Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Challenging #RapeCulture: The Lincolnshire #AskForAngela Poster Campaign Making A Real Difference

Hello Everyone!

So it's been a while since I blogged about Lincolnshire but I just had to talk about an amazing poster that I've been seeing on social media platform discussions about how to help prevent sexual assault and rapes from occurring in the first place. The poster was created by the Lincolnshire Rape Crisis team, which includes the wonderful Hayley Child, Substance Misuse and Sexual Violence and Strategy Coordinator for Lincolnshire County Council and gives advice to pub, bar and nightclub goers about what to do if they are stuck with a bad date that they may have met through online dating sites or through mutual friends/family. The poster forms part of the #NoMore campaign, which "aims to promote a culture change in relation to sexual violence and abuse,  promote services in Lincolnshire and empower victims to make a decision on whether to report incidents" ("Code word campaign help people escape bad dates by alerting bar staff discreetly", The Independent, October 20th 2016).

I reprint the poster below :

Essentially the poster tells you to notify a member of bar staff if you are feeling uncomfortable and the "date" is starting to get emotionally aggressive or threatens your physical safety and then that member of staff will help you by either calling a taxi/cab for you or to help you out discreetly; for example if you suspect your drink might be spiked, the staff member can dispose of the drink and pour you another one or if the date wants to go for a walk with you on your own and you don't want that because you don't know what might happen, the staff member can make that clear to the person concerned and then prevent them from reacting aggressively whilst they call for the taxi. All practical, easily implementable advice which requires only basic diversity training in pubs, bars and nightclubs to get off the ground with minimal cost to the owners. Great!

Now most of the time such poster campaigns only garner very limited interest, usually from local bar and nightclub goers who wouldn't give a second thought to the poster after merely glancing at its content. However, thanks to a wonderful student tweeter from Lincoln/Scunthorpe called Isobel O' Brien (IZ), who took a mobile selfie of the poster on October 18th because she believed it "shouldn't just be seen in Lincolnshire bars and nightclubs", the Twittersphere got to see the #AskForAngela poster. Suffice to say it went viral. As of 25/10/2016, IZ's tweet has been liked 35,000 times and retweeted 27,000 times. The Australian newspaper, The Age Australia picked up on the #AskForAngela poster and several Australian radio stations have asked for interviews with Lincolnshire Rape Crisis. It would be fantastic to see regional variations of the poster being distributed across the UK, Australia, New Zealand and even in countries such as Norway or Sweden, albeit with regional variations being applied when necessary.

I'm proud to know my home county council and Marc Jones, my local Police and Crime Commissioner have taken such a firm stand against sexual assault and rape and want to prevent as many from happening in the first place. We don't have enough councils and PCCs taking the matter of prevention seriously enough.

Of course after IZ tweeted an image of the #AskForAngela poster, the Twitter trolls came at her with the predictable putdowns. Marcus J, for example said that "women should learn just to say "no thanks" on a bad date", not realising that some people may be frightened of speaking out openly against a bad date person  for fear of being followed out of the bar/club and then being sexually assaulted or raped out in the streets or even at home.  Marcus retorted that he'd expect people to "have a minimum amount of self-awareness and self-confidence to handle the situation like an adult" so as to not "make themselves" a victim (October 18th 2016). Yet what Marcus doesn't understand is that actually by using the #AskForAngela codeword, people would be acting with self-confidence by making sure they protect themselves. So I was glad to see a guy actually speaking up for IZ and the poster campaign by pointing out the need to protect women from the possibility of being sexually assaulted/raped by a bad date. As IZ has pointed out, it is a "safety net" (Oct 19th 2016) and what is actually wrong with having one in place? Naturally Mr Marcus said that the "Feminist Circlejerk" has been closing in on him since he made the comments but I don't think you have to be a feminist to support such a vital campaign. That being said, there is nothing wrong with being a proud intersectional feminist and I certainly am one and shall forever be one.

Then we have another predictable putdown by Daniel Clarke who criticised the poster for being too geared towards women because of its layout and its use of language. Firstly he mentioned the whole "the poster is making women hate men because of the patriarchy broad smear" wah wah argument. Why do guys feel the need to denigrate poster campaigns like this just because it might have been created by Lincolnshire Rape Crisis (who they instantly perceive as being a women's only organisation)?  Daniel then says that the poster asks a person to "ask for a woman...because females are more likely to approach other females if they feel threatened/in danger." (October 24th 2016). OK so what happens if the bad date happens to be a woman? Do you think lesbian/bi/pansexual/queer/gender-neutral women would want to use the code word Angela if one uses Daniel's logic? Or perhaps we all want to ensure we are safe and don't care what code word we need to use in order to guarantee our safety? Hmmm...
Finally Daniel goes back to the idea of women being portrayed as "helpless" that is just so ludicrous that he should go and join Marcus on that extremely naughty step! Women are not helpless because they use their judgement to keep themselves safe. The "damsels in distress" narrative that some blokes have been brought up on needs to be thrown out the window.

So let's address the "elephant in the room" that Daniel and Marcus and others brought up. Is the poster designed just for women? The amazing point that was made by IZ several times on her Twitter Feed was that the poster was found in a GENDER NEUTRAL bathroom and was intended to be seen by men as well as women. It is important to remember that gay, bisexual and heterosexual men can find themselves on a bad date where they may feel they could be taken advantage of physically. You think just because men are "meant" to "look strong enough" and can "sound tough and firm" by saying No to their bad date that they would be immune from being sexually assaulted or date raped? What a "Stone Age" to take! I'd have thought that guys would want to protect their bros from being in this situation and if guys who criticise the poster based on its layout, colour scheme or use of language really care about protecting their fellow bros from being sexually assaulted or raped, they should either get on board with the poster's message and stop critiquing the "femininity" of it or create their own posters that could be displayed in men's bathrooms to help them keep safe on a night out? I'm assuming that Daniel and Marcus do care about heterosexual and gay/bi/transmen or gender/fluid/queer/non-binary individuals enough to want to protect them from being sexually assaulted or raped by an aggressive bad date in the first place?

So yes, I applaud Lincolnshire Rape Crisis, Lincolnshire County Council and  Marc Jones for creating the #AskForAngela posters. I'm glad that the #NoMore campaign will be "relaunched in February 2017 to tie in with the National Sex Violence and Abuse Awareness Week". (Hayley Child, The Independent). It'll be amazing to see how many regional and international variations of the poster appear on social media inspired by the posters. I stand in solidarity with IZ over her tweeting of the poster and her take down of the patriarchal Twitter Trolls who trot out the same lines to try and delegitimise the poster without coming up with any ideas as to how to contribute to sexual assault and bad date rape prevention for Men as well as women, trans, non-binary or queer individuals, hetero as well as lesbian, gay, bi, pansexual people. We need to continue fighting against the #RapeCulture that exists in the world to help all concerned. It's not just a Feminist issue that can be swept under the carpet at will. After what's happened with Trump's sexual assault comments we have to be practical and enact systems that will help prevent sexual assaults and rapes from occurring in the first place. Code word posters are a small but vital practical part of the process and yet again, Lincolnshire leads the way. I couldn't be more proud.

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Vacuousness Behind The "Virtue Signalling" Putdown: Are The Far Right Afraid Of Demonstrating Compassion Online?

"Compassion should never be rationed" - Me RE Donald Trump and his Syrian immigration comments, June 2016.

Showing the strength of your convictions on social media platforms can lead to you seriously getting your fingers burned. You can see it when you show solidarity with rape victims who feel their voices are underrepresented by the Crown Prosecution Service (now being called a "radical feminist bastion" by Conservative women who love berating Twitter Feminism the first chance they get), or talk about the holes in Trashy Donald Trump's "Guns for Gays" protectionist tagline (demonstrating that Trump can't help but erase LBTQIA individuals from key policy discussions who matter just as much as homosexuals) or comment on the increasing Child Refugee Crisis where taking in 100 children is now seen as a "massive risk to our own children" because they don't "look young enough". Being openly positive and compassionate is now worthy of a "Virtue Signalling" putdown by Conservatives and Alt-Righters who want to force you into caring for self and nation first for no other reason than to show charade level solidarity with their "Unity" message which I have very little interest in espousing.

The term "Virtue Signalling" has been in use since 2004 but was popularised by James Bartholomew in his April 2015 article for The Spectator. Essentially, when you write a Facebook post or tweet about an issue knowing you are doing so to garner approval from an "echo chamber", this is seen as virtue signalling. David Shariatmadari in his January 2016 article for The Guardian: "Virtue-Signalling- the putdown that has past its sell-by date" says: "It's a form of vanity, all the worse because it's dressed up as selfless conviction". See more of the article, including responses here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/20/virtue-signalling-putdown-passed-sell-by-date.

I'm not saying some who are progressive in ideology do not use social media platforms to improve their profile/image/brand by making statements that connect with current progressive thinking. Some openly do this because they want to gain favour to manufacture a career, very much like those who audition for the X Factor hoping to get into the music industry without much (if any) experience of the reality of having to gig across the UK in working men's clubs and middle of the road pubs, taking unwarranted abuse from trolls and earning less than the National Minimum Wage for the week after they return home weary and in need of respite. Not many Twitter accounts gain notoriety enough to garner mass approval from an army of likeminded followers unless they have gained their celebrity offline. Even alt-right kingpin tweeters such as Paul John Watson have to appear in the real world to build their brand effectively. And yes, even Paul John Watson will virtue-signal, albeit for entirely different reasons. Sharitatmadari offers a philosophy framework which can be adapted and applied here to demonstrate an example of right wing virtue-signalling:
  1. Trump says that America should build a wall to keep Mexicans from illegally entering the USA. (i.e. he was right on building a wall) so Paul John Watson reiterates that and says he was right-on this.
  2. Virtue-signalling is when you say something right-on just to sound good to an audience (usually by agreeing with central proponents of the ideology/ central discussers of the issue)
  3.  Therefore Paul John Watson is virtue-signalling.
Whilst most analysts focus on how the extreme far left use "virtue-signalling" to draw attention to issues such as #GunSense laws in the US (which call for such "ridiculous" things as updating registration systems or making sure guns must be kept secure in houses so toddlers can't gain access to them and put themselves and others accidentally in danger), "virtue-signalling" is also used with reference to right wing Islamophobia- e.g. the idea that it is "right to keep Muslims out of the US" because it is the right thing for an Evangelical Christian to do. What "sounds good" or "right" or "virtuous" to one social group will sound terrible to another, hence the claim of virtue-signalling being used to try and silence someone on an issue. Whether you are left, right, centrist or have no ideological preference leaning it probably isn't a smart idea to be throwing around the term to offend without fully understanding that it can be applied generically to anyone.

Instead, I'd like to see people following CS Lewis's example: in the third section of his book Mere Christianity (1953) called Christian Behaviour, Lewis talks about Christianity's connection with compassion and empathy and how Jesus taught us never to limit these virtues regardless of who we may come in contact with in our lives. Lewis's most important point is that Christianity mandates that one "love your neighbor as yourself." All persons unconditionally love themselves. Even if one does not like oneself, one would still love oneself. Christians, he writes, "must also apply this attitude to others, even if they do not like them." Lewis calls this one of the "great secrets": "when one acts as if he loves others, he will presently come to love them." That's why the Hillary Clinton slogan campaign "Love Trump's Hate" resonates with Lutheran Christians like me. Trump may dehumanise immigrants who are "illegal" as criminals (bad hombres), Muslims who come from the Middle East (bad refugees) and women who dare to look him in the eye and rebuke him for terrible sexual assault behaviours which he must have known were wrong but felt he could undertake because he was "powerful" but it is better to love him unconditionally as a person and think of him as being redeemable than writing him off as a bad sort altogether, as he seems to have done to Hillary with his constant "Hillary for Prison" and NRA gun owners should "take Hillary out to protect the 2nd Amendment (Gun Rights) diatribes.

Christians should believe in the power of redemption and that's why I find those Christians who want to combat redemption measures by believing in absolute death penalties or punishment for some women carrying out abortions or hating those who want to be married to each other but are of the same gender/sexuality weird. I find them to be very weird people. I don't hate them for their weirdness; I hope they will see the error of their logic and redeem themselves. Redemption is bestowed on us by God and is never rationed. Redemption is a form of compassion. If it is "virtue-signalling" to point that out, then so be it. As Jesus said to his disciples :“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing....If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit....You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:5, 7–8, 16). Maybe Trump will remember that even he has some benefit to humanity, albeit it may be quite skewered at the moment and his Alt-Right cult may follow him into demonstrating compassion to others online in the future if they are as "fundamentally Christian" as they purport themselves to be.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Challenging Rape Culture: Why Everyone Should Care!

Firstly I shall admit I am a committed intersectional feminist. Any readers of my blog who have read previous entries concerning my feelings on feminism, especially intersectional feminism will know I care deeply about trying to debunk stereotypes and to look at constructive ways both supporters and opponents of (generically bland without doing any extensive research form of) "feminism" can work together to make change happen, something Bernie Sanders has been trying to get Millennials to do for the benefit of Americans and beyond.

I do strongly believe we have a problem in the UK and Worldwide with a culture that openly allows most sexual assault and rape cases to go unchallenged and unpunished. Rape Crisis has reported that "approximately 85,000 women are raped in England Wales every year" (An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics and Home Office, January 2013). Sexual assault and rape cases that do not just involve adult women victims but male victims, child victims, LGBTQIA victims, disabled victims too. Rape Crisis says that approximately 12,000 men are raped every year in England and Wales alone (An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales). It is time that rape culture deniers understood that anyone can be a victim of sexual assault or rape and that everyone should want to adopt a proactive approach to prevent sexual assault and rape cases from happening whenever possible to do so.  We need to debunk myths, challenge stereotypes and embrace a holistic approach. Let's start by understanding rape culture as it stands.

Rape culture exists because (pretty much) globally we have internalised the belief that victims will never truly be believed by criminal justice figures and consequently will never secure an appropriate conviction that sets a precedent for others to follow. Many women in particular believe, as Molly Reddon, US Guardian writer has pointed out in her reflections on the #WhyWomenDontReport Sexual Assault and Rape hashtag that they "have normalised harassment just to make it work...and of course the harassment is so quiet that if you react forcefully, you're the one making a scene. Or misinterpreting things". This need to downplay harassment on the streets leads to a feeling that talking about sexual assault or rape crime might also lead to them being told they are "making a scene" or "misinterpreting things". You'd be mistaken to believe that trans non-binary people such as myself only begin to receive such harassment when we have "indicated" our gender preference. LGBTQIA individuals experience a similar form of harassment, especially if we show any sense of "sexual sensuality" in public. However, even heterosexual men can become victims of sexual assault or rape, something which is conveniently forgotten by tweeters who boast of teenage boys being "lucky" if they get raped by an older woman or not giving their partners "enough sex" if they wake up finding them on their penis without consent being given. So whether you are a man or woman, queer or gender-fluid/non-binary, hetero or homosexual or expressing a different form of gender identity or sexuality you can be a victim of sexual assault or rape. It is despicable, then, that we live in a culture that consistently prefers to "slut shame" and "victim blame" than to deter and prevent sexual assaults and rape crimes being perpetrated in the first place. Even when teachers do address issues concerning consent in the classroom the lessons are often only given to girls and the emphasis is on to telling them "don't get raped" rather than telling all students "not to rape in the first place". Lack of awareness of the damage that sexual assault and rape perpetrators inflict on their victims, lack of prosecutions and lack of comprehensive, genderless, impartial Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) are reasons as to why we see a horrendous amount of tweets from Millennials that seem malicious, ill informed and non compassionate towards victims, when they first hear the story, during trials (if the case is lucky to get to court) and after a guilty or not guilty verdict against the perpetrator/accused.

Social Media Hashtagging: #WhyWomenDont Report and #ChedEvans

So many social media responses to hashtags and articles that are created to discuss sexual assault and rape experiences end up being negative in tone. I've reprinted a selection of tweets below that were sent using the #ChedEvans hashtag after it was announced on October 14th 2016 that Ched Evans had been found not guilty of rape after a retrial was ordered following new evidence which seemed to vindicate Mr Evans.

Ched Evans Case: A Selection of Tweets:
  • "Little slag ruined the lads life I think he should now be able to rape her. " Oliver Brennan, October 14th 2016.
  • "The girl that lied about Ched Evans raping her should be put on trial, nobody should be able to ruin a life and get away with it " Harry (Simply Southend) October 14th 2016.
  • "The bird who lied & ruined Ched Evans life should be fed to an angry pack of wolfs " Ollie, October 14th 2016.
  • "The amount of compensation Ched Evans should get from all those feminists who slagged him off. " Redwood (Harry Redwood), October 14th, 2016.
  • "The Ched Evans case is a perfect example of the shit women can get away with " Sean Banville, October 14th, 2016.
  • "I dream of a day where feminism no longer needs to exist, so the ideology can't be exploited by deluded man-hating halfwits. " Adam Littler, October 15th, 2016.
  • "The Victim did NOT accuse #ChedEvans of rape, the Police prepared the file for the #CPS; they are the ones who have the green light for trial." Eve Thomas, October 15 2016.
  • "Drunken consent" is NOT consent! A woman's sexual history shouldn't be a determining factor. Do prostitutes not get raped?" Tenancious T, October 14th 2016.
  • " The fact NOBODY came forward to suggest the claimant made a habit of having threesome should have spoken volumes. " GordonBrown, October 16th 2016.
  • "Still waiting for someone to introduce me to the woman who profited from reporting her rapist. " Katie Klabusich, October 14th 2016.
  • ""women lie about rape for money and attention." Ched Evans accuser was forced to move 5 times and go into hiding. How did she 'benefit'?" Rossalyn Warren, October 14th 2016.
I've seen no end of (male) tweeters who blame feminism particularly for an increase in rape accusations and they seem to attribute this increase to hardening societal attitudes towards "flirtatious behaviour" and their mistaken idea that women who have extensive sexual histories can never truly be victims of rape. Feminism has partly been responsible for empowering women (and men) to speak out against their abusers and attackers and feminists regularly help to fund and volunteer for charities which seek to protect, house, support and fight for victims regardless of their individual circumstances (although not always effectively for LGBTQIA and male victims). So lambasting feminists for daring to care for female victims and their rights and mental health is unhelpful. If these tweeters had a real issue with feminists dominating sexual assault and rape discourse and wanted to help male victims and survivors, they would actually bother to volunteer, fundraise for charities such as Gender Free DV who actively campaign for married men, LGBTQIA, disabled, elderly victims of domestic violence and abuse, of which sexual assault and rape are an unavoidable part. If you're going to attack feminists for caring about the welfare of victims after the outcome of a not-guilty verdict, why don't you care for victims who may share many of your own characteristics and politics who may be ignored by the system? I'd rather be guilty of caring than guilty of inaction.

I would like to remind  tweeters that we live in a culture where all accused men and women are innocent until proven in a court of law, but even if they are found not guilty of rape, it doesn't mean that the accused's conduct was beyond reproach or in some instances that they didn't commit the crime. Yes there are false accusations of rape and sexual assault being banded about usually as a result of revenge but instances are extremely rare. For many victims/survivors of sexual assault and rape, the experience has left them emotionally and physically shaken and they find it extremely difficult to recount such experiences even if they happened 20/30 years ago. It's funny to me that we now expect rape victims to be able to keep a contemporaneous record of their actions and feelings following the rape, starting from the first day onwards to be able to even have a chance of proving that sexual assault or rape took place. Ask yourselves honestly: would you be able to write down or type an account of your emotions the day after being raped by your husband for not submitting to his desire to have sex? Would you be able to explain how you felt to a family member about being penetrated in the mouth by a stranger after walking home from a club when you can't bring yourself to accept it happened let alone tell your Mum or Dad? Very few people keep diaries these days so wouldn't even think of noting down their feelings about the whimsical follies of daily life- like how many sausages I had for dinner or whether Poldark declared his life for full fat milk or full fat chocolate to Elizabeth. (By the way, good on Heida Reed for asking Mammoth Screen and scriptwriter Debbie Horsfield to get rid of the rape scene between Elizabeth and Poldark for Series 2...a brave decision but sends an important message about representation of sexual assaults and rape on screen...we don't need to portray it when it is unecessary to do so).

I believe we need to be realistic and try and place ourselves in the shoes of the victim before we start making "Holier Than Thou" value judgements or submit a flurry of curse and death tweets to a survivor who has bravely decided to come out and tell their story. You may choose to believe them or not but being non-compassionate is not acceptable by any religious or atheistic moral standard. Naturally most tweeters think that the survivor will never get to read the tweet; that when questioned they would say it was "harmless banter" and that she was a "lying bint" anyways and deserved being shamed publically online. That sort of throw-away hate comment approach needs to be addressed and better ICT coverage of social media usage issues will help address this in the future.

I read an interesting blogpost that was submitted to me by Maggie Bernet through Twitter following my republishing of a blogpost detailing my experience of coming to terms with being orally raped. In "Compassion", (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/compassion-maggie-bernet), Bernet talks of
Western culture as one that essentially treats boys/men as "babies" who need to be spoilt and told they are of higher worth than girls/women on a daily basis. Bernet believes that "the moment a mother, parent, caregiver and even the village raises a boy to respect the mother/girl, we will have less rape and sexual violence". I do agree with Bernet to a point: some men are raised to prioritise/worship patriarchal roles whilst taking matriarchal roles for granted and this can lead to a distortion concerning a "woman's worth". However there are cases where men and women have been brought up to respect both father and mother and to see both genders as being equal to one another and yet they still commit sexual assault and rape crimes. In many ways it defies logical reasoning. That makes me angry but it still doesn't mean we shouldn't try and address the question of patriarchal privilege, especially within the Criminal Justice system.

Finding Solutions:
  1. Revisit your own definition of rape and sexual assault; look at legal definitions online from authentic resources such as Citizens Advice Bureau or Women's Aid. If in doubt, remember that sex without consent will at least constitute sexual assault (e.g. if woman on woman).
  2. Remember that there are few examples of false accusations of sexual assault or rape. Just because one allegation has been proved false doesn't mean that 1000s of other allegations are false too.
  3. Put yourself in a victim's shoes: How would you feel if you had been raped but had decided not to come forward until many years later for fear of being attacked again? If you are not in the courtroom hearing the evidence from a rape trial directly from witnesses or from lawyers, is it appropriate to pass judgement on a victim without not fully knowing the circumstances? However, the "innocent until proven guilty" concept must be respected for the accused so it is better not to make unqualified claims whilst the trial is taking place.
  4. Challenge your own unconscious biases. Try not to judge victims based on their sexual identity/history. Think about prostitutes/sex workers; if one person forces themselves on a prostitute, would you automatically dismiss their testimony because of their sexual history or how they make their money? If a gay man is raped by a straight man, would you say he "led him on" or "secretly wanted it" even though there was no consent given? Remember, flirting is not consent!
  5. Actively challenge rape apologists on social media platforms but from an empathetic viewpoint. Explain why they shouldn't be using misogynistic language to refer to rape victims by making them aware that anyone can be a rape victim. Educate them rather than patronise them. Ask whether they would be angry if their family relative/friend was accused of lying about sexual assault.
  6. Debunk the myth that Feminism has helped increase rape accusations "for the sake of shaming men". Feminists do help to support rape victims by being actively involved in charity work, so they are not "cancerous" as some extreme far-right activists would have you believe. Rape accusations will increase when rape culture is being hackled head on and victims are encouraged to come forward and try and get justice for what they have had to endure. Never use "Feminism" as an excuse to close down discussion of male/transgender victim narratives, especially if their perpetrator was female; all victims deserve to have their voices heard and it is unhelpful to try and downplay one narrative to highlight another. Take an intersectional approach!
  7. Support comprehensive, impartial Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). Write to your local MP to get him/her to recommend making SRE compulsory for all secondary school students so they all understand the legal definition of consent, rape and what consequences could be faced by them if they choose to break the law. SRE should also cover LGBTQIA rape issues so that all students, regardless of gender identity or sexuality understand the need to respect each other's bodies and privacy, even if they happen to be married or in a relationship. Challenging conservative religious attitudes to marriage and sex such as the idea of "body ownership" would be helpful here.
  8. Support local and national victim charities such as Women's Aid, Gender Free DV by offering your skills, time or money. Charities do not just need trained counsellors and front-line providers to run effectively; many are crying out for Administrators, Fundraisers and  HR Assistants to help run back office functions and they would appreciate your help, even if it is only a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. You don't have to be a woman or a feminist to get involved and you could help make a real difference and demonstrate your committment to helping challenge rape culture and low conviction rates!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

New Horizons, New Pitfalls: Life After Coming Out

"Authenticity, it is almost needless to say, consists in having a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks it involves, in accepting it … sometimes in horror and hate." John Paul Sartre, Anti Semite And Jew 1948.

Happy National Coming Out Day to my American blog readers! I know that Twitter's probably rife with political blundering spin merchants trying to get you to vote for Trashy Trump because they say he'll protect LGBTQIA people (just by having a not so well thought out free gun giveaway) even though he hasn't bothered tweeting support for those who have decided to come out today. He probably doesn't realise how much of a big deal it is announcing to the world (or your Mum) that you identify differently in terms of your gender or sexuality. I was pretty lucky really; having come out as gay at 16 to my parents after having an argument over a girl friend I was close to that they thought was my actual first girlfriend meant by the time they realised I was seriously considering changing my gender identity at 27 it was like hearing a pin drop fall into the Atlantic Ocean!

For a lot of trans people, the process is much more difficult. You never really know what reaction to expect, even if your parents/partner/children seemed pretty liberal with their moral views beforehand. You don't want to offend folks by wearing non-conformist clothing or kissing your future boyfriend/girlfriend/gender-fluid/queer partner in front of them but at the same time you feel that you have to live an authentic life and express it before you end up being stifled by gender or sexual conformity. Questioning your gender or sexuality can lead to a genuine crisis of self confidence that may never truly get resolved. It can lead to some cheating on their wives, husbands, partners just because they feel the need to experiment to express their authenticity. This can be a "moment of weakness", "a night of passion" or a full blown torrid affair of the heart and genitals. Cheating/adultery to me in any form is abhorrent (it might explain my reluctance to get involved with anyone on a romantic level) but I'm not "snowflakey" enough to say that it should/can never happen.

For me, coming out as transgender wasn't about trying to attract a boyfriend, trying to become "gender conformist" or to explain away my "abnormality". Labelling myself as transgender meant that I had sarcastic Tweeters and Facebook trolls casually reflecting on my mental state, my ability to create "rational thoughts" about anything or that I was using my gender identity to make a purely political statement, that I wasn't really serious about transitioning because I'd never "go through with Hormone Replacement Therapy or Gender Reassignment Surgery"otherwise I'd label myself as transsexual and keep quiet on "political issues" such as allowing gender-neutral bathrooms to be installed in every public service building or allowing extra employment rights such as time off for aforementioned surgery to take place. Initially I didn't really think about any of that. It was just a way of explaining to others that whilst I had been born biologically a male, I didn't identify as being biologically or culturally male. Yes I understand people may have issues with a biological as well as a cultural disavowing of masculinity/maleness/machismo but it was my choice, my decision how to explain why I was going to change my body and lifestyle. Everyone should have the choice to be able to label themselves how they want and identify how they want. That's a basic definition of freedom of expression. But again I'm not green enough to believe we live in a world of total freedom of expression. I leave that to radical nationalists who believe they can say (and do) anything to make themselves feel they are in control, exerting power over those who they believe are there to fulfil their every whim and desire. I'm certainly not a whore for sexual deviants who want to indulge in a bit of elicit "sex on the side". If I believed in such regressive tripe I'd have to tolerate murderers and rapists for their freedom to act in a vile manner without being open to challenge and I just don't have it in me to do that. We have freedom of expression in the confines of current law. In the UK this means that we can identify as transgender and are protected at work by our Equality Act, whether ultra right wing Conservatives like us identifying as transgender or not. It's true to say that the EA is far from perfect. There's no explicit mention of protection for gender fluid, queer and non-binary people; it is only implied by extending protections for trans people to them meaning that their rights can be open to challenge. I'm fighting tooth and nail to try and change the EA to make it fully inclusive Protected Characteristic wise by changing the characteristic from "Gender Reassignment" to "Gender Identity".  As an equal opportunity activist it would be remiss of me not to fight on this point. It breaks the myth perpetuated by some bitter Right Wingers that trans people are "very selfish" after they come out. Trans people are far from selfish! Yes some trans people might be preoccupied at times with trying to raise money for gender reassignment surgery, especially if they live in countries where the surgery is not paid for, such as the US but that does not mean they don't care how women are treated after being sexually assaulted if the person is FTM trans. A few "bad eggs" cannot be allowed to poison the reputation of trans people for those wanting to come out as trans.

When you come out as transgender, you should know that you have a level of protection from discrimination within the workplace. Employment Tribunals are not the only avenue you can go down to get your voice heard.If your parents are abusive towards you after you come out as transgender, you can report them to the Police who should then investigate their behaviour under Control and Coercion Regulations or Hate Crime legislation. If the police officer refuses to investigate, report them to your local Police and Crime Commissioner or tweet the Women and Equality Minister or contact Stonewall. If you are made homeless by your parents or partner after you come out as transgender, you can approach your local council and ask to be rehoused or get in touch with charities who I know would do anything they could to try and stop you ending up on the street. One of my biggest fears before I came out as gay was that my Dad would straight away evict me out on the streets at 16 before I even had the chance to complete my GCSEs, destroying my chances of getting on to do A Levels, go to University and perhaps get into a profession (not that I've managed to do the last yet!) Many young LGBTQIA people feel that they would be disowned and left to fend for themselves. It's a fear that we need to try and combat. I hope one day there will be more charities dedicated to ensuring that these teenagers and children never end up homeless because of their choice to disclose their gender or sexuality preference. Finally, no LGBTQIA should be rewarded for their brave decision to come out by being trolled or bullied into believing they have a mental illness. Those LGBTQIA people who are suffering from depression, anxiety or pre-existing conditions deserve comprehensive treatment and part of this includes ensuring that their gender or sexuality choice isn't automatically scapegoated. More psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses need to stop bringing their personal/unconscious bias into the treatment room. More teachers, social workers, youth workers and religious leaders need to realise that labelling an LGBTQIA person as "unbalanced" or need of "treatment" is damaging and can lead to them self-harming because they believe the hype they are "abnormal. It can even lead to a person taking their own life only a short while after coming out. This has to be prevented. Nobody deserves to suffer for wanting to be authentic, for wanting to be true to themselves.

Remember, coming out is an individual decision and it should always be your choice when, where,  how and to who you choose to come out to. If you are already out, you must remember that you do not have the choice to make up someone's mind up what their gender or sexuality "definitively is" or where and how they choose to do this whether you have been wronged by that person or not. You might not know their personal situation because they may have chosen not to reveal that to you. That might seem annoying, especially if they dump you and go with someone else but if you chose to get involved with that person in the first place then you have to accept their right to privacy. Equally if you are friends with someone who is closeted or a self-confessed LGBTQIA "ally",  don't pressurise them to come out. Be supportive and encouraging, listen to them when they need support and advise them only when they ask for advice. Outing them doesn't do your friend any favours and may lead to them disowning you in the long run!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Dissecting Theresa May's Conference Speech 2016: The View From 4 Key Voters in Lincoln

Wow. What a difference a week makes in politics. Last Wednesday I was gearing up to listen to a Jeremy Corbyn speech with the expectations of a flea desperately trying to avoid being swotted by the fortitude of a clever Machiavellian Mrs Theresa May. I must say that Mr Corbyn far exceeded my own expectations when he delivered a speech with gusto and personal warmth; offering a "21st century socialism" that worked for working class voters in Grimsby and Lincoln as well as middle class voters in Edinburgh and Newcastle. So when I tuned in to Theresa May's speech this afternoon with a panel of 4 voters who each had different voting intentions at the last General Election held in 2015, I honestly didn't know what to expect. I hadn't been particularly impressed by the coverage I had seen during the Conservative Party conference what with:
  • Andrea Leadsom's "let young British people be fruit pickers" in a ploy to make it a bastion of National Citizen Service (NCS) meets Workfare meets "Voluntary work experience" with very little prospect of getting a well paid job at the end of it.
  • Amber Rudd's unfortunate comment that English Literature international students might not actually have enough English Language skills to study the course despite IELTS Cambridge examinations (at least 6.0 for Science and 6.5 for Arts/Social Sciences)  being at least the minimum requirement and these students pay at least £115 to sit these tests, often out of their own pockets.
  • David Davis and that "Leaver Lies were untrue" comment in an effort to erase the £350m for the NHS bus and that racist immigration poster that was actually a picture of refugees fleeing persecution.
Notwithstanding all this Nationalistic Tomfoolery, I was perfectly prepared to give Theresa May a chance and so watched a recording of her speech along with a transcript ready for debate. Amazingly Mrs May's speech did generate a lot of conversation despite what I thought was a speech of pandering, gerrymandering and grandstanding to Ultra Right Wing Brexiteers and Leave voters instead of trying to address the concerns of Remain voters over immigration rhetoric. Anyways here's what other voters in Lincoln thought: (with the substitution of Voter B for a UKIP voter who is considering voting Conservative at the next GE at the request of Voter B from my Labour survey.)

Location: Birchwood Ward, Lincoln, Lincolnshire.
Date: 05/10/2016.
Panel: No party members just "ordinary" voters:
Voter A:  Accounts Assistant, Female, 24, Labour voter.
Voter B: Unemployed Painter and Decorator, Male, 55, swing voter considering Conservatives (voted UKIP at GE 2015).
Voter C: Business owner, Male, 67, Conservative voter.
Voter D: Nurse (in care home), Female, 48,  swing voter considering Labour or WEP at next GE.

Policy Statements
Voter A
Voter B
Voter C
Voter D
Britain's Quiet Revolution”
I voted to Remain; I don't feel part of the “Quiet Revolution” that Theresa May is speaking about. I'm worried that this kind of rhetoric could stir up tensions between Remainers and Brexiteers. Ignoring the wishes of 48% of the population with grandstanding and gerrymandering won't impress me. Hope the whole speech isn't like this.
I'm a proud “Quiet Revolutionary” and I'm glad Theresa May has thanked Mr Cameron for allowing the country to vote for Brexit. I'm hoping Mrs May gets on with Brexit and makes it a great success for Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England and the UK as a whole.
I like Mrs May's use of rhetoric to refer to the democratic decision to leave the EU as a “Quiet Revolution.” I didn't tell my employees how they should vote and didn't reveal I voted to Leave until after the 23rd June. I do think Mrs May now understands the need for positivity and engagement on Brexit matters.
I am and remain a proud Remainer; the decision to leave the EU will be disastrous for me as I rely on the “Freedom of Movement” policy to go to France for work every fortnight. I think Mrs May does a great injustice to Remain voters by referring to the Leave movement as a “Quiet Revolution”. Far more rowdy and divisive than she is admitting.
Someone who finds themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration”.
Mrs May is quick to blame immigrants for “Native” British workers being unemployed. She hasn't thought about the need to retrain older workers to take on jobs created by the Logistics industry/digital industries. Everyone has to adapt to survive.
Theresa May makes a fair comment here...I'm an unemployed painter and decorator and have heard of Polish immigrants being hired over men like me because they are prepared to work for below the Minimum Wage. Even if they do work for the NMW they say they will work “longer hours” than British people then lay about and do much less work than British people would have done.
I think Mrs May hits the nail on the head when it comes to unemployment issues for British workers. I'm in favour of having employment policies that allow British workers to apply for or get a job before advertising abroad/advertising to immigrants. All immigrants who work for me have to have high standards of English Language skills whether they are cleaning or doing the accounts. We need to make sure British youth are upskilled to get jobs though.
Mrs May is blaming immigrants for British people's laziness to do “hard work”. They won't work out in the fields for NMW or help look after elderly people despite there being a shortage of care assistants at the moment. An attitude change is needed if they are going to fill the gap- be positive towards immigrants and praise them for their work or get unemployed British painters and decorators off their arse and into the care profession to plug the gap.
Article 50- triggered before the end of March”.
Finally Mrs May has sort of created a timeframe for Brexit. Scotland may attempt to block Mrs May from carrying out Brexit and there may be a chance to hold a second EU Ref. Nothing Mrs May or the Tories can say will convince me Brexit is a good idea.
It's good that Theresa has decided she will trigger Article 50.I wish it had been in July to stop the great Remoaners in their tracks. I hope Mrs May, Mr Davis, Mr Fox and Mr Johnson will not stall once the process starts just to placate Scottish nationalists like Nicola “Stubborn” Sturgeon.
Mrs May continues to demonstrate her calm, considerate resolve by deciding when best to trigger Article 50. Her Government's handling of Brexit negotiations will be far better than Mr Cameron could have achieved. I'm sure Mrs May has planned for every eventuality. UKIP couldn't even hold onto a female leader who had any resolve to “get things done”. Mrs May is truly the heir to the great Maggie Thatcher.
I'm angry the Government is going ahead with Brexit without taking into account Scottish, English, Northern Irish or Welsh Remainer views. I think some countries may try and be quite harsh rhetoric wise to the UK Government. I'm not sure whether research cooperation, visa/freedom of movement rights will ever be the same again. I don't want to pay more to co-operate with my European friends.
A Great Repeal Bill to get rid of the European Communities Act”.
This was grandstanding of epic proportions. Why on earth this bill needed a “grand” title that's rather Victorianesque in appearance is beyond me. We already knew there would have to be legal repealing of the ECA. Why make it such an important part of two speeches when working class people want to know whether their employment rights such as paid parental leave or not being discriminated against at work on the basis of race, nationality or gender (Equality Act) will be affected.
Theresa May's highlighting of this policy in her two key speeches at this year's Conservative Party Conference has been extremely welcome. Hopefully Remoaner SNP and Labour MPs won't stop the progress of this “Great Repeal Bill” through Parliament to score cheap points. I wish more UKIP MPs were in Parliament to prevent this from happening. I trust Karl McCartney (Lincoln Conservative MP who voted for Brexit) will stand up for our Brexiteer interests.
Mrs May was right to mention this policy in both speeches as it is an important one. It shows that Brexit really does mean Brexit and Remain MPs are going to have to accept it. Of course I expect some disruption but as the great trade deals start being put on Mrs May's table from France, Germany, Spain and Denmark the Remainer criticisms will start to diminish.
I don't like the rhetoric Mrs May has used with regards to Brexit. This “Great Repeal Bill” nonsense reminds me of grandiose names given to Bills back in Imperialist times. Mrs May is pandering to ultra-right Brexiteers so they don't scupper her plans for a “more socially equal” society. If Mrs May only focuses on Brexiteer concerns, she will never be seen as the voice of the centre ground. If I'm being perfectly honest, Mrs May is a sell-out. Why couldn't she stand up to her critics and question the validity of Scottish objections to Brexit? Weak.
Allow companies total freedom to operate within the Single Market.”
This is a welcome sentiment but I think it may be entirely idealistic. I'm not sure how the UK can negotiate free trade without freedom of movement and then not expect Norway and Switzerland to challenge them on this “bespoke deal”. The EU can't be seen to be guilty of favoritism.
I'm not bothered about the “Single Market”. I think Britain would prosper outside of it. I don't think we should compromise on freedom of movement. I want control over our borders. So if Mrs May can get that guarantee for businesses, that's great but it doesn't affect me.
I hope Mr Davis and Mr Fox can secure this concession from the EU. I think we can afford to compromise a little on freedom of movement but if that's not possible I think we may have to bite our tongue and accept Single Market rules, like Norway. I need the “Single Market” to be able to do trading deals with France and Germany especially, but I do want to do away with the unnecessary red-tape. A bit conflicted here.
I would be concerned if we lost the right to trade in the “Single Market.” We are each other's most important trading partners after all. I don't think countries like Sweden and France will compromise on freedom of movement, especially as they know Norway doesn't have such a favorable deal. If you want to stay in the “Single Market”, accept freedom of movement. Simple as that.
Ratifying the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.”
I care deeply about the environment and feel we need to do more to address Climate Change by having appropriate domestic policies. We need to move away from using fossil fuels and invest in clean energy resources. I don't like the fact we are investing in nuclear energy power plants when we should be investing in tidal and hydroelectric power. Harness power of the waves not atoms. Whilst I am happy Mrs May will definitely ratify the “Paris Agreement on Climate Change” she hasn't really provided much substance on any new environmental policies in her speech. A bit disappointing.
I think left-wingers care too much about environmental policies and not enough about improving working class people's lives by providing more jobs in the energy sector. I think Mrs May was trying to appease climate change scientists and liberal conservatives with this policy. Me I couldn't care less where my energy comes from. I don't have an opinion on Climate Change.
Mrs May is correct to confirm the Govt will ratify the “Paris Agreement on Climate Change”, especially as there is evidence both the US and China will comply with regulations contained within the agreement. Climate Change is real and I do care about looking after the environment; after all Lincs is a rural county and we rely on a healthy environment to maintain our agricultural sector growth.
I don't think Mrs May could really get away with NOT ratifying the “Paris Agreement”. I think her speech did lack any real new direction in energy or environment policy and I'd like to have seen announcements on hydroelectric, tidal, wind and other clean energy investment projects. We need to make important changes to our energy policy even if this means short term pain for long term gain. Mrs May should have dismissed the Hinckley Point project because it is too expensive to build, tax payers will pay too much for the energy generated and it is harmful to our environment.
Never again-in any future conflict- let those activist, left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave- the men and women of Britain's Armed Forces.”
Ideological attack on human rights lawyers here by Mrs May. No person is beyond reproach for their actions. What happens if an Armed Forces member committed an act of terrorism, raped innocent refugees, raped a fellow colleague, bullied them over their gender identity or sexuality or committed fraud whilst on active service? Very stupid response.
Finally a Prime Minister sticks up for the Armed Forces in a key speech! I served when I was a teen and felt I was demonised for wanting to protect and serve my country. I don't think any “Holier-Than-Thou” lawyer should tell a brave soldier that they should be prosecuted for carrying out their duties when serving abroad. Good on Mrs May!
Left-wing lawyers do seem to have an agenda and Mrs May is right to point this out. Some liberals might view this as an attack on their own values but we must show respect for our hard-working, brave servicepeople instead of demonising them for carrying out their duties when in Iraq or anywhere else.
This is an extremely reprehensible comment by Mrs May. I think we should respect the Armed Forces in general but if someone has committed a crime, whether abroad or in the UK whilst in the service of “Queen and Country”, they need to be held accountable for their actions. A raped civilian or abused colleague deserves justice. There's nothing politically motivated about trying to get that justice.
Support sectors of the economy- financial services, life sciences, tech aerospace, car manufacturing, the creative industries...that are of strategic importance to our economy, and do everything we can to encourage, develop and support them”.
Theresa May starts by mentioning “financial services”. Once again bankers are at the top of the magic money bailout tree. The Conservatives never learn when it comes to presenting a diverse PR image of the economy. Why not start by highlighting the success of companies like Mammoth Screen who have created many amazing shows that are exported abroad -e.g. Poldark or Victoria?? Creative industries, heritage industries, cleaning services are all at the back of the queue. It's like saying to a young person- “be a banker if you want to be admired, be an actor if you want to be smeared”.
Mrs May never mentioned construction, painters and decorators, agricultural or tourist industries as “strategic sectors of the economy”. She once again put the banking sector at the top of the pile and that makes me think the Conservatives care only for rich, highly skilled people when it comes to bailing them out of money messes. UKIP stands for the working man, that's why I voted for them at the last GE. Mrs May's only talking the talk here and I'm just not that convinced.
As a businessman working in financial services I'm happy Mrs May mentioned my industry as being of “strategic importance” to the national economy. I was also pleased to see Mrs May mention up and coming sectors like car manufacturing as well as the creative industries under this label. “Brand Britain” is what it is all about. We need to make sure local workers have the skills to be able to enter such sectors-e.g. Apprenticeships to retrain Arts graduates who can't enter the creative sector or providing IT skills to older workers to get them into Logistics or Engineering. Positivity from Mrs May abounds.
I think Mrs May, like most Tory party members, care only for “money making” sectors. If you are a grammar school/public school leaver, have high skills in Maths or Science and can charm the pants off an employer with “Old Boy rhetoric” you'll get in to Financial Services easily. If you have no such connections you end up having to fight ferociously to gain skills needed to enter the top professions. No mention is made here positively of lawyers, doctors, nurses, cleaners, care workers, gas pump attendants, workers in the green energy sector, translators, teachers or social workers. Not fair enough here.
Maintain Help-To-Buy and Right-To-Buy.”
If you can afford to scrap together a deposit or are in a permanent, full time job or help satisfy the bank requirements to gain a mortgage, these policies will help. Millions of workers stuck on low wages cannot afford to put money by to get a mortgage because of high rents or housing shortages or lack of stable employment.
I'd like to buy my own home but I don't earn enough to put money away. I have 3 kids to feed, clothe and provide a roof for. Mrs May hasn't shown any willingness to raise the NMW to £10 an hour like Labour and don't seem to have a proper plan to build more housing. Labour wins me in this area.
Help-To-Buy and Right-To-Buy are brilliant policies designed to help aspiring first time home owners get a foot on a property ladder or to secure their council house as their home for life. There's nothing wrong with helping those who can and want to use their spare money to save up.
I benefited from these “buying” policies back in the 1980's but realised most people in my local area or in the care home sector couldn’t. Now Mrs May hasn't really addressed the issue of high rents or announced a big enough public investment project to build houses for young families. She doesn't inspire much confidence in me that it'd ever happen under a Tory Govt.
Press ahead plans for High Speed 2 (HS2).”
We need a modern transport system to help employers and employees connect faster, easier and cheaper than nowadays. HS2 is ok in the Western cities but I want to see rail infrastructure improved in Lincs and the East Mids. We matter too!
I think HS2 seems like a good idea but it won't really benefit Lincs rail passengers. When will we ever get a rail upgrade or cheaper fares?
HS2 is the way forward. Mrs May has indicated in her speech that other rail infrastructure projects may happen in the future. I think rail fares are relatively fair but would appreciate any policy that helps cut fares for my staff.
HS2 is being implemented without much concern being shown for impact on rural communities or wildlife. If Mrs Leadsom could show how environmental concerns have been taken into account I may be more receptive to rail infrastructure projects in Lincs but let's make sure the trains run on green energy- solar power not nuclear based power.
New national security safeguards- e.g. over nuclear plants at Hinckley.”
As mentioned previously I am against Hinckley Point and expanding of nuclear power stations but not because I hate other countries investing in infrastructure projects. Why would China want to use nuclear power stations to destroy Britain? Maybe if Mr Trump becomes President of the US I might have to review my thinking.
Absolutely we must ensure we have the most stringent safeguards at Hinckley. Don't let the Chinese have access to our nuclear capability in any form, whether they invest here or not. They only want to make money off the back of energy rate payers anyways. Would rather the Govt had fully invested in Hinckley Point and elbowed the “Chinkies” out.
Countries can invest in our infrastructure provided they understand they do not “own” our assets for their national security purposes. I very much doubt China would try and gain access to Hinckley Point capabilities but at least the debate has inspired the creation of safeguards within the nuclear energy and other trading sectors such as financial services or property services.
Did the UK really need to get China to invest in a French-run nuclear energy plant scheme? I think it was an ill-thought out decision which energy users will be paying for, for decades. I wish that the same level of investments could be sought in clean energy resources by the Environment Secretary. Under the Tories this will never happen. At least Labour had the resolve to question the Hinckley Point project in public.
Review employment legislation to make sure they are “properly protected at work.”
Mrs May has not provided any substance to illustrate what such a “review” might look like. This makes me anxious for those who are not British citizens who are currently employed in high-skill sector jobs. We cannot afford to roll back any of the employment legislation on parental leave, discrimination or the Working Time Directive. Labour have stated they will ensure Working Time Directive is ratified into UK Law. I trust them more when it comes to employment rights.
I think it's perfectly sensible to have a review of workers' rights after the Brexit process has been completed. Do we really need to have a Working Time Directive telling us how many hours are “safe to work”? I thought it was common sense that immigrant workers wouldn't get discriminated against...the Equality Act is pointless. As long as the NMW is protected I'm fine with it.
Mrs May has made it clear that existing EU regulations and directives will be ratified into UK law before they are reviewed for their effectiveness. I cannot imagine a situation where a majority Conservative Govt would repeal the Equality Act or Parental Leave regulations. Working Time Directive has seemed a bit arbitrary but that's my personal view and I doubt that would get majority support to be repealed.
Theresa May and right-wing Conservatives cannot dictate to British workers what their rights should be. British workers include those who are citizens of other countries and should be treated with respect and compassion. I will fight any attempt to repeal the Equality Act or challenge the Working Time Directive. Parental Leave is a human right. Shoddy employers cannot be let off the hook because they dislike “red tape”. Review employer responsibilities not employee rights!
Keep NHS “free at the point of use.”
Mrs May offered nothing “new” with regards to NHS policy. No reinstating of bursaries for hard working trainee nurses, no repeal of the controversial Junior Doctors Contract, no emphasis on solving the Mental Health or Social Care crisis. Saying “NHS is free at the point of use” is stating the bleeding obvious to me. Not good enough.
I think we should question whether the NHS is really working for everyone. Why is it that doctors get paid a fortune but they can't be bothered to work where they are needed the most. They cannot just pick and choose at will. They serve the public first-we paid for their training after all. Allocate them areas and then Lincolnshire wouldn't be short of GPs in the future.
Mrs May has shown that the Conservatives are the party of supporting the NHS and Labour are the party of destroying the NHS over ideological grounds. The last Labour Govt helped create privatised hospitals like Hitchingbrooke after all. The NHS must remain “free at the point of use” for all end users, whether born in the UK or the EU or worldwide. I still think non-UK citizens who do not work should pay for their treatment.
The Conservatives remain the party opposed to proper NHS support in my opinion. No new policies to help alleviate the burden of social care beyond those already announced by Mr Cameron, no real emphasis on solving a looming Employment Mental Health crisis. The NHS will only get worse under a Tory Govt.
Damien Green announced the end of mandatory retesting of those with chronic health conditions that only induce stress but does nothing at all to help.”
There has been no announcement made to end the dreaded, ineffective Work-Capability Assessments. The Tories are the party of the able-bodied, not of disability rights.
I think Ms May is fair to end retesting against those who cannot get any better through no fault of their own. Protect those who are genuinely ill and force shirkers with “depression” back to work.
Mrs May shows her compassionate streak by mentioning this Mr Green policy. I think it is common sense and fair to reform Work-Capability Assessments instead of ending them altogether.
Mandatory retesting for those with chronic health conditions was as stupid a policy as the bedroom tax being dumped on already stretched ESA and JSA claimant finances. Another case of uncaring Toryism.
I have launched an unprecedented audit of services to shine a light on racial disparities.”
It is pleasing to see that the Govt are prepared to investigate implicit and explicit racial bias that does exist within public sector organisations such as the Police, CPS, Armed Forces and Schools. I hope Mrs May will follow through with any recommendations that are suggested post audit and prevent racist naysayers from influencing the decisions post Brexit.
If the audit finds evidence of racism, Mrs May's Govt will act on it but I think left-wingers make everything about racism and distort the debate. I'm not sure the Police is racist; I've not seen any racist behaviour on Lincoln streets in years. I don't think I'm being naïve by saying some are making a mountain out of a molehill.
I believe that such an audit was long overdue and Mrs May is the only leader that can make it happen in an impartial, comprehensive way. If racist behaviour/practices are uncovered in the Police, CPS or in Schools, action must be taken to remove the racist element and policies and procedures put in place to ensure they never get a foothold in the public sector again.
Mrs May has done a good deed by ensuring this “audit of services” takes place during her leadership tenure. I'm hoping that when instances of racist practices and procedures are found that they will be “named and shamed”, challenged and then assigned to the dustbin of history which is needed. Hope “Stop and Search” is removed in all cities definitively as a result of the audit.
Lift the ban on grammar schools.”
Grammar Schools do offer an effective educate to some of the brightest individuals but I don't think advocating for extra grammar schools after years of advocating for free schools and academisation of comprehensives under Cameron and Gove/Morgan really cuts it for me. We have no grammar schools in Lincoln and there is no real need for them in Lincoln. Focus on improving teacher recruitment and retention, help the poorest to access extra curricular services (e.g. Arts Premium) and introduce SRE and Political education as statutory to give British students a full understanding of the modern world around them.
Grammar Schools are great at helping challenge the brightest working class kids and getting them into well paid jobs through attending a top university or getting an apprenticeship. I went to a comprehensive and I felt let down by my teachers; they focused too much on average students and not enough on bright or low level students. I think low level students should be taught in special schools. Technical schools are a good policy to help those good with their hands. Wish I could have gone to one. Lift the ban now!
We should not demonise grammar schools; if a community wants to open a grammar school or wish to extend existing grammar schools they should be allowed to do so. Liberal Labour activists are stupid to oppose grammar schools on ideological grounds. Technical schools are needed to prepare vocational students for a future role in areas like aerospace as well as in accountancy or finance. Let's have a variety of different schools. Selection isn't a dirty word; it's the educational reality for many. There is no shame in admitting you are less academic than your parents/brothers/sons.
Grammar Schools are yet another example of ideological worship of “natural selection” on a national level. Instead of focusing on helping working class students achieve their full potential by improving the schools they already study in, they want to make students take the 11+ exam and experience unnecessary humiliation for no other reason than failing to get into “the best school” that doesn't even get to match the likes of Eton and Harrow. No mention of SEN provision, no mention of increasing teacher training funding in shortage subjects and no gratitude offered to the comprehensive teaching sector.
Great Britain = “Great Meritocracy”
Mrs May's whole speech has been full of nativist rhetoric despite elements of positive buzz-wording around “making the democracy work for everyone”. She tries to speak for working class voters but she didn't enthuse me to think that the Tories are helping people like me. I don't think I believe that the Tories can deliver a truly inclusive democracy for all, including immigrant workers, students, children and the elderly. Very polarising.
Mrs May's speech was full of platitudes and buzzwords. I hope to see that Mrs May will stand up for the rights of the 17 million who voted to Leave the EU. Our primary focus must be in making sure that we make a success of our country as One-Nation post Brexit and so far, I feel Mrs May can achieve this. I need more policies to be designed that directly affect me but it's a good start. Let's “crack on” with Brexit.
Mrs May has actually talked a lot about Citizenship being a social contract between people and the Government. I liked the idea of making sure the UK works for all people, where “everyone plays by the same rules.” I'm very proud of this sort of inclusive rhetoric being backed up by sound policies. Mrs May is the great orator but she has an agenda that is implementable for all.
Mrs May doesn't speak for those who care about protecting immigrants from being bullied in their new neighbourhoods, who care deeply about environmental issues, making sure there are clean energy resources to provide for all citizens in the future, who care about employment rights as they are. As a “foreign born” nurse in a care home I felt Mrs May talked for those who are nationalistic in their outlook. Not for me. Sorry Mrs May.
Best Policy
Audit of Services for Racism.
Article 50 triggered by the end of March.
Great Repeal Bill
Ratifying Paris Agreement on Climate Change
Worst Policy
Reviewing employment legislation.
Ratifying Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Attack on left-wing lawyers.
Verdict /10 for Policies
Are you more or less likely to vote Conservative at the next GE?
Less Likely.
More likely.
Less Likely.

Theresa May's speech seemed to divide the voting panel directly in two; mostly noticeably whenever mention was made of Brexit-led policy directions. Voters A and D were open about the fact they voted for Remain and seemed annoyed by her use of the phrase "Quiet Revolution" to describe the Brexit Vote. Freedom of movement remains an issue of concern to those who rely on being able to work abroad to supplement their income; for example Voter D is a nurse who goes to work in France every fortnight because the pay is greater for the same type of work that she does in the UK. Voter B and D seemed less concerned with freedoms which didn't necessarily affect them and more concerned that the Brexit process is conducted appropriately. Both approved of the "Great Repeal Bill" being used to start the process of formalising EU regulations and directives into UK legislation so they can be reviewed for effectiveness ASAP but both differed on the time frame needed to trigger Article 50, a debate that is mirrored between Conservatives and UKIPpers across the country. Voters A and D showed grave concern for any changes that might be proposed to employment legislation despite Mrs May seeming to indicate employment law would be "strengthened" under a Conservative government. Part of the issue for Voters A and D was that Mrs May didn't spell out which employment laws might be strengthened after Brexit and whether the Working Time Directive (which suggests a maximum working time of 48 hours per week) might be challenged and abandoned without being debated in Parliament. With some of the inflammatory rhetoric towards immigrants being used by certain Tory ministers this week there is also a question on whether the Equality Act might be tweaked to allow positive discrimination against applicants from abroad by offering British young people the job first. This would be regressive policy and perhaps it would be better to advertise in the local area first before advertising abroad as this wouldn't constitute discriminatory practices. Voters A and D are concerned that immigrants already in the country will be discriminated against based on their nationality when applying for local jobs. Voters B and C didn't seem too bothered by the idea of this type of discrimination; in fact Voter B called the Equality Act "pointless" whereas Voter C couldn't imagine a situation where the Equality Act would be repealed by a majority Conservative Government. However all Voters were impressed by Mrs May's announcement that an audit was going to be conducted of all public service providers to "shine a light on racial disparities". This seemed an appeal to Remain voters who were concerned about the rise in white supremacist rhetoric being spouted by a minority of Brexiteers. Voters A and D applauded Mrs May's tenacity in wanting to get to the root cause of racism but weren't swayed on the lack of content behind the policy, hoping that it would include the NHS, Schools, CPS and the Police. Even Voter B, a UKIP voter, argued that if explicit racism was found in the Police it should be challenged but he added that he'd never seen any incidents of racist behaviour in Lincoln and dismissed the "leftie" emphasis on trying to make everything wrong boil down to an ill defined generic"racism".

There wasn't much discussion of new policy in Theresa May's speech; no new giveaways, no appeals to the "magic money tree" promised to the NHS by Bojo, Fartage et al. We already knew that the grammar schools ban was going to be lifted, that May was going to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (which 3/4 voters agreed with wholeheartedly) and that new national security safeguards had been put in place to stop other countries making use of our nuclear energy power stations to destroy British infrastructure (the assets remain British despite international investments). HS2 had majority support among Lincoln voters but the point was made that new investment is needed in railway infrastructure in Lincolnshire (this was something picked up on in last week's Corbyn speech where it was hoped renationalisation would led to cheaper prices, better train asset stock and faster travelling time to London and Edinburgh).

The most controversial moments for my voting panel came in two quite equally strange comments. The first concerned the "infatuation" left wing lawyers seem to have to persecute members of the Armed Forces for their conduct during combat missions abroad. Voters B and C seemed to rejoice at the idea that Armed service personnel should be allowed to "carry out their duties" to protect and serve Queen and Country without having to answer for their actions in a Human Rights court. Voter B believed Mrs May was the first mainstream leader to have stood up for the Armed Services so openly. Voters A and D however took a different view, pointing out instances where actions abroad might constitute a crime that should be investigated such as raping of colleagues or civilians when abroad. Essentially their argument was that nobody should be above reproach, no matter what the nature of their job or how "brave" the Prime Minister might consider them to be. Being out of the UK doesn't make them unaccountable for any illegal behaviour because they are representing the Queen and the UK when they are on combat duty.

The second focussed on the way the Prime Minister introduced her section on "strategic sectors of the economy" that needed supporting and encouraging beyond most others. Mrs May started by mentioning "Financial Services" first, despite the negative image the sector has with many working class voters. Voter A who works as an Accounts Assistant interpreted this as "putting Financial Services at the top of the magic money tree" where bankers would continue to be bailed out at the cost of all other sectors in the UK. Mrs May did seem to suggest that she wants to make bankers accountable by making them pay their fair share of tax and to prosecute them when they do try and play the system by rigging the rates or claiming bonuses for performance when their bank has performed badly, but Voter A thought it was still a case of bad PR and that Mrs May would have done better highlighting the excellent work done by creative industries such as Mammoth Screen. Voter B did seem to agree with Voter A because Mrs May didn't mention construction workers or painters and decorators during her speech. Voter C is a businessman working in Financial Services and argued that Mrs May did the right thing in trying to promote "Brand Britain" but that she needs to extend her examination of "strategic economic sectors" by looking at how Arts graduates can be retrained to fill positions in the Logistics industry or older workers getting IT skills to be able to drive smart lorries regardless of their ability or disability which I felt were quite nice suggestions. Voter D, however believed that the Tories were only wanting to focus on sectors that are "profit making" at the expense of up and coming sectors such as renewables. She linked this to the grammar school selection issue and how only those with the best connections will benefit from selective emphasis on some sectors. Those who are care workers, nurses, teachers or refuse collectors won't really benefit. That seems contrary to the message of "meritocracy" being espoused by Mrs May.

Theresa May explained her vision for a Britain as a "Great Meritocracy" in her first keynote speech as Conservative leader and Prime Minister. A lot of the speech was dedicated to explaining what a "One Nation Britain" will look like as the Brexit process begins with the triggering of Article 50 and the start of  getting "The Great Repeal Act" through Parliament. Theresa May clearly came across as a great planner, very thoughtful and sincere in her aspirations. However, Mrs May failed to convince the Labour and Labour/Green swing voter in my panel to consider voting for the Conservatives at the next General Election. There wasn't enough new policies that were revealed to appeal to their "left wing" Remainer values. In fact some parts of Mrs May's speech was actively disparaging efforts, from the bizzare tirade on left wing lawyers who had the strength to speak Truth to Power and ensure justice for those abused by Armed Force personnel while they are on active service to an ideological obsession with grammar school reintroduction with no mention of improving SEN provision or offering ideas as to how to improve teacher recruitment and retention rates. There was no real content being offered on how to support the "strategic sectors of the Economy" to ensure they grow and develop effectively and no expansion on detail behind the proposed "Industrial Strategy". There was mention of national security safeguards but no detail as to what they actually entail. There were no responses to Jeremy Corbyn's comments on railway renationalisation, on the Arts Premium being offered for Primary Schools or clarification on the "Controlling Migration Fund" which seems a cynical attempt to rehash the "Migrant Impact Fund" but make it sound harsher on immigration without having enough funding to be distributed in areas like Boston and Skegness.

It was a speech that impressed loyal Conservative voters, that played to the Leavers gallery where they are worried about immigration but also worried about being labelled racist. The audit on racial disparity in the public sector is an example of a policy that is designed to placate their fears without compromising on the harsh rhetoric espoused by other minsters earlier on in the Conference. The speech did appeal to the UKIP/floating Voter B, especially with the commitment to trigger Article 50 and the idea of not "backing down" to please Remoaners. Yet the groups which Theresa May needs to attract to increase her power base just weren't buying into her generic vision. They found it inauthentic. This shows that Theresa May has a lot of work to do to convince Labour voters to switch to Conservative should a General Election be called. It means a lot more announcements on social policy, less of a harsh attitude towards immigrants and those who are dependent on the state for help and support and proper, radical solutions to the issue of youth unemployment that don't just focus on traditional Tory areas. Not everyone wants to be an Engineer so working class creative talent has to be nurtured in Northern and Midland areas as well as in London. There has to be more policies that protect heritage services, not disparage them. They might be seen as "fringe issues" by those on the Far Right but they matter to degree educated working class people. Mrs May has attempted to strike a fine balance between left and right with her speech but that balance hasn't yet been reached. Fine rhetoric and positive buzzwords are all well and good but much work needs to be done on policy for centre-left voters to get behind. It's all to play for in the world of Lincoln politics as it stands. That's what makes it so incredibly exciting!