Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Thank you, Poly Styrene

I don't remember the first time I ever heard the X-ray Spex. I assume that my mum must have played them while I was growing up. But I remember the first time I ever heard them.

I must have been thirteen years old, sat in my bedroom. At the time, it was covered in posters of people I wanted to be like, from a music scene I'd discovered aged eleven and devoured wholeheartedly. I'd found one of my mum's old tapes - a punk compilation from the early 80's that I still have, and I'd been listening to it for a couple of hours. The final song on the tape came on, and I was riveted. It was The Day The World Turned Day-Glo. As soon as Poly Styrene's opening lyrics began, like an ethereal tour de force, I was in love.

I copied my mum's vinyl copy of Germ Free Adolescents to a tape that I still frequently listen to. The howling invective of the vocals filled me with joy. These were shouting, screaming, pleading, but ultimately joyful songs, and they felt like they were made for me. They were songs filled one minute with unbridled anti-capitalist fury, and the next with delicate innocence.

The X-Ray Spex became a constant soundtrack to my teenage years, and beyond. Shouting the opening line from Oh Bondage! Up Yours! at my friends by way of greeting, dancing like a furious dervish to I Am A Poseur, and scowling along to Identity at my lowest ebb. The first time I properly met my ex's dad, we stayed up until the wee small hours of the morning, drinking white wine and listening to GFA, sharing a particular love of Warrior In Woolworths. We were firm friends after that. All these songs have a deep personal meaning to me.Whatever mood I was in, however I felt, Poly Styrene had always been there, and felt that before.

This might sound like childish, naive idealism, and in a way, it is. I came to the X-Ray Spex 24 years after the recording of Germ Free Adolescents, but the pertinence of the songs still rings true. I read reports about the dangerous political climate we face, and I am reminded of the chorus to Plastic Bag ("1977, and we are going mad/1977 and we've seen too many ads/1977 and we're going to show them all/apathy's a drag"). I look at the culture of celebrity and I Live Off You pops into my head. These are songs of life, with a supersonic, dischordant twist - that was brought purely by Poly's huge talent. Her stamping, bounding, often surreally haunting voice put the X in the X-Ray Spex, and made anyone who listened to them feel alive.

For all the songs spoke to me through their lyrics and melody, there was another important factor in making me stick with them all these years, despite their miniscule discography. Poly Styrene was a woman. Although the punk scene is irrevocably tied with progressive, liberal notions and ideas of equality, women are sorely under-represented in it. Yes, there are other brilliant women flying the flag, but Poly always had a special place in my heart. Angry but loving, screaming but soft, brilliant but flawed, with one turn a lost little girl, and the next a highly sexualised force of nature, she was a beautiful and compelling dichotomy, and her music shaped my life.

So thank you, Marian. For all the good times, the memories, and mostly, for the music. The world will be a much less colourful place without you, but we'll keep playing your songs.

Daily Mail Opportunism

Well, the Daily Mail strike again. Reading like something I would have written at Daily Mail Death Articles, today the Mail decided to smear the names of the family and friends of a dead child, along with that child herself, with a healthy dose of OMG INTERNETZ and OOH LOOK AT THESE CELEBRITIES thrown in to boot. The whole slice of hideousness reads like a scene from Paul Dacre's most enthusiastic wank-fantasy. Titled Ecstacy death girl, 15, 'idolised drug taking musicians and was hooked on the internet' [istyosty link], this piece shows Arthur Martin and Tamara Cohen up for the subhuman smut-peddling scum that they are. It's red pen time here at Forty Shades of Grey Towers...

She was a promising schoolgirl from a stable family background. But Isobel Jones-Reilly had become sucked in by the drug-taking exploits of the celebrities she idolised. Lots of teenagers 'idolise' celebrities. Lots of celebrities take drugs. Ipso facto, it's celebrity's fault that this happened. Probably.

In the early hours of Saturday, the 15-year-old died after taking a cocktail of illegal drugs at a party at an academic’s house.

Isobel, described as a ‘member of the Myspace Generation’, used at least seven social networking sites and would spend hours posting comments about drugs and celebrities. She also posted pictures of herself with famous faces, including one of comedian Russell Brand, a self-confessed former drug addict. Social networking sites are ubiquitous nowadays. I myself have profiles on at least six social networking sites that I can immediately think of. That doesn't mean I'm an internet addict, it means that I'm a member of this generation. Young people talk about celebrities because, well, it's pretty much all they get shoved down their throat. Is it any wonder when all mainstream media, especially a certain rag (who's name might rhyme with Faily Heil) insist on stuffing them on a diet of prattle and gossip about 'stars' like it's actually important? Also, I really can't stand Russell Brand, but to link the fact that he used to take drugs (as I understand it, he has been clean for some time and now talks about how meditation is his get-out-of-consciousness method of choice) to the death of a 15 year old girl from drug-taking really is low. Could this be to do with the fact that he has a film out soon and this might get them Google hits? I'd put money on that.

But one of her teachers blamed her downward spiral on an addiction to the internet. Jaye Williamson, who was Isobel’s English teacher at Chiswick Community College, in West London, said: ‘She was into the kind of things that teenagers get into, but she got hooked on the worldwide web. She was part of the Myspace generation. She got caught and we are devastated.’ Firstly, what in the name of holy fuckery is this girl's English teacher doing giving soundbites to the gutter press? In what way is it any of her business? I would very much hope that she is disciplined over this. Being a teacher does not mean that you are placed to comment on any part of a student's private life. How does Williamson know what Isobel did with her spare time? But now we see where the Mail have got their conjecture that makes up their appalling headline.

Isobel, known as Issy, had been at a party on Good Friday at the home of Brian Dodgeon, an academic in children’s development. Paramedics tried to revive her, but she died in hospital.

Last night Mr Dodgeon’s daughter Beatrice Hadjipateras, 14, and two of Isobel’s classmates Jamal Clarke and Harry Barton, both 14, who also took drugs that night were still in hospital under observation. So we decided to hound him and smear his name in public.

The 60-year-old academic was arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs and child abandonment and later released on police bail. Yesterday, his partner Angela Hadjipateras, 54, was interviewed under caution by detectives. If these parents had these drugs in the house and the teenagers found them and randomly decided to take them, I will eat my hat. I've been a teenager.

Parents of Isobel’s friends told how the promising student failed to realise the dangers of taking Class A drugs.

Diane Bardon, 50, whose son David was at school with Isobel, said: ‘Like many teenagers she idolised musicians who took drugs and it was hard to tell them the pitfalls of copying such behaviour.

‘These bands seem to have it all and the kids just want to copy them. It’s just desperately sad that it’s ended in the death of such a beautiful and lovely girl.’ Mrs Williamson said her son was also at the party but left early because his parents asked him to be home by midnight. ‘He was picked up by a friend of mine. Otherwise, God knows what might have happened,’ she said.

'I would see Issy in the corridors and I used to pull her into the classroom to make sure she did well at school.’ Who the hell is this woman? I'm also willing to bet that the Mail phoned all the parents of people who were friends with Isobel until they found one that was daft and insensitive enough to give them a quote that accorded with their narrative. This is where they got the second assertion for their headline, by the way.

Isobel and about 15 of her friends were at the party in Ladbroke Grove. Mr Dodgeon and his partner had left for the night, leaving the children unsupervised. It is understood that some of the teenagers started taking a mixture of drugs – thought to include Ecstasy, amphetamines, LSD and ketamine – at about 2am.

Police are investigating whether the drugs were brought into the house or if they were found in the house at the time of the party.

Two hours later, Isobel suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed. Neighbours were woken by screams – and within minutes, paramedics arrived and took Isobel and her three friends to St Mary’s hospital, in Paddington.

Jeremie Mbiola, 15, a classmate who was at the party, said watching his friend collapse had changed his life forever. ‘I can’t believe what I saw with my own eyes and I now keep getting flashbacks,’ he wrote on Facebook. Mail journalism at it's finest. Stalking the Facebook profiles of children connected to a tragedy to picture and quote-mine (In the article, there are five pictures of Isobel - all of them obtained from social networking sites).

Yesterday, more than 150 classmates and relatives attended an impromptu memorial on Chiswick Common, near Isobel’s home in Acton. As friends sang songs in tribute, parents questioned why there were drugs at the party. I'm guessing - and bear with me here - that there were drugs at the party because the kids decided that they wanted to take drugs and bought some. It's horrible, and it's stupid, but it happens.

One father said: ‘My boy was at the party but he shouldn’t have even been there. When I found out, I went to pick him up at 11.30pm. He didn’t take anything. They hadn’t gone looking for stuff by then. It was about 2am they found them and by 4am Issy was dead. I heard she died in her friend’s arms.’

Mr Dodgeon’s boss at the University of London’s Institute of Education, Professor Chris Husbands, said: ‘The Institute was deeply sorry to hear of the tragic events.

‘My senior team and I will be meeting...to make appropriate decisions on the way we will proceed.’

[SUB ARTICLE] Academic who left children to party alone

As a respected academic and former social worker, Brian Dodgeon is exactly the sort of parent you’d trust with children.

He and his partner, charity manager Angela Hadjipateras, are high-fliers who doubtless want the same for their daughter.

Their £1million terrace home in Notting Hill in West London is a testament to Mr Dodgeon’s success, after a modest upbringing in Blackpool with his parents and elder brother. There, he excelled at school and won a place to study maths at Bristol University, graduating with a first-class degree. Property porn. Colour me surprised.

His partner works for a charity supporting development projects in Africa, and the pair have been involved in running the charity Stepping Stones to tackle prejudice surrounding HIV.

A friend of Mr Dodgeon said he was a ‘liberal dad’ with an active social life, who held lively house parties.

‘I’ve been to quite a few of his parties but I’ve never seen any drugs there,’ said the friend. ‘You might see the odd guy staggering around but that would be from alcohol, like at any party. He’s a liberal guy, like most middle-class people from Notting Hill. He would have been the sort of person to let his daughter have parties, but I would be surprised if he had left them alone.’

‘Brian is very sociable, he works as a DJ sometimes in 1960s music. He’s a great dad and has never mentioned any problems with his daughter. I can’t imagine in a million years he would buy drugs. My first thought is it must have been the kids who brought them in. They are a lovely normal middle-class family.’

Neighbour Michael Sutton, who has known Mr Dodgeon and his partner since they moved to the area 15 years ago, saw the ambulances arrive in the early hours of Saturday. He said: ‘We got on well with them. I’ve seen them going out cycling’.

Mr Dodgeon may have first-hand experience of families blighted by substance abuse. After graduating, he took  qualifications in social work, and was a  social worker for Hammersmith and Fulham Council in 1975. He currently works at the Institute of Education, researching social problems including alcohol consumption. He also works part-time teaching Alexander Technique, a relaxation method.

Mr Dodgeon will answer police bail in June. Last night, he and his partner were at their daughter’s hospital bedside. What does this show us? Nothing. It's just an attempt to paint this 'liberal' man as ultimately connected with the death of a 15 year old, when all that really happened is that she was friends with his daughter and was at his house when she died. He wasn't there. His own daughter is in hospital. Leave the man alone. It is perfectly normal for a group of 15 year olds to be left in the house alone. He is not a monster.

[SIDEBAR] A rap fan caught in a downward spiral

 Described as ‘extremely popular’ by her teachers at Chiswick Community School, where they said she was doing well, photos and stories of the youngster paint a picture of a contented life with her family in Acton, West London.

But as she entered her teenage years, she became engrossed in an intense social whirl.

At one point, she wrote of her life: ‘It’s drugs, it’s sex, it’s family and every minute I make mistakes. I don’t mean to but I do and I’m sorry for those mistakes.’

The teenager described herself as a ‘down to earth girl’ who ‘people like to hate’ in another entry.

On one of her most prolific online profiles, Isobel, a huge fan of controversial rappers 50 Cent and Kanye West, posed as a 21-year-old.

More recent pictures show her with dyed red hair, smoking a cigarette and drinking from a can of Strongbow cider. Again, what does any of this have to do with anything? Does it tell us anything about her death? No. It's just typical Mail internet scaremongering, combined with a smidgen of  'rap-music-is-evil' on the side.

So what does this show us? Nothing. It's just another example of the tabloid press jumping on the bandwagon of a young girl's tragic death in order to flog a few more copies and get better Google hits. They have no shame about smearing the name of a respected academic in order to push their hateful 'modernity-will-kill-your-children' ideas forward, and again show their truly reprehensible nature by using out of context quotes to sully a dead girl and make it look like her death was her own fault.

A child died. Three children are in hospital. The media spin their narrative, and this is what we hear. This is the fault of the parents! It's the fault of celebrity! It's the fault of the internet! It's not. The children, as hard as it might be to hear, decided to obtain some drugs and take them. From the fact that one of them died and others were hospitalised, I will stick my neck out and say that they got some bad drugs, which were probably stronger than, or contained something different from, what they were expecting. They played russian roulette with their health and are now suffering the horrendous consequences of their actions. They and their families have to live with this. So why is the media queueing up to make them look even worse? This is a tragedy, not an opportunity to have a self-indulgent mass-froth at everything that the media feels is wrong with the world. Use this to educate children on the dangers of drugs, not to push forth a hateful invective and ruin lives further.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Little Girls Don't Cry

In Femail [istyosty link] today, there's a story written by Angela Epstein:

Now, let me start by saying that I feel terrible for this child. I have a sister who just turned seven, and if I ever found out that she felt the same way as this girl, it would break my heart. But for all Epstein's handwringing, this whole article is one of the most disgusting I've read in a long time. It's time to crack open the trusty red pen, and delve into the horrors of the article proper:

Pirouetting out of the front door, my six-year-old daughter called to me over her shoulder: ‘Bye Mummy.’ Off she went, on her way to school with her father, her little Hello Kitty satchel bouncing on her back, a fluffy Alice band holding back her still baby-soft brown hair.

The youngest of my four children — the other three are boys — Sophie conforms to every little-girl stereotype that there is. And as I went into her room to tidy up the whirlwind she had left behind — rainbow-coloured bobbles scattered on the floor, dollies positioned at a tipsy angle across her bed — I chuckled at the pink and innocent world occupied by my baby girl. Let's leave this for the moment, shall we? I think the reason that she conforms to 'every little-girl stereotype will become clearer as we go on...

And then I spotted her diary next to her bed. Sophie had told me quite earnestly she wanted to keep one and, as a writer myself, I was thrilled at this early interest in chronicling her world.

I imagined it would be crammed with entries about getting her new gold sparkly shoes from Monsoon and how excited she was that we were going to make a teddy bear at the weekend.

I know that reading someone else’s diary is the ultimate act of betrayal. But I couldn’t resist taking a peek. After all, Sophie is only six. There were hardly going to be any earth-shattering confessions lurking between the pages of her pink Barbie diary, were there? Epstein says that reading her child's diary is the 'ultimate act of betrayal'. I'd go a little further and opine that publishing it in a national newspaper might go a BIT beyond that.

How wrong I was. Forget soft-focus innocence, as I opened the front cover I froze in shock.

Page one read: ‘I am a stupid, silly and ugly girl.’ The harsh words of self-criticism jarred painfully with her large, childish handwriting.

As I turned the page, there was more: ‘I looked horrid in my brydsmade [sic] dress’; ‘I looked fat and ugly at school today’; ‘My plaits looked stupid today . . .’ And so it went on, page after page of blistering self-recrimination.

I slumped on the bed in shock at this torrent of low self-esteem. How on earth had this happened? I'll give some clues to this at the end of the fisk.

Sophie is my baby, a beautiful little girl. She’s popular, seems enduringly chirpy and is a lovely, giggly little chatterbox. She is frequently invited out to play or has friends to our home. Hardly the recipe for an outpouring of bleak female angst. Is it possible that she's been taught that she must be chirpy, giggly and outgoing all the time, to be a 'proper' little girl?

Was it my fault? Or is the lack of self-esteem so common in women innate, something passed on unknowingly from each generation? Had she heard me on the phone moaning about feeling frumpy and overlooked, as I did the other morning? Yes. Because only women ever feel self-doubt. (This being Mail-land, then, as per usual, trans people don't exist).

Had she spotted me standing in front of my bedroom mirror, critically examining my reflection in a new dress and wondering aloud if I looked, to use her word, silly?

If so, then, as a revelation, this diary was devastating.

Even more so, because I never imagined my daughter would feel this way. She loves performing, is confident and is, above all, a very lively little girl.

Spool back several years to when I became pregnant with Sophie. How I yearned for a daughter. Sure, I adored my three sons. But I felt my femininity had been cut adrift in a household peppered with headless Action Men, brash talk about toilets, and a Himalayan range of muddy football boots by the back door. My problem here is that Epstein clearly points out her own damn problem. She had three boys, who were all couched in hegemonic masculine culture. She wanted a little girl to indoctrinate (and yes, I bloody mean indoctrinate) into a hegemonic feminine culture. If she didn't subscribe to such binary gender roles (i.e. these are boy's toys, those are girl's toys. These are boy's characteristics, these are girl's characteristics), and obsess over her daughter's appearance, then would her daughter really obsess about her appearance so much?

On the other hand, my three boys (Sam, now 18, Max, 15, and Aaron, 12) never suffered with self-doubt. They readily accepted whatever clothes I bought them at Sophie’s age without questioning my choice. (My daughter frequently takes an arbitrary dislike to the things I bring home, on the basis she won’t look nice in them.) Just a point - that's not an 'arbitrary' dislike. It's a specific dislike brought about by her own body insecurities. Instead of just 'bringing' her clothes home, why not discuss what your daughter feels comfortable wearing?

A straw poll of friends who had sons and daughters revealed that their little girls were without question more complex, difficult, and hard to please.

Little girls can also be incredibly bitchy to one another — perhaps another toxic cog in the revolving wheel of female self-doubt. I’ve been genuinely astounded at some of the stories I’ve heard.

One friend confided that her eight-year-old had been squeezed out of a hitherto fairly tight-knit clique because she refused to worship Justin Bieber.

I’ve even seen some unpleasant adult fault lines in Sophie’s own behaviour. I remember being at a wedding with her when another little girl came in wearing a gorgeous party dress. Sophie’s eyes narrowed. Her envy was palpable. She leaned into my ear and whispered imperiously: ‘She looks awful.’ I wonder just where she got that from? Well, I'll answer myself at the bottom of the fisk.

There’s no doubt that little girls are becoming prematurely adult in many ways. High Street children’s stores have junked pretty dresses in favour of crop tops and mini skirts. Perhaps Sophie’s diary was yet another indication that little girls are growing up too fast.

To be fair to Sophie, it is an enduringly female trait to deliberately adopt a negative stance in the hope it will trigger a positive one. When I say to my husband ‘Do I look fat in this dress?’, I want him to say: ‘No, you look gorgeous.’ I probably don’t even really think it myself. But I need the affirmation, even after 20 years of marriage. No, it's not. Does Epstein seriously think that men never fish for compliments? (Again, Mail land, no consideration of trans people.)

Was Sophie writing these things in her diary because she believed them or because she was mentally trying to negate them? When Sophie got back from school, I tentatively asked her about her diary. ‘Why did you write that you were stupid and ugly?’ She wrinkled her brow for a moment. ‘Because I am.’

I persisted and asked if anyone had called her these names. No, it seemed, they hadn’t. So why then? ‘Oh, Mummy,’ she said, as if slightly irritated with my line of questioning, ‘It’s really simple.’

She then reeled off a shopping list of things she’d like to change about her body: her legs were too short, her nose was too big — it’s actually the size of a chocolate button — her eyes were ‘wide like an elephant’s’, her tummy was too podgy (it’s tiny) and her hair drove her mad because it was too floppy.

Reading Sophie’s diary has been a salutary lesson. It’s taught me how my daughter — a bright little girl who hops and skips through life — is still so vulnerable to the toxic self-doubt that so often infects the feminine psyche. Again, not just a female thing!

It’s bad enough we women seem to be hard-wired this way — even worse if we pass it on to our children. I’ve since tried to tell Sophie she should put positive things in her diary and am making an effort to stop myself from being unduly self-critical in front of her. Right. Instead of trying to make her feel more positive and allowing her greater access to role models and things she feels good about, Epstein just tells her daughter to 'be more positive'. Because that's just it. She should be all sweetness and light and happy all the time because THAT'S WHAT LITTLE GIRLS DO, OK?

I took a peek at her diary the other day. The flinty comments about herself had gone. Instead she had written ‘T is a fibber. She said she has an oh pair (sic) and she has not’.

Oh dear, it seems Sophie has trained her lens on someone else instead. I’d better brace myself for a whole different lesson. 

Throughout her piece, Epstein wonders where her child has got this self-criticism from. Well, I honestly don't have a clue.

Oh dear. Some sidebar headlines from Epstein's article seem to have edged their way into my blog post. However did that happen?

Out of 60 sidebar headlines, 21 were directly about women's appearances. There were a further 3 directly about men's appearances.

Leaving all this aside, what is wrong with Epstein. Her daughter admits some pretty terrible self loathing, and her reaction is to write about it in a national newspaper, that publishes it's articles on the internet, with her daughter's real name and pictures? I mean, wow. That's pretty appalling. How will her daughter feel about this in ten years time? How does she even feel about this now?

And I'd bet my right arm that the people who read this article on the Femail site won't be thinking "what a terrible indictment of the early-onset problems of making children conform to fixed gender roles". They'll be thinking something a bit like:

Ah, it's OK then. She's pretty! Why would a pretty person ever need to feel bad?

Monday, 4 April 2011

Why Cristina Odone Is Wrong About Feminism

After David Willetts' ill-advised anti-feminist tirade last week (rebuked here and here), Cristina Odone decided to stick her oar in, with a piece in today's Telegraph entitled "Why David Willetts Is Wrong About Feminism". Now, I don't know what I was expecting from someone who has also written articles with such snappy titles as "Hands Off My Child You Liberal Hypocrite" and "I'm Praying For Christopher Hitchens", but surely she must have something interesting and pertinent to bring to the deba...oh.

No. Odone has this to say:

"Willetts is right that feminists are responsible for the plight of working class men. But not because they have stolen their jobs. Feminists – or at least the kind that have gained the upper hand in this varied movement – have undermined working class men with their philosophy that all males are expendable. Women don’t need men: not as husbands or partners, not as bread-winners, not even as fathers to their children. This man-hatred has not only been taught, it has been rewarded: successive Labour governments have satisfied the feminists in their ranks by conceiving a benefits system that rewards single mothers who don’t let the father of their children live under the same roof. Women in low income families learn quickly that it is better to marry the state than any worthless man.
“ Thatta girl! You don’t need him! He’s rubbish!” – this is the refrain that working class men keep overhearing. Little wonder they feel demoralised and useless, and live down to these expectations."

Right, here's my problems with this:

  1. Odone says that feminists think that "[w]omen don't need men: not as husbands or partners, not as bread-winners, not even as fathers to their children". And to a degree, she is right. I don't need a husband or a partner. I don't need a man to be a bread-winner, and I don't need a man to raise any hypothetical children with. However, what she (and most right-wing, nuclear-family promoting people) seem to miss is that even though feminists might not believe that you need men for these roles, they don't believe that there's anything wrong with them actually doing it! Peddling the "all feminists are misandrists" myth gets no points.
  2. Labour (or any other political party) have never rewarded "man-hatred". The reason single parents get more benefits than couples (and bear with me here, because this might be a very difficult and complex concept to understand) is because they still have to pay the same rent and bills, but with only one income.
  3. Odone berates: "single mothers who don’t let the father of their children live under the same roof". Which are they? Are they single mothers, or are they women who are in a couple but live seperately from their partner? If she's actually saying that single mothers should continue (or even start) to live with the fathers of their children, that's clearly too ridiculous to even warrant my rage (I don't think she is, by the way, but you can never be sure with these types). However, even if she is having a go at women who don't live with the father of their children, so what? I know couples who have never lived together, but have been in a relationship for over 20 years. It's not for everyone. Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton have children together and live in seperate houses, and they seem to get along just fine. Of course, I suspect that her real problem with this is to do with the next point...
  4. "Women in low income families learn quickly that it is better to marry the state than any worthless man". I hate it when people push this opinion. It's ridiculous and offensive. It's essentially saying that all women in low income families are emotionally dead, grasping scroungers who would rather have a few extra quid a week than be in a loving relationship. Do the people who say this really think that there are legions of feckless women out there who decide to get knocked up by people they don't like for a bit of extra dosh a month? Being a jobless single mother is not a lifestyle that is so appealing that there's people up and down the country clamouring to get into it!
  5. Odone suggests that the reason 'working class men' don't have jobs or aren't socially mobile is because the poor little lambs are too disheartened to do anything because the mean old feminists don't want them. They don't "live down" to expectations forced on them by feminism, they "live down" to the lack of opportunity given to them by a society that's happy to blame women for the ills of the working class, rather than the destruction of industry and the financial barriers to social mobility.

So, there you have it. In Odone's mind, women are either misandrist harpies who want everyone with a penis strung from lamp posts, or docile, emotionless cows who are so grasping that they'd give up love for an extra bit of cash. And that's why men don't have jobs. Or something like that.

(n.b. I know I have approached this from a heteronormative and cisnormative point of view, but only because I was responding to Odone's points.)

Saturday, 2 April 2011


Yesterday, the Guardian announced that Michael Gove has been criticised as he needs to find an extra £130 million to replace the EMA scheme. I find this particularly interesting, as I have been planning to blog about why I feel that the £100 million tax break that public schools get for being 'charitable' trusts is unfair.

I noted as much on Twitter, and it prompted me to have a bit of a rant. Well, a bit of a rant may be an understatement. I'll save what I said about the public schools thing for the post about that, but I came up with a few laws that I'd like passing, and people asked me to blog them, so here they are.


Bearing in mind that I'm keeping my feelings on public schools for a later date, I have taken those out of my list, and substituted a couple more that I feel important.
  • People wishing to enter politics must prove that they have spent at least five years living in the 'real world'. I am absolutely sick to the back teeth of people who have absolutely no idea what it's like to not be obscenely wealthy, white or male making decisions about people they know nothing about. People who have grown up not knowing what it's like to not be sure if you'll be able to pay rent this month, or having to decide whether it's you or the cats that eat tonight, because the electricity bill is higher than you thought. They grow up in their upper-class bubbles, only exposed to people like themselves, with the end result that they genuinely do not know how it feels to be one of the electorate. I had an interesting discussion with LissyNumber the other day on Twitter, where we came to the conclusion that most politicians genuinely do not see us as people. We are 'other'. We are like an interchangeable, homogenous, poor blob to them. They see us merely as commodities to extract money from. Products that can be discontinued if we're not profitable enough, or they have to put too much money into us. And do you know what? It's not fucking on. However, as BookElfLeeds sagely pointed out, this 'real world experience' can not be "doing work experience for an MP, "researching", or washing lepers for 27K a year". I'd like to see them doing a year behind a bar, a year in a call centre, a year in a shop, a year in a care home and a year on the dole. Those that can hack it and don't call up Mater and Pater demanding a hand-out will be deemed fit to continue in their quest to be elected. However, just in case they forget what they learned in that time...
  • Every MP is to be given a 'real world adviser', whose job it will be to hit them with a big stick if they favour the overprivileged minority at the expense of others. Ideally, this role will be taken by the most diverse people we can possibly find. I'd like an army of disabled, transgender, single parent, LGBQ, asylum seekers patrolling Westminster, telling MPs how it actually is to live on benefits, or to be discriminated against, or to raise children without a wifeling at home and three nannies on standby. How necessary the NHS is, or how much an extra £10 a week can really mean to people. This will also have the wonderful side-effect of making the offices of the Mail, Sun and Express spontaneously combust with rage.
  • Being an MP is a full time job. There are to be no 'second jobs', no 'advisory roles', no paid places on panels, nothing. Any MP caught breaking these rules will be fired. From a trebuchet. And do you know what? I will damn well use the money they got from these second jobs to pay for said trebuchet. Any money left over will go towards the welfare state. 
  • MPs: If the only person you can find to be your 'researcher', or 'envelope licker', or 'head in charge of wafting about being a bit bloody useless' is one of your rah-rah offspring, or your spouse, or your friends, YOU'RE NOT LOOKING HARD ENOUGH. All jobs working for MPs will be allocated by an independent interview panel. Your sprogs/spouses/mates are, by all means, welcome to apply for the roles, but jobs will be allocated on merit alone.
  • MPs will not be allowed to privately meet with the heads of big business. Any correspondence they wish to conduct will be carried out in the letters pages of at least 5 national newspapers. If they wish to meet socially, fair enough - but they will be chaperoned by three 'real world advisers' (just in case one needs the loo and another needs a smoke, there's still one there). They also have to pay for the meals, transport, and child-care for the advisers. Anyone caught flouting this rule is liable for a trebucheting.
  • Any MPs caught ascribing false meaning to, misrepresenting, lying about or in any way 'massaging' (or ignoring - I'm looking at you Lansley) key statistics or facts while making points about policy must publically (and I damn well mean publically) a) correct their wrongdoing, b) apologise and c) explain what they were hoping to achieve with their falsehoods. Also, all studies quoted must be given in context (looking at YOU, Dorries), with any conflicts of interest/noted limitations in the study, and overall results looked at. It is not permissible to simply pick one line that suits your rhetoric and hope people fall for it.

 Now, I think that's enough on MPs for the time being, so I shall turn my attention to other places that could do with cleaning up.
  • Business owners: If you want to run a shop in the UK, will all the benefits that arise from it, you can damn well pay the taxes we charge. Now, there's lots of debate surrounding Corporate Tax and all that, which is frankly, more than I'm willing to get into here. So, I've thought up a new solution. Shop Tax. Anyone who owns a shop/business can either a) choose to take their profits as their wage (if they are resident in the UK), which will be then taxed at the appropriate income tax level, or b) pay Shop Tax. Shop Tax will be like income tax, in that it will rise in steps according to your profit margins. If you don't like Shop Tax, don't have a shop in the UK. Go on, Philip Green, I'd like to see you move all your shops to the UAE and see how much profit you make there. I must point out that I'm not necessarily against business, but I'm damn well against businesses reaping the benefits of being in this country (educated staff, access to police, having their bins emptied, use of the fire brigade etc.) while doing nothing to support them. It's immoral, and it's wrong, and it has to be stopped. Anyone caught avoiding/evading these taxes will be shut down. Simple as. If you don't support us, we won't support you. Think of it as an enforced boycott.
  • Bankers: Bonuses are now taxed at 95%. Deal with it.
  • Newspapers: You must all use citations when quoting studies. As with the rule for MPs, all quotes must be given in context. Headlines and opening paragraphs must not be misleading in any way, shape or form. If a columnist is expressing an opinion, they must do so obviously (this will be known as the 'Littlejohn' clause). Which leads me nicely on to the next rule...
  • Newspapers: If you have to make a correction, clarification or apology (and believe me, you will have to), it should be given equal or greater prominence to the original story and printed for at least seven consecutive days. 
  • Religious types: Feel free to believe in whatever you wish, if that's what makes you happy. However, do NOT use your personal spiritual beliefs to infringe on the rights or wishes of others. Not everyone believes in your god/s. Not everyone subscribes to your particular religion's (often skewed) sense of morality. People are capable of being good without the threat of eternal damnation, thank you very much. 
 And my last rule (on these broad subjects, for now), will be:

  • Everyone must remember that we are all human. We all have feelings, needs and desires. We exist autonomously, but together. No one is, by virtue of their personal wealth, gender, ability, age, sex, class, skin colour, race, country of origin, sexuality or belief, better or worse than the next person. People can only be judged on the actions they undertake, and the way that they behave as individual people.

So, who's voting for me?