Mums Don’t Need To Justify Their Involvement In Politics

Kelly Grehan

I will be honest and say I am writing this in anger. One of my fellow councillors is a mother of two children with additional needs. I won’t go into details, but yesterday someone saw fit to question whether it was appropriate for her to be a councillor in her circumstances.

I am so sick and tired of people thinking women must justify their choices.

When I decided to run for council people asked me what my husband thought. I am certain no one has ever asked him what I thought of his career choices.

Then there are the constant insinuations that places of power are not suitable for mothers, as if they lack something or bring strain on institutions by their very presence.

This attitude that women with children are somehow a burden to an organisation is pennicious and harmful.

In fact I will go as far to say its advantageous for councils to have women on them.

It is well documented that the cuts the Tory government have made to council budgets have disproportionately hit women and children. For example, earlier this year The Women’s Budget Group launched a report entitled Triple Whammy (authored by Heather Wakefield, the former head of local government at Unison) which looked at the impact of local government cuts on women.

It found the network of local government services which are vital to women’s lives as workers, mothers, carers and citizens have been torn apart by central government cuts to council funding since 2010.

Ms. Wakefield commented

Women’s refuges, public transport, street lighting, libraries, adult education, social care, youth services and community centres have all been affected, leaving women less safe, unable to access learning and leisure facilities and increasingly having to fill the gaps in care provision.’

And of course, when care services are rolled back its typically women that end of stepping in.

With only 32% of elected councillors being women, and only 14% of all councillors being under 45, is it not inevitable that services used primarily by those groups are the ones that will be lost ?

I’m not saying councillors cannot act for all groups and demographics they are not part of – of course they can. But, bringing up children today is vastly different to 20 years ago. With my oldest child now being 13, I’m aware that I became a mother at a very good time – when Sure Start services were at their peak, breast feeding support services had not yet been dismantled and Health Visitors were accessible to all mums. Just over a decade later and it’s a very different situation. My experience is not fit to base current judgements on. It is simply out of date. Of course I talk to lots of people in my ward who are experiencing these services (or lack of them) but having diversity in the room makes a difference, and its hardly like mothers of school age children are a rarity so why are they a rarity in councils?

We need people on councils who are experiencing services – and cuts – first hand, who understand their impact.

Furthermore it’s no coincidence carers are largely missing from policies – because their presence is missing from the decision making processes.

I’m sick of people who are carers – for children, older people, ill people, or whoever – being made to feel they don’t belong. It’s indicative of the attitude this country takes to carers and it’s indefensible. I want to hear the voices of those living with these roles. Until we do they will remain ignored.

So why do people take the attitude mothers dont belong in places of power? I wish I had an explanation. But let me say this, those who cannot appreciate the hard work and the importance of the role taken by mums who are councillors are seriously lacking in empathy and basic common sense and must be challenged whenever they spout these nonsensical opinions. Not just for the sake of those they criticise, but for the sake of all people that lose out when other mums are deterred from standing and we have councils which are not representative of the people they serve and there is no one advocating for those people who are not represented.

Judge The People Making Unwanted Advances, Not Those Who Receive Them By Kelly Grehan

When I was 17 I went to a birthday party in a school friends’ house. I wore a short blue dress, with a high neckline, flesh coloured tights and blue velvet shoes with heels that were about an inch high.

I wore that dress hoping I looked attractive. I expect I was hoping one of the boys there, mostly fellow school friends, would try to kiss me.In the event, none did, but the father of the birthday girl, a particularly rough man, whose wife was in another room, put his hand up my dress and on my bum. One of the boys I was with, bravely told him to stop. The man replied “don’t fuck with me boy, I’m a Millwall supporter.”

We all laughed and the night carried on. I don’t recall feeling particularly upset. 20 odd years later I look back on the incident with horror, that a man probably older than I am now would think it’s acceptable to touch a teenage girl.

Then there was the time I went to a Halloween ball when I was a university student. I guess I was 19. Not long before The Spice Girls had gone to the premier of their film wearing colourful bras and blazers, without shirts and I thought they looked amazing. I worked as a health care assistant in the holidays and my flatmate and I decided it would be good to go dressed as sexy nurses. We pinned up the hems on my uniforms, wore stockings and wonder bras, which were the big fashion item at the time, with newspaper articles about them, seemingly every day. We let the zips on the front of the dresses stay just low enough that a decent bit of cleavage was on display, hoping we looked as good as Geri Halliwell. When we arrived a friend of my boyfriend introduced us all to a friend of his. My boyfriend went to the bar and the friend of a friend put his hand up my skirt and undid my stocking and brushed my knickers. I automatically slapped him round the face and ran into the toilet. When I returned he was telling my boyfriend there had been a misunderstanding. He apologised and said it was difficult for men to resist when women dress so provocatively. I said not to worry and he then proceeded to put his hand on the back of my dress. I walked away.

Later the friend who introduced us shouted at me about how unreasonable I was not letting this guy round to my house for the after party drinks!

I never saw him again, thankfully. I learnt a valuable lesson that night – women will always be blamed for the actions of men.

On neither occasion did I think of going to the police, or even in the first instance phoning my parents to come and get me.

I’m not sure why I felt the need to describe what I wore on both of those occasions. What I was wearing should be irrelevant, but we all know it isn’t. I know that what I was wearing on both occasions will be scrutinised by people reading this story. Oddly enough I can’t recall what either of the males were wearing, and as a teen I must have gone out hundreds of times, but I struggle to remember what I wore on most times. I think I recall it with these instances because subconsciously I attribute some of the blame to my choice to wear these outfits.

I also feel compelled to mention that on neither occasion was I drunk. On the first incident I would have consumed what I always drunk at house parties- 2 bottles of alcopops, as agreed with my parents. At university I would have been drinking snakebite, but this occurred at the very beginning of the night, and realising I needed my wits about me I stopped drinking then. It should be irrelevant, of course, but somehow I know it isn’t for some people.

Neither incident has scarred me for life. I know very few, if any women who do not have similar stories to recount. I would probably never have felt a need to commit the stories to print if it were not for reading the comments directed at Charlotte Edward’s in the last few days.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Sunday Times journalist Charlotte Edwards has written that Boris Johnson groped her upper thigh under a table at a private dinner in 1999 when he was editor of the Spectator magazine.

I’ve heard people questioning why she did not react at the time, or complain then. Well without knowing Charlotte I can take a pretty good guess. It simply wasn’t worth it. I presume she was at an early stage in her career. Speaking out at the time would have been to invite attention on herself, none of it good. Humiliation was likely.

Even now, as a successful journalist, in a relationship with a very prominent journalist (Robert Peston) there are those accusing her of attention and fame seeking or looking for a career boost. It’s not clear to me in what way they think she will achieve this, or why, if this was the case, she would not have done this earlier.

There are also those that take the view that men touching women are either doing it by accident or that it is the only way of knowing if a woman is interested in them. Isn’t it funny how men don’t seem to touch each other in intimate places by accident? Is talking not an appropriate means of finding out if someone is attracted to you?

Then there are those that seem to think she should count herself lucky: that women enjoy being inappropriately touched. I’m genuinely shocked at how many of these comments come from women.

There is something every single one of these types of stories has in common – power.

From Trump grabbing women by the pussy, to Weinsein ruining carers of anyone who rejected his advances, to the men at the Presidents Club who told waitresses to ”down that glass [of champagne], rip off your knickers and dance on that table” to Boris Johnson, the magazine Editor putting his hand on Charlotte Edwards inner thigh when she was a journalist starting out – in each case the men concerned knew the women had more to lose by speaking out than they did if the women spoke out.

And, in every single case, you will see more comment about the women’s behaviour – before, during and after the incident then there is on the mans.

And this is why women don’t say anything at the time, and why they often wait until they themselves are in a more powerful position to say something.

Some men will continue to behave like this while society let’s them.

Observations Of Attending My First Iftar As A Non Muslim By Kelly Grehan

Last night I went to our local Mosque with some friends to experience Iftar. Before I went I thought I might write about that experience, but actually it is my journey there I want to discuss.

Before I went I visited a friend’s mum, who is a Muslim, and she fitted me with a head scarf. I then drove to the Mosque. As I walked the short distance to the car I became nervous about people staring at me and potentially shouting.

As I drove on I realised I needed petrol and so went to the petrol station. As I used the pump I could not shake the feeling that people were making assumptions about me and I felt slightly panicky.

As I queued up to pay in the petrol station I felt concerned about what people might say about me and was pleased to get back in the car.

Why did this worry overtake me?

Well reports have shown that Muslim women are the most likely to be the victims of hate crime, and awareness of that was certainly with me, I felt a real fear I could be the victim of such an attack.

To some degree the scarf, on one hand an innocuous piece of fabric, made me feel that I had put a target on myself.

I imagined, that if anything were to happen to me people would apportion blame to me because of what I was wearing. It was really insightful to experience how some Muslim women must feel whenever they leave the house.

Then there is the feeling of assumptions being made about me, based purely on what I was wearing.

This felt deeply uncomfortable, not least because it reminded me of how sometimes, try as I might not to, I make snap judgements about people based on what they are wearing too.

This was only a small experience but, it certainly gave me a new perception.

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.

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.

In This Together – Anonymous

To my darling boy,

I couldn’t save you today. I couldn’t be there to hold you as the tears fell from your cheeks or make it all better.

Since you were a baby we knew you were different, I remember telling the doctor how hard it was to step into your world and how you wouldn’t let us in. The diagnosis of autism actually came as a relief in the end.

Things moved fast after that, school managed to put in place support, we learned how to communicate with you and how to help you feel safe.

However the one thing we couldn’t prepare you for is the heartache of watching your nursery friend now run off laughing with other friends as they look at you with pity, neither of you knowing how to step into each other’s worlds anymore.

Their needs and communication have now surpassed what you can offer and inevitably they have moved on.

You try and join in but it’s just too much, you cannot understand the invisible rules of making friends, it’s so hard and complicated and eventually you walk away lonely and heartbroken.

The world you were once a part of, the children you once called friends now moving further away as their understanding and expectations of what a friend is changes and you are just not able to keep up anymore.

I come up to you, I wipe away the tear and kiss your perfect cheek. I check my phone, no messages and just a Facebook update of a mum I used to spend time with, she is now busy with the other mum’s and it seems their children are all having a sleepover tonight and making cookies.

I silently say goodbye to yet another friendship and thank god you do not have social media yet.

I turn to you and tell you that I love you, that we will always be in this together.

I remind you that you have so much to offer this world, that you can point out the smallest detail in something that other people cannot see, you are loyal and focused when something interests you and because of that you will excel in your chosen field.

You rarely judge other people or get caught up in social expectations, you accept a person for who they are and would never lie or cheat them.

You are passionate, you live for the moment and despite common belief actually have the biggest heart I know!

But mostly importantly, you are unique and beautiful, and even the loneliest butterfly eventually spreads their wings and finds their place in this world.

In the meantime my darling boy I will always be there for you, we are in this together and I will always be your best friend.

I will help you understand this world and see the beauty within it.

I will teach you the things you struggle to see and together we will make sense of it.

I will forever walk by your side and you will forever have my love.

Love Mummy xx

Why should I know?

I was driving along listening to Radio 4 this morning when the news came on at the top of the hour. Just the headlines, you know.

One of the stories caught my ear, and I’ve been thinking about it all day.

In Portsmouth, a primary school head teacher had admitted in Magistrates Court to drink driving and being in possession of half a gram of cocaine.

That was one of the headlines they read out on the BBC news. Now, this wasn’t a detailed news programme, but a bulletin with headlines. That a head teacher had been fined in a Magistrates Court and banned from driving.

They read out his name, maybe they read out his school, I don’t quite recall now and it doesn’t seem the news from that time is on the iPlayer radio app. But on the BBC website there’s a link to his schools OFSTED report if you want to read it.

Please, don’t for a minute think that I think it’s OK for head teachers to be driving drunk and taking cocaine. I don’t. But with all that’s going on in the world, is that really one of the top stories, the few headlines, chosen to be read out on the BBC news?

His school, by the way, has 300 children on role according to the OFSTED report. So, if you’re a parent to one of those 300 children, or a parent thinking of sending your child there, perhaps it’s of public interest that you should know.

But I live more than 200 miles away.

Maybe it should be in the local paper? But as a headline on the national news? Surely not. It was also one of the top 10 most read stories on the BBC website at one point in the day.

The guy has been to court, he’s been banned from driving, he’s been fined, he’s been suspended from his job, he’ll probably be sacked and never teach again. Should he have been driving drunk? No, of course not. Should he have been in possession of cocaine? No, of course not.

Is it national news? One of the top six stories to make the news bulletin at the top of the hour on BBC Radio4? Is it in the public interest that everyone across the country knows the name of this guy? No, I shouldn’t have thought so.

Or if it is, let’s make the news bulletin longer – because if we’re going to read out the name of every head teacher who’s been caught drink driving or taken cocaine maybe we should do the same with doctors? Police officers? Politicians? Who else, maybe members of the clergy? Anyone who ever breaks the law? Let’s read them all out every day.

Is that news? Does it make the world better? Does it heck.

Anonymous.