I have followed the story about Mark Sampson, the now sacked England’s women’s football coach with interest. Apparently he had conducted himself inappropriately with female players whilst coaching at Bristol prior to gaining the England job, with the FA seemingly or allegedly turning a blind eye prior to his appointment. This leading on from alleged racial abuse allegations that were becoming better-substantiated by the day.
This led to calls for the umpteenth time for root and branch reform of the FA. Which it was said by some (like BBC pundit Danny Mills) could fix this. But this overlooks one massively important fact: the culture of football is horrendously misogynistic. This may only clearly surface via instances such as this, or the terrible Ched Evans trial, or when leading Sky commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys got caught on microphone uttering their standard offensively sexist “banter”. However, I would reckon upon such attitudes to women being very deeply seated.
And football is not alone. Rugby has seen its own allegations. Some underway at the moment involve a player capped many times by Ireland. And as a former professional rugby player (albeit for a short and remarkably unsuccessful period) I can say that attitudes towards women were not particularly healthy.
This all comes following the fall-out within our party surrounding Sarah Champion’s comments seeking to “tackle head on” alleged problems with Pakistani men raping white women. I felt those comments were unnecessarily incendiary, and lacked the nuance required to properly take the situation forward.
What we had in the Rochdale, Rotherham and now Newcastle cases were groups of men, who were subject to a certain set of cultural dynamics who went on to commit systematised rape and sexual assault. To reduce that to a generalised problem across the Pakistani community as if that community were not in any way influenced by either specific local dynamics affecting the men involved (many of whom were not Pakistani), or by other prevailing norms existing in Britain today, is unhelpful.
Whilst of course the order of severity in the matters Sarah Champion was addressing was far far higher, than the Sampson example, or my experience of moderate misogyny in sports, what those latter examples speak of is a prevailing status quo across many all-male groups and cultures in our country. That is created by a complex mix of gender behaviours, roles, and stereotypes, all perpetuated or exacerbated by the media and society. The same media and the same society that the men in Rochdale, Rotherham and Newcastle were exposed to and existed in.
Of course, specific groups should be investigated when there is cause to investigate. But steps must be taken to address unhealthy attitudes to women and equality in whichever group or domain it arises. Doing so would help to destroy the foundations upon which such behaviour is built.
The lead Judgment of Lord Reed in the Supreme Court case that Unison had brought against the Lord Chancellor on the illegality of fees levied on claimants seeking justice in the employment tribunal was a tour de force on the rule of law. Magna Carta gets a couple of mentions as do great architects of the common law Coke, and Blackstone. Anyone with the slightest interest in our constitution or matters pertaining to access to justice ought to read it.
In fact, it contains principles which you would hope no right-thinking observer, participant or commentator in our public realm could dispute. You’d be wrong.
Another article I came across last week really jarred with me. The Economist had taken it upon themselves to report on an alleged fraud involving British tourists suing for food poisoning suffered in all-inclusive hotels: a subtly-titled piece, “Holiday Cons… “Puke for payout”, the scam making holiday firms sick” . It cites as its evidence for this assertion the fact that such claims are up by 500%. It provides no evidence of fraudulent claims (even though legal judgments are perhaps the best documentary trail one can imagine), but is happy to assert that “many of the “crash-for-cash” fraudsters who used to run whiplash scams have taken to falling ill on holiday, a much easier hoax to execute“.
It refuses to countenance the possibility that these may be bona fide claims. And that the legal services market (the Economist loves markets?) has responded to the opportunity to provide these claimants with a route of recourse. Legal services that will enable them to pursue a claim, in which evidence will be provided and tested prior to judgment or settlement being obtained. Thus, furthering another of the Economist key tenets, and one of its few ascribed roles for the State: the Rule of Law.
Let’s be honest, the Economist’s view here is based on some elitist world view whereby anyone seeking “compo” for a personal injury or the like is demonised as fraudster/scrounger or worse.
And it was this type of world view and the coverage it propagated that led to the introduction of Employment Tribunal Fees in the first place. Typified by the CBI, whose line is so often accepted at face-value, not least by the right wing press. This Telegraph article from 2011 titled “Employment Tribunals are legalised extortion” , based on another flimsy evidence base is a case in point. Thankfully, this has now been summarily debunked by the Supreme Court, let’s hope our nation’s journalists take note.
From time to time an event happens that holds a mirror up to a society and gives it cause to interrogate the way it treats people and groups within it.
In the United States, the New Orleans floods that resulted from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 highlighted the neglect of poor, predominantly black neighbourhoods, and the under-investment in flood defences to take care of them.
The Grenfell House disaster is such a mirror for us. There cannot be a more terrible thought than the horror of families trapped in a towering inferno.
Who knows what all the detailed lessons will be in due course. I suspect that just like the Potters Bar rail disaster in 2003 we will see that so many diffuse organisations were involved in the management, maintenance, and refurbishment of the tower block, that nobody took genuine ownership or care. Sadly a feature of much public service provision at this time. One also suspects that financial decisions were made that jeopardised the tenants’ safety in favour of saving money: another repeating theme across public services.
Much of the detailed work of the inquiry/inquests/investigations will (and has to) look at who did what when and who failed to act. But when mirrors such as this are held up in such stark fashion we need to go right back to the basics of what is right in a just and fair society.
We need to go back behind John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” and think, if coming into society with no inkling as to our prospective fortunes or those of our family, would we want a family-life up a multi-storey tower-block to be one of the possible outcomes.
Social and particularly council housing was one of the great triumphs of the last century. I will not be alone in having fond memories of solidly built social housing and neighbourhoods in which parents grew up and grandparents spent very happy retirements. And there is still lots of really great social housing out there. But we seem to have declared a prolonged moratorium on progress. That’s even while remaining one of the top ten economies in the world.
The reality is that a trip behind the said veil of ignorance fifty years ago and now ought to yield very different results. The limits of human ingenuity and the scale of modern wealth mean that the range of acceptable outcomes must change to account for that progress. If the instinctive response to this tragedy is one that would not countenance such living conditions for our family and loved ones, that instinct must be listened to. Whilst the technocrats and money men may say to the contrary, politics is at heart about moral choices. Emotional and instinctive responses, built on our own experiences, expectations and relationships, must play a major part in those choices.
So, we need to take a progressive view about social housing. Not “progressive” in the political label/soundbite sense. Rather, progressive in terms of genuinely advancing the housing and neighbourhood conditions of those that have to rely on social housing; having expectations that befit 2017. For a start: families up tower blocks, ought not happen, it feels wrong, it is wrong.
But there is more to it. If we are taking the veil of ignorance approach we would want decent housing to be available to all who require it. It is not. We would want talking therapies to be available expeditiously if our mental health required. They are not. And so on and so on. People can make glib comments about magic money trees, but if these things (and many others beside) are the basics of a civilised society in 2017, then we need to simply make them happen.