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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Yesterday was International Women’s Day (IWD) and Radhika Sanghani, writing in the Telegraph, provided an excellent analysis of why we need to celebrate IWD. “It isn’t just a hashtag,” she writes, “it’s a reminder that women worldwide are subjected to shocking abuse from sexual violence in warzones and female genital mutilation, to forced marriage and becoming child brides.”

In addition to Sanghani’s observation of how women suffer, in many countries across the globe, we must not forget that they face discrimination in even the most subtle forms; women across the world still suffer from a gender pay gap which despite much awareness has yet to close.

The first IWD was held in 1911 and was marked in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. Over a million men and women joined rallies where they campaigned for women’s rights to vote, be educated and be able to hold public office.

Since then it has grown significantly and some countries treat the day as a national holiday, even Google joined in the marking of the day with a doodle!

The theme this year is ‘make it happen’ and it aims to encourage effective action for advancing and recognising women.

In other news this week it was also revealed that large firms will have to reveal differences between average pay for male and female workers under a change to a law passing through Parliament.

A BBC article online stated: “Firms with more than 250 employees that don’t comply with the new rules could face fines of up to £5,000.”

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian Labour leader, Ed Miliband promises has the strength of character to be Prime Minister.
It’s a very personal interview and he admits he worries about his role as Father if he does become Prime Minister.

Asked for a defining policy, he said: “On inequality, I’ve moved Labour on from where New Labour would have been. I care about the gap between the rich and the poor.”

He is adamant the gap between rich and poor is very important and it’s not good enough to say if the rich pay their taxes then it’s OK.

He also said that decency shouldn’t be confused for weakness and insists he has strong convictions. “The moment you become arrogant, you stop listening, and when you stop listening, you don’t understand what’s actually happening. If people know me as a decent guy who does things his own way, I think that’s incredibly important.”

You can read the interview here.

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David Cameron is no John Major. Britain’s reputation is not safe in his hands

It has come to my attention that the European Council of Ministers has decided to support Jean-Claude Junker as President of the European Commission.

David Cameron has therefore comprehensively failed in his attempts to stop Junker. While I accept that overturning the Junker bandwagon was never going to be easy, we shouldn’t gloss over just how instrumental Cameron was in creating the pro-Junker momentum in the first place.

Frightened out of his wits by UKIP’s strong showing in the European elections, not to mention his obstreperous back-benchers, Cameron came to the view that the arch-federalist Junker was not a good person to head up one of the three European institutions.

Given that under the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament was to have a say in who would be President of the European Commission, campaigning against Jean-Claude Junker, the candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party Group (EPP), was never going to be easy.

Two things made Cameron’s self-proclaimed crusade even more difficult. As the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP has taken upon itself to claim that it, as the largest Group, makes the nomination for Commission President on behalf of the European Parliament. Secondly, and perhaps of more significance in Cameron’s world, is the fact that the Tories in the European Parliament withdrew from the EPP five years ago.

Now that the British Conservatives are not in the mainstream centre-right group, not only has their influence diminished, but they have also alienated European leaders whose support they may have needed to stop Junker. Chief among these is Angela Merkel who was very unhappy when the Tories formed the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) Group in 2009. She is now even more angry because the Conservatives in the European Parliament have, within the last few days, allied with the Alternative for Deutschland, who are more or less the German equivalent of UKIP. The Tories went down that route because, needing to reconstitute the ECR for this parliamentary mandate, they were obliged to meet the European Parliament rules which state that to form a political group there must be 25 MEPs from seven countries.

Clearly it is rather foolish to upset Mrs Merkel, who in reasonable circumstances would be a Cameron ally. Cameron himself then went on to alienate almost the whole European Council when he threatened that the UK would leave the EU if a federalist became the head of the Commission. Subsequent Cameron interventions proved no more subtle or adept.

Responding to reports that Mr Cameron had warned Britain could leave the EU over Mr Juncker’s appointment, Mrs Merkel is quoted in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as stating: “I made myself clear by saying that I am for Jean-Claude Juncker. But when I made that statement in Germany I also made the point that we act in a European spirit. We always do that. Otherwise we can’t arrive at a compromise. We cannot just consign to the back-burner the question of European spirit. Threats are not part and parcel of that spirit, that’s not how we usually proceed.”

Given that Mrs Merkel started the discussions on the European Commission by not being particularly pro-Junker, David Cameron has scored a spectacular own-goal. Step forward the Prime Minister who snatched defeat from the jaws of what could possibly have been a victory.

I, and most of my Labour MEP colleagues, share the concerns that the EU is remote. Many of us would not call ourselves federalists and would not support the federalist, integrated concept of Europe against the looser idea of nation states working together as analysed by Daniel Finkelstein in the Times today. But we all recognise that if you want your view to prevail in Europe you have to negotiate skillfully, taking account of the sensibilities of those who have power.

David Cameron is obviously no John Major who successfully negotiated Britain’s opt out from the Euro in the teeth of huge opposition. Cameron instead seems to be trying to ape Margaret Thatcher’s famous hand bagging strategy. Thatcher won the British rebate over 30 years ago. The EU and the zeitgeist are very different now. All David Cameron has managed to do is let the side down.

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The “immediate plan” for the Euro from David Cameron and President Obama is an illusion

As David Cameron met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on one level it is reassuring to know that the Prime Minister thinks decisive action needs to be taken in order to underpin the Eurozone, as reported in the Guardian yesterday. The quote from the Prime Minister’s spokeswomen goes on to say that confidence in the markets is essential, and in order to regain that confidence decisive action needs to be taken.

The unfortunate aspect of the story is that Messrs Cameron and Osborne are in no position to take any kind of decisive action. By waltzing out of the last December’s European summit which established the fiscal pact, David Cameron threw away any hope the UK may have had of a voice in the future of the single currency. Although this may not be a bad thing at the present time since another voice supporting austerity would not be helpful for the Eurozone, it leaves the UK powerless when it comes to the Euro. If Cameron leaves any lasting legacy, he will go almost certainly go down in history as the Prime Minister who sold Britain down the river.

Mr Cameron’s is now following a long tradition of British Prime Ministers turning to the United States of America. Apparently in a telephone conversation the night before last reported in the Daily Telegraph, Cameron agreed with President Obama that there is a need for “an immediate plan” to resolve the Eurozone crisis. Mr Cameron seems to view this weasely statement as significant, strong enough to make sure the British media knew about it.

Of course the problems in the Eurozone need resolving; no-one would disagree with that. The UK’s economic woes also need sorting out. Even the United States itself could do with a bit of economic firepower. There are two points to be considered. One is that the world is now a very small place and economic difficulties can never be confined to one country or region.

The second point is more specific. Neither President Barack Obama nor Prime Minister David Cameron has competence to deal with the Eurozone’s affairs. The G20 summit in Mexico later this month will discuss the Euro and many other economic issues and will more than likely seek to find an acceptable way forward.

However, the power to make decisions on the future of the Euro, how the Eurozone is governed and what will be done to improve the current situation, such as introducing Eurobonds, will be for the members of the fiscal pact to decide. Britain is not there. Lecturing Eurozone leaders about what they should or should not do makes no difference as the power has already been conceded. Cameron’s hectoring only further alienates other EU leaders and is therefore not a wise long-term policy.

President Obama has, of course, been much too sensible and rational to lecture the Europeans. He no doubt views talking to the British Prime Minister as a courtesy and probably keeps close to Britain as much for old time’s sake as anything else.

That really sums up the UK’s current standing with the United States. We are, of course, still strong allies, share a common language and go back a long way. Nevertheless, the relationship these days is all one way, the way of the USA. Britain has little real power in relation to its transatlantic ally, and now very little power in the Eurozone which is bound to lead to an erosion of influence in the European Union.

David Cameron could not have done better if he had wilfully set out to reduce Britain’s standing. Much of his anti-EU shenanigans has been to placate his feral Eurosceptic backbenchers. On Wednesday’s Newsnight Tory MEP Daniel Hannan sang the praises of Norway and Switzerland telling us how they thrived outside the European Union. With the greatest respect to both of these countries, they are happy to be isolated and have never sought any position on the world stage. Britain, I believe, still wants to be a leading international power. The only way to do this is to play a full and leading role in the European Union.

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Don’t “Slutwalk” this Saturday

This Saturday the “Slutwalk” phenomenon that began in Toronto comes to London. As this is my constituency I thought it timely to impart my feelings on the subject. As a protest movement, it is one that has divided feminists (in that way not unlike many other feminist protest movements) and I have to say that in this instance I have to come down on the side of those feminists who don’t think that “Slutwalking”  is the best approach to this issue.

As a feminist who has been active for many years in the realm of women’s rights, it is of course heartening to see younger generations continue the struggle. I also believe that the initial spark for this protest movement is grounded in very real issues. I have, in a previous blog, discussed my views around how rape and rape victims are treated within our society – overwhemingly as at least partially responsible for the abuse they suffered. This despicable situation is one that absolutely must change and we as women should fight to ensure society recognises this injustice, but I’m not sure stripping off is exactly the right way to do it.

Of course women should absolutely have the right to wear what they want and no matter what a woman wears she is never ever asking to be raped. However, you have to question why many women feel obliged to dress this way to begin with.

While I think Germaine Greer’s article in the Telegraph in defence of the “Slutwalkers” makes some excellent points I disagree that in dressing in a provocative manner women are simply liberating their sexual desires. I would argue that sexual attractiveness and exposure has actually become a societal obligation upon women rather than a freedom given to them.

You only have to look at what is in the media to realise that we currently inhabit a culture that both objectifies women and encourages women to objectify themselves. If we look at other recent issues, the return of Playboy to London for instance, the selling of padded bras to seven year olds and the proliferation of lap-dancing clubs, is this really a landscape of female emancipation? We live in a world where young girls are groomed to believe that “they’re sexually hot or they’re nothing” and where women believe more than ever that success is dictated by your body shape rather than your career.

What’s even worse is that it’s not simply the case that women are expected to be sexually alluring, even promiscuous, they’re also still judged negatively for it as well. I suppose in the 50s at least you knew where you stood. As a woman growing up now you’re told to look sexy in order to be valued by society then, if you are raped, told it’s your own fault for wearing such clothes.

The Slutwalkers seem to recognise one part of this oppression but are ignoring the other. I applaud the Slutwalkers for their passion and their anger. I too feel their rage against an establishment that blames women for being victims of rape. But I ask them to look again at what society has convinced them liberation is and whether that’s really the “freedom” they want.

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