International Women’s Day: a time for celebration, reflection and action!

Labour Party

International Women’s Day: The work continues

As most of you will be aware today is International Women’s Day (IWD). The day is always celebrated across the world with vigour and enthusiasm. I am with colleagues today in committee, the committee for gender and equality. We will mark IWD appropriately but also continue with our agenda which is to carry on the work to achieve equality in all forms of life (work and domestic), to fight sexist messaging in the media which objectifies women, seeking ways to close the gender pay gap and promote women in senior positions both in business and politics. And this is just the start!

IWD appeals to women and men in different ways. Each of us have priorities and areas of interest and concern which are relevant personally and/or professionally and so IWD can provide a personal day of reflection as well as a platform for vocal celebration.

For me IWD doesn’t just remind me that the fight for equality continues but another significant area where so much more work is needed is that of gender-based violence. Specifically, we need to combat acts of trafficking, domestic violence and the barbaric procedure still performed in some countries of Female Genital Mutilation.

As a member of the European Parliament, a feminist and vice chair of the FEMM committee in the European Parliament I am proud of the work we have done and continue to do across the EU to combat these areas of inequality and violence.

I wanted to share with you some of the work that is in progress across the EU institutions, so you can see how committed the EU is to combatting all forms of inequality and violence.

The Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-19 focuses on five priority areas:

  1. increasing female labour-market participation and the equal economic independence of women and men;
  2. reducing the gender pay, earnings and pension gaps and thus fighting poverty among women;
  3. promoting equality between women and men in decision-making;
  4. combating gender-based violence and protecting and supporting victims; and
  5. promoting gender equality and women’s rights across the world.

    The Commission gives further detail about the priority areas here:

    · Reducing the gender pay gap: the Commission presented a concrete Action plan to reduce the gender pay gap by 2019.

    · Violence against women: 2017 was dedicated as to Ending Violence against Women with the No Non Nein campaign. The Commission dedicated €15 million funding to NGO working in this field. The Commission extended the funding to 2018.

    · Employment of women: it continued to increase slowly but steadily and reached 66.6 % in the third quarter of 2017 (78.1% for men).

    · Gender pay gap: women still earn on average 16 % less per hour than men in the EU. The gap varies greatly from one Member State to another.

    · Women on boards: women account for just a quarter of board members in the largest publicly listed companies registered in EU Member States. France is the only Member State in which there was over 40 % of women on boards.

    · Women in politics: the situation varies greatly. National parliaments in Sweden, Finland and Spain had at least 40 % of women each gender, while in six countries (Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Latvia, Malta and Hungary) women accounted for less than 20 % of members. Similarly, governments had a as many women as men in France, Germany, Slovenia and Sweden; while women were completely absent from the Hungarian government.

    · Violence against women: remains a problem. According to the EIGE ‘Gender Equality Index 2017, when it comes to the measurement of violence against women’, on a scale of 1 to 100, the EU’s score is 27.5 out of 100. The score varies between countries, ranging from 22.1 in Poland to 44.2 in Bulgaria.

Equality between men and women means supporting the EU

Labour Party

Having a statue of the formidable campaigner Mary Wollstonecraft in London is long overdue and I fully support the campaign to commemorate the first public feminist in this way. It is, of course, true that Mary Wollstonecraft had been ignored by history. Her ground breaking book Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792 is nothing like as well- known as it should be. Mary deserves much more recognition than she gets.

I was, therefore, pleased to see Labour’s Leader Jeremy Corbyn endorsing the campaign for her to have a statue, citing the statistic that 90 per cent of statues in London were men. I even thought Jeremy may have been converted to the cause of women’s rights.

Then I stopped to think. Jeremy is, to say the least, lukewarm about Britain’s membership of the EU. This matters as for the past seven years most of the official work relevant to the UK on women’s rights has been done by the European Parliament Women’s Rights Committee of which I am Vice-Chair. (I do not mean to take away from the excellent work done by sisters such as Harriet Harman, Stella Creasy and Jess Philips, but most of their contributions have been their own work not that done by the Government or even the Opposition).

The European Parliament Women’s Committee has worked on the gender pay gap, violence against women and sexual harassment, stereotypes of women in advertising and the media, as well as sexual health and reproductive rights and work-life balance.

Since its founding treaty in 1957, the EU has maintained a commitment to gender equality. As we celebrate the centenary of women gaining the vote in Britain, we would do well to take stock of where we are now. The UK is not in the forefront for gender equality across the EU and were we to cease to be in the European Union British women would be worse off, possibly even losing maternity pay and leave, the right to equal treatment between women and men at work and the EU legislation that means the burden of proof for cases of sex discrimination lies with the employer not the female victim.

Jeremy Corbyn, if you really believe in equality between women and men you need to come out strongly in favour of Britain staying in the EU. If you fail to do so, millions of women in Britain will suffer.

Another poll in EU Membership?

Labour Party

Nigel Farage seems to have surprised his own side as much as those of us who are sensible enough to understand that EU membership is the best way to serve Britain’s interests – economic, social and cultural.

Many of us who wish to stay in the EU have also stated our preference for a further vote on membership. I wholeheartedly believe that the British people deserve another say. The 2016 referendum campaign fought by the leave side was full of lies – rather than receiving more money the NHS is in crisis. What is more, the franchise was limited to that used in general elections which meant that EU citizens settled in Britain had no say. The final consideration was the lack of any threshold. Referendums of the magnitude of this one should require at least a 60 per cent majority.

Yet the idea of another referendum is fraught with difficulties which need to be resolved before it goes much further. The main one is the substance of the referendum question. Nigel Farage wants it framed as accept the deal or reject the deal and leave the EU. This is obviously out of the question. The question need to be accept the deal or reject it and maintain the status quo which is membership of the European Union.

Now let’s look behind Farage’s unexpected demand. He and very many other on the ultra-right, both inside the House of Commons and elsewhere in the country, want to turn Britain into a small state, low tax, low wage corporate tax have. Brexit, freeing the UK from essential safeguards and protection guaranteed by our membership of the EU, gives them the means to do that.

Britain remains a civilised, tolerant and caring country. London is a world-class city. We can only continue to be the country we are by remaining alongside our European neighbours and being part of the largest trading bloc in the world. It’s called the European Union.

Victims of Violence better protected under new EU rules

Labour Party

As of last Sunday (11 January) victims of violence, especially those who have suffered from domestic abuse including violence and stalking,will be guaranteed protection from their perpetrator in any EU Member State. The new rules mean that any restraining orders issued in one member state will be applicable in every other EU Member State.

I did a short interview for BBC 5Live over the weekend on the issue which you can listen to again here:

Thanks to the EU we have peace in Europe

Labour Party

Many of you will have heard that my father sadly died on 2 January at the age of 94. His passing has stirred an avalanche of emotions, as you would expect many personal and not appropriate for this blog, but others very pertinent to our times in a more general sense.

Old age succeeded where the Japanese during World War II failed in ending my father’s life. The young Captain Stanley Honeyball serving in the “forgotten Army” survived the war in the far-east, having previously been stationed in West Africa and India. He was only 20 when war broke out. At the same age I and other fortunate young people were having the time of our lives as students.

Growing up as a member of the “baby-boom” generation, the War was never far from my consciousness and that of my family and friends. Stories about the War were everywhere, though I’m not at all sure those born in Britain shortly afterwards really ever fully grasped the true pain and suffering Europe went through. Having fought in the First World War and returned, both my grand-fathers were then caught up in the Blitz while my mother did air raid duty. Those at home appeared to cope by invoking grim humour. I vividly remember a story of fire bombs in the garden being told with light-hearted merriment.

This unlooked for and unprovoked involvement of the population as a whole is, of course, what distinguishes modern warfare from what went before, up to an including the 1914-18 war, which ended just a short time before my father’s birth in 1919. Dad went to fight in very foreign places. For the first time ever, those at home were involved on an unprecedented scale.

The Second World War continues to impact on our destiny over 70 years after it started. The shape of Europe even after the fall of the Iron Curtain is that established after 1945. It hardly needs articulating that the EU itself was created out of the ashes of a Europe riven by the most technologically advanced and far-reaching war the world had ever seen.

It is a damning indictment on our judgment that the United Kingdom, perceiving itself as a “victor” has never really felt at home with the EU, the real lasting aspect of the post-war settlement. Even now our national identity remains fractured, a state of affairs analysed very well by Mary Riddell in today’s Daily Telegraph.

Ms Riddell makes no bones about the fact that “With dangers abroad and our economic destiny far from assured, it is imperative that Britain should re-establish its identity and global niche.” Her solution to this, which also happens to be mine, of course, is that our best hope lies with the European Union. The EU is not only the largest economy in the world, it also has the second biggest defence budget after the United States and now boasts the muscle to help secure the recent Iranian nuclear agreement.

An international organisation established by voluntary agreement, the EU is more than a powerful economic bloc. At its very core it believes in and promotes peace, human rights and democracy. The values of the European Union are often discussed in the European Parliament as a living blueprint for our lives not some high-sounding but remote form of words. As Ms Riddell rightly points out, the EU is “the only show in town”.

In other words, Europe is the solution to Britain’s identity crisis and the danger we as a nation face of being marooned in a sea of super powers – the United States, China, India and maybe Brazil – but not being fully part of the one union that can put us back on track, the European Union. The idea that the UK could even contmplate leaving the one place where we may find protection is nothing short of terrifying. 

My father and mother, their generation and their parents’ generation knew war. While nowhere near being a pacifist, Dad fervently hoped his children would never have to go through the horror and deprivation faced by him and his contemporaries. Despite the British being unable to break the habit of sending troops to foreign parts, since 1945 our country hasn’t had to cope with all-out conflict. I for one am truly glad of that, and may it remain the case for as long as humanity walks the planet. 

Ed Miliband makes it clear that Britain’s future lies within the European Union

Labour Party

The economic case for being in the European Union is overwhelming:

  • a market of 500 million people
  • producing and selling one third of the world’s goods and services
  • where British businesses do at least 50 percent of their trade 

The aspirations for the British economy – high-skills, high-wages and high productivity – are easier to achieve within the European Union than outside it.

 Ed Miliband in his ground-breaking speech to the CBI used the example of the UK car industry to demonstrate that it is easier to achieve our aspirations within the EU rather than outside it.

 “Nissan, Tata and Toyota didn’t come to Britain for a low-wage, low skill economy:” Ed told his audience on Monday. “They come to Britain because we offer a gateway to high-income consumers who want high-value goods. And to make those high-value goods they invest in high-skilled jobs…………….we have people from all over Europe coming here to be part of (our) Technology Clusters. Because of the single market.”

The economic case for being in Europe is overwhelming, and many, if not the majority, of those attending the CBI conference are pro-EU and would not want Britain to leave. Their businesses rely on being in the EU. 

The alternatives for Britain were we to exit the EU are grim indeed.  Ed highlighted them: 

“If we left the EU, be under no illusions, it would be the United States, China and the European Union in the negotiating room. Literally eating our lunch. And Britain in the over flow room……I fear ……we would end up competing on low wages and low skills. A race to the bottom.”

 And most importantly, Ed Miliband stressed that this is not a future for Britain that we should contemplate. 

Yet no-one, even the most Europhile amongst us, would for even a nano-second claim that everything in the EU is rosy. Ed pointed to the following.

There are 25 million unemployed people across the EU and five million young people in the EU are at this minute looking for work. The failures of the Euro have shaken confidence in the whole EU. The EU budget often seems to match the priorities of the 1950s not the 21st century. Meanwhile the immigration attendant on enlargement has not been handled well.   

These important matters should be addressed while the massive advantages to Britain of being in the EU emphasised more strongly.

Ed is also very clear that now is not the time for a referendum on the EU. Businesses considering coming to Britain would put their investment on hold pending the outcome of a referendum. There would be instability in the British economy. Moreover, holding a referendum on the EU would not reflect the priorities of the British people – jobs, living standards and prosperity.

 Britain is stronger in the EU than it would be outside:  “Exit would not honour the traditions that have made Britain the great country it is,” was the upbeat note on which Ed concluded his speech. “Britain has always given so much to the world. We have traded with others, not turned inwards. We have opened up our country to new influences, not shrunk from them. We have engaged with others, not stood aside from them.

 “An ambitious Britain has always been an outward looking Britain. An inward looking Britain can never be an ambitious Britain.”

 And finally Ed Miliband said in no uncertain terms: “I believe our future lies within the European Union.”    


Clegg’s instincts are right but his bid to assert himself just looks desperate

Labour Party

Repatriation of powers from the European Union to Britain remains a thorn in David Cameron’s side. The movement for “Europe Light” initially dreamt up, I believe, by William Hague back in the mists of time, is really causing the Prime Minister a lot of problems, Nick Clegg being the latest.

The issue is creating difficulty principally because it is a total non-starter. The EU treaties, to which successive British governments have given their assent, are designed to be treaties, international agreements to which all parties adhere. This is an age-old idea universally recognised in more or less its present form for at least 2000 years. Once you have decided to be in, any changes require the agreement of all parties. Unilateral tinkering with the EU by the UK on its own is quite simply not on the agenda. Whatever Britain wants will have to be agreed by the other 26 member states.

Nick Clegg has now finally joined the growing ranks of those who see sense. It is just sad that it took him so long given his background in the EU as both an MEP and as a member of staff in the cabinet of a European Commissioner. Clegg seems to be ruling out trying to use the forthcoming revision of the Lisbon Treaty to make an attempt to repatriate powers, maybe because he is catching up with the idea that other EU member states may just tell Britain to get real. No-one wants to be associated with failure, least of all a struggling leader of Britain’s third political party on the verge of annihilation.

Repatriation of powers is pure smoke and mirrors as you read here a long time ago. Theresa May’s cack-handed approach to taking back 130 justice and home affairs powers with a view to renegotiating opting back into some of them later bears all the hall marks of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. It would be laughably pathetic if it weren’t so serious.

Meanwhile poor Nick Clegg is trying to inject some common sense into the coalition, now driven by a clique of feral Tories to whom being anti-EU with withdrawal top of the agenda is a raw and terrifying religion. These are the people who secured the leadership of the Conservative Party for David Cameron, and it’s now pay back time.

It is deeply tragic that the future of our country is in the hands of very small bunch of nutters. There are, of course, things in the EU which need change and reform – it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. However, it’s the same with any body politic wherever it may be. No-one seriously thinks Britain is all sweetness and light and that everything is perfect.

If Clegg were stronger and the Liberal-Democrats less excited by power, the relationship with the EU could well be the issue that tears the coalition apart. Yet that’s not the way it’s going. The coalition is much more likely to be destroyed by a visceral and seemingly unresolvable conflict between the Tory Eurosceptic zealots and the forces of government both in the UK and the EU.

David Cameron appears to be engaging with the EU in a good way

Labour Party

Even small-state, cut public expenditure David Cameron seemingly wants to help young people find jobs.

This is excellent news which I hope will be translated into concrete action in Britain to bring down youth unemployment which currently stands at a staggering 22% of those aged 16 to 24.

David Cameron is, moreover, discussing youth unemployment at an EU summit starting in Brussels today, according to the Observer. Cameron will apparently play a full part in the talks, a welcome change for our avowedly Eurosceptic Prime Minister. Let’s just hope he stays the course and doesn’t walk out as he did at the previous Brussels summit on 9 December last year.

The EU could, we understand, provide 22 billion euros from an underspend in the European social fund for measures to combat unemployment among young people. While youth unemployment stands at 22% in the UK, it is even higher in other EU member states – 51.4% in Spain, 46.6% in Greece and 30.7% in Greece.

The EU initiative is therefore very welcome. Having young people unable to find work constitutes a real tragedy, robbing them of the start in life they deserve, leading often to long-term defeatism and periods on the dole throughout their lives.

If the proposals are agreed, the European Commission will work with member states to draw up country specific programmes on how to address the problems and use the EU funds.

Unemployment is the scourge of our times. Even George Osborne is beginning to understand this as he teamed up with Ed Miliband joining leaders of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank urging action to create jobs amid warnings that youth unemployment was a time-bomb under the global economy.

However, Cameron and Osborne making all the right noises abroad is no substitute for action at home. The main reason unemployment is so high in Britain lies at the door of the Tory-led coalition’s fierce austerity measures. The cuts have been much too much, much too soon. Such policies could lead to a much longer recession than necessary, possibly even a double dip.

We, the British people, need a government that looks after all our interests not just those of a rich few. Everything possible should be done to bring down unemployment at home where it matters. International action is all very well, but the real solution is here, fairly and squarely with David Cameron and George Osborne.

The EU should keep talking to Iran

Labour Party

William Hague, along with all the other EU foreign ministers, was wrong to impose economic sanctions on Iran yesterday.

It is, of course, true that the Iranian government is disingenuous to talk about wanting a nuclear capability only for energy. With massive oil reserves this really does not ring true. Will their next argument be that Iran wants nuclear energy so it can go green?

I hasten to add that I do not support  the current government in Iran in any way shape or from, and particularly disapprove of the Iran’s treatment of women as second class citizens. I also apply my own personal boycott by not appearing on Press TV,  a television service supported by the Iranian government.

The difference though is that this is my personal decision, not a government decision.

The EU and the West in general needs to talk to the Iranian government.

We also need to plan for the inevitability that Iran, together with other countries, will obtain nuclear technology. Surely the experience of oil sanctions on Iraq should teach us that this way forward will not work. The sanctions will be breached. They will be used by the Iranian government to justify their actions.

We also run the risk of increasing oil prices at a time when the British and European economies are in poor shape following the transgressions of various bankers.

The EU imposition of sanctions against Iran seems a desperate last push to stop the inevitable. Governments in the West need to plan for a multipolar world recognising the inevitability of  nuclear weapons. This is not an easy position and one which I would find hard to accept, while at the same time understanding that it is what needs to be done. 

I say all this from the perspective of someone who has campaigned against nuclear weapons all of my political life.  I truly believe that Britain, and indeed the rest of the world, would be better off without destructive nuclear  capability.

Having said that,  I also believe governments have to be realistic about the extent and reach of nuclear proliferation across the globe and put forward sensible policies for damage limitation. It is inevitable that, as an increasing number of scientists gain nuclear knowledge, more countries will have the opportunity to develop nuclear capability.

As we know, several countries, not all of them stable democracies,  actually do have nuclear weapons.  Pakistan is a case in point.  It is also highly probable that Israel has them. The situation regarding Israel obviously has to be taken into account in putting forward  any policy on Iran . 

The EU imposition of sanctions against Iran seems a desperate last push to stop the inevitable.

For all our sakes the EU  needs accept the reality of the international situation rather than undertaking measures which could potentially  alienate dangerous regimes across the world.

China is one of the three pillars of the global economy together with the USA and the EU

Labour Party

This was a very prescient piece in the Guardian by Economics Editor Larry Elliott giving his take on the G20 summit, specifically in relation to China.

China is fast becoming a major power in the world, even a super power, if such nomenclature means anything these days. While we in Europe, closely watched by the United States, endeavour to get our economy, both turbulent and sluggish at the same time, back on track, the west as a whole seems to be missing an international development of gigantic proportions.

Ten years ago, in December 2001, Chinawas admitted to the World Trade Organisation, indicating its status as a fully fledged market economy. The country had indeed come a long way since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the early 1970s. Its journey from an idiosyncratic version of communism to a leading world economic power took a mere thirty years – just one generation.

Perhaps it’s this short time frame that makes us in the west place so little emphasis on China. Maybe it’s also because we don’t want to admit that the world is changing and other super powers are emerging, powers the west once thought it either ruled or controlled in some form or another. Not only does China now have a seat on the G20, it is also strong enough to be called on to contribute to the eurozone bailout.

It is now very clear that the global economy has three main pillars, China being one along with the United States and the European Union. Larry Elliott puts it very well in his comments on the G20 summit: ..”the focus of events was the unfolding crisis in the eurozone, but it was hard to escape the sense that power had shifted from west to east over the past 10 years. It was not just that Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel were holding out the begging bowl, pleading with China to dip into its foreign currency reserves to provide capital for Europe’s bailout fund. Nor was it that China’s leaders felt entirely comfortable lecturing Europe on the need to get its act together when it was not so long ago that it was the other way round….Rather it was the mixture of bemusement and derision with which China viewed (the G20) events…”

It is imperative that the west and Europe in particular heeds China’s growing status as a leading power. China’s population is 1.3 billion and its GDP $5.9 trillion, clearly a country which cannot and should not be ignored.