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A Wheelchair in Gold: The Jenner Machine

Turning now to the issue of Kylie Jenner and the golden wheelchair, of course it was offensive. Thinking first of the colour of the wheelchair there is a hierarchy in precious metals, consisting of  bronze, silver and gold.

Given this hierarchy, gold is the top dog, the number one. You are gold Spandau Ballet tell us and I have believed this many times in a haze of drunken confidence.

Therefore, being the Alan Sugar of precious metals on wheels confers upon the object a certain amount of power, status and wealth, which Kylie Jenner has in abundance and many people with disabilities do not.

I wonder if she’s ever been told, when asking for help to take the golden brakes of the golden wheelchair that she could do it herself if she wasn’t so lazy?

What do you mean she’s never been out in the wheelchair? Oh yes I forgot! It’s art darling! How remiss of me!

So framing the wheelchair as an object of wealth and power is completely at odds with the experience of people with disabilities in their daily lives. It is the photographer’s prerogative to use a golden wheelchair in the first place. Using a gold wheelchair signifies the power Kylie Jenner has as a celebrity and underscores every bit of power that people with disabilities do not have.

Of course, Interview magazine for whom the shoot was carried out had a whole raft of artistic justifications for why they chose to approach the shoot in the way they did.

These justifications are explored in this excellent unpacking from Heather Saul at The Independent.

This one in particular sticks out in my mind.

At Interview, we are proud of our tradition of working with great artists and empowering them to realise their distinct and often bold visions,” a spokesperson said. “The Kylie Jenner cover by Steven Klein, which references the British artist Allen Jones, is a part of this tradition, placing Kylie in a variety of positions of power and control and exploring her image as an object of vast media scrutiny.”

 

But my problem here is a simple one. If Kylie Jenner wants to have a discussion with the media about how she is treated, then by all means she should do so. But in exploring her own objectification she is not disassociating herself from it. She is merely using an objectified group as a cipher to make a point. People with disabilities suffer huge amounts of objectification and questioning and inquisition through no fault of their own. Kylie Jenner chose a life in the spotlight. People with disabilities did not choose this fate.

This plugs neatly into the debate about how offensive art and the wider creative industries are allowed to be. For example, is it censorious to believe that Kylie Jenner should not be allowed to pose in a wheelchair? Or is it simply necessary to ensure that an already oppressed group are not further oppressed by artistic licence carried out by people who do not really understand the issues at hand?

Kayla Whaley touches on this to devastating caustic effect in a series of tweets, which I have storified with her permission.

I think the mistake Klein has made in trying to implement the vision of artist Allen Jones is that they have got carried away with a flight of fancy and indulgence over artistic expression, and forgot that their art intersects with a very difficult lived reality that many people experience every day.

Whaley speaks of Kylie Jenner wearing the shallowest possible illusion of what she experiences every day.

Jenner is not really a person in a wheelchair. Steven Klein knows this, and those at Interview magazine know it too. In fact, were they to repeat the same shoot with a wheelchair using model I would bet my wheelchair that it wouldn’t get half the coverage. Curtain twitching voyeurism is at work here. Readers will know that Jenner is not in a wheelchair, and artistically it probably is interesting for them to see a wheelchair being used as a prop for someone who is anything but vulnerable.

Also I know that Jenner will not have given this a second thought. She will have been paid and carried on with her life. I would guess she probably had to spend two hours at most in that beautiful golden chair. Try a lifetime instead. Hell, try a week. There are no pots of gold inculcated into the daily reality of disability. But neither is it abject wanton misery. My disability is not a job or a photo shoot for me. It is my life.

It points to the narcissism of fame obsessed America that such a shoot was even thought about. I categorically refute that I’m jealous of Jenner in any way. But when you consider that Caitlyn Jenner, in her first act post transition adorned the cover of Vanity Fair, one has to question the motives of the Jenner family. Kylie could have said no to the shoot and that would have been a brave act. But it’s all about how she is treated by the media. Do you know what I hear? Me me and narcissistic me and little else.

One of Kayla’s more poignant observations was this one.

“It still feels like a victory to me when I take a selfie and find it attractive. It still feels like a battle to believe others will too.”

How sad in 2015 that a person with a disability says that. People with disabilities have been fighting this age-old battle since before Kylie Jenner was born. People’s attitudes towards disability are still extremely conservative. Many people don’t believe for example, that people with disabilities can have sex. I’ve lost count over the years of the number of times someone said to me;

“Oh wow you drink alcohol!” Yes, mine is a Malibu and Coke, a Malibu and Lemonade or a Bailey’s. I didn’t know there was a cocktail called patronising. But Kayla is right. It is a battle to feel attractive when disabled. To feel attractive to yourself as an achievement let alone to anybody else.

But Kylie Jenner is attractive when sitting in a wheelchair because she’s not in one. Somebody this week had the balls to recreate the shoot in a wheelchair in full PVC and for that I commend them utterly. I doubt Interview magazine or Mr Klein will be calling though.

I like Kayla’s tweet in which she chooses to use the word wear to describe how Jenner approaches disability. For Jenner disability is just another costume. She can take it off or put it on at leisure. That is the luxury my friends of not being disabled.It is photographic hocus pocus.

Now this is not to say that wheelchairs within the arts have not been used to positive effect.

I’m thinking particularly of the musical Wicked, still enjoying great success in the West End and on Broadway. In a non-schmaltzy way, the writer Stephen Schwartz in creating the character of Nessarose allows us to see a woman who is embedded into the natural plot of the show, and who finds love with Boq. Nessarose still presumes however that Boq wants to take her to the dance as he feels sorry for her.

That is the problem in essence with the shoot. That in using a wheelchair to depict the powerlessness of her life than to the media, she treats people with disabilities in the same way as the media treat her. As an object of curiosity, voyeurism and fetish. Nowhere near close to a real person, more an entity with a gazillion followers on social media, something to be talked about, analysed and poked, with little more dignity than a goldfish in a bowl. But for her as I said this is something she wears, and something she can take off and forget about. I can’t and nor can others with disabilities.

In an interesting twist to the tale, Broadway actress Ali Stroker who is a wheelchair user, and currently starring with the Deaf West theatre company in Spring Awakening on Broadway, wants to recreate the photo shoot. In an interview with Variety Magazine she speaks of wanting to recreate the photo shoot as it opens up an interesting conversation about sexuality and disability, and she feels we can represent ourselves. Firstly, I think it’s important to be unequivocal in my applause for Ali Stroker’s achievements.

I can’t quite agree with her. It wasn’t people with disabilities who were approached for the shoot in the first place. So the agency and our place in the dialogue has been taken away from us. However, I will agree that with tenacious work it is possible to seize it back from the behemoth that is the Jenner publicity machine. Also there was no sense of collaboration between those with disabilities, the photographers and Jenner herself. Disability was nothing to do with the interests of the Jenner machine. Jenner’s objective was to demonstrate her displeasure with her treatment at the hands of the media. She’s done that impeccably on the backs of people with disabilities.

As to sexuality, given what Kayla says in this arena I don’t think that the Jenner shoot opens up any kind of dialogue at all. In fact all a service to do is to reinforce ableist beauty standards which loom large in the media today.

My sage advice to Ali Stroker would not be to imitate some kind of patriarchal parody of wheelchair use where there is always a Prince Charming to rescue a wheelchair not bound damsel at the click of a lens but to do her own shoot on her own terms.  She’s beautiful in her own right.

As for me, over the course of writing this I’ve kind of come full circle. You see if I wasn’t disabled I could get paid for wearing a disabled costume for a couple of hours while sitting in a gold metal frame. But is that really something I want to aspire to? Is society really swimming that much at the shallow end that it will continue to lap crap like this up forever?

Disability can be art, it can be music, it can be prose and it can be wonderful. But it is not a fetish to take on and take off. Whoever commissioned this should examine their conscience. Hopefully something other than a camera will click! As for me I’m off to listen to Kylie now.

 

 

 

A Wheelchair in Gold: Part 1:Self Reflection

I was first alerted to somebody called Kylie striking a pose in a golden wheelchair no less by tweeter Kayla Whaley, otherwise known as @PunkinOnWheels, who I’d recommend you follow by the way. She’s fantastic, sharp and witty.

My initial worry over somebody called Kylie posing in a golden wheelchair was that it could be Kylie Minogue. Although she doesn’t know it, Kylie and I have a special connection. Her album, imaginatively titled Kylie with the first album my mother ever bought me. I should be so lucky! The best bit is she also bought me a plastic drum kit with a flashing set of multi-coloured disco lights underneath. I somehow think Kylie would have approved. So imagine my relief then when I discovered that it wasn’t Kylie Minogue who was striking a pose in a wheelchair after all. It was in fact Kylie Jenner who is part of some famous family. I knew I could trust Ms Minogue not to be that stupid.

Before I turn to the matter of Kylie Jenner and her recent posing, let me offer some thoughts on my own wheelchair.

For me, there was no accident, no broken legs or fractures. My relationship with overgrown buggies, and later wheelchairs was never ‘It’s Complicated.’ Due to cerebral palsy, it has been a lifelong dance. However, the dance partner is silent and yet makes all the moves.

A lot of commentary I have seen has spoken of the love people have for their wheelchairs, and the fact that wheelchairs offer them freedom. For me I cannot dispute that, but is it that much of a taboo to diverge from this narrative slightly?

My relationship with my wheelchair is tempestuous. Mercifully, my wheelchair has never told me what it thinks of me. Why is it tempestuous, and perhaps less so for others? It is something I have reflected upon, and is one of the reasons why did want to rush my response to Kylie Jenner’s photo shoot.

My feelings about my wheelchair range from love and thankfulness to utter contempt and disdain. I went to mainstream school, which was brilliant academically for me, and it made me able to pursue my artistic talents in spite of rather than because of my disability.

However, I also paid a price. I was exposed from a young age to the sense of being different. I became quickly aware of my difficulties and deficits, and sometimes the lack of equilibrium between me and other people.

I believe it is only human therefore to wonder and speculate about what life would be like without the wheelchair. I know it would be infinitely easier. I know my life may have panned out very differently.

Whenever I see a theatre production on stage, and I see people dancing I imagine the steps myself, and I imagine what it would be like to do them. Some will say, “well you can’t so just accept it.” The truth of the matter is that my body has physical limits, but my brain doesn’t, and it is as sharp as the sharpest needle.

The capacity to imagine possibilities and ideas outside of disability are a huge driver for me. I do not concur with the school of thought that says disabled people, rather I am a person with a disability.

I made a new friend recently, a fellow creative and she said to me;

“I wish we could get you out of that chair. I see you dancing in my mind.”

To some people this could be interpreted as being extremely offensive, as though somehow disability made them inferior. From that moment on though, and I must stress that I speak for myself and myself alone I knew this person and I would be good friends.

For as well as being musically gifted, she had the intelligence and wit to see that my disability is not the sum and total of me and the entirety of my identity. It is part of me that is undeniable. But I have talents and abilities which supersede it and long may that continue. I can write. I can play the piano. I can laugh. I can listen to friends when they have problems. So the wheelchair is what I am but certainly not who I am. When my friend said those things, I was exhilarated. In society so many people can’t see past the wheelchair. I love to dance in my friend’s mind. I’m aware that these remarks may be offensive to some. But as a writer I feel my raison d’être is to push the boundaries and explore. I don’t want to just think about what is real, tangible and practical. I am an unashamed dreamer, and while I have breath in my body I will continue to dream.

Clearly I am at a disadvantage when my wheelchair breaks down. It is a machine and things do go wrong from time to time. Have you ever heard the expression “you’re like a bulldog chewing a wasp?”

Well if you multiply that by a million, you have the measure of Hannah Buchanan sans wheelchair, plus a wasp’s nest to deal with.

So of course I miss my wheelchair when it is broken. But I will not bow down in reverence to it, as though it were a supernatural metaphysical object. The truth of the matter is that I would rather not been a wheelchair at all because I’m aware of the vast array of possibilities this would open up unlike Kylie Jenner it seems.

 

Ed Miliband: What went wrong?

Two headline stories emerge from the General Election of 2015. The Conservatives won a majority, and the Labour Party lost and lost badly. It was one of the most exciting election nights of my lifetime, opening with a dramatic exit poll not even predicted by most psephologists, forecasting that the Conservatives would emerge as the largest party and probable victors. The Scottish National Party was on course to win almost every seat in Scotland.

For the Liberal Democrats though the news was bleak. In the same exit poll they were forecast to win just nine seats. The morning after resulted in the resignations of Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, former leaders of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats respectively.

Somewhat inevitably, the psychodrama, backstabbing and soul-searching has begun in the Labour Party. It is painful to watch, as I was a child of Thatcher, but a teen and young adult of Blair. Things Can Only Get Better by D:Ream was more than just a catchy pop song to me, it was a sincerely held truth and Tony Blair, together with John Prescott and his pledge card represented that truth. They had a vision for Britain, and demonstrated to the people of Britain how that vision would improve their lives. Crucially though they gained the trust of the British people, resulting in three election victories under Blair.

But oh, how the worm turns in British politics! Labour are now in that torturous position the Conservatives found themselves in in 1997. A toxic elixir of irrelevance hinterland and wilderness. When you have powerful contributions to make, but the electorate has all but tuned out of your message.

In the ensuing paragraphs, I will set out why I think Labour was so severely punished north of the border, what was wrong with the campaign and, and how I think such mistakes could be avoided in the future.

THE SNP AND SCOTLAND

Another aspect of the election campaign the psephologists failed to anticipate was the extent of the rise of an ebullient SNP. They have claimed the majority of the seats in Scotland (an exact total of 57) with only the remaining two seats being held by Labour and the Conservatives. Historically Scotland has always been a Labour heartland, with the Conservatives in particular making very little electoral impact there.

However a resurgent SNP led by Nicola Sturgeon who fought an excellent election campaign has cut into Labour’s dominance like a knife through butter

Many commentators have opined fulsomely on why Ed Miliband’s refusal to do a deal with the SNP was absolutely the right decision to make. Strategically, I think it almost sealed his electoral fate.

Nicola Sturgeon often spoke during the TV debates of an anti-Tory majority. Amongst the voting public of Scotland this already exists. Knowing what we know now about the Labour Party’s precarious position in the polls from the beginning of the election campaign onwards, it would have been almost impossible for Ed Miliband to form a government without the SNP’s assistance. Note here that I make no judgement about the desirability of this as an outcome. What I am saying is based on the electoral arithmetic.

Now you would have thought that the goal of any Opposition leader would be to kick the incumbent Prime Minister out of Downing Street and get back into government. Yet Ed Miliband’s refusal was based on an anachronistic point about something the SNP had failed to do in the 70s, as Nicola Sturgeon laughingly pointed out when Ed Miliband himself was 7.

He intimated he would rather lose the election then do a deal with the SNP. I believe it is this callous stubbornness, and noncommittal attitude which lost him the election. As I said earlier there is an anti-Tory majority in Scotland. Therefore I believe he was punished severely by the Scots for refusing to do this deal.

Other factors come into play too. Jim Murphy feels like an elephant in the room. I do not want to cast aspersions on his ability. He is a solid guy and was always a good performer at the Despatch Box in the House of Commons.

I have always felt though, that he is hamstrung by his invisibility in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.

Like Jim, Kezia Dugdale is an able performer. However you don’t go to the theatre to see the understudy, you go to see the leading woman or man. Imagine if David Cameron never turned up to Prime Minister’s Questions! I just feel he is unable to be a truly effective leader when he is unable to take the fight to the SNP and be present in the Scottish Parliament. At the moment he does a star turn as the Invisible Man rather than at First Minister’s Questions and I think that needs to change quickly

I believe also Labour ceded much ground to the SNP because they occupy the political ground that the Labour Party have long since vacated. It was their vocal and continuous opposition to austerity which won them a smorgasbord of seats in Scotland but as a socialist party Labour ought to have been leading the charge on this, but they were nowhere to be seen. The SNP give the Scottish people something to believe in, an ideology translating into real social change.

Labour in Scotland seems to be a black hole of nothing.

Therefore Nicola Sturgeon deserves huge praise for the dignified and purposeful campaign she and her party fought. Across the five-year term of this Parliament I believe they will be a force to be reckoned with and I look forward to following their progress.

A CAMPAIGN OF MISTEPS AND MISINFORMATION

Since their bruising election defeat the Labour Party has gone into full on hydra mode, with former titans from Labour’s winning years savaging their current approach. If David Cameron was pumped up, Ed Miliband was depressed and melancholy. Given that people sometimes connect with politics on an emotional level, the vision offered by Miliband’s Labour was far too pessimistic and lacklustre, describing many problems but offering few solutions. Returning to my opening paragraphs, I voted Labour in 1997 because I believed Tony Blair offered a cohesive well thought out vision of how he would make Britain better. The job of any Opposition is to look like a Government in waiting. I thought that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party went a little way to achieving this, promising to scrap the divisive and much maligned Bedroom Tax for example. Plus I thought the idea of cutting tuition fees, in a way remedying Nick Clegg’s broken promise was a noble one.  These two policies were good ones in isolation. However although they would have worked on a micro level, the campaign was sorely lacking in big macro messages and a cohesive narrative.

The Labour Party was complacent and coasting; they relied too much on predicted dissatisfaction  with the Conservatives to bring out their core vote – part of the roundly unsuccessful 35% strategy which was the dominant force behind their campaign.

As to other key messages, there was something of a vacuum. Guided masterfully by Lynton Crosby the Conservatives employed the K. I. S. S strategy (keep it simple stupid.) Their campaign revolved around the endless repetition of two key messages, the first being “a long-term economic plan which is working” and the second warning people not to trust Ed Miliband with the economy, and stoking English anxiety over a possible Coalition made up of labour and the SNP.

Given that any strategy from Labour seemed to be missing in action, this gave the Conservatives even more space in the air war to relentlessly and mercilessly push their strategy, etching it forever into the consciousness of the voting public. The message was uncomplicated and one which the electorate as a whole bought into.

The absence of any strategy instead gave us a campaign of guff. Guff comprised of pointless slogans and dubious souvenir tat from the gift shop, hell yes even T-shirts.

I also thought there was failures in Labour’s ground war operation. This seemed to privilege quantity over quality. That is to say the idea of having lots of activists in constituencies would automatically translate into votes. It is not sheer numbers that matter. It is more a question of whether the activists understand the key messages they have to put out to voters if there are any. What ensures votes is not endless emails asking for donations. If voters do not believe or trust you then no amount of money will solve that problem.

There was a lot of negativity around the Tories during this election campaign generated by Labour. But there was no counterbalance around why I should vote for Labour as a credible, positive and visionary alternative. They just sounded bitter the whole way through, not like a government in waiting, and not like a fresh smelling new car when you get into it for the first time. I suspect the party as it stands is riven with public division, having been riven with division in private for a long time, not only stabbing brothers in the back now, but stabbing each other from the front. Looking at them now they are little better than a sixth form debating society.

Unfortunately the Labour Party has not learnt anything. As people like David Miliband and Alan Milburn come forward to offer the honest truth about why Labour lost it is not being constructive. It is sticking its fingers in its ears refusing to listen. I would say I would rather listen to winners than losers and if Labour wants to win again it ought to follow my example.

For these are not just observations offered by John and Jim at the Dog and Duck, these observations are offered by the architects of Labour’s victories. Please listen or stay consigned to the wilderness.

Another problem for Labour and perhaps the most crucial one is that it got excited and euphoric over the wrong things, the Russell Brand debacle being a prime example.

“He’s telling everyone to vote Labour” cried a buoyant social media. I just thought so what? Such naive bonhomie muddies the boundary between perception and reality. I can tell you that red is a better colour than blue, but my telling you this offers no certainty that you will agree with me. And so it is with Russell Brand. Labour supporters confused the possibility that people might vote Labour with the actuality that Brand’s exhortation would translate into votes at the ballot box. Russell Brand telling people to vote Labour is a political stunt and should not be elevated to anything more.

The conclusion is similar with social media hashtags like #CameronMustGo. Will the keyboard warriors ALL go to the polls and vote? Not likely.

In addition, Russell Brand is a Marmite figure, either you love him or you hate him.

It incensed me personally that Labour would seek the services of a man with a dubious record on violence against women for the sake of a few votes. It showed me in glorious technicolour how desperate and kaleidoscopically monochrome Ed Miliband’s Labour had become. It seemed so moribund.

Lastly I must address the “Ed Stone.” I have never seen a more pompous and supercilious stunt in my life. It was dreamt up according to Andrew Pierce in the Mail on Sunday by Torsten Henricsen-Bell, an aide who liked the idea of the pledge card I mentioned at the outset of this piece, and David Axelrod. Why not just have another pledge card?

A pledge card would be far less costly and would stop the Labour Party looking out of touch in a time of austerity surely? As Iain Dale noted dryly on LBC, “this is the equivalent of measuring the curtains.”

I guess the curtains have gone back now?

It is not lofty philosophical grandiosity that wins elections. Elections are won and lost on policy and trust from the electorate. Labour should stop taking chunks out of each other, squabbling over who won elections and who knows more and who should be listened to. As a lifetime Labour voter I say this. It looks cheap and unedifying and does nothing for the public you are elected to represent.

As I told somebody the other day the real question is not when Ken Livingstone won an election but why Labour lost. Labour has become too obsessed with talking to itself and creating its own virtual self-congratulatory echo chamber, the cognitive dissonance around the headstone being a prime example. I know the loss feels raw and painful but turning on each other is not the answer. As Speaker Bercow would say the public doesn’t like it.

There is much thought to be had and much soul-searching to be done. My advice is to stop the squabbling now and to let the civilised talking and listening process which has to take place begin in earnest.

News on the #LBBill second draft

LB Bill

It is now four long months since the 12 Days of the #LBBill Christmas; we know we’ve been silent in that time here (there has been some discussion on twitter and facebook), but we thought blog readers were long overdue an update. Perhaps the most significant development has been the publication of the government consultation Green Paper: No voice unheard, no right ignored. Norman Lamb paid tribute to the #JusticeforLB team when he launched it (that includes you if you’re reading this and supporting the LBBill) and you can see our response here. So, what has happened for the LBBill in 2015 so far?

1) Feedback

We have spent time pouring over the feedback that you’ve all provided so far. You can see most of the feedback here, and there has been some sent by email. This has been absolutely critical to the process, we are…

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The Dichotomies of Labour

 

 

I am a traditional Labour supporter. I believe in fairness and equal opportunities for all. Just last night when interviewed by a market research company carrying out polling, I gave Labour maximum ratings as the party I am most likely to vote for in the General Election.

However I have become furious at comments made by Rachel Reeves in the Guardian.

The interview begins in fairly recognisable Labour territory, a pledge to reduce reliance on food banks. Now, food banks do fantastic work, that is indisputable, but one cannot turn their face away from the fact that it is the Coalition’s unrelenting ideological pursuit of austerity which necessitated their creation.

But, ensuring that people have enough to live on to purchase their own food restores their dignity and allows them to participate fully in society.

It was not the proposal to reduce the use of food banks that provoked my anger however.

Politicians of all colours have been at pains to suggest they support hard-working people. On the face of it this is a good thing, if you contribute to the country then you should be rewarded for your efforts.

However this drive to support the hard-working has had an unintended consequence, hostility towards the unemployed and those who cannot work. What this debate lacks in abundance is nuance and the ability to drill down into the many reasons why people cannot work.

In further comments, Rachel Reeves appears to pander to that hostility. In suggesting that Labour does not want to be seen as the party of the welfare state, she says;

“We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen and we’re not the party to represent those who are out of work. Labour are a party of working people, formed by working people.

However, in attempting to diffuse criticism that Labour is soft on the unemployed, you are saying that you do not care about vast swathes of the electorate. I find the assertion that Labour does not represent me insulting. Labour should be out to win not haemorrhage votes

 

It is little more than a betrayal of the strong socialist credo upon which Labour is founded to disassociate itself from the welfare state. Labour should be proud of the fact that it created a framework which helps the sick, and the vulnerable and most needy in our society.

More worryingly, it communicates to a huge proportion of the electorate the message that this politics business is not for them¸ that you just don’t understand how politics works, you proletarian oiks!

I felt small when I read Rachel Reeves’ comments. It reminded me of the visceral pain William Beech, the young hero of Michelle Magorian’s novel Goodnight Mister Tom feels when he is sent to the “baby” class as he is unable to read.

Having a disability does not preclude you from voting. Nor does it make you any less politically savvy than anyone else. I think that disabled people as a social group are much disenfranchised with their treatment at the hands of the Conservative led coalition and would gladly use their vote to help form a Labour led Government on May 7th.  The comments of Rachel Reeves do feel like a betrayal

I voted Labour in 1997 because I saw politicians like Tony Blair as understanding of my situation. I saw John Prescott produce his pledge card on television, and felt he was a conviction politician who believed every word on that card – therefore I believed him too.

Things Can Only Get Better became more than a catchy campaign anthem (which should definitely be on Ed Miliband’s campaign playlist by the way). It became a state of mind for the British electorate, in economic conditions not altogether dissimilar to those we are currently experiencing. It offered real hope.

But today’s Labour seems hamstrung by two things, an ideological fight with the Conservatives, and a paralysis over economic stewardship. But I would invite Labour to think introspectively about who they are fighting the election for, or against. Are they fighting against the Tories, or for the voters?

When I first saw Rachel Reeves comments I thought they were crass and spiteful. Such commentary does not emerge from socialism, it emerges from a desire to be seen as ideologically tough on an issue which is costly to the Exchequer.

However, if you boast that you will be tough on welfare, then, although many benefit claimants are in work, you are also adding to the stigma that people such as those with mental health problems or disabilities face.

If I have noticed one thing living under the brutal austerity of the Coalition, it is a politics riven with a hectoring, bullying tone towards the unemployed. I know politicians might say that they are not talking about me, they are talking about people who can work who don’t. But do you know why I am not reassured by this placation? The public does not differentiate between different types of benefit claimants, nor their individual narratives, because endless games of divide and conquer do not afford such opportunities. Egged on by the Coalition, and now it seems by the Opposition, on the issue of welfare the electorate is enticed into a game of dog whistle Heroes (those who work) and Villains (those who don’t). But it is not that simple.

For behind the grandeur of social theory, there are human beings who will live out the costs of politicians’ ideological boasts. I find a delicious irony in an interview that on one level, wants to reduce food bank use that on another level simultaneously vilifies the unemployed without even a flicker of awareness. That is why I think the morals of making such pronouncements at best questionable

I will end with a reminder and a warning. It is not for politicians to dictate who votes for them, creating a false dichotomy between desirable and undesirable voters, or put another way, good and bad ones. The electorate can however, choose to vote for you, or consign you to the Opposition benches. Labour would do well to remember this today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DrinkAware? Some victim awareness too please!

 

In wider society, there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting the responsible consumption of alcohol. In a worst-case scenario alcohol becomes an addiction requiring medical treatment. However, there is much wrong with the latest campaign poster from DrinkAware, and the messages it promotes are harmful to girls and women, and a get out of jail free card for perpetrators.

The image depicted is that of a hospital corridor, with two arrows pointing in opposite directions towards the Maternity Ward and the Sexual Health Clinic respectively. Written across the poster is the caption;

“Being drunk just once age 13. Twice as likely to have unprotected sex.”

This poster explicitly blames young girls regarding the possibility of getting drunk and pregnant through unprotected sex. However, sex is not a singular act. It is a plural one. This poster erases completely the responsibility and role of men in a drunk 13-year-old becoming pregnant. It is their responsibility not to engage in sex with a girl or woman who is drunk and in the scenario outlined on the poster it would also be an illegal act. Also, it does not provide a source for its claim that girls are twice as likely to have unprotected sex

But we live in a victim blaming culture, and this poster places the sole blame on teenage girls. It does not say anything at all about the role of men and boys in taking advantage of intoxicated girls, nor does it address their responsibility to be in control of their actions.

The finger wagging, paternalistic tone struck by this poster is extremely disappointing, and it does nothing to encourage girls who may have been raped while under the influence of alcohol to come forward to authorities if they want to and speak about their experiences.

This poster is pure blackmail. In terms of its subtext, it says “just once age 13 is enough and it is all your fault you silly girl!”

Boys and men are equally responsible during sex yet this poster renders them conveniently invisible. They would be responsible in the event of pregnancy too, yet this poster renders them invisible. Where are the posters telling men and boys that being drunk just once aged 13 could get a girl pregnant and instructing them to keep it in their pants? Exactly! Nowhere!

In wider society, we love to shame and condemn women and girls as that poster does, yet we turn a blind eye, or even reward boys and men for bad behaviour.

There is something else wrong with this poster is. We have two arrows pointing in opposite directions, firstly towards the Maternity Ward and secondly towards the Sexual Health Clinic.

This gives the impression that there are only two outcomes with respect to unprotected sex. The complete erasure of boys from the campaign may cause you to believe that it is women alone who are responsible for these outcomes, when in fact men bear the responsibility to.

Turning first to the maternity ward the poster completely neglects to mention the option of abortion, an option which any responsible clinician would discuss with a girl faced with this scenario, and any responsible campaign should make girls aware of this possibility too.  To frame pregnancy as a consequence over which a girl has no control is disrespectful and damaging to women, and irresponsible on the part of DrinkAware.

With regard to sexual health, sex as I said previously is a plural act. Men also have responsibility for their sexual health, and as such would be responsible for any woman getting an STI.

Overall though, this campaign makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. It gives the impression that women are totally responsible for unwanted sexual advances (ergo rape) and for the consequences. It blames them totally for drinking alcohol at a young age, despite the fact that a man may be buying it for them and taking advantage of the situation, yet there are no equivalent campaigns warning men of the dangers of having sex while drunk, and telling them to keep it in their pants.

This campaign leaves women isolated and at sea. It plays on the politics of fear and shaming women. Yet sadly, this campaign represents a missed opportunity. It could have been used to educate women and girls about the support that is out there for rape victims who have been raped while under the influence of alcohol. It could also have been used to educate them about the help and support that is out there in the event of unwanted teenage pregnancy.

As it stands this campaign poster is damaging. It blames the victim for a traumatic ordeal, and renders invisible every male perpetrator. As such it is serving no other purpose than to be a servant of patriarchy and I would advocate for its immediate removal. I would also ask DrinkAware to be more careful planning future campaigns with how it uses language to avoid belittling, victimising and shaming rape victims.

NB: Jane England has started a petition to try to get the poster banned. She has petitioned the Media and Public Affairs manager at DrinkAware, Kelly O’Sullivan. PLEASE SIGN.