Brighton Conference Round Up

Labour Party

The Labour Party Women’s Conference held on Saturday was probably the best attended I have experienced in over thirty years. With over 1000 women it was well-informed and lively. It was really heart-warming to see so many Labour women coming together, and goes to show that feminism is alive and well.

Key speakers Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper told the audience that Labour is the Party for women. The Tories don’t care and the Lib-Dems can’t deliver. In my own contribution from the floor I made sure delegates knew about UKIP’s sexist and racist attitudes plus the fact that they do not have one single woman MEP.

In the afternoon we had an amazing session with Melissa Benn and the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez chaired by all-time favourite Bonnie Greer. Melissa, whose book on bringing up daughters has just been published, is well known to Labour women while Caroline Criado-Perez spoke eloquently about the online abuse she received following her campaign to get women onto British banknotes.

On Saturday evening I was at the London Labour reception catching up with many old friends including Gareth Thomas, Martin and Sara Linton and Parvez Ahmed

IMG_9523IMG_9525 IMG_9527IMG_9529

On Sunday afternoon we had the first official photos of our Labour MEP team for the 2014 elections. Here’s a behind the scenes shot as we prepared with Ivana Bartoletti, Claude Moraes, Kamaljeet Jandu, Sanchia Alasia, Seb Dance, and Lucy Anderson.

On Sunday evening I held my usual dinner for London Conference delegates, which is becoming quite a tradition. We very lucky this time to have as our guest speaker Bob Mulholland from California, a Democrat campaign strategist and a super delegate voting for Hillary Clinton. Bob gave a great speech, very up front and very entertaining. Politics is certainly different in the USA.

 

IMG_9541

Bob’s key message is that you have to win in order to have any power to bring about change. That’s a message we have to hang on to for the European and local elections on 22 May next year. We must win both these elections so that Labour can take the concrete action this country so desperately needs. These elections are also the last time people go to the polls before the 2015 general election. A strong result on May 22 will therefore have a big impact on getting Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street.

Earlier in the week, meanwhile, I was pleased to see J.K. Rowling criticise the stigma attached to single mothers. Best-selling author Rowling, who drafted the first Harry Potter book as a lone parent struggling to find work, describes her “slowly evaporating sense of self-esteem”. “Assumptions [are] made about your morals, your motives for bringing your child into the world or your fitness to raise that child,” she says.

Before coming into politics I managed Gingerbread – the single parent support charity of which Rowling is now President. I have seen firsthand how difficult and isolating raising a child alone can be – and how it changes the way you are perceived and treated.

One of the most pernicious consequences of austerity is an increase in this kind of stigmatisation. Words like ‘chav’ or ‘scrounger’ have become commonplace, as have stereotypes about single mums. The Conservatives – with their attacks on benefits claimants and attempts to promote marriage through the tax system – wilfully play into this. As a result mothers are now more likely than ever to be “defined” by their single parent status. To help break this cycle it is vital that Rowling and other success stories continue to speak out.

Sadly not a lot seems to have changed since I was Chief Executive of Gingerbread in the early 1990s.       

 

Violence against Women

Labour Party

First it was feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez facing appalling abuse on Twitter. Her dreadful experiences were later followed by a 13 per cent drop in police domestic violence referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service. Although these two matters are separate, both sadly reflect the attitudes to women prevalent in this country.

Violence against women is still rife and all too often the perpetrators do not receive what they deserve and their crimes are viewed almost as second class and not worthy of too much attention.

I am extremely concerned that Caroline Criado-Perez claims the police have lost evidence relating to the death and rape threats made against her on Twitter. Having been on the receiving end of some pretty vile and disgusting online abuse (though admittedly not as bad as Caroline’s), I do at least have some idea of what she’s going through.

In one tweet quoted in the Guardian Caroline said, “I can just about cope with threats. What I can’t cope with after this is the victim-blaming, the patronising, and the police record-keeping.”

Neither should Caroline ignore the “tolls” as some have suggested. There seems to be a culture on the internet that since trolls are anonymous it doesn’t matter what they do. It does matter and must be dealt with.

The debate about online abuse reminds me of the comment made by a (male) police officer when I was a young councillor. When I drew attention to the need to ensure women were safe walking around the large council estate in my ward, I received the response that women shouldn’t go out at night and that at other times they should be careful. Caroline’s experience suggests we haven’t made much progress in the intervening years.

It seems that progress is also very limited when it comes to prosecuting domestic violence attacks. It is quite shocking that the number of attacks referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution service went down by 13 per cent over the last three years, as reported in the Guardian. The fact that the number of cases referred by the police to the CPS went up by 23per cent between 2007 and 2010 shows just how significant the 13 per cent drop actually is.

It is, of course, good news that the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is to meet police chiefs to discuss whether the police are doing enough to bring domestic violence cases to court. However, it will almost certainly be the case that further action will be needed.  

This government and the agencies which should be protecting us are badly failing women. I just hope we are not going back to the bad old days when domestic violence and abuse towards women, including rape, were not taken seriously and not seen as crimes which really mattered. We need to be vigilant and do all that we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.         

No More Women on British Money

Labour Party

It was announced recently by Mervyn King that Winston Churchill will be replacing Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note.  This means that the Queen will be the only woman to appear on British money.

I’m not questioning that Churchill is deserving of the honour, but does it have to be at the expense of the only woman venerated on British money?  It is true that the Queen appears on all the notes, but they forget that she is there because of her royal lineage.  The men on the banknotes – Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, and soon, Winston Churchill – are all there because of notable achievements, not because of who their parents were.

It seems that in a country with a parliament that is 57th equal in the world when it comes to female representation; a media where only 1 in 5 experts is a woman; and a business world where female directors represent only 16.7% of the total, that further diminishing the role women play in public life would be a bad idea.  Money plays such a crucial role in our day to day lives and now no single woman will appear on our notes.

Caroline Criado-Perez has started a petition and I urge you call to sign it.  You can do so here.