International women’s day and the 1918 Act are important to mark but so much further to go

International Women’s Day passed last week, and it came shortly after the 100th anniversary of The Representation of the People Act 1918 which first gave votes to some women.

I, like many others, think that we still have so much further to go in creating a society, nationally and internationally, with genuine gender equality.  But the fact that many people are saying that, does not mean that it is not a point worth remaking.  In fact, quite the reverse.

The first thing to note about the 1918 Act, is that it was a milestone that was only possible by a change to the law, which came about through political campaigning.  Much of that campaigning, and the most powerful aspects of it, came from outside mainstream politics.  Naturally, given the lack of women in mainstream politics at that time. But, it was through political pressure created by that campaigning, and clear demands put forward within that campaign, and then legislative action, that change came about.

A century on, we have still got miles to go in nearly all facets of our national life to give girls and women the same opportunity, esteem and standing in society as boys and men.

I want to talk about three areas that I’ve had a fair bit of contact with.  The law, politics and sports.

In the law the situation is intolerable.  Only around 30% of our judges are female.  This is worse in the senior judiciary with only two women having ever sat in our Supreme Court or equivalent.  We have two sources of law in our country, Parliament and the courts that establish case law in our common-law system.  It’s clear: a majority male judiciary is going to develop judge-made law in a different way to a gender-balanced judiciary.

I have raised this with very senior members of both the Bar and the judiciary.  The response has been that the problems come during female legal careers which are impeded by the challenge of mixing work and family life.  Meaning there are fewer female judicial applicants.  I’m told, change won’t happen overnight and there are many initiatives to overcome these impediments which will bear fruit overtime.

This explanation is unacceptable.  Gender equality is an absolute must in the judiciary at every level.  Not in 20 or 30 years’ time, but now.  I would like a legislative intervention to make this happen within five years.  You cannot have equality before the law, without equality in the law.

We also need changes to working arrangements of lawyers so that there can be genuine equality of opportunity to progress in the law.  A conversation with a female QC with children was enlightening in this regard.  Her trade required her to act in many multi-week trials.  Court hearings run from 10am til 4pm, with voluminous preparation each night, morning, and weekend, with clients to see before and after days in court.  It’s clear, a family life in such circumstances is difficult.

If any regard was had to the equality impact on the profession, such trials would sit four days per week or with reduced hearing hours.  But in the tough world of the senior Bar, such proposals will struggle to gain support.  They certainly did when I floated them with the said QC.  But, such radical thinking is required if we are to provide a fair opportunity for people to develop legal careers whilst finding time for family and to look after their physical and mental health.

My views are very similar in relation to politics.  I speak from the vantage point of having passed through a demanding selection process to become a prospective parliamentary candidate of a party who has at its core the fight for equality and better working conditions.  It’s fair to say that there are several aspects of such selections that would, generally speaking, be much harder for women with childcare demands to engage with or get to the bottom of.  The key in this regard is for such process to be clearer and streamlined so that it is easier for people with family demands to advance themselves.

It’s also clear that Parliament’s arcane and archaic procedures need to be refined so that women (or for that matter men) with families can more easily engage.  The sitting hours into the late night, voting by parade through a lobby, and the pseudo-social-club atmosphere created through the free-flow of alcohol at Parliamentary bars, most all be consigned to the dustbin.  Innovations like job-share MPs, and electronic voting must seriously be considered.

And then to sport.  Much of our national story is defined by sport: male sport.  With football sucking up much of the oxygen in this regard.  Doubtless the situation has improved.  Jessica Ennis being one fantastic example.  But patriarchy is still a defining characteristic of this aspect of our national story.  Take for example our female hockey players who won gold in Rio but still struggle to obtain endorsements and financial opportunities over their male counterparts.

Rugby, a sport of interest to both me and my wife, is illustrative.  The BBC being very keen to trumpet their coverage of the women’s six nations championship this year.  A glossy trailer has been aired on all of their coverage of the men’s competition, with the transparently unambitious punchline telling the viewer that highlights are available at 11.20pm on a Sunday night.

The BBC had a very well-staffed stall at the Labour Party Conference this year.  I took the opportunity to ask one of the public relations men, why it was the Beeb pumped so much cash into men’s sport relative to women’s.  My point to him was: ITV do a fantastic job on their six nations games, what’s the point in spending so much of licence-fee payers’ money on sport that would reach the free-to-air viewer in any event.  And the same goes for Premier League football highlights: let Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker earn their millions at someone else’s expense.

The genuine public interest is in reshaping this part of our national story to a more gender-balanced position.  In other words: the Beeb should push women’s sport and aim for at least parity of investment across the genders.  The fact that the PR man found my proposal a bizarre affront to the BBC’s “duty to entertain” seemed indicative of a lack of internal or institutional thinking on the matter.

All of the above show the inertia and institutional legacy which has delayed progress so much.  Labour has done a lot to much improve the gender balance in Parliament through measures like its all-women shortlists which recognise that nice-words and intentions are not enough.  We must now take a similarly radical approach to recasting many other institutions in our country into ones that are properly reflective of the country we want to be.

As a footnote, there has been some mention over the last week of the idea of “mansplaining”.  I have to say that I find this phrase unhelpful.  It feels to me like it perpetuates a construction of society which is defined by gender.  Like “fake-news” and “virtue-signalling”, it seems to be a debating device to instantly dismiss someone’s point of view or standing in a debate.  I have to say that in my job and in politics I have learnt that both men and women are liable to tedious, patronising or facile explanations or comments.  And insofar as it is used as a device to dismiss interventions by men on gender issues, that is self-evidently harmful to constructive debate.  Please let me know if you think the above thoughts could be deemed “mansplaining”, but don’t expect me to agree.

 

Thanks to local Labour and Co-op members for the local grassroots nominations!

Dear all,

I thought I’d drop you a quick note to say thanks for your nominations in the process to become Lougborough’s Parliamentary candidate.

My nominations from Loughborough South, Lougborough East, Loughborough North, Woodbrook, Ashby and Garendon, Barrow, Sileby and the Wolds, represent nominations from Branches with around 700 of the CLP’s membership of around 800.

And thanks to local Co-op Members. Co-operation has a big role in our new vision for our economy and society.  I look forward to working with you in the future if selected.

Many thanks,

Stuart

Let’s get behind our Labour Police and Crime Commissioner’s call for more funds for policing for our area

(Please complete the survey of Leicestershire’s Labour PCC Lord Willy Bach here up until midday on the 18th January 2018. )

It’s clear that law and order across the Loughborough Constituency and across Leicestershire is suffering as a result of the Tories’ significant real terms cuts to police budgets.

Across England and Wales the number of police officers has gone down from 144,353 in 2009 to 122,859 in 2016.  Much of which time was on Theresa May’s watch as Home Secretary.

People in the area are feeling this and many have highlighted it to me as a key concern.

For example, Shepshed, a town of 14,000 people, no longer has a police patrol car, meaning anyone in need of urgent support faces a dangerous and disturbing wait for help.

Over the past 2 weeks I have spoken to several people concerned by the security of the area.

A Loughborough shopkeeper relayed a story of a thief caught red-handed by shop-owners who had to wait two hours for police attendance to arrest the individual they had detained.

And a very elderly gentleman told me how he was mugged whilst walking along a Loughborough street with his walking frame: he assured me that he was now taking taxis when previously he’d walked.

So the headline cuts are having real-life impacts on people and businesses.

It is little surprise that Labour’s call at the General election for 10,000 extra police officers was deemed to be sensible and needed.  Yet the Tories have offered no extra funding and Central Government’s real terms funding for police in the area continues to fall.

Instead they have provided the opportunity for Police and Crime Commissioners to raise some extra money from the Police Precept to the Council Tax.  That being proposed in Leicestershire is equivalent to £1 per month for a Band D household.  But it is, sadly, money that is very sorely needed.

The reality is that if we want to have more secure neighbourhoods, and Central Government will not fund our police, then this small increase locally is much needed.  I would urge you to support Lord Willy Bach, our Labour Police and Crime Commissioner by completing his consultation available here up until midday on the 18th January 2018.

PLEASE GET IN TOUCH TO MEET WITH ME SUNDAY 14TH JAN IN LOUGHBOROUGH (LATE AFTERNOON) OR AT A TIME OF YOUR CONVENIENCE MONDAY – THURSDAY NEXT WEEK

Now that I have been shortlisted to advance to the hustings to be Loughborough’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, I am keen to meet with as many local members as possible.
I have met many members over the past couple of months, like at last Saturday’s “meet the candidates” event and during our successful election campaign in Hastings Ward.
These conversations have been so enjoyable, informative and helpful in understanding
how we can build and communicate our message of hope across the constituency from Shepshed to Sileby.  These conversations have really helped shape my thinking on nearly every imaginable area of policy.
I would be happy to answer any questions about policy, campaigning or anything else!
I can be reached on 07968 359 431 or brady4loughborough@gmail.com.  Please do get in touch.

Prime Minister, saving the environment needs a completely different mindset to policy that sees sustainability as paramount, not a press opportunity

The environment was placed firmly in the public conscience by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and its emphasis on how our seas and oceans are being clogged with plastic waste with serious consequences for global biodiversity.

It was little surprise that the Prime Minister on 11th Jan 2018 sought to seize the press limelight through a pledge to take “global leadership” on reducing plastics use.  It was accompanied by timid policy proposals on a minor expansion of the plastic bag tax, and moves to “encourage” plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.  This was all part of an effort to “eliminate all avoidable plastic waste” by 2043.

The speech was greeted by environmental groups as a missed opportunity.  And the policy content speaks for itself in supporting such assertions.   Is it really that difficult to change our food-wrappers?

This is the latest in a string of Tory PR exercises seeking to appeal to younger and non-traditional Tory voters by exploiting environmental issues.  Remember “the greenest government ever” (David Cameron, 14th May 2010 ) before going on to “cut the green crap” (David Cameron 21st Nov 2013).

The nature of Theresa May’s 2043 plastics elimination commitment is mirrored in this Government’s approach to our local air quality.  Even after being lambasted by the Supreme Court the best it could do was to propose a phase out of petrol/diesel cars by 2040.

All this not only shows incredibly cynical and duplicitous politics, but also a consistent approach to policy making: policy must not upset the market, although policy/law can have other goals, its principal one must be to preserve the market as is, and the powerful incumbents that operate within it.

This may sound slightly off-topic, but upon the recent death of the enchanting aboriginal singer Dr Yunipingu (really worth a listen), there was coverage of the Australian aboriginal philosophy to life.  Central to that is a state of interconnectedness between the people and the land.  I borrow the following from elsewhere on the internet :

The two most important kinds of relationship in life are, firstly, those between land and people and, secondly, those amongst people themselves, the second being always contingent upon the first. The land, and how we treat it, is what determines our human-ness. Because land is sacred and must be looked after, the relation between people and land becomes the template for society and social relations. Therefore all meaning comes from land.

Given the very large number of us on this small planet with infinite wants, needs, and consumption opportunities, set against our basic human instincts to nurture life in all its guises, this approach is very intuitively attractive.  It also offers an incredibly welcome alternative to the individualism which has arguably reached its apotheosis not only within our consumption led market economy but also with individual narratives that dominate our social media.

And the reality is that the way we treat and manage our environment has very significant implications for our long-term health and security.  Our relationship with it is symbiotic.   In addition to the well-known impact of plastic in our oceans, our Royal Colleges already tell us that our local air quality costs us 40,000 additional deaths a year in the UK ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35629034 ).

40,000 premature deaths is a staggering number, which in my view represents something analogous to John Snow’s discovery in Victorian London that cholera was conveyed by water not air.  That, after some time, led to significant changes to sewerage and water-supply arrangements.

That was over 150 years ago and the changes required were systemic and complicated at the time.  Now, we have the technology and policies to change our air quality or plastic-use almost overnight.  As an electric car driver and a near daily user of public transport, I can attest to this fact.  Of course there will be some disruption to individual’s lives, and a lot of investment will be required to establish a framework of reusable products to replace plastic, but the benefits shall outweigh the downsides.  And really, can changing our cups and meat wrappers be that difficult?  And taking our attractive aboriginal approach to life, it is our duty to take such steps.

When we were faced with a hole in the ozone layer we banned CFCs.  When we discovered lead was harmful to our environment and health, we banned leaded petrol.  The truth is such hard regulatory responses are required when an environmental or public health emergency arises.   That is what is required for our oceans and air.  This will itself stimulate the market to respond within those rules (as I know from my time working with industry).  And there will of course be some economic payback on some the measures required: if electric vehicles are UK built, and if fewer materials are used in our packaging supply chains.   But that’s not the point.  The point is that these steps ought to be policy imperatives as soon as we know of the environmental damage being caused, and therefore the impact on “us” in a holistic sense.