Archive for July, 2010

Effective Opposition – Constitutional Reform

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

I used to work in the democracy movement for a short time. I got very disillusioned very quickly. It was rarely if ever a real examination of how to give disenfranchised people more power, but in fact how to give more power to the people who demand it most.

So I can’t say I care an awful lot about the AV referendum. I don’t see how a voting change that is arguable less enfranchising of supporters of smaller parties is more democratic. I also don’t see how a system that ensures that the party that really loses the election – i.e. comes behind two others – is the most likely to partake in government is more democratic either. I don’t see how a system that introduces binding changes agreed to behind closed doors which weren’t in a manifesto days after the election (take rape anonymity for example) is more democratic. At the very least there should be nothing in a coalition agreement that wasn’t in one or the other manifesto.

However, I will almost certainly vote yes on the day. My preferred of the many flawed systems is AV+, which retains the constituency links but might help the Greens to be bigger players (thus giving rise to potential new partnerships if the coalition becomes a merger), and this might be a step in the right direction, but I can’t say it will be my number 1 priority. Good luck everyone, but I’ll be too busy fighting the cuts to go to the barricades on this one.

Plenty of other Labour Party members will though (and a small minority will campaign against) and good luck to them. It was one of our Manifesto commitments, and if at all possible, we should try to make it happen.

But we can only do so if we are able to do so while fighting the rushed and ill-judged measures the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill also contains. Left Foot Forward have done a brilliant analysis of the myriad problems with the bill as it stands, and it needs serious rewriting to get it into a fit shape to be supported.

If the ConDems really care enough about getting this issue out to the public in a referendum, than frankly they should present it to Parliament in a form that can be supported by all sides of the house. Otherwise it could just seem that Cameron is getting Labour to do his dirty work for him by presenting us with a bill we can’t in good conscience support, knowing that enough of his backbenchers will rebel that it might fail altogether. Unlikely, but he can at least turn to his backbenchers and show them the gerrymandered constituencies that they gain from it.

There is no need for these issues to come together, and to be honest if the coalition think they are going to last to 2015 no need to rush the referendum. We have plenty of time to register the millions of unregistered voters, and in the 2011 census, to count the millions of children who will mature to voting age before the next General Election is even held. Labour needs to ask why we’re rushing something imperfect when we could have a great and truly reforming bill and registration drive that enfranchises millions more, not millions less.


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On Burkas and Feminism

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

I consider myself a feminist.

I don’t however identify with the stereotype that the tabloids and lazy media (and some radical feminists) perpetuate. I don’t hate men. In fact I love men – one man in particular. I also believe that men and women are different. I am not as physically strong as most men. Most men don’t have as high a threshold for pain as I do. I enjoy sex and I enjoy sex with men. I don’t feel violated (or if so, only in a good way!) I feel a participant in an act of fun/lust/love (delete as appropriate).

For me, feminism is about recognising and celebrating the differences between men and women, and then working within society to ensure that the genders are equal. Equal in representation at all levels. Equally educated. And over their lifetime, equally compensated for their work, or the work done in and around the home in supporting a family.

Feminism is about raising the game for women, not lowering it for men. I believe in a positive form of feminism, where women are enabled to the level that men enjoy in society. Feminism can also not be separated from class, and the class struggle. A working class woman will enjoy a far lesser degree of choice or opportunity than her middle class equivalent. She will also remain poorer, and the gap between the two will increase dramatically once they reach retirement age. Only about 16% of women qualify for a basic state pension as opposed to 78% of men, and these will – by and large – be middle class women, who are more likely to have a private pension as well.

So Feminism is not about attacking and hating men, but celebrating and helping women.

I don’t think France’s banning of Burkas is the right move, because i think it would simply criminalise behaviours rather than try to rationalise them.  

As a feminist, I believe veiling women is simply wrong. It speaks to a woman’s lesser position in society, and tells of her position only as an object of sexual desire for men, and the need to cover her up for the sake of those men.

However, I don’t believe I have the right to tell another human being what to wear or not wear, so I wouldn’t legislate to tell a woman she could not wear a veil, but I would ask us all as society to examine our attitudes towards women, their clothing and their bodies. Women have every right to show their faces, and if anyone believes there isn’t a certain amount of cultural pressure within section of the Muslim community for women to be veiled, pressure coming largely from community leaders – nearly always men – then they are being naive.

But where does my belief in spreading liberal values end and cultural hegemony begin? Should the pressure to accept and live alongside communities who’s beliefs are so different from my own on issues of gender politics mean I should accept the position of women within section of Muslim society? Should I understand that they do things differently? Should they understand that I do and respect my beliefs?

Ask 100 people where to draw the line and  I suspect I would get 100 different answers. I also suspect that about 15% would be sure we should spread liberal values by whatever means necessary, 15% would believe we shouldn’t interfere in other cultures whatever the cost, and that the other 70% are – like me – groping around for answers somewhere in the middle.

I don’t know the answers, but what I do know, is that these questions are possibly the most important that will be asked in the 21st century, and that if progressives don’t ask them, others will impose answers upon us.

For now I will continue to campaign as a feminist for better rights for women within all communities, so that those women who do reject the veil are free to do so.


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In defence of “Professional Politicians”

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

In the last few years, there’s been a lot of use of the phrase “Professional Politician” in derogatory terms. A “professional politician” is one who has never had a job outside of the political arena, going from researcher, to special advisor to MP  (usually, though other routes through think tanks and party organisations are considered, and with the real extreme right wingers any job not in the private sector counts) after university.

Phrases used often include “Never done a proper job” or “no knowledge of the real world”. This is – of course – so much right-wing bullshit. What do these people consider a real job? Why is doing meaningless paperwork in the office of a private company preparing someone better for life as a politician than shadowing one during their long and difficult days and getting a true feeling of the work expected? Why is this the one career where it is seen as advantageous to do something completely unconnected first?

Why do we expect a 20 something who is passionate about changing the world, and sees politics as the best vehicle for doing that, to take some time not doing that? We wouldn’t do it to a passionate nurse, or a passionate banker. Young people are under-represented in politics, and in order from us to have a representative house of commons, we need to keep bringing young people through – not telling them to go off and do other things until they are “ready”. This is a time in a person’s life when they are often at their most passionate and most radical – qualities that I believe will be good for the body politic.

So lay off the professional politics jibes. It denigrates their service and will end up making our politics even more homogenous than it already is.


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Effective Opposition: Crime and Justice

Friday, July 9th, 2010

In my last post I expressed a desire to move on from the hardnut policies on crime, security and justice. Because it is political expedient, because the timing is right and simply because it’s the right thing to do, we need to move away from the knee jerk reactions we have seen from Jack Straw and Alan Johnson on prison reform and the dropping of Section 44. I am however encouraged by Ed Miliband’s view that we shouldn’t “try to out-right the right on crime”. I hope other leadership contenders will start to think in the same way, and support reforms where they could make a real difference, while continuing to push and scrutinise to ensure these aren’t just budget cuts that forget the more important rehabilitation role in the rush to reduce spending and state involvement in people’s lives. he’s right that it’s electoral advantageous to us to do so too – win/win!

So I applaud Ken Clarkes moves to reform the justice system in favour of better rehabilitiation and will push for this to be done in the best possible way.

However, other reforms I find both deeply insulting and upsettingly baffling. The most obvious is the granting of anonymity to rape defendants.

I accept that there are liberal arguments about the anonymity of all defendants, but this is not that (There are also good societal arguments that we need to bring forward corroborative evidence which can only be done without anonymity). This is one crime, a crime with an already appalling conviction rate – largely because the burden of proof and distrust already falls disproportionately on the victim. There are many excellent arguments against this here.

This proposal was in neither coalition party manifesto, and therefore has no democratic legitimacy. It singles our a group of victims already significantly less likely to report the crime and adds an additional sense of belief that they are lying. It also makes it harder for victims to come forward to support each other.

Were the coalition interested in strengthening the protection of all accused of crimes I would listen, but this is not that. It’s a nasty small-minded attack on the rights of women. In the words of Tory MP Louise Bagshawe “singling out rape in this way ministers are sending a negative signal about women and those who accuse men of rape”.

Well if this government want to ride roughshod over the rights of women, maybe it’s time we started to play dirty too? So here’s my question: What’s the urgency, and who has what to hide?


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Missing the Point on the Betrayal Narrative

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

This post is triggered by a few blogs I have read by Lib Dems some of which are linked to here.  This post here - for example – is one of the most laughable pieces of rhetoric I have ever read. Whining that opposition politicians are daring to oppose your Government (or in fact the bit of your Government it suits you to claim) is as pathetic as it is ridiculous. Honestly, it’s such a caricature of all the worst traits people complain of in Lib Dems, that if Nick Perry didn’t exist, the Labour Party would be accused of inventing him to make them look bad.

More thoughtfully, Mark Thomson has laid out his thoughts 0n the betrayal narrative here and here. But I think Mark too misses the point. In both of these posts, Mark writes as if Labour’s calls of betrayal are about a sense of betrayal felt by the Labour Party. I can’t speak for all of my party, but I didn’t feel the Lib Dems betrayed Labour, but vindicated what we had been saying to their left-leaning voters. And that’s the point. It’s those voters who are feeling betrayed or are likely to feel betrayed over the next few months and years. I’ve already met several Lib Dem voters of my acquaintance who have sworn “never again” and it’s exactly those kinds of voters who Labour can and should be appealing to. Will this bleeding of voters be the  cost to the Lib Dems of being backed into the corner they have been fighting for all these years? The result of the inevitable mixed feeling that coalition government will bring?

The problem the Lib Dems have is that they have always been two rather different parties one of liberals and one of social democrats forced into an alliance purely for electoral advantage (which is probably why the one thing that unites them is an over-prioritisation of voting reform). The party leadership – as happened with Labour – is increasingly to the right of the membership (a huge percentage of whom identified themselves as Left of Centre before the election) which I can tell you from experience leads to disaffected members and ex-members pretty quickly – particularly when you enact right wing policies. For Labour it was our civil liberties agenda and the war, for the Lib Dems it likely to be the cuts.

The Lib Dems may soon find that they consist of two groups. the economic liberal wing – led by Nick Clegg and their remaining leftist partisans led by Simon Hughes. Lib Dems often accuse me of partisanship, and it’s true. But it’s just as true that the Lib Dems have partisans too.  But “my party right or left” is only going to remain true for the rump of supporters who will always be there, not the millions of voters who felt the Lib Dems were the left wing alternative to the Tories in their area. These supporters are a good target for a reinvigorated Labour Party, and focusing on an appeal to them will help keep Labour fresh and moving on from the worst of New Labour authoritarianism. Moving beyond – for example – the tough justice stance of Alan Johnson and Jack Straw to the more nuanced position being heard from Ed Miliband.

Let’s be honest. The Lib Dems were faced with a complete Hobson’s choice after the results of the election. Going into some form of coalition with the Tories was probably the only thing they could have done. But having decided not to opt for confidence and supply, they will have to realise that they will be judged on the whole actions of the Government.  In the first of his posts I linked to, Mark had this to say of the Labour Leadership Contenders: All the main contenders are very closely associated with the previous discredited government. Which is true in parts. But if Liberal Democrats are going to say that any member of a Government should be judged by all the actions of that Government, they need to realise that will be true of them too, and can’t simply try to claim credit for the “good” parts of the budget.


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Vote for Me (if you want to)

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Ok, I know I’m very new. I know I don’t blog nearly often enough (or perhaps too often depending on your perspective) but if the three of you who read this fancy it, you could vote for me in the Total Politics blog poll.


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