Author Archives: Ruth Bright

Snowflakes and Safe spaces

What sensitive flowers they are! You cannot move these days for some commentator dismissing students (especially women and LGBT students) as lacking resilience and unable to cope with criticism, contrary views or even a bit of banter.

But would we really want to go back to the university culture of thirty or forty years ago – particularly for women? The revelation in Harriet Harman’ s biography “A Woman’s Work” that her tutor threatened to downgrade her degree if she did not sleep with him does not come as a big surprise to those of us who went to university a few decades ago.

Posted in Op-eds | 42 Comments

Just a joke, love

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I blame Strictly Come Dancing. Autumn last year my son and I are settling down to watch our regular two hour marathon of sequins and emotion when he pipes up that he fancies a Chinese takeaway. Doting Mum, off I trot down the high street to fulfill my youngest’s whim. It is not even 7pm in a sleepy market town and stepping out into the evening holds no fears. But as I pass the Crown Hotel and then the Baker’s Arms my path is blocked by two young men. The shorter one is almost face to face with me and as I side step him he side steps too, blocks my path again and blows smoke in my face. Having enjoyed my discomfort for a few seconds off they go giggling into the evening.

The cemetery down the road a few weeks ago. Broad daylight. I am at one end of the cemetery -three teenagers at the other. I have caught their attention and they clearly have not yet clocked that I am old enough to be their mum (ye Gods, their grandma even). As they come towards me one of them starts: “Are you going to say hello to us? Are you going to say hello to us? Are you going to..” He becomes more sheepish when he gets closer and realises my seniority but he does not want to back down in front of his mates and keeps on at me, tailing off as his mates snigger and I swerve onto another path. I am all too conscious that that path leads me deeper into the churchyard with no means of escape if things escalate. They wonder off, doubtless to continue studying for their A’Levels at the sixth form college down the road and then home to Mum.

A month ago. A new low. This time I am accompanied. A late evening walk with my son and husband. We are just going past my son’s old school.  My son is on his bike and freewheels on ahead followed closely by my husband. I fall back a few metres and have noticed a couple of lads hanging around. I turn round to look as they don’t seem altogether benign. I am greeted with: “You’ve got a big butt.” (technically not inaccurate but a somewhat unnecessary observation to a complete stranger).”I said you’ve got a big butt.” I offer them a cheery expletive (feeling safe to risk antagonising them because my husband is not that far away) and receive a rapid stream of f-words. 

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Cyril Smith – an apology is the very least we owe the victims

The Chief Executive of Rochdale Council has apologised for letting down the victims of Cyril Smith. It is time that the Liberal Democrats, as successor party to the Liberal Party made an apology to the victims too – not for any direct responsibility but the fact that he was able to use our party as a front for the “big Cyril”, “national treasure” image which helped him cover up earlier crimes. Cyril Smith is not a figure from ancient Liberal Party history. He was a Liberal Democrat MP for his last three years in parliament, he died in 2010 and his accusers were being criticised on this site as late as 2015.

Victims deserve the following actions from the party:

  1. An apology from the Leader of the Liberal Democrats that the party was unknowingly used as a front for Smith’s respectability.
  2. An inquiry into any remaining evidence about him within the party.
  3. A direction to the pastoral care officer to support any party activists who wish to talk about their own experiences with Smith.
  4. A direction that all references to Smith be removed from the Rochdale Lib Dems website (which has an extraordinary archive with cheery references to his 80th birthday and other events).

Editor’s Note:

The party’s position on this was made clear in a statement issued some time ago. 

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Dementia Tax – Project Fear

Dementia has been a big part of my life. Over the years I have worked with people with dementia in some of our most deprived communities in south London – Brixton, Elephant and Castle, Peckham, Old Kent Road and the surrounding (often high-rise) estates.

I have therefore felt very torn by the party’s recent headlong charge for the populist line on the “dementia tax”. As a (naturally pretty tribal) Lib Dem of three decades standing I recognised a fantastic campaigning issue that might help claw back a few coastal “retirement” seats. However, I also knew that the inaccurate use of the term dementia tax (it is neither a tax nor is it about dementia) causes pain to many for whom this is not just a line in a press release but something real and near at hand.  People with dementia have a cognitive impairment but they are not stupid; they can and do take in political messages. Politicians need to think of the deep distress their negative campaigning can cause to many of our 850,000 fellow citizens who are living with this disease.

During the election the party launched a “Theresa May Estate Agent” website that quoted the  example of a “lady from Runcorn” who at the first symptoms of dementia had her home whipped away by the government. This achieves the triple whammy of being misleading about dementia, misleading about the current system and misleading about the (then) prospective system. If only we had moderated our language on this. For a start the dichotomy between “free” coronary care and “paid for” dementia care is false. Thanks to the voluntary sector (usually funded by health services or councils) many people with dementia get significant help and advice for free. If you are diagnosed with dementia early the stereotype of a tragic husk of a dementia victim slumped in a chair is completely untrue. There is no cure for or reversal of dementia but the NHS funds drugs which can have a plateauing effect on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s for many years. Lots of dementia care from MRI scans to memory clinics is completely free of charge.

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Keep on keeping on

The talk of the Blitz spirit in London can become a bit mawkish at a time like this. A family member of mine went through the real Blitz in 1940 and 1941 and she told me that all was far from the myth. Class still pervaded all – for example, many looked down on those without a shelter who hid from bombs in the tube. Not everyone sang “Roll out the barrel”; not everyone cooed with gratitude as Queen Elizabeth wafted by in chiffon. Looting was a common occurrence. Horrible things were covered up by the authorities.

And yet it was also a time of extraordinary solidarity. The resilience of the East Londoner was not made up. Grandma talked matter-of-factly about being bombed out, of losing home and possessions – not once but twice, as if it were a minor inconvenience.

When I was a child in the seventies I was taken to see the Christmas windows at Selfridges. Not far from where my Grandma worked throughout the Blitz. Selfridges was bombed later that day (the IRA gave a warning and there was enormous damage but no loss of life). Twenty five years later the office where I worked received damage when a nail bomb was left in Brixton market. My colleagues and I were lucky. It was a weekend and none of us were in the building but many Saturday shoppers suffered horrible injuries.

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International Women’s Day: Could there ever be a Lib Dem Jess Phillips?

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Future women, real lives

The Women Candidates’ weekend is about to take place and (apart from the odd party pooper) most reasonable folk can see that an event that boosts confidence and offers a quick burst of training is of value. But what about candidate support and candidate retention when the big weekend is over?

In a small party with a reliance on the selfless hard work of a thin layer of ridiculously dedicated volunteers it is not surprising that the pastoral care of candidates has not been a big priority over the years. It was a luxury we could not afford. But that has …

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