should this happen, the partners would simply defer (as MPs already do) to the party whips’ decision and party line on the matter. There may be times when one or other would have to compromise on issues, however this is an experience MPs face already on a daily basis and not a valid argument against the idea of a job share.

 

The second main argument against a job share is that the public perception of a Member of Parliament is that of a sole representative of an area and the face of a constituency.

The Fawcett society investigated this as an issue via a public survey. They found that once the positive arguments had been shared around increasing diversity and allowing for greater representation, that nearly half of all people agreed it would be a good idea.

For us, some of the campaign will have to be about helping the public to understand the merits of job sharing the role. Many people will need a change of mindset and help with understanding this culture shift. Perhaps this is also a case of needing to demonstrate in a practical way what this would look like, something we are both keen to do.


#JobShareMPIn August 2019, we officially launched the #JobShareMP campaign with a round table in Westminster and representatives attended from the Green Party, the Women’s Equality Party, Labour Women’s Network, The Fabian Society and chaired by Rosie Duffield MP. We are really keen that Labour lead the way on this and it was fantastic to have Rosie at the event.

Since then we have launched our campaign page on Facebook (click here and follow us to keep up with updates) we have spoken to dozens of MPs and we have written to Jennie Formby and applied to stand as candidates.

We are keen to keep building momentum for the campaign and to get the message out. We are also preparing (if required) to launch a second legal battle to allow for a change in the law.

Ultimately, we want to see the House of Commons as a place that truly represents the people it seeks to serve, fit for purpose, reformed and modernised. We believe that alongside other changes this could be exactly what is needed after the political difficulties of the last few years.

Sharing the role of an MP may well be just the change that politics currently needs.


Please do share the campaign page, use our hashtag on social channels and just as importantly, share the idea with your friends. You can also message Anya on Twitter here.

#JobShareMP

References

Please note that this blog is also published on Christians On The Left

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.