Thursday, 12 August 2010

Not Cricket.

I just re-read Fever Pitch. Two thoughts: first, holy crap 1992 was actually a really long time ago now; second, I know something else these days that engenders almost identical tribal devotion. Yes, some of my friends in the Liberal Democrats have a kind of dogged loyalty to the party that makes the way Nick Hornby feels about Arsenal look positively capricious. And with this political version of club pride comes the equivalent type of gut loathing for the adversary. Every election is a derby match between your guys and all your old enemies... and this is where sound political thinkers lose the plot.

The name calling (of which Thom Oliver wrote a brilliant summary this week) from the soi-disant 'progressive left' is just par for the course, and most of the time you just laugh it off. Easy to laugh to be honest, when this breast-beating and baying is going on and the point of the Liberal Democrats has been missed entirely. What is a shame though, is when this we-hate-the-others mentality gets in the way of giving praise where it's due, on the issues that matter.

It seems to be too easy to forget sometimes that everyone who gets involved in politics does so initially because they feel that things ought to be fairer. Everyone is in it for what they perceive to be the right reasons and the good of all. I don't believe in the big (brother) state ideal of Labour for example, or the dog-eat-dog self-determination of the tories, but I can see where both and more are coming from and just occasionally I allow myself a beatific smile in the direction of a politician from a different party who gets something very important addressed. Nobody has a monopoly on moral fibre. Whether we view politics from the left, right or centre, we should all be able to agree that some of the things we can see are horrible and need action to change them.

Here's a cast-iron example of something that needs to be changed: we need to stop being confronted everywhere we go with unattainable ideals of female beauty, particularly when those ideals include being drastically underweight. Everyone agreed? Thought so.

So why is Laurie Penny, one of the most fantastic feminist writers of her generation, so angry with Lib Dem Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone? Apparently, in naming Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks as a woman whose body made a refreshing change in the limelight from the constant parade of stick insects:
"Lynne Featherstone MP has given the impression that young women should aspire to look like saucy secretaries with accommodating attitudes to sexual harassment."

Please! Deliberately conflating character with actress just so you have a stick to beat Lynne with? Can't we stop with the hate and the lazy sensationalist Lib-Dems-are-all-swine "journalism" when it comes to something as important as this? So you have an article to write. What would have been so wrong with maybe agreeing with Lynne that Christina Hendricks has a healthy shape and is a more sane physical ideal than Kate Moss for the majority of girls, and going on to say it's a shame that because she's an attractive woman she is cast in a role where in your opinion she seems to be nothing but a sex-object? Or is the New Statesman paying people according to how much bile they can spout at either coalition partner these days? Sad. Some of the left have changed their pitch - they think it's all over. If they're going to start screaming hate at people who are doing good for commonly held causes, it is now.

For balance, if you did read Laurie's piece today, you might be interested to know that on Lynne Featherstone's own blog, she had this to say about the matter a whole eleven days ago:
"In that interview – because I was asked what I thought of Christina Hendricks (the MadMen star) and said I thought she was absolutely fabulous – as was Marilyn Monroe - echoes of that interview have been bouncing around the media ever since. Not surprisingly – I was not advocating that women should aspire to replicate Ms Hendricks’ figure – simply saying that it was nice to see an alternative to ultra thin models."

You can't score points over us there, much as you might have wanted to. I'm sure there's a phrase for football fans who have to watch a team they hate play beautiful games and come out on top, while their own side are in a mire of ugly infighting and recriminations, and going nowhere. Oh aye, that was it - sick as a parrot. Laurie want a cracker?

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Breast is best, unless it's someone utterly witless beating theirs...

I've been pointed at a story about the "last great supermodel", Gisele, and her bizarre proclamation that people should be banned by law from bottle-feeding their children.

Here we have a woman who is world-famous for having a pretty face and a great body. Nothing up with making the most of those free assets in a world where they can make you rich and famous, I guess. But it hardly gives you the right to start telling everyone else what to do.

If you are a celebrity, what you say publicly has an impact. By all means use your influence to advocate for a good cause! Support for breastfeeding is one I fully endorse too. But if you're going to get involved in politics, please don't do it by clamouring for bans of everything you don't approve of! It's lazy, and it does more harm than good.

There seems to be a myth in the minds of certain anti-formula campaigners that it's easy for all women to breastfeed. Let me tell you, even for those of us who are blessed with fully-functional adequate mammary glands, it's never easy. It's painful at times, it can be psychologically arduous, it affects hormones and therefore mental health the whole time you do it, not to mention the fact that appropriate places to semi-disrobe and start feeding are too few and far between. And that's those of us who *can* do it. Plenty of women find that much as they'd like to give it a go, they can't. One of those things that is affected by genetic variation, I guess. Some women are very fertile, others have to try for years before they can have a baby. In much the same way, some women produce enough milk and some to spare for their babies and have no problem getting the baby to latch on, and some just aren't that lucky. Imagine how you would feel if that were you and you started using formula milk.. possibly some combination of misplaced guilt and reduced self-esteem, hormonal blues and worry.

To my mind, there's nothing wrong with choosing to feed your child formula even if you can breastfeed, either. Scientific advancements to make our lives easier, in action! Once upon a time, the only way a busy woman with a life of her own outside raising babies could continue to be busy after giving birth was to find a wet-nurse. Nowadays researchers and companies have laboured for years to bring us balanced nutrition for infants. Brilliant! OK, so it's not the ideal but for some parents the advantages make it the best way for them to make sure their children are properly fed. Again though, the option comes with a burden of misplaced guilt, thanks to the ever-vocal 'breast is best' lobby.

If you're a new mum feeling hormonal, low and guilty... I think pretty much the last thing you need is the approbation of a perfect supermodel, who was allegedly making pancakes the morning after giving birth, and back into superhuman shape within weeks - amazing how that seems to be so much easier for people with endless pots of money at their disposal, isn't it?

There are positive measures that I believe we should take as a society, to encourage women who want to, to breastfeed. Basically, I agree with Sue Jacob of the Royal College of Midwives, who is quoted in the BBC article linked above:

"We need to have a debate about how to create a society which is going to accept breast feeding wherever women want to do it - in cafes, parks, public spaces and at work, if that's what they choose"

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Instead of using the blunt tool of legislation to restrict women's choices, can't we start by using it to enshrine new rights, so that women can breastfeed in public whenever they need to? Why always the banning? Please, Gisele, next time you want to help, try thinking first. Thinking is so important.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Cameron to Clean Up Thatcher's Mess?

There's a huge problem in this country, that pervades pretty much all counties, rural and urban. It leads to fear, depression, and misery. It's something that the Conservatives of the 1980s made much worse, bizarrely making themselves popular with a quite significant section of society in the process.. and then Labour did nothing to ameliorate in their 13 years of power.

It's not foxes running riot in town centres.

It's a widespread lack of social housing. Yeah sorry, housing. That least sexy of all departments. I'd imagine the Housing Department is quite a doss to work at, actually. Especially since we don't need stupid HIPs any more. Seriously, HIPs were a stupid plan though, weren't they? Did Labour just invent those to give the Housing Department something to do and maybe take their minds off the fact that a supposedly progressive party seemingly had a big fat blind spot right where thousands of homeless people were living in B&Bs up and down the country? No council housing you say? Well sorry we're terribly busy starting wars over here, and simultaneously making sure more poor people go to university while ensuring that all poor people who *do* go to uni will be straddled with thousands in debt afterwards. No, we haven't got time to fix this most basic of human needs, tell you what, why don't you pop along and do some state meddling in an already well-regulated sector to make sure nobody can even buy or sell houses without an extra layer of bureacracy to pay for. Marvellous!

So, Thatcher ran this perfect scam when I was a kid called 'Homes for Votes'. Genius really - the tories and their iron lady were really quite unpopular after the whole wanton destruction of British industry and mining, and the thing with selling off the country's assets in a baby-after-bathwater sort of way when the privatisation of BT went well.. how did they stay in power when they should have been voted off in anger by the working classes? Remember the ethos of the time: "Greed is Good". People would always be happiest when they felt they were doing well for themselves. So with that in mind the Right to Buy Scheme for council tenants had been born right after Thatcher took power - with every passing election, there were more families who would vote Conservative because "we never would have owned our own home if it wasn't for them". And even better - there was the added bonus of making all that money from the house sales. Nobody ever said it had to be reinvested in new housing stock. Laughing all the way to the bank! Homes For Votes. Breathtaking large-scale gerrymandering. I call it the same thing as the 1990 scandal in Westminster purposely. The logical next step for that plan to make it even more dastardly is to make sure you really do only sell homes to designated people who would vote tory. It's one of those things though, that the Electoral Commission would draw the line at. Thatcher knew how to dance up to the line. Major got his feet tangled up in it and fell over.

So, what does all this have to do with today? Well. Seems Cameron's been let loose at a press conference again and just made up some policy from out of his arse when he's asked a question he can't answer. Honestly, trying to keep him in check is like having that annoying toddler-dressed-as-a-boss from out of the toilet roll adverts as Prime Minister. But dash it if this time he didn't talk some sense! I guess you know, monkeys and typewriters and all that, it had to happen at least once.. still. Cameron talking sense. Who'd have thought it?

He does it in a totally Bertie Wooster way though. He's asked what he's going to do about the lack of social housing and he blinks and almost stutters as he mumbles something about council tenancies no longer being for life - fixed term tenancies, maybe? Oh gosh this will cause such a row. He's so incoherent that somehow the measure gets translated as something to do with spending cuts (How does that even work? How could anyone expect to save money by complicating a process?). So now we've got this problem of Labour activists on twitter (tiresome losers) shouting and baying about the bloody idiot wanting to put people out on the streets... presumably to save money. Somehow. All of which rather harms the publicity of a quite wonderful idea which is this:

At present, I am a single mum and I struggle a bit, and so I live in a two-bedroom housing association property. This means I have a comfortable well-maintained home for a rent I can afford. One less thing to worry about! Hurrah! Need met by society in a time of hardship, I am a lucky young lady. Thing is though, I don't intend to stay penniless. I work hard, I move myself forward, and I'm fairly certain by the time I hit middle age I'll be doing quite alright for myself. But the tenancy in this place is assured to me for life. I could, if I possessed of less moral fibre, live in this place with its rock-bottom rent even if I had a bank balance that would finance buying four other houses. After my daughter left home I wouldn't have to move to a smaller place - as far as the contract is concerned, this is my home and I have a right to stay in it until I die. Regardless of the homeless young mums that will be in dire need of the place when I no longer depend on it. I think that's pretty sick, actually. As soon as I feel confident that I can afford to be out of here, I'll be gone.

But thousands don't think that way, like I do. They think of themselves. Even the ones who don't buy their council or housing association home to pass on as an inheritance to their kids, will stay in them long after their needs have adjusted without a thought to whether they are affecting someone else's life. So maybe they need a push to do the right thing. Whether that is giving parents a fixed term tenancy until their child is eighteen, and reviewing their case at that point to assess the parent and child's needs; or undertaking a rolling assessment scheme to give tenants a questionnaire every few years to check their level of need; or using electoral roll data to check whether only two people live in that house with six bedrooms, or all of these, I'm all in favour.

Damn it. I bloody agree with Cameron about something. Even if he said it in the manner of a bewildered animal in a suit who is scared of the poor, instead of like a reasoning human being.


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Monday, 2 August 2010

Sarah's Law Is A Backward Step For Society.

Jonathan Calder has written a lovely little observation on Sarah's Law this morning. I agree wholeheartedly when he says the idea that every contact between adult and child needs to be licensed or policed by the state seems to me a totalitarian fantasy.

I adore my seven-year-old daughter, I would obviously hate for her to come to harm. But to expect to monitor every movement she makes and every person she meets is clearly nothing short of ludicrous, and doesn't actually do her any favours. She's growing up and learning, and there's no lesson learned more powerfully than by direct experience. I'm gutted that kids playing out is no longer the norm. It was only 22 years ago I was her age, and had a range of a couple of streets to roam with my friends after school, and went to the corner shop for sweets on my own, as they were all within sight of my home. Nowadays if you let your seven-year-old have that much free rein you'll be getting a visit from Social Services before long for having them 'inappropriately supervised'.

Childhood in the new millennium is all about sitting indoors and getting obese, scared to set foot out of the house because the world is full of paedophiles who lurk round every corner like slavering wolves. GET A GRIP, BREEDERS. The world is no more dangerous in that sense than it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. You're doing your offspring far more harm filling their heads with patriarchal sex-obsessed brainwashing from cartoons and their tummies with junk food than you would letting them have some fresh air, exercise, sound instruction from you and a bit of responsibility for themselves!

While I'm trying to get certain things through the heads of hysterical parents here -'Innocent' does not mean 'pure and holy', it means' blank canvas'. Human beings are not born as special angels who can do no harm, to then grow into worthless hooded figures of hate at around age 15. Shocker, I know! Your precious little princes and princesses are just very young people with a lot to learn, and your job as parents is to filter down as much as possible in the way of examples of reasonable behaviour and how to live a good life as you can while they're in your care, so that when they leave it as young adults, the world will be a better place for having them in it. The world is not going to be a better place for your children, and your childrens' children, if we're all raising this generation to think that everyone who isn't government approved is a rapist-in-waiting. By the time a child is in junior school, you can explain to them perfectly straightforwardly in an age-appropriate manner what sex is, why adults do it, and how puberty comes about and why it's not a good idea for them to be involved in sex before their bodies and minds are ready. If your experience as a parent is anything like mine, you'll need to as images of sex are everywhere, and your kids will be drawing their own conclusions if you don't give them an explanation. Information is power. Limiting the information your kids have is leaving them powerless.

I am so sick to death of the hysteria. Serial rapists? Not as bad as paedophiles. People who maim, torture, commit arson, murder, armed robbery, abuse of the elderly? Not as bad as paedophiles. Let's decide that every other criminal, regardless of their propensity for reoffending, is considered to have paid their debt to society once they get out of prison, and left anonymous to give them a chance to make a good life for themselves. Not anyone who has touched a child though. They're different. Because children aren't resilient, they can't cope with the wind blowing on them. They're to be kept immune from bad things happening to them, unlike grown men and women.

Guess what else? Sarah's Law won't even guarantee your child doesn't ever meet a child abuser. All it will do is make you aware of all the poor bastards in your neighbourhood who ever got convicted. The ones who haven't ever been caught and convicted are safe from your fearful, hateful attitude. They might even be people you've known and trusted for years. They might even be living in your house. After all, in 2007, one or both parents were responsible for 69.9 percent of child abuse or neglect fatalities [source].

So, Sarah's Law is warped from my point of view, because it feeds into this growing culture where children are taught to mistrust and fear everyone they don't know well. This sad, sick culture where men are afraid to make eye contact and smile at children. The country I live in is one where everyone is considered a guiding light and a precious angel until they go through puberty, at which point they become second class citizens.

What is even more warped though, is the idea that party colleagues of mine are part of a government whose Home Office will put out an official supporting statement when they roll out Sarah's Law, which is repeated on the BBC evening news and even in the broadsheet press, saying "more than 60 children were protected from abuse during the pilot scheme which started in four areas of the UK in September 2008". I'm sorry, what kind of farcical NONSENSE is that? Can you name these 60 children that would have surely have been abused had there not been a register of previous child abuse offenders available for parents to view? I don't think you can. I think that's a fucked up thing to say, in that case.