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.         

Compulsory Quotas for women: What the EU should do next

Labour Party

Later this morning I will be speaking at Europe House, Smith Square, London on the need for compulsory quotas on company boards. My thanks to the European Parliament Information Office in the UK and the National Alliance of Womens Organisations for organising this public debate. One of my staff will be taking over my @maryhoneyball account and will be tweeting with the hashtag #euquotas. If you have time I hope you will be able to follow or join the debate on twitter.

Farewell to Tom Harris – Not Another Thing

Labour Party

I am very sorry to hear that veteran blogger Tom Harris has decided to stop his blog. Tom has been one of the best bloggers of the left and challenged the more established bloggers on the right such as Iain Dale, Conservative Home etc.

Tom said in his closing post, which you can read here, that it had started to take over his life and that he was becoming known as the blogger who was an MP rather than an MP who also blogged. He also said it was impacting on his personal and family life too. I have some sympathy for what he says. Those of us who chose to blog as a way of communicating can make ourselves vulnerable to attacks from all kinds of people. Sometimes it gets personal and you must be robust enough to not get embroiled, but it isn’t always easy, as Tom has found.

I hope he continues in some format – on Twitter or even facebook perhaps. We need more bloggers like Tom on the left. Indeed this year at Labour Party conference I held a fringe event at which we discussed the issue of left wing bloggers and how to help more emerge. We are getting there but I’m afraid we still have more work to do before we will achieve the same recognition that those on the right do. It won’t be long… nevertheless it is a great shame that Tom Harris will no longer contribute to this cause but I wish him all the best.

Blogging for Labour

Labour Party

Some first quick thoughts on tonight’s “Blogging for Labour” fringe meeting. I was delighted almost 100 people attended even without the prospect of a free meal! Many thanks to all the panel members. John Gray for giving an insight into the perils of libel actions and the need for more guidance on legal issues.

Jessica Asato talked about how Twitter had brought more activists and importantly advocates to David Miliband’s campaign for Labour Leader. With many present tweeting (note the heads down in the photo) a hashtag would have brought everybody on Twitter together online. Next time!

Mark Ferguson talked about how many people had sat through less than riveting General Committee meetings, and highlighted how some Labour supporters found more interesting debate on sites like Labour List which he edits.

Kerry McCarthy turns to twitter first thing in the morning (I still go for Radio 4). She explained how she could debate with and at times advise members of the public on Parliamentary procedure through tweeting. As the photo shows she won the award for most demonstrative hand movements!

In the audience were bloggers Political Scrapbook, Cllr. Stephen (Cowan report), Jon Worth (Euroblog), Tracey Cheetham (A View from the Public Gallery), Mark Nottingham (From One End of Kent), Colin Ellar (Mayor of Hounslow) and several more bloggers.

I will write some more thoughts tomorrow when I have more time. Thank you to everybody who came and to Cllr. John Paschoud from Lewisham for his technical support.

In Praise of Twitter

Labour Party

Yesterday I watched the BBC London TV news piece on Twitter. It wasn’t perhaps the most incisive commentary and was definitely pitched at the lowest common denominator.

Having thought about a short, sharp response in 140 characters, I decided a blog post would give more room for manoeuvre. Twitter’s most obvious limitation is its length and I decided on a bit more for this.

Apparently London is the Twitter capital of the world.  We are time poor, nowhere more so than central London is where most of the action is.

As a fairly regular tweeter and a central London resident I am all for this. Twitter concentrates the mind and is instantly accessible from a number of mobile devices. It can, indeed, be life saving as demonstrated in the recent earthquake in Haiti.  BBC London made the point that the alert for the runaway train on the London Underground a few days ago was made via Twitter.  

Twitter’s appeal is its immediacy, the instant ability to tell someone what you are doing, to convey simple news or to advertise something.  I’m all for it.

So it would appear is everyone else.  It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million people, 13 years for television to get to the same number and four years before the internet had 50 million users.  Twitter get to 50 million in just 12 months.

I’d like it if more of you would follow me on Twitter.  I’m happy to follow you as well.

If only you knew what really goes on in the European Parliament

Labour Party

One of the things I have found most frustrating in my 10 years as an MEP is the seeming impossibility of getting information on the EU and what we do as MEPs out to a wider audience.  Indeed, one of the reasons I started this blog was to put forward my, and the Labour Party’s, perspective on the European Parliament.

However, we now have a potentially much bigger fish in the form of a report about European Parliament and EU communication.  Currently before the Culture and Education Committee, this report written by Danish MEP and former journalist Morten Lokkegaard, tells us unequivocally that “access to information for citizens and communication between policy-makers and voters are central elements” to our democracy and that  we need clearer explanations of the local, national and European implications of laws and policies being considered in Brussels.

Mr. Lokkegaard goes on to say “politics and communication are two sides of the same coin. Consequently a problem arises if politics fails to be communicated properly. It is in this context that the EU faces its greatest challenge.”

These are very much my own views which the majority of my colleagues would also agree with.  I would even go so far as to say many of us are desperate for our, i.e. EU and Euro Parl, news to become mainstream and raised out of its current Euro ghetto.

Lokkegaard has some serious thoughts. In an imaginative proposal, the report puts forward the idea of setting up a group of correspondents from among the specialised, accredited journalists in Brussels, whose role would be to cover European news in a more instructive manner while guaranteeing editorial independence. It also calls for public broadcasting to include European news to tell people more about the decision making process in the European Union.

No report of this kind would be complete without mentioning the “new” media. Lokkegaard seeks to expand the role of interactive media – Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.  While agreeing these forms of communication have their place, the report warns the EU and European Parliament to tread delicately in this area. It stresses “although social networks are a relatively good way of disseminating information rapidly, their reliability as sources cannot always be sufficiently guaranteed and they cannot be considered to be professional media”.  It also “underlines that the way in which data is handled on social network platforms can in many cases be dangerous and give rise to serious breaches of journalistic ethics and that caution is therefore required when taking up these new tools.”

The report therefore calls for a code of ethics for this new type of media to be drawn up, something I would definitely support.  The internet has now reached the stage in its development when we have to consider regulation, both self regulation and, where needed, binding legislation.

Morten Lokkegaard has produced a thought provoking report with plans for concrete action. I hope it will encourage us all to think about how we communicate both what we are doing and why we are doing it.  If this were to improve, some MEPs such as myself may feel less frustrated at the seeming lack of interest and knowledge about what actually goes on in the European institutions.

The Internet comes to the Rescue over Free Speech

Labour Party

Trafigura-logoFree speech, a supposedly inalienable right locked into our DNA, is under increasing threat from our respectable establishment, notably large corporations and notorious legal firms.  Fortunately that great leveller, the internet, has come to our salvation.

 I find it both amazing and disturbing that the British oil trading firm Trafigura and their lawyers Carter-Ruck were able to ride roughshod over the cherished principle of parliamentary privilege by obtaining an injunction to prevent the Guardian reporting a Parliamentary Question tabled by Labour MP Paul Farrelly.Paul Farrelly

Fortunately, the strong arm of this particular version of the law was unable to control Twitter and the blogosphere and the story is now in the public domain.  While I largely agree with Iain Dale that the story would have come out without the online pressure, it would undoubtedly have taken longer and therefore have had less impact.

The injunction, one of a growing number of “super-injunctions” under which commercial corporations claim the right to keep secret the fact that they have been to court, was taken out to prevent disclosures about the real nature of some of Trafigura’s activity.  We now know that Paul Farrelly wanted to ask about the toxic oil Trafigura dumped in the Ivory Coast, west Africa, in 2006 making thousands of people ill, an episode the organisation obviously wanted to keep under wraps.

This is, indeed, a shameful story.  A large corporation does something harmful and immoral to a large number of extremely poor and vulnerable people.  An MP finds some information about what has gone on and seeks to raise it in Parliament.  The corporation then hires a law firm to close the issue down.

Fortunately those who wished to keep their vile actions secret have been exposed and parliamentary privilege remains intact.  However, free speech is not conditional; now that it has been restored in this particular instance we must make sure it always remains a central part of our DNA.


internet, Online media

Readers may have noticed some improvements to my blog that I have made over the past week.

Firstly, I am now using Twitter! I hope that I’ll be able to use it to keep people up to date with my political activities and thoughts. Feel free to become my “follower” and get my “tweets.”

Secondly, in response to some reader’s requests I now have a facility that allows people to get my blog via e-mail. When new pieces go up you will get an e-mail. Just sign up by clicking the link on the right hand side.