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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

International Women's Day

I'm reminded by the Google Doodle that it's International Women's Day.  It's a day to be bombarded  by images of women doing amazing things, but it always makes me feel quite sad.  When I was at school in the 1970s we were definitely given the impression that being "just" a wife and mother was not a cromulant ambition for an intelligent woman, and I believed that.  I looked at my mother, who left her job when she was pregnant with me, and saw that women in her generation and those before her, had very little choice but to give up any career they'd begun for themselves, in order to stay at home.

I started work in the City as an industrial journalist, working on technical magazines, annual reports, and a staff magazine for Lloyd's Register of Shipping, more or less convinced that I would never want children.  I was the eldest of six, and knew all about the sleepless nights and mess and chaos which came with children, as I was almost old enough to be the parent of my youngest sister.

I married, and we were both agreed we wouldn't have children, but when my sister had her first baby I realized that being a mother wasn't just all the negative things I'd already experienced with my siblings - it was also unconditional love, and caring for the next generation.  An opportunity to bring up a child in love and nurture them.  Having brought myself to the point where I almost believed that I had no maternal instinct at all, seeing my sister with her baby awakened me.

It was another couple of years before I had my first baby, and I realized how much your own experience as a baby affected how well you are able to parent.  I began to have flashbacks of being a baby, and remembered trying to sleep with lights in my face and people talking loudly, feeling the backs of my legs cold when wrapped in a blanket... and those things informed my parenting.

I was definitely not an earth mother at first.  Even the night before my first baby was born, I was still thinking it might be practical to fetch my husband home to deal with dirty nappies.  Of course, all that was forgotten the moment he was born.  And I began to learn that what I had thought of as endless drudgery can be the most rewarding job you've ever done... it's all a matter of perspective.  I know that not all mothers fall in love with their babies, and not all mothers fall in love with all their babies, but I was lucky, and I did.  And I didn't find looking after them to be a brainless and unfulfilling occupation, but the best and most enjoyable work I ever did.

I can't help feeling that our society is discarding something valuable by trying to claim that men and women are equally capable of mothering children.  Millions of years of evolution, and the fact that our bodies are designed both for the having of the babies and the feeding of them once born, must offer some advantages mustn't it?  There are some women who are terrible at looking after children and some men that are brilliant at it, but on the whole, even in relationships where the tasks are shared evenly, the women have the edge.  When my mother worked in an old people's home for a while she told me that it was always their mothers that elderly people cried for, never their fathers.  If properly bonded in the first few hours of life, I believe that mothers have a bond with their babies that comes from nine months of being in the same body.

That's not to say that I think people can't love and nurture babies they haven't carried, I don't, I think the instinct to protect and nurture the young is there in everyone who had a loving upbringing.  It's harder to do though.  A woman who is allowed to bond properly with her baby in the first few hours of life doesn't have to make any effort or use logical argument to make her care for her baby, it's as natural as breathing.  Writing about this is making me uncomfortable, even though it is what I believe, because I fear to offend those who have adopted children or taken on stepchildren, which is more and more prevalent in our society, or for those who had post-natal depression and have struggled to bond with a baby.  I can't help feeling, though, that society would be a kinder and better place if we did recognize the damage that can be done to the mother-child relationship by interfering with the bonding process in childbirth and afterwards. 

I don't like the fact that feminists seem to disparage the work that women have traditionally done in the home and family as though it were worthless.  The view seems to be that only a moron or someone brainwashed by society or culture to think it is the only thing they can do, would ever want to be a full-time mother and housewife.  There has been a definite rise in the media of the attitude that women who want to be full time mothers are letting the side - and their children, especially their daughters - down.
But the original suffragettes weren't fighting for the right to be men and do those things which men had traditionally done.  They were fighting for recognition that the things traditionally done by women are worthwhile and of equal value.  Their campaigning for equality was not designed to make everyone work in a career, but to allow for the truth that our work, no matter where we do it and whether we are waged or unwaged, is of value to the family and to the country.

All that has been lost in the scramble for equal pay, and equal opportunity.  The net effect has been to devalue women's traditional work until it is seen as little better than being a road sweeper or loo attendant - the lowest of the low job. Women who want to do it are looked down on.  I was shocked when I realized that although I was the same person who worked in the city and organized two departments and six million pounds worth of printing, I too became someone who made people's eyes glaze over when I mentioned I was at home looking after a baby.  The implication is that you become a person of no interest to others the moment you stop work.  I even wrote to the Times to express that surprise, and received a lot of mail from women who felt the same.

I felt betrayed by the women and careers officers who guided me and gave me the impression that being a wife and mother isn't something worthwhile.  I fear that women today have no more choices than their grandmothers - where once they had to give up work, now they must work and have a career, whatever their own desire.  It seems to me that we have lost as much as we have gained, and that days like International Women's Day are designed to fire up girls to want to be astronauts or engineers, even if their dearest wish and natural talents mean that they want to stay at home and raise their own children.

I have a hope that the rise of transgender and multifaceted sexuality may one day mean that a person of any gender or none might be able to listen to their heart and follow their desire, whether that be for a wife/husband/civil partner and family or professional career, or dancing, or artistry, or hedge-trimming, or house building or genetics, and that society will begin to recognize that the nurturing of the next generation is not a cop-out for lazy people but a worthwhile job which brings rewards, not just for individuals, but for their families and society too.

There has been an immense amount of propaganda over the past century designed to manipulate the working population to provide what commerce and the war machine has required in terms of workforce.  Perhaps one day we will recognize the truth of what the suffragettes were fighting for and accord nurturing the children in a family the same status and reward as making armaments to kill them.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What sort of a world do you want?

I've been thinking a lot over the past couple of weeks.  Being alone gives you a lot of time to think without interruption, and while Tom has been away I have been thinking a lot.  One of the things I had been thinking about was how stupid it is that our government is subjecting the ill and disabled to assessments and denying them the benefits they need, and that this is costing more than it used to when we relied on doctors and medically qualified people to do it and were less punitive.  So many news stories have been published recently about people dying shortly after they were assessed as fit for work.

I live in a mainly Conservative area, and I can't understand it!  The people here are lovely, kind and warm, and it seems impossible that they should support a party which is forcing families and the sick and disabled into abject poverty.  So this morning I printed out and stapled together a poster I have pasted to the big window in my house.


What sort of world do you want to live in?
One in which disabled and sick people are cared for by all of us?
Or every man for himself?

This government and the previous government have been systematically dismantling the welfare state

They are now subjecting disabled people and terminally ill people to long assessments and interviews and 40-page forms, and their new system is actually costing MORE money than simply paying the disabled and sick and accepting some people may be frauds.  Many people who need benefits are being denied them.

People on benefits are "sanctioned" which means removing all financial support and the right to free prescriptions etc, in order to meet targets set by the profit-making companies now in charge of these things.  It isn't only the people on benefits who are suffering, many of the employees of these companies are under extreme stress.

More people than ever before are on the streets, or admitted to
hospital with malnutrition.  Use of food banks has grown dramatically.

Not only do sanctions cost more to administer than they save, (National Audit Office) which means we're paying more to starve families than we did to feed them,  if we closed the loopholes which allow corporations and rich individuals to avoid paying a fair share of tax, that would gain £37 billion - more than we need to offer social care and support the NHS.

If you  agree with this, please write to your MP, and consider whether you want to support these changes in our country.

Is this the world you want for the future?
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 
I believe that love requires us to act now.

I put a PS on the bottom to say that I am neither on benefits nor disabled, because I wanted people to understand that it wasn't my own self-interest which was driving me to take action, but a wish to help those who are being penalised by the crazily awful system we have in place.  Although there would be nothing wrong with someone who is on benefits or disabled writing such a thing, of course, they would be open to the accusation that they would feel that, wouldn't they?

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Don't want privatised NHS? Then FIGHT for it!

Poll after poll in this country says that a majority of people want a public NHS free at the point of contact.  Our NHS was the cheapest and most efficient health service in the world, as understood by outside opinion, and we are letting the Conservative government take it away from us.

But guess what?  The government is our government and they are supposed to represent us - not their own self-interest or their dearly-held personal opinions.  US.  They represent our interests in parliament and they're doing a bloody terrible job of it at the moment.  SO TELL THEM.  Use the "They Work for You" website to contact your MP and tell them that you don't want people resorting to private medical insurance because they aren't funding the health service properly. 

And if they argue that we don't have the money, point out that they seem to have the money to bomb places and buy a new trident deterrent, and if they don't have the money for the NHS perhaps they could cancel trident or maybe charge multinational corporations a fair amount of tax instead of allowing them to use loopholes to pass money around internally until they don't have any profits left to pay tax on. 

Ad maybe, if enough of us do this, we will get our representative to truly represent us, and pay properly for the NHS.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Arms and humanity

Bombing in Yemen from Wikipedia by Ibrahim Qasim
The UK has become the second biggest exporter of arms in the world.  The promotional leaflets talk about "defence exporters" as though the results of our "defence exports" weren't being used to kill women and children and to bomb hospitals in Yemen

Our whole approach to this must change if we ever hope to have a world in which we end wars.  At the moment we are allowing rich corporations to make money by selling death and destruction to other countries, and we are spending money we don't have on a nuclear deterrent that deters no one.

We need to be thinking about these things on a smaller scale, the one thing about Margaret Thatcher that appealed to me was her ability to do that.  Our renewing trident, for example, is like a family deciding to spend their money on some sort of state-of-the-art burglar alarm while starving in the kitchen.

The arms trade is worse.  That's like a family selling their knives to the next door neighbour knowing he plans to kill his wife and children with them.  We should get out of it.  It starts with making the trade less lucrative by refusing to allow licences for any country that is acting aggressively towards its neighbours.  There's no way that we could be selling arms to Saudi Arabia (who are aggressively attacking Yemen, including bombing Medecins sans frontiers hospitals, against international treaties).

Years ago I saw a documentary about East Timor, and among the facts in the programme was the fact that we were selling arms to the Indonesians knowing that they would be used against the East Timorese... in fact there was film showing the jets we had sold to Indonesia being used against the populace. 

I wrote to Alan Clark, completely astonished that someone who was so active in care for animals, would sell arms to a repressive regime that would use them against their own people.  Somewhere I have the letter I got in reply, which said that the Indonesians had signed agreements not to do that, and basically indicating it wasn't OUR fault if they weren't as good as their word.  Don't forget we also armed Saddam Hussein, who was originally our ally.

It's all a game to them.  It sems to me that if we don't stand up and be counted, they'll simply continue to sell arms while it is profitable, and damn the consequences.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I'm a nice person! Not a bully, not a trot

One of the things I admire about Jeremy Corbyn is that he has rebelled and voted against the party when his conscience told him to.  I hate that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) has used this against him, trying to claim that they support all his policies, and have only voted against him specifically because they don't think he is a good leader.  They try to claim that they are in favour of democracy and then try to make the coup look like a vote of conscience.  How can it be when they claim to support his policies?  It makes no sense.

The PLP began talking about Momentum, the Corbyn supporters' group, as though they were hired assassins or left-wing terrorists from the very start of the coup.  Aghast at the huge support shown for Corbyn when more than 10,000 people gathered on Parliament Square, they tried to make those people look like loony lefties, violent thugs, or rabble.  From the very first interview on the radio, they talked about calling off the dogs, as they put it, and made it sound as though Jeremy Corbyn had gathered a gang of old militant left wingers to intimidate the right wing of the party. As ordinary members, our realisation that the news media colluded with this view of the Corbyn supporters by not challenging anything the PLP said, and that the PLP had a deliberate campaign to malign the ordinary members of the party, became clear.

They used outright lies (Angela Eagle's window wasn't broken.  a window in the same building was broken and that's a routine occurrence, not part of a campaign of intimidation), lies (Angela Eagle was not homophobically abused at her CLP meeting - she didn't attend) and frankly weird stuff (Joanna Baxter crying on News at One because a legal letter had been sent to the NEC and Owen Jones had texted her a perfectly benign tweet).

I'm not saying there haven't been foul things on twitter and in other places, or that people haven't trolled the PLP MPs.  But it isn't one-sided, Jeremy Corbyn and members of Momentum have been mercilessly trolled.  The difference is that they haven't immediately blamed the other side for not controlling their members or supporters, and haven't demanded action on internet trolling.  Many of the people prosecuted for trolling and stalking members of parliament aren't a member of any party, they are mentally ill.  And it was pretty rich, the PLP claiming intimidation and bullying, when they had bullied (by reports from MPs present) the democratically elected leader of the party, with the most overt personal abuse.

Every time a member of the PLP coup is interviewed, they link Momentum with a negative word or image, even though the people I've met in Momentum have been ordinary supporters of Jeremy Corbyn just like me.  There are people from every walk of life in the group.  Many people are aware of the untruths because they are either members of Momentum or know someone who is.

I celebrated when the court overtturned the ruling that new members of the party weren't able to vote, because I thought it was designed to disenfranchise people who had been promised on the website that they would be able to take part in the elections in the party.  That shouldn't have been promised if it were not going to be delivered, and the NEC ought to be owning up to that and accepting the court's judgement.

Instead I find that Tom Watson, who is deputy leader and pretended to be loyal to Corbyn, has been instrumental in going forward with an appeal against that judgement, which will cost us a lot of money.  Does it seem right that the NEC should be able to use our money to try to disenfranchise the new members who paid that money into the coffers?  Especially when you consider that a majority of the members are in favour of Corbyn and want the new members to have a vote.  Even those who aren't in favour of Corbyn are not in favour of the underhanded double-dealing which has been a feature of the last few months. 

At the heart of this is the question of who is the Labour Party?  Is it the members?  Is it the MPs?  or is it all levels of the hierarchy together?  If the latter, then how do we resolve the problem that the PLP seem to be out of step with the membership.  They seem to have an entirely dfferent view of the party and its chances of election - which for ordinary members seems to be being vandalised by the PLP!

They need to understand that Corbyn will again be elected with a landslide.  They need to understand that the membership are not going to put up with being slandered and libelled at every opportunity, and that when they say negative things about Corbyn or his supporters, all they are achieving is a negative profile for the Labour Party they profess to love, in the mind of the public.

Tom Watson, who is fast becoming the least-liked member of the party, has written that young members of the party are having their arms twisted by trots.  Really?!  I'm a 57 year old supporter, not a trot, would never twist anyone's arm to go with anything but their conscience.  I'll argue the case for Corbyn, but I wouldn't use any violence - again the violent language, designed to cement in the public's mind the image of Corbyn supporters as trots and as violent.  Many young Labour supporters have written to Tom Watson to object to his language and to tell him that they were capable of deciding for themselves thank you very much.

Maybe the PLP and Tom Watson can see that they are not making much headway, and with a new party in mind have decided to damage the Labour Party as much as possible in the process, as the future competition for their new party.  They couldn't have done a better job if they had tried.  Before the coup Labour were three points ahead of the tories.  As each day goes past they are sinking lower and lower in the polling.  A name and website for Future Labour was apparently incorporated in April this year.  I can only hope that they get over there and stop bothering us as soon as possible.

How on earth the PLP and Owen Smith can lecture about Unity and unifying the party when they have been the most divisive and hostile towards the membership of any group in any party that I can remember, I don't know.  They think the public and the membership are stupid and biddable, is all I can suppose.  I am hoping they will get their come-uppance shortly.



Sunday, July 03, 2016

Noam Chomsky wins - we don't have a free press

I am absolutely shocked by the bias in both Guardian and BBC. Particularly the BBC which has allowed Labour MPs in the rebel group to slander Momentum as "dogs" and "thugs" without the least bit of proof that there is any violence given or threatened by Momentum, which as far as I can see is ordinary supporters of Corbyn like me.
I expected bias in the Murdoch press, and any press which is owned and operated by someone with an axe to grind, but I really expected better fromthe Guardian and the BBC. They say that you only notice how inaccurate reporting is when you are close to a story, but this is more than that. They are using negative words to describe Corbyn, allowing claims that he lost the labour vote on remain although 62% of Labour voters voted remain, nearly as many (1% less) as the SNP who had all their MPs onside and campaigning for remain.
That there are newsnight journalists tweeting unattributed negative rumours on twitter accounts which identify them as being from Newsnight is shocking to me. They obviously are partisan. I feel I've wrongly argued in my head with Noam Chomsky for 20 years that our press are not as biassed as he said, only to have him win the argument, because they are.
The Guardian does publish occasional positive articles, but in the main it is a constant stream of hogwash from the partisan Polly Toynbee - who, I'm sorry, should be disbarred from writing anything at all with such a personal grudge against Corbyn. And neither the BBC or Guardian are challenging the renegade MPs on the fact that they can launch a leadership bid any time, and should do this or shut up if they believe in the democracy in the Labour Party.
There were marches yesterday all over the country for Brexit and those are reported. There were also marches all over the country for Corbyn, and those have not been reported. The BBC have a one line report in their Corbyn article on the website, saying there were marches in Leeds and Liverpool of about a thousand. Liverpool was 3000 at least and there were also marches and demonstrations in Durham, Cornwall, Cardiff, Hull and many other places.
They allow Angela Eagle to spin the lie that support among party membership is decreasing while 60,000 people have joined up in the last week. most of them, if my twitter and facebook groups are anything to go by, are joining because they are appalled by the behaviour of the PLP and the antidemocratic nature of the challenge to the leadership. It's scandalous that they allow her space to say things like that and don't properly balance with some facts.

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Immigration problem

I partially watched Question Time last night, partly because I turned over late, and partly because I turned off early.  It was a frustrating experience, because of the things that weren't said as much as the things that were.

The comedian on the panel, Russell Kane, talked about the attitude of his family towards the result and said that Labour had failed to take up the initiative on immigration and address the problems which the people in the country have with it.  He also gave us a window on the xenophobia, saying that his relatives were dancing around the room declaiming that the immigrants who were undercutting their jobs as plumbers and builders, were "going home".

In a nutshell, this is the problem facing all parties in the wake of the referendum vote.  The Leave campaign made a number of promises they couldn't have a hope of keeping (not least all the money for the EU going to the NHS) and that a vote for "Leave" was a vote for controls on immigration.

The problem all parties face is that it can't be, unless we abandon all hope of trading with EU countries and maintaining a relationship with the EU.  This, I believe, is at the heart of Labour's inability to deal with the immigration issue: any realist will tell you that if you want to do business in future with the EU under the single market, migration of labour will be a part of that.

I'm not saying that I think immigration controls would be a bad thing - I have been astonished at how little planning councils and government do for changes in population - but that they are impossible to impose in the way the Brexiteers promised if we continue to trade freely with the EU.

Now, I know that a lot of the people who voted for Brexit for the reason that they feel they are being unfairly affected by the incoming immigrants, will simply declare that we should give up the single market for that reason.  But then we have the overwhelming problem of how to handle the people who are living here under the freedom of labour within the EU - and all the British people abroad who are happily working elsewhere in the EU.  Untangling that isn't going to happen overnight or next week or next year... it's a complex and very costly exercise you're looking at, with ramifications which extend beyond our borders and beyond.

The rise of racist and xenophobic attacks is going to get worse if we don't do something about it, because the people who are threatened by immigration are not likely to be listening to reason arguments about the impossibility of doing what they were promised.  The problem is that their anger is likely to be directed at what they perceive to be the problem - the immigrants - and not towards the people who really deserve their ire.  The self-serving bunch of fools who made the promises in the first place.

Our country has been strengthened by immigration over the course of centuries - from the Romans to the waves of Jewish and Caribbean and Asian immigrants in the 20th century.  The addition of people in times of plenty was positive, adding colour and cuisine to the country.  A lot of the problems we have at the moment are entirely caused by austerity - the NHS underfunded, social housing sold off or under-replaced, unemployment high in areas where old industries have been killed off or died.  But it is easy to see why people who are directly affected by a drop in income because they are experiencing what they perceive as unfair competition from the immigrant community might place the blame on their neighbour and not on the government.

Solving the problem properly requires investment in the social fabric, to the NHS and the social services and social housing.  I think it also makes sense for there to be changes to the rules on free movement of labour, especially when there is a big disparity in living standards between a newly-joined state and the other places in the EU.  It stops states being able to plan for their populations if there can be mass migration from one place to another without any controls.  And moving because you have a job in another state is rather different from moving to another state because you can make more money there.  We have opted out of being able to influence a change, although it is questionable whether there is a will to make that change in the other countries of the EU.

The people who are doing manual or labouring jobs don't have any protection in the current climate.  They don't have job security, they don't have the safety net that once was offered to them, and they don't have the same level of housing benefit or social security to fall back on if they lose their job or come to the end of a contract.  If they are self employed things are even more precarious.  It isn't surprising that they are the ones who feel most threatened by an influx of people.  They are also more likely to be living in areas where there is cheap housing, which attracts people in similar trades.

In the end, people thought they were voting for a couple of things.  Extra investment for the NHS.  Controls on immigration.  The remain camp weren't able to offer anything to counter those promises except more of the same.  It's only surprising to me that the vote wasn't even more decisive.  And our problem now is that no-one can deliver on the promises made.  And that's going to make people angry.