Tag Archives: tony-benn

Representation in politics: what has gender got to do with it?

One anniversay, two very different ways of covering it. The Today programme opted to mark the 90th anniversary of the first woman elected to the Commons by interviewing the son of a hereditary peer and his granddaughter. Both of them poured cold water over the idea of all women shortlists altough, this being Tony Benn, he then instantly contradicted himself by calling for a system of doubling up constituencies to ensure they were all 50% male and 50% female.

Emily Benn, I’m afraid, rather drew my ire by describing herself as “post the 1970s, 1980s feminist agenda.” So, that would make you anti-equal pay, anti-choice, pro-casual sexism in the workplace and pro-domestic violence, then? If not, what was the 1970s, 1980s feminist “agenda” you consider so irrelevant? What do they teach in that school of her’s these days?

As someone who spent a lot of time in youth politics in the 90s, I found Emily’s “I am not a feminist” stance wearily familiar. In fact, she reminded me a lot of the 19 year old Jo Swinson. The older Jo Swinson however is much wiser, and on politics.co.uk has this to say:

“It’s not harder for women. It’s just harder for carers.”

“The division of family duties in society is still very unequal. This is what we find all the time. Women get involved in politics in their twenties and then in their thirties they say ‘I’ll take time out’. But men don’t take that time out.”

This is an absolutely crucial point, and one which so often gets missed or glossed over – sadly all too often by organisations like Fawcett. So often this debate gets turned into a simplistic, and thus irrelevant, debate about all women shortlists and not about what a truly representative parliament would look like. It wouldn’t look like the current one except with the male lawyers and political careerists replaces with female lawyers and political careerists. It would have a broader range of men. Let’s not forget that the woman whose achievement 90 years ago we are marking today, was a countess. John Harris has criticised the new Speaker’s Conference on a more representative parliament for ignoring class and he is absolutely correct.

Emily Benn may have very little chance of getting elected as the next MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, but if she chooses to stick with it, she is all but a shoo-in for the general election after next, largely thanks to the family name and the other advantages being a member of a family which has provided her with a stable family life and a good education. I hope that, as she grows older, she will gain an insight into that advantage instead of using the platform that advantage affords her to belittle the cause for women’s rights.

As I’ve written before, the BBC does not have a “liberal” bias per se, it has a middle class bias. Their coverage of this anniversary is an excellent case in point.

Crisis on Multiple Tweets

It seems a milestone has been passed. Just three months ago, Rory Cellan-Jones and – it seemed – half the professional journalists out there who were aware of teh internets (both of them) were upbraiding me for my “pompous” invasion of poor Rory’s privacy by quoting one of his tweets on my blog. Yet last week, Rory himself thought nothing about “invading the privacy” of Stephen Fry and his 20,000 close personal friends on Twitter by doing the exact same thing.

Suddenly, everything seems to be happening at once with Twitter, with Stephen Fry’s genitalia coming in for some exposure in the Metro. Meanwhile, Greg “Parkman from Heroes” Grunberg, arguably ill-advisedly, semi-offered Wil “Wesley Crusher from Star Trek (and let’s not forget the whole leeches thing)” Wheaton a part in Heroes, which Tim Kring later went on to semi-endorse. Not surprisingly, Wil Wheaton is now trying to dampen speculation about this serious departure from the usual let-my-people-talk-to-your-people convention.

All this brouhaha appears to have caught the attention on one Tony Benn (a keen Heroes fan, I’m sure), who this evening started tweeting himself. It seems, somehow, that the tool has finally reached another level in terms of public awareness. I expect it to explode in popularity now. Mark my words; if you don’t already have a twitter account, there’s a pretty high chance you’ll have one in six months. Remember back when you used to assure people you would never set up a Facebook account?

Ironically, many (including myself) would have predicted Twitter’s death, at least in the UK, back in August when they suddenly stopped offering their free SMS service (in the US, as I understand it, phone owners pay to receive, rather than send, SMS, which means the service was always more sustainable there). The opposite appears to have happened. Looking at my own experience with the benefit of hindsight though, it is perfectly understandable. I walked away from Twitter on two seperate occasions because I found the barrage of SMS was getting too much, yet using it via an app such as TwitterFox and TwitterBerry gives you the best of both worlds – all the brevity of SMS but without the obtrusiveness. Using it as a social bookmarking tool was also not obvious in the early days, but this has become ubiquitous (to some people’s dismay). Finally, I started to see its true potential as a communications tool.

So where does it go from here? Well, it sort of all depends on whether the lynchmob mentality which predominates comments on YouTube starts to take hold. If the celebs find themselves having to wade through thousands of comments about their parentage each morning, they are likely to walk away. Thus far, this doesn’t seem to be happening, although there have been some grumblings amongst the golden people. At some point it has to pay its way and there is already talk of Twitter adding ads to the service. Will that kill it? A lot of people seem to think so but I doubt it. Once the excitement dies down though I suspect it will mature into a system for chatting with friends and accessing newswires, helped along by third party services like FeedBlitz.

For the time being though, it is a pretty remarkable phenomenon to be witnessing in real time. Come and join us!

UPDATE: It turns out that the Tony Benn who started tweeting earlier this week was a fraud. Benn has apparently now started a twitter account himself, but it was all lies. Mea culpa – I shouldn’t have been so naive. But what is the point of impersonating someone when you aren’t even being satirical?

The Benn political dynasty rolls on…

I watched Emily Benn giving a media interview at Labour conference this week and she certainly seemed to be very self-confident and able. So congratulations for her selection to fight East Worthing and Shoreham, even if she does stand very little chance.

The BBC very helpfully failed to mention that the full name of St Olave’s School in Orpington has a “Grammar” in it (I should know, I went there!), particularly when one remembers that this is the very same school that Harriet Harman got into so much trouble for sending her son to. Not sure her auntie Melissa would approve.

Kitsch piracy

Paul Walter blogs about the brief return of Radio Caroline, which was also discussed on the Today programme today.

One thing that seems to have been forgotten about the pirate radio controversy in the 60s is that the Minister in charge of shutting them down was one Anthony Wedgewood Benn. These days, both Benn and Caroline are categorised under the same heading of “cuddly national treasure”. Still, it is a shame that the Today programme didn’t interview him about it. That of course would mean getting Tony Benn to defend government policy and remind us that, contrary to careful brand management, he was once part of the establishment. Nevertheless, it is a shame that the BBC, which was chomping at the bit at the time to get Caroline banned, now portrays it as a nice harmless thing. If that is the case, why is the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act 1967 still in force? Isn’t the BBC failing in its duty to educate and inform, in favour of kitsch nostalgia?

On an only partially related note, the last time I went to the cinema, they showed a ridiculous new FACT advert before the film warning us of the evils of piracy. It ended with “Love film. Hate piracy.” I wonder how Johnny Depp feels about that?