Ten reasons to vote

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1. You only get a chance to vote in the national elections every few years so might as well as not. Imagine if something amazing happened at your local polling station, like one of the counting officers did magic tricks and you weren’t there to see. You’d feel like a right chump!

2. It’s a chance to vote out/vote in again* the government you loathe/love* (*delete as appropriate). If you don’t vote then you can’t later whinge with legitimacy about how the government you voted in have let you down or how everything would be champagne and roses if the other lot, that you voted for but didn’t get in, had won.

3. You won’t be able to keep up with workplace banter round the kettle about who’s waltzing into the lead or tripping the light fantastic if you don’t plan to vote. It’d be like trying to keep up with Strictly Come Dancing conversations when you don’t know any of the finalists, except everyone will be paying attention to this political dance show.

4. Even if you think everyone standing is a right bunch of numpties (and everyone knows only egotistical lunatics want to be in politics) and you’d rather be ‘governed’ by a wet tea towel, which at least used to have a purpose in life, it’s better to go and deliberately spoil your vote (scratch through all names and write none of the above) than just not bother. Better to be counted as a pissed off voter than apathetic unengaged person who doesn’t care one way or the other.

5. If you can’t be bothered and don’t vote then you run the risk of those militant crazy types full of misplaced political fervour and zeal voting for the random ‘everyone must wear purple every other day’ parties and before you know it you are having to buy a whole new violet wardrobe and trying to remember if it’s a purple day or not.

6. Apparently there are some areas where who you vote for makes a difference. I’m not 100% sure how this works, having always lived I’m safe seats, but I think there’s a chance that your vote might actually change the party representing you, which must make the whole thing much more exciting.

7. If you live somewhere where it’s pretty much a given who will be your next politician it’s still good to vote to either let that politician know how much everyone likes them or to let one of the little guys (with snowball’s chance in hell kind of odds of winning) feel like someone liked them. It’s like taking the time to cheer for a support band at a concert when no-one else is paying attention them just waiting for the main act. Giving someone a bit of validation is a nice thing to do. 

8. It is possible that some politicians actually do care more about the possible people they will represent than the thought of wielding metaphorical swords of power, so it doesn’t hurt to skim the literature they send through (or whatever the modern day online equivalent is) and pick your champion.

9. It’s good to remember that there was a time when all women and most men couldn’t vote and that actually people worked pretty hard to change that, some of them even died (Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse to raise awareness of the fact women in the UK couldn’t vote; and, to make men feel less threatened by the prospect of women voters, she even took herself off the prospective voters list). These people would probably be pretty peeved if the right to vote they worked so hard for, no-one actually bothers to use.

10. The topic of politics might sound dull but who governs the country isn’ t just about old men droning on and on for hours on a dedicated channel no-one wants to watch. I mean that does happen but the things they drone on about impacts a lot of other things, like the kind of education your kids get, whether or not your streetlights stay on, if you have to pay for healthcare or not, whether wearing purple can ever be made mandatory and so on.

Fiction: Beware of politicians bearing gifts

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I wrote the following for a short story competition but figured I can put whatever I like on my blog so am apparently now including a bit of fiction along with everything else.

Skinny and squinty - bp image‘New jPhone X2 for UK Partiality Party Voters!’ read the Underground ad, accompanied by some illegible small print.

“What do you reckon?” asked a skinny young women, hair scraped back to show off earrings with the word ‘freedom’ scrawled within large gold-coloured hoops.

The curly haired girl in the orange jumpsuit squinted at the poster and replied “if it’s in writing it must be legit, right? Otherwise we could sue or something.”

*

newsman - bp image‘I can confirm that the United Kingdom Partiality Party are the new government after a landslide victory. They really found a new way to connect with the voters but what isn’t clear is what policies the new government will look to implement …’

‘Turn it off, will you?” huffed the scraggly haired man, reclining in the easy chair with the tattered blue throw. “I can’t believe that whim of a party got elected, what do they even stand for anyway?”

“Well, if they were so bad you should have voted for one of the other lot,” chirped the smartly suited woman, still looking fresh after a day of helping the common man. She added, “anyway they were chosen by the people and can’t be any worse than what we’ve currently got.”

Scraggly glared but Suit was too distracted trying to fit the SIM into her new phone to notice.

*

Skinny squinty talk - bp image“Haven’t seen any of our usual dealers by the chicken shop for a while. Mind you haven’t seen the owners of the chicken shop either. Did they get shipped out under the Alien Liberation Act or whatever it was that flashed up on my phone?” wondered Squinty.

“Nah, ‘chicken-2-go’ is like a national institution, probably just on holiday or something.” replied Skinny.

“Can’t you call someone to sort us out tonight?” said Squinty, “my phone’s not working.”

Skinny shrugged “nah, I’ve got a connection problem.”

*

skinny jail - bp image“You can’t just shut me up in here! I’ve got rights,” wailed Skinny as the Surly officer shut the door behind her.

Surly sneered, “don’t know about your rights but I let you keep your nice jX2 didn’t I?”

“But,” she sniffed, “it doesn’t even work anymore – only lets me call through to the UKPP guidance line or access their home page!”

*

skint suit jail - bp imageIn a crumpled suit, the overworked lawyer looked nervously behind her as the door locked into place.

Skinny demanded to know when she’d go free.

“Look,” Suit tried to explain, “when you accepted the phone you signed a contract and that’s legally binding. Without the EU or UN anymore, I can’t do anything. You’ve been classed ‘undesirable’ and under the National Re-Ordering Act section 1, paragraph 29.3(a) the government has a right to keep you indefinitely.”

“Indefiwhat!” exploded Skinny, “you’re useless! I want another lawyer! Give me your phone, I’m calling Citizen’s Advice.”

Suit rubbed her temples wearily with the hand supporting her head. “You can’t. Citizen’s Advice was abolished under the NGO Compliance Act,” she sighed, “and anyway, I’ve been having problems with my phone recently.”

10 reasons not to be afraid of feminism

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“I call myself a feminist. Isn’t that what you call someone who fights for women’s rights?” – The Dalai Lama

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back” – Malala Yousafzai

Feminism seems to be something that sparks a lot of heated debate although I’m not really sure why as essentially it’s just about equality between men and women and I think that’s hard to argue against. But to help clarify things I thought I’d present ten reasons why people don’t need to be afraid of feminism.

1. Not all words ending in -ism are bad

Yes ‘Nazism’, ‘Stalinism’ and ‘terrorism’ are definitely some bad -isms but this doesn’t make all words ending in -ism are inherently evil. If you do google-search for words ending in ‘ism’ you will probably find more rubbish examples than good ones, but without ‘ism’ we couldn’t have ‘heroism’ or ‘idealism’. Heroism (art by B. Potts)

2. Feminism remains necessary as people are still treated differently because of their gender

Even just looking at things from a Western perspective although women may have equality in theory it doesn’t always amount to equality in practice. I could go on about female representation in public spheres like the government, legislature and judiciary but that would probably add another thousand words to this post so I’ll just invite you to check out Laura Bates’s everyday sexism project to get an idea of why feminism is still required in the so-called developed world. Every woman I’ve spoken to about this has at least one story of when they have been made to feel uncomfortable by a man in a way that wouldn’t have happened had they not been a woman.

Some men, and definitely not all, because most men I know wouldn’t dream of behaving in this way, but some men think it’s alright to objectify women, to grab their bottoms, to shout obscenities at them from moving vehicles, to comment on their tits and genuinely treat them as objects for their amusement. I suspect that some of the men that do this would actually be quite shocked by how much this sort of thing can really get under a person’s skin and make us feel uncomfortable. So a comment on our booty might be meant kindly but please forgive us if we react badly, from our experiences of this sort of thing happening quite frequently we are likely to be more sensitive about these things and, perhaps not wholly surprisingly, we will take personal comments well… personally.

This kind of unwanted attention is more likely to happen to women but yes this does also happen to men. Behaviour that intimidates, harasses or upsets anyone in this way, whatever gender they are, isn’t acceptable.

3. Feminism isn’t about hating-men

Being a feminist doesn’t mean you hate men. It’s not like racism (another bad -ism) where you want to assert the superiority of one kind of person over another, so being a feminist doesn’t mean you believe in female superiority and eagerly await the subjugation of all men to the complete domination of women.

Alright some people who call themselves feminists might want that but they have sort of missed the point and shouldn’t be considered representative of all feminists. Feminism is actually about wanting gender equality for both men and women.

Men hating (art by B Potts)

4. Feminism doesn’t mean all men are rapists

Feminism often focuses on rape because this is a problem, it happens far too frequently, often goes unreported or isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be. Feminists highlight the dangers of rape because it’s a terrible thing no-one should have to experience, it doesn’t mean feminists think every man is a rapist.

A bit of a tangent about the nail varnish thing…

There was a bit of fuss recently after some chaps invented a nail polish that changed colour when dipped in a drink that had been spiked. At first everyone thought this was great because helping people not be raped is surely a good thing. Then there was a bit of a backlash from some of the angry feminists types who tend to put people off the whole thing, who were getting up in the grill of the inventors faces and saying things like ‘how dare you assume rape is just women’ and ‘why should the onus be on women not to get raped, why not figure out how to stop people thinking rape is okay’.

I would like to respond to these two points. Firstly why assume men wouldn’t wear nail varnish and even if they don’t want to that doesn’t stop this being useful. If you discovered a cure for cancer that could only help ginger-haired people but couldn’t cure cancer for everyone it’d be pretty dastardly to say to ginger-haired people sorry you can’t have this until we’ve figured out a fix for everyone.

To the second argument it’s not like the inventors were saying ‘hey it’s okay to rape anyone who doesn’t use our nail varnish’ it’s simply that they thought they could do something to address a serious problem which sadly exists in the actual world we live in as opposed to the utopia we’d all like where rape doesn’t happen. Saying the inventors of rape-deterrent nail varnish are saying it’s up to women not to get raped is like saying I should be able to leave my bike unlocked in Geneva outside without anyone taking it. Yes I should be able to leave my bike unlocked because stealing my bike would be wrong. However as some people would steal my bike whether or not I think it’s wrong I’m grateful someone invented bike locks.

5. Admitting a need for feminism doesn’t mean pretending there are no other problems in the world

Sexism happens. It’s not the only awful thing that happens in the world. However the existence of other terrible things doesn’t mean sexism doesn’t exist and that it isn’t a problem that shouldn’t be addressed. It’s not a competition, it’s just about trying to improve the world in whatever way we can.

Feminism is about addressing discrepancies between genders and achieving real gender equality will help some people. It won’t solve poverty, famine and disease. But we aren’t ranking these things. Otherwise we would all have to agree on the one most single awful thing in the world and say we can’t even consider other issues until this was resolved. It would be like saying the police shouldn’t investigate kidnap cases until all murder cases have been solved.

Sadly there are many bad things in the world, happily there are lots of good people that want to work in different ways to try and make things better.

6. Feminism doesn’t mean women can never wash, shave, put on nice clothes or make-up

Feminism means women are free to make a choice about whether they wash, choose to shave, what clothes they wear or whether they want to apply make-up, and that no-one should feel they have to do these things just for the benefit of someone else. Although, actually, all genders should try and wash occasionally, for the benefit of your fellow humans who otherwise have to smell you.

Just last night I was painting my nails whilst reading a book on women’s human rights. This doesn’t make me less of a woman or a rubbish feminist because first of all, it’s not an either/or situation and second of all, I believe it’s up to me to be a ‘woman’ in whatever way I choose. Sometimes that involves painting my nails, sometimes it involves bumming around in jogging bottoms all day. It’s my call.

Not washing (art by B Potts)

7. Feminism isn’t about denying bad things happen to men

Feminism is about levelling the current power imbalance between genders. It tends to focus on women because on the whole the power imbalance is against women. However it doesn’t mean denying that issues which more often affect women than men, also affect men and can be perpetrated by women.

For example there are serious issues about disbelief of male victims of rape or domestic abuse by people who don’t believe this could happen. This isn’t something to laugh off, it’s a serious issue and changing attitudes towards these victims is all part of feminism.

Someone suggested that feminism should be renamed equalism so as not to irritate people so much. I see their point in that feminism is really an issue of equality it’s just that if we don’t give it a gendered terminology then it wouldn’t necessarily be clear as to what feminism is about.

I’m a humanist in that I believe everyone should be treated equally regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or any other category you want to throw in there. I’m also a feminist because feminism is addressing one of these areas of discrimination and if I say feminist then we all, more or less, know what I’m talking about.

8. Feminism doesn’t turn all women into victims

Feminism isn’t about the victimisation of women, it’s not about saying women can’t do anything for themselves and that they will always be oppressed by men. It’s about acknowledging there is a problem, raising awareness of the problem in the hope that it might affect change and ultimately working together towards a world where we can say feminism isn’t necessary any more. Feminism can actually be quite empowering by helping people of all genders to realise they shouldn’t have to put up with gender biased behaviour that demoralises and demeans them.

9. You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist

As Emma Watson put it in her recent speech on feminism for the UN “Men – I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.” There are already a lot of pretty cool men who would identify themselves as feminists, including: Patrick Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Prince Harry and the Dalai Lama. 

As a lot of problems of the sort reported on everyday sexism stem from the way men treat women then actually we need more men to step up and make it clear that they think treating women as anything other than human beings is not okay. The more men there are acknowledging the need for gender equality the less feminism can be accused of being a vehicle for angry women to rant about pointless issues (which isn’t really what it’s about at all).

Equalism (art by B. Potts)

10. Feminists can take a joke

Some people think feminists can’t take a joke but that’s simply not true, provided your joke is funny. If your joke is highly sexualised about me and makes me and others in the vicinity uncomfortable, then it’s not really a joke. Jokes about rape are also never going to be funny, there’s a reason why people groan when such jokes are told and that’s because they are awful. Those telling them are going more for shock factor than comedic value and if that’s the best they’ve got in their comedic arsenal then maybe leave the joke telling to actually funny people or look up some new material online.

And one for luck…

11. You can still open a door for a woman without being anti-feminist

There’s no reason for common courtesy to go out of the window just because women want equality with men. No feminist is going to get mad because a man opens a door for her, just don’t get upset if a woman also wants to open a door for a man. You can still be nice to someone without trampling all over them and there’s no need to make this a gender thing. Surely it’s nice if you hold the door open for whoever is behind you or struggling with an armful of books or whatever, regardless of gender.

Opening door (art by B Potts)

Not seven reasons to hate the European Court of Human Rights

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Apologies in advance to anyone not from Europe, not interested in politics or with aspirations of wielding absolute power over all minions of the world. This may not be for you. But, don’t worry, you wont be breaching my human rights if you don’t continue reading (although you may miss out on some truly epic artwork)!

This week the UK PM reshuffled his Cabinet in a clear move to the right as the Conservatives begin the countdown to the next election and make a determined bid to win back UKIP voters.

It’s not all bad – there are some promotions to be applauded, increasing numbers of women in the cabinet can only be a good thing (if we steer clear of the argument about whether they are being promoted because they are women or because they can do the job – the two are not mutually exclusive!). Some demotions are to be applauded, I doubt many are mourning the loss of Gove from the role of Education Secretary, others, however, are a bit more worrying.

I may not have seen eye-to-eye with them on everything but I did have a certain respect for Ken Clarke, Damian Green and Dominic Grieve, all of whom were axed in the reshuffle. These previously senior government staffers were all strong supporters of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and weren’t afraid to stand up for this, although that fearlessness might just have got them fired.

There have already been speculation that the reshuffle and removal of these rights loving stalwarts is preparing the ground for UK fisticuffs at dawn with the ECHR and the Court that upholds it. But before anti-Court mania kicks in I just want to set out my response to seven common arguments leveled against human rights legislation.

1. Why should we be governed by Europe?

Governed by EuropeFirst things first the ECHR is not a document of the European Union although signing up to the ECHR is now a pre-requirement for countries seeking to join the EU. But opting out of the EU doesn’t necessarily mean opting out of the ECHR (Turkey and Russia and other non-EU states are currently under the jurisdiction of the Court)

Secondly, the Court doesn’t govern Europe it just gives effect to the ECHR, which incidentally was predominantly drafted by the British, if that matters.

Those who make judgements in Strasbourg aren’t accountable to democratically elected politicians but neither are those who make judgements in the UK. This is a good thing as separation of powers adds a bit of balance to these things.

Finally, the Court only has jurisdiction over human rights related issues – it doesn’t determine things like working hours, how fast we drive or when we can retire. The EU has some say over some of these things but that’s a different topic.

2. We don’t need the ECHR, we have the Human Rights Act

Don't need ECHR have HRA!The HRA is the incorporation of the ECHR into domestic law. This has meant that the UK has been able to much more easily consider human rights issues without the delays or expense incurred in sending a case to the Court.

However, it doesn’t replace the ECHR. There are still circumstances where UK individuals can appeal to the Court when it thinks the UK isn’t abiding by the HRA and ECHR. Governments don’t always act in the best interest of the people and its actually quite reassuring to think we have an added layer of protection from potential human rights violations inflicted by the state.

Finally, the HRA has been under attack by the Conservative party for much longer than the ECHR. To assume the HRA will remain unscathed if the UK withdraws from the ECHR is naïve.

3. Human Rights aren’t an issue in the UK so why do we need this?

No human rights issues in the UKt 4.00.56 PMActually human rights are still an issue in the UK. For example, estimated numbers of slavery in the UK are higher now than when slavery was legal.

And things like the government wanting to be able to listen to all your phone calls, read your emails and look at all your photos on Facebook is an invasion of privacy, which is another human rights issue that probably affects all of us.

Also, although we might be living in a comparatively free environment now, and I’m not denying that the UK has a better human rights record than a lot of other places, we shouldn’t just take this for granted and assume this will always be the case. Keeping some safeguards in case things go down the pan in the future isn’t a bad idea.

4. The ECHR is abused by petty individuals, terrorists and time wasters so we should get rid of it. Why aren’t my rights protected?

Terrorists, time-wasters and petty individualsThe ECHR isn’t just used by people we don’t like, it just tends to be that tabloids can use these cases more easily to create shock headlines that will sell more papers so we tend to be a bit more aware of these sorts of cases.

Your rights are protected. Its just some of these rights we share with people we might not like very much. The ECHR doesn’t cover things like the right to lead a happy existence with the right that people should bring you chocolate cupcakes every day. It covers things like right to education and right to protection of life.

Being able to file a claim at the Court doesn’t necessarily mean that it will go to Court or that the UK will lose. Cases will only be accepted where applicants can show they have tried to go through the domestic system – giving UK courts a chance to weigh in – and where the case has some merit. So, for example, someone could file a claim about a little girl picking their flowers and breaching their human right to enjoy flowers (actually not a human right) but that kind of thing isn’t going to be considered.

5. People who commit crimes abuse the rights of others so should lose their rights.

Human not human?The ECHR applies to all humans and yes this does sometimes include people we don’t necessarily like very much but I think getting into an argument about who is human and qualifies for rights and who doesn’t is dangerous territory best avoided by all people who don’t have a God complex.

Also certain rights, like the right to liberty, are negotiable so if you commit a crime the State can remove this right and lock you up. Others, like the right to prohibition of torture, are non negotiable so committing a crime doesn’t mean the State can pull out your fingernails. It’s hard to argue against this.

6. Yeah, but what about Prisoner voting rights, how can you defend that one, eh?

Prisoner votingThis is one of the most misrepresented issues of Court madness that I can think of. I watched debates in parliament where MP after MP stood up and led their argument with something like: ‘there’s a murderer/rapist/paedophile/indefensible individual who hurt someone/lives in my constituency – these people shouldn’t be allowed to vote.’ That’s not an unreasonable sentiment for someone to have. However, the judgement from the Court at no point said that the UK must make voting rights available to all prisoners. It just said the UK should review the blanket ban that applies to everyone in prison.

So, no, the UK doesn’t have to give murderers the vote but perhaps it could consider giving someone imprisoned for 6 months for minor drug trafficking the opportunity to have a say in and engage with the running of the society they will be returning to on release. Or if this example is too extreme for you how about the pensioner who was imprisoned for less than a month for refusing to pay his council tax in protest against council cuts in his area. Would giving someone like that the vote really be the end of society as we know it?

Still not convinced? Well how about this argument: whether or not you agree with the Court’s judgement on prisoner voting can you accept that picking and choosing which court judgements the UK decides to abide by sets a bad example to other nations subject to the Court’s jurisdiction? The UK might not like prisoner voting and decides not to listen to the Court. Turkey might look at the UK’s example and think well we don’t like not being able to torture people so we wont listen to judgements about this either. Russia might then look at what the UK and Turkey are doing and think why should we care if the Court says we can’t arbitrarily imprison people? And so on.

7. Well, what about that thing about the cat and the dodgy immigrant being allowed to stay here?

Magic kitty passportAnother human rights misrepresentation. Theresa May might be the Home Secretary with a team of advisors who you would think would know better but when she said ‘and I’m not making this up the immigrant who could stay in the UK because he had a cat’, well, actually, she was making it up.

What happened is that an immigrant who was claiming the right to stay in the UK based on his family life mentioned that he had a cat. The decision that he was allowed to stay here wasn’t decided by the fact he had a cat. The immigrant could also have mentioned that he really liked Dairy Milk chocolate. The decision would have been similarly unaffected by the fact he liked British chocolate.

That immigrant’s having a cat didn’t give him the right to stay, in the same way that having a cat doesn’t give you special entitlements to live in a nice flat, have a great job and be able to buy Dairy Milk whenever you want. You might well live in a nice flat, have a great job, be able to buy Dairy Milk whenever you want and have a cat but having the cat probably hasn’t been the cause of all that.

In conclusion

Do feel free to dispute anything I’ve said above and if you can think of other arguments against the Court throw them at me and I’ll see if I can come up with a suitable response/wonderful piece of art.

But I feel happier in the knowledge that there is an additional safety net that can protect my rights against the interests of the State, should they be under threat.

What the ECHR covers (full text here) is listed below and I can’t find anything there I’d rather not have protected:

  • Obligation to respect human rights
  • Right to life
  • Prohibition of torture
  • Prohibition of slavery and forced labour
  • Right to liberty and security
  • Right to a fair trial
  • No punishment without law
  • Right to respect for private and family life
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of assembly and association
  • Right to marry
  • Right to an effective remedy
  • Prohibition of discrimination
  • Derogation in times of emergency (flexibility for States when required – but not applicable to all rights)