Beyond Right and Wrong – a film for International Women’s Day

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day.

If you have fifty minutes to spare watch “Beyond Right and Wrong“, a film produced by former Women for Women International board member Lekha Singh. The exceptional film features stories of justice and forgiveness in Rwanda, Israel/West Bank and Gaza, and Ireland.

Even if you do not have fifty minutes, just watch what you can. I think you will find it both moving and uplifting.

Some public health data

The data below comes from the Public Health England website . This shows the seventeen wards that make up the Borough of Southend-on-Sea, and also includes the English average.

The four columns show admittedly arbitrary choices (the website has many indices to choose from); however it does reflect and illustrate some of the things I campaign about.

Life expectancy at birth for males (years) Life expectancy at birth for females (years) Income Deprivation (%) Overcrowding (%)
Kursaal 71.9 78.4 31.6 19.9
Victoria 74.9 78.6 30.8 19.8
Milton 74.4 78.5 23.6 19.5
Shoeburyness 78.0 81.4 20.2 10.1
Southchurch 77.6 83.5 19.5 6.2
St Luke’s 78.8 83.2 18.9 7.7
West Shoebury 78.3 79.8 18.6 5.9
Blenheim Park 77.0 83.1 18.2 6.2
Westborough 77.3 83.3 17.0 9.9
St Laurence 79.3 84.5 15.1 6.6
England 78.3 82.3 14.7 8.7
Belfairs 79.5 83.2 14.1 5.8
Prittlewell 77.7 82.5 14.1 7.5
Chalkwell 76.1 79.5 12.4 13.3
Leigh 79.1 85.0 9.5 6.2
Thorpe 78.8 86.4 8.7 2.5
Eastwood Park 81.1 83.4 8.5 4.8
West Leigh 80.1 84.3 5.6 3.2

And so, what does this all mean? Well, clearly there are some disparities. The table is sorted by income deprivation which shows Kursaal and Victoria some way behind most of the rest of the town, and way behind West Leigh.

The UKIP candidate in West Leigh is campaigning on over development – ironic given that West Leigh not only has a very low overcrowding figure (16th in the borough) and it is also the fifteen least densely populated ward (see I think we can safely file that under ‘scaremongering’.

Overcrowding is at about a fifth in the three town centre wards, which further vindicates my campaigning about overdevelopment here.

The contrasts in life expectancy are stark; men in Eastwood Park can expect nine years more than their Kursaal  brothers. The gap for females is not quite so large, although it still stands at eight years between the women of Kursaal and those living in Thorpe. That these wards also rub shoulders says something.

Chalkwell ward, which does well on income deprivation, falls behind on the other three measures. I wonder what the voter under registration figure is here, because I suspect that the eastern end of this ward (east of Crowstone Road/Avenue) has many houses of multiple occupancy – and this usually means both poverty and disengagement.

Stand up to racism and fascism


Excess winter deaths

This graph makes for pretty ugly reading if you live in Southend-on-Sea. For almost all of the last twenty years my town has had a worst record than the comparator average when it comes to excess winter deaths. Recent numbers show the gap to have narrowed, and I hope that I will be able to report at some point that Southend-on-Sea is better than average.
(Excess winter deaths (EWD) are calculated using the Office for National Statistics method which defines the winter period as December to March, and compares the number of deaths that occurred in this winter period with the average number of deaths in the preceding August to November and the following April to July.)

I asked for an explanation for our poor past record, and here is the response:

The causes of excess winter deaths are complex and interlinked with cold weather, fuel poverty, housing and health inequalities, as well as infectious diseases (such as flu and norovirus) and the extent of snow and ice. It is therefore very difficult to say that there is any one particular reason for Southend being above the average of its CIPFA comparator local authorities throughout the period being reported on.

I have been supporting Ed Miliband’s freeze that bill campaign. Until something is done about fuel poverty one can only speculate what this graph will look like after this coming winter has passed. This is why the vote on the Local Council Tax Support Scheme Annual Review last Thursday was so crucial, and why those who support the idea of making the poor poorer (and for what the administration had proposed) must be made aware that actions have consequences. We can add to the ‘heat or eat’ question ‘or council tax’.

Stop FGM

I have been asked to mention the petition on female genital mutilation on my blog (found here). I am no expert on this subject but I can state that every story I hear fills me with horror.

This is from the Equality Now website :

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful traditional practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia. It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone genital mutilation. FGM ranges from the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy), to the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minora (excision), to its most extreme form, the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva (infibulation).

FGM is generally done without anaesthetic, and can have lifelong health consequences including chronic infection, severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse, and childbirth, and psychological trauma. No one knows how many girls die from FGM.

Anyway, I think I am signatory 93,241 on the e-petition. You could add yours, too.

For more reading on FGM you could try this –

The gender balancing act

I subscribe to the concept of gender equality. I support this when it comes to political representation and have played my small part in ensuring it happens.

There are some subjects that are guaranteed to start an animated discussion in Labour circles, and all-women shortlists (AWS) is one of them. AWS, I think it fair to say, gets a lukewarm reception in certain quarters, and this is not from any aversion to seeing gender equality. Whilst comrades subscribe to equality, AWS is viewed by some as a very blunt instrument in achieving this.

I accept that AWS has flaws, but if one wants to drive up the numbers of women actively involved in politics then I have yet to see a better method. I know that sometimes a woman is selected or elected over their male counterparts when those frustrated males have years more campaigning experience behind them. But selection is not, and should not, be a reward for long service. It is about being the best qualified for that positions, and yes one’s gender does matter.

Outside the marginals tackles an aspect of this; stemming from a radio phone-in on producing a gender balanced parliament by halving the number of constituencies but then having each constituency elect (simultaneously) one man and one woman.

This idea is deeply flawed in one aspect, and that is the implication that male constituents are best served by a male MP, and vice versa. Not so, and gender equality has nothing to do with this idea. In fact, this is the very opposite of equality as women should be able to represent both sexes, as should men. Gender equality is all about the overall gender balance in Parliament (and council chambers, and in internal party constructs).

I should add that gender balance does not mean an exact 50/50 split either. It is best endeavours to get parity, cognizant that absolute equality is not necessary. If we get to 40% of MPs being female, for instance, I would think “job done”. Of course, women may get to 60%, but anything beyond that and we may have to contemplate AMS.

Sometimes you run out of suitable women candidates. I accept that in part this may be the fault of the local party in its failure to attract sufficient numbers of interested women, but whilst that may be true one has to deal with the reality one is faced with. I am pleased to be able to say that the Labour Group on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has exact gender parity. Seeing the number of women coming forward it may be problematical keeping that fine record if we start to make significant inroads into the chamber.

I do wonder, though, why we have to have gender equality at all levels within the party except the very highest. Why is the Shadow Cabinet exempt? This really does send out the wrong signals.

The article goes on to explore other potential claimants for special treatment – BAME shortlists for example. I have waited in vain for the one-quarter Belgian shortlist myself.

The Southend Ethnic Minority Forum – good company, chatter, and food

Dr Mohamed Pasha MBE speaks

Dr Mohamed Pasha MBE speaks

Mr Simon Woolley

Mr Simon Woolley

It does not take a lot of encouragement to get me inside an Indian restaurant and the annual general meeting of the Southend Ethnic Minority Forum’s promise of a buffet was ample inducement.

Of course, I would have attended regardless, but a little encouragement by way of a promised repast goes a long way!

I was an anti-racist campaigner a long time before I became a Labour activist, and so it was an easy decision to join a organisation aimed at bringing peoples together. Mine was not the only white face there, and regardless of ethnicity I would encourage all to consider joining.

An old foe, Ahmad Khwaja, greeted me warmly and he gave a good speech. (He is an old foe by virtue of us both contesting, and losing, Westborough ward a few years back.) Ahmad is a charming host. Simon Wooley of Operation Black Vote was the guest speaker, and his talk ended with a call to try to get all of us to encourage young people to engage with the political process.

Ahmad’s address included appointing Dr Mohamed Pasha MBE as patron of SEMF. Dr Pasha spoke a few words of acceptance. James Duddridge MP and the mayor, Cllr Brian Kelly, also made good contributions, and I have promised to do something with James about trying to encourage young people to take notice of politics, to vote, and to become active in their communities. Despite sitting on opposite sides of the political spectrum both James and I value our democracy and want greater participation on all levels.

The food was very good, the company too. I have been promised Egyptian cooking and a visit to a mosque. I look forward to both.


For the second year running I was invited to the Trinity Family Centre’s annual general meeting and volunteer awards evening. I was honoured to be asked, again, to hand out the awards. Many volunteers put in long hours to keep this place running and some of the time put in is truly breath-taking. It seems that many give what they can of their time, and whilst this can be quite modest in some cases (3 hours was the fewest number of hours credited), some efforts can only be described as prodigious. A new award – platinum – had to be created for Norman Cowin who amassed 1154 hours (averaging more than 20 hours for every week of the year).

I managed to have a chat with Mara Chrystie who helps run the Community and Asylum Seekers Together (CAST) charity. I have an interest in this area and have campaigned with Amnesty International to see that those fleeing persecution are treated well. Asylum seekers rarely get a decent press and are frequently lumped in with immigrants, and seemingly blamed for everything that is going wrong with society. It is one of the challenges of canvassing that I am often dragged into debates about immigration. I try to present a balanced view, not always an easy task when so many in our media use them as the convenient scapegoat. I think we do need a national debate about migration and asylum, one where facts and not fantasy prevail.

I left the TFC to deal with a minor domestic incident and then hot-footed it to Thorpe Bay where Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Rochford and Southend East, Ian Gilbert, was having a fundraising event. And that, folks, was my Tuesday evening.

Turning disability into capability

I was delighted to be able to pay a visit to the Ability Action Community Interest Company launch event last night, one of four councillors to do so (Carr, Collins and Grimwade were also there, in case you were wondering). This was held in the first floor ballroom of the Park Inn Palace hotel – in my ward (Milton).

I did not sample the delicious ice-cream – by the time I decided to give it a try they had run out! But I did manage to catch up with some acquaintances, and enjoyed the music. Best of all were the speeches; whilst my knowledge of ability issues is fairly scant, I was pleased to hear what AACIC has to offer.

Dress sense and dress nonsense – burqa bother

A score and more years ago I recall being in an airport queue, regaling a fellow passenger with my views on shell suits. My somewhat uncomplimentary remarks were terminated when I realised that the gentleman behind me was so attired. This taught me two things: the obvious one about foot-in-mouth avoidance techniques, the other that taste is personal and I should not rush to judgement as per pro things sartorial.

Going further back I remember the dress sense of my mid-teens, a time of dressing to shock and to make a statement. Jackets adorned with sewn-on badges that advocated legalising cannabis, The Rolling Stones, and other trappings to indicate my state of hippyness. These were later replaced, on my conversion to all things punk, with badges proclaiming allegiance to XTC, the Stranglers and The Buzzcocks. I wore jackets decorated with loo chains, sink plugs, and false teeth, dressed in old macs, baggy trousers and shirts with granddad collars, and wore PiL tee-shirts, brothel-creepers and dayglo socks. I occasionally dyed my hair – usually with peroxide that made my naturally very dark hair go somewhat ginger, and sometimes I dyed it black. I avoided swastikas, though this was not true of some punks, and one of my punk friends would berate those who did – even dressing to shock had its boundaries.

Clothes make statements, sometimes unintended. Dressing in adapted second-hand chic showed how with-it I was (I hoped), much like my conservative attire of today demonstrates the opposite. Clothes identify us in many ways; even those trying to be different have uniforms. My days as part of the burgeoning alternative scene saw my occasionally bizarre dress sense merely mirroring what many of my friends were doing.

I cannot see the sense in trying to dictate to people what to wear, excepting that there must be standards of decency (and even these are constantly challenged). Whilst I may find some forms of attire odd, ridiculous, or even offensive, who am I to tell someone else how to dress? My teenage self would have objected; my fifty-three year old self is not much different. In the end the overwhelming majority of people conform; even punks become self-parodying in the end.

And so to the burqa: am I offended when passing a lady dressed to cover everything but her eyes? No. Is this a vestige of a society that seeks to demean and oppress women? Possibly. If the body must be covered in public why does this only apply to women? If nothing else there is something distinctly sexist in this distinction; but is this so different in traditional western attire? Western women may give the impression of being the polar opposite of the burqa-wearing Islamists, but sexism is perhaps even more pervasive in Christian culture – I do not see many men baring their cleavage or arse (or both). Men do not totter about in high heels, and anyone reading about the psychology of clothes will understand why women wear things designed to constrict and inhibit movement whereas men do not.

I accept that there are places where covered faces may cause problems (checking ID for instance), but a burqa is not so far removed from what nun’s wear, and I have yet to hear calls for the habit to be banned. Orthodoxy in many religions often means clothing designed to be unflattering and modest – to single out the burqa and niqab does look like one group is being picked on. I think the one thing to guarantee allegiance to the burka is to ban it; if you really want to see it disappear I suggest you just ignore it. In the meantime, if you really want to see examples of daft clothing I suggest you flick through a book of British fashion through the ages; if you think wearing a dustin liner or bondage trousers was silly have a gander at Regency dandies. Anyone for a spot of naked rambling?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,181 other followers