Democracy is a confusing thing.

The unexpected arrival of a postal vote for the South East Region Euro Elections raised the difficult question of where to cast my ballot. But even more confusing is the array of parties.

I’d like to vote Labour, but I have to choose between them and the Socialist Labour Party. But then what if I’m feeling a bit democratic; should I pick the Liberal Democrts, Pro Democracy: Libertas.eu, or No2EU: Yes to Democracy? Then again I’m quite a fan of the Green movement; but then I have a choice of The Green Party or The Peace Party- Non-Violence, Justics, Environment. What if I’m feeling a bit nationalist? I have to navigate my way through the British National Party, the English Democrats, United Kingdom First and the United Kingdom Independant Party. It’s all very confusing!

Were I allowed a second preference, the child in me would like to pick the elusive and secretive Roman Party. Ave!

Prediction

While Facebook informed me that yet another of my old classmates has a baby, I thought about teen pregnancy and the recession. More and more young people will be leaving school to go to no jobs, where’s the incentive not to start their family early? A number of girls I was at school with aspired to this anyway; I remember one telling the careers adviser that her plan for after school was to have babies. With falling job prospects I predict teen pregnancy is going to rise… Some people will ride out the recession by getting an education, some will do it by getting kids. Hmmm…

Just a little thing

I’ve been hiding in a revision bubble for the last month or so, and as such have missed most of the expenses row. Emerged briefly to gasp for air and buy a newspaper to celebrate a relative lull in the exam timetable, only to find it still dominating the front pages.

I’m not clued up on the ins and outs of the scandal or the resignation, but on reading about Michael Martin one interesting detail stuck out. Women MPs, particuarly those elected in 1997, apparently tend to hold him in great regard for the help and advice he gave them on arriving at Parliament for the first time. As someone not quite from the establishment himself it was suggested he empathised with them and understood what it was like to be a relative outsider. I found this really interesting…

Now out of the real world and back to my bubble, five exams down, two to go.

Where have all the women gone?

When Cameron came to power in the Conservative party he promised a 30% female cabinet should he become PM. As anyone who has seen today’s Times can see, this seems rather unlikely.

As their front page points out, the vast majority of the top team are male. Women aren’t getting promoted and the candidates not yet selected from the infamous A-List are disproportionately female.

Why? Well we know the party has different ideas to Labour of women’s promotion; they don’t do all-women shortlists (which I am personally against actually but at least they’re getting the women in) and they don’t do women’s officers (something I am completely for). Women make up 51% of the population, 39.5% of their members, 16% of their front bench team and 8.7% of their MPS. Only 21% of their PPCs are female and so it’s not going to change any time soon either.

Why aren’t women getting ahead? Dave himself went to an all-boys school and hung out with the all-boy Bullingdon club rather a lot, maybe he thinks the lack of women is normal. Maybe he just doesn’t notice their absence. Maybe he’s just not that bothered… or is it unfair to blame him, is there an underlying problem deeply rooted in the party that needs to be sorted out?

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Dave buys a new pair of flip flops

So I missed the budget, but ate my lunch to the dulcet tones of Dave Cameron slamming Gordon Brown. Now I know I’m not the brightest of bunnies but I did get a bit confused when he

  • Slammed the government for making cuts, then
  • Slammed the government for spending too much
  • Slammed the government for taxing the “everyman” too much, through booze and fuel duty, then
  • Slammed the government for tax cuts to the “everyman” through VAT reduction, and
  • Slammed the government for taxing very rich people to relieve the burden on the “everyman”

… Can someone please explain to me his point with the above? If you average it all out it seemed to be a rather say-nothing speech.

Budget Build Up

My housemate and I have come to the conclusion that Alaistair Darling has the worst job in the world right now. Although as she commented, at least he has one.

So, everyone holds their breath… then in a few hours time the Tories can lambast him for getting us into debt, the Liberals can say they’d have done everything so much better without justifying how, and the Greens can moan about us not having enough spare cash to cut carbon emissions by 300%, and students can weep about how unfair it was that the Government decided to try to sort out the economy and the unemployed millions rather than cancel their student debt.

I can’t take the excitement, so I’m escaping to outer space to find out how galaxies get made. See you in my next revision break!

Sam Tarry becomes chair of Young Labour

While Young Labour members from across the country gather in Gillingham I am hunched up in a Birmingham terrace trying to learn how nuclear reactors work…. But news has just come through that Sam Tarry has become the new chair of Young Labour. This is a very exciting time for the Young Labour movement and BULS would like to wish him all the best!

Congratulations also to Steph Peacock, who was returned unapposed as for a second term as the youth rep on the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. Keep up the good work :)

What should get fixed first?

Time for an official poll!

Glitz?

I was not impressed to see that David Cameron has sent out the following message to his supporters:

“The glitz of G20 is over – now we must focus on Britain.‏”

G20 “glitz“? If he thinks trying to solve global issues by sitting down and hashing out agreements with world leaders is a pointless load of “glitz” and we should be concentrating instead on ourselves… well it reminds me of this really.

It’s a shame that it’s had to lose its apostrophe…

How wonderfully amused I was to learn today of the existence of the Apostrophe Protection Society!

Tory commentators love to pull us up on our grammar on this here blog, in fact after Thatcher I’ll wager its their second favourite thing to comment on. How aghast they must have been to note that their own Tory council leaders here in Brum are ditching that beloved bastion of the educated!

I know you guys aren’t that well acquainted with the Guild but if you want to start up a uni branch of the APS you only need twenty members, I can help with the forms if you like: just get in touch.

Speaking of education, I was most interested in the new Tory ad that informs us the UK is now 24th in the world at maths, (not sure what kind or level of maths as it didn’t specify), behind both Canada and Korea. Last time I checked Korea was in fact two separate political entities, North and South Korea; where pray does the UK come in the world geography championships? I personally am wondering why I ought to be surprised that both these places have reasonable education systems, but would like to congratulate them both all the same.

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The dark side of snow

The snow on my street has turned into sheet ice. Thick, solid ice. Half the neighbourhood is covered it. Half the neighbourhood is also on an incline, making walking frankly terrifying. I have taken to wearing wellies in the vain hope it will make walking easier. So far I have narrowly avoided falling flat on my arse/face, but I know some of my friends have not been so fortunate. If I’m slipping and sliding all over the place it must be hell for those slightly less physically able.

So as my housemate pointed out the other night, where on Earth is the grit? Why haven’t our roads been gritted and why is there nothing to grit our pavements with? Who exactly is in charge of all this? I guess that’s a council issue…

Frost/Nixon

I really enjoyed this! A really interesting and entertaining look at the fallen president and the public reaction to him. Michael Sheen ace, even if I did have to get used to the fact that he wasn’t playing Tony Blair any more, but the guy who played Nixon really stole the show. Go see, all you politics kids.

Jumping on the wrong bus

LocalToryMPwatch returns today with a spotlight on Eastbourne MP Nigel Waterson. In this weeks local he describes the selling off of the currently council run Eastbourne Buses as “selling off the family silver” and slams their “secret plan to flog off the town hall”.

So is this a travesty in the same way it was when Thatcher sold off British coal, iron and steel, gas, electricity, water, railways, trucking, airlines, telecoms, County Hall in London? Someone either has a bit of a short memory or is just a bleeding hypocrite.

Tales from the dancefloor

So this weekend I went up to spend a night in London with an old friend at his mates birthday party. We had a great time; we went to some overpriced club, wore smart clothes, and drank overpriced drinks that we couldn’t really afford. But for all that, I felt like I was in some grotty club back home; the same music, the same dance moves, the same atmosphere. The same men.

So this guy has been talking to me a bit and asks me if I want a drink. I find him a bit creepy so I tell him he can buy me one if he likes, but he’d better know I’m not going to sleep with him. He laughs, buys me a drink and starts putting his arm around me and getting a bit too friendly. So I introduce him to my (male) friend and leg it to the toilets to get away from him. I leave the toilets a bit later hoping I can slip off to some other area of the club and avoid him, but he has apparently brought my friend a drink and is waiting for me at the bar right outside the toilet door. He says, come with me, and pulls me into the men’s. Before he can get to a cubicle a security guard has us both pinned up against the sinks and is calling into his tannoy for back up.

I plead with the security guard to let me go, telling him how I don’t know the man, he dragged me in and I don’t want to be in here with him. More guards turns up, they let me go and I go back to my friend, a bit shaken. Within two minutes the man is back behind me apologising and asking for my number, and he keeps bugging me for my number until we leave.

Why the hell was a man who tried to drag a drunk girl into a toilet cubicle against her will not thrown out of the bloody club? What on Earth did he say to the (male) security guards in those two minutes when I wasn’t there? And what the hell would have happened to me if the security guard wasn’t there?

The whole incident left me beyond angry. He’s not the first guy to try this on with me or any other girl and he won’t be the last; there is a certain breed of male who won’t take no for an answer, who thinks “no” is an invitation to feel a girl up and who just won’t go away no matter what happens, who think its OK to have that kind of guy in your club and not to throw him out. And this sort of male needs to learn.

Christmas reading

I’ve just finished re-reading Jonathan Coe’s What A Carve Up!, a book I first fell in love with at thirteen (although much of its political overtones were presumable lost on me first time round). Wonderfully intelligent, funny and tragic, it tells the tale of a luckless author commissioned to write a biography of the Winshaw family, a set of modern day aristocrats and socialites who between them epitomise everything that is wrong with Thatcher’s Britain, in which the book is set. The writer’s stark lifestyle contrasts with their of opulence, greed and privilege, and at every turn he bears the brunt (either directly or indirectly) of their actions.

One of the themes of the book is that there is a fine line between greed and madness, and this is the line that the family members tread. Their attitude to life is very much “every man for himself”, one I feel sums up the underlying principle of Conservatives rather nicely. While it is no doubt a political book it is also enjoyed for its deeply clever and funny method of story telling; someone on the back cover described it as part social commentary, part detective story. Well worth a read.

Greenwash washing off

I am now back in the deep and desolate South, which means a return to one of my childhood pass-times: Local Tory MP Watch. This month my dad got a letter from said Local Tory MP, setting out ways in which our Labour government and local Lib Dem council have failed us. Amongst the travesties were prominently featured on this letter were Labour’s plans to increase tax on fuel inefficient cars, and the failure of the Lib Dems to scrap a parking scheme designed to switch people onto public transport.

Vote blue, oppose all pro-green measures? Hmmm not so catchy is it?

To publish or not to publish?

As I’m sure we all heard, the list of BNP members went online this week. Should it have been removed?

While I’m sure a lot of campaigners would like to name and shame, this goes completley against their own beliefs. Sites like Redwatch are condemned for featuring photos and adresses of left wing campaigners; publishing the BNP list is no different. Without wanting to sound sympathetic, BNP members are very resented figures in our society, and as such they are at risk. Not all their members are violent; not all are hardline; not one should be subject to vigilante groups or such. If we are to publish the list, we cannot complain about Redwatch, or any other such site.

Debtwatch returns!

Welcome back to year three of Debtwatch! Now in the fourth year of my degree, I received that letter that every student dreads: the annual statement from the Student Loans company.

My current total debt is £14038.50, of which £549.58 is interest earned in the last year alone. I appear to be accumulating said interest at a rather depressinr rate of ~£50 per month.

Let’s not talk about the overdraft, and be glad I’m on the old £1224 a year fee…

Daughter of the Revolution

This summer I got a fair bit of reading done. Rooting around in the second hand bookshop at the end of my road, I found a charming little book in an old mustard yellow cover, and emblazoned with the elaborate imagery of the wonderfully titled Vanguard Press. Liking its title, I brought it and gave it a go. It turned out the author was John Reed, founding member of the American Communists, and author of Ten Days that Shook the World; the book was a first edition of Daughter of the Revolution, and Other Stories.

The book is a collection of short stories, inspired by his travels around Europe and the Americas and set across these continents. Most are told as conversations, where the characters reveal their past and present situations to the author. It’s not made clear whether they are fictional or not, but given Reed’s career as a journalist it seems likely they are at least inspired by real people. The underlying theme is of course a cry for revolution; the people we meet in this book are downtrodden, unhappy with the state of affairs and serve to show why the state of things must change. The eponymous woman is an interesting case; her story is a call for a different sort of revolution; one of feminism. Two contrasting stories feature men off to fight in the First World War trenches, one of them upbeat and full of enthusiasm, one depressed and seeing it as an acceptable way to die.

If the book is trying to convert people to the revolutionary cause, it falls rather short. But as a period piece, and as an insight into how the young Reed saw the world, its really very interesting, and tells the sort of stories (if presumably exaggerated and elaborated) that we wouldn’t normally come across from that period.

And now Clarkson too

So Jeremy Clarkson is in trouble at the BBC as well, for making jokes about murdering prostitutes. Second round of controversey, both involving men making inappropriate remarks about women. I’m not convinced that the outcry is a glowing display of national feminism though.

The Brand/Ross row was centered around the grandfather for hearing things he peobably didn’t want to hear, not the granddaughter whose privacy was invaded. The Clarkson row has failed to mention the stack of lads mags and pornos offered to James May as a prize for doing something daring with a lorry during the same episode, and instead focussed on the offence caused to (mostly male) truck drivers suggesting they murder prostitutes.

Interesting…

Not long to go…

Lots of BULS will be watching the results come in in Joes, our Guild of Students bar, until the small hours of the morning. Every time I catch the news, I get more excited.

George Bush came to power when I was thirteen, and became instantly a big part of my political awareness, embodying to the younger me everything that was wrong with the world at the time. His policies on third world aid, contraception, gay rights, abortion, capital punishment, taxation, foreign affairs, education, healthcare, everything, the injustice of him holding office at all, left me cold; I long ago had to take down my poster of his misquotes, for I couldn’t bear to laugh at someone who had caused such misery to so many. The anger me and my friends felt on the day he visited the UK, and we marched through London, years ago now, still burns up again in me every time he appears on television or in the press. Now, at the grand old age of twenty-one I can see things a lot less simplistically than I used to, and realise that the films of Michael Moore are not gospel; but a large part of that childhood passion is still there. The thought that tonight his successor will be chosen, and there’s an excellent chance he’ll be against everything Bush stood for, is something still incredibly exciting to me, and I’m not even American.

My only worry now is the Obama cannot possibly live up to the hype. But for tonight I am hopefully going to be celebrating with my friends and tommorrow morning be falling asleep happy that the Republican Bush years will no longer be a living nightmare but about to be confined to a dusty chapter of history.

Fancy a Lapdance?

A bit more info here about the situation with lap dance licencing, which I was protesting about a few weeks ago outside Toryfest.

At the time of our protest, only five Tory MPs had signed up to EDM 1375, calling for better regulation of the lapdancing industry. I can report that following an enquiry by the Conservatives and a large amount of pressure from womens groups, a further one Tory MPs have signed up! Astonishingly, none of the Cons MPs are female.

Shame. Did the free night at the Rocket Club win them over?

By-election candidate watch returns!

It’s another by-election, and time to look at the candidates. As reported by BULS previously, the number of females making it onto the ballot paper in British by-elections is still rather low. So I took a look at Glenrothes this week, and found that women make up 25% of the candidates.

I’m no fan of all women short lists but this isn’t encouraging…

Also interesting to note that the SNP and UKIP are standing. Each firmly believing in independance, they don’t seem to agree where the boundaries should be drawn…

Should Brand and Ross be sacked?

Since all the other regular bloggers seem to have gone on hiatus and I don’t have time to write anything more interesting or relevant, I thought I’d entertain you all by having a play with the new poll thingy on wordpress. Aint it good!!

BULS week

Its been an eventful week for BULS.

On Saturday some of our Selly Oak based members went door knocking with Steve McCabe.

On Wednesday we had a meeting, seeing Mo Shaid become treasurer and Ben Semens become Freshers’ Officer

On Thursday many of us attended Guild Council and passed policy on Higher Education funding and Sexual Health

On Friday I handed over some treasury stuff to Mo

On Saturday a few of us are stewarding Regional Conference

Busy busy!

Embryology Bill sails through Commons

The Human Embryology Bill has passed through the Commons. Hurrah!

This will bring hope to millions of people who suffer from or have loved ones suffering from terrible diseases. It will end discrimination against lesbian couples trying for children, and will save precious lives through the permission of saviour siblings. And at no physical or emotional cost to humans or animals.

Deeply dissappointed to see the abortion part of the bill dropped, although probably not nearly as much as countless Northern Irish women who will still have to face huge difficulties trying to obtain a safe and legal abortion. The government has promised a review of abortion law in the next two years, I hope for the sake of these women they stick to that.

And Nadine Dorries proves as clueless as ever, prophecising that “humanzees” will now be created as a result of the hybrid embryo section. She fails to grasp that these will be as much a humanzee as a tree with a person sitting on a tree branch with a bit of leaf in their hair is a hybrid treeman, and that these embyos will be destroyed after about a week. Bless.

God, anyone?

The British Humanist association was reported today to be sponsoring posters on buses in London. These are to read: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” and adorn the insides and outsides of buses across the capital.

I am an atheist, but my reflex reaction was that this was a bit harsh, and would probably result in some fundamentalist vandalism. Then again, other mainstream religions advertise their beliefs quite openly; railway stations reguarly have posters with Bible quotes; the Quakers have paid for adverts inviting me and other Guardian readers to join for the last few weeks; and television stations, such as The God Channel, are dedicated to religions. Religions are allowed to open schools. Scientologists and other religious sects hassle me every time I walk down New Street. Many (but not all) religions have a message that non-believers will be punished, or come to no good; compared to being threatened with an eternity of brimstone and sulphur, is being told to “get over” something really that bad?

Despite my atheism, I don’t think it’s right to go around telling other people they are wrong about their beliefs, provided these beliefs cause no one any harm. But since a number of religions routinely tell us atheists we are wrong and will be punished for it, should we fight fire with fire? I can see these posters kicking up a storm in a way that other religious posters would not, and they will no doubt be thought provoking for commutors; but if religious messages are to be acceptable in the public realm then the reality is that atheist ones must be too, even if people find them offensive.

BULS: Looking back

Over the summer, through this blog BULS was contacted by Paul Crofts, the chair from 1971-1974. He went on to work in the NUS with Trevor Phillips, during Charles Clarkes tenure. He is now a councillor in Wellingborough and Northamptonshire, and was succeded as chair by Kath Hartley, now a Birmingham councillor.

Below is a wonderful picture of Paul in action in the Guild Council chambers, where many BULS members can still reguarly be found, debating and snoozing through Guild Councils. Paul will receive a BULS salute the next time we are in the pub. If any other former members are reading, please get in touch, we would love to hear from you!

Paul Crofts and co in action, 1973

Paul Crofts and co in action, 1973

Doorstepping

This sunny weekend some Selly Oak/BULS members went doorknocking with Steve McCabe MP and friends, to have a chat with voters on the doorstep about the issues that mattered to them.

It was a predominantly white area, so I was surprised how often the immigration issue came up, and how hostile the conversations about it got. The other hot topic was “big brother society”, but I was really surprised by how few people mentioned the economy.

As I walk home at night

A few years ago, Amnesty International invited members to send in their answers to the question, “what does a world without violence against women mean to you?” One reply really stuck with me, and it came not from a woman, but a man. To him, it meant the woman he walked behind in the street at night not being afraid of him.

I think of this every time I walk alone after dark. To the despair of my friends and mother, and despite my nerves, when sober enough I’ve always refused to let fear put me off walking home alone. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always lived in relatively “safe” areas; but then whatever the statistics are, anyone can get mugged, anywhere.

There are measures I take to give myself a sense of security. Perhaps least effectively, I sometimes emasculate my silhouette if I’m planning a trip; a shapeless hoodie and trousers with pockets say “woman” far less than a skirt, tailored jacket and bag.

This can backfire. Tonight two separate women passed me just after midnight this morning with terrified glances, and I started to know what the man in the Amnesty magazine felt like. As I turned into my road, a man was behind me and I glanced over my shoulder. I saw he was wearing a suit and instantly felt at ease- and then kicked myself for being so prejudiced. I glanced round again without really thinking about it, and he crossed the road and sped off. Any other time of day, or if he had been a woman, it would have been ok; but because it was dark, and he was a man, he must have known it would have put me on edge. I almost wanted to shout after him, I’m sorry; I felt bad for making him feel distrusted because of his gender.

It’s one thing for me to worry about being out alone in the dark in England; in various other places in the world, the circumstances of me being there (on my way back from a pub, where I had been with gay people, unchaperoned, head uncovered, to a house I share with two men who are neither relations nor husbands) would be a catalog of crimes. It was this train of thought that convinced me to make the ten minute walk to the pub on my own at half ten, because I knew I was just lucky enough to have the choice.

But I know that by going out at night, alone, I am running a risk, be it small or large, and its one that a lot of women would not chose to take. Imagine a world without violence against women? Its one where the first thought a woman has when she sees a man at night no longer has to be fear. Its one where women are confident enough to enjoy their lives to the full, and not jump at shadows in the dark.

First nail in the coffin for Sats

One of my pet hates, the Sats, have been dropped at key stage three. Following this year’s marking fiasco, ongoing pressure from teachers, their redundancy in the face of GCSE based league tables, cost, and the knowledge that we test our children more than any other nation in the world ever*, the government has finally agreed to drop them.

That means a young person sitting GCSEs, AS Levels, A Levels and an undergraduate masters degree will now only have eight years of consecutive exams rather than nine. Hurrah!

*Possibly not true but we’re pretty bad

What is McCain implying?

In a Republican Rally this week an audience member was given the microphone, and told John McCain that she couldn’t support Barack Obama as “he was an arab”.

McCain’s response was, “No ma’am, he is a decent family man who I happen to disagree with.”

It sounds an awful lot like Mr McCain is implying that the states of being Arabic and a “decent family man” are mutually exclusive?

Election Predictions

The latest figures from Electoral Calculus fell into my inbox today. In the last month, the Tory lead appears to have halved. It’s not quite as nice as the 84 seat lead Labour enjoyed a year ago, but then I suppose it shows just how fickle the dear electorate can be.

Anything can happen, and we have a long way to go before the next poll…