Setting The Bar Higher: More Women In Parliament Is Not Good Enough For Me #GE2015

 

Most of the Labour Party's female MPs, including Harriet Harman (centre) gather on the steps to New Palace Yard outside the Member's Entrance to the House of Commons before they enter as the House sits for the first time since the General Election.

 

In the wake of the recent general election, a good deal of post-election comment has focussed on the increased number of women MP’s entering parliament, with most of the major parties welcoming more women in to their ranks.

Increased representation across the political spectrum is for many an important goal: more women in parliament = more representation for women is a logical, if simplistic, approach.

On the night of the election, and in the teeth of the growing grim horror of realising this country had elected for itself the most right wing government we have ever had, there were individual bright moments: Naz Shah’s victory in Bradford was made all the sweeter because she ousted the pinnacle of left-ist misogyny George Galloway; and Mhairi Black’s victory and acceptance speech was also another very bright spot indeed.

Both of these women, by virtue of the lives they have led, and the understandings they have of the world in which women operate, will I hope prove to be both strong and positive role models in the stifling air of patriarchal misogyny that is the House of Commons.

And therein, I suppose, is the very nub of my cynicism about this great display of positive spin being written and spoken about the increase in women MP’s: will these women en masse make this Parliament, this government, and the House of Commons, less patriarchal?

Will they, en masse, ensure that the cuts which have led to crisis in Domestic Violence support services are reversed?

Will they, as a group, work together to change societal attitudes to violence against all women, recognise the particular dangers faced by specific groups of women, and work to tear down the walls of racism, transphobia and misogyny that blight so many women’s lives?

Will they support the unseen, silent army of carers (mostly women) who provide the care to family members and friends that the state cannot or will not?

And what of the women stigmatised because of mental health issues, struggling in severe poverty with disabilities, or vilified by our societies racism because they are refugees?

What of the women fighting for homes? For the safety of their children?

Will they challenge the patriarchal systems they are now working within to effect the kind of changes that women need?

Because this is my concern: women are not all affected in the same way by discrimination, and not all forms of discrimination affect all women – we are not all equally oppressed.  There are differing and intersecting ways in which women deal with (often life threatening) oppression: we are not one single homogeneous class.

Naz Shah and Mhairi Black not withstanding, the vast majority of these new MP’s are white, cis gender and come from comparatively privileged back grounds.  When the difference between the overwhelmingly white, cis gender, privileged MP’s  on any side of the house is so insubstantial – when so many women in various ways face threats from a government that is prepared to ditch the Human Rights Act, I don’t want, or need, more women simply buying in to the very systems which threaten us.

This isn’t something as shallow as disagreeing with someone else’s politics – this is about women’s lives.

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#GE2015 – A Victory For the Politics of Fear

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For many of us who grew up under Margaret Thatcher, there is a feeling of ‘deja vu’ that is familiar, and frightening –  a sense of being plunged in to dark days where those who are most marginalised and most vulnerable, those who have the most to lose and the least to spare, and those who already stumbling because their strength is being sapped are now in greater danger than ever.

It now seems certain that the Conservatives will form the next government; they will, like Thatcher, strip this country still further of its ability to look after the weakest and most vulnerable. Like their much worshipped former leader, David Cameron, George Osborne (no longer saddled with the worse that useless Danny Alexander) and Ian Duncan Smith, will wring changes which will increase the numbers of those struggling on zero hours contracts; that will withdraw yet more of the already pitiful support the sick and disabled are only able to access with increased difficulty; the racism and xenophobia that increasingly dictates the way that we respond to and deal with refugees will produce a fouler stench every day; those in danger will find it harder to access safety. Education and the NHS will be further plundered and sold off. University will become a dream as elusive to a new generation as it once was, long ago when such things were not accessible to the ‘working class’.

I am not in the habit of wearing rose-coloured glasses: I have no desire to take us back to previous era’s , even though they were a time when full employment and a ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state where part of a healthy, vital and productive society.  We can’t go back.

But we must go forward, and find a new way to create that same security and stability that helps people to make their communities better.

When the dust has settled, it will become more obvious that the Left messed up, and messed up big time. There will be those in the Labour Party who will mutter that this happened because the party had become too left wing: let me assure them that the very opposite is true.

The Labour Party have not been a party of the Left wing for a very long time – since 21st July 1994 in fact, when they abandoned the solid foundation built under John Smith for the lure of the easy power that came with the compromise of principles, and signing up to the same narrative of fear which Thatcher had found so successful.

And though many may genuinely want to see an end to this narrative of fear and despair which tempts us to look back to some previous time in history – and which has seemingly been rejected by the Scots – both the fragmented nature of the left and that temptation to look back rather than forward, have played their part in handing the Tory party a victory which will undoubtedly lead to more despair, and more death.

There will I am sure, perhaps because of how painful we know the ensuing 5 years will be, be a temptation to seek a false unity that may demand those whom the left have too often trodden on or thrown under a bus to silence their complaints in order to scrape back some semblance of possibility that things will be different next time.

And just as looking back will not make this better, false unity will not a solid foundation create.

So we on the left have to be honest: we have to address the structural and systemic racism, sexism, transphobia and misogyny that plagues us.  We have to be prepared to get our hands dirty, and get back to grass roots activism and re-connect with the problems and people we are supposed to be fighting for.

We have to change the story we tell, and drop the narrative of fear back in to the cesspool from which is was wrought, exchanging it for a language of hope and faith. Those oh-so tempting phrases like ‘helping hard working families’ – which exclude millions and show such contempt and disrespect to those who might not draw a salary or be part of a ‘family’ unit but still have to work harder than some of us know keeping body and soul together – have to go.

We want a better way – and it will take hard work. We already have some idea of how painful that work could be. Lets not be afraid of that. Lets not be afraid to recognise that we messed up because we lacked the courage to challenge the right wing narrative of fear that has so dominated our politics for the last 35 years.

Because then, maybe, next time, we wont feel like this the morning after. And everyone today who is looking at the next 5 years in numbing, gut churning fear, will actually have hope.