On Burma and Bigotgate……..

Read Melissa Benn’s latest pieces on the web. Further comment on ‘bigotgate’ in Public Finance, and a piece on one of Burma’s most celebrated activists, the poet and comedian Zarganar, recently sentenced to thirty five years for criticising the government’s handling of cyclone Nargis in 2008, on the Guardian’s Liberty Central section of Comment is Free.

Election matters, and why this election matters so much

Two excellent pieces today on separate aspects of the election campaign. Francis Gilbert has written a cogent piece on Comment is Free on why Tory policies for schools will spell disaster for our education system. In the main paper Natasha Walter analyses the deeper reasons for the absence of women from the front line of politics.

There are many reasons, of course, for the shift in modern politics, away from a collegiate/cabinet emphasis to a more Presidential style of party leadership but the set piece TV debates have only accelerated this trend. 2010’s election campaign has been structured entirely around the Thursday debates, and associated briefings and endless analysis. This means, as many have observed during this singularly depressing campaign, that the only women who seem to count are the glamorous loyal wives whom, it is hinted, will be able moderate their husband’s excesses and weaknesses in traditional medieval court style. The power beyond the throne: yes indeed; nothing to do with democracy. As for the elected women, they are nowhere to be seen. Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, is occasionally glimpsed in her bright red coat ( much good it does her) standing at the edge of some media scrum or apparently pushed to the edge of a platform.I have glimpsed the top of her head at least three times on television in the last week; they don’t even bother to show her face. Of course, the main media players are only interested in the main political players. There’s a few women in there, but not many.

As for Tory policies on education, they will be an unmitigated disaster. If schools can select their own pupils, secure their own funding and float away from struggling schools in their neighbourhood – the independent school model, unwritten by the state this time – inequality will only intensify. The Tory claim to want to tackle poverty and inequality is disingenuous; if anything proves it, it is their education policy.

Regressive, Stagnant and Contradictory: Fawcett’s damning verdict on parties’ Manifesto

For the duration of the election campaign I am posting items in the news I find of interest/relevance to our understanding of what this election really means. Below, a press release from the Fawcett Society on what the main party manifestos promise – or fail to promise – in relation to women.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 15TH APRIL 2010

FOR FURTHER INFO / INTERVIEWS: 0207 253 2598

Regressive, Stagnant and Contradictory: Fawcett’s damning verdict on parties’ Manifesto

After concerted efforts to woo women voters, the parties’ manifestos hardly mention those same women, and the policies they do propose range from disappointing to downright disturbing.

Women are dealt with in piecemeal fashion with no party providing coherent explanations of how their policies will impact on women lives or how they will address persistent gender inequality.

Ceri Goddard, Fawcett’s Chief Executive, said:

“After some progress in power Labour seems to have stagnated, some Conservatives policies could actually be a backward step for women’s equality, and the Liberal Democrats are contradictory. The manifestos are a depressing read for anyone concerned about women’s equality, particularly given the energy the Party campaigning machines have invested in targeting women voters on sofas, on the internet and from the pages of the glossies.”

“Perhaps the most backward of the Conservative policies is their proposal to recognise some marriages in the tax system. Their marriage tax allowance could well push lower paid women from low paid families back into the home – but are the Conservatives being honest about this? It’s well rehearsed that this policy discriminates against widows/widowers, single parents and people who leave abusive relationships. But this policy also discriminates against married couples where both partners choose to or need to work – the reality for most people. From the party that advocates the small state this is state-sponsored social engineering writ large.”

“This worrying theme is continued elsewhere. Despite the premise of the ‘Couple Penalty’ being debunked by our campaign partner Gingerbread , the Conservatives have said they will press ahead with benefit reform that will disproportionately reward couples. This will have the disastrous effect of leaving single parents, 90 per cent of whom are women, in far greater relative poverty.

Criticising Labour’s and the Liberal Democrats’ Manifestos Ceri Goddard continued:

“It’s a shame that Labour has failed to follow up on some of the progress of the last 13 years. There seems to be no vision to build on steps like the minimum wage, all women short-lists and flexible working to take the next step towards equality. Particularly disappointing is their commitment to freeze income tax. This will give them little financial wriggle room when it comes to cutting public spending which will disproportionately disadvantage women .

“The Liberal Democrats, who claim to be the party of democratic reform, have failed even to mention the woeful underrepresentation of women in our democratic institutions – much less actually suggest steps that might deal with getting a parliament that is more like the country that it represents. Until this happens, we’re unlikely to make further significant progress on other issues.”

Fawcett does support some measures that the parties are proposing. The Liberal Democrats’ move to expand equal pay audits to more companies are very welcome. Labour’s commitment to implement the Speaker’s recommendations to address underrepresentation are welcome and the Conservatives proposal to exclude the lowest paid workers from public sector pay freezes and better fund Rape Crisis centres for women are all positive steps.

But a crucial omission from the parties’ manifestos is a commitment to both assess and publish the impact that their deficit cutting proposals will have on women as opposed to men. This will leave women voters unclear how policies will affect what they own and what they earn.

Summing up, Ceri Goddard said:

“As painful as the economic crisis and expenses scandal have been for this country, they present a real opportunity to build new kind of economy and democracy that does not rest on women’s inequality. More than this, repeated polls show there is real voter appetite for change. The parties preach fairness and radical change, but these manifestos are anything but, for women at least.”

Something to believe in…

….or is it? Am I being too optimistic in my latest post– more of a note – in Public Finance? You tell me. But the Labour manifesto, as drafted by Ed Miliband, and much discussed, even derided, in recent weeks, seems to contain some very good things.

Now if only there had been more about housing…not to mention a promise to abolish Trident… a pledge to break down the crippling divisions within our school system…..a pledge to withdraw from Afghanistan….