Author Archives: Ruth Bright

“Fat and anxious”

It probably wasn’t the greatest idea to read the searing Ockenden report (on maternity care at the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust) whilst recovering from a gynae op myself. Reeling from the misogyny of my own experience there was so much evidence to point to the fact that I was not alone.

A year later I don’t remember much detail from the report, just the miserable stench of its accounts of patriarchal and hierarchical condescension towards women patients in their hour of need, sometimes with their newborn baby’s life hanging in the balance.  One comment, however, lingers in the memory: “Fat and very anxious”. 

A third or fourth degree in childbirth (a tear from the vagina to the anus) is legendarily painful. On p 132 of her report on the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS trust Ockenden highlights the following account: “In 2014 when a woman was reviewed in this clinic after a third degree tear the doctor wrote in the notes: “Well but fat and very anxious . Can try for a vaginal birth, risk of re-occurrence low”. This has echoes of a 2022 Panorama interview with a woman with a fourth-degree birth tear who, when she alerted doctors to the fact that she was passing stools through her vagina, was initially dismissed as having a “bit of a fanny fart”. 

Fat and anxious. This also stopped me in my tracks because it mirrored my own hospital notes from last year saying that I was “concerned about going up a dress size”. This was a clinician’s description of my request (after being gaslighted for 7 weeks) for an urgent review after a catastrophic reaction to the insertion of a coil which had seen me go up from a size 12 to a size 20 in a matter of days. I reached out for help on ten occasions, on nine of these I was told it would all settle down. Only on one occasion, at A and E, was I taken seriously. Much was made on the other occasions of my anxiety. Wouldn’t anyone be racked with anxiety when a medical device had caused them to expand like a barrage balloon without explanation?

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Boris – one last regal porkie

Our last PM but one cropped up this week performing a fake snore in an interview when he was asked about the details of his downfall. The country though, is not snoring, but still reeling from the unstable government and moral vacuum he represented.

The Partygate scandal and select committee report have understandably concentrated on the events that Boris Johnson did attend. But in early 2022 the Daily Telegraph broke the story about two events he didn’t. It emerged that there were two parties held at No 10 the night before Prince Philip’s funeral. The famous “Winetime Friday” suitcase had been trundled to the 24-hour Co-op on the Strand to collect the booze for this event and a bacchanalian time was had by all. The Sue Gray report later confirmed the dancing, broken swing and all the rest. This at a period of national mourning and continuing lockdown; a time when no more than two people were meant to socialize indoors and no more than six outdoors.

As the details emerged Johnson did an interview with Beth Rigby on Jan 18 2022:

He wears a blue disposable mask and hangs his head in shame as Rigby begins to interrogate. There is an audible sigh at 10 minutes 52 seconds in, and what appears to be abject sorrow as he listens:

Rigby: “Was having to apologise to the Queen about those parties the night she…she laid her husband of over 70 years to rest, was that a moment of shame for you?”

Johnson: “I deeply and bitterly regret what happened and can only renew my apology both to her Majesty and to the country for the misjudgments that were made”.

A Downing St press release said a letter of apology had gone to Buckingham Palace but Johnson’s response in the Rigby interview was widely reported as, and clearly meant to give the impression that, a heartfelt in person apology was made. He had nodded miserably when Rigby said: “was that a moment of shame for you”.

So, compare and contrast with an interview with Fiona Bruce, broadcast on September 14 2022 in tribute to the Queen, six days after her death:

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What are the Police for?

Summer 1994

Camberwell. A small 20-something woman with long dark hair is ambling along a side street. Sixties’ tower blocks on one side; red brick low rise on the other.  She has a brown and black bag slung over her shoulder. She is enjoying a bag of jelly tots as she goes and is weighed down by a heavy white plastic bag containing her council paperwork.

A tall 30-something male with dark hair and translucent pale skin hovers nearby. Suddenly he picks up speed, runs at the woman, grabs the bag off her shoulder. She rather lamely shouts: “Oh no!” and he, not very originally, cries out: “Oh yes!” A grubby old russet Ford fiesta appears from nowhere, he jumps into it and driver and thief speed off into the South London sunshine.

Well of course gentle reader, the woman was me. And what happened next? The Met were absolutely brilliant. A local shopkeeper raised the alarm (as they say), the police took a statement.  I later identified the man at Brixton Police Station. He confessed to a series of muggings and got 7 years. It was an exemplary piece of policing, operating with lightning speed and with descriptions only. No CCTV. No witnesses. I bounced back very quickly. Partly I suppose because I was young; but mainly because the Police were so efficient. There was no pastoral care offered in those days. I wasn’t bothered, just relieved that the mugger would not do the same to anyone else for a while. What’s more. I felt safe.

You know what comes next don’t you?

Spring 2023

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Mad about the menopause

I am far from the first to notice that menopause is having its moment.

The tragic death of Nicola Bulley recently brought out the cultural taboos in this area. Was it, for example, misogynistic or open and empathetic for the police to mention her struggle with the menopause?

The Labour Party launched a menopause action plan yesterday, particularly aimed at businesses with over 250 employees. The Local Government Association has an excellent menopause policy. Even the hapless Tory government had an HRT taskforce; though it disbanded it after a mere four months! Businesses are catching up with the menopausal pound: ranging from Boots selling natural alternatives to HRT and “menopause face creams” to, more comically, Primark selling a menopause (anti hot flush) nightdress.

We are told that 30% of women aged 50-64 are economically inactive and one in ten of women aged 45-55 leave a job because of menopausal symptoms. There is certainly a problem.

One very odd thing about mainstream media discussions on this subject is the level of squeamishness. Vague comments are made about women being a bit cross and a bit sweaty! I am going to be a little more frank.  Liberals are not known for their prudishness but please stop reading now gentle LDV reader if you are one of the exceptions with a nervous disposition.

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Aylesbury – the estate that took the crown

The Netflix series “The Crown” Series 4 Episode 5. The camera pans across what appear to be desolate tower blocks and an inner-city, high-rise wasteland with little hope. It’s the home of Michael Fagan, the intruder who so famously gained entry to Buckingham Palace and sat on the Queen’s bed.

In the episode in question the Queen (Olivia Colman) gathers herself after the shock of the appearance of Fagan (Tom Brooke) in her bedroom. She rallies her famous small talk and asks: “and where do you live?” answer: “King’s Cross.” “Is it nice?” “Not really.”

But the setting is not King’s Cross. In fact, the glimpses we see of Fagan’s world are South of the river. It’s the Aylesbury estate in Walworth, Southwark. The Aylesbury, home to Wendover, the longest tower block in Europe and part of Faraday ward, at one time one of the most deprived wards in the UK.

I knew it well as one of the Lib Dem councillors for the estate in the nineties and noughties.

The Aylesbury is the edgy setting for many a TV show. The towers feature on a Madonna video and countless episodes of the Bill. As a young woman I experienced plenty of frightening times on the estate. Walking back from a meeting on Wendover late at night I was followed by two men in a car which sped off once the occupants had had the fun of seeing my terror close up.

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Welcome to Obs and Gynae

The camera follows a man on a hospital trolley. He gurns at the audience and is wheeled away with his hand up to some unfortunate woman who is screaming.  “Welcome to the NHS” he opines to the audience. We all laugh. It’s the opening of the series “This is going to hurt”. About an obs and gynae ward. We all laugh. Women. Women down there. Women and their unmentionable bits. All intrinsically funny. Apparently.

Not so funny is that during the pandemic the waiting list for gynaecological procedures grew by 60%. During the pandemic many more women who suffer extreme bleeding during their periods or bleed all the time had to go in for emergency blood transfusions because major surgeries like hysterectomies were suspended.

This is not women waiting for something cosmetic or with a few aches and pains. This is about women who cannot work, cannot care for their children or in some cases for themselves they are in so much pain or bleeding so heavily.

The average diagnosis time in the UK for the excruciating condition of endometriosis is an appalling 8 years.

My local trust, for instance, knocks you off the gynae waiting list and sends you back to your GP after a year even if your symptoms are worsening! You then have to have more unnecessary intimate examinations to prove you should have been on the waiting list in the first place.

Of course there are pressures on every single part of the NHS.  However, a recent report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is adamant that gynae waiting lists are growing faster than other waiting lists and that gynae conditions are often labelled as “benign”. Babies don’t wait to be born so quite obviously the obstetric ward is ever open; gynae is often the first to close its doors when pressures become too much.

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Jimmy Carr and the Boribumbalas* in the room

A terrorist incident? The possibility is always in the back of your mind on the commute to London. Has something awful happened at Waterloo? A few months before the pandemic my local station is crawling with men in Hi-Vis jackets talking earnestly to people as they go in to catch their trains. Police too. What has happened? They warn of an incursion. Trespassers. All these people are here to protect us from danger. Cool. Shame all these helpful people are never present when you arrive home late at night and there’s a drunk guy who shouts at you outside Domino’s. But never mind they are here now.

And what are they here to protect us from? I look around anxiously but all I can see is about eight camper vans in the car park. Identical clean white camper vans, most with baby or kiddies’ clothes drying on the windscreens. A few deck chairs.

Ah now I see. The scales fall from my eyes. Gypsies, Travellers, Romanies are in town. Romany people have been in Hampshire since Tudor times if not before. As I know from my own father (a Romany speaking bricklayer born in 1920) for centuries the boundary between Gypsy travellers and other Hampshire rural working class people has been a porous one.

But never mind the history; feel the terror and hysteria at their “incursion”.

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Lloyd George didn’t know my father – the 1921 Census

What it is to be all-knowing. For someone my age the release of the 1921 census means the possibility of nosing through the lives of people you actually knew and creepily of course, you know what happened next and they did not.

Here is my Dad aged 9 months. He is briefly in rural Sussex while his First World War veteran father finds (another) temporary job at a gas works.

Here is my maternal Grandma aged 5. Her Dad is a wallpaper hanger. All eight of them crammed into a little terraced house in Kent. But the story is not sad; this bunch are survivors. They all go back to their native East End and every single one of them will get through the Second World War alive.

Not so lucky – here is my maternal Grandpa, aged 2 in rural Hampshire. The family farm is about to go bust. In a few short years the family will be either scattered or dead (one by his own hand).

The census has a few family surprises. What on earth, for instance, is my staid Great Great Grandma doing living at the Three Tuns, a pub on Jewry Street, Aldgate? Perhaps best not to ask!

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Book review: “Jews Don’t Count” by David Baddiel

Any reader of a centre left website like LDV will be well acquainted with the world of “whataboutery”. Any article on any injustice can be upended by a “whatabout” list of other injustices; sometimes with the snide implication that the author is a fake for even raising the original injustice.

In his book “Jews don’t count” David Baddiel is well aware of the risks of “whataboutery” but he is surely right to plough on with his argument that the British left does not take anti-semitism as seriously as other racism and prejudice.

Baddiel’s grandparents were robbed of everything and had close family murdered. They were ruined and bereaved and driven from all they knew by the racist state apparatus of their native land. And yet as Baddiel points out the left has a blindspot about his ethnicity as one that somehow doesn’t count and cannot feel vulnerable as all minority ethnicities sometimes do.

He is right to say that in Britain today this blind spot can take preposterous forms. It is ridiculous for example, that what Luciana Berger went through was often ignored by Corbynistas or labelled by them as misogyny rather than anti-semitism. Many women in public life experience serial misogyny but it doesn’t normally entail their tormentors signing themselves “the Nazi”.

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You have no authority here, Mata Hari

The vultures are circling. Old Labour bruisers and a host of hangers-on have gathered. They scent blood. A frail looking 30 year old woman is about to chair her first council meeting and it is time for some fun at her expense. 

She starts. She gets through the announcements. Just about. She fluffs the order of the amendments. The old municipal bruisers roll their eyes. Labour head honcho grins and nods sagely to his entourage. A kindly officer rescues the young councillor and she ploughs on. She eyes the enemy. With their unerring eye grasp of detail the Labour councillors have noticed that she has long black hair and they wittily call her “Morticia” and “Barbie” behind her back. They think she doesn’t know that.

But, gradually the rookie politician picks up the pace. She sidesteps Councillor head honcho and his posse. With a neat grasp of standing orders she shoots a Labour motion down in flames before it is even presented.

Head honcho pounces:

“Madam Chair this is an abuse”

“You would know all about that” retorts rookie councillor

“That’s rich from Mata Hari over there”

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Boris on Care: wrong words, right target

The corporate voice of the care sector is up in arms about the PM’s comments on care. Of course, his remarks about care homes, not following procedures were sly and clumsy, but he is right that the care sector should shoulder some of the blame for the virtual decimation of their aged residents.

Clap for carers was a touching display of community empathy for people in the front line but neither this outpouring nor the tragic deaths of care home staff should make the care sector itself exempt from criticism in the forthcoming debate on social care reform.

Just before this crisis …

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Statues that work

No-one could call Eastleigh Town Centre a pretty place.

But something that Eastleigh gets exactly right is its statues. There is the generic son of industrial toil: the Railwayman, tribute to the town’s railway heritage. Then there is Charlotte Yonge, a Victorian novelist who named the town. Charlotte is very unusual in England – a female statue who isn’t Queen Victoria, a minor nineteenth century royal or a mythical angel type figure on a war memorial (though Eastleigh has one of those too).

Here they both are (above), Charlotte and the Railwayman, …

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The toast test

Care should be about dignity. Simples. I call it the toast test.

A nursing home in the Home Counties. A confused resident wakes late – nearly time for lunch. He requests toast. The care staff (Polish, Filipino, Indian, one Brit) are “toileting” everyone before their meal.

As activity coordinator I am on my break but fetch a piece of toast for him. It isn’t my job but it makes the resident happy. He is in control of very little but he has exercised a choice. I then get a mild telling off for spoiling his lunch. It is sometimes the resident’s  job to fit into the (admittedly benign) routine rather than for him to do what he likes in his own home.

Another resident “plays up” during the forthcoming lunch and the struggling staff wheel her back to the lounge and briefly leave her crying in front of the compulsory kilometre wide telly.

Another resident is in the last few days of his life. He doesn’t like the food (which to be fair is normally pretty good). He has a fancy for fruit cake. I sign myself out of the Fort Knox style world, keypad security on each floor, fingerprint recognition to get in and out of the building and traipse down the drive to purchase a fruit cake from a nearby shop and smuggle it back in.

The resident and I enjoy our subversive fruit cake together.

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Gendered lockdown?

Anyone who has been at home all day with a toddler and a pre-schooler knows how tough that can be. Some days are good – you enchant the little so-and-sos with colouring and sing-songs. Other days feel like Guantanamo with nappies. I remember once as a stay-at-home Mum realising the only adult company I had “seen” all day was Jeremy Paxman when I switched on Newsnight at 10.30pm. That’s bad!

It is a million times tougher now – no playgrounds and no chance to let little ones play outside for long. The young children have almost completely disappeared from the small estate where I live and I have the distinct impression that young mums are doing most of the work and they are doing an amazing job. I am lucky to be shut up with two teenagers where the only worry is the Netflix subscription and will it work on two devices at once.

I go for a walk to the park and the Co-op about every three days at about quarter to seven. I went down the whole length of Derby Road, a major road in Eastleigh, and saw no-one. Then a young man cut across me smoking. Social distance? Nah! The other day a youngish guy at the end of an aisle in the Co-op was cheerfully sniffing “at” me 50cm away.  A week ago, shopping at Sainsbury’s, a guy beckoned to me to use the automatic till he was just vacating. Not an inviting prospect as he had been coughing over it without putting his hand up!

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Good Goodbyes

Queen Victoria and her nine children. Princess Alice is on the left

In 1878 Queen Victoria’s daughter Alice was 35. In the lead up to Christmas most of her family in Darmstadt, Germany became ill as the brutal disease diphtheria raged through them. Alice was scrupulous about infection control. She was a nursing pioneer and Liberal thinker. Way ahead of her time. But she buckled when telling her little son Ernest that his young sister Marie had died and, against all of the rules, she held him close. Inevitably she succumbed to the disease and died a few days later.

Every Victorian would have known this sad tale and identified with it. But just a short month ago it would have sounded a bit mawkish and medieval to 21st century Western ears.

Unbelievably this story is now topical with the (rare) but tragic death of a young teenager at Kings’ College. His family, through no fault of their own, unable to be with him because of the infection risk to them and to others.

A Welsh GP’s surgery has been pilloried for asking people about end of life choices. This is wrong. Ventilation, intubation, resuscitation and even “simple” catheterisation are all invasive and potentially traumatic. Any or all of them are well worth the candle in many circumstances for many people. But not in all circumstances for all people. Most of us would want the medical “kitchen sink” thrown at the young but we have to face up now to difficult conversations about where dignity trumps longevity and whether death at home with loved ones might be better than death in a field hospital surrounded by busy strangers in spacesuits.

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“Thank you!” – an open letter to Jo

Dear Jo,

As many others have pointed out in the last few days a bit of masochism never comes amiss if one is a Liberal Democrat. Pain and sorrow come with the territory.

When my 70-year old Mum cruelly lost her hard-worked council seat in 2014, courtesy of the Coalition, we got separated slightly from our colleagues after the count. We are not prone to emotion but, two dumpy ladies of 5ft nothing, we clung together as her result was announced and Labour activists surrounded us and screamed their glee. One of them trod on me in the hubbub.

Later, back home, as …

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Ruth Davidson and the Dinosaurs

Whereas the thought of being on the road fighting two elections in twenty months would once have fired me up; the threat of spending hundreds of hours away from my home and family now fills me with dread.

So said former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson in her resignation letter last week.

Most campaigners, candidates or MPs will know exactly what she meant when she said those words. Politics can be fun, addictive and all-consuming (especially in these extraordinary times) but we nearly all reach a point when home and hearth tug in a way that canvassing a whole street in the rain certainly does not!

Even 14 years later I am haunted by the words of my toddler daughter when I was a busy parliamentary candidate. Playing with her plastic animals she told her babysitter: “This is Baby dinosaur. This is Daddy dinosaur. But Mummy dinosaur is at a meeting”.

Jo Swinson and Ruth Davidson have been inspiring role models for working mothers. They have both been honest that it isn’t easy. Obviously the pressure on them as party leaders is vastly greater than on us bog standard PPCs. But Davidson and Swinson did at least have two things that pregnant parliamentary candidates do not: 

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Leadership and the C-word

Venn diagram of Lib Dem/Tory influence on Coalition policies“Two non-entities” – the curt analysis of historian David Starkey on the Lib Dem leadership race seems unduly harsh. But as a semidetached

Lib Dem looking for an excuse to reattach I have at the very least been struck by just how similar the two Lib Dem leadership candidates are.

The Lib Dems are now a very new and fresh party in the sense that most members have joined in very recent years or even months. For those of us with decades of libdemmery under our belts, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson almost feel like extended family. They are resilient folk who have been around for ages. Both of them are very much to be admired for withstanding the humiliation of losing their seats and then clawing those seats back.

White, middle-class, Oxbridge/Russell group, neither at first sight really exude life’s hard knocks. In fact, both have put forward moving accounts of just how searing real life can be. Jo Swinson’s speech in Parliament on combining politics and early motherhood was an astonishingly frank tour de force. Ed Davey’s poignant radio interview on his experience of early bereavement was truly memorable.

But, and it’s a very big but, how do we process their work in coalition? There is a poverty of debate in the party about the Coalition and about… err… poverty. The Lib Dems dropped austerity unceremoniously in 2015 (almost as suddenly as it was adopted back in 2010) and by 2017 it was almost as if the Coalition had never happened.

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D-Day from Great Grandma’s perspective

“Churchill?” “Nothing but an old war monger!” Thus spake Lil my great-grandma. Lil was the sort of woman who doesn’t get into history books but the words “doughty” and “feisty” were fashioned just for her.

Even as a six-year old I remember her tutting through all the sentimentality of her 90th birthday and making it perfectly clear that she wasn’t going to bother getting to 91 (she didn’t). When her day came the grim reaper must have been vastly more daunted to meet her than she was to meet him.

Amid all the militarism of the D-Day commemorations it would also be good to remember the wartime mums. Because some of Lil’s bluster and displays of character were surely a result of the awful blow she endured in 1943 when her adored elder son was killed in the war. He was 33.

There were so many like Lil. Jessie Bowles for instance. I live in what was once Jessie’s house. Her son Bert was in the RAF during the war and was killed over Berlin in January 1944. He was 21.

And Mrs Mackenzie, Barbara Mackenzie was my Dad’s landlady when he was stationed in the Highlands during the war. She treated him like a son. Her own son Archie was killed in the aftermath of the Normandy landings. It will be 75 years on June 28th. Archie was just 20.

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Corbyn and Hobson’s Choice

Read the book – it’s Hobson’s choice.

Has the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition actually read J A Hobson’s “Imperialism”? That is the question posed by today’s Times.

J A Hobson (not to be confused with J R Hartley) “Imperialism: A Study” 1902. As I remember it was a green book with a black spine or was it a black book with a green spine? I think our copy went in the book cull of 2017 when we moved house. It probably went to Oxfam – going the same way as “Green Eggs and Ham” and the “Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Books from a different era outgrown by our family.

To be fair, I read a lot of Lenin as a student as my course on Russian History required. But pre cursors to Lenin, like Hobson, that was going a bit too far so poor old Hobson, was, I’m sorry to say, earnestly bought but never read.

Also when I was a student there was a seemingly very sincere post grad who went around giving his socialist pamphlets to all those who would stop and listen for a few moments. Having given up and taken one it was only sometime later that I noticed that after a few pages of hackneyed guff about the “commanding heights” of the economy the pamphlet blamed all the world’s ills on China and the “yellow peril”.

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Group B Strep – screening babies saves lives

Imagine you are a carrier of something that could be deadly. As a carrier you could passively, inadvertently, through absolutely no fault of your own bring about harm, even mortal harm, to your newborn child? What if the NHS, though it had the opportunity to find out, did not trouble to screen you for this thing you carry and therefore offer you the anti-biotics in childbirth which would keep your baby safe?

Sounds awful doesn’t it? But the NHS fails to screen pregnant women and provide them with the information that they might carry Group B Streptococcus. As a result women pass on that infection to 700 babies a year who become very dangerously ill with Group B Strep related meningitis and or sepsis or pneumonia.

Incidence is on the up, with on average a baby dying of Group B Strep infection every week. Studies show that very close to half of children who survive are left with some kind of educational impairment.

As a campaigner I feel a tremendous sense of ground hog day style failure about Group B Strep. Fourteen years ago I went to a meeting chaired by David Cameron with other parents who had had GBS babies. I was one of the lucky ones as my baby survived her infection. The Labour junior minister who addressed us was unbelievably callous telling the bereaved parents they were too close to the issue to weigh up the pros and cons of screening for GBS. More recently bereaved parents also got short shrift for their petition on screening from a junior Tory minister who did not even express condolences.

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So farewell then Sunday Politics…

Way back in the early eighties there was a sitcom called “Butterflies” where the mum was lampooned for her terrible cooking and all round failure as a homemaker. I pride myself in being the 21st century version of that mum. I drown noodles, explode baked beans in the microwave, incinerate duck and pancakes (even though Mr Marks and Mr Spencer provide simple instructions) and the hoover gathers more dust than it picks up.

And yet, despite it all I know I am a reasonably ok parent because I have at least managed to impart to my children an interest in politics.

Most …

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RAF 100

Think about it. Have you ever seen graphic footage of the Blitz? Not cheery chaps sifting through some light rubble with the WVS serving tea nearby. No, nothing like that. But bodies and horror.

The footage exists. A little was shown in the 1970s in the series “The World at War” but generally we are much more familiar with appalling images of the Holocaust than we are with the facts of area bombing either in Germany or Britain. The scale is hard to grasp now. Over 600 dead and nearly 900 injured in two nights of bombing in Southampton alone.

A few weeks ago Royal Mail issued a series of stamps to mark the RAF’s centenary. Inevitably they show chocolate box images of bright blue skies, fighter planes and Red Arrows without a wartime heavy bomber in sight. Perhaps the Royal Mail felt that images of the Lancaster had been “done to death” already. Done to death indeed.

People like my late Dad, AC2 W H Clark, an RAF wireless operator during WW2, knew exactly what area bombing meant. What is rarely realised today is that there was a massive backlash about the carnage at the time. In the current sentimental climate it is hard to believe but both during and after the war in many quarters Bomber Command was an embarrassment and so were its veterans. Like many of his generation Dad felt that stigma. He did not collect his service medals. Also, like many of his generation, he frequently messed up his life in an era when there was little sympathy for “combat stress” and little compassion about the lost opportunities of survivors who had given up precious years of youth to war service.

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Cyril Smith: “Scurrilous hearsay?”

11 minutes and 19 seconds into Sunday’s final episode of “A Very English Scandal” Hugh Grant as Jeremy Thorpe spoke the immortal lines: “All that new blood coming through – Clement Freud, Cyril Smith. Exciting Times”.  Of course the lines are fictional but the point is well made. We now know a very great deal about those “exciting times” and how abusers hid in plain sight behind a 70’s larger than life, English eccentric, man of the people image.

All the more astonishing then that Lord Steel said on Monday’s Newsnight that the allegations against Smith were “so far scurrilous hear-say”. 

This when the CPS has already admitted that Smith should have been prosecuted in 1970 or again in 1998 and 1999. On September 16 2017 the Chief Executive of Rochdale Borough Council gave an apology to the victims. The late, great Liz MacKean’ s  extraordinarily moving Dispatches documentary from September 2013 is still available. MacKean hears from those who say they were abused by Smith. I defy anyone not to at least give those witnesses a hearing.

The Independent Inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) issued its interim report about Rochdale on April 25. In no way shape or form does the interim report implicate any Liberal or Liberal Democrat figures in abuse conducted by Cyril Smith. But, terrifyingly, it makes it clear that it is very likely that Smith abused over many decades. It hears from those who say they were abused by Smith in the 90s at Knowl View School and is astonished by the decision to make him Chair of Governors in 1994. Smith’s abuse does not just relate to allegations in the 60s when he was a member of the Labour Party.

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Time to stop wringing our hands on gender balance

Mark Pack has run another interesting analysis on the way we have stalled in recruiting women into local government.

When I was elected to Southwark council in 1994 our large Lib Dem group had already achieved gender balance. When I was selected as PPC in East Hants in 2002 our ruling Town Council group had also achieved gender balance. It is therefore very sad all these years later to see how things are stalling or going backwards.

I totted up the following figures on the counties some months ago. I put the figures together in a hurry, have not allowed for recent by-elections and I might have made the odd wrong assumption that a name is male or female. Please accept my apologies for any mistakes but even with those many health warnings I was shocked by the following balance of male and female Lib Dem councillors on the counties:

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Book Review: Equal Power and how you can make it happen

On hearing of the arrival of a new volume of “how to” popular feminism one might be tempted to channel Brenda of Bristol on hearing about the election: “ANOTHER one!!”

Jo Swinson enters a very crowded market with her new book. Can she really have anything to add?

To be fair she doesn’t just write about this stuff; she really means it. Largely ignoring the six week old baby strapped to my (very sore) front she once nagged, cajoled, charmed and begged me to stand in a forthcoming by-election. She has probably directly encouraged hundreds of women and girls to get involved or go further in politics.

Posted in Books | 8 Comments

#timetotalk – My story

It can safely be said that there are not too many articles on Lib Dem Voice inspired by Adele! But with LDV’s record of taboo-breaking posts on mental health she is a fitting heroine for her refreshing honesty about post-natal depression. She said in an interview a few months ago that it affected her so seriously that she hesitated about having more children. It is something many of us can identify with but few admit.

For me, it was very tied up with having a sick baby and the pressures of being …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 5 Comments

Congratulations, Jacinda

It was lovely to hear that the Prime Minister of New Zealand is pregnant. What more extraordinary proof that women can have it all.

Even for political minnows though going back after six weeks as she plans is a tall order.

Hopefully her eminence means that she will have a fantastic support system in place. For those of us small fry activists who have to write our own leaflets, print them, pay for them and deliver them delivering a baby at the same time and fending off the hostility for having “deserted” our post is pretty tough going.

It is amazing how having a baby exerts such strong feelings in others. Lovely ones like protectiveness, joy and empathy but also hideous ones like jealousy, misogyny and even revulsion. It is salutary to note that pregnancy is a time when women are most in danger from domestic violence. When I was a pregnant parliamentary candidate I could scarcely believe how downright rude people could be: “a walking caesarean”, “oh not another one”, “have you got another one in there?” (and that was just the Lib Dems!) This was a decade ago and I really hoped that the climate had changed so it was depressing to see that very recently the Labour MP Luciana Berger was greeted with derision for supposed absences when she was breastfeeding.

Perhaps a good way forward is to have proper protocols for maternity leave for politicians at all levels. According to a recent report a mind blowing 97% of councils have no formal procedures to allow councillors to take maternity leave.

I drafted the following for our own party and would welcome your thoughts.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 9 Comments

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 | 45 Comments

Just a joke, love

Embed from Getty Images

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. 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

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