Women’s Equality and the Richmond Park By Election

December 3, 2016 at 1:05 pm (Politics) ()

“My problem is Caroline, women’s equality is a single issue for a pressure group, not a platform for a political party” – so sayeth my intelligent politically minded friends who are wondering if I’ve joined a cult with my sudden leap feet first back into the world of politics with the Women’s Equality Party. A few years ago, sod it possibly even a few months ago, I might have agreed with you to some extent. I would still have been able to make an argument how WEP was a damned sight less single issue than UKIP and they still get equal media coverage with the major political parties but anyway. Reading the entire policy platforms of the party, speaking to members and branch organisers from across the country and finally listening to the very powerful and effective words of the party leader Sophie Walker, has convinced me that Women’s Equality Party are far from a single-issue party. They are a single focus party that uses that focus to see new solutions to a wide range of issues.
One of the big features of the weekends conference was adding a seventh key pillar to the policy platform (currently Equal pay, Equal parenting and care-giving, Equal education, Equal treatment of women in and by the media and an end to violence against women) of equality in health provision. “What nonsense!” I hear John Moorcraft and others cry (sorry John) “of course women have equal access to healthcare”. But no, they don’t. Firstly, there are the explicitly women’s issues; limited access to contraception beyond the Pill unless they are willing to go to several specialist clinics, the fact that women cannot decide to have an abortion – they must have two doctors certify their decision first, and the limited number of female GPs in the UK meaning they are usually booked out and unable to see patients who would feel more comfortable seeing a women GP. But beyond our reproductive systems there are other reasons health is skewed against 52% of the population. Research and medical testing is carried out almost exclusively on male physiology. Due to different hormone levels and chemical makeup women will react differently to medicine and conditions. Sandi Toksvig spoke at conference about taking a female friend to the hospital with the symptoms of a heart attack to be told it was a panic attack and not to fuss. This was because the receptionist had only been trained to triage the male symptoms of heart attack (pain in the arm, tight chest) and not the symptoms that women frequently present with (difficulty breathing, nausea and dizziness).
I could (and may well in the future) write bucket loads about lots of areas that were discussed at the weekend – housing, pensions, taxation – all of which when viewed through the lens of gender equality make you see that 52% of the population are not getting a fair deal but the key point is (and I’m directly stealing Sophie Walker’s words here) equality is not a zero-sum game. Giving women a fair deal does not mean men then get a bad deal. One of the reasons the economy struggles to work is we are using an outdated model that functions on the basis of women staying at home to clean, cook and look after children, the elderly and the sick as unpaid labour. In a modern economy, there needs to be access to flexitime, childcare, parental leave, not just for women but for men. There is no reason for anyone to feel threatened by women’s equality as the point is to make society better for everyone. The focus is the need to work together to achieve real change. It was for this reason that Women’s Equality (WE) didn’t put a candidate up for the Richmond Park by election. The local branch sat down with the Lib Dems and discussed what priorities were and, along with the Green Party, agreed to work together to elect Sarah Olney. This is the sort of politics I want to be involved in – on where people can put their egos aside and work together for the best solution.
Anyway, a bit of a ramble but just wanted to get some of these thoughts down while still fresh in my head. Not a lot of blogging now as I’m relatively busy but shall try and get something coherent put together before 2017 hits!

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We Need a Constitution

July 14, 2016 at 10:10 am (Politics)

Through the last few weeks when asked my political opinion on what is happening in the UK I have really struggled to come up with a satisfactory answer to most people.  When asked what I think of May/Boris/Corbyn/Gove/Crabb (whooooooooo?) etc. I do not really have an opinion because I am much more preoccupied with the nitty gritty of it all.  The political system as it operates in the UK.  This is not really suprising since I’ve spent the last eight years of my life teaching A-Level Politics. So for those of you who do not have an A-Level in politics here is a quick recap of Unit 2: (feel free to skip ahead)

The UK has what is known by A-Level teachers as an “unwritten constitution”.  Meaning that the rules that govern how this country is governed are not in one single document as they are in nearly every other democracy in the world (New Zealand and Israel being the only two other places that do not have one).  What we have is a series of conventions and precedents established over the last 500 years or so, examples of which you have seen in the last 24 hours (kissing hands, forming a cabinet etc.) and one overriding principle.  That is parliamentary sovereignty i.e. parliament can do whatever it likes whenever it likes as long as a majority of them vote for it.

The gist of your average A-Level essay ends up saying that the unwritten constitution is good because we don’t get lumbered with out of date ideas that are hard to change and then they turn to the second amendment of the US constitution which gives all US citizens the right to bear arms and is the reason it is almost impossible to pass gun control laws.  You see changing constitutional law is much harder than changing everyday laws.  In the US to change the constitution a two thirds majority is required in both houses of congress and three quarters of state legislatures have to approve the amendment as well.  And by and large I’ve always subscribed to this idea.  “Hey isn’t it awesome we live in a country where we aren’t bound by history and we can do whatever we like”.  Well no.  It’s not anymore frankly.

Constitutional reforms of the last 30 years have led to some of the most important changes in this countries history – devolution, the Human Rights Act, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act – all with the aim of decentralising power from our overly strong executive branch but I suspect in a years time we will have seen a serious reversal in a lot of these areas, the key one being the Human Rights Act.

Theresa May has repeatedly over the years committed herself to scrapping the Human Rights Act which would remove our commitment to subscribe to the European Convention on Human Rights. As I have said a lot of time ECHR and EU are separate.  Brexit does not mean no longer being signed up to ECHR.  We still have strong protection of our human rights.  However like everything in this country it could be overturned in the blink of an eye by a simple majority in parliament.

The uproar by remain voters over Brexit is largely that it is happening on such a flimsy majority and so quickly.  This is exactly why we need a true and real constitution.  Membership of the EU, Human Rights, and how we choose a government should not be changed on a whim by whoever holds a majority at the time.  There are some decisions that have irrevocable results and should be considered on a higher level than everyday law making.

One of the arguments the A-Level textbooks puts forward against having a “written constitution” is that it would be complex and time consuming to put together a constitution.  Well indeed.  That’s the point. It should be complex and time consuming deciding on a binding set of rules the country is run by but until we do we will continue to be a nation divided by the whims of an electorate easily swayed both ways by a controlling media.

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EU Referendum – Go on Then

June 10, 2016 at 2:07 pm (Politics) ()

Meh.  That was my original thought on the referendum a few months ago.  It’s not the end of the world either way.

Eleven years ago I started working for a Conservative MP and received in the post a banner sticker which I put over my desk “Love Europe, Hate the EU”.  As part of my A-Levels and University studies of Politics I had a lot of knowledge of how the EU operates and I was very against the lack of democratic oversight, the bloated bearucracy and the generally poor efficeincy of how the system was run.

Over the years though I have become horribly middle of the road on so many issues.  I hate reactionary baseless opinions and feel I need to challenge them. As a teacher I felt it was important to always be able to point out the other side of an argument and so I have found myself torn on many issues because I can see both sides. Decisions in politics are not easy and anyone who dismisses them as such has not given them due consideration.

But OMG the brexiteers or the leave camp or whatever you want to call them are just being so goddamn obnoxious!! So far as I can tell at best their argument is sovereignty.  Well guess what.  Parliament is, and always will be sovereign.  When we don’t like EU law we fight it tooth and nail.  Look at our opt out of the social charter from Maastricht in 1992, or our refusal to join the Euro zone or our opt out of the Schengen Area. Further reading if you want all the ins and outs (literally)

Of course their worst argument is “eeeewww foreigners”.  Frankly I do not have time for racism, casual racism or unintentional racism.  We live on one planet.  There are bad people and there are good people.  There are people who respect our customs and those who don’t. Where they were born frankly has sod all to do with that. Factually migration is good for us.  End of.  Get over it.  Don’t believe me?  Well the Guardian says so and that won’t surprise you but so does the Telegraph – albeit begrudgingly.

So lets go back to what my younger self has as reservations about the EU…. Is leaving going to change the way the EU is run? Probably not.  Is staying in going to change the way the EU is run? Nobody knows. Does the way the EU is run outweigh the benefits we get from being in the EU?  Well since there is no real way to quantify any of those things who knows. There are reforms that are needed, there is in fact an excellent report by Vernon Bogdanor (a god in political academic circles) explaining exactly how it could be tightened up.

The fact is the obnoxious nature of the public face of those in favour of leaving the EU is enough to make me vote to stay in.  No strong case has been made for leaving and as an erstwhile conservative I like to stick with the status quo rather than risk unpredictable radical change.  So if you want my advise on how to vote, vote remain, but more importantly – VOTE.  This is going to be a landmark decision in British politics and is probably the most important referendum of our lifetime so make sure you do vote so you don’t regret not having a say.

P.S. Anyone starts talking bollocks about human rights please just repeat after me – the European Convention on Human Rights predates, and is separate from, the European Union and our commitment to support it through the Human Rights Act 1998 will not be changed by leaving the EU.  And while the EU does have a set of rights similar which are enshrined in EU law, guess what?  The UK opted out of that as well.

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Young Peoples Mental Health Needs Support

May 22, 2016 at 1:22 pm (Mental health, Parenting, Politics, Teaching) ()

The axing of Natasha Devon’s role as school’s mental health champion was a real blow for young people in this country.  It sends the message that the government does not recognise the issues of mental health in schools when in fact it is a ticking time bomb. Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. Why schools now?  Why is it different from the past? Why can’t young people cope in the way that generations prior to them did?  As I see it there are four main factors.

Firstly awareness – the 21st Century has been a truly excellent time in the history of Psychology and symptoms of depression, anxiety and other conditions are far more often picked up than they were in the past.  Stephen Fry’s autobiography Moab is my Washpot is particularly good for highlighting this.

Secondly social media.  Think back to when you were a teenager.  Think of the worst most humiliating thing that happened to you.  Now imagine it’s on Facebook or Youtube and is there forever and people can keep linking back to it.  That is the world that everyone born in the 21st Century is living in.  Do not underestimate the horrors of social media on the young.  I thank god all the time that it did not exist when I was a teenager.  Text messaging caused me enough problems. (Don’t ask – at least not on the internet)

One and two are symptoms of the world and there is very little we can do about it.  But three and four are where the government has a responsibility to improve the situation and the sacking of Natasha Devon becomes unforgiveable.

The third factor as I see it is that teachers are at breaking point.  Yes, yes I rant about this all the time but it pains me to see the stress that my former colleagues are still under.  Everyone I have seen since I left my job has said how much better I look – this is largely because the terrible eczema I had developed on my eyelids in the last year has completely disappeared.  My eczema has always been stress related.  The last time I had it, before this year, was in my final year of university. The teaching job had got so stressful my body felt it had to tell me.  But it’s not just me.  Nor is it my lovely friends who are still working so hard they are struggling to maintain their sanity. One in ten teachers have been prescribed anti-depressants as a direct response to their job.  That article highlights all the statistics but the key point is that teachers are suffering more stress than they ever have before.  It is undoubtable that this is conveyed onto the students.

But finally the key point is the stress that the students are under.  The stress that academic achievement is the only route to follow, that there are no jobs waiting for them when they leave and that they will be considered a failure if they do not achieve the government set targets for themselves. This is what Natasha Devon was highlighting when she lost her job – that children as young as 12 have developed high levels of stress over standardised testing.  I know everyone is bored of being told how good Finland’s education system is but it shows that testing and forcing children into box ticking exercises is not the only way to educate them.

So why should we care? Aside from being decent human beings who do not want to see children suffering there are practical economic reasons to care. 90% of prisoners have at least one mental disorder and the prison suicide rate is one of the highest in the world, so these high levels of stress may well be increasing the number of young people getting involved in crime. The biggest killer of people in their twenties (i.e. those just emerging from the schools system) is self harm.  A shocking situation and one that can definitely be seen as a direct consequence of the lack of mental health support young people are given.

So what can we do?  Keep putting pressure on MP’s to ensure their is support for young people.  CAMHS are sporadic in their effectiveness but at least they do provide focused support for young people.  The real problem happens when those young people reach 18 and no longer have support.  I have tried to help students transition to adult mental health services in the past when they are leaving school and it is shocking how little support they have.  So if you wish to do something practical I urge you to sign the petition below which has only two weeks left to get enough signatures to get a response from the government  https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/114608

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Imagine

May 6, 2016 at 1:30 pm (Politics) ()

I turned on the election results at about half past midnight to see Nicky Morgan and John McDonnell just shouting over each other.  What does that actually achieve?  How does it help anyone?  How does it further anything?

So as you may be able to guess when I walked to the polling station yesterday I was feeling pretty clueless about who to vote for.  I hate the tribalism of politics and it is what drove me away from the Conservative Party.  Not because they are any more tribal than other political parties.  It is a constant state of whether you are with us or against us in all parties, and then whether you are with your subset or against your subset within that party.

The simple truth is that David Cameron does not wake up in the morning thinking “how can I make the country worse?”, whatever anyone thinks.  Nor does Jeremy Corbyn, nor Nicola Sturgeon, nor Leanne Wood.  Everyone (almost) in politics genuinely feels what they are doing is for the best.  I know it can be hard to believe but seriously – nobody decides to be a politician because they want to screw the country up. If you were given complete control of the country tomorrow you would not create utopia. Hard to accept I know.  But when dealing with the interests of 65 million people you are not going to make everything right for everybody all of the time.

And this is why I change who I vote for all the time.  Yes even when I was a member of the Conservative party.  Every time I walk into that polling booth I make an informed choice based on the policies and politics of the day.  But today I was feeling a bit sad because as I no longer live in London I could not express my support for a movement I feel very strongly will make a difference and that is the Women’s Equality Party.  So on my back from voting I made sure to finally sign up and join them.  If WEP deliver what they promise then we are looking at cross party support for the issues that matter most to me – ensuring that the inequality of the sexes does not continue any further into 21st Century Britain.

But I did not come here to lecture you about feminism – I know better.  The point though is stop being so damned tribal about politics.  Conservative, Labour, Plaid, SNP – they are all doing what they think is best and screaming at them that they are wrong is not going to change their mind.  Try listening and understanding and you will find you have common ground – you generall agree on the ends just not the means so maybe reaching some understanding would benefit everyone. The fact that WEP is trying to achieve this to some extent is the biggest reason I am willing to give them my support and I truly hope they continue to move forward in the future.

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Weeping

October 13, 2008 at 7:01 pm (Politics) (, , )

Well it’s happened already.  I have had my first bout of tears of the PGCE.  Not because of the coursework or because of the kids or because of the workload.  No just simply because I’m exhausted.  I’m so tired from travelling to my placement school (not too handily close) and being on my feet all day. It doesn’t help that I had commitments all weekend that meant I’ve had no time to myself.  So I’ve ended up in a ridiculous argument with my mate and weeped relentlessly.  I suspect I’m probably right in thinking this won’t be the first flood of lachrymosity of the year.

Nevermind – it could be  worse.  I could have saving in an Icelandic bank.

Of course the continuing meltdown of global finances is no laughing matter – except of course in the fact that the only way to cope with complete disaster is to see the inherant humour.  Gordon Brown seems to have managed to position himself as the saviour of the world for a day or two.  However the bank shares continue to plummet and Europe’s leaders may have agreed in principle to do the same as the UK, but what they do in practice is completely unpredictable – you only need look at Angela Merkel to see that.  It would be churlish to wish failure on Brown just because I don’t want to see him go up in the polls.  However nobody should forget that his massive borrowing means that the budget really doesn’t have the strength to hold up this massive bailout in the long run.

With all the pressure building up and the massive immplications that hang in the balance I should think I’m not the only person having a little cry in the corner tonight.

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High

September 27, 2008 at 11:32 am (Politics, Teaching) (, , )

It’s been a good week.  I’ve genuinely come out of this week feeling confident, prepared and excited.  I suspect this feeling is going to be short lived – pretty much until I get to my placement school.  However there has been encouraging progress.  I’ve taught mock lessons to my classmates and not felt the need to collapse on the floor and die. I’ve finally clicked that lesson planning and behaviour management are inextricably linked because the best way to keep the kids shut up is to keep them busy and / or interested.  So with all my new found knowledge and experience I’m feeling thrilled.

Or at least I was – then I started a bit of research on my placement school.  Of course I read the OFSTED report and the schools website but quite frankly, that tells you nothing.  Instead I went trawling the social networking sites and on Hi 5 (which I hadn’t even heard of until yesterday), I hit a jackpot.  Well I say jackpot.  Basically videos of kids senselessly mocking a teacher and secretly filmling it.  Just what you want to see.  The wobbly feeling is slowly returning to my legs and panic is setting in my chest.

In other news the US are having an election.  I may be a bit of a right wing nut job at times but do you know I have had to completely and utterly stop having any support for John McCain.  Not because I dislike his views that much, nor because I think Obama is incredible.  Frankly they’re both equally bland and non-commital.  However the concept of that gun toting, fundamentalist woman being that close to the presidency leaves me with no choice but to support Obama.  Don’t bellieve me?  Check this out – do you want her with her finger on the button?

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Insomnia

June 13, 2008 at 12:05 am (Politics) (, )

Sometime you know that tomorrow is going to be tough. Logically you should rest, fuel yourself and prepare for it and I’m sure some people do. I however lack the self control. The knowledge that tomorrow is going to be a killer makes me want to sap every last moment I can out of today. Annoyingly this means another bout of late night madness. I’m not in for a fun one tomorrow (boring work stuff, you wouldn’t want to know) so all I can do is sit here browsing the net, reading every little tid bit about the great man DD, and delaying the inevitable need for sleep.

However it has provided me with an amusing imagination game – what are the senior politicians in the country thinking right now as they try and drop off at the end of an astonishing and unexpected day that is going to lead to all sorts of mayhem tomorrow?

David Davis will of course probably be sleeping the most calmly. Nothing like a clear conscience and the knowledge that you’ve done the right thing to send you soundly to sleep. He’ll be the sensible person preparing for the struggle ahead with preparation, a cool head and a determined view. In his pale blue stylish pyjamas he’ll be dropping off in no time.

Clegg will be anxious – he knows he’s on the right side of the argument but he was the first leader to jump into the unpredictable minefield of the by-election that lies ahead. He’ll be wondering if he’s going to get burnt and whether the members of his party who already think he’s cosying up to the Tories too much will be even angrier at him tomorrow. His pyjamas of course have yellow and blue horizontal stripes. He’ll probably be heading down to the kitchen for a cup of camomile tea to help him drop off.

Cameron will be having a chat with Samantha as they lie in their four poster bed – him in dark blue silk pyjamas, Samantha in something from Laura Ashley she’s had since the 80’s. He tells her he agrees with Davis, he see his point and he has to admire his balls but gosh darnit it’s a risky time and things were going so smoothly. This is going to take some serious skill to manoeuvre and the trouble with being the leader of the Tory party is that you can always count on the party members to do their best to get in your way – nevermind those eejits over at Conservative Home handing Gordon a bag of ammo from under the table. Samantha hands Dave a warm mug of fair trade and cocoa, strokes his brow and reassures him that Davis may not watch as much You Tube as DC but he has a canny knack of connecting with the great British public and that it will all turn out right in the end.

And then we turn to the Hunchback in the Tower – the phantom of Downing Street. He cuts a ghostly figure as he paces the corridors of Downing Street still in his suit and tie, muttering to himself about how he can’t understand it, about how it’s not his fault they’re in this much mess, thinking he really does believe 42 is the answer even though he’s forgotten he read it in a Douglas Adams book rather than a creditable piece of evidence. Because of course the only man who truly will be unable to sleep tonight is our supreme leader. So mired in tactics, turmoil and travesty he’s truly lost sight of who is, what he stands for and where he’s going. He knows only one thing – that he must hold on to power for dear life.

Remember kids – a clear conscience is the key to a good nights sleep.

Sleep Brownn

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Genius – Pure Genius

June 12, 2008 at 10:10 pm (Politics) (, )

Damn David Davis is good. I mean I’ve always admired the man. He’s principled, he’s canny and he nearly always is on the same side of an issue to me. But today he has just topped everything by making an original, honourable and truly masterful political move.

42 Days detention – do you care? If you don’t you should. Imagine being taken from your family, cut off from all contact with friends, relations and being locked up for six weeks without ever being given a reason why. Would you still have a job when you got back? Would people feel the same way about you? The sad response from most people is that this would only happen to terrorists. The naivety to think that only those who are guilty would be held for 42 days without trial is shocking. Lets remember that the people being held are those who don’t have enough evidence gather against them to bring a charge. There is no concrete proof they are guilty – that’s why they are being held for so long.

It is one of the oldest principles of law in the UK that you cannot be held without charge. It was an idea taken by the French Revolution as one of the most important principles of a fair and free society. It has survived hundreds of years of political change in this country. Yet Gordon Brown is a thread away from destroying all of that – and not over principal or deeply held belief, purely to try and prove his government isn’t taking part in an extended funeral march.

Some have accused Davis of vanity or ambition. Clearly they know very little about David Davis. He is an honourable and principled man who is doing whatever he can to stand up for his beliefs. I am behind him every step of the way.

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Teetotal Tube

June 2, 2008 at 7:37 pm (Politics) (, )

Drunken eejits terrorise those who had to travel on the tube on Saturday night and didn’t fancy being part of a drunken mob.

Drunks on Tube

You see while I support the ban of alcohol on the tube I cannot understand why it wasn’t brought in immediately.  Sadly Saturday illustrated the obvious consequence of setting the ban for a date in the future – it allowed wankers to organise an act of public mayhem.  I’m not a puritan, I don’t mind drunk people – in fact very often I am one of them.  The trouble is the rest of the time I’m a woman who works long hours and travels on the tube alone.  I think as a group you will find that we are the people most in favour of this ban.

Public transport is a service the vast majority of people in London have to use and I believe that certain standards should be in place to make it as pleasant an experience as possible.  Over the years I have had too many unpleasant experiences on the tube to recount.  Did all of them include someone clutching an alcoholic drink?  Of course not.  Do I tense up and develop a sense of fear as soon as I see people drinking on the tube next to me?  Yes.

When taking the decision to ban something – not to make it illegal but just to ban it in certain circumstances as is the right of every service and business – a decision has to be made to balance the need of those who do it and the effect it has on others.  Nobody needs to drink on the tube, nobody’s human rights are being affected, nobody is going to find themselves worse off for having to wait until  they get off the bus to have a drink.  Many people feel more comfortable in a carriage that doesn’t have people drinking, many people detest the sight of lager louts congregating around them, many people fear for themselves on their way home because of people drinking.  To me it’s a clear choice – ban the booze and back Boris.

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