Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Winter Olympics kicked off in Sochi this week, with Russian premier Vladimir Putin declaring them open at a majestic ceremony on Friday. The Games cost £30 billion, making them the most expensive in history, and a large part of Friday’s Opening Ceremony was designed to show how Russia has moved into the modern age.

Yet the country’s social conservativism, particularly when it comes to gay rights, continues to be a source of anger and controversy as the Winter Olympics begin in earnest. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach used his address to the stadium in Sochi to celebrate The Games as an embrace of “human diversity and unity”, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon also condemned Russia’s record. Putin’s speech to the crowd was in the end notable for its brevity, although a section of the ceremony designed around the theme of traditional marriage was seen by some as a show of defiance.

In June of last year Russia’s government introduced laws limiting so-called “propaganda” about homosexuality – supposedly to “protect minors” from exposure – and they have persistently condoned anti-LGBT statements by public officials while banning and breaking up gay pride events. American firm AT&T, who are sponsoring the Winter Olympics, have condemned Russia’s human rights record, but other sponsors – including McDonalds, Visa and Coca-Cola – have thus far refused to follow suit. Michael Cashman MEP, my friend and colleague at the European Parliament and a lifetime campaigner on gay rights, took the radical step of cutting up his Visa card in Strasbourg last week, in protest at this. It was a bold step, showing the strength of his feeling on the issue, and was one which I fully support.

I wish all the UK’s athletes the very best of luck at the Winter Olympics. I hope we’ll see a wonderful competition and a fantastic spectacle, and that in the long term the event will serve to highlight the treatment LBGT people are still subjected to in Russia and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, yet another rainy week saw The Thames reach its highest level ever, putting at risk an unprecedented number of homes to the west of London and in Kent. COBRA met regularly throughout the week, and by Sunday the Environment Agency had 175 flood warnings in place across the UK, and the Ministry of Defence had drafted in military personnel to provide support for communities.

As the flooding continued some looked to make political capital out of the situation, with David Cameron suggesting on Friday that “the pause in dredging that took place in the late 90s” was to blame. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles criticised former Labour Minister and head of the Environment Agency Chris Smith, accusing them of lacking humanity and expertise. To give him a modicum of credit, Pickles refused to stoop as low as Ukip, who used the crisis as a means of attacking Britain’s International Aid commitments – “Charity begins at home,” as Nigel Farage put it – yet Pickles’ attack still rankles many trying to deal with the problem at the sharp end. In his response, written for The Guardian, Smith said, “I’ve never in my life seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces”.

With much of the flooding happening close to my own constituency in London, I wish the very best to the people who have been affected. I hope, as the weather gets worse this week, that those in charge start pulling together to help those who are suffering. Chris Smith was 100% right – this is not the time for playing politics.

Disgusted by Forbes’ Methodology for Determining the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women

Labour Party

World's fourth most powerful woman (right) and seventh most powerful woman (left). Apparently.

This morning, I read the newly published Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. As it loads up I wonder to myself, will Merkel be ahead of Hilary Clinton? Where will Catherine Ashton come? I wonder which female CEOs have been judged as the most powerful?

To my horror, Lady Gaga is number 7. Oprah Winfrey is number 3 – ahead of both Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel. Ellen Degenres beats Nancy Pelosi to the last spot in the top ten. The most powerful woman in the world is listed as Michelle Obama, undoubtedly an influential woman, and very able in her own right, but there because she is the wife of a powerful man. Catherine Ashton is not mentioned at all. Lower down the list Madonna, a singer who (I checked) last released an album 3 years ago, is 2 places above Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a Supreme Justice in what could be argued to be the most powerful court in the world (numbers 29 and 31 respectively).  Whilst Lady Gaga, Madonna and Beyonce have the very highest level of influence within the world of fashion and music, I am unsure as to how that possibly entails they are more powerful than Catherine Ashton, who co-ordinates the foreign policy of the world’s largest economic area, or Dilma Rousseff, the President of a G12 country (Brazil).

Perplexed, I turn to  Forbes’ list of the 68 most powerful “people” in the world. Since there are only 4 women I don’t feel it’s entirely unreasonable to refer to this list as the list of the 68 most powerful men in the world. Funnily enough, there are no singers or actors in sight. Indeed, it seems a far more reasonable list; being topped by Hu Jintao, Barack Obama, the King of Saudi Arabia and Vladimir Putin. Men who without a shadow of a doubt wield large amounts of tangible power.

So why the difference in the two lists?  It turns out the lists are compiled using different methodologies.  In considering the men the factors taken into account are the size of populations they hold power over, their financial resources, the extent of their sphere of influence and the active use of their power. When it comes to the women however, they have instead been split into 4 categories; business, politics, media and lifestyle. So, half dedicated to women who influence real things and half dedicated to women who influence media and “lifestyles”.

Why the difference in approach? Well, I guess it can only be because women are still judged to be successful on different gounds than men are. A female singer (Beyonce) can be considered more successful than a female politician (Rousseff) because fundamentally that’s what women should be doing isn’t it? The idea that (for example) Usher or Kanye West could be considered as successful or powerful as a male head of state is of course ludicrous. Sadly, the same attitude still does not apply to women. It is also highly apparent that Forbes still considers women as defined by their husbands but not vice versa. Michelle Obama is, according to them, the world’s most powerful woman, by virtue of being the First Lady, of being someone’s wife. Melinda Gates is number 27, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is number 35, Maria Schriver (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s soon to be ex-wife) is number 53 and the wife of the Emir of Qatar is number 74.  Shockingly Angela Merkel’s husband is not on the men’s list however. Well, I guess that’s because he’s a man; and is evaluated on the basis of his own achievements rather than those of his spouse. Forbes’ list is a depressing indictment of how our society still views and judges the female half of the world’s population. So women if you want to be powerful don’t bother trying to become a head of state or a business CEO! Instead, either try and marry someone powerful, or just make sure you have a good hairstyle, can carry a tune and are willing to wear skimpy clothes. Because clearly that’s still (nearly) all that matters.

Honeyball’s weekly round-up

Labour Party

One week into Ed Miliband’s leadership and he’s announced his shadow cabinet. The biggest surprise, of course was that Alan Johnson rather than either of the other favourites Yvette Cooper or her husband Ed Balls who are now Shadow Foreign Secretary and Shadow Home Secretary respectively, is now the Shadow Chancellor.

The  choice of placing experienced characters in the shape of Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn alongside some of new and emerging names provides an exciting and formidable opposition.

The greatest achievement, however, is that this shadow cabinet has one of the greatest balances in its gender equality, something which female politicians have worked so hard to achieve, and most recently this has been driven by Harriet Harman.

Eight female representatives elected into the shadow cabinet and a further three who, because of the jobs they do, mean that the shadow cabinet almost reaches Harriet Harman’s objective of an even gender balance.

Anne Perkins in Saturday’s Guardian explores the long story of how change (in refference to gender equality) was slow, hard-fought and a result of the determination of a handful of women. You can read Anne Perkins insights here.

We ALL will of course be following Ed Miliband this week when he takes to the despatch box for the first time as leader of the party and battles it out at PMQ’s.

On the other side it was announced this morning that the Business Secretary’s plan for a graduate tax has been abandoned. What his party will think of this remains to be seen, but judging by initial reports, they will have much to say, nd it won’t be wholly supportive.

In an email to party members and on the eve of the publication of a significant review of party funding he has conceded the case for higher tuition fees. The report is expected to reveal that  the current cap on fees, £3290, should be lifted.

The full story is in today’s Observer, which you can read here.

The season of calendar buying is upon us- but calendars being used as a tool of political activism is not something I’ve come across before. Last week a group of Russian journalism students posed for a birthday calendar for Russian PM Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile six students from the same university (the Moscow State University) posed for an alternative calendar in which they symbolically taped their lips together and speech bubbles provided awkward questions, such as ‘Who killed Anna Politkovskaya?’ 

This is a brave and savvy way to challenge the Russian government and is not a form of activism we have seen before.

As Stephanie Merritt points out in her article (which you can read here, see the third story) perhaps a British offering may have Alan Johnson, mouth gaffer taped while asking: ‘Who killed the recovery?’ Any more thoughts on what the other 11 months could depict?

Russian Human Rights Group Memorial wins Sakharov Prize

Labour Party

Sarkarov PrizeCongratulations to Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva from the Russian civil rights defence organisation “Memorial”, this year’s winner of the Sakharov Prize.

Presented every year by the European Parliament, the Sakharov Prize is awarded for freedom of thought. The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988 to individuals or organisations who have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy.  This year’s award coincides with the 20th anniversary of Andrei Sakharov’s death.

“Memorial” have been honoured for their contribution towards ending the circle of fear and violence surrounding human rights campaigners in the Russian Federation.

 The organisation’s three representatives are:

Oleg OrlovOleg Orlov, the current chair of Memorial. On 6 October 2009 Oleg Orlov was fined and ordered to retract public statements following a defamation lawsuit brought against him by the President of the Republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Orlov had accused Kadyrov of being behind the murder of Chechen rights activist Natalya Estemirova. On 23 November 2007 Orlov himself was abducted in Ingushetia, together with three journalists, before being beaten, threatened with execution and released.

Sergei Kovalev Sergei Kovalev, who founded the first Soviet human rights association in 1969, the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, and became one of the initiators of Memorial. Kovalev has been an outspoken critic of authoritarian tendencies in the administrations of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. In 1996 he resigned in protest as head of Yeltsin’s presidential human rights commission. In 2002 he organized a public commission to investigate the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings, which was effectively paralyzed after the persecution and assassination of its members.

Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva, who, together with Andrei Sakharov and others, founded the Moscow Helsinki Group to monitor Soviet compliance with the Helsinki Final Act in 1976. Since the 1960s Alexeyeva had been campaigning for fair trials of arrested dissidents and objective coverage in the media. She was excluded from the Communist Party and deprived of her job as editor of a scientific magazine. Alexeyeva co-chaired, with Garry Kasparov and Georgy Satarov, the All-Russian Civic Congress which Alexeyeva and Satarov left due to disagreement with Kasparov in January 2008. She has been critical of the Kremlin’s human rights record and has accused the government of encouraging extremists with its nationalistic policies, such as the mass deportations of Georgians in 2006 and police raids against foreigners working in street markets, as well as Russian conduct in Ingushetia.