Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Letter from Diane Abbott

I received this following in reply to my suggestion that Ms Abbott (who is my local MP) should sign up to the movement to impeach Tony Blair over his actions on Iraq:
Dear Ms Cruella*,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Iraq conflict and the involvement of British troops. As you may know I have been opposed to the invasion from the beginning. I voted against it, partly because in my judgement it was illegal, but also I feared we could be drawn into a quagmire. I am as saddened as you to see the present security situation as bad as it is.

One of my key concerns following the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime has been whether we are actually making the region any more stable. As we know there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. But now Iraq is awash with Islamic terrorists. With every day that goes by the American and British forces look less like an army of liberation and more like an occupying force. I am also concerned about ‘mission creep’. I am reluctant to draw comparisons to the Vietnam conflict but there is a danger that the withdrawal of other national forces such as Spain our troops will be drawn deeper into the conflict rather than a staged withdrawal. We should be looking at options to bring troops home rather than deploying more. Whatever the reason for them being there I am deeply concerned with the welfare of British troops as well as the Iraqi people.

After invading Iraq we do owe the people there security and a safe passage towards some level of peace and prosperity. I personally would favour the current force in Iraq being replaced with a more international force with a focus on troops coming from Muslim states. This would not only allow British troops to leave but would also give the troops more of a peace keeping role rather than the perceived invasion force that is there at present. Ultimately Iraqi’s must be given the chance to govern and keep the peace themselves, and this cannot happen with foreign troops on their soil. I assure you I will continue to speak on this matter at every opportunity.

Best Wishes

Diane Abbott MP

Laurence Meehan Research Assistant to Diane Abbott MP
*Name changed to protect what limited blog anonimity I have. you need to use your real name and address so you can be confirmed as a genuine resident of the constituency and voter, otherwise you'll be lucky to get a reply.

Shame really that despite her having views, and expressing them periodically in the house, which are not entirely dissimilar to my own, I still can't vote for her because the party she stands for doesn't adhere to those views and the leader she votes for is no longer responsible to either the party or the country.

Still the encouraging news is that MPs, even senior ones like Ms Abbott, do read letters sent in by contituents, or at least ask their research assistants to do so. Other bloggers who wish to do likewise avail their local MP of thier views should try this very helpful website.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Does David Blunkett think we're all stupid?

...he's probably right. The latest news is that juries are to be allowed access to a defendant's criminal record in cases involving child sex abuse and theft. Seems to me to beg the question: why are those two crimes being linked, and others ignored?

Now as this article explains, the government would love to get a higher conviction rate in courts. They could achieve this by spending more money hiring and training police and giving them the equipment to conduct better forensic research. But why spend money when there's a short cut?

Child sex abuse has been a big cause of public outcry recently. So it seems likely that the tabloid headlines are going to be all in favour of this move, and full of photographs of Roy Whiting - who already had child sexual abuse convictions on his record when he was convicted of the abduction and murder of Sarah Payne. Note firstly that Roy Whiting was convicted without the need for this law change. Secondly can you imagine someone who the jury knew had a criminal record for child sex abuse being found innocent of anything? The law will effectively condemn those with any record to being emprisonned at the whim of those who know about their past. If the courts believe however that it will boost their ability to catch people who abuse children then it may be worth doing. Courts, it appears, believe this because they see child abuse as stemming from a pathological desire to abuse and hurt children.

And theft? Now just a minute, I do not lie awake at night worrying about shop-lifters. Surely theft is not the sort of crime which we need to step in and "get tough" on. Theft in itself doesn't hurt anybody, it might do when its combined with assault, but previous convictions for assault will not be revealed. This means that juries will know if there is a conviction for theft, but not whether or not that theft was violent. Well my best guess is that juries are going to assume the worst and this is going to knock up conviction rates massively and end up with stacks of innocent people in jail. Just a hunch. Then the government will be bragging about how they catch more criminals than previous governments.

And we still don't have disclosure of previous criminal records for rape. Even though we've been asking the longest. Ask any victim of rape whether they'd rather have been a victim of theft and they'll tell you yes. Is there any evidence to suggest rapists have a pathological desire to abuse and hurt women? Err, yes, loads.

Of course bringing the previous conviction diclosure in for rape is not without its risks. While it seems likely that the number of false claims brought is extremely low, there is always someone out there hoping to abuse the system and victimise someone with a date-rape conviction on their record.

Well its here that I depart from traditional feminist thinking and suggest something shocking: maybe we should have three degrees of rape - like we do for murder. So that date rape is no longer the same crime as the Ealing Vicarage cases of the 1980s. Then we can insist on disclosure, as well as much longer sentences, for the worst cases, and still convict and sentence those whose crimes are less premeditated.

But what I see here from Mr Blunkett is an attempt to hide behind the paedophile issue to sneak in legislation which will artificially inflate the conviction rate without actually improving the overall justive rate. And legislation which sounds like it might but actually won't make life any better for the one group of people who could really benefit from this type of move.

Whoever said cheats never prosper?

Clearly the organisers of the US elections haven't heard this one yet. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Kofi break

Kofi Annan and I agree on a lot of things. And today I've discovered another one for the list: he thinks the Tory party is irrelevant too! Mr Annan is coming to the UK to meet the Queen, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, a few other dignitaries and Charles Kennedy. Not bothering to see Michael Howard though! The Liberal Democrats are the opposition these days, the Conservative Party is a minority interest group. Hurray, good news for once!

What an unholy mess...

...our education system has become.

Tuition fees, declining standards, truancy, coursework and cheating, poor teaching standards. So is the new diploma system going to help? Err, no.

Here are just a few edited highlights of what's wrong with it:

1) The various modules are not as clearly broken down as GCSEs and A-levels are, meaning that students wishing to take courses later in life or from prison, etc, will end up with a part of a qualification rather than a clear level.

2) Nothing is getting harder. The new A++ is a joke, the problem of schools choosing the easiest exam board and the exam boards getting progressively easier to increase their market share will persist.

3) The system is unfair on students doing Scottish Highers and International Bacalaureats since these continue to receive less "points" on the university application system.

4) The idea that the new system will give greater credibility to vocational courses is wholly speculative. There's no reason why it should.

5) Focus on vocational skills and "apprenticeships" may be a good thing, however a simultaneous focus on employers to find "skilled" opportunities - rather than "McJobs" is likely needed to counteract the way in which the job market has shifted since the last time we all had apprenticeships.

6) The shift away from exams to teachers marks frightens me greatly. Smart kids who are bored in lessons and become a nuisance to teachers (like I did many years ago) will be at risk of being marked down.

7) Problem of coursework and cheating not addressed. Everyone at my school did it more than ten years ago: teachers, parents and children copying each other.

Ok and enough whinging. Here's what we SHOULD do instead:

1) Centralise the exam board system. Some flexibility in terms of syllabus would probably be helpful, but lets have a standardised system so that everyone's results are comparable and we can stop the drift of standards.

2) No more coursework. Kids need to learn not to be intimidated by exams. We could have some exams which kids are allowed to bring text-books in to, to reduce the need to memorise things.

3) Exams get harder, like they used to be. No A+ or A*. Just an A grade that means something.

4) Everyone studies English, Maths, a Science, IT and a language up to GCSE. Top students should be doing 10 GCSEs, less academic kids do these 5 and vocational stuff.

5) Schools to teach "life skills" one afternoon per week (shame that they need to, but they do). Students should leave able to cook healthy meals, repair clothes, put up shelves, wire plugs, basic gardening, first aid, child care, etc and kids with skills and interests in these areas should be offered the opportunity to spend more time on them, leading to apprenticeships.

6) Instead of trying to recruit teachers straight out of uni, lets try to recruit more coming out of industry and other professions. Offer shorter conversion courses for people who already have the skills to become teachers, treat the long holidays as semi-retirement, and bring real role models with real life experiences into school.

...well I could go on all day...I think you can see what I mean...

Friday, October 15, 2004

The Life group on their high-horses again

I'm reading on the BBC about plans to help women taking the pill do so at the right time and regularity by sending them text messages. The pill has long since been dispensed in date-labelled packs, i.e. with mon-tue-wed-... next to each one. I have for many years wondered why that is done for the pill but not for anti-biotics and other medication where it is important to take the drugs regularly. Maybe other drugs have different instructions and doses for different ailments and are more easily dispensed in a bottle with instructions on the side. I must admit I even feel a bit twitchy about it, as if women are being patronised a bit.

Still the new service being offered cannot be doing any harm really since its very much up to individuals to sign up for it.

Ok, now lets see the reaction from the Pro-Life Group: "The anti-abortion charity Life condemned the idea and said it would lead to increased promiscuity. "

Now I wonder if women are being treated as stupid by having their pills date-labelled. This lot seem to think women are so stupid that more will start taking the pill now they can receive reminders by text-message. Never mind the fact that anyone can set up a regular text alert or phone-based alarm for themselves very easily if they find that's the best way to organise their lives. Never mind that everybody knows that the pill is only suitable for long-term monogamous relationships since it doesn't protect against STDs... or that the new service is only being offered to those already on the pill. I wonder why the BBC felt the need to ask these guys for a comment.

If this development does anything at all I have to guess it would cut the number of abortions going on by cutting down the number of accidentally missed pills. If that is what the Life group really want, they should welcome this move. They should also focus the centrepiece of their campaign on raising money to support women who fall pregnant and wish to continue their pregnancies, since by far the biggest deciding factor in worldwide abortion rates is poverty. This will never happen because, I believe, this group is nothing more than a collection of mysogynists trying to deny women control over their own lives and bodies.

The other point that jumps out at me is that the fear raised by the Life input to the news story is that the new initiative might encourage promiscuity. So they're taking as read that promiscuity is a terrible thing. Some of us, mainly the ones who've tried it, might beg to differ.

There's very little religious basis for the condemnation of promiscuity, as long as people aren't married. They were all up to it in the old testament, actually even the married ones. Jesus seemed to suggest it might distract people from seeking their more spiritual side, but that was about as much attention as it got. Other religions similarly seem to have focussed in on obscure pieces of their holy texts to suggest that this should be a standardised law, when in fact it has never been a core message (like for example "thou shallt not kill", leaving some of us to wonder where exactly the basis for "honor killings" of women suspected of pre-marital sex or infidelity has arisen from).

For the practising atheist the only issues raised however are the spread of STDs - use condoms kids - and the social and emotional risks. While this latter is not to be ignored, I can't help thinking the social and emotional impact of staying home and missing out on the (metaphorical) orgy of life, lust and love would be risking a lot more.

To complete the full cycle and head into very deep feminist waters (hurray!). Personally I wouldn't dream of taking the pill and messing about with my natural hormones. The balance of estrogen, etc (and testosterone too) in my system is a part of who I am as a woman and I'm quite happy with it as it is and have no desire to mess with it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Who would Jesus vote for?

Quote Alan Keyes, Republican candidate for Illinois: "I think it's perfectly clear if you ask people are you going to vote against God or for the Democratic party they will stand with God,". Now aside from the gramatical error in that statement which makes it sound as though he's encouraging only devil-worshippers to vote for him, how scary is the US these days?

There are two issues here:

1) Would Jesus really have voted Republican? Clearly not. Firstly he made a big noise about how a rich man could not serve God, he didn't suggest top bracket tax cuts. He spent his life helping the poor and sick, not forcing them to work for a pathetic minimum wage. He also had these rules: the ten commandments, big stone tablets, etc and one of them said "THOU SHALT NOT KILL", but none of them said anything about pre-emptive invasion. Even after he had been wronged he said "turn the other cheek", not "carpet bomb civilians at will",...

2) Has anyone noticed that the first victim of fundamentalism, whatever the religion, is always women? Next up is banning abortion, banning the pill, the horror stories discussed earlier about "encouraging marriage".

We're all told, always, that we must have religious tolerance. In general I agree, but surely human rights have to come first. In a free society those who wish to observe religious practices still can, those that prefer not to have that freedom too. Meanwhile I should like to invite all and sundry to exercise their religious freedom with a wander over into one of the few global religions where women have completely equal and sometimes even senior status...wiccanism!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

If you read one piece of hard-hitting jounalism...

...read this one, about HIV, AIDS and rape in South Africa - written by Charlene Smith who herself was a victim of rape in South Africa. And if your train's leaving in five minutes - please read the whole article and skip reading the rest of my post.

President Mbeki has reacted badly to this, insisting that Ms Smith is racist and is trying to weaken his political position. This is a real shame because Mr Mbeki could instead take this as a cue to lead by example, to make it clear that rape is not a part of traditional African culture and that it will not be tolerated, nor its victims left to suffer. Instead it seems he is suffering from the same embarrassment and paranoia about the subject as those that perpetuate the suffering as well as those that suffer it in shame, silence and agony.

Now one issue is whether Mr Mbeki doesn't want his own sexual history - he fathered an illegitimate child when he was 16 - dragged up. Seems to me though that the 1.7m South Africans raped each year, many (estimated at 41%) of them children, and the risks of exposure to HIV/AIDS (estimated at 40%) has to be the key focus for the leader of this country. If the suffering of this huge tranch of the female* population doesn't matter to him, then he surely must be guilty of not just sexism but total disregard of women's health, welfare and basic rights.

Now to quote Amnesty: "Violence against women is the greatest human rights scandal of our times". You can read more about their campaign on the subject here.

*As Ms Smith's article points out, however, rape of young boys is also an issue.

Quick Mr Bush, turn the tanks round!

Well after the embarrassing flop that was the hunt for WMD in Iraq, with attendant mass murder of civilians and prompting of massive unrest across the region, this latest news will come as a relief to the "co-oilition" masterminds... Hashemi Rafsanjani says Iran, right next door, DOES have WMD. Actually ones which could make quite a mess of Israel already. More than this the article explains: 'Mr Rafsanjani said Iranian experts could now achieve "all subsequent stages" in the missile production process. ' So why are we not marching on Tehran?

For those, by the way, who believe we went to Iraq to "free the Iraqi people", a brief run through Amnesty's website will soon reveal that the regional human rights "worst offender" is Saudi Arabia. Similarly if you've still got your who's who in the middle east on order and think it has something to do with the Wrold Trade Centre attack, 17 of the 18 pilots involved were Saudi Arabian (the BBC country profile will confirm this if you need to check). So in your cases, perhaps time to urge Mr Bush and co to march on Riyadh...?

But back to Mr Rafsanjani. He says he would only use his missiles in self-defence. A more liberal policy then than Bush-Blair's so-called "pre-emptive"* strike.

* Note: "pre-emptive" implies Iraq would have attacked us if we hadn't attacked them first. The evidence for this has now been dismissed as fake.

You can't trust anyone nowadays

So turns out the US has been bugging the French president's phone lines according to a new book out. If you read a little further down the article apparently this situation has led to the breakdown of the relationship between the US and France. Not because the French are unhappy about having their basic human rights interrupted* but because the Americans didn't like what they heard: a US official apparently said "The relationship between your president and ours is irreparable on the personal level. You have to understand that President Bush knows exactly what President Chirac thinks of him". So we are to presume that Chirac, in private, takes a similar view of Mr Bush as do, erm, most French people. A president with views in line with the majority of the population? Surely not! Whatever next... democracy?

*I'm not exaggerating: Universal Declaration of Human Rights "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. " (Article 12).

A job half done

Remember when we marched on Kabul to free the women of Afghanistan? Remember the utterly spurious stories about Afghan women tearing off their burkas (later contradicted here and here)? And then as if we needed proof of their "liberation", they started opening beauty schools, entering Miss World contests in their bikinis, running magazines with women-must-have horoscopes? What a load of cr*p!!

Surprise, surprise... once we got our oil pipeline down we completely forgot about women's rights... Try this link from Human Rights Watch for the short version, there is also a link on there to the longer version. To quote RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), "They cannot go without a male relative outside their houses, and they have no access to education and there are health problems for them. So we think that the bombs in Afghanistan - the bombing by the U.S. administration - has not changed the situation because they replaced one fundamentalist [group] with another one". You really have to admire the courage of the women at RAWA, who are regularly risking their lives to fight for their rights. It also comes as a slap in the chops to those who insist that these terribly oppressed women are happy as they are. When they have proper freedom those that want to stay home will still be able to! For those wanting to support the cause, it is also probably the best place to send donations, they run schools, hospitals and literacy campaigns for women.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Hartlepool rock

Well the Hartlepool bi-election seemed to me to be a huge exercise in pointing out things we already know. Here are the main ones:

1) No-one really likes Labour but a lot of people aren't quite sure which party really represents the "anti-labour" vote. Approximately 40% of the voting public in Hartlepool have changed from voting Labour to something else since the last election. Thats half of the previous Labour vote. If they had all gone to the same opposition party, that party would easily have won. Labour's remaining vote is around 40% of the population - the voting needs to be very split indeed for 40% to be a winning % of the vote.

2) The nearest thing we have to an opposition is the Lib Dems. Voters need to rally round if we are going to get Labour out.

3) The Tories are a long long way off the mark and rapidly becoming a minority party. Imagine being a party for people who are more right wing than Labour but aren't actually mad, that's a pretty niche market! They're getting less than 10% of the vote.

4) People will be suitably shocked and horrified to discover that 250 people voted National Front. Another 10% of the population however is voting UKIP - the party that said employers shouldn't employ women who were of an age to have children...! Their candidates have said that they are interested in women's issues because "I just don't think they clean behind the fridge enough"... this is NOT a one-issue party, NOR is it a party thats just a touch right of centre. It's a bunch of extreme fascists.

5) Fathers 4 Justice are stupid and irresponsible. If anyone cared what they thought they would have voted for them. In the event they only narrowly beat the much more sensible policies of the Monster Raving Loony party. Throwing yet more flour about is a sure sign of being a bad loser.

6) Smoke-and-mirrors Blair thinks if he has a quick heart "flutter" we won't notice that his party have lost the plot.

Lets hope people sit up and notice what's going on.