Asking for the impossible

I’ve just read the Spectator magazine’s comment on David Cameron’s trip to Brussels on Thursday.

For obvious reasons, the article focuses up front on what eurosceptic right wingers in the UK might want the Prime Minister to do and say there.  And rightly dismisses them.
Without a written constitution the UK seems to have less protection than, say, Germany on issues that affect us at a constitutional level.
But -as Foreign Secretary William Hague made clear in his party conference speech– actually we already have most of the protection we would want.  The 1973 European Communities Act can always be repealed, most people would expect a referendum were there to be another treaty (I think this is A Bad Thing due to the complete lack of understanding about the EU in the UK, and probably the worst mistake of Blair’s premiership after Iraq but that pass has been sold now).
What we cannot have is a law that says that the UK parliament can introduce law that conflicts with EU law and expect it to stand – the point about a single market is that we agree to the same rules for a level playing field for business, consumers and workers.
That would be asking for the impossible.

But the European Commission and European Parliament are also asking for the impossible.
Asking for a 5.9% budget increase (plus extras if you are the EP) is simply not credible when everyone else is cutting back.  And as for direct taxation, how much do the institutions want the public to hate the EU?
Seriously, I’m already hurting enough due to the austerity measures my own national government is introducing, and that’s including things like taking the cap off rail fare increases meaning my season ticket could cost £8000 a year by the end of this parliament (2015).
What on earth is the EU going to do with that sort of increase in funding that actually going to help me in my day to day life? And I say this as someone who starts from a EU-positive position!

Then there’s France.
As one website puts it “France on general strike while Britain watches the X Factor and Wayne Rooney”.
We’ve had our pension age put up to 66, they’re striking over an increase to 62.  We’ve had our universal child benefit removed, public sector pension contributions increased plus a pay freeze (that’s something like a 12% pay cut in real terms), pension tax relief  on private sector pensions capped etc.etc.  They have a strike with a slogan “the right to benefits”.
I love France.  I’ve mentioned before the dream of a little coastal B&B and a slower pace of life. Rioting is not civilised but you can’t help admire the determination to keep the way of life to which they have become accustomed. Are the Brits lazy, apathetic or just more pragmatic?

When Jose Manuel Barroso gave his state of the Union speech earlier this year, he said that we needed an “open debate without taboos“.
So far this seems to have been code for attacking the UK budget rebate.  As I said previously the Budget Commissioner has already screwed any prospect of sensible debate on this issue in the UK press, as Sunday’s Sunday Express front page amply demonstrated (oh and this one earlier in the week).

I need to spend more time reading before I full understand the issues, but Sarkozy is quoted as sayingI say clearly, I would be ready to have a crisis in Europe before I accept the dismantling of the common agricultural policy. I will not let our agricultural sector die“.


This, surely is the chance then, for everyone else in the CAP reforming group to put Strasbourg on the table.
Ok, Sarkozy, we saw you’d rather have an EU crisis than dismantle CAP.
If we are to accept this archaic and expensive drain on our resources, you should accept that we will not tolerate the Strasbourg circus every month.
This would be a genuine issue of EU interest, and would be one of the most positive things that the EU could do for the public – ending something which is a visible waste of their money, showing that they care about what we are going through.
There will of course be a range of other vested interests that are likely to get in the way of this happening.  There always are.
But surely this is a chance to push for one seat for the European Parliament (Brussels) – which is a coalition agreement commitment for the UK government.
Under any other circumstances going in with this would be asking the impossible…

Fat is definitely still a feminist issue

As the bloggers have it, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Christina Hendricks has apparently got so fed up with being called curvy, she’s going to slim down from her (UK) size 14 to fit the Hollywood norm. This is her at her current size.
Christina is of course already gorgeous, someone to aspire to look like and sparking a fashion revival of 1960s style c/o her role in the show Mad Men.
But she’s far from the first to feel the pressure to lose weight to seek public approval or worse, to feel happy with herself in public.

Sophie Dahl was voluptuous, the first plus size super model, but shed loads of weight after becoming famous. This is one of the “before” pictures.

Even Margaret Thatcher, whose voice famously changed as part of her makeover to become a credible party leader, lost a stone.  It was never mentioned.

What’s going on?  Leaving aside the issue that the fashion industry has nothing to do with making the average woman look beautiful and everything to do with selling us something to idealise (and to keep buying their products to cover our flaws), we have to ask ourselves why do women do this?

The idea that this might be being done to appeal to men is nonsense – men tend to prefer curves (according to an article in Current Anthropology, a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 is thought to be the best in terms of demonstrating good health and fertility).
So is the pressure coming from other women?  The front of the weekly gossip mags always seem to be about celebrities who have lost or gained weight, and in the case of the latter, sometimes there are pregnancy rumours. That seems a particularly cruel way of noticing that someone’s gained a few pounds.  Look at the female columnists: they seem to gain their prestige by criticising other women.  Which man gets the criticism for his looks that women in the public eye are subjected to?  It’s ludicrous.

The classic TV pairing of older-man-younger-woman is still the norm on regional news programmes around the country.  Moira Stewart has disappeared from our screens.  Jenny Murray and Libby Purves seem confined to radio.
But Kirsty Wark and Martha Kearney do still seem to be allowed out, and the BBC at least has been trying some positive action to encourage women over 35 to appear on our screens.  Last year, in an effort to overcome the apparent ageism, the BBC advertised for older women to read the news and added Zeinab Badawi (world news on BBC Four), and Julia Somerville and Fiona Armstrong to their portfolio of news anchors.
And I try to feel grateful for the existence of Loose Women on ITV1, even if it’s not really my sort of programme…
Notice though that these older women presenters are still relatively thin and certainly glamorous.
The average sized woman in this country is a size 16. For older women, the average is higher.  Can it really be the case that average sized women are only represented on screen by Mary Bryne on the X Factor and Anne Widdecombe  on Strictly Come Dancing?
Mary Byrne on the X Factor

Before you wonder if I’m going too far, think about Adrian Chiles, Michael Macintyre, Eamonn Holmes, Mark Addy in the Tesco ad… With the exception of Michael Macintyre (who appears solo and whom we can forgive almost anything if he can indeed get the country skipping again…) most appear on screen with a younger/ slimmer/ more glamorous female partner.

Having an all-male panel on comedy programmes is still acceptable.  More usually these days there’s one woman – for example Jo Caulfield, Andi Osho, Lucy Porter, Shappi Korsandi on Mock the Week,  Sandi Toksvig, Maureen Lipman, Jo Brand or Emma Thompson on QI.  But as Sandi Toksvig said recently, when are we going to get the three woman, one man panel without it being considered a “special edition”?  Well part of the problem could be that women aren’t funny (rubbish + more of this rubbish from Christopher Hitchens),the rumour that it’s women that don’t find women funny, and men don’t fancy funny women
(If you’re interested in all this, try

Age is a problem, but fat seems to be the last taboo.
It seems that being fat is the fat person’s own fault, and therefore they’re a reasonable target for worse treatment or rudeness.
A while ago Ryan Air floated the idea of BMI-priced seating, and a fellow euroblogger stirred the controversy.  But my point – that pregnancy (and miscarriage) cause weight to increase, as does the menopause, show that policies like this could potentially discriminate against women…
I should probably at this point mention the fat/ poverty link.  But this is not an infallible rule. Some people who are fat are comparatively rich – not everyone subscribes the the Wallis Simpson maxim “you can never be too rich nor too thin”. And I’ve not even started on the race/body fat issue.
All I’m saying is that the issue of fat is a bit more complicated than the media might have it…

It’s worth noting that while one third of UK women are overweight, one third are underweight.  Being overweight can lead to all sorts of health problems, but so can being underweight.
So we should really be asking why, if fat people are kept off our screens in case they’re “normalised” or seen as anything other than a problem, why is it acceptable to show underweight people with such frequency?
I have friends with young daughters who are really concerned already by their daughters calling themselves fat, worrying about how they look – and the scary thing is that this seems now to apply to toddlers.  And don’t get me started on pink and princesses…

But if fat is a feminist issue, what should we do about it?
1) every time there’s a gym without childcare facilities, that’s a problem for mothers who want to exercise.  Any woman going to a gym should challenge this ongoing problem, on behalf of all.
2) Every designer who makes their clothes so that they look good on skeletons, and doesn’t provide samples/loan dresses even in a size that fits pre-diet Hendricks and Dahl, they put off someone like me from even bothering to slim to look good in their designs as I’m never going to both be happy and fit those clothes. We should make clear – perhaps via social media – that this is unacceptable, and by the way do they not realise how much of a potential market they are alienating.
3) Every time a female journalist criticises another woman for her weight or her looks, particularly if the woman criticised is a politician, scientist, writer, or is involved in a career which does not naturally lead to being a “brand ambassador” for a cosmetics company, we should comment on the website or email.

What do you think?

What the EU should have said…

… about the death of Norman Wisdom.

Norman Wisdom in Torbay bookshop

British comedy actor Norman Wisdom died this week, aged 95.
A slapstick star, he was in recent years enjoying a renaissance in Albania and in Russia.

Being the sort of EU girl geek that I am, this has of course reminded me about the European Parliament (what else?)
A former MEP used to tell a story about interpretation in committee.
As someone that mananged to get the Francis Urqhart quoteyou might well think that, I couldn’t possibly comment” into my response during a tricky debate in Council working group one day, I’m not averse to a bit of monolingual word play to lighten the debate for at least some of the meeting participants. And full kudos to the particular interpreter who managed this one.
But I digress.

During an especially tedious budget debate, a particularly pompous norther French MEP had the floor as was imploring his colleagues to use their wit, their determination and calling on their regional antecedents to find a way through…
This was interpreted as “we could all use a bit of Norman Wisdom”.

And so say all of us.

Imagine how much more fun some of the debates would be with a bit more slapstick humour involved…
RIP Norman.