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My Profile on the Sunday Politics

This weekend I was featured on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, who are doing a series of profiles on MEPs in the run up to the election. I discuss the great work Labour has done for British citizens at the European level. You can watch the profile using the media player above.

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Battle of the Pygmies

Nigel ‘the European Union has blood on its hands over Ukraine’ Farage appears to have done it again. An instant poll showed that Farage triumphed in the second television showdown on Europe by 69 per cent to 31 per cent, a higher margin than the one following last week’s LBC pioneering Europe debate.

It seems incredible to me that Farage again praised Vladimir Putin, the man who has, among other things, annexed Crimea, vetoed United Nations action to end the war in Syria, and sent troops into Georgia. It is, of course, deeply worrying that anyone holding views such as those evident during Farage’s appearance should come out on top in any television discussion, let alone one on a subject as important as Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

Having said that, the Europe debate itself is to be welcomed. Whatever else, Farage and the United Kingdom Independence party have put the EU on the agenda. We have never before had such coverage of the EU on mainstream television. Now both the BBC and the LBC leaders’ debate-style format have allowed us to engage with each other’s thoughts on Europe. Although Nick Clegg and Farage lead minor parties, each around 11 per cent in current national opinion polls, pygmies indeed compared to the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, they, together with LBC and the BBC, have raised the nation’s game on Europe.

And it was a real debate with hugely differing ideas and perceptions on the EU with a dialogue which at times became heated. It was good television and fascinating politics. My enduring hope is that Britain will continue its evident interest in the EU with an increased turnout in the elections to the European parliament on 22 May. It is high time this country participated in EU matters in more than a superficial semi-detached fashion.

Even though Farage chooses not to recognise it, the EU is, in fact, a democratic institution. The British people elect members of the European parliament which co-legislates with the council of ministers, made up of the elected governments of all EU countries. We do not, as Farage claims, have a massive number of laws forced on us from Brussels. It is the British prime minister and government together with elected representatives such as me who make this legislation.

This means, of course, that the EU is a political institution, not the out-of-touch bureaucracy of Farage and wider Eurosceptic myth. The EU is currently controlled by the political right. One of Farage’s problems with it is that it is not rightwing enough; cherished EU values – free movement of labour, protection at work and health and safety not to mention gender equality – are all anathema to him. The real reason Ukip wishes to return to little England is that it wants everyone to know their place – working people should put up and shut up, women should stay tucked away in the kitchen and non-British people should never darken our shores.

Neither Farage nor Clegg is your average man on the Clapham omnibus. Despite Farage’s claim, made more than once last night, that he is not a career politician, his life before Ukip as a public school (Dulwich College)-educated stockbroker was hardly ordinary. Likewise Nick Clegg, Westminster School and Cambridge University, followed by a stint in the EU. They may both be pygmies on the national stage, but it would appear that in 21st century Britain that even the pygmies come from privileged backgrounds. While some may see the EU as unrepresentative, the same could definitely be said about these two party leaders.

This was originally published on Progress Online.  To see the original please follow the link here.

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From the Archive: Nigel Farage accused of being Stalinist and anti-women

This blog comes from February of this year at a time when Marta Andreasen MEP was thinking about quitting UKIP.  Well for any of you who don’t know, she did quit in the end and is now a member of the Conservative party and is part of the European Conservative and Reformist group.  Seemingly the bullying, sexism and general chauvanism that characterises the UKIP delegation in the European Parliament became too much for her.  I think I probably disagree with Marta on a good many things, but on this I can feel nothing but sympathy for her; having to work with the likes of Farage, Bloom, and Batten can’t have been easy.

Nigel Farage accused of being Stalinist and anti-women

Political aficionadas, not to mention geeks, may remember when UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom told the world way back in 2004 that a woman’s place was cleaning behind the fridge.

Incredibly, UKIP misogyny has just got much worse. Marta Andreasen, their only woman MEP, has launched a searing attack on Nigel Farage. “He (Farage) doesn’t try to involve intelligent professional women in positions of responsibility in the party. He thinks women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom.” she told the BBC.

Marta Andreasen, who represents South East England in the European Parliament, has said she is unlikely to stand as a UKIP candidate next year. Andreasen, who worked for the European Commission before joining UKIP and being elected in 2009, told the BBC that “if things don’t change” within the party “she can’t imagine a way to continue”.

Andreasen continued by telling the BBC that she had been openly criticised by her party leader and other MEPs, suggesting that this amounted to bullying. “I’ve been bullied, in private situations, for decisions I have made by Nigel. I have been accused of being disloyal, breaching confidence and breaching my contract with the party. There’s an attitude that either you keep silent about everything that’s been going on in the party or suffer the consequences.” Ms Andreasen said she believed Mr Farage – who was re-elected as leader in 2010 after standing down a year earlier to contest a Westminster seat – “did not like women”.

Farage’s views on women are not, apparently, the only problem. Ms Andreasen told LondonlovesBusiness.com: “Under his (Farage’s) leadership – and I have questioned his leadership obviously a number of times – the party (UKIP) has become a dictatorship. This is a Stalinist way of operating and he doesn’t care about the membership or the grassroots.”

Andeasen says she plans to stay in the European Parliament as a UKIP representative until the end of the current Parliament in 2014, to see out her mandate and “look for ways I can continue to represent the membership”. She may consider standing as an independent next year.

It’s worth remembering former UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire, a lesbian, who won a sex discrimination case against her former colleagues on a default judgement at Exeter Employment Tribunal after UKIP failed to lodge a defence. Sinclaire claimed UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom had called her “queer”.

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Shocking figures reveal lack of women aged 50+ on TV

Just one in five presenters at major broadcasters over the age of 50 are women

Although a shocking figure in one sense, it really should not be a complete surprise. I’d probably struggle to count on one hand the number of women presenters over the age of 50 who regularly appear on TV or who have their own shows. Yes there are some well-known faces, but they are an exception.

As soon as you hit 50 your days are numbered, as Miriam O’Reilly knows only too well. It was her brave decision to fight her employer, the BBC, over this discrimination which forced  the industry to recognise it has a problem.  O’Reilly was interviewed in the Guardian just last week and reveals how she has spoken to other women who were as badly bullied and/or side-lined in the same way she was. Veteran presenter Anna Ford who is sadly no longer on our screens lamented the lack of older women television presenters again in the Guardian last Saturday.

Harriet Harman’s figures, published recently show ‘just one in five presenters at major broadcasters over the age of 50 are women’, is terrible. It shows that women have to fight harder than men to achieve the same roles and do so throughout their careers.

We are familiar with the difficulties women face when going back to work following a period of maternity leave, and we know how hard it is for women to reach the board and executive level in many companies because we have the stats to prove it from recent research studies.  And now women are faced with their working lives being cut short because they are not considered ‘the right fit’? Whatever the reason executives must stop discriminating against capable and experienced women who are 50+. This is a period which should be one of the highlights of women’s careers. After all women in their 50s are experienced, knowledgeable, and should, therefore, be sought after not (as unfortunately they are) side-lined.

Harriet Harman rightly said: “It really is a black hole … Broadcasters behave as though the viewing public have to be protected from the sight of an older woman and that’s just rude. There is nothing wrong with being an older woman….We’ve got to fight back against this sense that older women are less valuable, whereas men accumulate wisdom, authority and experience as they age.”

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Nigel Farage accused of being Stalinist and anti-women

Political aficionadas, not to mention geeks, may remember when UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom told the world way back in 2004 that a woman’s place was cleaning behind the fridge.

Incredibly, UKIP misogyny has just got much worse. Marta Andreasen, their only woman MEP, has launched a searing attack on Nigel “too much air time” Farage. “He (Farage) doesn’t try to involve intelligent professional women in positions of responsibility in the party. He thinks women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom.” she told the BBC.

Marta Andreasen, who represents South East England in the European Parliament, has said she is unlikely to stand as a UKIP candidate next year. Andreasen, who worked for the European Commission before joining UKIP and being elected in 2009, told the BBC that “if things don’t change” within the party “she can’t imagine a way to continue”.

Andreasen continued by telling the BBC that she had been openly criticised by her party leader and other MEPs, suggesting that this amounted to bullying. “I’ve been bullied, in private situations, for decisions I have made by Nigel. I have been accused of being disloyal, breaching confidence and breaching my contract with the party. There’s an attitude that either you keep silent about everything that’s been going on in the party or suffer the consequences.” Ms Andreasen said she believed Mr Farage – who was re-elected as leader in 2010 after standing down a year earlier to contest a Westminster seat – “did not like women”.

Farage’s views on women are not, apparently, the only problem. Ms Andreasen told LondonlovesBusiness.com: “Under his (Farage’s) leadership – and I have questioned his leadership obviously a number of times – the party (UKIP) has become a dictatorship. This is a Stalinist way of operating and he doesn’t care about the membership or the grassroots.”

Andeasen says she plans to stay in the European Parliament as a UKIP representative until the end of the current Parliament in 2014, to see out her mandate and “look for ways I can continue to represent the membership”. She may consider standing as an independent next year.

It’s worth remembering former UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire, a lesbian, who won a sex discrimination case against her former colleagues on a default judgement at Exeter Employment Tribunal after UKIP failed to lodge a defence. Sinclaire claimed UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom had called her “queer”.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Two interviews struck me in the papers last week. The first came in the form of an interview with Caroline Thomson who left the BBC after she failed to get the ‘top job’. She was interviewed by the former channel 5 boss Dawn Airey. The pair discussed whether a woman will ever get the top job, and has the BBC missed a golden opportunity?

Thomson agreed it was a fair process and the BBC picked the right person and she also said it marked a transition in that for the first time there were two senior women who were candidates “that’s something to celebrate” she said.

She also said “In my early career, because it was unusual to be a woman when I started, I spent a lot of time arguing that women were exactly the same as men. But now I think women bring something different in their approach. And I think teams with a good balance of men and women are more effective.”

This is a really important point, and people are beginning to realise that a healthy mix in a company makes good business sense. Women and men bring different things to the table.

This was a really interesting interview, two senior women who have worked hard, certainly as hard as their male counterparts, and some might say they’ve overcome even more hurdles to reach the positions they have- speaking frankly about the position of women in top positions both now and in the future . You can read the full interview here.

The other interview was with Dale Murray, an entrepenuer who said in an interview last week with the financial website This is Money, that “female entrepreneurs often find it harder than their male counterparts to attract investment, whether through a lack of confidence or the attitudes of investors.”

Entrepreneur Dale Murray is an interesting character; she’s an angel investor who has backed several female-led businesses, including three this summer. Recognising the potential women have is not something everybody has yet noticed, or if they have they certainly haven’t acted upon it. But Murray says she looks for specific qualities, which include absolute determination and self-belief. Yet she agrees it can be harder for women to find funding. You can read more of her interview here.

 

 

 

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London’s air is the worst in Europe while the Government delays action

London has the worst air of any European capital. Despite this, the Conservative-led Coalition doesn’t plan to comply with air quality standards in legislation since 1999, set to be met by 2010, until a staggering 2025, according to the BBC.

Something needs to be done urgently in London. Air pollution cuts life expectancy in Britain by a massive eight months. The main culprit is the pollutant N02 which comes mainly from vehicles.

The Government’s refusal to act is quite simply not acceptable. Ministers know that air pollution is the second biggest public health threat after smoking. It costs the UK an estimated £20 billion a year, more than twice the amount for obesity.

N02 affects long-term health. According to the BBC, experts giving evidence to the Environment Committee, EFRA, said the health of Olympic athletes visiting over the summer should not be harmed as long as the UK avoids a heat-induced smog episode.

I find it extraordinary that there is such a huge unwillingness to tackle pollution in London. The situation is obviously very bad indeed. There is even a chance that the showcase Olympics may suffer. Those of us who live in the capital are at serious risk.

What is more, the financial cost of pollution is huge. Cleaning up are act would not only save lives, it would also save money. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and London Mayor Boris Johnson will, I hope, take note, though the previous track record of both these Conservatives does not give us much cause for hope.

By coming down heavily on the UK Government’s inaction, the European Commission is doing us all a massive favour. Londoner’s should be thankful that there is at least one institution which is concerned about their health.

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The BBC World Service is important and should be properly funded

There appears to be no end to our economic woes. Britain’s economy slipped into its second recession since the start of the financial crisis around the turn of the year, and fears of a longer slump have been rising as companies hold back investment. What is more, there has been a sharp deterioration in the outlook for the global economy over the last six weeks.

All this has apparently caused Bank of England governor Mervyn King to back an extra £50bn of quantative easing,

Explaining his position to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, King said, “What has particularly concerned me in the last several months – why I have voted for more easing policy – was my concern about the worsening I see in the position in Asia and other emerging markets, adding “…my colleagues in the United States are more concerned than they were at the beginning of the year about what is happening to the American economy”.

According to the Guardian, Mervyn King went on to say, “We are in the middle of a deep crisis, with enormous challenges to put our own banking system right and challenges for the rest of the world that they are struggling with.”

It is now quite clear  that Britain has not recovered from the 2008/2009 slump that has left many Britons worse off, and fears are rising that another prolonged recession would do lasting damage to the economy.

You would have thought that the Tory-led Coalition Government would realise that it needs all the help it can get to make sure Britain’s interests are recognised in other countries and that the damage caused by the economic crisis is minimised across the world. One way of achieving this aim is through the soft power wielded by the BBC World Service.

The global impact of the World Service was, in fact, graphically illustrated last week when Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi toured the organisation’s offices, meeting many of the broadcasters she listened to while under house arrest  in Rangoon.

Unbelievably, at the end of 2010 the Foreign Office under William Hague decided to slash the World Service budget by around 20%, or £46m a year, by 2014. As a result the BBC in January 2011 confirmed plans to close five of its 32 World Service language services, estimating that audiences will fall by more than 30 million, from 180 million to 150 million a week.

As if this wasn’t enough, the BBC executive who runs the World Service, Peter Horrocks, has recently asked his journalists to come up with schemes to raise money.

This is surely no way to treat the World Service which truly justifies the over used soubriquet “national treasure”. The cut to its funding by the current Tory-led Government was a major misjudgement which totally underestimated importance of the World Service in boosting Britain’s standing abroad, a vital requirement in these perilous economic times.

I recently had an inkling of how the BBC is perceived when a Swedish MEP told me just how honoured and overjoyed he was to be invited on to the BBC “The Record Europe” programme. David Cameron, William Hague and the other luminaries in the Coalition Cabinet would do well to take such views on board. The BBC is the face and voice of the UK across the world and it benefits Britain enormously. It would be a real tragedy if political dogma were allowed to prejudice this huge asset.

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Nigel Farage gets too much air time (continued)

Following last Friday’s blogpost, there is, of course, more to say about UKIP’s disproportionate media coverage, exposure they would never get with virtually any leader other than Nigel Farage.

UKIP is a fringe party in British politics. They have no MPs at Westminster. The House of Commons is a UKIP free zone, in contrast to the Greens who have managed to secure Caroline Lucas’ election in Brighton. Greens 1, UKIP 0 graphically demonstrates the attitude of the British people towards the UK Independence Party. When it comes to the crunch UKIP are absolutely nowhere.

The number of votes cast in the 2010 general election shows just how far away UKIP is from any kind of breakthrough in returning MPs to the House of Commons. The three main parties polled as follows:
Conservative – 10,703,654 votes
Labour – 8,606,517 votes
Lib-Dems – 6,836,248 votes
UKIP gained a derisory 919,471 votes, 9,784,183 behind the Tories and 7,687,046 fewer than Labour.
UKIP a major political player? Give us a break.

UKIP do, of course, have seats in the European Parliament. At the last Euro elections in 2009 seats gained were:
Conservative – 26 (includes one from Northern Ireland and excludes later defections)
UKIP – 13 (this again takes no account of subsequent defections)
Labour – 13
Lib-Dems – 11
It is worth pointing out that the European Parliament elections are conducted under a system of
proportional representation which improves the showing of smaller parties.

When we look at local election results, the minuscule nature of UKIP’s appeal becomes even
more apparent – 139 councillors, mostly in parishes and just 21 at district level. UKIP is not a
Party with mass support, or indeed much support at all. They are, in fact, nowhere at all.

This is certainly not reflected in the national media coverage UKIP receive. Indeed there are times
when you may be forgiven for thinking Farage’s rump of a party was up there with the
Conservatives on over 10,700,000 votes, Labour with 8,600,000 and the Liberal-Democrats who
polled 6,800,000 in the May 2010 general election.

Both the broadcast media and newspapers should review their treatment of UKIP in the light of
the facts outlined above. Since the problem is mainly with television and radio to a lesser extent,
they should be the first to change their ways.

Broadcasters must understand that the fact that Nigel Farage is a good media performer does not
make him representative. In the interests of the impartiality so proudly espoused by the BBC, and
others who aim to follow the Beeb’s example, UKIP deserve much less of the cake than they are
currently gobbling up.

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Britain’s Olympic Greats – Sally Gunnell

Sally Gunnell is one of Britains most popular female sportswomen of all time, and one of our most successful. She remains the only woman to hold the World, Commonwealth, European and Olympic titles simultaneously.

Sally was brought up in Essex and started her career as a long jumper and pentathlete.  She became known as Chigwell’s finest following her triumph in the 100m hurdles at the 1986 Commonwealth Games. Having won the gold medal in Edinburgh, her coach Bruce Longden persuaded Sally that her strength and stamina would be better suited to the 400m hurdles.  Only two years later she set a British record for that event of 12.82 seconds.

Sally displayed huge talent her new event and went on to win the gold medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. Only two years later at the 1992 Games Sally was up against Sandra Farmer-Patrick of the United Stated, who at the time was equal best in the world. Never the less, Gunnell’s performance in Barcelona earned her the gold, in no small part due to her training under Longden.

Sally’s injuries eventually forced her retirement from elite sport, but she continued to remain in the public eye, thanks to her TV career. She worked for the BBC through the late Nineties and early Noughties, covering athletics events from around the world.

Her passion for health and well being was a key component of her athletics success. She took her knowledge and experience in to the printed word, writing four influential books on the subject.

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