Politics

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Don’t Reign On My Parade

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II en route to St Paul's Cathedral, 5th June 2012. Photo: Defence Images

The Queen on her way to St Paul’s Cathedral

As a metaphor, the image of the whole country going down the river for the Jubilee is so appropriate, I’m surprised more wiseacre commentators haven’t picked up on it. It is galling enough that a country in such dire straits — with high unemployment, a double-dip recession in progress, a failing health service, and its myriad other problems — can afford to splash out on celebrating the one person in the nation who never need worry about the spectre of poverty or work (the Queen is, after all, permanently underemployed) not dying.  But that the manner of this spectacle should be her sitting idly while a pageant of her subjects float past on what might as well be a river of tears, in barges crafted from their dashed hopes and dreams, is nothing short of cheek.She stood watching this flotilla of filthy followers for hours, we are told, as if that was enough to justify her privileged position. The time, money and effort of thousands of people was evident, while all she had to do was put on her best hat and watch them pass in their little boats with the rain beating down upon them, giving them the appearance of drowned rats. It must have looked like something out of a postmodern Wind in the Willows.

I wonder, as she stood there, undoubtedly bored, whether she was aware of what some of her subjects had to endure to enable this event. The Guardian reported that a number of long term jobseekers were forced to work as stewards without pay during the event. That, in itself, doesn’t count as out of the ordinary in this Tory Britain, but the details revealed a sequence of uncaring treatment that was described as akin to slavery. They were bussed in from Bristol in the early hours of the morning and abandoned, told to camp under a bridge like common trolls, made to change into their uniforms in public and had no access to toilets for the whole day. I don’t expect the unemployed to be treated like royalty, but I’d demand at least they be treated like human beings.

A Celebratory Message for the Queen. Photo: jordi.martorell

Celebrating the Jubilee

I tried my best to avoid coverage of the Jubilee, but the signs and signifiers were everywhere. I reached a point where I swore that, if I saw another Union Jack, I would wrap myself in it and immolate myself in Trafalgar Square. Displays of excessive jingoism only seem to manifest during royal events, football tournaments and wars; the rest of the time, most citizens couldn’t give two patriotic shits about the country. But stores have done a roaring business in red, white and blue tat – from bunting and tableware to clothing and cushion covers – so every home can look like the venue for a BNP rally. The only theme that I’ve found more annoying is constantly being confronted with the litany that I should ‘Keep Calm and Carry On,’ on posters, mugs and T-shirts. In the current political and economic crisis, that’s the equivalent of saying ‘What iceberg?’ when the ship is already sinking. I, for one, will be donning my T-shirt featuring the slogan ‘Time To Panic and Set Fire to Things’ any day now.

I’ve nothing personal against the Queen. As run of the mill old ladies go, I suppose I find her inoffensive enough. If I were in a post office queue, she’s the kind of person I’d rather was behind me than in front of me, as you know she’s going to try to engage the person serving in conversation about her various aches and pains, the doings of her million grandchildren, and what her husband said to the Chinese ambassador this time. I’m also not going to let this article descend into an over-reaching republican diatribe, in spite of that being the general thrust of my opinions. My issue here is with the misplaced and mystifying adoration of her social position.

In 2002 a BBC poll revealed the country’s preferred list of 100 Greatest Britons, which placed Elizabeth II at number 24. Two monarchs beat her: Queen Victoria and her namesake, Elizabeth I, the only crowned head to reach the top ten. But, tellingly of the contrary nature of all of us, Oliver Cromwell, who chopped off a King’s head and briefly turned the country into a republic, beat all monarchs bar one. Three Prime Ministers and a man who tried to blow up parliament with a King in it also placed nearly as highly, or higher than, our present Queen. The rest of the top of the list was completed by notable scientists, authors, explorers, mathematicians, military leaders and musicians – in other words, people who actually contributed to the betterment of the nation and its people, not just someone who got to where they are merely by being born. So do we really love our monarchy as much as all the pomp and trumpeting would have us believe?

Tradition was you’d rid yourself of a troublesome head of state by divorcing their head from their body. Now, any policy passed by parliament must be signed into law by the monarch, meaning they would have to sign the law removing themselves from the constitution, and finding any monarch progressive enough to throw themselves from the royal gravy train is as likely as finding a stone that bleeds blue blood. The truth of the matter is that we still have a monarch because this system is set up in such a way that no government would make so radical and potentially unpopular a proposition as to abolish the monarchy, and no monarch would put themselves out of a job. It’s a classic elephant in the room dilemma. Everyone knows the role of the monarch is entirely ceremonial and symbolic, but no one is prepared to take the steps to cut away the dead flesh. It’s tradition, but that’s just another way of saying we do something a certain way because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I’m not sure that our adoration, bordering on religious idolatry, doesn’t come about largely because it’s expected of one.

I also wonder what the rest of the world thinks when they see the footage on their evening news. Undoubtedly the royals are good for tourism, they’re a spectator sport. But so are the Hunger Games, and if the country needs a distraction in these troubled times I would rather the O2 Arena was rechristened the O2 Thunderdome and the privileged few would be forced to duel until only one was left standing, and in that way at least they would have earned my respect, and any right to parade.

Cereal Killers

Last week, research scientists sent an open letter to a group of activists called “Take the Flour Back” imploring them not to damage and destroy a field in Hertfordshire during a day of “planned action” at the end of May. The field is part of Rothamsted Research’s study into a genetically modified wheat which, it is hoped, will be highly resistant to aphids. A crop, which if successful, could eradicate the need for pesticide use.

Which is a good thing right? Well clearly not according to some.

We’ve been tinkering with the science of genetics for thousands of years, it’s almost as old as agriculture itself. Wheat, the most widely grown crop on the planet, is already a hybrid of many different species. Commercially grown modern wheat, untended, wouldn’t even survive in the wild; human beings have changed it beyond what would ever appear naturally. The grains are a lot bigger than undomesticated varieties and it has a real issue with seed dispersal, an impotence which has been cultivated through years of selective breeding: so it’s easier and more worthwhile to harvest. We’ve also bred in “dwarfing” which means the stalk is shorter, so the energy of the plant can be more usefully diverted to the production of seed. Trying to grow it in the wild would be the agricultural equivalent of releasing a sausage dog into the wilderness and expecting it to survive. All the aspects that make the dog desirable to us – in this case resembling a tiny-legged-sausage-with-a-face, would be exactly the things that would give it no chance. It is as far from a wolf as it’s possible to be – because that’s how we want it. But to most of us it’s not a dangerous abomination, it’s just a sausage dog.

So what has inspired such promises of violence towards a field of GM wheat? After all, since the late 90‘s when the widespread commercial use of GM crops started in the US, there has never been a single proven case of anyone ever having suffered ill effects through their consumption. All those millions and millions of people and nobody’s grown another head or a third armpit. Presumably because extensive trials, like the one under threat in Hertfordshire, are carried out to ensure the product is safe. GM Crops undergo a far more rigorous process of regulation than their non-GM equivalents and have since the very beginning.

“Take the flour back”, have suggested the threat of contamination, but that doesn’t really ring true. The safety measures in place for this particular trial are impressive to say the least: the crop will be surrounded by inert fields far beyond the dispersal range of the wheat’s pollen, making the threat of contamination as effectively close to zero as it is possible to get.

It’s difficult to understand the mindset of a group, whose concerns regarding GM include the fact that not enough research is being done, destroying that very same research. Protesters often cite the dangers of corporate oligarchy – control and profit, as a reason against GM crops, and whilst this is a very valid reason for scrutiny and where my own concerns normally lay, it doesn’t apply here either: the end-product, if successful, will not become a patented biocrop only available to the highest bidder. Despite all the doom-mongering, Rothamsted Research is not a malevolent multinational, hushing up mutants in it’s basement, it’s a group of well respected scientists whose aim is to improve on what we have and share it with the world. Their ultimate aim is a crop whose yield, resistance to drought, nutritional value, shelf-life and cost to grow could help end starvation in the Third World.

When I hear people say that we don’t know the results of long term use, that we’ve only been using GM crops for 20 years, I think to myself – that is considerably longer than millions of Africans are currently living. With around 15 million children dying of hunger every year, destroying this important work is destroying a manifesto whose ideals would wipe out famine.

In keeping with the subject of mutation, the word “activist” is one whose meaning has perhaps mutated as much as the crops some seek to destroy. In this instance though it is a moniker that seems destined to ring true. Rather than the admirable mission of concerned citizens, activist is now the “go-to” word to describe any campaigners associated with some degree of violence or destruction. I’ve felt for as long as I can remember that this is exactly the wrong thing, as a protester, to do. As soon as you become a crusader with the mindset of a terrorist, then you sacrifice, not your ability to be noticed, but your ability to be taken seriously, it dilutes the purity of your message. The role of a protester is to engage sympathy through peaceful actions, to shine a light on inequalities or dangers and thereby expand your audience. Once this has been achieved you voice valid points to that audience – be they the community, the government or the world.

You raise your voice, not your fist.

Red or Dead?

Unlike the White Queen to Alice, I won’t be asking you to believe six impossible things before breakfast or indeed any other meal, but I will ask that you forgive my tenuous analogy. In hindsight, it would have been more appropriate if it were the Red Queen who imparted this nonsensical advice, as the two subjects of this contrast and comparison are closely associated with that hue.

I have an invested interest in, and have been closely following the fortunes of, two public figures and, in spite of there being few obvious connections between them, I decided to kill two birds with one badly considered article. They are Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liverpool FC manager Kenny Dalglish. Their red credentials are under no doubt – the former the younger son of a prominent Marxist theoretician, the latter an Anfield legend both on and off the pitch – but neither came into their jobs through a direct route and both have come under fire from sections of their supporters.Ed Milliband looking really fed up, in the run up to the local elections 2012

The former Energy and Climate Change Secretary ascended to his current position by the roundabout route of being the least offensive to his party members. His elder brother David, heir apparent, polled more first-choice votes, but due to the complicated AV form of polling Ed won through by being more people’s second choice. Not the most confidence inspiring way to become leader.

‘King’ Kenny took the reigns in a temporary capacity after the sacking of predecessor, new England manager Roy Hodgson, who had been a spectacular failure in charge, and hadn’t endeared himself to the Kop faithful. Dalgleish rode in on a tide of popular support, with his name being called out from the terraces.

For the first eighteen months in the position, if Ed Miliband’s record as leader of the opposition were expressed as a series of score lines, read from the old-school videprinter on a Saturday teatime BBC, they’d be a dirge of tedious no-score draws. Politically, he’s thus far squandered every gilt-edged chance he has been served up – and has been accused of bandwagon jumping when he did catch on – and missed more open goals than a blind, drunk, one-legged heifer (or, Andy Carroll, as his friends know him.)

Initially, his sporting counterpart in this shaky analysis, fared a little better. Dalglish stabilised the team, inspired confidence and invested in new and exciting talent. Results improved and the team crawled up the Premier League table.

But recently their fortunes have polarised somewhat. Where Liverpool and their popular figurehead had endured a run of poor form, the Labour leader has began to soar.

Up until the past few weeks, I got the impression when Ed Miliband was handed these golden opportunities to shine he wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them, like the ape at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, picking up a bone and bashing the corpse until the light bulb above its head flickered into life. But, of late, the government has begun to resemble that corpse. Barely a day goes by without some new grief, some reason for embarrassment, so he isn’t short of material to thrash them with. There has been the débâcle that was the government’s handling of a potential fuel tanker drivers’ strike that caused chaos at the pumps; the resignation of party treasurer Peter Cruddas in the wake of the cash-for-access scandal; a budget that they could not even justify to their back benchers and included the memorable granny-tax, pasty-tax and caravan tax; the Leveson inquiry uncovering evidence of collusion between Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and News Corp in the takeover bid for BSkyB; and the devastating news that the UK economy experienced a so-called ‘double-dip’ recession, in spite of their claim to being the party with the correct formula to heal the country’s debt problem. An omnishambles, as Miliband catchingly described it. Not even Liverpool’s £35m Geordie statue, Carroll, could fail to hit a bullseye.

With each new mishap, Miliband has taken to the dispatch box at Prime Minister’s questions and has aggressively and effectively taken the Premier to task over them. David Cameron’s only defence, as it usually is, has been attack, rather than answering his opposite number’s questions. The mantra he repeats, regardless of the subject, is that the previous government got the country into these difficulties, and his government is taking difficult decisions to solve them. But how long will that wash?

The party’s defeat at the Bradford West bi-election was the only tarnish to this otherwise excellent purple patch. Labour lost the seat to one policy, professional agitator George Galloway, who was expelled from the party in 2003 and has oft come back to haunt them, like some embittered, shit-flinging, Scottish poltergeist.

Liverpool’s form has also caused them to part company with employees. Director of football Damien Comolli, along with some backroom staff, were given the bullet when results took a negative turn. Frenchman Comolli was the architect behind all ofKenny Dalglish looking fed up the club’s overpriced and under performing acquisitions, and, as in politics, when dismissals begin the minor functionaries act as a firewall around the person in the hotseat. Although the men on the pitch must take their share of responsibility, Dalglish’s tactical failings must shoulder much blame. He spent a decade away from management, years in which the game has changed radically.

The man is so adored the dilemma for the owners is, by appointing him they have given the supporters exactly what they wanted, now how do you get rid of him? To fire him would be like walking into a nursery with a basket of puppies then, in front of the delighted children, taking out a shotgun and blasting the dogs in the face with both barrels.

But in spite of his good run, I can’t invest much faith in Ed Miliband. It’s only weak opposition making him look good. His father was a socialist poster boy, but so what? My dad used to work for Heinz, but that doesn’t make me a go-to man for baked beans. All my instincts and reason are against his long-term prospects. He is a competent junior minister, but can you see him as Prime Minister? Some have commented he has the look of a Nick Park creation – I’m sure not helped by being viewed as a puppet of the unions – and a personality as dull and lumpen as one of those plasticine figures. It’s sad that personality should matter so much in a politician, but in this day and age of 24 hour multi-platform media it’s a must. A lack of a likeable personality was the downfall of dour, boring accountant Gordon Brown, who, fifty years ago, may have made a fair PM, but under constant, intense scrutiny he lacked the necessary nous. David Cameron, in spite of any opinions you may have about his politics, is very media savvy, although some are finding the smug, posh boy persona becoming very wearing.

Likewise, I can’t see Dalglish staying in his position either. It has become apparent he isn’t the man to restore Liverpool to the lofty successes of the 1980s. For a man who, to the club’s fans, could do no wrong, his reputation has been tarnished a little and perhaps the best result for all parties would be for him to fall on his sword.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’ll be relieved to know the connections between the two men do tie together a little neater than this article has so far given the impression. Both face stern tests of their leadership this week that could make or break their careers.

On Thursday 3rd May 2012, up and down the country, those not too apathetic will vote in local council elections. Parties in government usually suffer badly in mid-term elections, and with this government experiencing what can only be described as a crisis anything less than a Labour whitewash will be seen as a failure and an indictment of Miliband’s leadership.

On Saturday, the men in red shorts will face the toughest test of Dalglish’s reign so far when they face a enlivened Chelsea in the FA Cup final. They have already won a trophy this year – the League Cup – but this will be a make-or-break moment.

Good form in politics, like football, is fickle and fleeting. You can be riding high one week and plummeting the next. Unlike in football, this form is not so easily chartable, with no league tables to express results. The closest indicators would be polls conducted by the likes of YouGov and Ipsos MORI, but these are to be used only as a general guide. People are more willing to make a decision with no consequences, but when it comes to an election they tend to vote truer to type, so polls do not necessarily accurately represent an election result. But most polls are currently agreed that Labour are well ahead, with trust in the government ebbing away. Liverpool’s eighth position in the league tells a different story. They have fallen well short of the expectations of the owners and the fans.

The fear is that should both individuals succeed this week, it will buy them time in positions they have already outstayed their welcome.

Mindless Vandalism

Mining Family Miners Memorial statue in Concord, Washington.  Photo: Alicia Duffy

On a sunny but windy Saturday 31st March, residents of Washington, young and old, gathered along Concord Front Street to witness the unveiling of the new Miner’s Statue in the heart of the town. With speeches from Councillor Kelly (Portfolio Holder for Safer City and Culture), Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, the Chair of the Durham Miner’s Association and the Deputy Mayor of Sunderland City Council it was a day that many had been eagerly anticipating.

I stood with the crowd and watched as the statue was unveiled, people filled with anticipation waited to see what the end product would be and it did not disappoint. The statue was greeted with a warm round of applause and a gentle undertone of genuine appreciation. A few of the comments I overheard included: ‘What a wonderful, traditional statue’ and ‘It has been a long time coming’.

Indeed this statue has been a long time coming!

For a few years now, individuals and community groups have been raising money to get the statue erected in Washington and support has been coming from many different organisations to the cause; from the Durham Miner’s Association to Sunderland City Council. I, like many others, donated money to the Miner’s Family Statue through buying a miner’s lamp key ring a few months ago.

Yet this day of commemoration has been marred by recent events. Not even three days after the statue was unveiled on Saturday afternoon, an unnamed suspect tried to ruin the statue. News broke this morning on Facebook that at around 1AM the statue was targeted by metal thieves trying to hack off the leg of the child – a part of the statue portraying a miner and his family. This news comes as a major blow to everyone who was involved in the planning, fundraising and campaigning to bring this statue to Washington and to all those people who attended the event to see the statue unveiled.

It is sad to think but it was inevitable that some where down the line the statue would be defaced but sadly things like this happen to statues in busy public areas. I spoke with a few local councillors afterwards who had these fears but every one felt that the statue represented something so special to the community of Washington that no one would deface it. How wrong we all were.

Damage to Washington Miners Statue - Photo:Alex Cargill

This mindless criminality is exactly why people feel that doing projects like the Miner’s Family statue are worthless. Why should we spend money on something we know is going to be ruined by some thug? No doubt this thought will cross many people’s minds over the coming days, but we should not have this attitude towards future projects.

Firstly if we let this deter us from future projects then we have let who ever did this win. Secondly, the way the statue has brought people together. The statue represents a sense of community and a sense of worth that we lost decades ago.People are proud of the statue and the past that it represents in a time when people feel that society gives us nothing to feel proud about.

Why should we punish ourselves for one persons evident disengagement from the significance of the statue? Simple answer, we should not.


Emergency Cuts

There are certain things that should be labelled as untouchable when governments want to make cuts. In any case, when cuts are made from public services they should be made where the effect will be felt least by the people the public is serving, if you see what I mean.

So if local councils do have to cut back on things, then shelters for victims of domestic abuse, public libraries and public loos shouldn’t be affected. They should cut their marketing budget, the publication of useless leaflets about recycling budget and maybe their bonus pool. (Recycling isn’t useless, but junk mail about it is.)

If the NHS, already under attack, has to make cuts, they should be slashing IT and management budgets, not medication and front line medical staff budgets.

I think you get my drift.Vintage NHS Ambulance.  Photo: David/Schofield

Now, have you ever needed the emergency services? I have. Last year they saved my life. Good job I am in France, and didn’t have to depend on good old 999. Because it is being reported that first response police officers have been axed in their thousands since the non-elected government came to power in the UK.

What else has been reported about cuts this week? Ah, factories giving employment to disabled people are going to be closed down. A few weeks ago we learned that women’s refuges are losing funding.

Soldiers are being killed in Afghanistan and the British people want their troops brought home. It would be a logical step as cuts to defence are being made. But if it is to bring them home and then send them off to Iran, which David Cameron won’t rule out, then heaven help us all. And not to say I told you so, but I have been worried about the idea of us attacking Iran for quite a while. For the record I am absolutely categorically against war unless we are really, truly, under threat of attack. I’m not going to say I would support a policy of non-intervention like the Chinese do, but I do get a bit fed up of Western politicians trying to tell the world how to behave. It’s bloody hypocritical.

But if we were to intervene in Iran, or the Falklands, or Syria, or anywhere else (and political leaders like military intervention, as cheering on the troops stops us thinking about the things that are going on right under our noses) surely, surely, the troops will need uniforms. And weapons. And money.

Cuts. Fed up of them. As the only people who are really paying for them are you and me. Well, you. As I live in France.

The Rail Users’ Uprising

Travelling by train can be wonderful or unbearable.

I do it every day, long and short journeys, for work and leisure, and a couple of months ago, the monthly season ticket just for my daily commute increased by 7.5%. Thank Christ I don’t live too far from work! I am so annoyed about this that I’m on the brink of turning into Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” so I can only imagine the level of resentment that my fellow commuters living further out of town must feel.Train on track.  Photo: IBBoard

The service provided by our rail companies – across the board – falls short of an acceptable standard, with sub-categories ranging from “could do better” to “surely you’re taking the piss?”

Now, I hear, there are proposals to increase peak time fares and close ticket offices.

  • Charge even more for a service not fit for purpose and cut jobs as well? Nice one, Justine Greening. That was well considered, wasn’t it?
  • Commission a report by some aviation fat cat with a knighthood? Check.
  • Report concludes that inefficiencies on the network cost Muggins the Train User AND Muggins the Subsidiser, of whom there are several million, a staggering amount of dosh.  (Insert a pithy phrase about a pipe-smoking chap who was rather good at solving crimes.)
  • Wait almost ten months to announce your response to the report? Oh yes. (Doubtless bricking it because your so-called “government” is so out of touch that even the unelected and over-privileged think you’re going too far with everything you attempt.)
  • Tackle the immense problem by increasing fares, thus metaphorically kicking in the teeth (and literally taking money out of the bank account) of the very people your government is supposed to be interested in keeping on side? Why the hell not!

The Tories are in power (and so are the Lib Dems, to a certain extent – but sadly, we can’t tell the difference, so let’s call them Tories, too) so we can’t expect policy geared to encouraging the use of trains. This party doesn’t give a damn about the environment and cares even less about the people paying its MPs’ wages (well, what’s a taxpayer-funded salary when you’re already rolling in money?). They’re not going to invest in the railway system. It’s Beeching v2.0 – completely unsurprising from the party that stands for the individual, the car, the choked motorway and the creation of more wealth for the already loaded few.

I have a proposal to increase the efficiency of the rail system. They’re punishing us for…well, nothing. Why not punish them in return? After all, we have reason enough. My fellow rail users, it’s time to fight back.  Here are my suggestions.

  1. Refuse to show your ticket to the ticket-checkers if;

a) The train you have travelled on is late
b) There is no space to sit or stand – without having to come into contact with a fellow passenger – in the usual standing areas in the carriage
c) The train is at peak time on a major route and there are fewer than four carriages.

2)      If conditions a), b) or c) are present, demand a refund, either partial or full.

a) if you are late for work
b) if you are late for any other appointment
c) because you have paid for a service that was not provided properly.

3)      If you incur any additional costs, send the rail company the bill. For example:

a) If your wages are docked because you were late for work
b) If you miss out on a deal (e.g. restaurant) because you arrived too late.

4)      If you are charged an increased fare or a penalty fare on a train because you did not buy a ticket before the journey, refuse to pay. Point out to the ticket inspector that you did not “choose” to walk past a ticket office before boarding the train; rather:

a) You arrived at the station with sufficient time to spare but there was a queue
b) You arrived at the station with hardly any time but you intended to pay.

Either of the above is a valid reason. You have a life that changes – sometimes, you have to go somewhere at short notice. They’re providing a service that should accommodate the needs of the passenger.

Then go on to point out that:

  1. They have the technology to process payments in their hand, so what’s the difference?
  2. You refuse to pay extra for the same journey – this is extortion, plain and simple

If Greening’s plans go ahead, tell them:

  1. There wasn’t a ticket office open – there are no ticket offices now, remember?
  2. You will only buy a ticket from a shop or post office if the ticket office is reinstated as well – it’s all about consumer choice, these days, right?

If we all did the above, then the traToy trains on a wooden track.  Photo: Carniculain companies would have to provide a decent service, more people would want to use the trains and they would be far less resentful about paying the already high prices. This bunch of heartless fools in power would have to realise that the public are not just willing to protest against them and everything they stand for, but are also willing to claw back their hard-earned cash. They would be forced to invest in the rail network so that companies could provide trains with carriages that were sufficient in number and sufficiently clean. They would be forced to limit the prices that the rail companies would charge. In short, they would be forced to stop having a bloody good laugh at us.

We Believe You

We Believe You is the name of the latest Mumsnet campaign, launched this week to raise awareness of rape, how prevalent it is and how many myths surround it. Please go and read about their campaign – the research they have done is quite eye opening, to say the least.

“Victim blaming” is so prevalent in our society that I honestly believe that many women are afraid to report rape and assault for fear of being blamed. I just read that sentence back and it sounds really silly doesn’t it? Who, in their right mind, would blame a woman for being raped? Well, a hell of a lot more people than you might think.

Women are criticised if they don’t dress modestly. If a woman is raped on a night-out  people will openly wonder what she was wearing, had she had too much to drink, was she stupidly wandering down an alleyway on her own.

Sound familiar?

If you’re not shocked at these attitudes let me tell you why you should be. There is NO excuse for rape. Placing even a tiny part of the responsibility of an assault on to the victim is wrong. I would like the freedom to wear what I like, walk where I want to without being told it may get me into trouble.

A society, where attitudes like this are prevalent: blaming the victims to a greater or lesser extent – is a society where rape is tacitly accepted. “No, rape is never acceptable,” you might say, and you’d be right. But it appears that we live in a society which does accept it.

That’s not a very nice thing to realise is it?Rape Pre-dates miniskirts - banner at a slutwalk.  Photo: cathredfem

Rapists can, and very often do, get away with their crimes, because our society doesn’t believe the victims who come forward. They say things like “oh well if you go out at that time of night on your own you’re asking for it”. Who say that? You’d be surprised. Men, women, of all generations, think that way.

No. No woman is asking to be raped.

How about if you then learn that in over 80% of cases of rape and sexual assault, the victim knows the aggressor. “Yeah, date rape,” you might think, and millions of us will shudder at that very phrase. Date rape. That’s not real rape is it? Not proper rape. If a girl goes up to her boyfriend’s flat she’s asking for it isn’t she. She can hardly complain if she changes her mind at the last minute.” Can she?

Yes. She can. Date rape, (ugh) or rape within a relationship is rape too. It is just as serious, just as brutal, just as damaging as any other kind of rape. In fact it can be even more so. Because you go and tell your average Joe Bloggs that you were raped by your boyfriend, or husband, or even on a casual date. Most people just won’t take you seriously. It’s not considered real rape. Ask Ken Clarke. The guy in charge of the British justice system.

So, a victim may be accused of having asked for it in some way, or her experience of rape might be belittled and treated as non serious. That’s bad enough isn’t it. But it gets worse. Because lots and lots and lots of people just simply don’t believe women when they say they have been raped or assaulted.

Can you imagine having such a traumatic and life changing experience, and turning to the people around you for support and them not believing you? And when it goes public (because there’s nothing the press love more than a nice juicy rape case) the onus will be on you, the victim, to prove you are the victim. And often people won’t believe you. Lots of people. People who should be helping you, like the police. Some will, some won’t. You don’t want to have to deal with the people who don’t believe you.

A case in the news recently that I blogged about several times was the chambermaid in New York who accused Dominique Strauss Kahn of assault. Regardless of what has happened since (and no, he wasn’t cleared, there were issues with the evidence) the reaction in France when he was arrested was shocking. I blogged about it here.

The Mumsnet campaign makes for some pretty depressing reading. It is the 21st century and rape, how it is treated and how easy it is to report it, hasn’t changed all that much. Far too women are still being raped. And far too few cases are being reported. And even fewer convictions are happening.

It’s very  very sad.

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