Tuesday, 26 September 2017

We have a problem with – female political journalists

They are too few and far between and as we saw this week, they are being protected by bodyguards for their own safety.

I am of course referring to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg who has been given her own bodyguards at the Labour Conference in Brighton. This comes after the journalist received death threats over a perceived bias in her reporting about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

Far from sympathising with Laura however, people have taken to social media to condemn her for protecting herself, damning her a 'snowflake' and 'pathetic'. One tweet read, 'not exactly Kate Adie in a war zone'.

Labour's Diane Abbot felt moved to wade into the fray in support of Laura. The MP, who received far more than her fair share of sexist and racist remarks during this year's election campaign, said 'just don't do it' when it came to criticising Laura.

It is quite clearly sexism we are dealing with here – more specifically, sexism in the media. There is no question that a male political reporter would ever receive such heavy criticism for simply doing his job – as that is all Laura has been doing, reporting the news as she feels fit.

If people do not agree with what she says then they should just ignore it or seek an alternative opinion elsewhere. They do not have to take to social media to declare Laura 'should be hung'.

There are so few female journalists given the opportunity to report on the heavier, more 'serious' subjects in the news. Laura is in fact the first woman to be the BBC's political editor, though that is not surprising.

Recent research by lobbying group, Women in Journalism, found women accounted for just 25 per cent of front page bylines across a spectrum of newspapers from June to July this year.

They state the key problem is British newspapers are filtered through the gaze of old white men and as a result you do not get to hear what women think and what they are interested in. Women are too often the victims in stories, the arm candy of the rich and famous or shamed in newspaper sidebars.

Here we have one of the few women in political journalism given a voice and look how she is treated. Her opinions are belittled and criticised - I have no doubt simply because she is a woman and her views are not deemed to hold as much weight as a man's - and when she is forced to seek protection because her life is threatened, she is mocked for doing so.

Shame on you all.

Monday, 25 September 2017

A Room with a View after Brexit?

Florence – one of the most beautiful, romantic and inspiring cities in the world. And our Prime Minister Theresa May was thrust into the midst of it on Friday - as incongruous a spirit as Maggie Smith's uptight character Charlotte in the film 'A Room with a View'.

She was there for 'The Speech' – the speech which EU members have been calling for, for Britain to clarify its plans for Brexit after all negotiations hit a brick wall.

But will Britain get its own room with a view moving forward after Brexit or will it be left feeling the same sense of despair Helena Bonham-Carter’s character Lucy feels on flinging open her casement window, to find not a beautiful panoramic view of Florence but instead a dirty back alley?

Mrs May's speech revealed a time plan for Brexit. She confirmed there will be a two-year period following March 2019 when we will essentially remain members of the EU to allow an easier transition for all countries.

May promised during this two year period Britain will continue to pay the EU for 'commitments' previously made to ensure no member countries had to stump up the shortfall. This figure is estimated to be around £18billion.

During this two years, trade will continue on current terms and EU migrants will still be able to live and work in the UK but following that, all migrants will have to formally register with the authorities.

After those two years, May said Britain would work towards a new 'deep and special' partnership with Europe, including long-term economic projects and the UK would want to contribute to costs.

Leavers and remainers alike will surely feel despondent. For leavers there appears to be no fantastic new start for Britain on the horizon, built upon British sovereignty. With May's assurances we will continue to have a strong relationship with Europe, comes the dawning realisation we are going to remain as interwoven with Europe as before in all but the title and the sense of security.

Whilst remainers will feel they have had to live through a crushing sense of disappointment, followed by a period of fear for the future, for what seems like nothing. Less than nothing in fact, as Britain will simply be an untethered, less stable version of the Britain remainers loved before.

Which ever side of the divide we stand on Brexit we all want out beautiful Florentine view and it seems we have all been left staring down at a dirty back alley.

*Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for failing to put a Brexit vote on the agenda of the Labour Conference which begins today (Monday). Opponents say this is a big mistake for a party leader who claims to be in touch with the electorate.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Diamonds, designer dresses and weeing standing up – It's MDT's Review of the Week

Boom. And there you go, we end a week of heightening tensions between North Korea and the United States with a last bit of 'big boy's talk'. Kim Jong Un has launched back at Donald Trump for calling him Rocket Man with a slightly less playful nickname – 'mentally deranged dotard'. Well if the cap fits.

In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May has had a challenging week trying to convince her colleagues and the public she is in the driving seat and now she has the task of convincing the rest of the EU she knows what she is doing as she takes to the podium in Florence today (Friday). Her speech will call for Europe to be 'creative' over Brexit. What does that even mean - origami and finger painting? This is no time for arts and crafts Theresa.

And better look behind you because Jeremy Corbyn has his sights firmly set on your job. The jam maker is still riding high after the June election, convinced Labour is the party which represents the 'mainstream' of public opinion. Parliament spies this week say he is gearing up for a play for power should Theresa mess up Brexit negotiations. Any time now then...

Elsewhere in the news this week, researchers have solved the biggest conundrum of all time, why boys are better at girls at science. And it all comes down to the fact boys stand up to wee.
Yes, that's right, no need for further analysis, little boys learn very early on about 'projection', they say, by aiming into the toilet bowl. So when it comes to studying projection of objects on the physics syllabus they are already streets ahead of the girls. How about the fact so many boys wee on the floor?

Auction houses have been bemoaning the fact 'millennials' are not buying diamonds, as a whopper of a diamond goes under the hammer this week. Auctioning bods claim this is because young people are far more ethical these days.
How about the fact young people are struggling to find a job, are having to live with mum and dad to save for a mortgage they probably will never qualify for anyway and simply haven't got any spare cash left to splash on diamonds? Just a thought.

And hold the phone, Dolce and Gabbana have used a 'normal-sized' model in an advertising campaign. The size 16 model, Alessandro Garcia Lorido, wears a black lace Dolce and Gabbana dress to promote the design house's actual range – not even a plus sized sideline. Is this a sign of a more inclusive fashion industry to come? I'm not sure.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

This week's must-have purchase - corduroy and baked beans

No I'm not actually talking about corduroy trousers, a plastic mac or a midi-length floral dress - though get those anyway, they're all great, and this may be your last chance.

I'm talking about a nuclear bunker, and some tins of baked beans and spam – do they still make spam – and perhaps a throw and some fluffy scatter cushions to make it more like home.
Because we're going down people, we're going down.

Actually I don't think that. There has been talk of nuclear war for decades and so far so good, we haven't experienced it yet. However, there is an argument we have never been quite so close to the brink. Our world is currently being run by morons and morons with power is never a good thing.

We have all seen pictures of Kim Jong Un grinning as he goes to press the button of his nuclear missile and that was bad enough. Now we have Donald Trump wading in with threats to completely destroy North Korea should they show any signs of going through with a nuclear attack.

But not only this, Trump decides this would be an appropriate time to pull a cheeky little nickname out of the bag for the North Korean leader. And he goes and chooses Rocket Man after the Elton John song.

Firstly, this suggests Trump has absolutely no idea how serious this threat of nuclear attack could be and if he does, he doesn't know how to appropriately act on it. His actions are a red rag to a bull.

Google references to Trump's Rocket Man comment and, scarily, what comes up is article after article from the American press praising the nickname, calling it a stroke of marketing genius. It is snappy, memorable and everyone knows the Elton John song, they say.

Well I suggest said people, in fact, all people, go and listen to that song and they will find the lyrics far removed from a mindless destruction of the human race.

It is a bitter sweet song about an astronaut leaving his wife and children behind to go into space. It is a song about family, about love, about sense of self and the common emotions that bind us all. It is not about destroying all that at the push of a button.

So dig out your Elton John CDs and play Rocket Man loud and proud. Sing along in your new corduroy trousers, clank your baked bean tins together, but do it. Just do it. Because we're taking Rocket Man back.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Empower our children - don't label them

This is going to be a controversial one I know, so strap yourselves in. But I feel the need to speak out against the mental health labels we are placing on children.

I believe in the majority of cases, we are blurring the lines between the perfectly normal transformative emotions and anxieties that teenagers go through and clinical mental health problems.

Not a week goes by without a headline declaring soaring mental health issues in children and this week is no exception. Today we are confronted with the news that a quarter of girls under 14 are depressed. Nine per cent of boys in the same age group were also found to have depression.

These figures come from the results of a 13 question government-funded survey. Questions included, in the last fortnight did you feel miserable and sad, did you cry a lot, and did you feel you could never be as good as other children?

Without doubt there is phenomenal pressure on children, especially as they reach their teenage years over body image, exam pressure, bullying and fitting in with their peers. Social media now plays a huge part in exacerbating the problem. There is no let up for children. They can't shut the door on their school day. Messages are being churned out from their phones around the clock.

And that's why I think labelling these children, parcelling them up and dealing with them clinically, is extremely unhelpful. Children need to know there is nothing wrong or abnormal, medically or otherwise, with what they are going through - that most children feel the same way, even that girl – or boy – you know that one, who appears to be ultra confident and happy, the one you all want to be.

They need to know that they will look back and realise that that was a tough time but they got through it, that they can be exactly who they are meant to be, not what other people expect them to be. That school exams are not the be all and end all and there is a whole bright, exciting future out there for them beyond the school gates. That they don't have to be the one fitting in. It is far cooler to be the one on the fringes setting new trends.

Empower these children with this knowledge, instead of bringing them down with medical labels, and their screens can churn out all the negative messages they like. It won't matter a jot.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

I'm driving, Theresa declares

It appears Tory infighting over the thorny issue of Brexit has been reduced to driving analogies.

Prime Minister May has finally commented about that article Boris Johnson wrote to the Daily Telegraph over the weekend (see yesterday's blog 'Bring me my bus, bellows Boris' for more) and let's say her comments would have had more impact if she was teenage Boris' mother arguing with him over who was going to drive them up to Waitrose. Rather than who was going to steer the country towards a successful parting of the ways with Europe.

Amber Rudd started it by damning Boris as a 'back seat driver' and it looks like May has decided to run with this but in her usual watered down, not wanting to cause offence, kind of way.

She told journalists the government was driven from the front and they were all heading in the same direction.

The trouble is, by making this ambiguous comment she is still not confirming she is the one in charge of the Brexit car or what direction it is going. Backwards up a one way street I would hazard.

And there's no point even commenting on the fact she has given Boris absolutely no reprimand for his behaviour. The furthest she would go was to say 'Boris is Boris', which suggests we should excuse absolutely anything Boris does. Just like Hitler was Hitler and Trump is Trump.

So there we have it, May – for arguments sake – is driving a despondent teenage Boris up to Waitrose for the weekly shop, Vince Cable occasionally pokes his head up from somewhere at the back declaring if only May would step out of the car he would be able to drive it and Corbyn is by the road side just biding his time, waiting for the inevitable crash so he can hijack the car himself.

Have a good journey and don't forget the croissants.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Bring me my bus, bellows Boris

In a secret lock-up somewhere off the M25, a double decker bus has been left to fester. Grime coats its once proud red coat, the tires have slowly sighed out their air, a banner slowly peels, like an over-cooked noodle, ground-wards, the letters NHS clinging on by remnants of glue.

The doors of the lock-up suddenly swing open and a thatch of springy blonde hair thrusts through.
“That's the one,” the thatch declares with the thrust of a podgy finger. “I want that one, back on the road by noon.”

A wiry foreman scratches his balding head. “It can't be done,” he replies falteringly. “It's not road-worthy. It failed its last MOT.”

As the discordant pair watch, the letters NHS give up the ghost and the bus' banner falls to the earth. Boris prods the pile of mildewed paper with the point of his shiny loafer. “Make it one o'clock”, he concedes.

Because that's right, Boris Johnson is back, and so is his bus - or at least the promise emblazoned on it - £350 million to the NHS each week if Britain leaves the EU.

Or perhaps he never really went away, despite Theresa May appointing him Foreign Secretary, which appeared to simultaneously allow her to keep her beady eye on him, whilst sending him off for weeks to far flung places.

However, all this time it seems Boris - a staunch leave campaigner lest we should forget - has been beavering away planning his next leadership challenge, with a hard Brexit at its heart.

Theresa May must have been none too pleased to see Boris' article in the Daily Telegraph over the weekend, which talked of the need to sever all ties from the European Union once March 2019 rolls around. This flies in the face of her plans for a 'status quo' Brexit, which will essentially see Britain unchanged for several years after 2019 as it continues to pay into the EU and enjoy perks such as the single market.

And what is extraordinary, even for Boris, is his gall in bringing back the claim the NHS will benefit so radically once Brexit is over – a fact which has proved to be financially flawed. Britain, it has been calculated, does not even pay as much as £350 million into the EU each week.

Besides, gone are the days when Boris was the blundering clown we all hated to love. When we would open our newspapers and allow ourselves a small guilty smile at photographs of him on a zip wire with a safety harness riding uncomfortably up into his nethers.

That ship has sailed Boris and so has your bus. Or rather, it has been towed to the knackers yard, along with your empty promises.