Top of the Lake

I'm officially on the wrong side of my twenties, having turned 25 last week. I spent my birthday in the very picturesque, though rather grey, Bowness-in-Windermere in the Lake District. I can highly recommend the boat cruise the morning after the night before, especially if, like me, you decided 11pm was a fine time to buy a magnum of prosecco to take back to the hotel when you're already steaming. Growing old might be inevitable, but growing up doesn't have to be!


On "True Believers" and the Labour Party

Pinched this from Tom Miller because it's relevant AF, and because this post started out life as a whinging comment on one of his Facebook statuses. 

I read an interesting piece in the New Statesman yesterday, entitled 'Labour is Turning Into the Nasty Party'. Though the author seems to have their rose-tinted specs on reminiscing about some halcyon days of intraparty unity and loving life in the broad church that's never quite been the case, at its core, their point is one that's sadly spot on. 

While most normal members are just trying to get on with the general day-to-day business of opposition, there does seem to be a core group at either end of the party determined on mutual destruction. I think a lot of the problem with the party at the minute is the polarisation between these two sets of "true believers" making life miserable for the rest of us who don't sit neatly in either camp, with both of them happy to watch the party burn just so long as they can be right. This is the kind of ultra-hardline Blairites who haven't been able to let it go that the man stood down almost a decade ago and that actually at its core Blairism was about adapting to the times not just trotting out the 1997 manifesto every election, and the ultra-hardline element of the hard-left who think that anyone that disagrees with them is a war criminal and we should all be grateful they've "come back" to save us. Both are as terrible as one another.

In the former camp, you have the "true believers" versus the '£3 trots'. The kind who say 'Tony Blair won three elections' in every argument as though it were a mantra rather than a statement of fact. He did, yes, and the last one was in 2005. While I don't believe Blair to be the antichrist, neither is he the party's saviour; towards the end of his term of office, he had lost much of both his popularity and credibility. While we can be glad for the good that was done, we also have to face up to the bad. This group are very quick to deride 'Corbynistas' for the cult of personality, with no sense of irony whatsoever. They'll happily cheer councillors crossing the floor from UKIP, the Tories and the Lib Dems, but should a former rank and file member of the Green Party have the audacity to join their CLP, they'll kick off about it. They spent most of Miliband's time in office undermining him and calling into question his legitimacy on the basis of the electoral system that was used to elect him, championed the Collins Review and the change in electoral system that brought in Jeremy Corbyn and now complain they preferred the old system because they don't like Corbyn. They believe they're saving the party from 'trots' looking to run it into the ground, but often it seems more like they would never be truly happy unless their man Blair was at the helm again (though they'd maybe settle for David Miliband). Sad really.

In the latter camp, you have the "true believers" versus the 'red Tories'. These are the types that have spent the last thirty years outside of the party, sometimes even going so far as actually running for rival parties all to 'put pressure on Labour' to meet them where they are rather than to compromise on any of their principles. They're here to 'defend Jeremy from the Blairites' rather than having any desire to get involved, and manage to shoe-horn phrases like "neoliberal agenda" into most conversations. They can tell you everything that Labour's ever done wrong, and with much greater vitriol than they'd manage for most of our rival parties, but find it hard to say anything positive about the last government when pushed. They've been in the party for five minutes but want to change all of its structures to suit them, despite having little knowledge of how they work or why, in many cases, they're actually useful. Forget challenging orthodoxies, they're advocating starting from scratch and anyone that disagrees is an establishment stooge. They feel like the left of the party owes them something, and that the relative 'right' shouldn't be in it at all.

Both are claiming the monopoly on 'Labour values'. Neither are really demonstrating them.

In some respects, both sides have a point. Our party is overly bureaucratic, dogmatic and needs to be opened-up much more. I'd like it to be more left wing, but in a way that's actually coherent and makes sense to the average person and their circumstances. We shouldn't be trashing our legacy when it comes to the New Labour era. We do need to become more economically credible as far as the public are concerned (this shouldn't, however, mean accepting austerity as inevitable).

But while they ARE a minority, and it's important not to overblow the issue, the collateral damage from their petty squabbles are the members who just want to see a Labour government again sooner rather than later, want to have a friendly chat about policy, chuck a few leaflets through doors and whatever, and go home for tea. Neither 'red Tories', nor 'trots'. Just Labour. That's not to say factions don't have their place. Quite the opposite in fact, they're both an inevitable consequence of a church as broad as ours, and good for a pluralist policymaking process. But it's not factions that are the problem, it's that people have lost their sense of basic decency and that they'd rather be boring arseholes squabbling about the rulebook rather than something that really matters.

So, a plea to the "true believers". Get over yourselves. No-one cares. You're not saving the party, you're making it toxic. You have become what you hate. Let's all just chill out and I'll see you at conference in September for a bev. 


Hello Again.

This little corner of the internet has been looking somewhat neglected recently, and though I make no apology for that (why do people apologise for this kind of thing? It's okay that life gets in the way sometimes!) before I resume at least semi-regular posting, I thought I'd give a little update on things.
  • I'm still ginger, I still like gin, and I still spend far too much of my time agitating for socialism whilst also feeling like I never do quite enough. 
  • I visited Bosnia with Remembering Srebrenica on an absolutely life-changing trip which I will post about soon, along with a delegation of amazing inspiring women.
  • We had a fun six month battle with our old landlord over our deposit, which we won, and I felt like Rihanna when they finally had to pay up. 
  • Our new place is still lovely and now has all the furniture we need, along with lots of little tchotchkes we don't which make it feel like home. 
  • I won an election during my little hiatus there, so I'm now Women's Officer of Young Labour! Follow us on Twitter combabes, find us on Facebook, come get involved in our feminist revolution. 
I've also spent a lot of time snuggled up in a slanket someone bought me for Christmas, which has turned out to be one of the best presents I've ever received, and binge-watching Broad City and the new series of House of Cards. All in all, that's about it so er, consider yourself caught up. We good? We good. 


On Simon Danczuk

So this morning came the news that Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale since 2010, has been suspended from the Labour Party following reports in the tabloid press that he'd been sending explicit messages to a 17-year old girl. 

In the interests of being upfront, I'm no fan of Danczuk who I believe to be the most insidious kind of populist politically (see his ill-considered comments this week about foreign aid as an example) notwithstanding previous allegations about his life outside of politics. While there's perhaps naturally a degree of schadenfreude at play here for many that he's being hung out to dry by the same tabloids he sold himself out to- the words 'hoist' and 'petard' spring to mind- it's important that what's not lost in this is the severity of the allegations made against him. It's not funny, nor should it be considered political capital.

For what it's worth, Danczuk does not deny the allegations, his statement on Twitter saying; "Today's Sun story, while not entirely accurate, refers to an extremely low point in my life. My behaviour was inappropriate & I apologise unreservedly to everyone I've let down. I was stupid & there's no fool like an old fool. I'm more saddened that this episode could overshadow the important work we're doing in Rochdale & that's where my focus lies". There's something about the inclusion of the 'low point in my life' that really perturbs me, in that rather than accept responsibility for his conduct, Danczuk appears to be making himself a victim. It's a common feature of the abuser-dynamic that abusers will try and make others feel bad for them in order to deflect blame, earn sympathy and thus lessen the severity of their actions. Equally, that he brings some nebulous 'work' being done in Rochdale (What work? By whom? Who is "we"?) again trivializes the allegations as though they were merely misconduct rather than potential exploitation of a minor. 

One of the main pieces of Danczuk-apologism I've seen bandied about is that this was "between two consenting adults". Firstly, while his conduct would certainly still be sleazy were she 18 when it began, it becomes more like appalling judgement rather than deeply sinister. It's not a matter of being a prude, but the fact that she is not yet fully an adult. 

As the MP for Rochdale, a town embroiled in a huge case of child-sexual exploitation by gangs, and the author of a book on prolific child-abuser and former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith, one would expect him to be more aware of the guidance from various authorities on protecting 16 and 17 year olds from exploitation. Again, he is likely to be aware of the report by the Children's Society 'Old Enough to Know Better' on protecting 16 and 17 year olds, and on the work colleagues in the party like fellow Greater Manchester MP Ann Coffey have done on child sexual exploitation which again makes recommendations about 16 and 17 year olds. While ignorance is a poor defense, it is not one that he has. 

While she was over the age of consent, the law gives extra protection to 16 and 17 year olds to prevent sexual exploitation by older people. It is, for example, illegal to take, show or distribute indecent photographs; pay for or arrange sexual services; for a person in a position of trust (for example, teachers, care workers) to engage in sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18. 

The thing about consent is that it is somewhat relative. It's very easy when you're a teenager to be manipulated into thinking things that are inappropriate aren't, as you're likely to not be that wise about the world yet, and it's why under the law the onus is on the older person. It doesn't matter if she initiated the explicit contact (which, by the way, is unclear) or how titillating he may have found it in such a scenario. The onus would have been on him to have ceased contact with her, or to make it clear that the content was inappropriate. If he initiated it, while she may be over 16, this can still be considered grooming particularly as he was messaging her about meeting up. It's pretty clear what the intent was here, given the content of their messages. That they never ended up meeting up doesn't really make this any better. 

The second piece of Danczuk-apologism, and just as gross, is that this is a private matter that occurred in his private life. It's the same line of argument about keeping quiet about domestic violence that happens behind closed doors, but falls down on the basis that the episode occurred because he was an MP. She was a constituent who approached him for help, they met within the course of his duties as an MP. She wanted a job from him, or to further her own career in politics. As the MP, and with the power to give her a job in her office (something which makes the scenario this happened in coercive in context), there is a clear power-imbalance here and one that it appears he exploited. Just because you go along with something doesn't mean you consent, and the question has to be asked- would this seventeen year old girl be engaged in messaging Mr Danczuk if he wasn't her MP? I suspect no.

The third piece is that the police have already investigated, and determined there is no case to answer, because the police never fuck up on this kind of thing or let men in positions of power off the hook (Danczuk has literally written a book about this!). Mhmm. Even if Danczuk's conduct does not veer into illegality, it does not mean it is excusable. We either expect certain standards of our elected officials or we don't, and while it is not about holding him to a higher standard than the general public, it is about ensuring that the position is not abused. Your thoughts on Danczuk more widely, whether you consider him a self-serving shitbag or the voice of the working class are irrelevant. 

It's unsurprising to me the amount of men, in particular, lining up to defend Danczuk but I firmly believe the party have taken the right call in suspending him pending an investigation. It demeans parliament to have MPs abusing their position for sexual gratification. Danczuk's position is untenable, and the fault is all his. 


On Activist Culture, Accessibility and the Labour Party

Sadly, most Labour campaigning isn't *quite* this scenic. 

A growing concern of mine, particularly in the social media age, is the weight of expectation (both implicit and explicit) on activists in activist groups and the impact of this on accessibility. Sadly, far from being an exception, the Labour Party (and particularly the youth sections) is often a very poignant example of this.

Now, I’m not for a second advocating a party of navel-gazers or the perfect intellectual argument that is delivered to absolutely no-one outside of the room it was thrashed out in. It’s absolutely right that if we are to have a Labour victory in 2020, along with a strong message and bold policy platform, we need to be taking this message to every constituency, every community and every voter. My concern is how we treat our existing activists, and how we support new ones, to do just that.

While well-intentioned, hashtags like #labourdoorstep often contribute to the pressure many young activists feel to be the model party member. For many, campaigning feels like a competition, and one which they will never win. There will always be someone out that bit more than you, in that one more marginal seat campaign than you, who has posted that one more photo on the doorstep in the rain to show the depth of their dedication to the Labour cause.

The right to have an opinion in the party, or the worthiness of your opinion, is increasingly linked to how many doors you’ve knocked on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen debates on Facebook on policy descend into (in essence) “I’ve done more campaigning than you, therefore my opinion has greater merit”. Phrases like “well I’ve never heard someone say THAT on the doorstep”, “come back to me when you’ve done some actual campaigning”, and the passive aggressive “so I’ll see you on the doorstep yeah?”. 

I’ve seen people going for positions that don’t directly relate to running or co-ordinating campaigns where their only attribute appears to be “doorknocks loads”. That’s great, and I don’t want to disparage that, but I think it sells themselves a bit short- I’m also interested in your opinions, values, personality etc. I know you have views, what do they look like? I’m worried, beyond a general fear about a de-politicisation of the party and the impact on party democracy, that it puts off members with talents and experience to contribute from going for roles in the party because of a fear that they don’t know if their campaigning is enough, like there is some threshold which needs to be met for you to be worthy.

Doorknocking is not the only valuable campaigning activity, and there are a myriad of reasons why someone may be unable to come doorknocking regularly (or even at all!). Part of this is down to the days and times when campaign activity is usually held, particularly where there is no variation on this. Work on a Saturday morning? Is it important to you to keep Shabbat? Have to look after a relative that day? Even where they do move around, for people with caring responsibilities and/or disabilities in particular, there may never be a time that is suitable for them where doorknocking would be possible or practical. Activists are open to not only hostility on the doorstep, but are often subjected to sexism, racism, and even violence. For all the positive responses you might get, there is often a nasty comment that sticks in your mind. I’ve even been brought to tears by an older lady who was recently widowed, when I innocently asked if her husband was home (she wasn’t even mean to me or anything, I just felt so awful and we had a big cry together on her porch. Naturally a massive downer for the rest of the day). We don’t show enough that we value the campaigning people do, or acknowledge the burn-out that many activists feel especially around election time. 

When we make doorknocking the be-all and end-all of our campaigning, and judge others with this as a yard-stick, we do ourselves down. I want to see more of a focus on peer-campaigning in the party, utilising networks that already exist and empowering activists within certain groups to organise within their group, whatever that might look like- coffee mornings for mums, holding a discussion in their place of worship or local community centre, getting their sports team to sign a petition, anything. Canvassing is often more about data than the conversations themselves, which there’s usually no way to meaningfully input, and while it is useful, it’s not always particularly engaging. Changing our campaigning culture will, in my view, not only lead to more campaigning being done, but better, more effective campaigning. We need to value our activists, and especially our young activists, and not just see them as bodies for the doorstep. Only then will Labour reach its potential as a vibrant, inclusive, campaigning, mass movement.


The Road to Brighton Pier

Last weekend I headed down to Brighton for a flying visit for Labour's Womens Conference. I got to catch up with so many combabes I don't get to see half as much as I'd like, hear from inspiring women from across the labour movement, and see Brighton for the first time ever. I could definitely see myself spending some proper time there, although I do hope there's no rail replacement buses next time! Here's some of my snaps from the trip, in no real order whatsoever:

1. The famous Brighton Pier! Probably more fun at night than it is at about 11am.
2. Beez in the trap
3. Yvette Cooper addressing Women's Conference, and what a belter of a speech that was!
4. The view from the left side of Brighton Pier, looking away from conference.
5. Standing ovation for Harriet Harman
6. You pretty much can't move in conference season for MPs doing their little vox-pop interviews, here's Barrow's John Woodcock probably talking about Trident or something. I didn't stick around to listen when there was ice-cream to be had.
7. Although the weather was beautiful, I'm sure this is still a fairly icy dip!
8. Harriet Harman addressing Women's Conference, and possibly Youtube too.
9. My creepy carousel horse namesake.
10. The stunning Brighton Pavillion- no photos do it justice, absolutely beautiful.
11. Walking back to the station on Sunday, and Seema Malhotra was addressing a pub garden. Couldn't hear what she was saying, but Tom Watson was clearly enjoying it.
12. Jezza addressing the Women's Conference. Couldn't be more glad he's leader.
13. Deckchairs on Brighton Beach, shame about the colour eh? ;)


Emma & Chris || Monochrome

I shared some pictures from Emma and Chris' wedding the other day, but thought some of these B&W beauties warranted their own post. Many congratulations again to the happy couple! <3


Gin&Ginger Book Club: eBook Picks from August

Between packing for our move, the Labour leadership contest and the fact that most of what I've read this month has been a proper paperback, this month's Gin&Ginger Book Club round-up of the month's ebook picks is a rather short one! That said, there are some good 'uns and there's that old adage about good things in small packages ;)

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng - 10/10 - This was such a good read, perfectly hitting that sweet-spot between literary fiction and a domestic thriller and family drama. The basic plot centres on the Lee family, after their over-achieving daughter Lydia is found drowned in a local lake in 1970s Ohio. Written with a really deft hand, and weaving in racial identity, the role of women in the family, the pervasive cultural myth that is the 'American Dream', and the pressures of growing-up, while switching effortlessly between past and present, it's a really intricately written novel that's near-enough perfect. Probably the less said about it the better, as it's one to really savour. 

You by Caroline Kepnes - 7/10 - This was kind of a weird one for me, written from the perspective of a male stalker who inserts himself into the life of a girl he has a chance encounter with in the bookshop he works. It's had a lot of comparisons to Gone Girl (which are frankly getting a bit boring now- a book can be worth a read without it needing to be 'the new Gone Girl!'). While it was pacy and a fairly addictive read, it was also beyond problematic and all a bit too tied to this time- Twitter as a plot device, use of LOL (more than once), and repeated references to Pitch Perfect and Lena Dunham (no wonder then that she has gushed about it) that mean it'll date badly. There are elements that are so unbelievable that it's hard to suspend your disbelief and go along with it. The narration is deeply misogynist, but I think (I hope?) it means to be and it steers clear of glamourising the stalker/victim dynamic as something desirable. A timely reminder that stalking isn't cute behaviour that means someone is omgsoinlove with you, an idea propagated by a lot of mainstream fiction in recent years (cough, Twilight, cough, Fifty Shades).

And yet, with so many aspects that should make it just not worth reading, it manages to be and I even found myself pleasantly surprised by the ending which rarely happens! I also liked the fact that the victim is deeply unlikeable as well as the stalker, albeit in a different way, rather than being a boring two-dimensional mythical perfect victim. I think, assuming you were going to read it in the next year or so before the pop culture references start sounding like when your parents thought it was cool to say "wicked", it's probably worth it. Certainly made me think a bit about how exposed my own life is too... :/ 

After Anna by Alex Lake - 4/10 - The premise has promise but it's just a bit too obvious. The witing's clunky, the ending's awful, and I don't think the writer has enough panache to lay out the narrative from two perspectives effectively. It starts well, but just sort of went downhill. Readable, definitely, but only just worth bothering. The sort of thing that's probably good to read with a hangover or something when you don't really want to have to think too much. 

So You've Been Publically Shamed by Jon Ronson - 8/10 - I was a little dubious about this before reading, as I worried it was going to be a kind of takedown of so-called 'call out culture' from the kind of perspective that we don't really need to hear in the conversation, so I was pleasantly surprised (which is possibly unfair as I've read and enjoyed a fair bit of Ronson's other stuff - see here and here). It's touched on, but more broadly the book covers general public humiliation in the online era.

That's not to say that it was entirely problem-free. We live in a society, in the UK at least, where there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech- most of us believe in the broad idea, but things such as libel, threats, and hate speech are illegal. You cannot, and have never been in a position to, say whatever you want without any consequences. Most employers will, these days, have social media policies to cover bringing the company into disrepute and so on. The online and offline spheres have increasingly blended, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and online behaviour can have offline ramifications. The issue is that while accountability is a good thing, there's the problem of proportionality of response (focused on) and the fact (overlooked in the book) that many people being 'shamed' online have not actually done anything 'wrong' to be 'punished' for other than be a woman with an opinion.

What was perhaps most interesting in the book was the examination of the history of the use of shame and guilt as a society, and whether we can receive redemption in the internet age- the internet never forgets after all! While public shaming used to serve some sort of purpose, is it now a kind of sport for some? I don't agree with many of Ronson's conclusions, it was certainly an interesting and informative read- I'd often rather read something well-written that challenges my beliefs and makes me think, than just reinforces everything I already know. I'd love to see Ronson expand on a few of the ideas laid out in this, it's quite ambitious in scope but doesn't quite seem long enough to cover it all- perhaps a second edition or follow-up book would be just the ticket! All in all though, definitely worth reading!


On Women-Only Carriages

There's been a lot of talk today about Jeremy Corbyn's "Women Only Carriages Proposal" that has many people up in arms on social media. First and foremost, I want to reiterate that this is not a proposal- it was a measure suggested (by women) that would be considered during a wider consultation on safety on public transport if, and only if, women believed it would be helpful. But why let facts get in the way of a good argument?
I want to pick apart a few of the responses I've seen.
Corbyn on a train. Topical.  
1. Men who say "I've been on hundreds of trains and I've never sexually harassed/assaulted anyone!"
Do you want a gold star for doing the bare minimum for not being an absolute piece of trash? Good for you. I've never murdered anyone, but it doesn't mean people aren't getting murdered every day or that murder isn't an issue we need to address. Get in the sea.
2. "This is because Corbyn is an Islamofascist/appeasing Muslims"
Behind the frankly breathtaking stupidity of such a statement, is racism. Muslims aren't the only religious group that may segregate men and women for prayers/in certain public spaces, nor is it something most muslims would consider to be necessary or even desirable in this context. This isn't being considered as part of a concerted attempt by Corbyn to apply Sharia Law to National Rail, but as part of a concerted attempt by Corbyn to look at measures that reduce harassment and assault of women (in particular) on public transport because the scale of the issue is a national disgrace. Get in the sea.
3. "This is segregation, Rosa Parks fought so women could sit where they want"
This wasn't what Rosa Parks fought for, and nor would women be forced to sit in women-only carriages. The rest of the train would be mixed, there would be the option of a women-only carriage if this proposal was taken forward as part of the consultation. It's a form of racism to invoke the name of Rosa Parks and co-opt her struggle when it's not appropriate or relevant, especially when all the people I've noticed doing so have been white men. Get in the sea.
4. What about trans women and non-binary people? Will they be able to sit in the women-only carriage?
This is the sort of thing that would have to be ironed out during the consultation and, if the measure was put in place, clear guidance written that would make it clear that trans women are absolutely allowed. Trans women are women, it's a women-only carriage, that's pretty straightforward in theory. I appreciate that in practice it might not that straightforward, given the issues around gendered bathroom access etc, but the proposal isn't for entire trains to be for men and women separately. Just for the choice to be there for those that want it. In terms of non-binary people, I don't know the answer and a lot would depend on consultation with these groups- I don't want to or presume to speak for them.
5. "Women only carriages don't solve the problem of harassment/assault"
This is a fair argument, but one which is a strawman as 1) this isn't being proposed as a policy, a wider consultation is all that has been proposed and 2) even if it were introduced, it's not the solution to the problem it's a short term measure. While it is absolutely correct that we need to change the attitudes of people who sexually harass and assault women on public transport, and penalise those who do, these are longer term actions. In the meantime, I know I'm not alone in wanting to feel safer on public transport, and I would certainly feel safer on the last train home in a carriage with other women. I don't want to continue to put up with objectionable comments, intimidation and unwanted touching, all of which I have been a victim of more than once, while we wait for this utopia when men as a whole realise that it's wrong just to prove a point. If I should be able to sit where I want free from harassment, that extends to choosing to sit in a women-only carriage in my view.
6. "This is victim-blaming"
I see this point, and agree there would be those that would say "if you've got a problem, why aren't you in the women's carriage luv?!". But women are being victim-blamed for being on public transport at all late in the evenings as is when anything happens. It's not like the whole train would be segregated, and I don't think women should be denied the option if they would personally feel better to be sat among other women. It would remain to be wrong anywhere else on the train for harassment and assault, and if you felt uncomfortable there's the option to move to the women-only carriage which is an option we don't currently have.
7. "We already have laws in place about sexual harassment and assault, they just need enforcing"
I'd mostly agree with this, but we're looking at the problem in the context of swinging cuts to police, legal aid, criminal injuries compensation, train and station staff. The conviction rate is abysmal as is, and the idea that greater enforcement is something that's going to happen in the short term is pretty na├»ve. Any measure to reduce the issue is one that I welcome, as a young woman who relies on public transport to get around.
8. Men that want to carp on about this/women-only spaces in general.
Get in the sea. Really. You're free to have your opinion, but I don't care what it is. Sorry not sorry.
Isn't it awful that an issue like violence and harassment on public transport is something that a (potential) party leader thinks is important enough that it needs to be addressed? Isn't it awful that a politician would ask people affected to help come up with measures to reduce a problem, rather than just assuming they know what's best for them? Corbyn, what a scumbag! Sigh.
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