Tag Archives: lynne-featherstone

Suzanne Moore and freedom of speech. So. Much. Nonsense.

lynn_1802176cTry as I might, I can’t stop getting annoyed by the whole debate surrounding Suzanne Moore and her continuing feud with the so-called “trans cabal” (this isn’t really an article by the way, just a series of random points – but at least it is mercifully shorter than my last effort).

Yesterday, Moore wrote a bizarre article in which we sought to argue that her persecution at the hands of transgender and queer activists is a freedom of speech issue.

What’s got her and, for example, Padraig Reidy at the Index on Censorship, jumping up and down is that the International Development Minister Lynne Featherstone tweeted on Sunday that she thought Julie Burchill should have been “sacked” for her Observer article attacking transgender people. Now, for the record, I don’t think Featherstone’s intervention was very sensible. As has been pointed out by others ad infinitum, Burchill is a freelancer and any intervention by a government minister was bound to end up a distraction – and so it has proven. Both Reidy and Moore have leapt on this as an example of state censorship and proof that Leveson report is dangerous nonsense that will lead to government interference of newspapers. The fact that this was a junior minister who is a member of a junior coalition partner just expressing her personal opinion (and the fact that Leveson wasn’t actually arguing for a government body to regulate the media but rather self-regulation underpinned by a statute to be overseen by the judiciary) gets ignored amidst all the shrieking.

The fact is, this is not a freedom of speech issue. The Observer did not take down the Burchill article (and I agree with Jane Fae that it was counterproductive for them to do so) because of Lynne Featherstone or any other government minister’s intervention – you can bet they’d be shouting about it right now if they had done so. It will be interesting to see what they say about it on Sunday but right now it appears that the editor John Mulholland took it down for the exact same reason he put it up in the first place: good old fashioned venality. They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.

I’m highly suspicious of people who are quick to leap up and down about Featherstone’s intervention being somehow sinister and an attack on civil liberties, while being so blithe about the assymetric power dynamic between Moore and her critics. There are a lot of pissed off trans and queer people out there right now who feel that Moore has been using her considerably privileged media platform to utterly misrepresent them in this debate. Again, Stavvers sums it up better than I could. What I don’t understand is why Moore is sticking to her guns in terms of her right to express her “anger and pain” while at the same time is so utterly blind at the fact that the people who are furious with her are doing exactly the same thing. At the end of her article she writes:

So I regret not making it clearer that we need both love and anger to be free. And you may continue to hate me, put me on lists, cast me out of the left. Free-thinking is always problematic. But if you take away my freedom to love, be intemperate, silly, angry, human, ask yourself who really wins? Who?

Yet it has been clear from the get go, that the problem has been her capacity to love in the first place. She escalated this row, and she continues to do so on an hourly basis on Twitter. As Deborah Orr said in response to her latest (at the time of writing) explicit troll:

The most telling line in Moore’s article is when she compares Featherstone to being a “humourless, authoritarian moron” (my emphasis). She isn’t the first to imply, or even express out loud that the problem at the heart of this debate is people who just “can’t take a joke”. Usually claims of humourlessness are the preserve of people like Jeremy Clarkson in their unending defence of “banter“. I’ve seen an awful lot of people over the past week making pretty similar defences, only suggesting that it is only transgender people and their friends who need to “get over it”. For some reason we are supposed to feel great at the progress we’ve made in fighting cissexism, homophobia and racism – yet we are meant to accept that trans people are an exception it is fine to laugh at and casually dehumanise. The debate seems, at its heart, to be between people who see this as an intolerable contradiction and people who don’t.

Finally, if we are to believe that this is a freedom of speech issue, and that Lynne Featherstone represents an oppressive, authoritarian government determined to crack down on the freedom of expression, why is it that the same government has just this week agreed to scrap Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986? Both Padraig Reidy and Suzanne Moore chose to ignore this inconvenient little factoid. In the case of Reidy, and the Index on Censorship, they have failed to acknowledge this at all on either their blog or weekly email newsletter. Perhaps this is because it’s a little bit of state oppression that never really affected journalists? Throughout this week I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that the real anxieties at the heart of this debate are rooted in professional self-interest rather than any genuinely noble concerns about the state of democracy; I’ve seen very little to shift this notion.

Why don’t I know more women in technology? [Ada Lovelace Day]

A few months ago I signed the Ada Lovelace pledge. Then, I realised I couldn’t think of anyone to write about.

10 weeks later, and with an hour before the end of the day, and I’m still struggling. As a Lib Dem of course, I might observe that many of the party’s e-innovators – Mary Reid, Lynne Featherstone, Jo Swinson (who despite an antipathy towards blogging has been an early adopter of everything from podcasts through to twitter – not to mention www.scraptuitionfees.com Back In The Day), have been women. But I’m not really interested in writing a piece of party propaganda.

To be fair on myself, I struggle to think of anyone “in technology” – male or female. I could name you lots of people “in social media” but I’m not entirely sure that’s quite the same thing.

Interestingly though, when I was a child I DID know lots of women in technology. My dad ran an apprentice school for the Ministry of Defence and much of my early years were spent in the Aquila Civil Service Sports and Social Club, where my parents helped run the bar and film society. I was surrounded by women in technology – both staff and apprentices. My dad would always say that one of the best feeder schools for him was the nearby girls school, Bullers Wood (years later I would go onto make friends with and have my heart broken by lots of Bullers girls – so much more interesting than the sappy Newstead girls).

When Thatcher decided to shut these apprentice schools down and make polytechnics into “universities” I can’t help but wonder if we lost something in the process. By making engineering an academic subject, have the less academic girls had their options limited to hairdressing and shop work? And can science and engineering compete with languages and English literature for the academically-minded girls? Apprenticeships used to exist as a means of escape for a lot of young people (male and female) who couldn’t bear the idea of spending another day in school. Now everything seems either school- or college-like. As such we are now talking about bringing back proper apprenticeships (as opposed to “new” apprenticeships). But unless we are prepared to pay for actual, proper apprentice schools (as opposed to schemes running out of FE colleges), will it actually cater for the evident gap in the market?

I’m totally rambling on a subject I am distinctly inexpert on. But I do wonder if, at a time when we are likely to see massive unemployment rear its ugly head once more, the time for such schools may have come again.

Finally, a brief word to the WISE – that’s Women In Science, Engineering (and Construction). WISE is a campaign aimed at promoting science and engineering to girls of school age. I am particularly endebted to them because I often use a freebie canvass bag from one of their conferences for hauling my boardgames across town. Check them out!

Coleman’s hatch should be trapped shut

There is something excrutiating about being represented by Brian Coleman. I’m not so partisan that I cannot tolerate having MPs and Assembly members of other political parties. I’ve never particularly felt shame at being represented, through the years, by Jackie Lait, Gerald Kaufman, Hilary Benn (must stop namechecking Benns!), James Plaskitt or Rudi Vis. Yes, being represented by the Labour government’s pet-filibuster-in-chief has been known to grate on occasion. But nothing – nothing – amounts to the shame in having Brian Coleman represent me in City Hall.

The episode regarding gratuitously insulting Lynne Featherstone is just the latest in a series of examples perfectly illustrating how the man is unfit for public office, and yet the London Conservatives continue to place him in top jobs. The man calling for Lynne to repay him £250 racked up £8,000 in taxi fares last year. The man who accuses Lynne of not having an accurate view of safety is scared of driving through Haringey. The man who bandies around sexist insults accuses people of homophobia when he doesn’t get his own way. I would recommend people go to the Facebook group dedicated to following his career for more.

Coleman’s career is entirely reliant on an electoral system that denies people a proper choice. Most Tory supporters, given the choice, would happily get rid of him and replace him with another Conservative who didn’t make them look stupid. Instead, we’re all stuck with him.

Paul Flynn a victim of net censorship? Don’t make me laugh

Paul Flynn is crying foul over the Parliamentary authorities’ decision to force him to pay for his own blog. Prior to that, he had tried charging the costs to the taxpayer via the Communications Allowance.

Derek Wyatt has also joined the fray:

“They don’t get in the way of my letters or phone calls, so why do they want to interfere in what I put on the web? They only want me to publish anodyne videos that no one will watch.

“They have got it completely wrong. They don’t understand the net. They simply don’t get it. It is like 1984.”

1984? How does this in any relate to state surveillance and state-sponsored torture?

Let’s be clear about some things: not a single MP is being censored or told what they can and can’t say – the issue is whether they can use Parliamentary expenses to do it. Paul Flynn is apparently shelling out £250 for his not particularly impressively designed Typepad blog. Looking at Typepad’s pricing structure, I can’t for the life of me understand why he is paying more than $50 for the service – so what is the other £180-ish being on?

Peter Black
and Lynne Featherstone‘s blogs doesn’t cost them, or the taxpayer, a penny yet by all accounts is considerably more successful. Reason? They haven’t confused style for content. By arguing the toss over this, the only thing Flynn has achieved is to illustrate an example of the ‘sense of entitlement‘ that Sir Christopher Kelly was warning about last week.

Right royal sexism

Lynne Featherstone has launched a campaign against the institutional sexism of the British monarchy, referring Prince Edward’s demotion of his daughter Louise in line to the throne in favour of her newborn brother (see the New Statesmanperson for more details).

It’s an excellent idea; the equalities post is a worthy one but one that rarely makes it to the column inches. This is a brilliant way of vicariously having a debate about prevailing sexist attitudes in society.

The only slight flaw I can see in the argument however is that since age discrimination has now been outlawed as well, why should her little brother be put at any disadvantage. Shouldn’t they be forced to toss for it, or do a job share?

And if they are being discriminated against, then what about the rest of us…?

White wristbands are history

Remember those halcyon days of 2005 when Make Poverty History “forced” the G8 to finally take the problem of international debt and development seriously? Remember how keen both Prime Minister Blair and his then Chancellor Gordon Brown were on championing this issue?

Strange then that as PM, Brown has been quietly letting those commitments drop:

Exhibit A, from the Treasury’s own website: the 2004 Spending Review which stated: “Total UK official development assistance (ODA) … will have risen from 0.26 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) in 1997 to 0.47 per cent in 2007-08.”

Exhibit B, also from the Treasury’s own website: the 2007 Pre-Budget Report which boasted of: “an increase in overseas aid as a share of national income from 0.37 per cent in 2007-08 to 0.56 per cent in 2010-11.”

So, having promised in 2004 that aid levels would be at 0.47% in 2007-8, they’ve now cut that figure to 0.37% – which is equal to around £1 billion.

Wee Dougie Alexander says its all okay. Word of political advice: when Dougie Alexander says everything is okay, panic. The last person who listened to him is currently in the cludgy.

Is racism Levy’s middle name?

Curious dead horse flogging from Lynne Featherstone yesterday, which I’m rebutting here in a vain attempt to stop yet another conspiracy theory gaining ground:

But there is one point that has struck me as valid – why do we keep on being told Lord Levy’s middle name? It’s Abraham – and so telling us his middle name in a news report emphasises, deliberately or not, that he’s Jewish.

All a bit rum. I’m very loathe to leap to the assumption that people in the BBC and elsewhere in the media are being deliberately anti-Semitic, and I’d like to think that even a charge of inadvertent anti-Semitism can be explained away, but I’m stumped for a decent explanation for the repeated use of “Abraham”.

As I pointed out on her comments, the explanation is pretty mundane. Look up Levy in Dod’s and you’ll find his full name listed as “Michael Abraham Levy”. I suspect it is listed in the same way in Who’s Who. Levy has control over both of these entries. Ruth Turner is certainly not listed in the former, and, given its snootiness regarding ordinary people without titles, lots of money or a high profile media career, presumably not included in the latter.

Journalists, being lazy working to tight deadlines, rely on such sources to quickly find out biographical information about people. In short, if you choose to have yourself listed as “Michael Abraham Levy,” then you are bound to find people call you “Michael Abraham Levy.” If Levy preferred to call himself “Michael Levy,” that would be a different matter, but he doesn’t.

But the most bizarre thing about this claim is that the man is called Levy, which is about as Jewish a name as you can get. If you’re intention is to make him ‘sound’ Jewish, why would you emphasise Abraham, a prophet recognised by the Christian and Islamic traditions? Should we now be restricted to calling him Mike, just to make sure we don’t offend anyone?