Nadine Dorries. Those two words make me want to tear my hair out. I know I’ve harped on about her quite a lot but if she shut her vile, hypocritical, Bible-bashing gob, maybe I could stop wanting to break things every time I hear her name.
Now Dorries is claiming that she has never met a gay couple that wants to get married, and because of this, the equal marriage policy should be ditched. So, can we then assume that she has met every gay couple in the country? And how about gay singles: do they not want to get married eventually either? Apparently only heterosexual people want to get married.
According to Dorries, “Gay marriage is a policy which has been pursued by the metro elite gay activists and needs to be put into the same bin […] Gay couples are no different from heterosexual couples and yet this policy transforms them into political agitators who have set themselves against the church and community.” She is essentially blaming gay activists who are campaigning for equal marriage for attacks on the gay community, both verbal and physical. She is blaming every gay person who has been rejected by adoption panels – they’re unhappy because they are gay. Every gay person who has been abused in the street by small-minded, pig-ignorant, small-c conservatives, every gay person who has ended up in a hospital bed or, worse, a mortuary, having been beaten or knifed; it’s their fault because they’re gay. Gays are too vocal and that is why bad things happen to them. She is, essentially, blaming every minority out there for the extreme inequality which is propelled by the press and religious institutions in this country.
Gay people who are campaigning for equal marriage are setting themselves up against the Church. Does it matter? The state and the church are SEPARATE in this country!
And who is Dorries to claim to promote and protect Christianity and the “institution of marriage” when she divorced in 2007 and then had an affair with a married man?!
After all, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t adultery verboten? I’m pretty sure God would be less than pleased that she has torn families apart.
So, I’ve chuntered on about gay campaigners quite a bit. But what about straight people who are campaigning for equal marriage? Me, for instance. I’m a straight girl, campaigning for gay people’s right to get married. Am I setting myself up against the church and the state? Am I inviting homophobic thugs to attack me? I have thought about what it would be like to get married, where it would happen, what I would wear. I’ve thought about the perfect man who I will spend the rest of my life with and have a family with. I’m pretty sure every person in this country – gay, straight, bisexual, undecided – has thought about it at least once. Everyone should have the right to turn those dreams into a reality. Equal marriage would have no impact on the church whatsoever. A gay, married couple will not have an impact on “the wider community”. A marriage is between two people, not the world and its mistress (and yes, Mad Nad, the mistress is you.)
But according to Dorries, everyone should just shut up, stop moaning, and conform to a white, heterosexual, middle-class image because complaining about problems is bad and we should all look like we live in a happy, fuzzy, old England world, untainted by sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, so that the rest of the world can continue to think of Great Britain as a postcard. So that we look like a bunch of God-fearing, unemotional, stiff-upper-lipped drones. Well. Tell you what, Dorries, why don’t you fuck off to an abandoned island somewhere far away and set up your Brave New World of indoctrinated, drugged up, “happy” drones? This is no longer a case of “Should Dorries be disciplined?” it’s a case of “Should a mute button be implanted on her so that we no longer have to listen to the cascade of nonsense that drips out of this batshit crazy woman’s mouth?”
And in case you’re wondering, the answer is “yes. Of course. Has that not happened yet? Why has that not happened yet?”
One of my favourite pastimes is finding reasons to dislike Nadine Dorries. Luckily for me, the woman never fails to give me ammunition: so you can imagine my glee this morning at finding out she has been slagging Cameron and Osborne off to the Beeb. Now, don’t get me wrong, I find both of them to be despicable, slimy creatures and almost agree with what Dorries said (SHOCK! HORROR!) but let’s be real, Nadine, should you really be taking jabs at your party leader like that in such a public way?
Let’s take a step back and look at the situation and what it really means. Forget that we are talking about the Conservatives, forget that the topic of this interview was Cameron and Osborne; hell, forget that the interviewee is an insane, right-wing, anti-feminist, anti-abortionist who would like to see women’s rights controlled by the state. For the sake of objectivity, let’s call the governing party the Nutters, and refer to Cameron, Osborne, and Dorries as X, Y, and Z, respectively.
For any large party which is in and out of power, to look (and actually be) united is vital. You cannot expect the electorate to want to vote for you if you can’t keep your party, your MPs and your supporters together. For a leader to make it to Number 10, he or she needs support, first and foremost, from his or her party. For an MP to criticise the leader of their party whilst out of government is bad. For an MP to do so while said leader is also the leader of the country, the representative of the UK on an international platform, the face of this country during tough economic or political climes, is disastrous. Yet Z has criticised the leader of the Nutters as well as its economic mastermind (remember, I am not referring to Osborne here, obviously; just any potential Chancellor of the Exchequer). However, this isn’t what made me laugh/cringe the most.
So what exactly did Dorries say about Cameron and Osborne? When prompted by the interviewer (who asked if she thought Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Idiot were just two posh boys who didn’t know the price of milk) she declared:
“Not only are they two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition and no passion to want to understand the lives of others.”
Nadine, you have absolutely no arguments from me on this one. David and George have indeed shown themselves to be selfish, arrogant and uncaring. I do not believe they understand how a family of six living in a two-bed council flat scrapes by week to week, how a severely disabled man who lost the movement from his neck down in a motorcycle crash and is facing having his benefits slashed feels or how civil servants so scared of losing their jobs and working full-time hours on part-time pay feel. Nor do I believe they can really care unless they’ve experienced any of this for themselves.
HOWEVER, while she was speaking, I found myself screaming “POT! KETTLE! BLACK!!!” This is the ARROGANT woman who wrote an article saying that Cameron had texted her to apologise for “humiliating” her in the House of Common; the politician who showed NO REMORSE in declaring that girls (and only girls) should receive abstinence lessons; the idiot who has NO PASSION TO UNDERSTAND THE LIVES OF OTHERS, who felt it was fine to strip abortion centres of their rights to provide counselling to women.
In September of last year, I wrote an article entitled “Should Dorries Be Disciplined?”. The answer to that question, in my opinion, is still a definite and resounding “YES, PLEASE GOD, JUST GET RID OF THE WOMAN!”
I almost feel sorry for Cameron. To quote the great Malcolm Tucker, the woman is an absolute clusterfuck.
“In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of this so-called “gendercide”.
This documentary film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.” — “It’s A Girl!” (trailer)
And it’s not just happening in the so-called “third world”. It’s happening even in the West. There’s been evidence of same sex abortion happening right here, so it’s not a phenomenon to which we’re somehow ‘immune’. Research produced by Oxford University has shown that at least one hundred girls go “missing” from Indian families in the UK each year; information wasn’t taken from other communities.
Societal effects from selective sex abortion are devastating. Gender bias can broadly affect a society and lead to implications such as lower family rates, simply because there are less women to marry with whom to have children. It can also worsen attitudes towards women and lead to a growing resentment of women. A situation where there is surplus males and an increased mobility of females leads to unmarried men who are prone to violence; the areas within China and India with the highest sex selection rates have experienced crime waves like they have never seen before.
Reasons for this gendercide are varied. Cultural preference and different views of gender play into it hugely, a phenomenon known as ‘son preference’. Son preference is an Indian (and Chinese) patriarchal social model; it is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. Men are seen to be the sole breadwinners and have the responsibility to go with it: looking after parents, providing for the family and carrying on the family name. But dictating that only men can be breadwinners allows for a society as a whole to be inherently male-dominated and closed off to any women who do try to enter the workplace. By having a son, you ensure that you are looked after into old age – an important thing to consider, when India has no social security system. Conversely, when a daughter is born, she will marry out of the family and take a dowry with her – a dowry that not all families can afford.
Some argue, therefore, that eliminating poverty would take care of the gendercide, such as the woman in the trailer above who nervously laughs that she strangled eight of her daughters shortly after birth. Not really: the worst offenders have been shown to be the more affluent middle and upper classes because these people are the ones that have the access to ultrasounds and abortion. Gendercide doesn’t stop because of wealth; it just becomes a whole lot easier. Aborting a child because of its sex is a lot cleaner than killing your daughters at birth, but morally they’re just as bad as each other. Wealth doesn’t stop gendercide.
The Chinese cultural bias towards male children is similar to the Indian bias, but it is exacerbated much more by the One Child Policy than by a traditional culture.
200 million women have been killed because of their gender; and as these nations grow into superpowers, we can only expect for gender inequality to grow and the consequences to be even larger than we ever anticipated unless we act now. Steps have already been introduced in India that makes revealing the sex of the child illegal, but wide-scale corruption in India allows for this information to get out. If the dowry for marriage (which has become illegal in India, without much real effect) is high now, imagine the its going rate in fifteen or twenty years’ time. In the late nineties in China the government allowed for a second child in rural areas where anti-female sentiment was the highest, but this doesn’t account for the fifty million missing girls in China today, an estimate given by the World Health Organisation.
So far, no solution has worked. Combating gendercide takes more than anti-dowry laws; society and culture itself must change to save its daughters.
Gendercide is a crime against girls committed by women because of patriarchal society, anti-female culture and poverty. In India, the biggest factor is the cultural aspect; in China it is poverty. A society has to change innately in order to combat its anti-female bias, from its workplace to its education. Poverty must be lessened and education increased along with widened access for women to the same opportunities offered to men.
We marched from Bristo Square to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, where a rally took place. Not all of our supporters marched: as we snaked our way down the Royal Mile, people hung out of their windows to watch, and to wave, and to cheer us on. This march was, I feel, a Good Thing.
It was good to see MPs talking sense, bringing up the arguments of the opposition and defeating them instead of prevaricating, because this is actually what they did. The crowds were asked, Have you ever heard a strong argument against the legalisation of same-sex marriage? Silence. That, we were told, is because there aren’t any. The arguments from our opposition are made of straw.
Marriage is about family our opposition says: this is not true, because it is neither necessary for a successful marriage that it results in having children, nor necessary for the success of parenthood that the parents be married; further, even were this true, we heard and we cheered for, the sexuality of the parents has no bearing on the children. This we know, this we have known for years, but this has yet to be reflected in the law.
Allowing same-sex marriage will redefine marriage: of course it will, but not for the worse. Just as the introduction of laws allowing women to own their own property following marriage redefined marriage for the better. Marriage needs to be redefined to reflect the society within which it takes place, or we’d still have child-brides. It has not had one uniform definition over time, and certainly in the UK it has moved from a contract joining two families for mutual benefits to one joining two lovers, any two lovers. We should allow the sex of those lovers to be no more barrier than we do the lack of financial gain in some arrangements. This we know, this we have known for years, but this too has yet to be reflected in the law.
It was good to see a religious representative (Marilyn Jackson, of the Humanist Society of Scotland) stand up and argue for her right, for the right of all religions, to perform marriage ceremonies, not just blessings, for religious same-sex couples. If this is something that churches want to do, then who is benefitted by outlawing it? And certainly there is something wrong in a nation where two atheists can stand up in a church and swear to love one another in front of a God who they don’t believe in, when two people who love each other just as much, and who believe in that God, are unable to do so. Or even in a country where an atheist same-sex couple doesn’t have the same right to stand up in church as an atheist straight couple.
It was good to see over a thousand people who care enough about equality of marriage to show it, to make an effort for it, to act for it. Because this is important, and the fact that it is important is something that needs to be shown, needs to have efforts made for it, needs to be acted for. We have to make it clear that we have no intention of giving up, whether it takes months or years for same-sex couples to be given equal rights.
We need to show our opposition that this is no fad, this is no whim, this is not some phase we as a nation are going through. This is something that we know is right, and something we will not stop fighting for.
We will continue to fight for equality with more marches, more petitions, more letters to our politicians, and with more votes for those who will support us instead of take steps and leaps backwards. We will continue to speak up and we will never give up.
Marriage equality has the support of the majority of the Scottish people. It has the support of MSPs and at least some support from religious believers who want the power to carry out the ceremonies. We will find out this spring if it has the support of the Scottish government. But of course, this doesn’t end there.
We have come a long way since 1967, when homosexuality was decriminalised in the United Kingdom, to the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005. Let’s add more dates to this path, let’s add more victories, just as over the years we have added more and more support to the fight. And let’s give our support to those fighting in the rest of the UK, and outside it, to the countries where homosexuality is still outlawed, to the countries where relationships are not recognised by the law, to the countries where discrimination is permitted or encouraged.
So, it might be a few days late, but still: happy Valentine’s Day, Scotland, and happy Valentine’s Day, Britain, and happy Valentine’s Day world, if you’re reading. This year, join this fight, and do something for love that will last.
Last night, Twitter was in uproar after an advert posted on an East Midlands jobseekers’ website offered a permanent position working nights at Tesco. Everything was great, but for one little catch: the position was unpaid.
In fact, to be precise, it offered ‘JSA + Expenses’. Job Seeker’s Allowance, in other words, and a few measly travel expenses.
This is wrong, isn’t it? Working for no money is bad enough, but to be asked to actively compete for the chance to do so…it sends shivers down the spine. It’s as if Tesco backed over, pulled down its trousers and demanded that the poorest and most desperate compete for the chance to kiss its arse.
And the sad thing is that people will. Because we are desperate. We’re living in a climate where there are no jobs and, it’s looking increasingly likely, no chance of any. Yet at the same time we’re living in a climate where to be unemployed is to be a ‘scrounger’, to be somehow fraudulent, to be taking state money from people who really need it. The reality of our collective situation hasn’t set in for many of us yet.
In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell makes a point which was not only fairly accurate of attitudes at his time, but also scarily prescient of current attitudes, which really haven’t changed that much at all. ‘The middle classes were still talking about “lazy idle loafers on the dole”,’ he writes of the mid-Thirties, ‘and saying that “these men could all find work if they wanted to”, and naturally these opinions percolated to the working class themselves… That was the attitude towards unemployment in those days: it was a disaster which happened to you as an individual and for which you were to blame.’
Sound familiar? It should, because it’s an attitude surprisingly prevalent today. And it’s an attitude actively encouraged by the government. To quote one example of many: in October, Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment, was quoted cheerfully advising people that ‘it’s a great time to apply for one of the tens of thousands of Christmas jobs which are being advertised’ with all the gumption of a high school careers adviser. This news came shortly after the revelation that 80,000 people had applied for just 18,000 temporary Christmas jobs with Royal Mail.
Grayling seems to be implying that the main problem people have with finding employment is a stubborn refusal to get out there and look for jobs. Whilst this might be true of a small minority, it certainly isn’t true of the vast majority of people who are currently on benefits. Just look at the fact that Tesco very nearly got away with advertising a position for ‘JSA + Expenses’. People are desperate enough to work for nothing.
People – most people – want to work, in my experience. It beats sitting around watching Jeremy Kyle repeats and crying into your Weetabix, which can get a bit tedious around about the seventieth consecutive day. It beats the constant drum of worry in the back of your mind and the pit of your stomach about where this week’s money will come from and if you’ll have enough to pay for food. What’s wrong isn’t that people aren’t taking jobs; it’s that there aren’t jobs for people to take. And companies like Tesco are actively exploiting the most vulnerable by encouraging them to apply for jobs like the one that’s caused this outrage.
We need proper regulation to prevent this ever happening again. We need the minimum wage – a desperately important legislation, and one we’ve got for a reason – to be rigorously applied in all cases. We need the government to think about the poorest in society, their desperate daily struggle, rather than the profits of multi-millionaire corporations like Tesco.
We need change.
Amidst the ongoing distortion of the way in which the Human Rights Act is used, a commission has been established to ‘investigate the development of a UK Bill of Rights which incorporates and strengthens the European Human Rights Act’.
Why? Because everyone, it seems, from the Tory Party to Tony Blair, has decided that the Human Rights Act has “gone too far”. It interferes where it shouldn’t. It makes good governance impossible.
Now, I don’t know what the general understanding is of the Human Rights Act. I don’t know what people think it does in practice and why it is that way. But I think these questions are all too often over looked and are all too important.
Before 1999 we had the European Convention of Human Rights alone. This meant that if there was a human rights infringement which couldn’t be resolved under UK law, the case would have to be taken to Strasbourg, where a lengthy and costly court procedure was needed in order to receive the benefits of ECHR rights.
This resulted in massive delays and – more importantly – the Government did not abide by the ECHR without having a case brought against them. The problem was systemic: before the latest additions to the Council of Europe, the UK was the only country to have violated all the convention rights (right to life, right to torture, right to privacy) except the right not to be enslaved. The system couldn’t enforce the rights because the UK courts could not use them.
You see, in Britain we have a principle called Parliamentary Sovereignty, which means that Parliament can pass any law it wants to. This is in order to give maximum power to the present-day elected government. If we were to implement the ECHR directly into the laws of the UK, then, if Parliament passed an Act which contradicted the ECHR, that part of the Act would be invalid. That would contradict a fundamental principle of UK constitutional law. So a balancing act had to be made. Enforcing rights on the one hand; on the other, Parliament being able to pass any law it liked.
The Human Rights Act was an ideal solution: it forced state bodies, including the courts, to act within the confines of the ECHR. The effect of this would be that, should someone’s convention rights be infringed, the courts would have to uphold their complaint: if they did not do so they would not be complying with the ECHR. However, it did not strike down legislation passed by Parliament as void if it did not comply. It would merely be declared incompatible with the ECHR. This would create political – but not legal – pressure to change the law. Moreover, fast track procedures were put in place so that if a law was in conflict with human rights, it could be quickly altered.
The HRA is astonishing piece of legislation that, against a backdrop of dissent and ridicule, has become an essential part of many areas of law. It protects everybody, from the elderly who are mistreated in care homes, to victims of phone-tapping. It allows for these rights to be enforced in courts which are easily accessible and reasonably cheap; it means that you are far more likely to be able to uphold your claim in front of a court. This means that fewer abuses of human rights occur: people are protected. This is a piece of legislation of which we should be proud.
Which brings us to the modern day. In short, there has been a commission set up to investigate the possibility of a UK Bill of Rights based on the ECHR – and we need to engage with the commission, as well as being extremely wary of it. We should engage with the debate because we must sing the praises of the HRA 1999 – it brought rights to Britain which are concrete and enforceable. It provides real protection, not just to those accused of criminal offences, but to our elderly and vulnerable. In an ideal world, we could engage in the discussion and resolve to extend the HRA to include environmental rights and socio-economic rights.
But we must be wary of becoming complicit in a process which is going to destroy the principle of the HRA. A British Bill of Rights might be British in name, but it could not be British in nature. The commission’s terms of reference make no reference to the HRA but only to the ECHR. A real possibility is that the implementation of a Bill of Rights might mean that the courts lose the power to enforce ECHR rights in our own courts. Or it could mean that they lose the right to question statute on the grounds of conflict with our rights.
Given the media, the political rhetoric and the economic background surrounding this debate, we need to be very careful what we wish for. Sing the praises of the HRA; but if the question is whether we need a new bill of rights, I suggest we stick with what we have, not twist it into something far more open to abuse.
Lawrence, born in September of 1974, was brutally killed – in a racially-motivated murder – while waiting for a bus in south-east London, in April of 1993. He was just eighteen years old.
He was killed by a gang of young, white, racist men who stabbed him in a wholly unprovoked attack. The last word he heard before dying was “nigger”.
The murder sparked a national outcry; even right-wing newspaper the Daily Mail published a picture of four of the alleged gang, claiming that they were Lawrence’s murderers. If they were wrong, they invited the aforementioned men to sue them.
The men never sued.
Eighteen years on, two of those men – Gary Dobson and David Norris – were convicted of murder. This means that Stephen Lawrence’s parents had to lobby and raise awareness of his case for longer than he was alive.
The first case failed owing to problems within the Metropolitan Police, which was deemed “institutionally racist” by an inquiry. Institutional racism isn’t a new term; it was coined by a Black Power activist, Stokley Carmichael, in the 1970s.
The man who led the inquiry after Lawrence’s murder was called Lord Macpherson, and his explanation of the institutional racism to which Stephen Lawrence’s case was subjected is more or less identical to Carmichael’s interpretation of institutional racism. The similarities are uncanny; it’s testament to how little things have changed.
It doesn’t stop there. We’ve had our own experiences of racism within the police force rearing their ugly head in Wales. Think of the Lynette White case.
Lynette White was a white woman who was brutally stabbed. She died in her flat. Those interviewed for statements were seen to be “vulnerable” members of society; one man named Stephen Miller, White’s boyfriend and pimp, would eventually confess – after being worn down by nineteen hours of questioning. He had a mental age of an eleven year old. He was denied access to a lawyer during this time.
His confession wasn’t taken seriously. When it was presented at the appeal, the overseeing lord, Lord Taylor, said that the police had ‘bullied and hectored’ Miller. No DNA evidence from him was found on the scene which might have tied him to the murder.
Mark Grommek, a man who went on record to make a statement, said he knew nothing of the murder. Yet later that afternoon, he gave a detailed statement. His friend, Paul Atkins, told the police that Grommek killed White, but later changed it to say that he himself was the killer. His statement contained four different accounts of the murder, and, again, was subsequently not taken seriously. No DNA from these men was found at the scene, despite their falsified confessions.
A statement was taken from a woman who was put under hypnotherapy and later used in evidence. Another statement taken and used was from a different woman, deemed to have mild mental retardation, with an IQ of fifty-five. She too was considered to have been ‘bullied’ into making a statement.
The police were given a clear description of a man apparently observed leaving the scene by witnesses – a white man. But they decided to arrest nine men, all of whom were black. Then it was whittled down to five, and then three men – who were still all black.
Despite no physical evidence tying these three men of colour to the scene, in 1989 they were jailed for life. Three years later, the appeal headed by Lord Taylor declared their convictions ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory’, and they were released. The real killer was eventually brought to justice through DNA evidence.
This resulted in four of the witnesses going on trial a few years later. All – apart from Paul Atkins, who was deemed unfit to stand trial – were found guilty of perjury. Two further witnesses were also found guilty of perjury during a later case.
When all of these things came to light the police were put on trial for the framing of three men (known as the Cardiff Three) in 2009. It was called the biggest police anti-corruption trial in British history, and the biggest police trial in British history.
It fell through.
The police never gave an apology for ruining the lives of the Cardiff Three, for falsifying evidence, or for bullying vulnerable people into making false statements which later helped to convict them.
But this was not the first time the police framed black men for a murder they did not commit. In the 1920s, a Somali sailor named Hussein Mattan was framed for murder. He was hanged. The police issued an apology to his wife and revoked the conviction – in 1998.
These are specifically Welsh cases; they happened here. Just because the Metropolitan Police have been called out on their racism doesn’t mean that other police forces walk free. There are dozens of other cases involving miscarriages of justice, but they just aren’t reported. It’s simply testament to the tireless campaigning of Stephen Lawrence’s family that the Metropolitan Police did not manage to get away with their racism.
People of colour in the UK are more likely to be stopped and searched under the Stop and Search law; in fact, it’s over 70% more likely that they will be stopped than their white counterparts. They’re over-policed as perpetrators and under-policed as victims. According to statistics, they are also more likely to be jailed for offences where Caucasian people would be let off.
Of course the UK police system is institutionally racist. In fact, it’s just one of a number of racist institutions. You’re more than three times more likely to be expelled from school if you’re black. You’re also much less likely to be put in the top streams for your GCSEs – resulting in ethnic minorities being less likely to achieve 5 A*-Cs at GCSE level.
The bringing to justice of Stephen Lawrence’s killers was a victory for us all. But there are many victories in every sector of society yet to be won when it comes to the insidious institutionalisation of racism.
62% of Swansea’s student voters want to see NUS move to ‘One Student One Vote’ – Student Activist Diary can reveal.
Examining the results from the NUS UK Delegate elections we can see that three out of four candidates elected had One Student One Vote in their manifesto’s – a clear message to NUS that students in Swansea are not happy with the current set up and want to see change. This news comes as Zahid Raja a member of the NUS Wales National Executive Committee and Luke James who is Swansea University Students Union President are set to propose a motion to enshrine what the voters have said into Student Union policy.
At NUS UK National Conference in 2010, Michael Chessum who is on the NUS UK National Executive Council took to the stage telling us how ‘We have 7 million members but only 700 people who vote in the policy decision’ He described NUS conferences to be ‘dominated by factions that do not reflect the voices of the students on the ground.’
In March, University Central London Union passed a vote of no confidence in both the NUS and the standing National NUS President of the day. The frustration of their students was not dissimilar to the frustration of those here. UCLU’s Student Paper said: “The motion, passed by a two-thirds majority, was the result of a common feeling that the NUS had not supported student activism in the face of tuition fee rises and education cuts.” It was argued that “…their inability to respond to students’ needs was, in part, due to an indirect electoral system. The motion declared that ‘700 delegates cannot properly represent a national union of seven million’ and called for ‘One member, one vote – for a more democratic National Union’.” Harrowing words coming from one of the most active Unions in the country.
Zahid Raja a third year student at Swansea University and a member of the National Executive Committee for NUS Wales said, “I think Swansea Students have spoken clearly on this issue – it’s only entirely proper that we listen to them and make sure that our Students Union does it’s best to shift NUS towards One Student One Vote. That means lobbying other Student Unions about this idea, it means joining other Student Unions like Oxford University Students Union, University of Central London Union and other activists to beat the cliques and deliver what students deserve – real democracy.”
You can have a chance to join the debate and vote for the One Student One Vote motion this evening at 6pm at Café West. This publication strongly suggests that students come this evening and voice what they said through the ballots. Click here for the facebook event page.
In his recent ‘Fuel Poverty Review’, professor John Hills predicts that by the end of 2011, around 4.1 million homes in Britain will be considered to be living in ‘fuel poverty’. This situation, the review has noted, could directly contribute to the deaths of just under 3,000 people over the coming winter; a toll higher than the average seasonal number of fatalities in road-accidents.
Students across the UK are attempting to save money at the expense of their own health. Government statistics on fuel poverty indicate that students living in affordable yet energy-inefficient accommodation make up a large percentage of those recognised to be living in ‘fuel poverty’ by the ‘Living in Wales’ report, 2008. Swansea students in private accommodation are being let down by prepayment meters which charge a higher rate for energy than other types of meters, inefficient appliances, and poorly insulated housing. All of these things mean a situation in which keeping warm is an artificially expensive dream for students. There is no doubt that living in fuel poverty is devastating for both physical and mental health.
There are clear problems with expecting the solution to come from conventional energy-sources. Recent years have seen attempts by many energy companies to repackage old fossil-fuel solutions; i.e. E.ON’s support for ‘New Coal’. However, the appalling efficiency rating of just 45% for these new coal-powered units highlights the urgency with which we need a more sustainable solution.
To be able to bring about the changes needed to make greener energy solutions, such as the 100% renewable energy tariff provided by the company Ecotricity, more available to financially strained students, what is needed is a strong, eco-conscious current within the students movement. Past and on-going initiatives such Climate Camp, and NUS campaigns such ‘Student Switch Off’, and ‘Green Impact’ demonstrate to us an existing willingness to fight for such changes. It is now necessary, more than ever, for environmentally conscious students to show the rest of the student movement that the commitment to future generations as embodied in the anti-cuts movement should be linked to the commitment to protect the environment we share.
The government defines relative poverty as having an income below 60% of the national average income.
The number of children in the UK living in households that fall under this label looks set to rise to its highest for the first time in around a decade, but how worried should we be? It’s relative poverty. How poor are you really if your income is below 60% of the national average?
For 2011, that means bringing in less than £15,600 a year. And apparently, to some people this doesn’t sound like poverty; this just isn’t poor enough. So how should we be understanding poverty, then? A lot of the people protesting this classification argue for a qualitative rather than a quantitative classification of poverty. And the quality they’re thinking of is ‘starving and homeless’.
That’s just not necessary. You don’t have to be in crisis to be in poverty. You shouldn’t even have to be on the brink of crisis. I think people need to accept that poverty in developing countries differs from poverty in developed countries. Yes, not starving and having a home might be a shift out of poverty in Gambia, but we are not in Gambia. The UK is in a position of privilege, and this privilege has to play a role in how domestic poverty is understood. Do we really need to be starving and homeless in the UK to be in poverty?
I can’t help but think the answer is a great big emphatic no. It is appalling that people in what is considered a wealthy and developed country starve to death for want of money to pay for food (and they do). But just because someone can afford a cheap loaf of bread and a leaky roof over their head doesn’t mean we should wipe our brows and be glad that the problem of poverty isn’t so high after all. Because there is something wrong in a country where some people will cry when they have to spend an unexpected couple of hundred pounds while others gladly spend this amount on a handbag.
The people who argue that relative poverty is not true poverty have likely never lived through it. They have never had the exhausting task of managing such a limited budget for living. Never worn handmedowns from their mate at work who’s two sizes bigger and three inches shorter. Never gone weeks without meat, not because of a spiritual belief or a trend, but because meat is bloody expensive. Never had to walk for two hours to work every day because they can’t afford the bus fare. They have never had to think so closely about the cumulative value of minor costs.
Living within the realms of relative poverty leaves you faced with problems that just don’t exist for those who are financially comfortable. I think this is why so many fail to see how much of a struggle it really is. There is a prevailing view that people on low incomes in the UK only lack luxuries, not necessities, but of course what is considered a luxury is subjective. Is it a luxury to have an internet connection? What about buying your kids new school uniforms? What about having the heating on whenever you’re cold? It isn’t obvious where the line should be drawn between things we want and things we need, but if you’ve always had the things you wanted then you are going to have some problems placing that line for those who haven’t. Because it is galling to hear someone on a velvet cushion argue that there’s no harm in the peasants standing.
And no, perhaps relative poverty doesn’t kill (or at least it doesn’t kill quickly; people on lower incomes have notably shorter lives), but someone should not be in mortal danger before we consider their plight to be a serious social problem.
So this increase in relative poverty should worry us. It worries me.