Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

There was good news at the start of this week, with a judge electing to ban Ryanair’s ‘sexy’ calendar. Following a complaint from consumer group Adecua, Spanish judge Amanda Cohen ruled that the women flight attendants who feature were being treated as “mere objects”. She said there was a “disconnection between the images used and the product being promoted”.

The ruling comes at the end of a difficult 6 months for the airline, with Chief Executive Michael O’Leary admitting in September that their “abrupt culture” needed to change. There was subsequent criticism of O’Leary for his comments about a female tweeter during an online Q&A, and in November he announced he would be performing a less public role. After falling behind Easyjet, Ryanair have also been forced to relent on many of their most unpopular policies.

It appears Cohen’s block on the calendar refers only to previous editions, meaning Ryanair are not prohibited from selling sexist merchandise in future. Nevertheless, as someone who has campaigned against the calendar in the past I am delighted to see someone standing up to O’Leary on this issue.

Although Ryanair say they will be appealing the decision I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end for many of their most arcane practices. As the world gets more socially liberal and consumers come to have higher expectations of services, things that might have been “cheeky” a few years ago now just seem cheap. There will be a delicious irony in watching O’Leary, who has in the past called environmentalists and others on the left “luddites marching us back to the 18th century”, having to make his company more politically correct in order to keep up.

The end of this week, meanwhile, saw plans by the government to impose a 75,000 yearly limit on EU workers. According to a leaked Home Office report a cap would bring down the number of migrants by 30,000. The proposals also include plans for a “national preference” approach, which would effectively prioritise British applicants for jobs.

With Romanian and Bulgarian citizens shortly to be granted freedom of movement, this is the latest in a string of government attempts to woo UKIP-leaning voters by playing on anxieties about “an influx of non-skilled workers”. Attempts last month to stop new migrants claiming benefits – as well as ongoing fear mongering about ‘health tourism’ – are part of the same strategy.

Being Europe is reciprocal – all member states have to take the rough with the smooth. As the Tories’ Coalition own partners pointed out, a 75,000 cap “can only happen by leaving the EU”. Picking and choosing which parts of the European project we want to be part of just isn’t possible.

Moreover, the facts about eastern European migrants show they are, on average, younger and more likely to be in work than Britons – and half as likely to claim benefits. Everything I’ve seen in my constituency in London suggests that European migrants are young, fit individuals with a strong work ethic. Far from being a drain on resources they are a huge benefit to our economy.

Proposals like those discussed this week are therefore both unworkable and unwarranted. They prevent us from having a serious conversation about migration and Europe, and instead represent dog whistle politics of the worst kind.

Michael O’Leary finally admits flaws in the Ryanair approach

Labour Party

Michael O’Leary’s admission at the weekend that Ryanair’s “abrupt culture” needs to change was very welcome.

In 2010 I suffered at the hands of this culture myself, after I criticised the airline’s promotion of ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ and its release of a ‘sexy calendar’ featuring female staff. By way of response I was treated to a highly personal attack by the company.

Although my particular experience is unusual I know I am far from alone in feeling aggrieved at O’Leary. Every day countless travellers endure anxiety and degradation at the hands of his airline. They do so because they want to travel abroad and for many on low incomes flying by Ryanair is their only option. Humiliation and discomfort is the price they have to pay.

For a long time O’Leary has delighted in the role of pantomime villain. He is openly contemptuous of women, of the environment, of his staff, of the government and of his customers. He revels in playing the demagogue – the outsider who demeans people by ‘giving them what they want’ – and is on record as saying that his customers will “crawl naked over broken glass” to get low fares.

The argument put forward by O’Leary – that he is doing something anti-elitist by allowing poorer people to fly – simply doesn’t wash. There is nothing progressive about exploiting people without much money when you can afford to treat them better – nor is there anything to be celebrated about thumbing your nose at those same people when they are forced to come back for more.

It is high time that O’Leary and Ryanair outgrew this phase in their development. As we move towards a fairer, more progressive type of capitalism businesses will increasingly need to recognise that their duties extend beyond meeting the bottom line. I therefore hope O’Leary’s comments this weekend were sincere – and I that they represent a genuine change of direction for his company.

The Interview with Michael O’Leary

Labour Party

The exchange between Michael O’Leary and myself on “Woman’s Hour” yesterday has received some attention, including in the Times this morning. You can listen to the full  interview with Michael O’Leary presented by Jane Garvey by clicking the media player below:

Interestingly O’Leary felt unable to leave it there and produced this press release. This is what I sent out a my response:

Ryanair attacks Labour MEP following radio debate

 MEP defends her position following ‘cheap’ and ‘personal’ dig by O’Leary

London MEP Mary Honeyball has responded to a press release issued todayby Ryanair accusing her of “false claims” against his airline and calling her “dreary”.

Ms Honeyball said: ‘Rather than explaining its actions, Ryanair has responded to me by using cheap publicity slogans, which are potentially slanderous. If O’Leary and his team cannot think of anything useful to say, then perhaps they shouldn’t say anything at all’.

Appearing alongside Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour yesterday Honeyball maintained that the Ryanair’s 2010 calendar, which features scantily clad young women in sexually provocative poses, is demeaning.

The women -all of whom are Ryanair employees – were, according to O’Leary, willing volunteers. However, O’Leary does not allow trade union representation at Ryanair, leading Mary Honeyball to wonder whether some of the young women faced pressure to strip off for the calendar. With no trade union to defend them, Mary questioned whether the young women could be especially prone to such coercion.

Replying to O’Leary’s jibe that she was just out to get “cheap publicity” Ms Honeyball said: ‘As an elected representative I have the right to draw people’s attention to matters like this. Since I currently sit on the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in the European Parliament, it is my responsibility to speak out about issues important to women.’

When Mr. O’Leary pointed out that the proceeds from the calendar go to charity, Mary Honeyball said there were much better ways of raising money for good causes which did not involve demeaning images of women.’

And finally….I would like to thank Iain Dale for his congratulations on the work I do on human trafficking.  About the Ryanair calendar Iain, I’d be grateful if you listened to this “Woman’s Hour” piece. I made the same points that you considered flimsy arguments on LBC and O’Leary conspicuously failed to answer them. Maybe they weren’t so flimsy after all?

With Michael O’Leary on Woman’s Hour

Labour Party

 Earlier today I had my very own chance to confront Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO who thinks his scantily clad all female calendar is a bit of fun.  The interview on BBC Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” with presenter Jane Garvey and O’Leary on the ‘phone from Dublin gave us the opportunity to explain our respective points of view. (I will post a link to the piece as soon as possible).

Nothing was said to change my mind that pictures of young females in suggestive poses is demeaning to women.  It is also a marketing tool for O’Leary who seems to think it’s perfectly acceptable to use virtually naked women in provocative poses to sell his no frills airline – cheap as long as you book well in advance.

Many of you will know that trade unions are not allowed in the Ryanair company.  This inevitably casts doubt on O’Leary’s claim that the young women posing for the calendar, all of them Ryanair employees, are willing volunteers.  With no recourse should any one of them decline to take part in his scheme, I feel I have to ask, are they volunteers or have they been press-ganged?  O’Leary conspicuously refused to answer this and would not deal with my question about lack of trade union representation at Ryanair.

Neither would he engage with the question of aircraft safety.  When Jane Garvey pointed out that one of the pictures in a Ryanair calendar showing a bikini clad female flight attendant blowing up a life jacket was not an appropriate way to treat the safety of air passengers, O’Leary merely reiterated that it was a bit of fun.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to talk to Mr O’Leary.  It’s good he raises money for charity (the proceeds from the calendar go to charities across Europe).  I just wish he would find a way of benefitting good causes which does not involve a bad cause, that of demeaning women.