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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we have Priti Patel as Home Secretary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish us all luck.

Why Abuse Of Women In Politics Hinders Democracy By Kelly Grehan

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

A Woman’s Place Is On The Ballot By Kelly Grehan

So here we are 100 years on from the first women in the UK gaining the vote and the political class continues to be dominated by men.

208 women are now MPs making up 32% of the Houses of Parliament, including 206 female peers, making up 26% of Members of the House of Lords.

In 2015 of the 3,971 candidates who stood for election only 1,033 (26%) were women and this was hailed as major progress.  

Women were 34% of Labour’s candidates, compared to 30% in 2010.  169 Conservative candidates, 26% of the party’s total cohort, were women – a 10% rise on 2010 and the highest number in the party’s history. Similarly, 166 (26%) Liberal Democrats candidates were women.

It is the same picture in local government: 32% of local authority councillors in England are women.

Small, slow progress, but I hardly need to remind everyone that over half the people eligible to vote in this country are female!

Globally, the UK’s 30% ratio for women in the House of Commons puts it 49th in ranked list.

Rwanda is first, followed by Bolivia, Cuba and the Seychelles. Three countries in the ranking have no women in their lower or single house, while 31 have fewer than 10%.

So why don’t women stand?  

Well several studies have found evidence of well-entrenched gender bias in British party politics, including widespread incidences of direct and indirect discrimination by party selectors towards women candidates; ranging from gendered assumptions regarding women’s traditional roles to explicit sexual harassment.

Seeing the treatment of female representatives in the media and via social media is likely to put a lot of women off standing.

The fact that females at every sphere of the political system receive so much more abuse and ridicule than their male colleagues says a lot about our society and the everyday sexism that continues to define it.

Then there is the way the political processes are set up.  Meetings are often at night, leaving anyone with caring responsibilities unable to attend as no provision is made for children.

Door knocking is not viewed as a suitable activity for children by many.  

My experience is that Labour meetings continue to be dominated by men.

I am sure there are some, but I have not personally come across, a Labour Party Chair who is not a man.

Even discussions on issues primarily affecting women such as domestic abuse and sexual harassment or childcare are quickly overtaken by men, often pointing out that men can be affected by these issues too, and shouting down women who were about to speak about actual experiences.

Within the meetings there seems to be an unwritten rule that women make the tea and take the minutes.  

Women are simply not seeing the representation of women or given the voice they should be.

When I speak to very capable women about standing many simply articulate that they think they lack the capabilities to be a good councillor and so self select themselves out of the process.

The result of this failure to have adequate representation of the lived experiences of women in our elected places means progress for women is slowed.

I attended an event with Tracy Brabin, Shadow Early Years Minister.  It was clear her understanding of childcare and early years provision (or lack there of) is a shaped by her experience as a working mum.  Too often we are reliant on people who have no idea of our needs to speak up for us.  This is not to say we don’t have some excellent male representatives who work really hard for all their constituents, but such continued dominance of males (mostly white males over 60) means that the political set up continues to be patriarchal and to continue to examine issues in a patriarchal context.

This does nothing to advance us as a society.

The truth, in my experience, is women seem to completely underestimate what they could bring to the role of representative.

Many women are already firmly established as active members of their communities, on groups like school Parent Teacher Associations or volunteering for charities.

Many have good understanding of local issues surrounding schools from experience as parents and similarly the NHS from their experiences in it as well as taking others as carers (and yes it is still usually mothers and daughters fulfilling this role).

As mums many women have fought to get their children access to services like speech therapy or dyslexia testing which have given them in depth understanding of the system and the obstacles it brings up and many women are consistently shown to have suffered disproportionately in the austerity ‘cutbacks.’

The vocalising of these experiences and the taking of the wisdom of the experiences to the community can made a real difference.

The only way our local parties are going to get better is if we, as women go and make them better.  

Women, reading this – please do stand.  

#AskHerToStand

A Desperate Plea From A Relative Of A Rough Sleeper By The Masked Avenger Anonymous

We have all walked past a rough sleeper on the street. Sometimes we give it a second thought. Sometimes we stop and chat, maybe even try to help.

But mostly we walk on by.

Most of us are fortunate enough to have never been there and while we sympathise, we often try and forget it and move on with our busy lives. Rushing to get somewhere; an appointment or some such.

We often don’t see the person beyond the sleeping bag. Sometimes it is very hard to imagine how someone got there. The government dehumanise rough sleepers. They advise us not to feed them as though they are pigeons in Trafalgar Square. They put spikes on floors to stop them being able to get some shelter in a shop doorway. Again treated like pests. So it’s no wonder that we walk on by. Sometimes it is a taboo subject.

But for me it is different. I happen to know a rough sleeper very personally.

You might want to ask me a few questions. Does anyone help him? Is he loved? Do you help him? The answer is yes. To all of the above.

But our help is not enough and the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ he gets into this position is what is complex.

My uncle has undiagnosed mental health conditions. He is an addict. Self medicating I guess. He has never had the support he needed from the professionals. And this is the product of years of neglect.

Born in the 60s to parents with severe mental health issues that lost everything down to gambling, my uncle was not diagnosed with anything himself or supported. Instead when the family broke down, my grandmother had a mental breakdown and no one was there to help. The authorities left my grandmother to it and just took my uncle away into care when he was 7. And that was the start of it. In and out of care. In and out of trouble.

” A handful, naughty, out of control, the mother can’t cope”

While he was in the place that was supposed to care for him, he was abused.

He went in as a child with problems and came out disturbed with even bigger problems.

No one knew what happened at the time. This is only a recent revelation. So he continued. In and out of trouble causing merry hell for the family.

As he got to adulthood he started to ‘self medicate’ and slowly but surely became an addict. Which led to petty crime, prison. And eventually being institutionalised .

“A write off'”

On paper yes. But what no one else saw was the snippets of the man he could have been if the support had been there during his childhood.

Detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, he had structure, routines and he flourished. He took courses and passed them all. He read and learned and became a talented writer.

He did endless courses and took all of the opportunities he could. He grabbed them with both hands.So when he went back into the outside world he started his own business, he even wrote for a national newspaper as a regular columnist. He became a published author. Some semblance of a normal life was finally coming his way.

He was capable and intelligent and we could see the person he could become if he’d been given more support as a youngster.

But things happened and again the support fell away. Without the guidance of a probation officer, without the structure, his mental health problems that simmered under the surface reared their ugly, scathing, self destructing head again.

Addiction came back with a vengeance and along came some new ones too.

So we saw him slip back. He lost everything and again he went on the slippery slope into the abyss of addiction and self destruct.

So, we try to help as a family, but its not possible to keep an eye on him 24/7.

The downward spiral was and is fast and relentless;he loses touch of where he is and he ends up on the street. He loses contact with any kind of support network and before you know it he is sleeping rough.

We can’t track him. We don’t know where he is.

We’ve had phone calls in the past from wonderful passer bys that have tried to help him. In his moments of lucidity he remembers a number of a random relative and some very nice person decides to help him and calls.

We then hear he’s been in various places begging as he has lost everything. So we get there and we have to try and get him some help. He’s unwell and doesn’t know where he is. The police come and tell us not to bother with A and E as they are overcrowded but that they will try to help him.

Do you notice that even though I’m describing events in the past that I am using present tense? Why you might ask?

Because this is a recurring event. This happened last month but it could happen tomorrow, next week, next month. We never know what will happen next. This is the pattern that happens over and over again.

Services that are cut to shreds still try their best to help him. There are genuinely good mental health staff, hospital staff, police officers and key workers out there.

But it’s not enough.

The services need to be joined up. They need more funding to give him the intensive therapy and support for his mental health needs as this is the root to all of his problems, I believe.

But all that happens is the problem is treated that day. Acute support is given while he is physically unwell. But there is not enough in place to prevent this from happening again.

So I sit here and wonder what people must think when they walk past him. When he ends up on the street, bounding in and out of shops, trying to get someone to help him.

They will never see the man he can be. The man he has been, the man he could have been.

Every person has a story, but homeless people are nothing more than pests to the Tories.

If we followed the advice that they give us, which is to ignore a homeless person, don’t give them money or food; if every passer by that has helped my uncle thus far listened to this advice that this ‘government’ dish out my uncle would be dead by now. Perhaps that’s what they want. By treating homeless people like pests perhaps they think they will just die off.

But instead there are good people out there, people try to help. And for now he and we are riding our luck. That might just change one day. And we dread phone calls sometimes. What will happen next we just don’t know.

So I want to say to the people that help, the doctors, the nurses, the passers by, the staff in Pret that give out food, the key workers: Thank You!!!

Don’t ever change and maybe one day if we fight hard enough we will have a government that cares too so that real change can happen and people living in the streets being dehumanised by a callous government will be a thing of the past.

The Rough Sleeping Homeless- A Growing Problem by Eddie Luigi

At this time of year Christians everywhere are reminded that Mary and Joseph found themselves homeless, in Bethlehem, through no fault of their own, but because a physically distant government passed a law to determine how much tax they could collect, in order to keep their privileged citizens in the luxury that they had become accustomed to.

Two thousand and seventeen years later, in English towns and cities, you don’t need to walk far to be reminded that, just like Mary and Joseph, there are now many people who find themselves homeless through no fault of their own, because an emotionally distant government passes laws to determine how much tax they could collect in order to keep their privileged citizens in the luxury they have become accustomed to.

The idea of taxes is a redistribution of wealth. That redistribution of wealth should be for the benefit of the many wealth producers and not solely for the benefit of the privileged few.

I think that a good Christmas present for the homeless would be for the government to put as much effort into their house building policies as they put into their rhetoric about how much they have done, whilst failing to mention how much they have not done that they promised to do.

There are currently 4,000 people sleeping rough and over 300,000 people classed as homeless in England, according to the charity Shelter.

The figure for the rough sleepers has increased by 134% since the Tories came to power in 2010.

Isn’t it time Theresa May and her government owned up to this figure instead of trying to lie about it?